Tuesday, January 7, 2014


Efficiency is not how fast or how strong but how little you put yourself into whatever you're doing in order to achieve the maximum result.

Mondays are usually my rest days but I found myself on my bike on a CompuTrainer  at Great Basin Bicycles around noon to “spin scan” myself which is a fancy way of saying I was trying to discover where my faults are, in terms of cycling, and how I can become a more powerful rider without really trying harder (per se) but riding smarter. I was feeling pretty crispy that morning already: for some reason my long run the day before really knocked me out and I felt like I could have slept another 12 hours. My legs hurt and my left foot (with some sort of tendonitis) throbbed. The space behind my eyes hurt. My right shoulder was on fire.  But I'd already renewed my driver's license at the DMV at 8 am and applied for two jobs and so what could harm could a spin scan do? 

Well, harm isn't the right word, exactly. Let me try to explain.

So here's the thing: I'm not known for my efficiency or even my constancy. Athletically speaking, I can do exceptionally well (running a 2:47 marathon, qualifying for Nationals in the 1650 free after only 18 months of swim training, climbing Patterson Pass without puking all over my front tire) but I am also capable of really downright shitty things, too: GI issues so prevalent at the track I can hardly sprint a 400 most days without worrying what will end up in my shorts; hyperventilating in the pool (at practice) when I allow myself to realize I'm surrounded by water; the inability to push my heart beyond 189 beats per minute-- even though I could, I know I could-- I let the digital monitor tell me I can't instead of trying anyway. This tendency extends beyond the physical: I've written a book (this is a good thing) but I doubt it will be published (pathetic); I paint portraits and landscapes (awesome) but never show them to anyone (shitty); I loved a man with all my heart (can you do any more than that?) but never believed I was pretty/smart/fit/successful enough for him (super-duper-shitty. You can't love a person like that) and I taught 75-minute writing courses I'd prepare days before--for hours at a time (what dedication!) only to undermine myself minutes before each class with panic attacks that I am not worthy, not good enough, not ever, ever, throwing my plans out the window (literally) and doing something lame and not thought-out like thesis-statement workshops. (Shitty.) 

Sigh. That's me. 

Efficiency, in other words, is not my strong suit. Extremes are. And so, there I was on the spin scan to see if my legs could learn a happy medium. And then (maybe maybe) the rest of me could learn it, too. And then there was the other thing: the fact that someone would talk to me about cycling for the time it took me to figure out my form. This means a lot: no one talks to me. Or not much, not anymore: it was going to be a conversation for as long as I could withstand the discomfort and for as long as I could keep learning or until my muscles gave out, which would be the case, actually. 

Riding a bike isn't as "easy" as it looks. It's not like what they say: it's a thing you do and you don't forget about it. Or maybe it is if you ride a cruiser bike once a year and you manage to not fall over or careen down a hill and hit the steel bumper of my boyfriend's truck like this woman did two years ago, smashing his right rear-light (and doing a bit of damage to her face in the process.)  I can ride a bike and not hit a parked car.  I have, especially since I've become an athlete (a runner) and I'm always injured. But the thing is: my form on the bike sucks. I push down with my quads too much and I never use my hamstrings (what are those, anyway?) and I like the hard gears because I'll just grind my way through anything. 

Which is all to say I'm no good on the bike which is why Great Basin Bicycles has been a godsend and why I keep going back to torture their staff who tell me tidbits as I ride and ride, my eyes focused on a screen which tells me what muscles are firing and when and how. Most people start of with a "peanut" shaped design which means the legs are working opposite each other. I skipped the peanut stage and moved right into potato ("She's a spud!" one of the guys commented and I had to laugh at that)-- which means I've half-got it. Contrary to what you'd think it's the pulling back and up which matters most; gravity takes care of the pushing down. And if I think about it enough, I can make a potato which means my legs are working equally hard-- front and back, left and right. 

It's not perfect, though, and perfect was what I wanted. Which is the only way I can explain that I was on the spin-scan thing for two hours when I hadn't planned to be there that long at all.  They asked me to: try turning my quads completely off, try only sweeping back, try removing your hands from the bars, folding them behind your back, leaning forward as far as you can and pull, pull, pull with those legs. I couldn't do any of the things they asked completely right.... I had to stop after two hours, though, because my legs were shaking and I could hardly stand at the end of it.

Ever since I started riding with the Diablo Cyclists (2012) I've wanted to know how to get better. Is it more miles? Is it intervals? Is it riding up hills like Mt. Diablo so hard you puke and collapse and wish you were dead, only to peel yourself off the pavement to do it again and again? Is it long rides and tempo rides? Is it, merely, always riding? Is it your bike, is it you, or is it the symbiosis of both, frame and frame, aligned and in perfect synchrony? 

I'm not so upset that my foot is in pain because it means I can swim and ride more. And ride more. I've always wanted to ride 200 miles without stopping, ride at the front of the pack as though I'm strong. Maybe I can, one day, when I learn to shy away from extremes and slide into efficiency

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