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Two and a half years ago, I went on a bike ride with a good friend.  It was a beautiful day, the sun was shining, the grass was green, the pavement was hard, my head was not… The day ended poorly.

Since then, my poor little bicycle has been sitting forlornly in the corner.  It is a fantastic bike, one I acquired when a Team in Training mentor was upgrading to a custom job.  This bike has done two Ironman triathlons.  It was seriously a downgrade in ownership when it came to me, and has only gotten worse over the last two years of non-use. Alas, the poor neglected bicycle.  It wasn’t that I was afraid of getting on the bike or anything, I just didn’t want to.  Just never came up.  No need.  Yeah, that’s the ticket.

Fast forward to the Mardi Gras Marathon in February.  Standing there at the start line, feeling the rush of adrenaline that comes from standing in a crowd of people about to do something amazing, I remembered why races are so motivating for me.  That morning, I decided to do another race, and soon.  By the end of the week, I had decided that I would do another Olympic-distance triathlon in October, and then shoot for a half-Ironman next spring.  I’ve done tris before, and am excited to get back into it.  There’s part of me which is tempted to aim for a full Ironman, but the half seems more sensible, and my husband appreciates it when I am not broken.

Of course, making this decision meant I would have to actually get back on the bike.

I have put together a training plan which takes me as far as the Olympic distance race, and it starts at the end of April.  The first week, the plan calls for a 45 minute bike ride one day and an hour ride on another.  It occurred to me (since I am clever) that I might want to get on the bike a few times before attempting this 45 minute bike ride, not to mention the hour long ride, and so I worked backwards to create a gradual increase and all that responsible, sensible stuff.  (See above.)

Today, I had the monumental task of 15 minutes on my bike.

I am only partially being sarcastic.  It really did turn out to be monumental.

First there was the helmet.  I have a new one, since generally when one puts a dent in one’s bike helmet one is supposed to replace it.  This meant I had to fit the thing, which proved to be entertaining.  Apparently either my head is small or they just like to give you as much strap as possible in an attempt to give your cats something to play with.  It took me probably 20 minutes of yanking and sliding and twisting and un-twisting to get it to where it would go on my head, at which point I remembered that helmets are not made for ponytails, or buns, or really any hair at all.

Then I went out to the shed and grabbed the bike.  I had it tuned last year, thinking I might actually get on it then, so I knew it was in decent if not perfect shape.  The tires, of course, needed to be pumped up.  I took off the little black plastic cap, stuck the pump thingy over the stem bit that pokes out of the wheely round thing (try to keep up when the language gets technical, it’s a challenge), and started pumping for all I was worth.

Nothing happened.  Or more specifically, nothing happened with the wheel.  The pump was exceptionally recalcitrant, I was literally jumping up and down on it to try and get it to move, and yet the tire was still as empty as an Alaskan former governor’s head.  I took the pump thingy off, fiddled with it, put it back on.  Nothing.  Took the pump thingy off, shook the pump (a variant of percussive repair), put it back on.  Still nothing.  Just when I was coming to the conclusion that I would need to either replace the tube or the pump, and that I was going to have to take both in to the bike shop, I realized my mistake.  See, on these fancy tires, you take off the black plastic cap, and then there’s this little metal bit that has to be loosened, too.  Except I hadn’t loosened the metal bit. Very glad I had realized this before making an idiot of myself to the bike shop guys, I loosened the metal bits and was then successfully able to pump up the tires.

Finally, I was going to be able to get on the bike and ride!  I walked the bike around to the front of the house and prepared to ride off into the sunset like a real live athlete.

Or not.  As I started to get on the bike, I could feel my heart rate increasing.  Perhaps there was more to this not riding the bike for two and a half years than just not feeling the need.  I took a deep breath, told myself that I was not about to die, and clipped in to the pedals.

A half a block later, I was thinking, this isn’t so bad, hey look I even remember how to shift gears!

Another half block later, I realized I had forgotten how to un-shift.  I could shift up (I think), but down was right out.  (Or it might be vice versa, I have never been able to keep those straight.)  I stopped, unclipping my feet in time to not crash and burn — you laugh, but you should see the bumps, bruises, and abrasions I sustained the first time I rode clipped in! — and then sat there for a minute or two trying every combination of pushing, pulling, and twisting I could think of to get the gear moving shifting cable things to go the other direction.  Eventually, I figured it out, got back on the bike, and started riding again.

And I rode.  I rode around in circles.  I rode past cars.  Cars rode past me riding.  I went over a gravel-ish spot.  I rode on some broken pavement.  Mostly, I rode around about a 3-block radius from my house, convincing myself to relax every time the road was uneven (and there’s a lot of that here in New Orleans).  At the end of 15 minutes, I felt like I might have just ridden the entire Olympic bike leg.  But I did it, and I didn’t crash and burn.  I didn’t even fall once.

Thursday, I will get on the bike and ride some more, and this time I will venture out beyond a three-block radius.  My plan is to go down St. Charles to Audubon and do loops there.  I’m starting slow and working my way up.

What I realized today is that my bike training is going to have two components this summer.  There’s going to be the part I do in the gym on a stationary bike or in a spinning class, which will be where I work on the strength and endurance I need.  Then there’s going to be the part where I get on my actual bike and go ride in the actual world, and that is going to be a lot more about re-learning to trust the bike, trust myself, and enjoy the road.

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