In just a week the group heads to the Cabot Trail. Last Sunday we did our final group ride - 103 km and 1100 meters of climbing. That's a little longer than their longest day on the trail but not as much climbing. On their hardest day they'll do about 1700 m. All told the ride will be 307 km with 4250 m of climbing. On Sunday their average moving speed was very respectable and they did an excellent job of managing their hydration and snacks.
I was in a position recently to describe this project to groups of serious cyclists. I was taken aback by their reactions. They were not supportive. They showed scorn for my group's equipment, the timeline for their ride, their average speed .... Several even asked me if I was concerned about the effect on me of riding with the group.
I didn't react to what I considered provocative comments. There's no point in talking to people who don't 'get it'. But those conversations made me very sad. Sad that people couldn't remember the beginning of their own journey and sad/mad that they were unwilling or unable to celebrate others who were just discovering the joys of exercise and cycling, in particular.
Those interactions just confirmed for me the importance of not losing touch with what it felt like to be a beginner. The earliest steps are the most important for making a profound change. It also hardened my determination to ensure that no one in my classes will ever feel 'less than' the others in the room.
In my note following our ride on Sunday I used only two words: mission accomplished. The members of the group each set a goal and then did the hard work to prepare for that goal. Along the way they learned a lot about physiology, nutrition and the importance of mental preparation. The riders should be judged on those achievements, not on the bikes they ride, their speed or whether they end up walking some of the steepest grades.
I had my own mission when I started this project. When we return I will write a more thoughtful reflection on the intersection of the indoor and outdoor cycling worlds as played out in our journey.
John's note: The picture is of my Mission Accomplished moment - completing my goal of riding 1,000 miles during the Summer of 1995. As I read Christine's article above, I couldn't help but dig through Amy's photo albums to find the picture to share it with you. I had been carrying a disposable camera for just this occasion and my riding friend Wendy snapped the picture at the exact spot where the computer flipped to 4 digits 🙂
I have to admit that if I saw someone today riding a $200 Giant Cross Bike, wearing a tee-shirt, cheap bike shorts and $10.00 helmet, my inclination would be to think; "what a dork!" At the time I didn't know any better. And yet this was a huge moment for me.
I'm the type of person who, when I think I'm going to start something new, feel a strong need to look the part. You know, go out and buy all the gear. And then all that gear ends up collecting dust in a corner of the garage once I've lost interest. But my commitment to becoming a cyclist was going to be different. I pulled down this long neglected Cross Bike I had purchased the last time I had decided to "get fit" and told everyone I knew I was going to ride it for a thousand miles before I bought anything expensive for my new hobby - although I did end up buying a bike computer to keep track of my mileage and toe straps.
Only after accomplishing my "mission" did I even consider buying all the "stuff" one buys in order to "look like a cyclist." I may have looked like a dork that day... but I didn't feel like one.
I didn't care what others thought of me. I had overcome the biggest obstacle I've ever faced, myself. And I felt damn good about it.
- Taking the Indoors Outside - October 28, 2020
- What's holding you back? - August 12, 2017
- Take the Trail – Preparation Continues - May 7, 2017
FYI, Chris and John….another *Mission Accomplished*
I’ve had a very spotty Summer re: class attendance etc. and managed to get myself a bit demoralised (yes, I got myself there!) but re-reading this account I’m starting to get back on track… (that’d be your Mission Accomplished, BTW)
Job One:….print this article. Read and re-read it. Act on it……especially the part about what it feels like to be a beginner.
Thanks Vivienne – from one “seasoned” Instructor to another I’m feeling the same as we head into Fall. None of us can replicate the “first time” feelings we’ve experienced in the past… so maybe we need to find another something new to experience.
One detail I should have added above that ties to Christine’s article; about mid-way through the 1,000 mile goal, I became focused on completing a 40 mile loop – with an average speed of over 13 MPH. Embarrassingly slow for me to admit today, but at the time it was something I celebrated when I was finally able to complete.
I love the additional details of your story. One of the things I have been trying to teach my group is that the transitions from embarrassing to acceptable to good to excellent happen with much less effort than they had to put in to get to embarrassing. Once they have made the commitment to doing the work, the improvements are seamless.
I’d put most of them at acceptable right now. One has turned into an exceptional climber and she is the first to say that she doesn’t even know how or when it happened (beyond generously crediting me for teaching good form).
On being a beginner –
I love the process of mastering something new and potentially scary. I highly recommend it for helping you stay in touch with the anticipation, fear, frustration and elation that characterize the steps along the way. You should have seen me learning to solder silver. I was really really afraid of the flame. My first months of attempts were laughable. But, without even knowing it was happening, I improved and now that’s my favorite part of metalwork.
I think it’s easier to say in touch with the feelings of beginner exercises/cyclists if you routinely teach intro classes. If you are at all empathetic, there’s nothing like seeing the initial hesitation and the white knuckles to bring you back to that moment in your life.