How I went from an art school slacker to a mountain bike queen
in Success Stories
I’m not really sure how it started, but one day I got tired of being overweight, lazy and unhealthy. In my mid-twenties I was forty pounds overweight and a smoker who viewed most physical activity with suspicion. I rode a bike for transportation and had been active as a kid, but that got lost when I got into art school and worked a series of waitressing jobs. I smoked through it all and my average lunch was a candy bar, a Coke and a cigarette. Sweet!
At 26 I weighed somewhere in the neighborhood of 160lbs and vastly out of shape.Not seriously overweight, but when you’re 5’5 and have a small frame, it shows. I quit smoking and joined a gym but didn’t try too hard. and continued to eat poorly – I skipped breakfast, ate at the pizza buffet for lunch and often my husband and I got take-out for dinner. We rarely cooked, though both of us knew how. Really, it was way more fun to have a fried festival of food at the local Mexican joint followed by a trip to Dairy Queen. So not kidding!
At 28 I bought a mountain bike to try and learn how to ride trails with my husband. He was (and is) an avid mountain biker and I was tired of feeling left out. We started biking together and even though off-road riding was way more challenging than I’d expected I really liked it. I decided I wanted to do a beginner mountain bike race but I didn’t actually, you know, train for it. I think I just liked the idea in theory. We went the day before to pre-ride the course and I couldn’t even finish one lap. I couldn’t do one practice lap. Pathetic.
After that I decided to change. To really change everything. I started taking classes at my gym – spinning, weight lifting, kick boxing, boot camp. It hurt and I suffered, but then something switched over and I began to look forward to them. The classes didn’t get easier, I got better at them. I met with a trainer who took my measurements and he asked what my goals were. I remember telling him that I didn’t care about losing weight so much as I wanted to be strong. I was just tired of being out of shape and I wanted to do a mountain bike race and not completely suck.
I changed my diet and started really dialing down my eating. I packed my lunch and snacks nearly every day and counted calories. I started to plan out our meals and we cooked at home. My husband, who also wanted to lose a bit of weight, was delighted and very eager to eat better, which helped a lot.
I started dropping weight like crazy. I remember buying a pair of size 8 (!) jeans and finding them too big a couple of months later. I continued to work out and was finally confident enough on my mountain bike that I could ride with my husband’s bike group…barely. Riding with people who could kick my ass was the best way to learn and they were all super-encouraging. It felt so good to have a focus.
At 30 I got laid off, so what else to do but work out even more? I would go to the gym and do a spinning class, then come home and go mountain biking for two hours. I was eating 1,500 calories and working out like it was my job. My weight hit an all-time low of 116. I signed up for my first bike race and had never been more nervous. I trained every chance I got, every day, despite my husband’s warnings. I finished the race but came in dead last and completely exhausted. Classic overtraining – a big mistake.
I spent the rest of that summer upping my calories, training better instead of longer and in September of 2002 I won my first bike race. I went back to work that fall and the desk job took care of my too-low weight. I slowly put back on ten pounds, a weight I’ve maintained (give or take) for six years. I still work out a lot – five days a week is average, but I always take at least one rest day a week. My aim is to do three sessions of weight training, three of cardio (cycling or otherwise) and if I have time, a yoga class.
This year I’ve put aside bike racing and instead have been focusing on weight training. I’ve never built muscle easily so it’s been really eye-opening and a lot of work. I’m doing a heavy lifting free weights program designed for woman and in the past nine months have upped my deadlift from 40lbs to 100lbs. I can do eight full-body tricep pushups! In a row! This might not be hard for some folks, but for me it’s huge because I’ve always had a weak upper body. Mostly this program has opened my eyes to the real importance of weight training. I’m not talking about pink Barbie weights, I’m talking about lifting heavy stuff. I love it. Currently I’m working on doing a chin up but it’s a slow road and mostly I just hang from the bar like a sad limp frog. I’ll get there eventually.