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Real Body Image Talk

Hi. My name is Jessica and I have a problem.

I cannot look at my body without having some sort of criticism. Today, I found some broken blood vessel on my face. It looks like a freckle but up close, it isn’t. I stretched the skin around, inspected it as if I was a scientist, reviewing cells under a microscope. I found the vein. I leaned away from the mirror to see if it was noticeable as it was up close. All I could imagine were varicose veins plaguing my face, like some kind of connect-the-moles game. I started to relive fifth grade again. When the kids made fun of the moles on my face: “Moley! Moley! Moley!” mimicking Austin Powers.

I used to think I had strong, muscular legs. That was until I had a body fat analysis scan that revealed most of my fat is in my legs. Oh, and arms. Now all I see are sausage legs in my cycling kit. I don’t look fast. I look fat. I look like when you stuff a giant pillow into a tiny pillow case – seams and material stretching, pushing maximum density, as it curves into itself.

I am more self-conscious now in shorts knowing full well that there’s more fat than muscles. And I rub the sides of my thighs a lot as if I could rub away cellulite like you do with scuff marks on the floor. Once I scuffed the floor from my bike tires. I tried all different kinds of solutions believing one of them would finally wash away the black rubber streaked across the laminate wood flooring. Finally, I took a butter knife and etched away at the black.

I can’t etch away cellulite.

When I walk, I can feel my inner thighs rubbing together. I know it isn’t muscle because of how much it jiggles. It’s soft and flimsy like silly putty. Only I can’t mold my thighs like a stone statue. And my thighs smash into each other when I sit – doubling in size. I try not to look down when I’m sitting because I know I’ll see a single thigh. One giant, jiggly, fatty thigh.

And I eat another piece of chocolate.

My shirts lay against my stomach just right where I can see the little bump that no matter the number of crunches, planks, or skipped meals, it stays there. I constantly tug at my shirt to hide it, pulling material loose. Using two hands sometimes to stretch the material if it hugs my belly too tight.

I’ll dig my thumbs into my hips trying to find the bone. Then pinching the excess that peeks over my jeans. If no one’s around, I’ll lift my shirt high enough and stare and scrutinize my midsection. Twisting and turning to view every possible angle in a desperate search to find the most flattering. Tightening my stomach, pushing it out, and sucking it in to find the right amount of contraction it’ll take to make it look flat. But it never gets as flat as I want it to. I look down and see that fucking bump every day.

And my gaze travels up. Up to my back where skin folds along my bra strap. Months and months of back strengthening exercises and there’s still back fat leering. Months of attempting to cut portions, match my carb-to-protein ratio, and staring longingly at cookies. Sometimes, I’ll reach behind with a false sense of optimism believing that I’ll be unable to pinch anything.

I call my breasts “orangutan boobs” and now you’re picturing it. A sign of getting older and the effects of gravity. I joke their small size keeps me aero on the bike. Always self-deprecating. Never self-appreciating. I also joke about my “bingo flab,” also known as triceps.

Again with the months of Tricep exercises believing that one day I’ll defy gravity and there won’t be loose skin hanging below my arms. That when I do the first place stance my arms will look strong and mighty, not droopy.

And while I complain about all the physical limitations and imperfections of my body, I never apologize for taking up space. Rarely do I complain to the general public about the size of my thighs or the numerous moles on my face. And when I get really fucking down about my body, I remind myself that at least I have a working one. It takes a single accident to lose it all. With all the activities I do, my flabby stomach drops when I consider what it’d be like to no longer ride my bike, hike, run, stretch, walk, and take care of myself. At that moment my eyes look at the blue sky instead.

Happiness Watts

I wish I could remember who first brought “Happiness watts” to my attention so I could attribute the idea to them. Although, there are tens of thousands of hashtags on Instagram so I highly doubt they invented the idea. Regardless, “happiness watts” are a thing.

As a self-coached athlete, I’m more in tuned with when I need “happiness watts,” but also, I rarely listen to myself. This past weekend was different. I focused exclusively on Happiness Watts. I took the hubs up to Grand Lake for a mini vacay. We brought our mountain and road bikes just in case.

I’m a planner and my husband isn’t. He likes to go with it. I like to know what I’m going to be doing every hour. I’m often told to “just be cool.” That was my weekend challenge. It wasn’t hitting certain zones or watts, but simply being “cool.” I think it would have been easier to go 200% of my FTP for a few minutes than remain “cool” the whole weekend.

So, we slept in on Saturday and finally rolled out of bed around 8:30. We walked across the street to find the Cat Cafe closed for the season. “Just be cool.”

We found another restaurant open so we went in and ordered. We walked around the lake. We found a mountain bike trail on Chris’s app and packed up. When we finally found the trail, it was too wet to ride.

“Just be cool.”

Chris thought we could drive around looking for another trail. After driving for five minutes, I was stir crazy and suggested just riding the dirt road we were driving. He said that was a “noob thing to do.” I said I didn’t want to drive around for hours and miss out on being on the bike. After our back and forth he agreed to ride the newbie road.

We rode the dirt trail as far as we could, even going on to a section we weren’t really allowed on. We turned around, calm down. The clouds grew darker and I felt little drops. I didn’t want to get stuck in a torrential downpour. Chris didn’t think we would.

“Just be cool.”

I kept looking back to see Chris messing around on his mountain bike. I doubled back several times to check on him. He was cool as a cucumber.

We only rode about 18 miles. The athlete inside me considered it a recovery ride because it was “easy.” The “cool” kid inside me said, “they were happiness watts” even though I don’t have a power meter on my mountain bike.

Several restaurants were closed for the season which I did not anticipate. We had our choice of Mexican or pizza, neither of which were approved nutrition for my inside athlete. But “cool” Jessica said, “pick the healthiest option and move on.” I had veggie fajitas.

But then “cool” Jessica was a little too cool and followed the veggie fajitas with a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. Anxious Jessica still feels guilty for eating it. Chris and I had a carb coma and napped from 6:30-7:30 PM. We woke up from the Peggy Mann Band playing across the street. We walked the bare streets to see all the business owners inside the venue dancing between tables and guzzling two-for-one margaritas.

The newest episode of The Handmaid’s Tale was calling my name so we headed back to the Fox Den cabin to end our night with a politically-charged tv show. It’s wild to think that a situation as portrayed in The Handmaid’s Tale could happen in real life.

The night was still relatively young after the show. I asked Chris what he’d like to do and he said, “Why can’t we just chill?” I told him we could and proceeded to pull out “Tribe of Mentors” and read. It felt weird not attending to something “more productive,” like working on my clients’ training plans or freelance copywriting.

“Just be cool.”

Sunday morning we woke up early to head back home and ride the trails in our neck of the woods. Mostly because we had to check out of the hotel and I didn’t want our bikes chillin’ in Chris’s car unaccompanied while we rode Trail Ridge Road. I also didn’t think it’d be much a couple’s bike ride knowing full well that I’d be halfway up the mountain, leaving Chris behind.

We waited for breakfast for forty minutes. It was a constant reminder of staying cool. Chris was about to lose it. I sipped my coffee and enjoyed the blinding sun hitting my face through the window.

Chris took me to one of his favorite mountain bike loops: Mt. Falcon to Lair of the Bear. It was strenuous and felt like an actual training ride, so the athlete inside was satisfied but “cool Jessica” was also enjoying it. I realized that mountain biking is a great way for me to learn more skills without the pressure of performing. I don’t race mountain and who knows if I ever will. Climbing up Mt. Falcon was an exciting challenge. I loved the struggle of pedaling over steps and rocks instead of hitting certain watts on my road bike. Mountain biking is a release from structure. A release I need.

As a coach and self-coached athlete, I realize even during racing season, you need to unload, whether that is one day or two or a week. We can’t always be “on.” We make our biggest gains during rest. Most of us aren’t paid to race. Most of us are paying to race. If we don’t let loose every once in a while, we’ll likely burn out at a faster rate than others who put their mental rest on the same level as physical.

Happiness watts are the gains from enjoying and remembering why you ride your bike in the first place. We all have our reasons why we ride, but it all comes down to enjoyment. Sometimes we forget how pleasurable it is to simply get on two wheels and fly.

Happiness watts comes from having fun and riding your bike without an agenda. Go out there and get your happiness watts.