There’s a career book out there, written by two gurus from Gallup, which has a simple premise: instead of spending all your free time in your professional life trying to be better at what you suck at, focus instead on the things you do really well.  Then make sure that you’re choice of a job matches those strengths.

I found the book incredibly helpful when I was making a transition out of one type of consulting (and, turns out, into another) a few years ago.  But I thought of it again this week as I continued to train for the upcoming Chicago Triathlon.

After my recent escapades on the bike, and pacing the half marathon at RNR Chicago, I was thinking about how I’d rather be forced to sit in the Ghirardelli Chocolate shop and NOT eat chocolate than ride up a hill on a bike.  It’s about that bad.  My turnover gets lower as I start up the incline; my right hand madly shifts the gears on my uber-responsive bike; and yet I frequently find myself panting, heart redlining, as I approach the crest of a hill.

After the race in Minneapolis, I wrote Coach Mike and asked him for some advice.  I’m a big girl. I know that.  But I wanted to see if he had any magic bullets (or, better, hidden speed tips) to share with me about how to conquer the hills and make sure that I’m prepared for race day. 

Turns out, Coach Mike rolls like the Gallup guys do.  Essentially, he said, I could think of myself like a Tour de France rider – who creates speed with power and, um, other factors which are countered by how hard you have to work to overcome the weight you carry.  The higher your weight, the harder it is (relatively speaking) to bike.  I’m probably screwing up the sentiment, but Mike basically said this:  focus on keeping your effort light to get up the hills – don’t kill yourself.  Go over the crest with power.  And focus on your strengths.   In my case (and maybe in yours), that’s the flats, and the downhills.  

Turns out, Mike’s right.  Every time we’re out on a group ride, I slowly, but steadily, make my way up the uphill, usually getting passed by every Tom, Dick and Harry on two wheels.  But man, get me on a flat stretch or a part where there’s a downhill, and I can toast people – at least the ones on those Mary Poppins bikes.

So if you’re getting ready to ride your first race, and you’re nervous about the hills, don’t be.  Focus on what you do well – going downhill, and powering through those flat surfaces. A couple of other things that you might want to remember, too: if you’re clipped in, don’t wait till you can’t get your foot over the top of the crank to unclip – you’ll wind up as roadkill.   There’s a pretty, short, steep hill along the Mississippi on the Eastern edge of Illinois that probably still has a mark from the last time I made that mistake.

And don’t be afraid to walk that bike up a hill.  There is no shame in admitting that a crazy, steep, hill is not your thing.  Take a breath.  Enjoy the scenery.  Think about what you’re going to do when you get to the top.  But DO NOT beat yourself up for it.  Just accept it as part of your race, and keep moving.

Finally, ride your own race.  You are going to be surrounded by athletes, many who will be faster than you.  Some will be on a better bike.  Some will have fancy clothes.  None of them are you.  You have trained, and worked hard, to make sure you’re ready for your day – and if you find yourself gasping for breath in the first two miles of your bike ride, you will be miserable on the run.  So when you’re on the bike, hydrate, keep your breathing comfortably hard, and keep your chin up. 

That’s about it for my bike advice.   Remember your strengths….

See you on the path….

One thought

  1. Too true – find your strength. I like that. My strength is pure stubbornness. Good luck on your tri – I’m going to watch a local one next weekend…maybe next year…

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