I'm a professional cyclist and I feel like one in my heart, my legs and my soul. Every aspect of training and lifestyle from January to the end of September revolves around cycling. (Okay, I do run a few times '"in season" - when there are 5 minutes to get to the bank before it closes, or when I push my luck getting to yoga class on time. Those are actually make for pretty good little efforts ;).)
As each cycling season draws towards a close, I look forward to pulling out my running shoes though (this year I got a new pair of bright orange New Balance 1500 shoes with Boa Fit System dials!). That's a feeling that I share with a good part of the women's professional peloton. Changing up the routine, and training in a totally different way is healthy for the body, and it's also refreshing for the mind. There's something special with reconnecting with the trails...
If you ask the majority of the riders how they got into cycling, you'll be in for a variety of interesting stories. Most of us hail from backgrounds unrelated to cycling, but all of which include some sort of passion for physical activity, performance, and personal achievement. I learned how to push past my physical comfort zone as a child when I was introduced to cross country running. As an adult, I likely subconciously tap into those early lessons when I train for excellence as a cyclist. (No experience is ever wasted!)
For cyclists, off-season running also provides a crucial period of relatively high impact activity. Bike riding is easy on the body in a sense: we sit around on the saddle all day, and even if we're hammering out big watts with our "pistons", the lack of the type of impact running provides, can be detrimental for our bone structure over time. It leads to osteoporosis. This condition is quite prevelant in the female peloton and the effects leading to weak bones last for the rest of our lives. Including higher impact activities througout the year, like running in the off season helps promote higher bone density, preventing brittle bones as we advance through our careers.
This weekend, Boutique Endurance in Montréal, Canada gave me the opportunity to race my first cross country running event since I was around 8 years old: Cross des Couleurs. It's a sandy 5.5km course that weaves through a forest of colourful foilage, with a few steep pitches and a welcome straightaway seciton that we tackle twice in the 11km event. I was out of my element and didn't know what to expect on the start line. I was unsure that my body would hold up to the distance...
The motor is there - my heart and cardio are strong from cycling, but my joints are weak and unfamilirar to jogging.
I checked out the final kilometers of the course during my warmup and invented a little race strategy. I like to have a game plan in mind no matter what type of training or racing I do; I think it's something that I've developed as a cyclist over the years. My goal was mostly to have fun, add another experience to my collection of life events, and to push my limits just enough to feel good, have fun, but not injure myself. I put no pressure on myself, and went into the event with the heart and mind of a kid.
Crossing the line in 7th position, and as the first woman was a bit of a surprise to me. Regardless of what I did relative to anyone else that day, the most important part of the final result was reconnecting with the "Little Lex" inside of me. The one who started jogging in third grade. The one who didn't know why she "should" run, the one who didn't think about why she "should" run, the one who just knew how to feel in her heart what the right thing to do was. It's the same one that drives me to train, race, compete and FEEL on the bike.
Enjoy the off-season everyone, and I wish you all the same type of connection with the child within you!