OK [wlm_firstname], What's holding you back?

I had an 'aha' moment after last week's Sunday morning ride with the group which is going to tackle the Cabot Trail. All of these people started their cycling in my indoor classes so I have had an opportunity to observe their strengths and limitations. I can work on the same issues indoors and then outdoors, and then take the outdoors experience indoors to help people bring greater refinement to their form and understanding of their bodies.

About a year ago a 50ish year old woman arrived in my class. My questions about other physical activity revealed that she did a lot of Pilates. That was clear from the moment she got on the bike - good core and balance. On the other hand, she didn't seem familiar with the sensations of cardiovascular exercise. Over the next few weeks I had an opportunity to teach her the value of a a heart rate monitor. I saw a gradual change in her willingness to work hard. Her greatest limitation became her seeming inability to raise her cadence, even a little bit, under any circumstances.

Fast forward to this year. Her cadence indoors has increased dramatically but as soon as she got on a bike outdoors she reverted. I knew that she was well-prepared in terms of fitness and strength so that wasn't the reason for the change. I spent a lot of time riding with her or leaving her to the sweep with specific instructions for coaching. She was consistently the slowest rider but never complained and didn't seem discouraged about her progress. This seemed odd. In her 'real' life she is an accomplished and driven university administrator.

I struggled to identify what I could do to help her. Two weeks ago I rode with her and observed that when road conditions would allow her to speed up she didn't. Speed was not the problem - she is a confident and fast descender. I began to give her speed checks, encouraging her to find the sweet spot that would let her move a little faster with a high cadence while keeping her effort in check. Halfway through that day I left her with the sweep and rode on to work with other riders. When I checked the sweep's GPS the next day, I noticed that Michelle's average speed was painfully slow even though that part of the route was not challenging.

Last Sunday I saw that Michelle had purchased a bike computer. She reported that the speed checks I had given her were very instructive. At that point I asked her how fast she was going at the end of the previous week. Her response was a number that was more than twice the actual. She was genuinely shocked when I told her what I had seen on the GPS record. Michelle had a great ride that day, with an average speed about twice what it has been. She finished only five minutes behind the biggest part of the group.

Over lunch after the ride she told us a story. As a girl of ten, she had an asthma attack while playing outside and was hospitalized. Her asthma disappeared shortly after but the effect on her behavior did not. The process of training for the trail helped her to recognize that she has been holding back ever since that first attack. Once she allowed herself to let go of the fear, the skills and knowledge she has acquired both indoors and outdoors let her perform to her potential.

As a coach I had my own epiphany that day. I realized that everyone has a story like that. Mine dates back to a second grade teacher who told me I couldn't draw. I didn't put pencil to paper for four decades. Now I make a part of my living as an artist. Recognizing that we all have a similar 'story' will encourage me to keep gently exploring around the edges, reinforcing progress when I see it and keeping my students aware of the mental aspects of their performance.

Originally posted 2012-08-02 06:42:01.

Christine Nielsen
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