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Leslie Mellet Headshot

The Joy of Biking: Seriously, It Is a Great Way to Stay Fit

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Last Sunday was a beautiful day in the northeast so I went for a two hour bike ride with Hermes. During the ride, I reflected upon how I viewed cycling in the past and how those views are different today. Until three years ago, my biking experiences included riding with my friends as a child and getting from point A to point B as an adult. I don't count spin classes as "cycling" because they are crazy intense classes that require jumping up and down and pushing as hard as possible for 45 minutes to an hour.

I viewed cyclists as lazy because they sat as they rode -- how hard can riding be if you are sitting? I had a good reason for viewing cyclists as lazy. During the time we lived in the suburbs, on most Sunday mornings, a gaggle of cyclists would ride by our house and a few would end up at the local bagel shop after their ride. My observation at the bagel shop was this: none of them looked particularly fit and none of them should have been wearing spandex (enough said about spandex!) thus creating my bias of lazy cyclists.

I continued to think this way until I started taking Barry Lewis' Pure Cycling class at the local gym. After my first class with Barry I walked out soaked with sweat and so hungry that I could chew my arm off (still true today). Also, he didn't have you jumping up and down or pedaling as fast as possible. Instead, Barry taught the true fundamentals of cycling; no dead spots in pedal strokes, smooth and circular with a cadence of 90 RPMs, pushing lactose threshold levels, and good form. My take away from his class was that by cycling properly I can teach my body to push its endurance level far above what I ever thought possible.

What makes Barry different is that he isn't one of those 20-something spin instructors normally at the gym and he does not look like the Sunday cyclists I observed in the bagel shop. In fact Barry is in his early 50s and is extremely fit. To give you an idea how fit -- he qualified and raced at the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii when he turned 50 in October 2009. Before I tell you his time let me give you some benchmark times. The top male pro finisher, Craig Alexander, who by the way is 39 years old, finished the 2011 race in 8:03:56. The average age grouper finishes somewhere between 11:30 and 12:30 hours. In 2009 Barry finished the race in 10:19:52. In 2011 he again qualified for Kona and raced on October 8, 2011. Two years later (and two years older) his time improved to a sub 10-hour Ironman 09:54:34. So I was lucky to have this really awesome person teaching me how to cycle properly. This year Barry is helping me train for all my races (my 2012 goals and training are a blog for another day).

I discovered that cycling has an intellectual component as well. In addition to learning the fundamentals of cycling, I had to learn about bikes! I am very grateful that Hermes is an engineer because he helped me in this capacity. All I knew was there were big chain rings and small chain rings but what they did was a mystery to me. I can proudly say that I now understand big chain rings and small chain rings as well as change a tire. I will admit getting a flat during a race terrifies me even though I can change a tire. Let's just say I am not the fastest tire changer around and the first time I get a flat in a race well...I will lose at least 5 - 10 minutes.

I now appreciate bikes as machines. Today I would rather get a new bike (Hermes if you are reading this I am coveting the Cervelo P5) than other gifts, including jewelry.

I had other learning experiences along the way such as how to ride a bike with clip in pedals. Cycling shoes have clips on them that latch onto special pedals and take some getting used to. Learning to do this resulted in some embarrassing moments! When you stop with clip in pedals you are supposed to lean on the side you unclip (if you unclip your right foot you should lean to the right). There were times when I pulled up to a crowd of cyclists, unclipped, leaned to wrong side, and fell. Not my finest moments.

Another learning experience came when I had to fuel during long bike rides. My favorite cycling fuel is peanut butter on whole grain bread because it does not upset my stomach. I feel like I am back in grade school when I make them because I cut them into quarters. The quarters allow Hermes and me to fuel every 45 minutes to an hour.

But the bottom line here is I fell in love with cycling. To me it is wonderful experience to ride long distances and commune with nature (I can't believe I just said that but it is how I feel). Following Hermes has improved my strength and overall speed because he is stronger than me. Also, I was driven by pride: I had the choice to stare at his butt for hours or get stronger and ride in front of him from time to time. Cycling is also very social -- hence the Sunday cyclists that I judged so harshly. Hermes and I go for long bike rides together. We also enjoy riding with other groups such as the Philadelphia Triathlon Club. Little did I know that cycling is a great form of fitness with the added bonus of enjoying the company of others.

An important tip: make sure that you have your bike fitted! This is relatively inexpensive and can save you from injuries and other uncomfortable occurrences during a long ride.