Sunday, August 25, 2013
New bike...to me anyway.
I bought a new bike a couple of weeks ago. It's not what you think, the Road King is still here...
There's a store called Dreambikes (Dreambikes.org) in Madison, Wisconsin, staffed by young people from the local Boys and Girls Club. They work there learning job skills, customer service, salesmanship, and how to achieve dreams. The bikes they are selling are donated, and each bike is completely refurbished when it is sold. Bought new, this bike listed for over $1000, my out-the-door price was $450 or so.
My new bike is a Trek Alpha 2000 SL. A lot has changed since I bought my first time trial bike 30 years ago. I can pick this bike up with one hand and pop it onto the bike rack on my car without struggling with the awkwardness of it. The frame is made of aluminium, there are 24 gear combinations, an adjustable handlebar stem, and shifters on the brake levers. They retaped the bars in purple for me too. The whole time I was looking at this bike, I thought about how it felt to fly down the hills in New England on my old bike.
When I brought it home, new tires and all, reality set in. Like I said, I had gained 80 pounds on winter layoffs, which was the main reason I purchased the bike. But standing there looking at it on the road in front of our shop, I felt a little shaky and nauseous, letting self-doubt take the reins.
"What were you thinking?" self-doubt said.
"You can't ride this thing, you are 49 years old, and 49 year-old fat women don't ride road bikes, especially not one like this,"
"You are going to fall just trying to get on the the thing and get moving. Dumb idea, spending all that money. This is gonna hurt, ya know."
"You are too heavy for this bike. You will flatten the tires, bend the rims, and go down in front of all the village kids. You will get road rash like you have never imagined. Yep, too fat for this bike, for any bike..."
But...I hate to fail. I could not wheel that bike back into the shop, lean it up against the wall, and let her, the self-doubt chick, win. And I am running out of options concerning my health.
Two years ago, I realized that the weight was not going to melt off like it used to. I bought a treadmill, so I would not have an excuse to avoid exercise in the winter. I was very enthusiastic about using it, walking a little further and a little faster each time I hopped on it. It became more and more painful to do that--my feet were screaming bloody murder. Not wanting to give up then either, I consulted a podiatrist, who told me that I tried to advance too quickly, and that I had plantar fasciitis--I had blown out my arches, stretched and or torn the plantar ligaments in both feet. It made perfect sense: a frame designed for 125 ideal pounds, would buckle under 250 lbs eventually. He gave me a prescription for orthotic foot beds for my shoes. They didn't help. At that point, just walking around or standing for more than a few minutes was torture. I felt very old and decrepit. I went back and asked for another idea, and the doctor made casts of my feet from which the prosthetic magicians would make custom orthotic inserts for my shoes. Those didn't help either, the arch supports didn't feel high enough to support my arches. My pain had grown yet more and I really fought to get up the stairs. My internet research about plantar fasciitis revealed that I would find relief in a number of brands of shoes, some better than others, so I tried Birkenstock sandals. My pain was significantly reduced as soon as I put them on and walked around the store. I could actually walk in them. I haven't worn any other shoes since, even had Birkenstock footbeds installed in my motorcycling boots.
In the meantime, I set the treadmill aside and bought a gym membership and a swimsuit. I started swimming, and struggled through my first 5 laps, hanging off the side and gasping at each end of the pool. When I was younger, my mother called me a fish in the water. I grew up swimming in Nana's pool, the rule being that we had to exit when our lips turned blue, even if we said we weren't cold. But the pool at the gym was heated to 80 degrees, and I couldn't see why I was having so much trouble. I was really out of shape--the doctor called it deconditioned. My muscles had atrophied, and my body was unable to keep up with the energy demands of moving this much weight around. Being in the pool relieved some of that--I was weightless in the water, very buoyant because of my fat. Following Dory's instructions, I just kept swimming. The self-doubt chick was noisy then too--"Fat women don't try to swim, they wade on the edge of the surf. You look like a whale in your suit you know, all these young lithe people are looking at you with disgust, or worse, not looking at you at all or looking right through you as if you weren't there..."
She didn't win then either. I just kept swimming, pushing myself more to swim further and faster than the last time. I felt fantastic in the pool.
Getting out was another story. Barefoot, I would hobble back to the locker room and peel off my suit, refusing to look in any of the mirrors or make eye contact with the skinny people. The second or third time I had to wait half and hour or more to get a free lane in the pool, then sit in crawling traffic for 10 miles across the beltline in the snow and ice, and got home around 7 p.m., having been up since 0330 hours, my frustration and exhaustion won. I wasn't losing weight, even after eliminating sugar from my diet--no sugar in the coffee, no sodas, no sweets. I began seeing a dietitian, and calorie counting, and cutting carbohydrates. My doctor, at my request, began testing me for various things that would inhibit weight loss. I was diagnosed with sleep apnea shortly after changing jobs, having fallen asleep at the wheel and bumped the back of the semi in the next lane--I use my CPAP machine nightly still. The only answer any of the doctors have come up with is metabolic syndrome, and exercise, exercise, exercise has been their litany.
So, back to the pool, this time with paddles and fins to increase resistance. I could fly through the water with those, 25 laps was do-able. And I did it, 3 or 4 times a week. In between, I would ache, my whole body, every muscle and joint. I felt like I had the flu--feverless, dry-nosed, congestionless flu. As soon as I felt good again, I went back to the pool. My feet were healing nicely, and I was taking the stairs whenever I could at work. I was not losing weight, I was gaining, 1 or 2 pounds each month. I pushed harder, swimming longer, trying to cut the water faster, reading swimming blogs to learn how to swim more efficiently. The all-over pain continued and the doctor's answer was fibromyalgia and metabolic syndrome, more tests, and Tramodol pills. My thyroid hormone levels were in normal ranges, I didn't have Cushing's disease--maybe I was eating a little on the side that I wasn't including in my food journal, the doctor asked...that was insulting.
I cannot tell you clearly enough how the roller coaster of emotions felt through all of this. My husband has loved and supported me through it all, and I have friends who encourage me daily. It was two friends, one an avid bicyclist, and one newer to riding longer distances, who took me to Dreambikes to find a better bicycle for her, the newbie. I ended up looking too, and this bike, the Trek, was the result. I can keep an 800 pound motorcycle upright and rolling down the road, but this bike terrified me. I bought a new seat to make it more comfortable, I pumped up the tires to their limit, I searched the internet for bicycle shorts big enough to contain me in public. I have ridden it enough to learn how to use the new-fangled flipper shifters on the brake levers, and I like them much better than the old levers on the downtube on my old bike. I have been to pain management classes, a physical therapist who advocated slow progress, a sleep hygienist, and tai chi basic instruction, which has been the biggest help in relieving pain. I have consumed massive amounts of information and disinformation about weight loss and stress and cures and elixirs of health beyond my wildest dreams. I have not lost weight, except in my wallet. I have little evidence to support the self-doubt chick's theories, that I am lazy or incapable or that my hugeness would turn my bike into a pretzel (I checked, the weight limit on that bike is 275 pounds, having to check at all twisted my head for a few days). But neither do I have much evidence to support the changes I have made are getting results.
I have read other blogs about people who persevered in their efforts to lose massive amounts of weight and were successful, and they gave me hope, but not results. I have not given up, there must be an answer, and I'm hoping riding my bike a little every day, a little more each week, will finally tip my scale the other way. But I will tell you, that weight loss is a huge industry in America today, and not much of it has the best interests of obese people as the real focus. The compressed time sequences of reality weight loss makeover shows present an unrealistic picture, and as I found, working too hard at losing weight can cause injury. Actually detailing the day-by-day efforts of a morbidly obese person attempting to right themselves would not make for interesting TV. There is no biggest loser cam, so we can look in any time and see what they are doing every minute, seeing how they feel, seeing how slow "healthy" weight loss should be.
Eating nutritious food is expensive, joining a gym is expensive, workout clothes for fat folks are expensive, if you can find them at all. The fitness industry doesn't appear to be interested in equipping the uber large to engage in fitness activities, and when they do offer something in an appropriate size, I will pay top dollar for it or go without. Thank you Aerotech for understanding that fitness doesn't always start at the skinny end of the scale--they have bicycle shorts for women in sizes up to 4X, for less than $50.
My friends who took me to the bike shop tell me "You can do it! We're proud of you for not giving up, for getting back on when you think you can't. We are looking forward to riding with you when you are ready, please keep working on it." They sustain me when the crazy self-doubt bitch starts squawking. She and I are not on speaking terms today. She is not my friend.
Please do not look at obese people and assume they are doing nothing, and that they really want to be this way. More than likely neither is accurate.