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Experience Life Magazine

On The Bike: Commute by Bicycle and Be Happy

I took the long way to work today. To tell the truth, I do this most days. Commuting by bicycle inspires me to ride out of my way — check how the sunrise is progressing across the Mississippi River, see how our nearby waterfall is faring, or simply stretch my legs a bit. My office lies almost due east from my home, but I often aim my bike north, south, or west before doubling back. I heart my daily bike commute.

Turns out I’m not alone.

A recent study found that people who bicycle to work are the happiest with their commutes — and have the highest sense of overall well-being. Call it road rave, instead of road rage.

Wanting to stretch my knowledge on this, I contacted study author Oliver Smith, PhD, who tells me, “Even when income, job satisfaction, and other relevant factors are accounted for, bicycling and walking to work still has a positive effect on commute well-being.”

For his October 2013 Portland State University dissertation study (cleverly entitled “Peak of the Day or the Daily Grind”), Smith surveyed 828 commuters around Portland, Ore. He presented his preliminary findings to the U.S. Transportation Research Board to help them better understand transportation’s role in quality of life and to build support for new metrics in city planning.

His study was part of an attempt to get at what increases our subjective well-being, happiness, and overall life satisfaction. While other researchers have looked at health, income, job satisfaction, and residential considerations, Smith opted to focus on commuting. As he wrote in his report, “Although commuting to work is generally thought to be a negative experience, research shows that time spent commuting is sometimes valued, especially by those that walk or bike to work.”

His conclusion? “My study found that commute well-being has a positive effect on overall life satisfaction.”

Smith compared commutes that involve biking, walking, public bus transit, light rail, carpooling, and driving alone. (The only commuters he seems not to have studied are those who walk from their kitchen to their home office, steering a coffee cup.)

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Overview of Oliver Smith’s “commute well-being” findings. (Courtesy Oliver Smith)

He discovered that bicyclists are the happiest commuters. In fact, we’re really happy — “statistically significantly happier,” Smith tells me, than public transit or car commuters. And that happiness stretches into our daily life as well. (You can read more about Smith’s findings here.)

“My study found that bike commuters are more satisfied with life than commuters that drive alone or commute by light rail,” Smith explains. “However, life satisfaction is influenced by many things and it’s not certain whether happier people are more likely to bike or whether biking to work increases life satisfaction.

“For both car and bus commuters, commute well-being decreases substantially as the level of traffic congestion increases, as expected. However, this is not the case for bike commuters, possibly because bicycle commuters can navigate congested streets, often through using bike lanes or separated paths, while avoiding much delay.”

And consider that his survey took place in Portland, which has more than its fair share of rain and other inclement weather. And there are also all those hills — not to mention, mountains — to pedal up. (And down, lucky folks!)

Smith says that the topic of bicycle commuting has not been widely studied in the United States, but his findings support the conclusions of pioneering studies done in Swedish and Dutch cities.

Now, Smith is putting what he learned to work. He’s a transportation planner with Oregon’s Washington County Land Use and Transportation division, where, among other projects, he co-manages the Neighborhood Bikeway Plan to develop bicycle boulevards.

So, naturally I wanted to know if Smith himself commuted by bike.

His answer was an emphatic affirmative: “I commute daily by both bike and light rail since my commute is 28 miles each way. The largest bike leg of the trip, the seven-mile evening bike ride from the train station to my home, is a wonderful part of the day. I clear my head, stretch my muscles, see many beautiful neighborhoods, and arrive home feeling happy. My family appreciates this last part.”

Like many bike commuters, Smith has tapped into the quiet, the solitude, the meditative quality of bicycling, which can scrub away the day’s stress. Or conversely, that bicycle commute can double as training for bike racing. Plus there’s the health and environmental benefits that hardly need mentioning.

With this in mind, it should come as little surprise that Smith himself was not surprised by the results of his study.

“The findings were intuitive to me as a daily bicyclist. Bicycling is enjoyable and lifts one’s spirits. It can provide feelings of control (that is lacking when driving in traffic or waiting for a bus) and other positive feelings (possibly triggered by endorphins). Biking and walking allow one to ‘clear the head’ and focus on the present. Regular bike commutes can improve or help people maintain good health, both physical and mental. All these items, including convenience and cost, factor into my decision to bike.”

Me, too.

In fact, after all this discussion about bicycling, I realize it’s time to saddle up for the ride home.

Can’t wait.

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Questions and responses from Oliver Smith’s survey. (Courtesy Oliver Smith)

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(Courtesy Oliver Smith)

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(Courtesy Oliver Smith)

Experience Life Magazine

On The Bike: Cross-Training

When bicycle racers speak about “cross-training,” it’s kind of like cross dressing: Putting on the clothes, the mien, and the ethos of another sport during the off season to help prepare you for the Real Deal.

Bicyclists up here in the Great Frozen North often cross-train by Nordic skiing, as some of the motions of the two endurance sports are similar, or at least close enough to provide training benefits.

Rarely do we consider lacrosse, rugby, or ice hockey. Or surfing.

A buddy of mine is a surfer. A real surfer. As in, he lived for several years in his Subaru station wagon parked at Malibu Beach. When the surf was up, he surfed. Other times, he did the rest of the things the rest of us do and call “life.”

When I mentioned bicycle racing to him, he screwed up his face and practically shuddered. “Why do you cyclists like to suffer so much?” he asked.

Good question. And one for which I didn’t have a good answer.

Truth is, I don’t think we cyclist really like to suffer, per se. But it is how you get better.

Surfers also suffer for their sport. Have you ever tried paddling a longboard into a set of waves while laying prone? It’s hard work, it’s exhausting, and after a morning of surfing, you feel it. But come on. The palm trees, the sun, the beaches … I guess it’s all just “suffering” by a different name.

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Gone surfin’.

So I figured this winter, I’d try cross training for bike racing by surfing.

Unfortunately, here at my HQ in Minnesota there are no oceans (unless I somehow overlooked one). So when a break in the action permitted (in between work and polar vortexes), my family and I made a beeline for Mexico.

We surfed the left-breaking shoulder of the pointbreak at La Saladita and the beach break at a nearly deserted Playa Linda, both just north of the gorgeous small city of Zihautanejo. There were indeed palm trees, sun, and beaches. And there were especially wondrous sets of waves, thanks to our catching the tail end of the North Swell that was making big surf up in California that week.

Now, through my new regimen of surfing cross-training, I wasn’t expecting huge cardio and metabolic improvements — although my shoulders and core could certainly feel all that paddling, especially considering the size of some of the North Swell waves. Maybe I built some explosive power from jumping up on the board to my feet as I caught those breaks. And the surfboard rash on my knees and chest also may prepare me for the inevitable road rash this coming season, although I’m skeptical you can ever really prepare for that.

So all in all, I sadly have to report that surfing doesn’t quite cut it as cross-training for bike racing.

But on the other hand … upon reflection, with all that saltwater, vitamin D, and the glorious laid-back vibe of surfing, I felt great. Refreshed. Reinvigorated. Yes, dare I say it, stoked.

Surfing proved to have phenomenal psychological and even philosophical cross-training benefits — benefits that I could foresee translating into all sorts of other Good Things on the bike.

In fact, maybe I’ll become a surfer, and cross-train by racing bicycles.

TELL US: How do you cross-train for your sport/activity of choice? Comment below or tweet us at @ExperienceLife. 

Michael Dregni is Experience Life‘s managing editor. 

Experience Life Magazine

Field Notes: Hog Hunting for a Good Cause

Editorial Note: Experience Life staff writer Maggie Fazeli Fard was recently in Southwest Texas reporting on the proliferation of wild hogs in the state, their destructive environmental impact, and efforts to manage their numbers — primarily through organized, unlimited hog hunts. The hunts attract experienced hunters as well as novices with an interest in local food sourcing and the “ranch-to-table” experience. Maggie is sharing some of her reporting through the “Field Notes” series this week. Check out Part One, Part II, and Part III, and find Part IV below. 

As the number of wild hogs — and the problems they cause — has increased, so has the number of organized hog-hunting trips. People from across the country head to Texas, which boasts the largest wild hog population in the United States and has no prohibitions on hunting the exotic game.

To learn more and experience this growing trend first-hand, I signed up to accompany a group of about 25 men who, for the second year, were going to hunt hogs in the area around Carrizo Springs in Southwest Texas. This hunt happened to be a charity event, benefitting two veterans’ organizations — the Silent Warrior Scholarship Fund and the Green Beret Foundation — that provide assistance to families of fallen Reconnaissance Marines and Special Operations Forces.

Hog hunts and college scholarships don’t obviously go hand-in hand. But according to Brent Phillips, the president of the Silent Warrior Scholarship Fund, the five-day hunting trip is a perfect opportunity for members of the military to bond with civilian participants.

“We didn’t ever want to do a black-tie dinner,” said Phillips, 24, who started the SWSF in 2010 after four friends from reconnaissance school were killed in action. “I wanted to do something, because no organization existed to raise money for families of recon Marines. But I never wanted it to be something solemn.” Because “physical fitness is a big part of our life in the Marines,” Phillips and his SWSF board members decided to focus on fun fitness events. Initial fundraising efforts involved “driving around begging CrossFit gyms to put on an event.”

The first year, in 2010, the organization raised $2,000 for a student. This year, in 2014, Phillips expects to raise between $60,000 and $70,00 — enough to support five students.

“We legitimately thought we’d have to write the scholarship checks ourselves,” recalls Phillips, who also owns CrossFit Sil War in Jacksonville, N.C. “We never thought it would evolve into this.”

While athletic events continue to be a cornerstone of the SWSF effort, the annual charity hog hunt has proven to be a major draw. Phillips attributes its popularity to the combination of novelty — most of the participants don’t regularly hunt hogs — and the opportunity to form deeper bonds than they would at a short 5K run-walk.

To this end, the trip included hands-on demonstrations unrelated to wild hogs. Topics included field trauma and basic field medical skills, improvised explosive devices, situational awareness/self-defense, and shooting lessons.

The annual hunt, Phillips said, has become a success because it’s about more than hunting: It’s about doing something fun and new for a good cause.

Maggie Fazeli Fard is an Experience Life staff writer. 

Experience Life Magazine

Sofa Olympian (or, How to do a Tripod Scissors Kick)

DogsSofa

Training hard for the Sofa Olympics

Watching winter Olympians push their bodies to the limits while I lay supine on my sofa has made me feel, well, if not lazy, at least not terrifically ambitious. Soooooo … now I’m watching ski jumping and ice dancing from side plank or while doing triceps pushups.

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking: Laine, can your body handle this strenuous workout? How can you hit your fifth pushup without collapsing? Do you wear a helmet when you do crow pose? I mean, did you see that female Slopestyler who cracked her helmet?!?!”

Join me in my quest to be the most decorated Sofa Olympian of all time. Here’s an easy-to-do-on-your-living-room-floor bodyweight exercise. (Spoiler alert: This is from a forthcoming, all-bodyweight core workout we’re doing in a future issue. Look for the full workout in a couple months!)

Tripod Scissors Kick

  1. Start in a plank position on your hands with your feet in a wide stance (the wider, the more challenging).
  2. Extend your right hip to lift your right foot off the floor, then move your right leg (still elevated) inward to hip width. Move your leg back outward, contracting your glute. Continue the movement for 40 seconds, then return your foot to the ground.
  3. Rest for 20 seconds, then repeat on the left side.

Do as many sets as desired before the ice dancing comes back on!

Modified version: Keep your feet at hip width and alternate lifting the left and right leg.

… And for even more ways to train, click here.

We are champions!

TELL US: What’s your favorite Olympic sport to watch? What’s your favorite bodyweight exercise? Comment below or tweet us at @ExperienceLife. 

Laine Bergeson is an Experience Life senior editor. 

Experience Life Magazine

Bill Does Yoga

For the past decade, I’ve taught yoga at various places in the southern suburbs of Minneapolis/St. Paul — yoga studios, fitness centers, spas, and a community center.

The community center is the first place I started teaching at in late 2003, and the one place I’ve remained consistently all these years. What’s interesting about the class there is the age of my students: Many are in their 50s, with quite a few in their 60s, quickly closing in on 70.

I’ve gotten to know many of my students quite well, and after class the other night, Bill (not his real name) came up to talk. Bill doesn’t look like your average yogi: He’s approaching 70, is recently retired, and he’s stocky with wonderfully grayed hair and a full white beard … a yogi Santa Claus, if you will.

Bill has neck and shoulder issues due to an old sports injury that has left his upper body rather stiff and reduced his range of motion significantly. The stiffness causes his downward dog to be less than picture perfect, and he has challenges stacking his shoulders in revolved poses. The extra “stuff” around his midsection doesn’t allow for the graceful transitions from pose to pose and tends to get in the way during forward folds.

But none of that matters — because Bill does yoga! And he has been doing the physical practice of yoga for over eight years!

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Half Pigeon Pose

During the holidays, Bill told me, he mentioned to his family that he has been taking my class for several years. His son, who didn’t know his dad did yoga, asked if Bill could demonstrate a pose. So, Bill got on the floor and demonstrated one-legged pigeon pose (illustrated at right).

Bill’s son and other family members were stunned. One-legged pigeon (also known as half pigeon) is a fairly advanced pose that causes a strong opening on the outer hip of the bent leg and the psoas of the extended leg.

Now keep in mind that Bill’s body doesn’t get in the exact position as the illustration above. Neither does mine — a lot hips just don’t move that way. (Many people have the front bent leg tucked underneath them with their hips raised significantly off the ground; yoga blocks, bolsters, and blankets can be used to help support the hips for people who are really tight through the areas affected by this pose.)

But demonstrating this pose for his family offered Bill a great epiphany: He is more flexible and nimble than many men his age, and it’s something he has taken for granted.

What’s important for others to gather from this little story is that you can do yoga, no matter your age, strength, or level of flexibility. Truly, there are no perfect bodies allowed. Yoga is about starting where you’re at — physically, mentally, spiritually.

But before you run out to purchase a yoga mat and jump into any old class, a few pieces of advice:

  • Let go of your ego. The ego has no place in a yoga class. Avoid the tendency to push your body too quickly or too hard, and avoid comparing yourself to other people in your class (every body is different). Move slowly and be gentle with yourself.
  • Start with a gentle/beginner format no matter how physically strong or flexible you are, and take several classes at that level. This will allow you to learn how to do the poses correctly and how to transition from one pose to the next. You’ll greatly reduce the possibility of injury and begin to gain the stamina and flexibility needed to advance your yoga practice. Please refer to bullet point one if you feel you should jump into an advanced class. On that note …
  • Don’t just wander into any old class. I once witnessed a first-time student  walk into a class that was far too advanced for her, and have often wondered if she ever returned to yoga or if she now has a jilted mindset toward the practice because of that experience. Choose wisely!
  • Love the props. The blocks, blankets, straps, wall, and chairs are there to make the poses safer and more comfortable. Again, please refer back to bullet point one if you think you don’t need the props.
  • Please let the teacher know if something is uncomfortable or hurts. Your instructor should be able to provide modifications so you don’t risk an injury and you’ll be more comfortable.
  • Have an open mind. Yoga is slower moving when compared to other physical practices. It forces you into your mind, which can be overwhelming for some, and the physical practice is quite different from other physical fitness practices since it integrates the spiritual component.
  • Try several classes and teachers before saying yoga’s not for you. You may not be a fan of the style, or you may not be connecting with the teacher you started with. If you try several classes of a certain style or with the same person and you aren’t enjoying it, try something else (for an introduction to various styles of yoga, see “Yoga 4 You“).

If you’d like to be like Bill and impress your friends and family when you’re 60, 70, 80, or older (please feel free to invite your ego back in here — but keep it in check), start practicing yoga now. Your Future You will thank your Present You.

Tell Us: Do you practice yoga? What benefits have you enjoyed? Comment below or tweet us at @ExperienceLife.

Christy Rice is Experience Life‘s circulation coordinator. 

Experience Life Magazine

40 Days of Weightlifting for a Foodie

I’ve never been much of a weightlifter. I don’t like the smells that accompany it (mostly from myself — I can get pretty smelly), and have never felt confident that I’m lifting correctly. It oddly makes me feel foreign in my own skin, and, frankly, I’m uncomfortable with the whole idea.

But, it’s 2014, and in honor of the B.Strong for Bryce 40-day Fitness Challenge and a colleague’s inspiring post about getting comfortable being uncomfortable, I found myself chatting with coworkers Jamie Martin and Maggie Fazeli Fard about weightlifting for 40 days — and how it was time to face my discomfort head on.

(Related: 5,000 Kettlebell Swings)

I normally take photos of food and wine, and I realized as I gathered the images below that cooking was once something I was highly uncomfortable with, too. When I finally began, I hid away in the kitchen when no one was there. I was clumsy. I burned things. I measured incorrectly. Even after I started enjoying it, it took me a good year to actually cook for someone else.

Now, I love cooking. I love experimenting. And I love sharing that passion with others. Food (and wine) does indeed heal broken pieces in us. (Disclaimer #1: I should be clear. I’m not trading my wine indulgences during these 40 days, just adding some weights to my repertoire.)

Drinking wine at the cabin while making dinner.

Drinking wine at the cabin while making dinner.

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Chatting with friends over wine in the kitchen.

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Preparing cranberries and pears for a new scone recipe.

TAco

A quick dinner of zucchini, cheese, salsa, spinach, and leftover tenderloins.

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Choppin’ those tomatoes!

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Brunch in Chicago outside during warmer times. I loved these jam and butter jars.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was time to face the uncomfortable once again. In honor of Bryce — my coworker’s 8-month-old nephew who was recently diagnosed with Krabbe disease and has spent numerous hours in the hospital getting tests and fighting to live each day — I’m going to be brave and start picking up some weights.

On my first day at the gym, I warmed up on the bike and then found myself doing biofeedback with my new trainer — Maggie! (Disclaimer #2: Maggie is not a certified trainer. I use this term loosely, as she’s teaching me for fun.)

As we began biofeedback testing, I kept wishing I was in a room alone, away from people, but I stuck with it. Maggie was a fantastic teacher and spent a good 15 minutes explaining how to move my hips for kettlebell deadlifts. I felt awkward and uncoordinated, and caught myself saying there was something wrong with my hips.

She assured me there wasn’t. I tried again.

(Related: Show Me How: The Hip Hinge)

It turns out, kettlebell deadlifts, pushups, one-arm rows, and goblet squats tested well for me. By the end, I was feeling more comfortable and was amazed that my body was moving in ways I hadn’t felt it move before.

Below are some photos from Day 1, along with that log that Maggie took for me. Check back each week for more photos on my progress!

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A close-up of me grabbing a kettlebell during a deadlift.

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Deadlifting.

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More deadlifting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to read the log:

  1. The set is listed first. Each set in this is made up of 2 exercises. Example: Set 1: Squats and Pushups.
  2. Total Time for the set means the length the set lasted.
  3. The weight and reps are listed next. Example: @ 20 pounds, 6, 8, 7 = 6 reps at 20 pounds, 8 reps at 20 pounds and 7 reps at 20 pound.
  4. Tested means between each rep set, biofeedback testing was used to gauge the body.
  5. Both exercise in each set are alternated throughout the set.

 

Log: Day 1

Log,-Day-1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lifting, it turns out, can be healing in its own way — just like food and wine.

Tell Us: Where are you pushing yourself out your comfort zone this year?

Casie Leigh Lukes is Experience Life’s digital content specialist.

Experience Life Magazine

5,000 Kettlebell Swings

Bryce and Auntie Jamie, just a couple of days after his diagnosis.

Bryce and Auntie Jamie reading his favorite book, Commotion in the Ocean, a couple of days after his diagnosis.

This past November, my only nephew, Bryce, was diagnosed with a fatal genetic disorder called Krabbe Disease, for which there is no treatment or cure. My nephew will never sit up, let alone walk or run. He’ll never get to toss the football with his Daddy or get to play tag with his cousins (my daughters). He will never get to tell his Mommy he loves her.

As his auntie and his Mom’s sister, I feel helpless, wishing there was something I could do to better support them in a situation that’s helpless in and of itself. Maintaining Bryce’s CaringBridge page and website doesn’t seem like enough; spreading the word about his benefit seems miniscule. And while I know my sister really just needs me to be there to let her cry and talk through her pain and grief, I still wish — I will always wish — I could do more.

So when my aunt asked if I thought my sister would be OK with her organizing a fitness challenge in honor of Bryce, I said yes. She also wants to help in some way.

The B.Strong for Bryce 40-Day Fitness Challenge kicked off last week. The goal is to inspire family and friends to set personal health and fitness challenges that they can complete by March 1st, and to tie a financial incentive to their actions — the proceeds of which will go toward Bryce’s care as he battles Krabbe. We’re asking them to walk, run, lift, bike, MOVE for Bryce.

About 75 people have joined so far, committing to everything from walking 100 miles to swimming 3,000 laps as a family to jumping rope 300 times per day. It’s a win-win: They’re helping out a special boy in need, while improving their own health and fitness. And research shows that tying health and wellness endeavors to a meaningful cause like this is a surefire way to increase fitness and motivation, as reported in an Experience Life article published in December 2012:

Thanks to the feel-good environment and focused sense of purpose, participants reap rich physical and psychological benefits beyond the walking, running, climbing and biking that takes place at the events themselves. Even those who choose to provide sideline support stand to get back far more than they put in. The Corporation for National and Community Service reviewed studies from sources like Duke University to look at the correlation between volunteering and physical health. Their discovery: Virtually any kind of volunteer activity can reduce intensity levels of chronic pain, lower rates of depression and reduce mortality risk. The social ties it creates can even improve immunity.

 I may not be able to take away the physical or emotional pain of Bryce’s diagnosis, but I can help financially by moving physically. My challenge: To do 5,000 kettlebell swings at $0.05 per swing. That’s 125 kettlebell swings a day for 40 days.

I’m seven for seven days so far. And I plan on swinging every day until March 1st — and well beyond. It feels so good to be taking action.

TELL US: Is there a charity event that’s close to your heart? Share it with us in the comments section below or tweet us at @ExperienceLife. 

Jamie Martin is Experience Life‘s director of digital initiatives.  

Experience Life Magazine

On The Bike: Wheelmen: Lance Armstrong, the Tour de France, and the Greatest Sports Conspiracy Ever

He was the best of heroes, the worst of heroes. Wheelmen--Lance-Armstrong

Lance Armstrong battled and beat cancer, then battled and beat the best bike racers in the world to win an unprecedented, impossible seven Tours de France.

How many people around the globe owe thanks to Lance for the increased public awareness of cancer, funding for cancer research, and inspiration for the possibility of besting the odds, surviving cancer, and rebuilding a life?

And how many people around the globe did he inspire to start riding, to buy a Trek bicycle, to purchase their own U.S. Post Service or Discovery Channel jersey, to take road-racing classes, to take out a beginner’s Category 5 license, to start competing? The Great Bicycle Boom of the 1990s and early 2000s came thanks to Lance.

Yet there was always an inkling — then a lurking concern, then a growing fear — that perhaps Lance wasn’t playing by the rules. In winning the Tour and other single-day classics or multi-day stage races, he outsprinted and outclimbed bicycles foes who were almost all later disqualified, fined, or sanctioned for doping — Richard Virenque, Jan Ullrich, Floyd Landis, Ivan Basso, Alexander Vinokourov, the list is painfully long. As Greg Lemond, America’s first Tour de France winner, said about modern-day bicycle racing, with the drugs they have, “one could convert a mule into a stallion.” How could Lance possibly have done it if he was clean?

The suspicions grew, but our desire to believe in Lance was stronger.

As Lemond, again, succinctly summed up Lance’s reign as America’s greatest sporting hero of the times, “If Lance is clean, it is the greatest comeback in the history of sports. If he isn’t, it would be the greatest fraud.”

We now all know which one it is.

Wall Street Journal reporters Reed Albergotti and Vanessa O’Connell chronicle the rise and fall of “Lance, Inc.” in Wheelmen (Gotham Books, 2013). The story they tell is alternately stirring, thrilling, disgusting, depressing, and revolting. It’s a thriller, a page-turner, a business exposé, at times practically a sci-fi romp. You go from rooting for the underdog to cheering for his disgrace. And when you’re finished with the book, you’ll want to wash your hands. And wash them well.

The story also follows the broader modern era of bicycle racing, getting behind the scenes into the Tour and other events, explaining things we all saw or heard about but didn’t know the backstory to. In chilling prose, the authors describe the whole U.S. Postal Team getting blood transfusions while lying down on the floor of their bus during a faked mechanical breakdown to put off the French police. They tell of team Trek bicycles sold in Belgium to buy EPO and other performance-enhancing drugs to keep the expenses under the table. And in equally thorough detail, they explain the bribes “Lance, Inc.” paid to cycling’s governing bodies to suppress positive drug tests. As they summarize,

“Lance Armstrong’s fourteen-year-long deception was an elaborate, many-tentacled enterprise requiring complicated logistics, scores of people to execute them, and an iron-willed determination to keep it going. Lance relied on his teammates, doctors, lawyers, financial backers, sponsors, assistants, and associates to help him cheat — or at the very least to ignore the evidence that he was doing so — and on the complacent, hero-worshipping media to celebrate his victories without looking into how he achieved them. The few who did raise questions were publicly attacked, sued for large sums of money, and generally vilified by Lance and his well-trained army of supporters. Some of the people in his network of allies directly aided and abetted him in his doping. And everyone from his ex-wife to his friends, sponsors, and former girlfriends turned a blind eye to it — until almost the end. Of course, once the USADA decision was released, the defections were virtually unanimous — the proverbial rats fleeing the sinking ship.”

Of course, cycling isn’t alone in its battle with drugging: think of Marion Jones, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, and too many others. In fact, cycling should be praised for doing more publicly — and painfully — to fight performance-enhancing drug use than most other sports or sport-governing bodies.

And the money made from cycling and the attached endorsements is pennies compared to Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, or World Cup soccer.

But that’s not the point. As many of us suspected deep down, Lance was a false hero. In the end, he lost his seven Tour victories.

Yet more importantly, Lance stole our faith in our sport.

Why did we believe in him for so long? That’s one of the questions the authors struggle with. Their answer is profound:

“For a long time, Americans just couldn’t get enough of Lance. . . . Millions persisted in believing in him until it became impossible to do so. Why? That may be a question harder to answer than why his teammates and coaches, his sponsors and financial backers, collaborated in the lie. But society’s gullibility in the face of ever-mounting evidence probably has something to do with its need for a certain kind of hero. Looked at this way, Lance is the inevitable product of our celebrity-worshipping culture and the whole money-mad world of sports gone amok. This is the Golden Age of fraud, an era of general willingness to ignore and justify the wrongdoings of the rich and powerful, which makes every lie bigger and widens its destructive path.”

There have been recent calls for Armstrong — as well as Nike and Trek and others — to return some of what is now ill-gotten gain. But let Lance keep the money.

Instead, refund our faith in cycling.

As Lance’s first autobiography pointed out, it’s not about the bike. No, indeed: It was about the power and the glory, as well as all that money.

For the rest of us — the Cat. 3 racers, the gran fondo riders, the triathletes, the spinning-class exercisers, the bicycle commuters, the weekend riders — it is about the bike.

And the best response to all this madness is to simply get back on your bike and ride.

Michael-Dregni: On the Bike

Michael Dregni is Experience Life’s managing editor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tell Us: What’s your favorite way to ride bike?

Experience Life Magazine

Symptom Checker

Hi. I’m Heidi. I’m an online health-issue self-diagnoser. A symptom checker.

I’m not alone. You out there, you know who you are. The ones who use sites like Wikipedia, MayoClinic.com and WebMD to research health conditions and solutions. You’re probably fairly healthy and don’t see the point of running to the doctor each time you notice a nagging ache or pain.

webmd

According to a report from the Pew Research Center, 35 percent of Americans used the Internet for this purpose in 2013 and 95 million Americans used mobile phones as health tools or to find health information. (Read this link for more nifty digital health-related metrics).

It turns out that I’m pretty good at self-diagnosis, too. I correctly diagnosed a ganglion cyst (confirmed by my actual doctor during my annual physical and it is currently nothing to worry about), as well as what turned out to be plantar fasciitis.

I started having pain in my right foot after I stood up for the first time in the morning. For a while, because I’m me and because the pain went away after moving about, I ignored the warning signs. But, then one day after sitting for a while, a stabbing pain happened in my heel after I stood up.

Of course, my first thought was: “I’m dying!” But, after a few minutes of drama and thinking about all the worst possible outcomes, I was spurred to diagnose this condition that was becoming a real pain. I found out the knifing pain was likely a heel spur, a common side symptom for people experiencing plantar fasciitis.

It turns out my symptoms presented like plantar fasciitis even though I’m not a runner. I walk for long periods of time. I stand on hard surfaces a lot when I go see live music. And, I have tight calf muscles.

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All of my online research indicated that the number one treatment for plantar fasciitis is a stretching routine. I figured it made sense to find a routine and try it for a while and see if it helped since my real doctor was likely to tell me to do the same thing.

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So, I did more web research and found a few different routines and started doing them every day.  My symptoms got a lot better pretty quickly (after a few weeks) and the pain in my feet when I stand up is mostly gone now. It flares up occasionally, and when that happens I tend to pay attention to whether my calves feel extra tight for some reason. They usually do.

So, as is often the case for me personally, one of the biggest lessons I learned from my online research was to “live in my body and listen to it.” Our bodies send us some pretty powerful messages if we simply pay attention. (You can read more about my struggles to live in my body here).

(Check this article out for more thoughts on  ”What Your Body is Trying to Tell You”).

So, if you are having body trouble, check out our archives, it’s got 11 years of great health and fitness content that might help you. Or, feel free to send me a tweet @ExperienceLife or get in touch via Facebook. I’ll see if we have any information on a topic you’re interested in and share it with our other community members. Another lesson I’ve learned is that if I have a question or problem, likely someone else out there does too, and that is something I find very healing.

Heidi Wachter is the Community Engagement Specialist for Experience Life. 

Experience Life Magazine

Lessons in Camel Pose

The first time I curled back into “Camel,” I wept.

Camel pose.

Camel pose. (istockphoto)

It was January 2004. I was 20 years old, living in New York City, and, in that particular moment, I was on my knees and bending backward into Ustrasana, the 22nd of 26 poses that make up a 90-minute Bikram yoga practice.

As the instructor encouraged the class — packed full of New Year’s “resolution-aries” eagerly down-dogging our way to clearer minds and tighter bodies — to open our chests to the ceiling and push our hips forward, I found my eyes filling with tears.

I did a quick scan of my body: nothing hurt, nothing was strained, nothing was broken. These weren’t tears of pain, which was a relief, and they weren’t tears of sadness. The tears were just there, welling up and annoyingly blurring my vision as I tried to cast my glance down the back wall.

Distracted and uncomfortable, I pulled myself out of the posture and settled quickly into child’s pose; any tears that escaped my eyelids melted into the sweat pouring from my face in that 105-degree room.

After that unpleasant experience, Camel pose became an afterthought. While I practiced Bikram, it was a posture to “get through,” a time-suck between postures that I was more skilled at. Eventually yoga became little more than a sporadic activity, and Ustrasana faded into the recesses of my memory.

Then, this fall, I began attending yoga classes again after a very long hiatus. Twice a week, I hobbled through asanas that once felt like second nature, and I slowly got a feel for flowing through a vinyasa again.

One night, my instructor and friend Jennifer Worley guided our small group into Camel. I hesitated as I got down on my knees, placed my palms on my sacrum, and started to lift my gaze up and back, initiating the supported backbend. I remembered the emotional discomfort I’d felt nearly a decade earlier, and imagined that 10 years of aging — not to mention a series of desk-bound writing jobs that further tightened my hips, chest, and spine — would make the whole experience even harder.

But I listened to Jen, focused on my breath, and curled back. This time, I didn’t weep — instead I was grinning ear-to-ear. The smile was as surprising as the tears had been.

“It’s normal,” Jen assured me when I confided my manic reactions after class. Camel is more than a backbend, she explained. It’s also considered a “heart-opener,” meaning it can trigger emotional releases that may or may not be tied to what we are consciously feeling. “You may cry even though you don’t actually ‘feel’ sad. Or it might make you feel really happy for no reason.”

Jen encouraged me to just “go with” whatever bubbled up and not to wriggle out of a pose to escape emotional discomfort. (Physical discomfort is another story; if it hurts, stop what you’re doing.)

I’ve tried to follow her advice over the last few weeks, and it’s become obvious that there’s a bigger life lesson here:

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Duh, you’re probably thinking.

I tend to shy away from things that seem uncertain, out of control, unfamiliar, and uncomfortable. Over the years I’ve had to force myself to take calculated risks (such as moving to a new city for work) and to get out of my comfort zone (going to a party with people I don’t know when I’d rather stay home in my pajamas).

Over time it’s gotten easier to push myself in this way, but my natural instinct in times of perceived distress is to retreat, to run away — to bow into the safety and comfort of child’s pose rather than risk exposing my heart in Camel, so to speak.

The thing is, when I think about it, child’s pose isn’t all that great on its own. It feels safe, calming even, to sit back on your heels and bend forward, eyes down and forehead to the ground. But, in child’s pose, you can’t really see anything; you don’t really feel anything.

Sure, safe and calm has it’s place — in life and in yoga — but so does feeling things. Even unpleasant things. Just like child’s pose isn’t as special without the excitement and discomfort of poses like Camel to mix it up, life requires a dose of discomfort once in awhile, too.

So, as we embark on a new year, I’m really going to take Jen’s advice, and the lessons learned in Camel pose, to heart. Instead of running away from a little discomfort, I’ll try to take a breath and just go with it. Who knows what I’ll wind up feeling?

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