95 Miles, what the heck?


  My husband and brother have this annual competition. Each year on their respective birthdays they challenge each other to ride the number of miles equal to their age. Last year my husband wanted to turn it into a weekend event with the two of us riding on the W&OD trail out of Arlington, Virginia to Purcellville, Virginia to stay with friends.

I got sick and ended up in the hospital for a week so it didn’t happen. This year we planned it again. It is a 90 mile ride plus and extra 5 for side trips off the trail.

Now I ride my bike but I’m not what you would call an obsessive cyclist. I don’t like riding in wind, rain, extreme or even partial cold and since loosing most of my muscle mass twice now it is really hard to play with the big boys and anyone who knows me knows that I don’t like to fail at things. So practice rides over, bike tuned up and off we go.

It was a crisp, clean fall morning exactly 5 months after my last surgery and massive weight loss. So I was pretty excited to do this. The trail is an old Rails to Trails path and winds its way up the country side to the foot hills of the Blue Ridge. Remember I said up the countryside. Yep it is uphill most of the way. A fair bit of down hill too lest you think me completely crazy. I had a bail out point at friend’s house in Ashburn, VA and our Purcellville friends on tap if I needed an early pick up. And wouldn’t you know it, up hill and a head wind too, yay, me!

None of this is the hard part! The hardest part was watching the 1500-2000 people we saw in various modes of self- transportation. Walking, running, biking, roller blading and a few I’m not exactly sure what they were doing. It was at first horrifying to watch. Then the anatomy, alignment, yoga therapy geek in me realized that this was the gait observation workshop of a life time.

Here is what I saw: Hand flappers, arm sawers, knife handers, knock knee-ers, shufflers, foot slappers, bouncers, lurchers, shoulder hunchers, head thrusters, rib thrusters, pelvis tuckers and thrusters and Lord only knows what else. First off let me say, “Yay for you all for getting out there and mobilizing your body” but second “Geez, what the heck are you thinking?”

It was a constant struggle not to jump off my bike and attempt to save them from themselves. Or my preconceived ideas of what I thought they should look like. So I present to you a few thoughts before you take off on an adventure or workout that might do you more harm than good.

  1. Would you drive a car with its tires out of alignment? If not, then why would you walk, run, peddle with your feet out of alignment.
  2. If you can’t keep them straight running lets go back to basics and try walking with the toes going first. And if you can’t get that to happen can you get half way or at least identify what might be keeping you from doing this?
  3. Don’t spend $4000 dollars on a bike and fancy accessories if you aren’t going to take lessons on how to ride in the most efficient way possible. Not just to go faster and farther but to decrease wear and tear on your joints. Again if your feet are fastened to pedals and your knees are pointing out to the side like chicken wings, “Houston, we have a problem.”
  4. Running is for horses. There I said it. Most of us fall instead of walk because our feet and ankles don’t flex like they should. Running just makes it worse. Do you hear the slap, slap, slap of your $200 shoes hitting the pavement? If you are wearing more physio tape than clothing, well…..
  5. Do the inside of your knees get bruised from knocking together? This might not be a good look for you or your joints.

I saw feet fling out to the side, knees knocking and bowing, shoulders up around ears and the grimace on faces that should have had thought bubbles above them saying, “Man, this hurts so good, I am really getting a work out!”

I wonder how many are feeling so good today? I really hope that they enjoyed their time outside but I’m afraid most of them could have been in the gym for all they paid attention. About ¾ of the people we saw had their headphone on, ear buds in or where so intently studying their phone, that I’m surprised more didn’t end up injured. There were so many near misses I was a nervous wreck by the time it was done.

I admit, I listen to audiobooks when I’m walking at home. But I’m always alone and I live in a pretty remote area and always try to keep the volume down to hear cars. Saturday one kid came so close to being mowed down by a cyclist it was frightening. If he had of been hit serious injury would have ensued. The guy on the bike was doing about 30 MPH and was not a small dude. Kid vs moving tank=Hospital visit with broken parts. And the sad part is someone would have blamed the cyclist not the kid or his parents for not practicing situational awareness.

So I worked really hard to stay present with all of this and I’m pretty sure it was my biggest lesson. But what I learned was, after I got the voices in my head to shut the heck up, was pay attention to me. Was I situationally aware? Was my alignment all it could be to maximize my effort and minimize adverse effects? Just how could I get my students to pay attention to strengthening and stabilizing their external hip rotators so they could walk better? And of course did I really look as dorky in the helmet as I thought I did and would an attached visor make me look cooler? How could I expand my awareness and still stay present in my body? Curious minds wanted to know. Well maybe not but it kept me on task and thinking.

And finally the last thing I rode away with is that I’m a heck of a lot tougher than I gave myself credit for. When I was slogging up the last 5 mile hill and in my lowest gear and feeling a bit like I wanted to quit (well a lot like I wanted to quit) I reminded myself that I had given birth twice, been through knee surgery, pelvic floor reconstruction surgery, ovarian cancer surgery and subsequent chemo and three hospital stays for bowel obstructions and a final intestinal surgery. Hill what stinking hill?! So here I am one day later, all my body still intact (well we won’t talk about my ischial turberosities) and pretty darn proud of myself.

I hope this makes you think about how you can challenge yourself, work more efficiently and make the right choices about movement. Because bottom line, the more we pay attention the better life can be. We don’t all get divine inspiration in the bright light, choir of angels singing way but sometimes we can look at which direction our feet are pointing and see if they will take us straight into a new and better version of ourselves.

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