Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Triathlon spendthrift

Oh dear, it is comical but true to say that over the past few weeks the thought of cycling has made my heart rate spike and elicited thoughts of minor nervous breakdown!

I bought myself a few extra days by switching from the Tuesday to the Thursday class (also common sense belatedly told me that I did not need to do a fitness-related class that began at 6am at 83rd St. on the East Side, even if a bicycle does let you travel more quickly) but I had a mortifying revelation the other day, which is that what I really needed to do was throw money at the problem, swallow my pride (my mother is going to think to herself "I told her so," only she will be too nice to say it!) and buy another bike.

(Is this lunacy, or is this common sense?!? Bit of both...)

There is no way to pay someone money to teach me how to ride my fancy bike confidently, I need to just ride a regular bike for a little while where my feet are not attached to the pedals and I can put them on and off the ground very easily and it is not super-responsive to every touch and then (soon, I hope! my nice bike has kind of spoiled me for regular bikes now, it's like going from Proust or Henry James to a terribly badly written novel, or like the feeling I remember from teenage years when my oboe teacher would let me play hers briefly and then the horror of going back to my own clunker--the gears on my 'real' bike are like butter, it's crazy how great it feels when you're riding it, this one is a blunt instrument in comparison) once I have taught myself properly and am happy about all of the different aspects of bike-riding--traffic, starting again after a light, control of the bike while going fast down hills--I can switch back to the real one.

(It's a bit of a waste of the class, I will not be practicing gearing on the real bike or the details of transition stuff--i.e. changing from cycling shoes to running shoes etc.--but seriously at this point the important thing is just to have something that makes me get out there and ride the bike, also this bike more appropriately represents my beginner status! I don't care if I am the only person there with a regular bike, surely there will be a few others anyway and it is better for me to have to work really hard going up hills on a heavier bike than to be having insane fits of anxiety about being underqualified for the superstar bike I'm riding! And I can do another bike-run class any time I want, they're offered through the Triathlon Association of New York as well as through the Road Runners.)

(Maybe it will be a month from now and I'll feel like I can ride my real bike, and can use it for the last couple classes? That would be good, it's a six-week class... It was actually seeing how on various bike- and triathlon-related discussion forums many experienced cyclists seem to have minor nervous breakdowns about clipless pedals that made me realize I needed to break down the learning process into separate tasks...)

I must say that they were exceptionally nice at the bike store on 96th St.. I got the serious chain-type bike lock also, even though it costs almost half as much again as the bike (it was a pretty affordable bike I would say), because the other thing about getting this bike is that I could actually use it to ride around and do stuff!

(Like ride over to Central Park if I wanted to run there instead of Riverside Park and didn't have time to walk over, or to somewhere in the neighborhood where I might be doing an errand, or whatever--my 'real' bike is so nice that they wouldn't even sell me a lock at the store where I got it, it would be patently inappropriate and unwise to leave it on the street...)

I have no idea if this is standard, maybe they do this everywhere, but the mechanic spent a good bit of time giving me a special fix for convenience--I like watching people do inventive technical things that come from their imagination and know-how--the cloth sleeve is very slippery over the chain, so he took it off, made a little tool with a piece of wire and a vise and pliers, hooked one end of this tool round a post and the other around one end of the chain, then proceeded to shimmy a tube over it. (Sort of like the bike-mechanic version of how you use a safety pin attached to a drawstring that's come out of an item of clothing to inch it back through again.)

When he started to slide the cloth sleeve over again, it caught the tube and took it with it, so he made another little wire thingie and used it to tether the tube to the chain, then patiently worked the cloth back down over the tube. He also made a great little figure-eight-shaped device out of a discarded piece of bike chain and another bit of tubing to secure the seat to the bike--he said he left his own bike for five minutes outside a deli, with the heavy-duty chain securing it, and the seat was gone when he came out of the store...

(The conventional wisdom seems to be that anything not literally locked down will go--like if the seat post is attached with a security device, someone will still take the seat itself...)

I do not like having to retreat to a less excellent device, but I think it is for the best, and the nice one gives me something to strive towards, I am really eager (desperate!) to be riding it properly! It's my big obstacle right now. I just keep telling myself that the whole swimming thing seemed really impossible and inconvenient and horrible in January, and now it's all good--this will happen too for cycling if I am patient and persistent and just keep nibbling away at the problem...

I also do not like having to be patient, but I guess I look back on various things I've done and I can see that you do have to take the long view. This is not that different from doing a PhD or writing a book or some such thing. I started working out pretty seriously two years ago, the first year of it entirely in the gym, but as far as actual training goes that first year must be thought of as something like the way you can do all your medical-school application requirements in a post-baccalaureate year. (Which is to say--preliminary. And somewhat rushed or artificial--no substitute for years and years of loving study of organic chemistry or whatever...) Then I started running a year ago and swimming six months ago, but I need to keep working on the nuts and bolts and get the half-marathon thing working really well before I do a marathon next year. And I have to do a bunch of Olympic-distance triathlons next year before I can do a half-Iron one the year after, and I have to run at least a couple of marathons and have done quite a lot of century rides and short hard bike rides and stuff and long open-water swims before I can seriously think of training for an Ironman race. Because I don't want to just straggle through it, I want to do it well...


  1. The new bike makes sense to me. I've found myself wishing I had a cheaper bike that I could use to ride around town and run errands -- one with toe clips and that I wouldn't mind leaving outside.

  2. It's not just the gear, it's the space for the gear!

    Bike handling in traffic is much more demanding than bike handling in non-draft-legal tris. I used to rent cars to drive my bike out of downtown Toronto for long rides.

    I think "straggling through" has strongly personal definitions. One person's "getting along" is another's "straggling".

  3. First-time commenter here... I think the new bike sounds like a good idea, too. There are days when I would really like to have a bike for running errands or riding short-biking-but-long-walking distances that didn't involve dealing with all the gear.

    As it is, I use mountain bike pedals with a lot of float. Not what one would want to use to race, but good for riding a bike in a place with hills and traffic.

  4. Thank you all for encouraging remarks! I really feel like a bicycle lunatic these days...

    FYI, I basically have decided that I am allowed to be a total coward and come up with ad hoc solutions to individual bike-riding tasks. I rode the undemanding bike on the sidewalk over to Central Park last night for the first bike-run class, and then seriously LABORED to do my 8 miles before we went to the running part of the workout! Everyone else was on a road bike, of course...

    I felt a lot calmer about biking when I got home, and I realized that I really do want to be on the good bike for this class, and that I will just have no pride and walk it over to the park wearing my sneakers (or I suppose I could ride it on the sidewalk if it was early morning, with sneakers on also, but really this sort of bike does not belong so much on the sidewalk...) & then switch to cycling shoes once I'm ready to start riding the loop. The two things that freak me out are riding on the street PERIOD and then riding on the street in clipless pedals, the pedals themselves are not inherently terrifying (though it's true that the park is full of wayward small children and dogs). A fellow runner from the class I took this summer (she's also a triathlete) has taken pity on me and I am rendezvousing with her early Sunday morning at Engineer's Gate as she gets started on her run, she will give me moral support before we get going on our respective exercise sessions and it will mean I can't cop out if I am overcome with a fit of nerves!

    So I think things are in decent train...

  5. My dearest, I do have to say that "lunatic" is the word that was coming to my mind...