Fitness Lessons from a Newly Minted Athlete

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Sometimes fitness can just sneak up on you. Sure, you have to put in the work, but when you find a sport you enjoy doing – well, everything can fall into place without you’re really thinking long and hard about it.

    Take my friend Alice. While growing up, she tried team sports in school, but never fell completely in love with any particular one.  Alice’s mother encouraged her daughter to join her in a Danskin triathlon. Alice trained for the event (including early mornings swims in a frigid Barton Springs Pool in Austin, TX), but wasn’t hooked on this form of exercise. Running, tennis and racquetball didn’t do the trick, either.

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    But identifying a common exercise goal with her husband, Wil, led Alice to long-term fitness. The couple decided that they wanted to spend time together while exercising outdoors. Alice and Wil began building on a fun activity they had enjoyed doing together while in college – biking around campus.  Alice and Wil decided that they would take their cycling to the next level by signing up for a local 18-mile ride. In the months running up to the event, they focused on training and easily completed the ride on their mountain bikes.

    Having ongoing goals proved to be a great motivator, so Alice and Wil decided to continue looking for organized rides. Their next major event was a 47-mile ride. The following year, they moved up to a 65-mile ride. While training, they determined that they needed to get tour bikes, which they found and purchased on CraigsList.  And after successfully completing that ride, they decided that they wanted to do their first century ride. Success again! And now they’re training for the MS 150, a ride that actually involves riding 170 miles from Houston to Austin. This two-day event is team supported, which means that there are organized rest stops, people directing traffic, and sag wagons so that riders who have mechanical or health issues are not left behind.

    Two years after starting to cycle regularly, Alice has noticed big changes in her body. She’s lost 30 pounds (although she wasn’t trying and wasn’t dieting). However, this weight loss isn’t surprising since Alice pointed out that a 40-mile ride can burn 2000 calories (which she’s happy about since she considers herself a “foodie”). In addition, Alice says the quality of her sleep is better. She falls asleep within five minutes, sleeps soundly through the night, and wakes up refreshed. She’s also better able to fend off a sinus infection that used to waylay her twice a year. Her resting heart rate has dropped more than 10 points to 60 while her recover heart rate is better. And one of the biggest changes she’s experienced is in attitude. “I now consider myself an athletic person,” Alice noted.

    There are lots of lessons that can be learned from Alice’s experiences. These include:
    -    Find an exercise partner. Alice said having her husband join her in riding gave her the impetus to continue. And it turns out that Alice’s and Wil’s efforts have sparked a renewed interest by Alice’s parents in exercising. Finally, Alice and Wil have joined up with a cycling group who provide camaraderie as well as fitness and cycling tips.

  • -    Try different fitness routines. Alice tried a bunch of different sports before finding cycling. What exercise works for her may not work for you, but the lesson to learn is to be sure to explore your fitness options.

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    -    Develop a goal and a deadline. Having a fitness goal (such as a particular distance) and an actual date to achieve them (such as a race or a ride) helps keep you focused.
    -    Cross train. Along with their regular Saturday rides, Alice and Wil regularly participate in cardio/strength and spinning classes three times a week.
    -    Get the right equipment. Alice and Wil made the decision to purchase road bikes when they reached a point where they were going to try longer rides. These bikes made riding easier (and more comfortable) as the couple increased the distance they covered.
    -    Embrace technology. Alice showed me a cool app on her smart phone that allows her to monitor her heart rate and the actual cycling route so she’s got a record of her fitness regimen.
    -    Be willing to change your eating habits. Alice said she has switched from eating three square meals a day to three smaller meals and regular snacks “because I’m starving at 10 a.m.” She’s also eating a lot more lean protein in the form of turkey and chicken.

    Alice’s experience can serve as a good lesson for couch potatoes as well as those who work out but who haven’t found their exercise passion. Try everything, find an activity you like, get other people to join you, and just move!

Published On: March 08, 2011