“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” – Sun Tzu, The Art of War
About two months ago, I was riding with my cycling partner in The Great Swamp in Morris County. The route is relativity flat except for Long Hill Road which has a long hill you can choose to ascend. It was early in the ride on a rather chilly Sunday morning when we decided to attack this legendary hill. I pounded up the hill determined to conquer it for the first time. The hill seemed endless. Just when you think you’ve reached the crest, it continues rising in front of you, over and over again. Needless to say, about three quarters of the way to the summit, I simply fell over. I stopped moving forward and in slow motion, I tipped right over. When my partner came back to find me, he said, “I see what happened. You were in the wrong gear! You’d never make it to the top pedaling that hard.” As I walked my bike the rest of the way to the top, I was more determined than ever to conquer every hill in front of me. So I hired cycling coach, Sandie Reilly, to teach me the art of war against the hills.
Part of my cycling training for RAGBRAI is learning to climb up hills like the one on Long Hill Road. When cycling, to reach the apex of the hill, you must keep your pedals spinning. If you stop before the top, it’s nearly impossible to get moving again. There’s no need to speed to the peak – going slow and steady will also get you to the summit. I refuse to lose a battle by walking up another hill!
When attacking hills, I’ve been taught that you shouldn’t automatically go into your easiest gear. Rather, you should shift up and down through your gears as the grade of the hill changes. Pedal harder, pedal easier, then pedal harder again – if you start in your lowest gear, you’ll be stuck there, burning out your muscles until you reach the pinnacle.
Once again, riding a bike creates a perfect metaphor for life. So often we are faced with hills in our life journey. Struggles exist within us, our relationships, our families, our careers or our health. Our stresses are things that we can control as well as battles out of our control. Each challenging hill needs to be attacked with a different strategy — sometimes at different speeds and in different gears. Choosing to start in the easiest gear isn’t necessarily the best way. You can master each hill by looking ahead and taking a deep breath. Subdue that enemy hill without a fight, but rather by relaxing and planning your strategy with a variety of tactics to give yourself the advantage to take you to the top. In life, as in cycling, we will always reach the summit as long as we are always moving forward.
As we approached the end of our 25 mile loop on that early Sunday morning, my cycling partner said to me, “Ready to head back to the car?” I paused, thought for a minute, and then replied defiantly, “Actually, I’d like to conquer that hill today. I refuse to be knocked down by it. I am not leaving until I’ve defeated Long Hill. Let’s go!” Each time I cycle now in the Great Swamp, I know that my former nemesis is waiting at the end. I can elect to turn right onto the aptly named Pleasantville Road taking the easy way out, but instead I choose to go forward to conquer Long Hill again and again and I always make it to the peak.
In my next post, we will look at what happens when you reach the summit. Here’s a hint: True cyclists never coast!
Sandie Reilly is a Level 2 Cycling Coach with USA Cycling. She can be reached at 908-501-3842 or email: Sandie@sandiereilly.com
Here’s a note from Sandie about why she rides and coaches others:
I was diagnosed with MS in college while planning our wedding and starting a new semester. The shock, uncertainty and illness itself put everything in low gear where it stayed for years. It was the eye opening combination of a friend being diagnosed with ALS and my own mild exacerbation that convicted me of mediocrity. I chose then to change my perspective and make good happen instead of living in fear of what bad might happen.
I chose the bike, I chose life. Fighting the challenges of MS, injury, asthma and weight, each day on the bike made me stronger, wiser, and more determined to succeed and to share the knowledge, the gift and the joy of cycling with all no matter their challenge. I’ve ridden and raced multiple cycling disciplines training with such notables as Olympic cycling Coach and Cycling Hall of Fame inductee, Mike Fraysse and Race Across America Co- Founder and champions Lon Haldeman and Susan Notorangelo. I am privileged to coach and give riders the tools they need to face their own challenges and to excel.
“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving forward.”- Albert Einstein