Thursday, April 16, 2009

Be your own cheer squad

Previous foolishness at the summit of Crown Range, NZ

There are lots of things that I love about exercising outdoors - hearing birds in the trees, breathing the fresh air, enjoying the warmth of the sun on a cool morning - but most useful on the quest for fitness has got to be a lack of choice. You see on a treadmill, when my leg muscles are aching from the incline, I just decrease the slope. When the resistance on the bike is too high, no worries I can go back to easy and of course if there are too many stairs I get off the stair machine. Actually I have never been on the stair machine because it looks like torture. In any case, in the great outdoors you simply don't get that choice, there is only the art of avoiding. Except the art of avoidance ultimately fails when you foolishly opt for a 'challenge' without properly considering your capabilities. But we all do that right?

Over the weekend, I shunned the group and decided to ride into Tenterfield from the cabins we were staying at. It was an awesome ride, challenging and hilly but without much traffic so I got to enjoy at a human pace the gorgeous countryside and all that little critters that inhabit it. Probably too closely in fact. As I rode up one hill, two dogs came running out of a property and ran around me just in front on my slow moving tyres constantly barking. One even grabbed my sandal and tore the corner off, although I am thankful the viscous beast didn't latch onto my leg instead. Otherwise, delightedly peddling along, I thought to myself how much I would enjoy doing more cycle touring (with more training unlike NZ) because the slower pace allowed me to take note of all the little details. I was basking in smug glory over my cycling prowess upon reaching town, while I drank coffee and nibbled on dried fruit with my sister's in-laws. After turning down lunch with them (and a lift home) I set my sights on a 25km scenic route that promised lookouts and 14km of dirt riding. Heaven.

Enthusiastically I demolished the first few hills, whilst watching big grey kangaroos deftly dodging cars and thinking how wonderful it was to be cycling and not have to worry about a potential collision with our national emblem. Then I started to get hungry and eventually facing yet another hill I figured I would eat my sandwich that I had so wisely packed. But alas, the sandwich wasn't there! It was gone. I thought of the savage dogs, imagining that they must have plucked my precious lunch from my backpack, or maybe it was a hungry passer-by in the cafe. Or maybe I had just forgotten to pack it. Me? Forget to pack my lunch, impossible! About 16km from home, with an empty stomach, I set my sights for home.

The road back into town wasn't too difficult, as most of the scenic route had been uphill. It was the road home that was more uphill than down. Despite my hungry state I decided not to buy lunch in town, thinking of my poor sandwich left behind somewhere or devoured by bloodthirsty dogs. I peddled on and at first it was ll good, but soon I felt my energy stores depleting, rapidly. I don't know why it happens, but I seem to quickly lose energy when I haven't eaten as opposed to other's who can keep going with or without food (so much for those fat stores, damn it, burn them body before complaining of hunger!). So, the hills grew higher, the down hills shorter and the road surface bumpier while my tires became knobbier. I began wondering if I would make it as the journey home to my sandwich was taking an awful lot longer than the same trip in the other direction.

And that is where the wonderful (or not so great at the time) part of exercising outdoors comes in. I got myself into doing the ultimate work out because I didn't have a choice, the road to the sandwich didn't care about my hunger or fatiguing muscles. But even more importantly, the muscle between my ears got a great workout in positive self talk. Apparently my brain had an epiphany that looking at the hill and moaning "I can''t do it, it's too steep" was not particularly helpful. Instead (and this might have been an attempt at reverse psychology) it said "you can do it"! I slowly rode up all the enormous hills and I could almost see the legions of cheering fans that my mind had dreamed up for me standing on the side of the road shouting 'you're almost there'. And it's funny, because adopting this positive attitude actually made me enjoy the ride where I otherwise would have hated it and vowed never to ride somewhere without mobile phone coverage. In the end, it turned out that the sandwich had indeed been left behind on the kitchen bench and was eaten immediately upon return. That was the last time I felt any sort of hunger for 3 days!

So have you turned an uncomfortable situation into an enjoyable one through positive thinking? Do you regularly push yourself along when challenged by being your own cheer squad? Or do you think the positive self talk is a total load of crap?


  1. I love your blog and hope you don't mind if I follow

  2. Sometimes positive self-talk is the only thing that gets me through a workout or any kind of tough situation... when the minds in the right place, the body follows! That sounds like an awesome ride you had, good for you. That must have been such a terrible moment to realize you didn't have your sandwich!

    - Sagan

  3. I usually have a stream of cheerful you-can-do-its ready to start playing in my brain when the going gets tough -- as opposed to my ex-husband who used to call himself horrible names during his workouts in order to get himself motivated. (Um, does it mean anything that he no longer works out at all? Is there some sort of connection, do you think? haha!)

    And btw, I've been on a stair machaine and I can confirm your suspicion: it IS torture! :)

  4. Positive thinking? What the heck is that????


    I actually occasionally do something other than whine, and it does seem to work fairly well. Wouldn't want to make too much of a habit of it though.

  5. Jennifer - Thanks very much! I don't mind at all.

    Sagan - Yes it was and perhaps hysterical would have been the right term. Lucky there was no one else around ;-)

    Bikini Quest - It is ironic isn't it. Name calling only works for so long before you actually start to believe it.

    Crabby - You always make me laugh! Thanks.



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