Category Archives: Bicycle Practice

When Nothing Happens!


Rest days are probably the least exciting thing anyone can write about.  But sometimes, they produce the most exciting results. You know the Monty Python sketch,  where the story starts to unfold, the plot thickens, and… Nothing Happens! That’s a good rest day.

Since I hate to waste perfectly good weather off the bike, I’ve been taking rest days only when there is no chance of riding. Sometimes those days are not so restful. Last weekend, I took my longest break since June. We were celebrating our eldest daughter’s marriage, staying up late, dancing and partying. In the days that followed, it began to dawn on me just how long it was going to take to recover from all that excitement. I had no desire to move, let alone get on my bike. So the two rest days I had planned turned into four, and I worried it would set me back.

Heading out on the River Road for my first post-wedding ride, I decided to just go slow, enjoy the day and the view.  It was perfect—no wind, low 20’s, not a cloud in the sky or (fortunately) a rabbit in sight. So when I finished the route, I circled back and rode most of it again.

Turns out slowing down and taking time to recover was the best thing I could have done. I’ve gone faster and farther on both flat and hilly routes this week, set new PRs, and even had the good sense to take yet another day off when my body said so, and not because of the weather (well…the weather wasn’t great).

Rest days just seem unproductive. There is nothing  to show for them, no PRs, no stories of wild weather, grit and determination. We don’t log rest days, they just appear as a yawning gap in the chart. Yet they are an essential part of the long game, being able to do exactly this for years… for decades to come.

With age comes the wisdom (okay, necessity) to finally pay attention to our inner personal trainer. The one who for years has been jumping up and down, telling us to slow down, take a break, enjoy the ride.

If we find a way to celebrate those days when Nothing Happens! every  bit as much as that new PR, there will be no end to the roads we can travel.






Like Riding a Bike

I learned to ride a bike in Drayton Valley, Alberta and I do not recall any magic carpet. I do remember the concrete sidewalks—not fondly, I might add—and that the bike seemed so big. There were no training wheels, just someone urging me on. That’s it. Just a hazy memory.

There are some skills that once learned, are never forgotten. Like riding a bike, so the saying goes. Muscle memory kicks in, and away you go. I’m glad for that. Learning to ride a bike is not something I’d want to do all over again.  But, I’m disappointed the act of doing it is not more clearly etched in my memory. Maybe that’s not the way these kind of things work.

There are lots of things that are like riding a bike. Playing an instrument, for example. Sure, returning to it after a long hiatus is not the same, but it does come back. I love it when my adult piano students realize they remember a lot more than they anticipated!

Learning to walk is another one of those skills, or so I thought.

This year, I had to learn to walk again…after I learned to take the stairs again..and even re-think how to sit. It wasn’t like riding a bike.

After my hip replacement, I had to actually talk myself through how to move because I had to sit and walk and climb stairs differently than the way I was used to. It was very counterintuitive. To sit, I had to back up to a chair, extend my bad leg and ease into the seat, then reverse the whole process when I stood up. To take stairs, there’s a little mantra… “up with the good, down with the bad.” Which come to think of it, is pretty useful for life in general. It was odd to have to talk myself through such an instinctive motion.

When piano students begin, they have to think about which hand is right and left. We play games to get comfortable thinking about what hand and which finger to use and to associate that with the notation. It doesn’t always come naturally at first, and I now have a much better appreciation why!

There was a point in my recovery when I wondered whether I’d ever walk on my own again. I was convinced that my fitness going into the surgery and subsequent dedication (okay, obsession) to the physio was going to get me back on my own two feet sooner than later. It didn’t happen. It wasn’t like riding a bike.

And then suddenly one day, it happened.  It was magic.

Took me a couple of months before I worked up the courage to ride my bike again. New respect for those balancing muscles. But when I pushed off and slung my leg over the bar…

It was just like riding a bike.

Chasing Rabbits and Practicing Piano

I chased a rabbit last week. I’ve never chased a rabbit before—and it was it fun! At the north end of my River Road loop, I was dragging along, working against the northwest wind and planning my way through the next few days off the bike. Not a good way to enjoy a ride.

Then as I turned back south, a cyclist on County Road 33 looked at me coming, and pulled out just ahead onto the River Road.  Did I really look that slow?

I sized him up. He was on a road bike and carrying a backpack, cadence slower than mine. Usually, if it’s a guy, I’m done, but why not try to keep pace, at least?  It was work, but I was able to keep him in my sights and even gain a bit through the rises and falls of the road. As the gap started to close, I knew I could overtake him, but if I did it too soon, then I’d be the rabbit.

So I settled in and paced my way until a few kilometres before the end of the course. There’s a really rough section towards Lock 23. After getting run off the road there by the Coca-Cola truck, I always take the entire lane into the ess curve. Just as I moved into the centre of the road to take the corner, my rabbit stood to stretch his legs and I was gone. Not much of a catch, I admit. But beat my course PR by 57 seconds.

Sometimes it’s good to seize the moment. But I have to keep reminding myself that to continually improve, I need to have a more disciplined approach to my rides. It’s like practicing the piano. Just like it’s great to chase that rabbit and go fast on the bike, there’s a certain high to playing and performing a piece you know well on the piano. But that doesn’t help you through the slow, detailed hours learning something new and more challenging.

When I ask my students how they should approach their practice on a tough section of a piece, they’ll inevitably make a face and come up with “slowly?” We all want to be there already, even when we’re learning something new.  I’m now facing up to the same challenges with my cycling. Every time I record a slower overall time on a route, I feel like I haven’t made the most of a ride. I just have to get over that—learn to practice!

My rabbit taught me this. For a couple of weeks I’d been putting in the kilometres, doing a few more hilly routes and taking time to enjoy the view along the way. It was not time wasted. When I got the unexpected chance to test my racing legs—to perform—the slow practice paid off.

Maybe all I have to do now is harness my inner piano teacher on the bike!