Let me preface this by saying there are no words for how uncoordinated I am. People always claim to be awkward and uncoordinated, but I give new meaning to those words. I have terrible reflexes and pretty much no depth perception. The only thing worse than my hand-eye coordination is my hand-foot coordination. I appear athletic at first glance, but trust me when I say that looks can be deceiving. I can run, bike, hike, and swim all day, but put me on a field with a ball, and things go downhill quickly. I even politely refused when the guy I was crushing on invited me to join his kickball team last spring. That’s right. I’m too uncoordinated to play kickball. Kindergartners can play kickball. I cannot.
Endurance sports have always been my thing, largely in part because they don’t require much coordination, if any. Therefore, my one big fear when I took up cycling was making the transition to clipless pedals. I started out just riding in plain old sneakers, but to become a truly efficient rider, it is necessary to upgrade to clipless pedals. Sneakers are replaced by a special riding shoe that is fit with a small metal cleat, while the flat pedals are upgraded to a smaller pedal that the cleat on the shoe locks into. Once clipped, the rider is physically attached to the bike, providing more power and control for the ride. The single disadvantage of going clipless is that some riders struggle with coming unclipped.
Now let me set the scene for you. It was two months to the day before my triathlon, so I figured I couldn’t wait any longer to upgrade my shoes. I was starting to struggle on some of my longer rides and I really thought it would be the difference maker. I road up to my local bike shop and explained my needs to the guys working behind the desk. I also explained my fear. Stanley came out of the workshop to get me fitted, while Kevin continued working on the bike he had rigged up in the shop. Stanley assuring me there was nothing to worry about. He insisted he’d never had a person leave the shop unable to clip in and out. Stanley, I appreciate your confidence, but you do not know me.
He set me up in the trainer and went over the clipping motion with me as the bike held steady. It seemed simple enough, so he popped the bike out of the trainer and suggested that I ride around the store a couple of times to make sure I had it. Well, that’s where the problems started. It’s difficult to describe the mess that was occurring so I’ve inserted a helpful YouTube video below to better paint the picture for you. This is what happens if you don’t unclip properly.
Based on what I’ve told you, do you think that unclipping came easily for me? No? You don’t? You are correct!
I literally looked like a 6 year old learning to ride a bike for the first time. Every time I tried to come to a stop, I’d get so flustered that I would forget how to get my feet out of the pedals and would start to topple over. Stanley had to physically grab me around the waste and set me upright MULTIPLE times. Can you think of many things more embarrassing than being a grown woman, riding through a bike shop on her expensive road bike and toppling into a display of children’s bikes, only to be scooped up at the last second by a big hulking tattooed man?? If so, let me know, because on a scale of 1 to mortifying, this is at least an 8.5 embarrassment. (anything above an 8.5 involves being naked in public)
Oh and to top it off, I almost cried. I never cry. Ever. Except once in awhile out of frustration. As you can guess, this was a frustrating time for me. As I stood there discussing my options with Stanley, the big hulking tattooed man, it took everything in my power not to totally melt down. Somehow I managed to hold it together when he offered to order me a different style of shoe and pedal that might fit my needs a little better.
A week later I got a call from the bike shop that my shoes were in and I could come up any day to get fitted. I swallowed my pride and popped by the store on a Wednesday after work. Stanley wasn’t working that day, but Kevin was, which was good since he was quite familiar, not only with my fear but with my epic failure. He was super encouraging as he set my bike up in the trainer and couldn’t have been more patient with me as I fired a million and one questions his way. I practiced the clipping motion over and over as he looked me in the eye and talked to me, trying to distract me from over thinking my actions. After about 15 minutes of this, Kevin encouraged me to give it another shot. He popped the bike out of the trainer and got me set up on the floor of the store. He used some old boxes to barricade anything I might crash into (yes-true story), and told me to stop thinking so much and let my body do the work. I looked at him doubtfully.
But then I did it. I road. I clipped in. I clipped out. And I didn’t topple over. Kevin high fived me. Then I did it again. And again. Until I felt comfortable enough to leave the store and ride home. The next day, I called my friend and asked him to meet me for a ride on the bike path. Reluctant at first, I slowly built more confidence, and before I knew it I was riding along like my old self.
It felt good. It felt good to face my fears. It felt good to kick down the door of humiliation. Mostly though, it just felt good to feel (and look) like an athlete again.
PS: Check back tomorrow for some more thoughts on fear and humiliation, and one of my favorite new recipes!!
PPS: Want to know more about this crazy triathlon thing I’m doing? Check out my other Road To Quakerman Posts.