By Louise Kennedy
This whole health thing? It’s like riding a bike.
That’s what I’m thinking this week, anyway. Once you learn how to do it, even if you stop for a really long time, when you get back on the bike, you’re amazed at how simple it is.
And this week, I got back on the bike.
Dedicated readers (I love you, wherever you are) may remember that, way back in March, I decided to sign up for the Best Buddies Challenge bike ride on the Cape. I figured having a goal would encourage me to go to the gym more often, and going to the gym more often would make the ride both easy and fun.
So … it did not make me go to the gym. At all. But it did feel like a firm commitment, and so on Saturday, I went for a bike ride. A 20-mile bike ride.
Now, the really dedicated readers (both of you) will remember that I originally said I was going to do 50 miles. But by last week, when I still somehow had not managed to get my bike out of the garage even once and do a training ride, I decided that it would perhaps be more sensible to go for 20. I’ve ridden 20 miles many times. Fifty? Not so much. OK, a few times as a teenager, but even then, as I dimly recall, it felt daunting.
Naturally my first inclination was to beat myself up for “only” doing 20 miles. But when a couple of friends expressed their admiration, I thought about what I would say to a friend who was doing a 20-mile ride.
“Wow, that’s great!”
So I said that to myself. Several times. And ended up just about believing it.
And you know what? It was great. I got to the 20-mile starting point in Sandwich at the last minute – about 10:29 for a 10:30 start – picked up the hybrid bike I’d rented through Best Buddies, and set off with the other members of Team WBUR. Tom Ashbrook left me in the dust about 10 seconds later, but my colleague Susan Derrico and I had a lovely time together – sometimes right next to each other, sometimes her pulling ahead, sometimes me.
The day was cool and (at least at first) only a little breezy, the trees were leafing out, the flowers were in bloom, and all along the route, little clumps of people cheered and waved and rang cowbells. There was a big hill (big by my standards, at least, though I grant you that the Cape is pretty flat) right at the beginning, but once I made it up that, I felt confident that I’d handle anything else the route threw my way.
As I got into the rhythm of it, I remembered something I’d forgotten: Riding a bike is fun!
Yes! Fun! That’s what I’ve been missing. All this pestering myself to go to the gym, all this fretting about what I should be doing, all this planning and failing and beating myself up for failing and trying to make a better plan – but really, all I need to do is tell myself, “Go have fun!”
I should have known this. Years ago I co-wrote a book about helping your kid learn to read, something I didn’t know much about at the time. (My co-author knew the stuff; I knew the writing part.) And my favorite piece of all the research I pored over was this: Parents who tell their kids that reading is fun are much more likely to raise avid, successful readers than parents who tell them it’s important.
Well, duh. Who wouldn’t rather do something fun than something important? And if it happens to be both fun and important, why not emphasize the fun to get your brain hooked into the idea?
What’s really surprising is what happened the day before the ride, when coach Allison Rimm came into my office for our fortnightly chat. She saw the exercise bike that my esteemed editor, Carey Goldberg, had dragged in a week before – as an intervention, she’d said, along the lines of the Salad in a Bag: “If you’re not getting to the gym, I’m bringing the gym to you!”
The bike had been sitting there, haunting me, as I came up with one excuse after another for not getting on it: I’ll get sweaty, I don’t have the right shoes, people will laugh at me, my hair will be a mess…. Then Allison showed up and said, “OK. While we talk, you’re going to sit on the bike and pedal.”
I objected. She persisted. I got on the bike.
I got sweaty. My hair got messy. But … after the initial shock, I felt good. Great, even. Even an exercise bike, in a fluorescent-lit office, can be fun.
And, before I knew it, I’d ridden for an hour. Not super-hard, not super-fast, but still: an hour. And 20 miles the next day, even after I lost a contact lens around mile 13.
Best of all, I was smiling all the way.
Readers, do you find ways to make exercise fun? Or do you have other tips for getting motivated to get moving?