cycling · fitness · Guest Post

Runner Biking in Italy (Guest Post)

View of Adriatic on Century ride

For the past 20+ years, I’ve considered myself to be a runner. I love running and I’d choose to run over any other form of exercise. Running is simple, you can do it anywhere, you don’t need any equipment, and it doesn’t take too long to get a great workout.

While running, I can push myself, or not (as I’ve written for this blog). I can run alone (which I prefer), or with others. I can listen to music or podcasts, or run in silence. While running, I can think through papers I’m writing, or classes I’m teaching, or problems I’m struggling with. I can plan my day, or escape from it.

I’m quite set in my love of running. I’m not actively looking for a second love.

Eight months ago, my mother won a deluxe bike trip for two, to Italy. When my father declined the invitation (!!!), I was second on her list. Of course, I accepted. But I had two concerns. The first was being away from my family for so long for vacation (I know, I must get over that guilt). Since having become a parent almost six years ago, I’ve traveled a ton, but only either for work or, if for holiday, always with my family. But my supportive partner insisted that I go and that he’d take on the added burden of parenting for that week. “When will you ever get this chance again?,” he said. (Thanks, Andreas!).

Lauren Freeman and her mother, Elayne Freeman

But my second concern was that I’m not a biker. I wasn’t worried about not being in good enough shape, since I know that I am, but I’m not in biking shape. Sure, I’ve biked before. I even own a road bike that I sometimes take out for a quick spin. But I’ve never biked for much longer than about an hour and even doing so, there was never any real love there. Biking is fine, but to be honest, rather boring. It’s more of an instrumental good (exercise) than an intrinsic one (pleasure). It’s more of a need to diversify away from running and to cross-train, rather than something I ever pursued for its own sake.

But after this trip, I can confidently say that I’m hooked.

Everything I’m about to say will be old hat to bikers, but for this runner, it was transformative.

When Sam and several others asked me to blog about my bike trip, initially, I didn’t think I’d have much to say. But on my first century ride (104km, actually) in the region of Puglia to the southern most tip of Italy’s Adriatic coast, biking solo for most of it, I realized that for the Fit and Feminist Blog I have something to say both to “fit” part and to the “feminist” part of the blog.

Here I’ll do the former; stay tuned next week for the latter.

Six years ago, while pregnant for the first time and one month away from my due date, I had the crazy idea of “training” for labour by watching intense biking videos (I wrote about it here.) My thought was to try to prepare psychologically for the ineffable and unimaginable pain I knew I’d endure, but had no experience of, by watching elite bikers persevere through difficult climbs. Their focus, their stamina, their sheer physical power was supposed to somehow train me for the incredible feat of birth. Or so I reasoned. It really did seem like a good idea at the time. Those around me were supportive (thanks, all!). Of course, the idea was a complete failure.

Fast forward six years, and I found myself climbing the very same coastal Italian hills that I watched the Giro d’Italia bikers climb when I was pregnant.

My ride that day was intoxicating.

In those hours of riding, it clicked. I understood how people can do this sport and how they can go on for such long stretches at a time. Inhaling the salty sea air; feeling the heat, the sweat, the sun, the wind; the tiring muscles all working together: this requires a kind of athleticism that I never knew I had, that I’d never quite experienced running. Somehow, being on a bike, the speed, the painful uphills, the cruising downhill, the monotony of never-ending pedaling, was anything but monotonous.

I found the zone. I embraced it.

I had so many hours that week to be alone in my mind. I didn’t listen to music. Most of the time, I biked alone. It was therapeutic. I thought about nothing for a good deal of time. For someone who thinks for a living (as a philosophy professor), it was both liberating and exhilarating to be so alone with my thoughts for so many hours, and to have nothing in particular (at least in the immediate future) that I had to be thinking about. This isn’t something I ever get on short, or even on long runs. I don’t run for 5 or 6 or 7 hours at a time.

To bike through 400-year-old olive groves, through the UNESCO protected area of the Trullis in Alberobella, up and down the Adriatic coast, on winding remote roads, on highways (okay, that wasn’t fun), through the aridness of the inland, the lushness of the sea…It was all so heavenly.

400 year-old olive groves, sea in the distance

So I’ve caught the biking bug.

Though Louisville, Kentucky is no Puglia, Italy, it’s hilly, it’s lush and I know that there is a large bike community here.

But here’s my question: how to keep it up? I work fulltime, I have two young children, I already exercise two hours per day. Though I have an entirely supportive partner, my question is this: where do people get the time to go for four hour+ bike rides, and work, and parent, and sleep?

Until I figure that out, I’ll be doing quick, hard, loops in the morning in the park near my house, working on my climbs, and trying to recover that zone that I entered in Italy.

Most importantly, thanks mom, for giving me the opportunity to embrace a new sport. And thanks for a most incredible week of my life.

Trullis

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