Cycling

The flogging will continue until bliss resumes

I was at a dinner party a few weeks ago and ended up in conversation with a girl I’ve always admired. While I was stuffing cookies in my face like there might not be food again (literally, I threw up a little in my mouth from being so full and then ate three more, nothing wrong here), she was telling me about doing hot yoga at a studio nearby and how it has really helped her both physically and mentally. Suddenly it came to me: I had to do hot yoga. Right then. Or at least as soon as possible.

That translated to the following afternoon, several hours after finishing an incredibly cold, uncomfortable 3.5 hour ride. That’s a good time to try a 90-minute hot vinyasa yoga class, right? I prepared by Googling “yoga tips” and reading them while eating the last third of a jar of Nutella.

Armed with an old yoga mat left at my house by an ex, a cycling waterbottle, and a dish towel (since the website said to bring a towel and I figured they meant for dabbing sweat off one’s face), I headed to class. When I walked into the studio, it was like climbing into my oven, except that my pans are not clad entirely in brightly-colored lululemon apparel. My pans and I have that in common. Class started with everybody on their mats chanting three Oms, and I had to resist the urge to giggle and snort. 

Then we started moving and I had to resist the urge to keel over dead. There was a LOT of moving, so much moving that my head felt fuzzy from the effort and the heat. I quickly realized that when they said to bring a towel, they didn’t mean a dishrag to refresh one’s face; they meant bring a huge swath of fabric to soak up the tsunami of sweat pouring off one’s body onto the mat. Within minutes, I was slipping all over, clawing at my mat with fingernails and toes for traction. A nice man (because it turns out that in yoga class, everybody is nice) eventually tossed over a spare towel and saved me from further humiliation. Well, slipping-related humiliation, that is. The yoga practice itself made me feel awkward and gangly and I kept wanting to announce to the room, “I’m good at sports, I swear!”

It was hard to remember that nobody else gave a shit about my yoga performance.

I settled in a bit as the class progressed endlessly and started to enjoy the experience. Sure, I felt like I was going to hurl a few times and my legs were burning, but that’s not unlike the joy of cycling, right? When the teacher called on us to chant three Oms to close our practice, I got a bit emotional from the moment (although that might have just been relief). Then everybody said “Namaste!” and clapped, and I felt almost happy enough to hug the people next to me, except they were drenched in sweat and smelled like old socks.

After that, I was hooked. Yoga made me feel limber, stronger, and refreshed. Think of all the toxins I was sweating out! Maybe I should even do a juice cleanse! Hooray for the natural high! I am so freaking Zen!

I went nearly every day for the following two weeks. When the studio was closed for a day due to snow, I panicked and then did yoga at home for an hour while listening to an iTunes radio station of gongs. Nothing was going to stand in the way of my chi.

Well, almost nothing. The shoulder injury I’ve been nursing for years started to hurt almost constantly. Lifting my arms became problematic, so I compensated by using the other arm more, both in and out of class. The collective fatigue of heavy training combined with 60-90 minutes of yoga each day also started to build, to the point where I had trouble sleeping, felt constantly hungry, and looked like I hadn’t slept in a month. People would comment, “Gosh, you look exhausted…” and I would think Excellent, I’m doing such great work! I even rearranged social plans to fit my yoga schedule and would insist on going to class even if a ride left me so gutted I was sprawled on the couch trying not to barf.

Unsurprisingly, I stopped feeling calm and refreshed from each class and started feeling like I had to grit my teeth and power through it. The teacher would say we were going to hold a pose for five more breaths, and if she started counting too slowly, I wanted to slap her with my dish towel. Other students would take harder variations of poses than I could handle and I wanted to push them over out of rage. You can do a handstand, GOODY FOR YOU. TRY DOING INTERVALS FOR TWO HOURS ON THE TRAINER, ASSHOLE.

I reached a breaking point last Friday. My bad shoulder was throbbing as always, but then the other side started to hurt. Stabbing pains in my chest through the back of my shoulder blade nearly brought me to tears during class, and I spent the rest of the day barely able to breath, laugh, or use either arm. I decided to take the next day off from yoga, and then the following day, and then the day after that.

It has been three days since my last yoga practice. Forgive me, Shiva, for I have sinned.

To be honest, I miss it. Not just for the exercise or the stretching, but for the feelings of calm and happiness it first brought. I squished those feelings with my aggressive approach, like a child who accidentally snuffs the light out of the firefly he loves. I couldn’t just do some yoga, I had to do ALL of the yoga, and now I’ve put my body in the position of being unable to do any yoga at all.

This makes me sad. I want to go back to the studio, sit in the oven, and have the self-control to just stretch, enjoy the moment, and not feel like I have to chataranga better and harder than ever before. It would be nice to find a way to be a normal person that does not feel compelled to take the things I want to do and club myself over the head with them. Not least of all because I paid $50 for a month of unlimited sessions and those sessions are just dangling there in space, droopy and unused.

There is a lesson to be taken from this experience: everything in moderation. This is a concept with which I am generally unfamiliar. Sure, I’ve heard of it, but the execution is difficult. Look at the beginning of this post – all of this started while I was eating myself physically sick on cookies. If only I could learn to have a few cookies, enjoy them, and then step away, I suspect life would be much more enjoyable.

Until then, I will allow my injuries to be my guide. At least until this Ibuprofen kicks in.

Posted on in Cycling, Life 2 Comments

Prologue

I’m in the air on the way to Fort Lauderdale, FL for team camp. People have spoken recently as if this marks the beginning of the season, but I’m not ready for that yet. This off season has been long and filled with challenges, but I’m not ready for it to be over. The beginning of the season means big things: nonstop travel, long stretches of time away from home, and expectations to perform. There’s a time and place when all of that feels normal, but that’s called the beginning of March.

Nevertheless, this is the beginning of something. The same team but with new riders, new leadership, and new sponsors. It’s comforting to have familiarity while exciting to have changes. At this point last year, I was a wide-eyed and eager neo-pro with no idea of what to expect. Showing up at camp felt like the first day of high school; I wanted to fit in and be cool while dropping watts and impressing everybody. Instead, I got norovirus, threw up on the driveway a few times, broke the plumbing, went to the ER, and was the weird girl that put raw egg whites in her recovery drinks.

I still do that. Live dangerously, always my motto.

Last year’s camp didn’t go as planned and I cried in the car on the way home from the airport, both out of disappointment and because my insides still felt like a nuclear wasteland. But as the season progressed, things sorted themselves out (as did my digestive system). I found my place amongst the team and it started to feel like home. While everybody still thought I was weird, it was okay and even welcomed. Well, either that or everybody is really good at keeping me in the dark.

I’m excited to get back to that place where I travel all over with my quirky adopted family like a spandex-clad circus, and happy to come into it with the benefit of last year’s experience. I’m not worried about trying to be cool or ride like I’m going to grow up to be Marianne Vos. All I want to do is show up, see my friends, make new ones, and blend all the raw eggs I can.

Also, I now know to live in mortal fear of norovirus.

But while this trip feels like an adventure and some kind of start, I’m not ready to let go of the winter yet. The polar vortex can go to hell (insert joke about freezing over) and I’m over bundling up and shivering through rides, but I still feel like a work in progress and need more time. My eating issues have been better – no throwing up or restricting excessively – but food is still a minefield and source of endless anxiety. People have been so supportive and I couldn’t have made this much progress without their wisdom and nudging. But I want more time to feel more confident about eating everything it takes to get through a long, hard season successfully.

I’m also not ready to say goodbye to Andrew just yet. Of course the season starting won’t change anything or really mean goodbye, but things will be different. Spending so much time apart is difficult and makes both people work harder to stay connected. We’re just over three months into our marriage and so much of the time has been focused on my eating disorder, several bouts of respiratory illness, the holidays, and that time I accidentally stabbed myself in the hand. I need the extra month between camp and the real start of the season to be at home, enjoy the perks of being married to my best friend, and find ways to enjoy life in spite of the challenges we face. Andrew makes me so happy and I want more of that before I join the traveling bicycle show for six months.

So camp will be great and I’ll share details and stories of the experience here (sure, if there are pillow fights, I’ll let you know but don’t hold your breath). But I’m also excited to return home to savor the final weeks left before the ride really begins. I suppose that, much like Florida in January, this is a good place to be.

Posted on in Cycling, Life 2 Comments

2013 Recap

This retrospective post was supposed to have been written yesterday, the first day of the new year, but I was too busy wringing out my liver, collecting the car from where we’d left it the night before, and reflecting on how the first highlight of 2014 was a 2am tequila-sodden rendition of Moulin Rouge’s “Elephant Love Medley” while my father-in-law drove Andrew and me home. Yes, I know all of the words by heart. Something important I learned in 9th grade has been forgotten to make room for this gem.

So anyway, it’s time to say goodbye to 2013. It went by fast, it was full of memorable moments, and it took my life in directions I never expected. Like Boise, ID or Tybee Island, GA or that emergency room an hour from team camp in Borrego Springs.

There are too many high points to try to recall them all: moments with my team, life on the road racing my bike, podiums, nights spent at Alegria with friends, epic sufferfests, a vacation with my parents, and oh, yeah, that whole getting married thing. When I look back on the year, I see more adventure, travel, and good times than ever before.

There were low points, too – norovirus, an early season crash and concussion, the onset of late-season burnout and fatigue, an eating disorder, setbacks in winter training from sickness and injury – but it’s okay to have rough times and hard moments. This is where some people might say something perky like, “those moments help you appreciate the good ones even more!” but this is not that kind of blog. Instead, I will say that life is not natural without lows and suffering is part of living. Living is good and my life is wonderful for all its ups and downs.

Happy New Year! I hope that 2014 brings you joy, luck, and piles of cake (or pie, if that’s your thing).

Posted on in Cycling, Family, Friends, Life, Sadness, Travel 2 Comments

An Unvarnished Life

Somebody close to me questioned my choice to share some of my recent struggles here. This person couldn’t understand why I’d want to broadcast this publicly and detract from what could otherwise be a nice image of a successful life. I was also asked if I’d thought about the impact on others in my life, if I’d considered that it might be uncomfortable for them to field questions or comments from concerned family members and friends.

To be honest, I was terrified to open up about this to the world. What would it be like if everybody knew about this weakness? What would happen when I applied for a job or a spot on a team and the person evaluating me came across this part of my history? Would they think less of me? Would everybody think less of me?

It took a lot of consideration. I wrote the initial entry a week before posting it and decided against hitting “Publish” a few dozen times before getting the courage to move forward. And then I did, and the outpouring of support was more than I ever expected. People reached out with kind words, helpful advice, and stories about their own experiences and struggles. Several people even admitted that they were facing similar struggles but had not yet found a way to share with anybody in their life. By opening up about this, I found so much encouragement from the people in my life that I’ve actually made substantial progress in putting the behaviors behind me. When I stopped keeping this a secret, it became nearly impossible to keep doing secretive things like skipping food or throwing up. I felt accountable to the people supporting me, and in the end, that will be what helps me get past this.

I didn’t know how helpful sharing this would turn out to be, but when I made the decision to go public, I did have several goals. First, I wanted to be honest about my life, because I believe many people only present their best sides and it leads to an unnatural and unrealistic image of perfection. Yes, I have a great life – a cycling career and a good job, wonderful friends and exciting travel, a loving husband and family – but I also have issues. I am human and fall down and struggle to get back up sometimes. That’s okay and I believe it’s so important that we know this about each other and accept that occasionally we all need help. Regardless of who you are or how lucky or successful you’ve been, life is like the weather – some days are beautiful and some days are stormy. What is gained by pretending I live under a cloudless sky?

Second, I wanted to show that it is okay to talk about eating disorders. It is not something to be ashamed of or something that should be dealt with secretly. This is a thing that happens to normal, healthy, sane people, especially in the world of competitive athletics, and yet it so often goes undiscussed. Why did I feel like I couldn’t talk about this for the first few months? If I had the flu or chicken pox or cancer, it would be normal to talk about it. Why do mental struggles feel taboo and uncomfortable to bring up?

I want that to change. An eating disorder shouldn’t be the elephant in the room. It should be okay and normal for a person to say to the people around them, “Hey, my relationship with food is messed up and I’m having trouble accepting my body.” In my experience, this disease persists because the voice in my head goes unchallenged. When the voice tells me I would climb better if I was lighter, or that I won’t be okay if I don’t exercise every day, or that I am ‘bad’ because I ate a ‘bad’ food, there are times when I don’t have the mental strength to argue. But now, because I opened up to others about this problem, the people in my life argue for me. They use facts and logic and evidence to help me see the healthy way to live, and they can drown out the voice when I can’t.

I never meant to make anybody uncomfortable by talking about this here. My intent wasn’t to cause discomfort or create a ‘negative’ image of myself. I just wanted to be honest about my life, ask for help, and start an open dialogue about a difficult subject. Writing is much easier than talking for me when it comes to difficult subjects, so I chose to use my blog to start the conversation. If people think less of me or don’t want to hire me because I’ve admitted to having a problem, then I’m willing to let those people and opportunities go. We only get one chance to live our lives, and I don’t want to spend mine pretending to be perfect when I’m not. I would rather be known for successfully beating a problem than never having any at all.

When I was first confronted by this person, there was a moment where it felt like I should take these posts down and pretend none of this ever happened. It was like their shame and discomfort were contagious. But the more I thought about it, the more certain I became that this was the right decision in the first place. In speaking out about my eating disorder, I discovered that there are so many supportive and accepting friends, teammates, and family members in my life, people who are now helping me get well. There is nothing to regret about that.

Posted on in Cycling, Family, Life, Sadness 2 Comments

And You Will Know Me By The Trail of Phlegm

I came down with a disgusting and crippling cold this past Tuesday. Right after starting the day’s ride, I began to feel badly and started coughing up green blobs shortly thereafter.

Oh, are you eating? I’m sorry. At least I am not posting pictures.

Things went downhill quickly, and I spent the afternoon/evening in bed feeling very sorry for myself. Yesterday wasn’t an improvement; I did a short recovery spin on the trainer and otherwise tried to move as little as possible. My nose began running aggressively last night and I went through an entire roll of toilet paper blowing and wiping and sneezing. Despite a hefty dose of NyQuil, a sleeping pill, and a shot of whiskey, I slept like shit and spent the night tossing and turning while surrounded by rolls of toilet paper that kept getting lost in the sheets when I needed them most.

I was scheduled to train today and the weather was forecasted to be warm, but I never know when it’s okay to ride while you’re sick. I suppose I could have asked my coach, my team director, or any of my dozens of wise cycling friends, but to ask would imply that I was willing to consider a response other than, “You should definitely double your scheduled training. Sickness is your body’s way of failing and now it must be PUNISHED.”

So despite waking up feeling like rotting death, I was determined to ride. This was not purely stupidity and stubbornness; in my experience, it feels better to get moving while mired in the muck of a bad cold. I popped a Sudafed (or four), downed a half cup of espresso, and headed out on the bike.

It turned out to be a great experience: the weather was lovely (shorts! in December!), my legs felt decent, and midway through I actually regained my sense of taste and smell. There was not a moment during the ride where I wasn’t shedding snot, but while it was disgustingly messy, it felt good to (literally) clear my head. I probably lost three pounds of mucus in a two-hour span.  And thanks to the virus, everything coming out matched the fluorescent green tones of my kit perfectly.

Should you wish to seek the input of an expert on the wisdom of riding while sick, however, Cycling Tips and Bicycling have some thoughts. Or you could consult the Velominati for some great advice that will never steer you wrong.

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On coming up for air

Things have been better lately. You might think I’d have melted down over Thanksgiving, what with it being a holiday focused on food. Sure, there are themes of gratitude and family and sales on off-brand electronics, but all of these are commemorated with eating, which has the potential for disaster when you’re a neurotic, anxiety-prone bulimic. (Side note: I LOATHE THAT WORD. It’s right up there with “panties” and “Portugal” and “cockroach”, the latter of which is so vile I can barely stand to see it in print.)

To mitigate the urge to hugely overindulge on Thanksgiving itself, I made and snacked on extra versions of several of my favorite dishes in the preceding days, so when it came time for the big meal itself, I was less inclined to dive face first into all of the food. It was more like going to a strip club where half of the strippers are your ex-girlfriends; I was all STUFFING! TURKEY! but not all SWEET POTATO SOUFFLE! CORN BREAD PUDDING! since I’d been eating those a lot already and wasn’t excited about them anymore. It meant that the meal was nice and enjoyable but not so weighty and unmanageable that I had to barf it back up or cry over it. So, that was a win.

I did preemptively counteract Thanksgiving guilt by working out each day last week, despite it being a rest week. This included a ridiculous session of intensive cardio at the office gym several hours before Thanksgiving dinner, which left me nearly incapacitated for riding and ultimately led to learning a hard lesson: the body’s capacity for suffering has a limit. By Sunday, I’d so far surpassed that limit that I was actually willing to take a day entirely off exercise for the first time in over four weeks.

My inclination was to also take the day off from eating, but as I said before, things have been better lately and so I didn’t. A good friend talked some sense into me at a party one night last week; he’s a rider I have trusted and admired for several years, and for some reason his words actually sank in where nothing else seemed to have worked. He spoke frankly about the effects of my actions, pointing out that I could lose the spot I’d worked so hard to earn on my team and that my strength as a rider was being threatened directly by my actions. These things seem obvious, but I’ve been able to ignore or gloss over them for the last few months. This time, I finally heard them and started to feel like I could be different. It felt like I could trust his words and use them against the unhealthy voice.

He also told me, “Your weight was never the problem,” and, “We don’t train to lose weight, we train to get stronger.” These phrases stuck in my head so firmly that I think about them several times a day now and repeat them over and over. When I panic about something I’ve eaten or think about skipping food on a ride, I think of what he said and stop the behavior. It’s not 100% effective and there are a lot of bad habits left to break, but this feels like progress. This newfound wisdom made it feel okay to take a day off from working out while still allowing myself to have food.

Also, I used my free time on Sunday to try the Laotian menu at Bangkok Golden and it was so delicious, I ate two full entrees. So that pretty much put a damper on the whole “no exercise = no eat” plan anyway.

It feels good to be getting control of things a little. Sure, I Googled the caloric content of the cough drops I took earlier to help my sore throat, but that knowledge didn’t translate into then running for 30 seconds to burn it off (although I’m still thinking about those 20 calories nearly seven hours later). It feels almost like sanity begets sanity; after a few days of behaving almost normally, it starts to make normal behavior seem like the norm. Or in simpler terms, the farther I get from throwing up a milkshake, the more insane it seems to throw up a milkshake. And then one day in the future, while I’m puking my face off with a stomach virus or food poisoning, I’ll reflect on that part of my past and think, “I used to do this on purpose…WTF. IDIOT.”

Posted on in Cycling, Family, Friends, Life 1 Comment

A Flat Learning Curve

I went on a ride today, bonked hard after an hour, continued to extend the ride unnecessarily, and finally limped home like a dying animal. (No, of course I did not have food with me.) Conclusions I drew from this experience:

  1. I should eat more in general, because if I am bonking on not-long/not-hard rides, I am not properly fed. (Hooray! I have permission to eat more!) (I will promptly forget this lesson several hours after the ride. As the day progresses, I will revert to thinking the same amount of food that was not enough yesterday will be enough today.)
  2. I should bring food on rides so hunger can be addressed before it becomes a serious problem. (I will not do this. If I bring food on the ride, then I’m taking in calories when I prefer to be expending only. Unless the ride is at least 2.5 hours, I’m packing water and that’s it. More than 3 hours and I might begrudgingly take in 100 calories. More calories than that and I’ll cry. Literally.)
  3. I should not ride for 30+ minutes more than my coach instructed. (But really, that ride plan is just a starting point for negotiation and nobody ever died from doing some extra exercise except the people that have but let’s ignore reality and common sense.)

I have drawn these same conclusions on probably 28 of my last 30 rides.

It’s all about small steps here. I haven’t thrown up in nearly a week, although admittedly I really wanted to the other night after eating frozen yogurt. The only thing stopping me was that I was out with Andrew and he wasn’t going to let me wander away from the shopping center to throw up in the bushes. WORST HUSBAND EVER.

Anyway, I honestly believed that I had been making progress with the not-bonking-on-easy-rides thing. When I first started winter training some weeks ago, I bonked after less than an hour of slow riding. I’d set out feeling okay and then the hollow feeling would start and I’d lose all energy and end up creeping down the road. My head would go fuzzy, riding in groups was hard to process mentally, busy intersections completely tripped me out because my brain was so muddled, and I’d get irrationally angry and yell at erratic squirrels. It was ugly, but served the purpose of motivating me to start eating more each day. I’d ride, suffer, bonk, eat more, and repeat day after day until the bonking decreased in frequency.

But then today happened and GAHHHHH it was bad. I felt the hollow sensation start while I was still riding away from home and knew it was time to turn around, but I had already decided to add an extra thirty minutes to the scheduled ride and refused to budge in this. (Yeah, I said small steps.) Shortly thereafter, I was hunched over the bars with my mouth drooping open and my eyes glued to the pavement a few feet in front of the bike. When I clipped a squirrel that darted under my wheel, I didn’t even have the energy to freak out; I could only muster a feeling of irritation and a brief moment of wondering what it would be like to eat him.

(Probably squishy. Not worth the calories.)

You would think I’d learn from this experience, but while I truly believe that I’m adapting my behavior accordingly, I’m actually not. This has been going on for weeks now with only glacial improvement. During each ride, I’ll plan what to eat for the rest of the day to ensure I’m fueled for the following days. But if I decide mid-ride to eat X, Y, and Z, by the time I should be eating X, Y, and Z, I’ll have settled on eating X, Y/2, and no Z.

Sometimes I’ll grow aggressively tired of so much restriction and devour X, Y, Z, and Wx10. That’s when Andrew ends up following me around and not letting me go into the bushes or the bathroom for more than a few minutes. (I’m sort of joking. Sort of not. This isn’t exactly a regular occurrence, but I’m pretty sure this is a zero occurrence for normal people.)

Despite my tendency to overdo it, training is good because it forces me to face the reality of these bad decisions each day. It’s very incremental, but I am taking steps to eat more and actually recognize what isn’t enough food to sustain training. Riding isn’t fun when it’s miserable (duh) and I hate feeling slow. Even if I’m worried about eating more or feel guilty about it, the reward of riding better is almost enough to make it feel okay.

My new therapist wants me to argue with the voice in my head when it tells me to make stupid choices, try distracting myself when the food guilt gets bad, and stop saying “should”. I didn’t realize how many shoulds I have floating around constantly: I should ride longer, should eat less, shouldn’t eat that, should vacuum the house instead of relaxing. At first I thought that letting go of all of the shoulds would be stupid, because what about the good voice that tells me, “you should eat a bigger lunch so you’re not miserable”? But then I figured it out. Just eat the damn lunch and don’t spend a moment thinking about it. Just be where you are doing what you want and that’s enough. That’s living. Life is too short to always think you should be doing something else.

To everybody who has reached out with supportive words in the past few days, thank you. I cannot tell you how much it means to expose all of this and be met with acceptance, warmth, and encouragement. While it’s an internal battle to break out of these habits, having such strength and support externally really does make a difference. When I can finally get past this, I’m going to bake all of you a thank-you cake, eat it, and not feel one damn bit of guilt.

Posted on in Cycling, Life 2 Comments

An unflinching portrait of an eating disorder

A while back, I stopped telling you things that were going to make me look bad. I’m a professional cyclist with sponsors on my kit, so it felt like I couldn’t, or shouldn’t, say things that didn’t sound strong, confident, thrilled. Bad race? I’d make the report short and generic. Bad training period? Radio silence.

But that makes for a boring blog. I don’t like boring. So here is something: I have an eating disorder.

I’ve always had a preoccupation with food. Is this bad thing I’m eating going to make me fatter? Slower? Less good in some way? But I never had the willpower to take it beyond the worrying phase. In fact, I’ve been famous on my team for eating more than most people. I could really do some serious damage to food. I loved eating, trying interesting or tasty things, going out for dinner or dessert or coffee. And those habits never treated me badly. I enjoyed my life, rode hard and strong, and things just worked.

At some point, the balance tipped. Frankly, I lost my f*cking mind.

It started after the Vegas/Boston trip. I had a lot of splurges on that trip and came back determined to be “well-behaved” for a bit to make up for it. I guess I thought I had a pound or two to lose, not based empirical evidence since I don’t own a scale, but strictly based on something cooked up (haa!) in my head. So I downloaded a calorie-counting iPhone app and started tracking my food intake. It didn’t seem bad at first. Just proactive.

Except that I wasn’t even eating 2,000 calories a day and was still getting on the bike and riding for 1-2 hours a day. It was rough – I would get fuzzy and cracked on the rides – but it also felt empowering. I’m riding at a deficit! I’m going to get rid of excess weight and really lean out! People who heard about this were like, um, you sound hungry and a little nuts, but I felt in control and awesome. And yeah, also hungry.

Then rest month officially started and it didn’t seem like I had reason to start eating more. So the restricting continued, occasionally punctuated by “cheat days” where I’d restrict more in preparation for a big night out. Then I’d go crazy, eat and drink everything in sight to the point of discomfort, and be filled with self-loathing and regret. That regret would translate into needing to super-restrict the next day to make up for the excess calories consumed.

After a few weeks and a vicious cycle of rules/control/perfection followed by crashing/binging/guilt, I started training again. Of course I felt like crap on the bike. I was coming back from several weeks off and being underfed and filled with bad feelings. At some point at the beginning of this mess, I assumed I’d start eating normally once training resumed, but by this point, what I used to eat felt positively elephantine in retrospect. You mean I used to eat THAT for lunch? Ha! I’ll be fine with this bowl of vegetables and small portion of lean meat.

Then things started to get more out of control. This next part is not for the faint of heart. I’d tried a few times in the past to, uh, return regrettable food but had always failed and given up. Recently I became a lot more determined. I actually managed to throw up a bunch of desserts that I had shoveled down one night in frenzy of intense craving. I felt disgusted and horrified after it was done, but also a little relieved. Like, dude, you can eat some serious crap and then get rid of it! No harm, no foul! Except yeah, it’s crazy foul and harmful, but in the moment, it just felt like escaping from the repercussions of a bad decision.

When that happened for the first time, I thought it was a one-time, super-bad-choice type of thing. And then I ate some more things that I regretted a week later, and when I knew there was a way out, it didn’t seem like such a ridiculous choice. It’s not like I was throwing up healthy, beneficial food, right? So it happened again. And then again. And then it got to the point where even a big but relatively healthy meal started to feel like a huge, miserable imposition that needed to come out. And that’s how I found myself kneeling over a toilet at the office one night trying to throw up an order of Pad Thai. When that failed, I bought sneakers and a day pass to the local gym the next day to do an hour of intense cardio since it was a rest day off the bike. I’ve gone running every scheduled rest day since then, because I can’t let go of this fear enough to just sit still.

So things have gotten out of control. I’ve told a few people close to me, alluded to it with others, and now I am telling the whole world because I don’t want to hide this. It feels mortifying and pathetic and weak, but I’m not a pathetic or weak person and I’ve realized that people in the grip of eating disorders aren’t either. It’s like your brain gets taken over by this dark, parasitic voice that starts to influence more and more of your thoughts. I’m not stupid – I know what I’m doing is insane and unhealthy. I know I need to eat and not make myself sick, but in the moment, the pull, the voice, the negative thoughts are so strong it’s like there is nothing else in the world. I’m trying to turn this hatred against myself, my body, and food into a hatred against this thing that has taken over my brain. Sometimes I get so angry or fed up at the absurdity and sickness of it all that it feels like I’m breaking free, but then it’s back and settles like a dark fog over my thoughts. And then anything except spinach feels like a reason for remorse.

Maybe you’re reading this and thinking things like, “Why don’t you just eat? Do you know how bad this is for you? Do you know this could end your cycling career? Don’t you know [insert nutrition fact here]?” Yes. Yes, I know those things. I’ve read a dozen books, a hundred articles. I’ve heard advice from smart people and I’m not clueless. It’s like being possessed by the dumbest, most dangerous thing you can imagine and it lives to turn me against myself. I’m literally afraid of food, but also obsessed with it. I don’t even have a specific goal, no target weight or look I’m trying to achieve. I don’t lack confidence or feel unloved. I just feel like I need to do this thing, like any deviation from a perfect diet is going to, uh, kill me? No clue. No logic. Don’t bother looking for any here. There is none to be found.

In doing research to better understand this disorder, I read a news article about pro-ana (pro-anorexic) websites. I went to one of those sites in hopes of shocking myself into distancing from that crowd and yeah, some of the pictures of “exemplary” women were horrifying. I couldn’t imagine ever wanting to be that sickly and thin. And then I read the “Commandments” of pro-ana behavior:

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My first instinct was to scoff at how absurd those people are to believe such unhealthy bullsh*t. I literally mocked it out loud. But then I thought about it and considered what that little voice telling me to do this crazy crap would say. What does that part of me believe? The answer was horrifying: at the core, I have fallen into believing roughly 75% of those commandments. That’s insane! I actually BELIEVE this BS! I now live my life according to the rules of people who are starving themselves to death!

The good news is that I can at least recognize this, and that’s a start. I want to be better. I want to go back to being able to eat cake and not hate myself or feel compelled to go exercise immediately. I will not let this ruin everything I’ve built in my life. It’s been less than two months, but that’s too long already. It feels silly to make a deal of this now; shouldn’t I wait until I weigh 85 pounds and pass out at a race or something? But I don’t want to get to that point. I want this fixed now.

I’m afraid of the repercussions of telling the world, of admitting this in a sport where the competitive landscape means showing weakness can be career suicide, but I’m more afraid of what will happen if I don’t admit to this and fix it. I am willing to own this. Yup, I’m Lindsay, I’m a professional cyclist, and I have an eating disorder. It happens to people you know, people you ride with, people you eat cake with, people you think love food and seem healthy and sane. There is so much noise in our world and this sport that helps people like me build a case against themselves – directors saying, “she’s a great rider but she needs to lose weight,” people scoffing when racers eat foods perceived as bad, books touting the benefit of being leaner and tighter, people online bragging about weighing their food portions or eating only organic superfoods. In just the past few weeks, a dozen people around me have excused eating behaviors as, “Oh, well it’s rest month!” So, what, eating bad things that are only okay because we’re not accountable to training at the moment? What happened to balance and enjoying life? When you hear enough noise and it joins the deafening chorus in your head, you can open the door to crazy very quickly.

So I am getting help. I will get out of this. I want to fix this before hard winter training gets underway, before the race season starts, before I do irreparable damage. I don’t want to be known as just another girl/cyclist with an eating disorder; I want to be know as somebody who stood up to it and came out the other side healthy and happy.

The secret is out. Now you know.

Posted on in Cycling, Life, Sadness 12 Comments

This is how I came to be married

For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to find the love of my life. That’s a thing, right? The perfect person with whom everything is natural, effortless, endlessly romantic? I jumped into marriage, chased after fairytales, made mistakes and selfish choices all in the name of finding true love and happiness.

Then it came time to grow up. In looking back at my conduct in relationships, I saw the opposite of the famous verse: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” I had been impatient and selfish, arrogant and unkind, quick to anger and blame, slow to let go of wrongs. I realized that if I didn’t change, no man would ever be the “right” guy. I’d end up alone with a cat and a lot of regret.

When I stopped looking at the world as if it owed me a true love and started seeing love as something you build and grow with another person, I saw clearly what had been in front of me for some time. There was a man who had stood by me through good times and bad, who had been my partner and best friend, who had introduced me to the world of road racing and helped me finally accomplish the dream of riding professionally. He was kind, giving, handsome, and smart, and even my dogs adored him. When I recognized these things and saw how carelessly I’d taken them for granted, changing came almost effortlessly.

The idea of getting married had come about many months earlier, but after we’d taken steps in that direction, I backpedaled and tabled the idea. I’d even gone so far as to vow that I would not be marrying Andrew, no way, not going to happen. But I was wrong. When my attitude and actions changed, everything fell neatly into place. Andrew had been there all along, but when I was ready to join him, things between us just worked.

It started with a dress. I’d seen a beautiful short wedding dress online and, while on a road trip with many hours in the car, I mentioned it to Andrew. He liked the picture and shipping was free, so we figured what the hell? Might as well try it out. I ordered it right from my iPhone.

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That started a conversation that ran for several weeks. If we were to have a wedding and I wore that dress, what kind of shoes would I wear? What color flowers would I carry? What kind of suit would you want? The details were fun to think about; nevermind that we hadn’t actually decided to get married. Our imaginary wedding was simple, sweet, and focused on the things that mattered to us the most.

When the conversation turned to the best hypothetical dates and we chose October 11th, it was time to ask the real questions: Are we serious? Are we ready? Are we certain? The answers were yes, yes, and yes. I was nervous about my ability to be a good partner and wife in the long run after such a history of coming up short, but I was committed to making it work. Andrew was worth the effort.

So it was decided. We would marry on October 11th on the porch of the old general store in Bluemont, Virginia. We’d have dinner and spend the night together at the Ashby Inn, located just on the other side of the mountain from Bluemont. The next evening, we’d have our parents come to Alegria (our favorite place) for dinner and celebrating. To keep everything simple and focused on the meaning of the event – the start of our marriage together – we planned to keep it a secret from the world until after it was done.

We did tell our parents about our plans because we didn’t want them to feel excluded or blindsided. They each expressed a desire to be present for the ceremony and, since they gave us life and all, it seemed like a reasonable request. And so it was settled. Arrangements were made, details were finalized, and then it was time to get married.

The weather didn’t cooperate; it rained nonstop for days before the wedding. By the Thursday prior, our plan to get married on the porch of the store sounded miserably cold and wet, so the Inn let us rent their covered, heated terrace instead. At 5pm on Friday, October 11, 2013, I married Andrew Steele. The rain fell, the terrace was lovely and warm, and we spent two hours with our families after the ceremony drinking champagne and eating cake as night fell and the beautiful lights came on. In the end, I was glad that it rained. The evening was perfect.

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And now we are married and I could not be happier. He is not perfect, I am not perfect, but we have such love and friendship between us. I feel calm and safe and settled. I know that no matter what life brings, he and I will get through it together. I will spend each day working to appreciate that and never take it for granted. The love of your life is not something you find; it is something you make.

Posted on in Family, Life 5 Comments

An Update in Pictures

2013 BMW 50k

Nobody cares about this except me, but my car hit 50,000 miles and I felt like it was a special moment. Not special enough to warrant pulling over for the photo, evidently, but still special.

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I joined my parents at the beach for a few [BICYCLE FREE!] days and decided one afternoon to walk to the Starbucks in a nearby town. Several HOURS of walking later, the old folks were going strong while I was lagging and limping and complaining down the beach. Apparently a career professional cycling prepares you for absolutely no other physical activity.

Starbucks Hike

My father generously held my bag on the walk back so I could get in the water. I got new bathing suits recently at my mother’s insistence (“A sports bra and shorts are not swimming apparel!”) and after she watched my first swim in the ocean, she understood why ‘ability to withstand excessive moment’ was an evaluation criteria while shopping. I don’t like to just look at the waves; I like to stand under them and get smushed into the shoreline. It was common to find sand and small rocks in my swimsuit. And did you know you could get bruises from the ocean?

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My mother decided to feed the seagulls. Then she got tired of feeding them and thought saying, “shoo! shoo! that’s it! no more!” would make them go away. We had birds for the next hour.

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My father brought his bike to the beach and pulled it out one night to show me. The man has a spare everything in his saddle bag (“Dad, you have great stuff in here! A Crank Brothers multi-tool! Titanium tire levers! A nice CO2 valve!” His response: “You bought it for me.” Oh. Right.) except he doesn’t have a spare tube. When I asked him about it, he scoffed and said that he wouldn’t get a flat. “But what if you did?” I asked. His reply: “I’ll walk.”

Bluemont Us

Andrew and I were on our way to a fall festival out near Bluemont, VA but ended up at the general store in town drinking root beer on the porch instead. 

Oatlands Garden

Then we visited a plantation after a drive in the country. “Oh! Look at that little chair hidden in the garden! I want to sit in it. [inspected dirty chair. grimaced.] Do you think it’s dirty?” He told me it was as dirty as anything else outside and I was all, dude, this is why I don’t do outside.

Drew at Oatlands

Drew at the plantation. It was a perfect autumn afternoon. Except that training starts again today and my body is having a hard time coming to grips with the reality that we’re going to have to do intervals and crits this week instead of pumpkin carving and apple cider.

Posted on in Family, Life, Travel 1 Comment
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