Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Striving for Podium Me

Some days, I have begun to feel very slow. Wanting to find answers, I was reviewing my history on Strava. Initially, I was resistant to using this platform for tracking mileage, speed, and so on, but after using it for a few months, there was a realization that it provided information that helped me improve (both with running and riding) and I liked having a place to store information about my bikes because it helped me track how old tires are or how many miles are on a particular bike (or on my running shoes).

After using Strava for a bit of time, I realized it had become a kind of addiction. If I didn't see improvement, I would get frustrated and become more obsessed, so after some time I stopped using it all together. I needed a Strava break. At one point, I began to track some things again, but still wasn't horribly consistent with that habit, and then a little less than a year ago, I returned to tracking most rides, runs, walks and workouts through this service.

Having returned to Strava after an intermission, I was curious to go back and take a look at what I'd been doing when I first started recording. Since I don't run much outdoors these days, my curiosity was more in regard to rides I'd completed, but I thought it would be interesting to see if and how things had changed during the time span of using this software.

In the six years I've used this recording method, I came to realize that I have slowed down dramatically. Granted, there have been some severe ups and downs both mentally and physically during that time, but having thought I was doing pretty well at present, I was shocked to look back to the beginning of my records and discover that even on a bike I still ride today, my speeds have slowed between 2-6+ mph (3-10 kph) on an average ride, and running speeds were so much faster at that earlier point that I'm not even sure how I was physically completing the runs. I actually inquired of Sam, "How was I running that fast?" To which he could only respond with a shrug of his shoulders.

It's one of those curious things. Yes, I've gotten older, but in the grand scheme of life and (hopefully) not being at the end of my years on this planet, one would think that a shift so large couldn't happen in such a relatively brief span of time, especially for someone who participates in activities regularly. And yet, here I was, reading that in fact I have slowed down. The numbers simply do not tell lies.

In part, I've been frustrated because I seem to be able to push myself when riding the tandem with Sam; but when I venture out on my own it's as though I lose all focus and every ride becomes a slow, cruising ride - even when my intention is to go out and push myself. For a time, I thought it was the bicycles I was riding, until I made the connection that I have slowed on every bike - even those that I used to ride faster than at the present.

So, what happened? I wish I knew. As Sam said, "I think your brain is broken," and that's about the most sense I can make out of the situation too. My brain seems to have gone into some sort of looping record of being incapable, and yet, somehow I'm able to snap out of it when I know someone else is depending on me.

There is a part of me that doesn't want to believe my brain is broken because I thought I'd made a conscious decision to slow things down and not make everything a race, but somehow between the extreme of always wanting to race and never wanting to race, I have been unable to find a happy middle ground again. A middle ground that allows me to go faster (even if I'm just racing myself) when I want to, or relax when I have the desire is all that I'm searching for, but most days it feels as though my body protests cooperating.

I know that there have been physical shifts over the last six years as well, and these also likely play a role in the change of pace to some extent. I've become aware of both genetic and other permanent damage that I will always have to be mindful of when participating in activities too. Knowing these physical limitations exist has most certainly added to the broken-brain-syndrome.

Still, I know that my mind is stronger than my body and that I'm capable of more than my physical body would have the world, or even myself, believe.  That stubborn, use-it-all-up, no-one-tells-me-what-I-can-do, always-prove-myself individual is in there, attempting to get out. She makes appearances now and again, just to remind me that she's there, but I have to figure out how to bring her back to the surface when I need her to be present in the moment.
It's as though there is a "Podium Me" and there's "Defeated Me" that are fighting against each other on any given day. Podium Me knows that she's not actually ever going to podium during any race, but in a race with herself, she knows that she can push herself farther than she ever has before. She is confident, she pushes herself, she knows that the only way to improve is to continuously strive to be a better version of herself. Podium Me knows she still has work to do, but takes joy in the small victories and celebrates them, even if it's just with a smile to herself. I love Podium Me! She is awesome -- and she knows it.
And then, there's Defeated Me. Defeated Me truly believes that she is incapable, broken, slower than molasses, and will never achieve her goals. She is whiny and complains, even when there's no one to complain to but herself, which certainly doesn't improve the situation. Defeated Me has no hope and doesn't see any possibilities for the future. When Defeated Me shows up, there's almost no hope of having Podium Me arrive to the party. 

The thing is, both of these people live inside me. The biggest problem is that they have to coexist because there isn't any getting rid of either one of them. There are times when I believe Podium Me has completely disappeared and Defeated Me is all that remains, but when I look deep down, I see little glimmers of her. Right now, she only seems to show up at the gym or on the tandem bike, but that's okay. She's still in there and she'll find her way to the surface again. She just has to dig her way out of the trenches and get free of the shackles Defeated Me likes to place her in when she thinks she's won.

One day, if these two can learn to cooperate and work together, I may actually find the happy middle ground I've been seeking. I look forward to that day, but in the meantime I keep watching for the little sparkles of light from Podium Me, knowing that those little everyday victories are helping her find her way back.


  1. Hi GE. Perhaps you've lost your motivation? I think it's natural to slow down over time, but you seem bothered by the fact that it's significant speed loss in only 6 years. I an in awe of your commitment to running and going to the gym, so please, pat yourself on the back!

    Take the following with a grain of salt. We are all on our own life journey... If you are aged between 40-50, give yourself a break. It's easy to lose motivation as there are hormonal factors beyond our control, and as you point out, genetics play a part.

    What worked for me, and not necessarily for you, is to create different, but not necessarily less significant, goals. Complete a quadrant of your city (remember that goal?); ride to a different coffee shop each week (to get yourself out of a rut and out of the house); ride a different bike every week, go on an overnight; etc. I hope you get your mojo back!

    1. Annie, I think you definitely have points that are entirely valid. I was in shock to see how much I have slowed down over the last few years, but I think I've also found riding more interesting when there is a goal beyond just speed too. Not everything has to be a race, but after heading out on a ride recently during which I was attempting to get some speed, I was disappointed in myself, which brought about the whole investigative process and the realization that speed is definitely not (nor was it ever, but it really isn't now) my forte. :) In the past, when I worried too much about speed, I began to loathe riding a bike, and I definitely don't want to return to that place -- there has to be a happy middle ground in which I am able to ride just for fun and then occasionally challenge myself with something (whether it's speed or a route I've never completed, etc).

      Thank you, as always, for your kind words and reminders to be kinder to myself.

  2. I love Annie’s advice. I have a similar dynamic (podium me and defeated me), but not with respect to speed. I long ago accepted that I am slow. I simply love looking around too much to focus on going fast. For me, the dynamic is about mileage. I’m on pace to go 3600 miles this year, but that’s not the 4000 miles I used to go each year. I keep trying to make myself ride more, as though there is something magic about that nice round number. It’s silly to berate myself over something like this, but I do.

    So, I recently decided I need to accept that I simply do not feel like going as far right now as I used to. That’s okay. I’m still riding plenty. I’m trying two remedies. First, at 48 years old, I have decided that I should learn to swim! I’m having so much fun learning how to do this and cannot believe I never learned earlier. Second, on Friday, Matt and I are headed out of town to a recumbent bike shop in Mississippi. I’m going to test ride a recumbent to see if I can get more comfortable and go back to those long rides. I’m so excited!

    1. Yay for swimming! A few years ago when I was looking for some less joint-intensive exercise, I went to some local "silver fox" aerobic swimming classes. The older folks got a kick out of the fact that I had joined their circle, but I actually thought the workout was good and helped me not injure myself during kickboxing. I've been considering this class again (or perhaps just swimming some laps) recently as I seem to be on a bad kick of injuring myself a little too often. Anyway... my point being, I think it's awesome that you're learning to swim and it's never too late to give new things a try, right? Very cool that you're enjoying it too instead of fearing or dreading the learning process.

      I've had several people over the years suggest that I try recumbent biking (mainly because of my hand issues), and I've still yet to do so. I've had some recumbent riders come flying past me though, so there must be something to it. It's difficult to want to ride longer distances when there is discomfort or pain though, so I think whatever possibilities are out there to try that can alleviate some (or all) of the issues are worth trying out. I hope it goes well and would love to know how things turn out with your test.

      Whether it's mileage, speed, or something else, I think it can be difficult to let go of certain numbers we get stuck in our heads. While I don't want to beat myself up over such matters, it can frustrate me when I know I'm capable and just don't follow through.

    2. Quick update: I did it! I got a Greenspeed GT 2. It was one of the few that fit my short legs. So far, I love it! I’ll have more to say after it has a few miles on it. I also test rode a Greenspeed Aero. FAST! It was like test driving a Ferrari and then buying a Toyota 😄, but I wasn’t quite prepared to shell out $4500 at this stage.

    3. That's awesome, Kendra! I hope that it works out well for you. I think it's great that you were able to test ride some different options too (I completely understand 'driving a Ferrari and then buying a Toyota' - it's probably what I'd do too). Some of them are really expensive - just as much (or sometimes more) than other bikes. I guess it makes sense though since the rider still wants good parts and to be comfortable. Hope you'll share more about it when you get some time to ride it.


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