Things I learned on a road bike

XIAOYI

Exactly a year ago, I bought my first road bike. It was love at first ride.

Shortly after buying the bike, I decided to do the Whistler fondo–122 km ride from Vancouver to Whistler. Not knowing what I was getting myself into was probably a blessing.

I have become so addicted to cycling, that I decided to sell my motorcycle. Yeah. I know.

I have learned so much in the last 8,230 km.

First, a big goal can be broken down to small chunks. Riding the fondo started with riding 20 km, then 40, then 60, then 90, then 120. Each stage is a new learning experience, with different challenges.

Second, eating for performance can be very different from eating to be skinny. I have had to learn to eat for riding, and the timing of when to eat to sustain a long ride.

Third, it’s amazing what each individual can achieve when you all work as a team. All of my fasted times on rides are results of riding with other people. Sometimes this is because we take turns pulling/drafting, and sometimes it’s because someone pushed me to climb faster and harder than I ever would on my own.

Fourth, the learning never stops. There are so many skills to learn and practice, and so much knowledge to be acquired. I first learned to ride a bike when I was seven years old. But now at 42, I feel like I barely know anything.

Fifth and last, riding is so badass. I absolutely LOVE it when my lungs and my legs are burning on a steep hill climb. I love being scared shitless letting my brakes go on a downhill. I love being challenged to go farther and faster, and seeing other kickass women ride like its nobody’s business.

 

Advertisements

A full year of bike commuting

A year ago today, I started riding my old and over-sized Giant OCR to work. That thing was a men’s 52cm aluminum frame bike. The handlebar is so wide and the bike so heavy that it rides like a couch–slow and comfortable.

My commute to work is a very short 4.5 to 5 km depending on the route. The reason I always drove is that it’s easy, and I was given a parking spot at work. Riding a bike just seemed like such a chore.

The new building our office moved into has a really great bike locker and shower facility. The bike locker is free. I pay $180/year to have access to the shower with towel service. It even has two clothes dryers for those rainy Vancouver days so you can dry your wet clothes. $180 is peanuts when you consider what you get for it. (Thank you, Oxford Properties!)

It took maybe a week or so to get into the rhythm of bike commuting. It takes a bit of extra time to pack my work clothes and lay out my cycling clothes the night before, and a bit of extra time to change back into cycling clothes after work. If I have to bring my laptop home, it’s extra weight to haul. Some days I use just a backpack with a chest strap, and some days I use my Ortlieb classic pannier bag on the bike rack–it just depends on which bike I’m riding and how much I’m hauling.

In terms of commute time, I would say it averages out to be shorter on the bike. Driving is about 12 minutes in the morning if I leave early enough, but often 30 minutes in the evening (or 40 minutes when Burrard bridge was being renovated). Cycling time both ways is always consistently between 14 and 16 minutes, regardless of traffic conditions. The fastest cycling time is 12 minutes (early morning, green light all the way, on the road bike), and the slowest is 18 minutes (I think I was just dilly dallying that day, plus hitting all red lights, on the cross bike).

The best thing about bike commuting is that it eliminates the high blood pressure induced by my road rage while driving gives me time to decompress while I’m commuting. I get some fresh air, get some blood pumping through my system, and burn a few calories.

I’d love to say that I’m doing it for environmental reasons, but I would be lying. I don’t deserve a “one less car” sticker, because I’m doing this for myself rather than for the greater good of the globe. You can always count on me to be totally honest.

The worst thing about bike commuting is…well, I don’t know. Yes, some days I get wet from the rain, and some days I am cold. But I find if I dress right, given my very short commute distance, none of it is really that bad. I don’t recall ever hating a bike commute, whereas I recall hating almost every driving commute.

If you are considering bike commuting to work, I would say just give it a try for a week and see how it feels. You might like it so much that you decide to sell your car. Or do the Whistler fondo. Or just enjoy some fresh air.

20171218_065343

This “haul everything” set up.

20180221_203347

A little snow this winter.

20170919_190917 - Copy

Finding great backgrounds for bike photos during my commute.

20170815_063901 - Copy

Sometimes I take a detour on my way home.

20171222_174211 - Copy

So many great bike lanes in Vancouver, and well salted during the winter.

Sedona

Sedona is breathtaking. My words fail to describe the beauty of the place. Here are some photos from the 3-day hiking trip with Maggie.

Sedona-

First day’s hike–Devil’s Bridge. We started hiking before 6 am in pitch darkness, using our headlamps to find our way. We were rewarded with having no one else on the trail, and got to Devil’s Bridge before anyone else that day.

Sedona--3

At Devil’s Bridge

Sedona--2

Cacti everywhere

Sedona-9720

Pick your poison. Neither sounded really appealing to me. Good thing that was for mountain bikers, and I don’t mountain bike.

Sedona-9719

The signs for mountain bikers are plenty

Sedona--8

I named this the “chocolate cake rock”. Maggie was not impressed with my creativity.

Sedona--7

We were getting pelted by hail here, but who’s complaining when you get this kind of view?

Sedona--6

Plenty of interesting plants

Sedona--4

This just takes my breath away.

Sedona--9

Day two started with a scramble up Cathedral Rock. Best part of the trip!

Sedona-9777

The view from the top of Cathedral Rock trail.

Sedona-9774

What the walls of Cathedral Rock looks like.

Sedona-9831

Half this branch is smooth and brown, and the other half is bark-y and dried. So weird!

Sedona-9844

Funky bark.

Sedona-9875

Seriously twisted tree branch

Sedona-9865

Day three, we hiked to Devil’s Kitchen. It’s a giant sink hole with huge slabs of rocks fallen into the sink hole. Pretty awesome. Also pretty hard to demonstrate in a photo.

Sedona-9830

Last interesting plant

Sedona-9884

Since everyone talks about the vortex, Maggie and I decided to give it a try on the top of Ant Hill. We sat, breathed deeply, and hummed. Ok, maybe it was just making fun of the vortex seekers, but we got a photo to prove that we tried it and did not find the vortex.

Nothing but water

I did promise to come back here and give you an update on my swimming progress. Before that, let me sidetrack for a minute for a quick story.

Last weekend, Josh and I went swimming. After he encouraged me to try the water slide last time, we have done it multiple times because I was no longer scared.

This time, he encouraged me to jump off the spring board into the dive tank. I said, “Errr, I am scared.” He spread his palms, shrugged his shoulders and said, “But mommy, it’s nothing but water.”

This kid gives me the most interesting perspectives in life.

Anyway, back to my swimming progress.

When I started 5 weeks ago, I really had nowhere to go but up. Now I have completed the five half-hour lessons from the Vancouver Parks Board, and practiced on my own five times. I went from not being able to do front crawl at all, to doing half-assed front crawl for 25-35 metres. I can only breathe out of my right side, I still choke on water regularly, and I can’t swim more than 35 metres at a time. But hey, that’s progress, right?

Very slow progress. But progress nonetheless.

The next step for me is to continue practicing. I’m planning on two practices a week. I have also signed up for another round of lessons starting in March with Sea Hikers.

Swimming is probably the most unnatural and uncomfortable sport I have ever tried. Maybe it’s the mental block I have about water, and hating the feeling of water going up my nose. Maybe it’s all the self-fulfilling prophecy about I could never learn to swim. Whatever it is, it’s this gigantic task that seems so impossible.

My plan is to just slowly chip away at this task of learning to swim. I need to do this for myself, to see for myself what is possible when I put my mind to it.

Josh swimming

The dive tank is “nothing but water”, he said.

Water slide

Josh and I went swimming on the weekend. It’s partly to have some “mommy and Josh” time, and partly getting me more comfortable in the water.

We were merrily going along, trying different stroke in the pool, playing games in the water, and having a good time. Half way down the 50 metre lane, where the pool is the deepest, Josh notices a slide on the side of the pool. His eyes lit up.

“Mommy, I want to try the slide!”

“Sure, go ahead.”

The slide was maybe only 6 feet high, and the bottom of the slide was maybe a foot above the water. I knew Josh can handle it. He quickly climbed out of the pool, up the ladder, and came down like a cannon ball. Splash! He surfaced with a big smile on his face a few seconds later. (This whole time I’m clinging onto the edge of the pool for dear life.)

“Mommy, I want to do it again!”

“Sure.”

This time, he wanted to come down without his goggles. Splash! He surfaced again with a smile. I was so proud of him. He is such a great swimmer, and so brave.

Then, he asked me the deadly question.

“Mommy, do you want to try the slide?”

Instantly, I thought about 100 reasons I could give him why I should not try the slide, ranging from my ass is too big for the narrow slide, to I’m too full from lunch. Oh, I know, how about I’d rather not die?

It took me maybe eternity to answer him with a whisper, “No, I’m too scared.”

You read that right. I’m 41 years old and too scared to come down a kids’ water slide. I am much happier to jump out of an airplane, or bungee jump off a bridge, ride a motorcycle solo across North America, or hike up Kilimanjaro. But no, no water slide into a swimming pool.

Let me just take a second to remind you the fact that I am struggling to learn to swim. Each time I have my lesson or go practice swimming, I drink so much pool water that I can taste the chlorine in my mouth all day. Choking on water half way down a lane and then panicking to grab the pool edge is my specialty. To willingly go down a steep slide, and throwing myself into the deep end of the pool is just asking for trouble.

With all the wisdom he has accumulated in his 7 years, 2 months, and 14 days of life, Josh said in the most gentle and non-judgmental voice, “Remember last time you were scared of that tree run at Whistler? You tried it, you had fun and liked it. Maybe you will like the slide too if you tried it.”

Bam!

May this moment always serve to remind me that despite my irrational fears and parental failings, Josh is turning out pretty freaking awesome.

Sigh. “You’re right,” I said.

I climbed out of the pool, up the ladder, sat at the top of the slide, hoped I don’t drown in front of my kid. I cursed the “setting an example for your child” thing. I took a deep breath, pinched my nose hard, and slid down towards my death. Splash!

I recall lots and lots of bubbles, then I surfaced. OMG, I survived! Somehow I did not die. In fact, I had so much fun that I did it two more times.

Josh, one day when you’re old enough for swear words and scarcasm, I’ll let you read my blog. I want you to know that when I finally conquer my fear of water, you are a large part of that process, and I will always be grateful for that January Saturday afternoon when you encouraged me to try the slide.

Swimming

Me and Josh at the Vancouver Aquatic Centre

Swimming 2

Guess which one of us the better swimmer?

The fear of water

26154995_1582172691873309_7902964687652782080_n(1)Water is my nemesis.

My mom put Grant and I in swimming lessons when we were kids. She had a lifetime of regret for not learning to swim, so she made sure her kids learned to swim. (BTW, my mom did eventually learn to swim as an adult. More on this later.)

As a kid, I learned breast stroke and stopped there. It was good enough. In any event, I didn’t love swimming. I didn’t love anything that required practice. Like the piano. Anyway, Grant and I probably spent more time splashing around than actually swimming. All this took place in a swimming pool at a fancy health club where my dad had a membership. I did enjoy the cool water on hot summer days, and ate countless sandwiches at the poolside restaurant.

For the next 10-12 years, I was never required to swim. Since I didn’t love it, I don’t tend to want to go swimming.

I’ll spare you the details on how I almost drowned in a lake when I was 20, because, you know, my mom will read this and freak out.

My fear of water kept me away from water for the next 20 years. I could swim laps (with badly done breast stroke) in a pool if I know I can reach out and grab the edge of the pool and be able to see the bottom. But I never went swimming. Why would I? The fear-induced shiver each time I get in the water is just too much for me to handle.

I decided that this needs to change.

I was inspired by a small human–Josh. It’s not just his capability of swimming that inspires me; it’s his comfort level in the water. When we went swimming with whale sharks in the middle of the ocean in Mexico, he jumped into the water without hesitation. When his mask/snorkel fell off and he sucked in some water, he was not fazed at all. He got the guide to help put his mask/snorkel back on, blew the water out of his nose, and just went on his merry way to see the whale sharks.

Pride oozed out of my pores, and I was so inspired to be more like him.

I was inspired by another person–my mom. As a child, she was traumatized by old school jackass gym teachers and never learned to swim properly. When she saw Grant and I learn to swim, she was inspired to learn as well. So in her 40’s, she took lessons and learned to swim, and swam a lot in the following years.

I was also inspired by a bunch of strangers. When I did that duathlon race (run-bike-run) last summer, I longingly looked into the swimming pool at the athletes who were on the swimming leg of the triathlon. I was envious of their abilities, even if they were slow swimmers. I thought to myself, maybe one day. Maybe one day I will overcome the impossible, and learn to swim. Maybe one day I will be able to swim well enough to participate in a triathlon. Maybe one day.

The one day started last week. I signed up for 5 private lessons, and committed to going for 5 swims on my own. In 5 weeks (10 times in the water), if I make absolutely no improvement, I will concede defeat and remain a land animal forever. I am really hoping that I will make some improvements, regardless of how slight.

I’ll report back in 5 weeks on how I’m doing. Fingers crossed!

A moment in time

*Warning: very long post with many bad selfies*

About a year and a half ago, I set out to lose 15 lbs. I had no desire to be skinny; I just wanted to be less chubby. I figured 15 lbs is do-able.

 

Somewhere in this process, I learned a lot about myself. I learned that I can learn a new trick. I learned that it’s not just about the weight. I learned that I will always be learning. And I learned that health and fitness is a journey, not a destination.

Fat Angela

I have so few photos of myself, so I stole this from Sherry. This is taken in June 2016 when we were in Morocco. It was after this trip that I decided I needed a change.

Fat Angela 2

I was having the time of my life. The kids were growing bigger, my career was stable, I was having fun traveling and skiing. It’s not like I looked myself in the mirror everyday and hated my life.

I can learn a new trick

For 15 months, I kept a detailed record of everything I ate and every exercise I performed. I weighed how many grams of chicken breast I was eating, and used a heart rate monitor for every workout for an accurate count of calories burnt. I used a combination of Garmin Connect and My Fitness Pal app to help me track everything. Everyday I aimed for a caloric deficit. I had to do this. You know how people say, “Listen to your body”? I can’t. I can’t listen to my body, because I can’t hear it.

I remember years ago, one time I had lunch with my BFF Karen. She ordered a burger, as did I. (Karen, I think that may have been the first and last time I saw you eat a burger!) I wolfed my burger down whole, barely listening to what she was saying. By the time I looked up to take a breath, she had set half her burger down. She was done. No longer hungry. She left half her burger and never ate the rest of it.

I was amazed. How does she do that? If there’s food on my plate, I finish it. That’s just how it is. But this woman did not finish her food!!!!

The difference is, Karen listened to her body. I, on the other hand, only know to eat whatever is put in front of me, and eat it quickly. She controlled her food. My food controlled me.

Anyway, Garmin Connect and My Fitness Pal app tell me how many calories I have left for the day. The more I exercised, the more I could eat. Otherwise, 1200 calories is all I get for the day. I did not have to “listen to my body”, since I could not hear it anyway.

After diligently tracking everything I ate for 15 months, I was finally getting the hang of it. I was starting to get a feel of what I should eat and how much. I was finally starting to hear a whisper of a voice when I am satiated. I learned that I can be trained to listen to my body.

Less Fat Angela

Doing the P90X3 agility workout in November 2016. 6 am everyday was my “me time” in the gym. 20 lbs down.

It’s not just about the weight

I started with a goal to lose weight. I was 40, and have a less-than-perfect family health history of diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular conditions, cancer, etc. My heart valve doesn’t close completely. I sit on my butt all day at a stressful job. It’s only a matter of time before shitty health problems took over my life.

I look at these two small human beings that I am beyond blessed to have, and damn, I want to be here for a good long time to embarrass them and watch them grow.

The first thing I did was increase my running volume, and starting spin classes at a studio. I often run early in the morning, and come home as the kids are just waking up. Savanna got savvy quickly to check if I was sweaty before she would give me a morning kiss. I loved that the first thing they see in the morning is mommy coming home from a run.

Then I started following some workouts from Beachbody, streamed over the internet. The kids sometimes watched me go through Fix Extreme or P90X3. Then one day, they joined me during my workout. Now if I work out at home, I’m bound to have one of them jump in with me.

When I bought a road bike and started cycling more, Josh told me he is crazy about cycling and he wanted to ride everyday with me. He is always asking how many kilometres we have done, so he can do just a bit more to beat his last record.

I learned that it’s not all just about losing weight. It’s about influencing my kids through action to live an active life, and do better than yesterday.

Josh working out

Josh doing Fix Extreme workout with me.

Josh cycling

One of many bike rides with Josh.

back

May 2017. 25 lbs down. Lots of strength training in the gym, before the cycling addiction started.

The learning never stops

When I first started with working out regularly, I ate a very high protein, low fat, and low carb diet. I cut out all rice, bread, pasta, and noodles. The only carbs I would eat is a small amount of fruit, and baked sweet potato. Mostly I ate a lot of chicken breast and low fat cottage cheese. No avocado, no nuts, very little cooking oil–the fat content scared me.

That worked, along with the workouts. Weight came off. I was happy.

Then I started cycling. Then I was told to eat carbs on long rides.

Wait, what? Carbs? Isn’t that bad for me?

I learned that on a long ride, I need carbs that will quickly convert to energy. If all I eat is protein, I won’t be able to handle a long ride. Well, damn, ok, I’ll eat some carbs.

That worked. I was still losing weight.

I read 6 different books on sports nutrition, from one end of the spectrum (body building) to the other end (vegan Ironman racing). I got 6 difference sets of advice.

I learned that the sport you train for may dictate some of what you eat. I learned that I need to eat a balanced diet to keep the rest of me happy. Mostly, I learned that I will never stop learning about the theories and sciences of what works and what does not.

Books

How much of what am I eating today?

Angela running

September 2017. Going for a run while on a business trip.

It’s a journey

When I lost the 15 lbs I set out to lose, I was happy. I was having so much fun with my workout routine, I just continued.

Today, I don’t feel like “I’m done”. I feel like I am just beginning to learn certain sports, and there are so many other things I want to learn. I took a cycling clinic last summer, and met some incredible women who inspire me to ride more, ride faster, run, and try different sports. I joined a bunch of rides with a local bike shop and met some kickass ladies who eats hills for breakfast and run at speeds I can only dream of. I just signed up for swimming again, because damn it, I’m gonna learn this!

When I signed up for the 122 km Whistler fondo 7 months ago, I thought to myself, “If I can do this, I can do anything.” That’s how huge and unreachable the fondo was to me. And guess what? I did it.

So what else is so huge and unreachable for me today? Maybe I can do that a few months from now. Who knows?

Angela dressed

November 2017. 32 lbs down.

Today is just a moment in time in my journey. I wanted to document these thoughts, because some days are harder than others to be motivated. Like this morning when I had to get my butt out of bed for a run–that was brutal. But then tomorrow morning I scheduled myself to ride my bike on the rollers, which I am really looking forward to!