What this Bike Racer has Learned After Five Weeks and No Riding

By Jessica McWhirt

I’m coming up on five weeks of no cycling or strength training. I thought this may help restore some energy by giving my body a break from stress. I thought it’d help slow me down. Maybe turn on my parasympathetic nervous system more and become more relaxed.

I actually got the idea from a friend struggling with a ton of fatigue and stress as well. She’s working with a naturopath and her doctor told her to take off six weeks from strenuous activities, only leaving yoga and walking.

When this was first brought up to me, I balked at the idea of ever being able to do it. The bike was how I de-stressed. Not being able to ride my bike, I thought, would stress me out more.

Come to find out, I actually really enjoyed these fives weeks of yoga and walking. Granted, I thought a lot (and I mean a lot) about losing strength on the bike and gaining weight. I know, it sounds vapid and vain and gross to say that. I realize I shouldn’t worry about putting on a couple of pounds if that means I feel better at the end of this.

I’ve been trying to watch my calorie intake, but not obsess about it. I’ve also tried to make sure I’m keeping up my protein intake. The problem with that is I’m still so restricted in my diet (for my headaches) that I’ve had to drastically limit what I eat for protein. Right now, it’s mostly tofu, eggs, and protein powder. It isn’t bad. Just limiting. I do have chia seeds, hemp seeds, hemp powder, and damn near all the veggies, but it’s difficult to find pure protein as a vegetarian who can’t eat dairy on top of meat. 

Walking and yoga have seriously slowed me down and get more in tune with my body. With yoga, you have to stay present in order to hold poses the right way and to connect your breath with the movement. I usually feel pretty damn good after yoga too. 

With walking, it’s showing me to focus on my surroundings (that I miss while cycling), my breath, whatever podcast or meditation I’m listening to, and my feet on the ground. I still view it as movement, as exercise, but with both walking and yoga, there’s no real goal other than to be present.

I love how the yoga instructors tell us to give our best effort and let that be enough. To not compare how deep into the pose we get compared to the instructor or anyone else. It’s helping me learn that I need to take that mindset onto the bike when I return.

Sure, competition is all about being better, stronger, and faster than the other racers, but you aren’t worth more being the fastest compared to the slowest. You aren’t a better person because of it.

It’s about challenging yourself.

And since none of us get paid to race our bikes, our focus should only be about improving ourselves — letting the races guide us to self-improvement and to push our personal boundaries — and to have fun.

Over the past few months, with this whole slowing down experiment, I’m realizing that I don’t want to get old and die. And since those two are inevitable, staying in the present and finding what brings me to life and makes life worth living is what I need to focus on.

It’s too easy to dwell on shitty race results or feeling too exhausted to even train to race. It’s so much harder to stay in the present moment and enjoy what I currently have, which are friends I can be myself with, a family who cares about me, a partner who makes me laugh every day, a job and co-workers that I enjoy working with, a body that can still get me places, bikes that can take me on roads, through the woods, and over gravel.

And sure, some days are harder than others. That’s life. 

But I want to make sure that when the day comes, when I’m old and crinkly, and I’m about to close my eyes for good, I want to know that what I did through my life makes me smile one last time.

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