Posts

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.

Riding the Ford GoBike up Hawk Hill

A few weeks ago, I was given the opportunity to visit Strava’s headquarters in San Francisco. It was a great opportunity to meet my co-workers and visit somewhere I’d never been before.

San Francisco’s Ford GoBikes are much like Denver’s B-Cycles in that you share these bikes across town, park them in designated areas, and try to stay under 30 minutes to avoid paying a rental fee. They also weigh like forty pounds or so I’ve been told by their frequent users.

During a rookie cookie conversation at headquarters with Simon, I learned a group of people joined him in racing Ford Gobikes up Hawk Hill, Lookout Mountain’s equivalent.

My interest piqued.

I had already grown familiar with the Ford GoBikes with my commute to the office from the hotel. I was also told that Hawk Hill had the best view of the Golden Gate Bridge. It really took no convincing on Simon’s part for me to agree to riding up Hawk Hill on a Ford GoBike.

Simon sent me the video from last year. It looked like a blast. I saw it as a challenge while most saw it as probably stupid.

It was supposed to be a recovery week, but I woke up in my hotel room, pumped to get this ride started. I threw on my exercise gear, filled up my water bottle, zipped my jacket, and walked to the Ford GoBike location.

The plan was to meet at 7:00 AM to give us enough time to be back at the office. 7:05 hit and I figured, “he’s probably just late.” And then it was 7:15 – still no one around.

Once i saw 7:20 AM, I assumed I was stood up. I sent Simon a message on Slack that I was heading out. I secured my backpack in the front hole on top of the bike with a small bungee cord, entered the code to unlock the bike, mapped the route with google, and with a surge of anxiety, I set out on my solo journey to Hawk Hill.

Rarely do I fly by the seat of my pants, or any seat, for that matter. I was worried I’d get lost or end up on a highway or arrive to work super late and get fired.

I listened to google in one ear while commuters zoomed past. If it weren’t for their sunglasses I would have seen the weird looks I’m sure they gave me, like, “why is she taking a Ford GoBike this far out of the city?”

Google directed me all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge with only a few minor I’m-going-to-pull-over-and-double-check-this. By the time I reached the bridge, I knew there wasn’t enough time to climb Hawk Hill and get back in time for work, so I turned around at the other end of the bridge and headed back to the office.

When I parked the bike, I read through my Slack messages. I wasn’t stood up. I had the date wrong. I was a day early.

I’m not totally sure where I thought I read Wednesday, so I felt quite stupid having waited around for Simon and then biking my solo journey to the Golden Gate Bridge on a Ford GoBike.

Thursday rolled around and I didn’t want to stand up Simon so I planned to ride again, but this time up Hawk Hill with a friendly face. Simon showed up at 7:00 AM, just like he said he would.

We both had on our Strava kits. We packed our belongings in the semi-basket on the front of the bike, started our Garmins, and were off on our Hawk Hill adventure. Because I had Simon with me, we took an entirely different, yet more direct route (although with more hills) to Hawk Hill.

We got the same crooked neck response as I did the day prior because who takes a 40-pound bike up a hill, outside of city?

Once we hit the hill of Hawk Hill, it was frankly pretty moderate. I settled into a steady pace and watched the fog hide the Golden Gate Bridge from us. Without my clip shoes, it felt a lot like mountain biking, since I still have flats on my bike. Pushing down on the pedals all the way up to the spot that I was told had the best views of the city.

As cyclists bombed down the hill, they smiled and laughed at Simon and I as we pedaled our 40-pound bikes up to the lookout spot. All I could do was laugh as Simon rang his Ford GoBike bell at the passerby’s.We’d smile and wave at the cyclists, and I couldn’t help but think that this is the cool thing about life: going on adventures, doing things out of our comfort zones, saying ‘yes’ to opportunities, and making friends.

We stopped at the spot I was told had the best view of the Golden Gate Bridge, but it was completely hidden by fog. Nothing but a white cloud laid in front of us.

I joked about where I SHOULD be seeing the bridge and that I’d just imagine the sight. We couldn’t relish in our effort for too long so we kicked back the kickstands and commenced our descent.

The 40-pound bikes flew down the hill. I started to second-guess the brakes. Simon, being all-too familiar with this rode and the Ford GoBikes bombed down the hill, while I slightly tapped the brakes every few minutes, to confirm they were there and working as they should. Honestly, I guess I don’t know what I would have done if I tapped the brakes and they didn’t slow me down.

We took a different route back to the office – directly through the city, but also through the Presidio with the tallest trees I’ve ever seen. I ended up riding 20.16 miles that day. Definitely didn’t recover much on the trip.

Moral of the story: say ‘yes’ to new experiences, even if it’s your recovery week.

Race Anecdotes: Mt. Evans Hill Climb

The person who wins the race won because they were able to suffer the longest.

I suck at suffering.

It’s probably why I haven’t stepped on the top podium this season so far. Sure, I can handle racing, being uncomfortable, the pain, and aches, but I know when I’m really suffering, I ease off just enough to where I can stand it.

Racing 26 miles up a 14’er was no different.

The 3’s were grouped with the P-1-2’s (because that’s women’s bike racing) and I knew from the get-go the pace was going to hurt. I found myself in the front of the group, setting the pace, as it were. No one wanted to get out front. I figured at my pace, I could do this ride all day long, but I also knew that this pace wouldn’t last long and I was riding myself out for no reason.

I dropped the pace slow enough so that an antsy racer could take the lead. And then I was barely hanging on. There were surges after surges and every time I was able to spring back, my Suffer Meter raised a notch. We lost a few women and I didn’t dare look behind me. I didn’t want to see my future.

Finally, a Cat 2 surged with enough gusto that I lost the group. I tried to throw my weight on to the pedals. I tried pulling up, using any sort of hamstring strength there was, and the group was trailing away.

I thought I could keep them in sight with my current output but the distance slowly grew. And with seven miles, I could no longer see the group and I was completely alone.

Enter Mental Toughness.

You can’t solely rely on physical strength to carry you through the finish line, let alone catch you back up to the group. You need the mental stamina. And it’s even harder to train sometimes than hitting certain watts.

What did I do to earn third place?

I gave myself small goals.

When I was completely alone in the forest I focused on making it to the next mile. Thinking about having to Time Trial another 19 miles alone sounded awful. When I thought about it like that, my legs wanted to give up, and my brain was like, “nuh uh, girl.” I didn’t want to do it. At one point I considered quitting, taking the ol’ DNF. But my penny-pinching ass refused to pay $90 to quit 1/3 of the way through a race. So I continued on.

I focused on mile markers or made them as I went. “Get to the end of the road.” “Push it until you’ve made it 1 mile.” “To that tree.” “Get to that switchback.” I did it over and over again until I made it to the top.

I counted my pedal strokes.

When I couldn’t focus on the next mile marker, I counted to 3 by pedal strokes. 1…2…3…1…2…3 as I pushed down on the pedal. I’d match my breath with the pedal revolutions.

And when that didn’t work…

I sang songs to myself.

Any song I could think of I’d sing in my head. A lot of them were Sia songs, oddly enough. “I’m still breathing. I’m alliiiiiiiiiiiiive.” You get the point. Whatever popped into my head, I sung.

I stayed positive.

This was probably the hardest for me because I have an easy time tearing myself down, which we all do. We’re our biggest critics afterall. When I saw the rest of the women leave me in the dust, the negative thoughts started pouring in. I didn’t think I was good enough to be racing with these women. I know I called myself a poseur more than once. And for what? Because of a single race.

I realized in the grand scheme of things, this race won’t matter. The results won’t matter. What I’ll remember is the hard work I was putting into pedaling. The feeling of accomplishment. And the stories that’d last longer than the beer we were awarded.

I kept telling myself to keep trying hard. I wasn’t going to get stronger if I gave up. “You can do this.” Over and over.

And when I got to the top, I saw all my friends. We shared our stories of pain and fun. Took some photos and rode down the mountain. As I flew back down the mountain, I reflected on the spots where I was done, cooked, and wanted to give up. Flying by those spots, I already forgot what the pain felt like.

When I reached Idaho Springs, I surprisingly ended up in third. The entire time suffering up that 14’er, was for a step on the podium. The thoughts, “I’m not a climber,” quickly silenced as my team clapped for me.

——-

What are ways you motivate yourself when you want to give up?

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.

I Know Nothing & Neither Do You

I can’t give you any answers. So if you came here thinking that, you’re wrong.

I can only share what I’m going through and hope it helps you in some way, even to know you’re not alone.

I’m lost.

As the great Socrates said, “I know that I know nothing.”

I don’t know what I want to do, who I want to be, or where I want to be. And it scares the hell out of me.

I used to be so sure of myself, that I was going to work for the CIA, catching terrorists, living in DC in a sweet penthouse. Rich as hell.

When I was 15, if you would have told me that I’d be struggling as a Personal Trainer and Freelance Writer, while still living at my mother’s because my husband (who I had a crush on when I was 15) and I are continually outbid, while dealing with some form of depression/anxiety, meanwhile racing my bike, I would have had some wise crack and maybe even gave you the finger, followed by expletives.

And through high school into undergrad, up to graduate school, I believed that’s where my education would take me. I even tattooed my favorite painting on my body because I was so sure I’d never come back home after earning my Master’s degree.

I gave up friendships and relationships to chase after a dream. I’ll never get that back.

I applied to dream positions, spending hours on applications, asking for letter of references, and the like. I thought I deserved it because of the money I spent on my degrees, the time I spent reading and writing, and everything I gave up to pursue those careers.

But I was dead wrong. I didn’t (and still don’t) deserve anything. I think this is what causes my misery: The belief that I deserve anything. Just because I did a thing doesn’t mean I deserve shit. No, I’m not the “entitled millennial” that the Gen Xers believe us to be. When I grew up, I was told that if I worked hard, I’d get what I wanted. It’s not true.

You can work your ass off and still not get what you want and just because you work hard doesn’t mean you automatically deserve anything. It’s kind of a sick reality come to terms with when that’s all you’ve ever been told. They made it seem so easy when I was younger. Go to college. Pick a career. Apply. Get that career. Find a partner. Get married. Find a house. Buy it. Live happily ever after. Right?

I was taught to “dream big.” Hell, in 5th Grade we created our own businesses – mine was JDM Lawfirm. My ten-year old ass already had a plan. I wasn’t thinking about just playing with friends outside or my math homework, no, I was planning my future before I could even grasp the concept of future, past, and present. Little 5th grader Jessica would not have guessed I’d be where I’m at now. Last year I wouldn’t have thought I’d be where I’m at today and because of that, I feel like every year I’ve regressed, not progressed.

With each new year, I feel a little less sure of myself and my abilities. My goals and aspirations become a bit fuzzier as my identity evolves. Every new day I question what I truly want in life. I’m confused. I thought I knew what I wanted. I don’t. I don’t know where to go at this point. As a planner, this drives me nuts. I’m throwing shit against the wall, waiting for something to stick. Once something sticks, I follow it. I’ve been following shit and talking to walls for my whole life. I know that I know nothing.