Everybody says that the way to get healthy is cardio, and the best cardio is running. Fueled by her background in college athletics, when my wife gets on a fitness kick, she starts walking and after a couple of weeks upgrades to running. Just when she seems to be getting back into the swing of it, she pushes herself too hard and injures herself a week or two later (torn meniscus, severely strained ankle, tibia fracture, etc.). I had a manager in a past career who was a runner too. He was the kind of runner who probably did 5-10 miles every day before breakfast and he always said that it was the best exercise because its cheap (free) and everyone can do it.
From an early age, though, I concluded that I can’t run. I have tried running, jogging, sprinting, and all that. But it never seems to work. First of all, I don’t have a runner’s build. Even if I wasn’t overweight, I’d never be lean. In elementary school gym class, I could never get up to speed for sprints. As a kid I wore glasses that never seemed to stay put on my face causing great distraction when trying to run. By high school I had bad knees from Osgood-Schlatters and a massive growth spurt of 13 inches during my Freshman year. In adulthood, I developed bad heels from plantar fasciitis. And any time I tried to run, I could never fall into a good and regular pace. Worst of all, I could never attain a good breathing pattern to go with any pace I tried. So, like I said, I can’t run.
I was never a runner. But, in order to get fit, I either needed to adapt and figure out how to run, or I needed to find an alternate way to get cardio. When you’re totally out of shape, so many forms of exercise seem like they can only be done if you’re already in shape – aerobics, dance, cardio kickboxing, crossfit, and more.
I needed something low impact and something that didn’t seem like I was starting from scratch. For me, the choice was obvious: cycling.
I Can Bike!
I was always good on a bike. I was a natural from the time I got my first BMX bike. Along with other neighborhood kids (especially Mike) we would ride our bikes around the neighborhood and out back in the woods playing CHiP’s. Now that was a blast! As I became a teen (and got a car) I stopped riding – after all, it was eight miles until you could get to anything a teen would want to go to.
I didn’t even have another bike until my sophomore year of college. After walking around campus the first year, and having 2 classes at opposite ends of an almost 3 mile wide campus, I got a Schwinn. I wrecked the Schwinn on a curb in the first year and upgraded to a Trek 950. It was great. I rode a lot. And I rode a lot more than it took to get me to class and back. I rode to campus, around campus, to Meijer’s, and even to the mall 8 miles away.
I hit another curb as a Junior and the grill of a car that neglected to stop for a crosswalk as a Senior. I was hurt but walked away from both and back on the bike after I got it repaired. The curb incident led to a new wheel and front forks, and the car gave me new handlebars. By my second Senior year (don’t judge me, the extra year earned me a second BA), I was living 5-6 miles off campus and I was riding at least 15 miles a day. I was only using the bike for transportation, but I was in the best shape of my life.
When I went to grad school overseas, I left the bike at home. When I came back, I moved to Florida and took the bike with me. But with a few exceptions it was neglected out on the lanai at my various apartments for the next 8 years or so. When my new wife and I bought a house, we were close to a biking tail, so I hauled out the old Trek 950 and realized how rusty it had gotten. After a tune-up at my local bike shop, it still worked, but it just wasn’t the same.
Getting Back On
About a year later, I received a nice bonus at work (from the manager who was the runner). I used it to upgrade to a new Trek 7.5FX and to get my wife a new Trek as well. And we were off – sort of – on a grand total of about 5-10 bike rides a year. I did more of them than my wife, but it still wasn’t enough. Five years later, I moved and to what promised to be a bicycle friendly community in South Carolina. However, the “trails” and “bike paths” they offered were just riding on the street without a bike lane (which I hate), and one “rails to trails” path that was about a mile long.
When I enrolled my son in YMCA summer camp, I was excited because it was right along the trail. In the first week, I brought my underutilized Trek 7.5 to work along with my son’s Perry the Platypus bike with training wheels. When I picked him up that first day, we hit the trail. At the first intersection, I taught him how we dismount and walk the bikes across the street. In his infinite 4-year-old wisdom, he pushed from the seat and steered the bike right in front of me. I tripped, and landed with my shin across my bikes crossbar. It was only a slight fracture, a massive bruise, and I still have a dent in my leg 8 years later.
And then, my bike sat in the garage for the next 4 years.
Cycling for Fitness
When I finally started to get serious about fitness last year, the choice for cardio was obvious: cycling. When we moved to Florida in November, we ended up in a neighborhood with nice smooth streets and a trail along the main road which connects it to other neighboring communities. I can now ride about 6 miles without any backtracking and more when I start doubling up on sections of the road.
I love cycling because it comes more naturally to me. It’s low impact so it doesn’t hurt my knees and my heel. It gets me outdoors which is a big bonus for the fresh air and Vitamin D. Better yet, because I enjoy it, cycling has the shower-like quality of allowing my mind to wander. I get some of my best thinking done now while I’m out on my bike. It’s like a mobile Zen platform.
When I started back at it I didn’t have any lofty ambitions. I wasn’t aiming to compete in a race and I wasn’t working up to a 100-mile ride. My goal then was simply to get out on the bike 4-5 days each week and to make the heart work harder for at least 30 minutes each ride. But I figured that more would come.
But it didn’t take long for me to come up with an ambitious goal. Once I knew for certain that I would be going to Scotland in October 2018 for a trip that was part research part vacation, I did come up with a lofty goal. I wanted to do a bike trip in Scotland, and I decided that I wanted to circumnavigate the Trotternish Peninsula on the Isle of Skye. So at a time when I was making 7-8 mile rides daily on flat terrain (it was Florida after all), I was committing to get up to a mountainous fifty miler in only nine months. Little did I know that was the only commitment I would need.
With a lofty goal to shoot for in 2018, I developed a training regimen that would quickly add distance to my rides. In no time I had worked my way up to 15 miles daily. By the summer I was adding longer trips on the weekends of 25, then 30, then 40 miles. By mid-August I managed 20 miles daily and my first 50 miler. Then I did 5 more 50s before I left for Scotland. All that time I was doing my best to find ways to try to add elevation to my rides although the best I could manage was 138 feet one day by riding back and forth across an overpass that crossed the riding trail. But the hard work paid off – when I went to Scotland in October, I managed to complete the 57.31 miles around the Trotternish peninsula and a climb up to the Quirang ridge which included 2926 total feet of ascent. All in all a great accomplishment for eight month’s work.
Since then, I have not been as focused on my riding, because I have yet to challenge myself with a great goal like I did back in 2018.
Kill That Excuse
For years, I used the “I can’t run” excuse to avoid cardio. Fortunately, I adapted and found what works for me. Maybe if you want to start cycling, but if you’re going to use the excuse of “I can’t afford a bike,” or “I need a better bike before I can start,” then you need to KILL that excuse and find something else.
You don’t have to run. You don’t have to bike. Maybe you access to a pool and would prefer swimming (another great low impact workout). Maybe kayaking, or aerobics. It doesn’t matter what it is, you just need to do something active.
Make your cardio what you’re best at, and you’ll enjoy it more.
Wishing you success in your fitness endeavors!