How to Reframe Your Thinking When Bike Adventures Don’t Work Out As Expected
I do cycling adventures for several reasons: to keep challenging myself, to show other everyday endurance athletes what is possible and how to prepare, and hopefully inspire someone to get off the couch and say, “That looks kind of cool, I want to try that.”
But what happens when bike adventures don’t work out?
Or rather, when they don’t work out the way you expect them to?
It’s going to happen, probably most of the time.
And that’s okay.
I want everyday athletes to understand that sometimes bike and running adventures don’t work out, and that some adventures provide unexpected lessons or even gifts.
So no matter how an adventure or a challenge turns out, there is still meaning or value in the pursuit of the goal.
Bike adventures don’t work out as expected with asthma
I’ve written before about my challenges with asthma.
I’ve spent a lot of years trying to get it under control enough to be able to fully race my bicycle.
Asthma has made a lot of bike adventures and races not work out.
This past year, I’ve been doing a lot of work with breathing exercises promoted by Patrick McKeown.
And these tools have worked well up to a point.
At cyclocross nationals, I let the pressure get to me and the breathing protocols went out the window.
Ready for Fat Tire Birkie
This past Saturday, I ventured up to Cable, Wisconsin for the Fat Tire Birkie, a 47k fat bike race on the Birkebeiner trails in Northern Wisconsin.
I looked at past results and at rider’s times.
I knew I could finish the distance and have a decent time.
Obviously, the adventure was not about winning — or even doing well.
The adventure and challenge was to ride as hard as I could for 30 miles on snow on a fat tire bike and hope for the best!
Cold weather triggers asthma attack
All I was thinking about prior to the start was the cold.
Even when the organizers postponed the start to 10 am to get a few degrees warmer, it was still zero when we left the gate.
I had chemical warmers in my boots and gloves, and the Follow Hollow socks, so I was warm enough.
But as soon as I started to ride, my lungs seized up. Literally.
Within a hundred meters, I could hardly breathe and my heart felt like it was coming out of my chest.
At that point in an asthma attack, anxiety also sets in, like “Holy shit, I can’t breathe.”
I had to decide how to reframe my thinking when my bike adventure wasn’t working out.
I kept trying to focus on breathing techniques.
I also made a list of all the things I wanted to do differently to race this thing again: Pogies (to make getting snacks and bottles easier), insulated water bottles upside down in the bottle cage, goggles, carbon wheels, and make sure the smallest gearing works on the bike!
Fat Tire Birkie is a great bike adventure
If you’ve ever skied the Birkie or done the Fat Tire, you know the Birkie trails are either up or down.
It’s a tough course, very hilly.
An ice storm rolled through the area the previous week, and the trees were covered with ice.
It’s not good for the tree branches, but it was beautiful in the sun.
And the Birkebeiner Ski Foundation, which produces the race, did an amazing job of grooming the trails and holding a party for a ton of racers.
It’s a great event.
I wish I had felt better after the race to celebrate more and meet new friends.
Reframe your thinking when bike adventures don’t work out as expected
A wiser person might have turned around at the start, or maybe cut off at the Short and Fat.
And I did think about both of those options!
But no one has ever accused me of being wise!
So I plodded on, getting passed by nearly everyone.
If I was focused on results, I would be really disappointed.
Maybe not the smartest move, given that four days later as I write this, I’m still having a tough time breathing.
And I rode with some fun people and met others later.
The community of cyclists — like runners and triathletes — is a lot of fun!
Find the adventure and challenge within
But this post is not about results or finishing.
It’s about what happens when an adventure rolls off the tracks, what happens when bike adventures don’t work out as you expect.
I’m not trying to be existential and look for meaning in adventures.
But I guess that’s exactly what I’m doing.
We do adventures to challenge ourselves.
We try new things to see what we’re about, what we can do when our limits are tested.
We undertake adventures to “improve” ourselves during the process of training.
Maybe we get a little tougher, maybe a little wiser.
It’s what the adventure brings us that is the gift.
That’s the reframing: I didn’t “fail” because the asthma flared up.
I was able to still challenge myself and still had a good time on the bike.
I learned some lessons about gear, and I learned some things about the breathing.
Still need to work with doctors
Cold weather has triggered asthma attacks several times before at races, including this winter at a fat tire race up in Green Bay, and several years ago, when I rode at the Barry Roubaix gravel race in five to 10 degree weather.
I guess I still have some work to do with both the breathing practice and with doctors.
And I’m not letting asthma dictate what I can and cannot do.
At least not yet.
I may have to limit racing a bicycle outside in really cold weather someday.
But that day is not here yet.
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Paul Warloski is a:
- USA Cycling Level 3 Coach
- RRCA Running Coach
- Training Peaks Level 2 Coach
- RYT-200 Yoga Instructor
- Certified Personal Trainer