Be a Better Leader Through Mountain Biking

I’ve been thinking a lot about mountain biking and how it relates to leadership – or at least getting shit done at work. And it’s surprisingly a great metaphor –

Downhill Mountain Biking_2
while totally bad ass, mountain biking isn’t only jumping off rocks

(photo from here)

Have confidence. Confidence in yourself, your bike (team), and your ability to learn along the way.

You have to trust that your bike (team) wants to stay upright (not mess up). It doesn’t want to go horizontal – it wants to keep moving forward.

You have to be open to trying new things, learning when to push yourself and when to dial it back, hop off and walk.

Mountain biking (and leadership) is about picking your line and adjusting on the fly. Look where you want to go, not at the obstacles in front of you. If you are convinced the obstacle right in front of you is the issue, you can be sure there is a much bigger or gnarlier obstacle just beyond it.

It’s about overcoming those obstacles using a variety of methods. On the bike there’s momentum, bunny-hopping, or shifting weight to maneuver over obstacles in the path. Momentum is almost always your friend. As a leader there’s momentum but also pivoting, keeping everyone focused, and moving forward.

Learn to be ok with totally wiping out/making a mistake. You aren’t going to always pick the right line, your wheel might get caught on a rock, you might get tossed off your bike into a puddle of mud. Take a minute to think about how you got there, then pick yourself and your bike back up and keep going.

Mountain biking is hard work but also a lot of fun and incredibly rewarding – as is being a good leader.

How do you see your favorite sport/hobby as a way to improve your professional skills?

See you on the road!

 

Real Talk

As I think back across this year, it’s been a stressful one. We sold our house (hooray!), moved to an apartment (eh!), found a new house (hooray!), moved again (two states away!), had to integrate quickly for end of the school year activities (eh!), and have been slowly unpacking and organizing/updating/painting the house. Whole weekends are devoted to Being A Real Adult and that’s never fun.

Oh, and there was that pesky thyroid cancer surgery and radioactive iodine over the summer too. I’m still working on getting my synthetic thyroid hormone balance. While I feel exceptionally thankful my cancer isn’t expected to reduce my life expectancy, I’m now working on finding a New Normal that includes a lot more down time than I’ve previously needed in my life.

No surprise, I’ve been struggling emotionally lately. Like on the verge of Stay In Bed All Day And Full-On Ugly-Cry While Listening to Sad Music and/or Watching Sad Movies. I blame a combination of work (mostly office politics, which isn’t my favorite thing to do), anxiety (impostor syndrome), and a general feeling that my life is very much Not In Balance.

Anyway, I’ve been looking forward to Thanksgiving break because it means a long weekend to relax AND Get Shit Done – but I was in a serious funk. Wednesday I finished up my holiday baking and in the evening my husband and I sat in our hot tub and talked. I know – First World Luxuries. But it didn’t help alleviate the sense of being completely overwhelmed, scattered, and not spending time on the things that matter most.

Thursday morning it was cloudy but in the upper-50s so I decided to head out for a road ride. I haven’t been on my road bike in a while and while it took some internal prodding to get out the door – but soon the pedals were spinning. For the first time ever, I decided to listen to music while I rode. I usually don’t because I like to be able to hear what’s going on around me – but I was on a paved rail-trail and used my Yurbuds, which allow the user to hear ambient sound while delivering high-quality audio. I really should invest in a high-quality single-earbud because riding with music was great.

At the end of my 32 mile ride, I felt a bit better but still anxious. It was nice to spend a few hours just zoned out, spinning.

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pastoral view from the trail

We had a lovely Thanksgiving dinner as a family, thanks for asking. We miss our friends all over the country and our family out West. But we are thankful to have each other, good jobs, a roof over our heads and food on the table every night.

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hello, where is my plate of delicious turkey dinner?

This morning I grabbed my mountain bike and headed over to the local park for a few hours. I am so thankful that I know about this park because it’s perfect for my level: lots of easy flowy trails but also some technical details.

I zipped around a large family enjoying a hike in the woods. I rode over a few of the smaller logs (and just walked over the larger ones). I rode over the bridge across the Parkway and continued on. I fell off a stone wall. I kept going.

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I was the only one on the trails. I stopped frequently to check the paper map I had downloaded of the trails. I stuck to loopy trails that connected easily. I powered up hills and bounced down rocky descents. I felt good.

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perfect day
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all to myself

I found a trail that ended up being a lot more technical than I expected – and I didn’t wreck. I felt like a million dollars.

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this is right before I took a trail that was full of boulders

I took a wrong turn; I doubled back until I found multiple trail blazes. I started experimenting with speed and not shockingly, momentum is your friend when you are mountain biking. I headed back to the gentler park and crushed every trail that I crashed on a few weeks back. I even took a few new trails and had to walk in a few places – but I felt amazing. I got home and took my dog on a walk.

This is exactly what I needed in my life right now. And I still have two more days to Get Shit Done: like laundry and cleaning the house and taking my car in for maintenance.

I need to figure out how to get more of this in my life on the regular.

Life if too short not to see you on the road (or the trails).

Get Knocked Down, Get Up Again

wherein I go mountain biking and crash a few times

A few weeks ago I joined the local bike club on a mountain bike ride and discovered there are three parks with ride-able trails only a few miles from my house. It was really fun to get out in to the woods and not have to go very far. I took a little bit of ribbing because I had driven to the parking lot instead of just riding over, since it’s so close. But I was feeling good and trying new things and clearing logs that I previously wouldn’t have even tried. The trails are very leafy (read: slick) and have a depth that hides the rocks and roots pretty well – but overall are solid trails for early-intermediate riders like myself.

Last week I took my family to the same park to hike the trails. It was good reconnaissance on a few other trails we hadn’t ridden the previous week.

Today I decided to head out and try the trails by myself. I’ve never been mountain biking by myself – I have this belief that it’s better to be with someone in case anything happens. But I can’t keep waiting for “someone else” to be available to scratch the mountain biking itch – so off I went.

Woodlands Legacy Field Park
stupid beautiful – and in my neighborhood!

I opted to ride my bike to the park, which is only 3 miles away. We live in a very hilly area though – so those 6 miles (there and back) accounted for a significant chunk of the 850′ of gain I conquered today.

The trails were thick with leaves and my rear wheel kept sliding out – but I managed to stay upright. I have a hardtail 29er, which handles pretty well when I’m not in super-tight twisties. It always takes me a bit to get used to how the rear section of my bike is constantly getting knocked around.

Today’s ride was all about learning (and crashing). I rode up to a large log that I had previously cleared on last week’s ride – and stopped pedaling near the top, causing me to realize that’s Not What You’re Supposed To Do. I managed to clear the log without issue – but certainly set the tone for the rest of the short ride.

I ventured onto another trail. I walked one log and then tried the next one, which promptly tossed me to the side of the trail (and into a deep pile of leaves – soft landing!). Another log later I realized I wasn’t on an actual trail and headed back. The maps told me I missed the turn to stay on the “official” trail.

Found a different marked trail and decided to take it – it was super delicious and I was rocking the technical descent until my rear wheel slide out and I almost ate it down the hill. A short time later, navigating a leafy rocky section I was tossed off my bike and into a rock, which connected squarely with my knee. I walked the rest of the way down that hill.

rock appreciation 101
rock appreciation 101

Tried a few more trails with tons of big rocks – clearly my first foray into this park were just on the easiest trails! – some of which I cleared and some I was tossed off, struggling to keep my balance.

learning how to navigate rocks
learning how to navigate rocks

I only managed a few trail miles before deciding to head back home (since I have other Real Life things that need to get done today). And I hadn’t even ventured across the parkway to a bigger park with a ton of singletrack! But today’s lessons were solid and I’m looking forward to going back to hone my skills on the more technical trails.

See you on the trails!

The Power of the Pickle and Other Thoughts

This past weekend I put my bikes on the back of my Honda and headed for the hills. Of west-central Massachusetts, to be more precise. My friend and fellow blogger Karen lives up there and invited me to join her at the JAM Fund Grand FUNdo. The ride was top-notch: very hilly, well-stocked rest stations, full-on pig roast bbq and local craft beer at the end.

bikes + friends + countryside = awesome
bikes + friends + countryside = awesome

While there, a former pro cyclist approached me about my scar. Turns out she had a total thyroidectomy a few years ago (hers was benign) and is currently not racing due to overtraining.

She shared with me a few gems, one of which was that once your thyroid is removed your body functions differently from when you had the organ even though you are replacing the hormones. As an athlete, it’s easy to build into a certain level of fitness. How the body functions with just the hormones is slightly different. She shared a story about a training ride where she became severely hypothermic, which was her “a-ha” moment about how her body functions differently now.

(The thyroid controls a surprising number of body functions through secretion of thyroid hormones including metabolism, growth, body temperature, muscle strength, appetite, and the health of your heart, brain, kidneys, and reproductive system.)

This was welcome anecdotal evidence, as I’ve noticed my body isn’t responding the same way it used to. I get goose-bumps earlier in hot rides than I used to – which is my key to drink more fluids, dial down the intensity, and stay in the shaded areas as much as possible. The Mini FUNdo we did featured 25 miles of uphill before the glorious 15 miles of downhill – and by mile 22, my muscles weren’t crying but I was definitely Not Myself. Thankfully the rest stop had bananas and, more importantly, pickles.

finally, some downhill!
finally, some downhill!

Never underestimate the power of a pickle to revive you on a hot bike ride.

The rest of the weekend was exactly the relaxing, rejuvenating experience I needed. We biked, we laughed, we talked, and we ate. As working moms, it’s not easy for us to just take a weekend to ride bikes – but I’m so glad Karen was up for it and I was in a place where I could be as active as I wanted … even if it isn’t at my former fitness level.

let's go check out this new trail!
let’s go check out this new trail!

Another friend of mine, Dani, made an excellent observation. She asked me if I had held back my voice – because the thyroid is in the throat chakra and maybe I needed to learn how to be my own advocate more, to speak up and not be afraid of what others think or will say by voicing my concerns or opinion.While I still harbor internal concerns that vulnerability makes me a liability, the reality is I have suppressed my needs too much. It’s OK to ask for help, for down-time, and to take care of me first.

The irony certainly doesn’t escape me that I have moved to a city that never sleeps, is always pushing forward, and thrives on the dreams and ambitions of millions of people – and my body is quite literally telling me to slow down, take time to breathe and relax, and to enjoy life.

Of course, I immediately signed up for another very hilly ride locally in October. I’m hoping to get through my radioactive iodine treatment over the next 2 weeks and get back to building up my cycling strength. I don’t think I’ll see anywhere close to the same stats as last year and I’m making my peace with it. I’ll ride as much as I can and seek out my happy-place as often as possible.

riding by the lake
riding by the lake

See you on the road!

C is for Cycling … and also for Cancer

The last 10 days or so have been a doozy.

My thyroidectomy went well. After the procedure, I was in Recovery for about 6 hours – much longer than anyone else who was in the surgical unit for other procedures so I watched a lot of people come and go. A few others in Recovery weren’t pleased to see my incision and requested things to block their view of me during their recovery time. Because yeah, it did kinda look like some rando had slashed my throat and the docs had slapped surgical tape over it.

An inch or so isn’t a lot until you see it on your neck. The neck doesn’t have a lot of real estate, so it looks much bigger than you expect.

going home after surgery
going home after surgery

This past Monday was pathology results day – and when I found out that I actually had thyroid cancer.

The brain kindof freezes when you hear the C word. Of course it does. The thoughts in your brain swirl around chemo, hair loss, nausea, fatigue, the epic battle for your body and will to live. Which is why I was so thankful to hear:

“The important take-away from this conversation is that you will live a long and healthy life.”

running errands with my husband, 5 days post-op
running errands with my husband, 5 days post-op

Fun Facts:

Thyroid cancer is the ninth most common cancer in the US, with the number of cases rising each year. No one is completely sure why there is an increase in cases (better technology to identify the cancer early may be a contributing factor) but the death rate has remained low – virtually unchanged since 2002.

Risk factors include:

  • being female
  • a diet low in iodine (rare in the US)
  • exposure to radiation (radiation was used widely before the 1960s for an array of ailments; nuclear accidents; etc)
  • hereditary/genetic
  • family history (Having a first-degree relative (parent, brother, sister, or child) with thyroid cancer, even without a known inherited syndrome in the family, increases your risk)

There are four main types of thyroid cancer:

  • Papillary, which accounts for 70-80% of all thyroid cancers
  • Follicular/Hurthle cell, which accounts for 10-15% of thyroid cancers
  • Medullary, which accounts for 5-10% and is usually hereditary
  • Anaplastic, which accounts for less than 2% and is the most aggressive and unfortunately deadliest

Treatment for thyroid cancer includes surgery (got that out of the way!), radioactive iodine, external beam radiation, and chemotherapy. Most thyroid cancers are cured with surgery and radioactive iodine. Thyroid cancer is actually pretty great for targeted treatment such as radioactive iodine because no other cells in the body soak up iodine like the thyroid does – so the thyroid cells are killed while the rest of the body remains healthy. (pretty neat, right?)

The 5 year survival rate for anyone diagnosed with thyroid cancer today is 97% – and the 10 year survival rate for those who are younger than 45 and the cancer is localized (has not spread to other parts of the body) is 100%.

9 days post-op and got in a gentle 16 mile bike ride. it felt amazing!
9 days post-op and got in a gentle 16 mile bike ride. it felt amazing!

The good news is that I am young (under 45), relatively healthy (outside of this bump in the road), and the cancer was localized (according to my surgeon). I have my post-op follow-up in a few weeks with my surgeon and then a conversation with my new endocrinologist a few days later to discuss the appropriate next steps. I’ve started writing a list of questions for him because I tend to forget to ask while I’m at the appointment.

If I’m being totally honest, I was a bit numb after hearing my thyroid pathology came back as cancer. I immediately latched onto the positive points and rehashed those as my narrative publicly. I received a tsunami of support and messages of love from my friends and family while I tried feabily to pass it off as Not A Big Deal. The next morning though I started doing my research and started to panic. OMG this is serious, but thankfully not deadly so. I don’t even know which kind I have/had. Radioactive iodine requires an isolation period. How is that going to work? And there’s a million follow-ups while they get the dosage of levothyroxine correct plus following up to make sure the radioactive iodine worked …. what about work? We’re already swamped – I can’t be taking off time for all this!

I had to put down the internet and go busy myself with what’s really important: my family, my friends, and living life. Work is important too – I’m the primary financial contributor to our family – but I can’t work if I’m not healthy. I am incredibly thankful for the support my boss and company have given me.

Yesterday I went out for a bike ride and made some determinations:

  • Yes I have/had cancer.
  • No it doesn’t define me.
  • But it’s OK to feel like it’s a big deal – because it is. It’s a part of my life story now.

I can ask questions at my next two appointments to get more clarity on what I had and what we can do next.

I will always need to be on top of my medication and communicate with my doctors.

I will live a long and healthy life – and look forward to rebuilding my base miles and bicycling strength soon.

See you on the road!

Internet Reference Sites (in case you want to learn more!):

ThyCa: Thyroid Cancer Survivor’s Association

EndocrineWeb

American Thyroid Association

National Cancer Institute

Endocrine Diseases

American Cancer Society

Let’s play catch-up, shall we dear reader? When we last left off we were on the cusp of spring … and now we are hurtling straight into summer.

from my train ride home one evening. moment of zen
from my train ride home one evening. moment of zen

Personal Transition

We finally made the move and are now in our new home. We closed on the house just a few days after the one-year mark of when I committed to relocating with my job. After such a long and protracted transition, the entire family has settled into our new life fairly quickly. Uncertainty can take a toll on a person and strain any relationship – and we managed to pull through with relatively few emotional wounds. The house is in a lovely neighborhood about 40 miles north of the Big Apple with lots of kids. It’s not uncommon for me to get home in the evening to find my younger two kids out roaming the neighborhood with their new friends, playing until well after dark and coming home sweaty and dirty and more importantly, happy. +1 for our little family!

welcome to my backyard
welcome to my backyard

Bikey Stuff!

Having the extra time in Philly was also very nice. I was able to squeak out a few really nice rides with my friends, including an 88-mi, 5400+’ of gain ride to get lunch in St Peter’s Village that I had no business doing – but felt amazing when I finished! I haven’t felt depleted after a long, hilly ride like that in a while and it felt GREAT.  I planned to do a low-key girls-only ride to get lunch (25mi ride) but wound up with bronchitis and had to cancel all my plans for a few weekends. Then we moved ….

Andy and Ken joined me on the 88mi epic. Perfect day for a ride!
Andy and Ken joined me on the 88mi epic. Perfect day for a ride!

I rode the 5 Boro Tour again this year, this time with my friend Elizabeth. We were slotted in the first wave and what a difference that made! Yes there were still a lot of people but it was FUN. We rode the whole route together, which was surreal when I’d point out a place where the 4-lane street had been literally wall-to-wall cyclists standing around the year prior due to various levels of bicyclists trying to ride together. This year demonstrated why people do this ride year after year. I’m hoping to take my eldest son on it next year.

Elizabeth and I at the start of the 5 Boro Tour.
Elizabeth and I at the start of the 5 Boro Tour.

Up in our new area I’ve been scoping a bike route to the train station (about 12.5 miles each way; about 600′ gain to the station, 900+’ gain on the way home). I’ve seen cyclists on the roads so I know it’s possible (and Strava Global Heat Maps confirms it’s a decent route) but a few concerns that I need to work through:

1. Lots of two-lane no-shoulder roads. I’ve not been successful yet in finding alternate back-roads to use – very few roads actually connect. The roads are not terribly heavily trafficked – but there is some volume, especially at certain times. And there are a few dangerous intersections that would require I get a mirror for my glasses so I could safely navigate.

2. After about 45-60min on the bike, I have a 60 min train ride to the city. Do I feel comfortable being stinky on a train for an hour?

2a. The train station has bike lockers but refuses to rent them out. ??? So my bike would be locked to an open-air public rack. I’ve seen a few other bikes there in the morning so I know people bike to the station … but probably not as far as I’m thinking of doing.

3. Shower Situation when I get to the City. NYSC has $20 memberships and a club a few blocks from GCT; or I could check out the gym at work.

Really all just logistics – and while I am chomping at the bit to actually ride to the train station and back home, I need to work these things out before I do so. Arrive Alive!

There is a major bike path (36 miles!) with an access point fairly close to our home (a couple miles) that I can’t wait to ride and take my kids. It’s an old railroad bed so it’s fairly flat and shaded. A welcome respite from New York drivers!

Health News

I noticed a lump in my neck a few months back. I had been blowing off the feeling of swallowing behind something for a while, thinking it was a mild cold or allergies or something else. After several rounds of testing and various procedures, it turns out I have a multinodal goiter. Due to the size and number of nodules (and that it impacts my ability to swallow), I’m having a thyroidectomy in about a week. I’ve been advised to take 2 weeks to recover and at least 1 week with no exercise. So the plan is to get past surgery and recovery before throwing my leg over the top tube and getting back into the swing of things.

This past week I contracted a cold that rapidly turned into a sinus infection so I’m taking the surgical recovery period very seriously. My body is telling me I’ve been overdoing it – even though I feel like I haven’t done anything – and I need to listen if I’m going to be able to get back into running and cycling again. I have a few events planned for later in the summer that I need to begin training for – but that will wait! Even though I desperately want to just ride my bike.

Looking forward to seeing you on the road soon!

In like a lion ….

I was talking with my sister recently. She is a marathoner and expecting her second child this summer. She was lamenting her inability to take part in a particular marathon this year because of her impending child. It’s part of the same mentality – she’s losing her ability to just sign up for a marathon and not have to actually train so much as maintain.

One of the things active people fear most is losing fitness. Many of us started at a sub-par fitness level and have worked hard to get to a point where throwing down a marathon or a century (or whatever the goal was) is just another day. When you have that level of fitness, and life starts to get in the way, many of us panic. It was such an effort to get to this place! I don’t want to have to go back to barely creaking out 25 mile rides!

For me, it’s important to accept the place you are now and work with it. After 2 months of not riding my bike (and spending at least half that time going out of my mind with not being able to go out for bike rides), I can safely say it’s going to be a long road back to fitness when I do throw my leg over the top tube. I’ve focused on walking as much as possible and running or hiking on the weekends to maintain a base level of fitness. I signed up for a 5-mile run in April to have a motivating event to keep me from sleeping until noon on weekends (which is totally on my radar because I am not a morning person). And if all goes well, we should be moving into our new house relatively soon – which means more time back in my life for the things that matter most. Family. Friends. Bikes.

Lots has happened so far this year. We finished up a lovely vacation in Colorado with family and friends; we sold our house finally; we had to make a humane decision for my 18-year-old beagle, Mojo. I’ve gained far too much weight in the last year. Mega-commuting – spending 90min or more to get to work or back – is challenging at best and in the winter, doubly so. I’ve had a few days where I spent as much time in transit as I have at work.

And it’s been a long, cold winter. Every time the snow and cold seems to have melted just enough and the weather warming up, another winter storm or arctic cold front comes rolling through.  My bikey friends and I had made plans to go ride bikes this afternoon, but a winter storm of snow, sleet, and rain arrived – so I leashed up my dog and we did a 3-mile walk together. It was fun to be outside with friends, despite the extremely slippery conditions. My dog passed out on the couch from all the excitement.

What I’m really saying is, keep the faith my dear reader! We will all dust off the cobwebs soon enough and slowly turn the cranks again and marvel at the warm sunshine beating on our backs as we zip down the road. Spring is coming …

 

Philly is so beautiful sometimes it hurts
#SpringtimeInPhilly

counting the days until we see each other on the road ….