There is an old adage that you can’t teach an old dog a new trick. I don’t know if that is true but I learned that you can teach this old dog a painful lesson in humility. I often marvel at many of the beautiful things in life so many people never notice. As an endurance athlete, I am up at 4:00 am every day and when running on the roads by 4:30. Not only am I at my best in the morning, working out at this time does not interrupt family time and there is a peaceful feeling pounding out twelve miles before the rest of the world is awake.
I marvel at a star-filled sky on a cold morning and running with a beautiful sunrise is breathtaking. I also am in awe of God’s sense of humor and ability to teach us lessons when we need them the most.
I embarked on my fitness journey in December of 2009 by eating a healthy diet and beginning a running program. Unlike other things in the past I had managed to stay with my new lifestyle through mid-February. I was running every other day and had reached a long run of three miles every week.
Enjoying this new found energy and zest for fitness, I remembered how much I enjoyed biking in my early twenties. I thought adding biking to my current exercise routine would give me some diversity in workouts. It would also allow me to enjoy the beautiful countryside. Having done my research my bike was ordered and would be ready my mid-March. I could hardly wait.
I picked up my bike on a Saturday morning after a good three mile run and the plan was to go for my first ride in over twenty years on Sunday after church. That Saturday afternoon May and I decided to take a ride in the car on the six mile loop I would tackle tomorrow. At least I was smart enough to check out what I was getting myself into, and as the story goes, I obviously didn’t pay much attention.
We headed out in the car with great conversation and enjoying the countryside of our neighborhood. Four miles into the loop and so far so good, I could tackle this course with intensity and passion with energy left over for a run afterwards. That was an arrogant and HUGE overestimation on my part…but hey I was in shape now and how hard could it be to get back on a bike and knock out six miles?
I remember driving up the first hill and saw gentlemen well into his golden years pedaling up that hill. He was laboring but pedaling steady and slowly attacking that small bump in the road some would call a hill. I was even callous enough to comment to May something to the effect….”Come on fella, keep your knees in and get up that hill…it’s not that bad!”
That probably was not the smartest thing I ever said out loud about anyone and by grace the comments stayed in the car. As we pulled into the driveway I was excited for my bike ride on Sunday and confident I would knock those six miles out in a matter of minutes….after all I was now in shape.
Sunday afternoon finally arrived and after a light lunch I dressed in my biking gear, got out my brand new Trek Madone and was ready to “assault” that six mile loop. As I mounted my bike and headed out of the subdivision, I was impressed by just how good my new bike felt. I imagine a good bike feels a lot like a nice performance automobile, stiff yet soft when needed, fast, powerful and performance oriented.
For anyone that has ever ridden bikes seriously, you never forget that wonderful feeling of being on a nice bike with the wind in your face. I was riding down memory lane and at a great rate of speed. No problem I mused to myself, I am flying, this six miles will be a breeze (I didn’t realize I was riding downhill)…after all I am now in shape! That was all about to drastically change.
As I made my way to the back side of the Longtown loop, the zest and energy I had for my ride when I left the house was suddenly nowhere to be found. I was tired, my bottom was sore, and my legs felt like cooked spaghetti that was well past being al-dente.
I was not in as good of shape as I thought…or wanted to be. “I can do this I kept saying to myself over the harsh sounds of rapid inhalation and exhalations, I can do this.” The problem was, and I sure didn’t want to face it, I was two and a half miles from home and I had not yet started the hill by Lake Windermere. As I struggled across the bridge into the head wind there it was looming as large and Mount Everest, the hill I so affectionately referred to yesterday as simply a bump.
It sure didn’t look like a hill from the comfort of my car. The same hill I now realize my fellow biker was so artfully attacking yesterday. OK, lesson one learned….never find fault with what someone’s performance period. He was 30 years my senior and riding up that hill like gazelle! And as for being in shape, well lesson two learned….no matter how good you feel, you can always improve and keep your ego in check. Someone once told me to enjoy the process, well I was seriously wondering what joy there was to be found today and I wondered if they had experienced the same thing? “Keep pedaling, just keep pedaling and this nightmare will soon be over.”
As I started the hill I wasn’t yet half way up and I knew I was in deep trouble. My breathing had reached an anaerobic state, my heart was about to pound of my chest and it was about to get worse. My speed was slowing at a rapid rate and I was out of gears! I was in the easiest gear, and I had twenty-one of them. As I contemplated my next move I reasoned it was time to get up out of the saddle and climb that hill like a man standing up.
Remember the spaghetti legs? I was so tired and my legs so weak, I couldn’t stand up and pedal. I had to sit back down and reassess with half the hill ahead of me. What an absolute mess. I managed to scrape a few coherent thoughts together and made a promise to myself that I would NOT get off and walk. I was going to pedal up this hill and make it or I was going to fall over and just lay on the side of the road until someone stopped to help. I only hoped it was not the gentleman I saw riding the hill on Saturday. Big Foot would have been better! My pride got me into this mess and now I had to pay the price.
I managed all the strength I had and made it up that hill and the little one that immediately follows. How I did not tip over I have no idea. Had a deputy sheriff been sitting at the top of the hill he would have caught me on the radar going about a quarter mile an hour. Having survived the hill (it will never be referred to as a bump ever again) I was spent.
There was nothing left in my tank, I couldn’t sit up straight and I was barely moving. A little over a mile to home, it was flat and I had made it. I was out of the danger zone. Letting a little pride seep back in, little did I know that I had one more adventure to endure.
In my exhausted state I managed to look to my left and sitting in the yard of a stately home was a huge German Shepard. As I inched forward I prayed he was on a chain. The gigantic beast rose to all fours. “Nope, no chain, great, just great.” As I crawled along I began to think what it would feel like to get torn to shreds by a majestic creature as this one. At least it would make for a good story.
Then something amazing happened. The dog took four steps towards me and stopped. He tilted his head as dogs do when they don’t fully understand something and just looked at me for what felt like an eternity. Then, without so much as a bark, he turned around walked back to the house and sat down. I was going to make it after all. I had to laugh as I realized you are really out of shape when a dog doesn’t find any sport in chasing you. Talk about a humbling moment!
As I rode the last mile home, I recounted my arrogance on Saturday and was thankful to escape the hill and the dog. I learned many valuable lessons that day. First, never be so cavalier about someone’s performance. We all are in different places and should help each other and be supportive. I don’t care if it’s your first day of exercise or you have completed several Ironman Triathlons. Work as a team and support each other.
Second, take inventory of your fitness, set goals, be humble and realistic on what you can do and enjoy the process. Having survived that ride I started to realize what my friend was trying to tell me. Be humble and enjoy the process. Measure your success and growth against no one but yourself.
Since that day I have ridden that hill many times and always attack it no matter what point in the ride I am. I manage to take a moment and reflect on the lessons I learned. I have never seen that German Shepard again, but I keep a watchful eye out for him and know that next time I won’t get a reprieve…but I will give him a good game of chase! Enjoy the process, stay humble and Here is to being fit for a lifetime!