Stream of Consciousness

by Karen Smyers

“What do you think about when you are on a long ride or run?” I am sometimes asked.  My standard response, in which I attempt to showcase my serious dedication as an athlete, is something like, “I think about my breathing, monitor my heart rate, visualize riding or running with perfect form while engaging in positive self-talk, and keep track of split times and my lactate osmoseology for future reference.”  People are surprised that there is that much to think about and are especially surprised when they discover that osmoseology is a word I made up.

The people who ask that question often can’t imagine exercising for more than 30 minutes.  You know the type–they need headphones, a magazine, and several TV’s in view  just to get them through twenty minutes on the exercise bike at the health club.  They have no idea what you can learn about yourself by going out for a long workout armed with nothing but your own company.

The truth is, I’m not sure what I think about for those long rides–I don’t think I have five hours of thoughts in my head without stopping for a refill of newspaper, TV or cybergossip.  I’m sure that I do a few “physical” checks a few times an hour, but I have to admit that I think my mind tends to wander just a little into subjects that are not immediately pertinent to the 100-mile ride at hand.

In the interest of research, I decided to keep a log of my “stream of consciousness” for an hour of my bike ride to see what I really do think about.  I had a feeling it would turn out like the three-day  food logs I have done for nutritionists.  After telling the nutritionist about all the fruits and vegetables and whole grain foods that I eat,  I keep a daily log and even after eating better than normal since it is being made “public”,  I still end up with 50% snack foods.   (You mean corn chips don’t satisfy the vegetable requirement?  What do you mean I had no fruit–what about those twenty Strawberry Twizzlers?).

So one crisp fall day I set out to document the incredible focus and mental drive that is required during a training ride of an “elite” athlete.  In the interest of brevity and in order not to bore you to death, I will just give some excerpts here:

First minute:  OK, how do my legs feel today…a little stiff from yesterday…wait, what’s that noise?…Oh shoot, I forgot to tighten this water bottle cage again…should I go back and do it?…oh, well, one more ride of listening to this rattling won’t kill me–although I said that the last eight rides…I will do it right when I get home this time…I should clean my chain, too..HA! HA! that’s a good one!  Chalk that right up there with flossing twice a day …yum, I just found a little leftover peanutbutter in my tooth…I wish I had had another bagel before I left…

Tenth minute: Alright, I am starting to loosen up a bit…let’s gear up a little…OK, nice smooth pedal strokes…keep your upper body still…focus on recruiting those glute muscles…Uh,oh, I think I am having a bad crotch day… I should go home and change to a different pair of bike shorts and see if it makes a difference…Shoot, I think they are all in the laundry…and we are out of detergent…I’d better go shopping on the way to swimming…I think we need ice cream, too…what shall I have for lunch?…maybe I will make tunafish…although I should use up that turkey in the fridge or it will go bad…

Twentieth minute:  Oh yeah, I am supposed to be monitoring my body’s signals…my legs feel really heavy today…I had better just focus on cadence today–I am going to keep my rpms over 100 the whole ride. Let’s see, click–elapsed time: 21 minutes–click–

max speed: 18 mph–click–distance: 5.7 miles–click–av. speed–16.4!  That can’t be right it was all downhill, I wonder if my magnet has slipped and it is only registering 3 out of four revolutions…click–time of day–1:00 p.m…hey! it’s lunchtime, no wonder I am kind of hungry…

Twenty-eighth minute:  Let’s see– cadence: 97…98…99…100…there, now keep it smooth, no bouncing, relax your legs and let them spin…cadence 102, perfect, now let’s just see what mph I am holding…17 mph, oh well, this is a tough headwind I am battling, for sure…hey, why is that leaf blowing down the road ahead of me…must be a rogue swirl because this HAS to be a headwind…speaking of leaves, this is gorgeous fall foliage right now…I love this weather…it reminds me of apple cider and pumpkin pie…

Forty-fourth minute:  Here’s a good climb coming up…shift early, keep your cadence up, stay on top of it, pedal through the bottom of your stroke like your scraping dog doo of your shoe, hey that could be a good poem:  pedal right through, scrape that doo, off of your shoe, this means you…great, now I’ll be chanting about canine fecal matter the rest of the ride…maybe we’ll have hotdogs and baked beans for dinner tonight…

Fifty-sixth minute:  Time for some pickups:  OK, pick up the cadence, up one gear, up two gears, now hold it for a minute…relax your shoulders, quit gripping your aerobars with that deathgrip,  upper body still, work it from the waist down, control your breathing, hold your line…gosh, it feels like my back brake is on…it really feels like my back wheel is dragging…maybe it is a flat…no, it looks like it still has air..couldbe a slow leak though…maybe it is just my legs are tired…I bet I need more protein…maybe I’d better scrap the hotdogs and have steak and potatoes for dinner tonight…

OK, now let’s review and summarize.  It looks like I do indeed attempt to monitor my body’s signals.  Each round of thoughts starts with a focus on form or physical feedback and then somehow always drifts off on a tangent which seems to always come around to thinking about one thing:  food!  I guess I have learned a valuable lesson about what my body most often signals…Time for lunch!

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2 Responses to Stream of Consciousness

  1. Pat says:

    very funny. It was nice to come across your blog; looking forward to reading some more of your entries! I see you will be in the Poconos this weekend; so will I – it’s my first HIM. Good luck in the Poconos!

  2. Patty says:

    LOL! I can relate with every single train of thought. I’m always trying to stay in the moment and be aware of my body, but the thoughts of food and cleaning my bike come at me like wildfire. 🙂 The majority of the time I am focused too, but it’s funny to realize the thinking that goes on in our heads as we train.