by Katarina Terzic Conrad, Ph.D.
The first time I went road biking was three weeks before my first triathlon, which happened to be the mother of all triathlons – an Ironman – whose bike leg is 112 miles. I borrowed a road bike from my friend and asked my neighbor to let me tag along with him and his friends on his next long bike ride. Curious, I asked how long they were planning on riding so I could properly plan my hydration and fuel for the ride. His text read “35 to 42”. Minutes? I wondered. “Sorry. Miles” he wrote back. Perfect! Just enough miles to get a feel for a long distance ride, I thought. What time are we leaving? I texted. “750.” Got it.
The morning of, I got up earlier than usual, made sure I had my hydration backpack, my power gels and my helmet and glasses. My neighbor was already out putting his gear on at 7:40 am, and we left at 7:45 am, a whole five minutes before the designated time. He was bewildered to find out that my race was only few weeks away. “And this is the first time you are riding a road bike?” I explained that I needed a crash course and a few pointers on bike rules and tips on how to ride a bike in the streets and country roads, which paths are best to take, how long and fast I should ride, what I should drink, eat, and so on. After a few turns, we caught up with his friend and went on riding. His friend noticed that I had no cleats on. I said I did not own any and I would when I buy my own bike in few days. I told them to bike their usual pace, and I would catch up to them.
In the beginning, while getting used to the bike, they would take turns and ride next to me to inform me about the language they use when they come to a stop sign, spot a hole in the road, or see a car coming. They talked about what to do in case I see an animal crossing the road, how to pass others safely or which way to lean in case of cross winds. They talked about how to pace myself in the race and when to go faster and when to go slower.
I noticed that most of the time the two of them rode next to each other in the middle of the road. I wondered if that was okay, and they said yes. The same rules that apply to cars apply to the bikers too. In fact, they pointed out that it’s safer to ride in the middle of the lane, because the car behind might be tempted to pass and pull next to you while waiting at the intersection if you are riding along the edge of the lane. It’s better to block the car behind you and own the road. You have the same rights as them, in fact, they should yield to you, they stated confidently. Alright, I will own the road, I thought, that suits me!
As we left the city limits and entered the country roads, we started picking up speed. My pedometer was showing 16, then 17, 18 and 19 mph. My saddle was getting more and more uncomfortable, and my toes were getting numb from curling around the tiny pedals trying to keep them from slipping off my feet. I wondered how different the cleats would feel. At the same time, I was trying to get used to hunching over and using the aero bars my friend installed on his road bike. It was challenging to steer at first. Initially, I was all over the place. And I used every opportunity I could while riding behind the two of them to practice. They provided a good cover and I was able to gain more and more control of my steering.
It was well into our second hour before we stopped to make a quick fuel break. They asked me how long I wanted to ride today: 30, 40 or 50 miles. Since my friend’s bike was not comfortable to go on for a long ride, I opted for the mid-range.
On the way back, the wind was to our backs and my neighbor took off riding well over 22 mph. I tried to catch up, but I couldn’t. The fastest I got was 21 mph. Eventually, I caught up with them and we pulled into the local gas station to use a restroom. At that point, we were in our third hour. And judging by where we were we had 10 miles more to go. When we arrived close to my street, they decided to continue riding while I turned and went home. We ended up riding close to 40 miles. Not bad for my first ride I thought, but nowhere near the 112 miles I needed to conquer.
Later that week I bought a new bike. When I asked my friends on Facebook what kind I should get (considering that I was such a newbie), most of the women responded that I would be more comfortable on a road bike, especially since I didn’t have much time to practice before the race. The majority of the men said a tri-bike would be a better choice long term, and that it’d be more aerodynamic for long races such as Ironman. As for the aero bars, I would get used to them in 3-4 rides. In the end, I opted for a tri-bike, and that has turned out to be a good choice.
The following weekend my neighbor was out of town, and an ironman friend suggested connecting with her group of women cyclists on Facebook and to ride with them. They all welcomed me to their Facebook group and told me that they would leave at 6:45 am on Sunday. I showed up a few minutes early at the parking lot of a local park, hoping to hit the road hard and fast for a tough four-hour workout. In my mind, I had only a few weeks left to train for an Ironman, and I really needed to work hard today. This didn’t cog well with the more social and relaxed way that the group was apparently organized for this morning. They were a bit slow arriving, gathering, and putting their gear on. I introduced myself to each of them and waited patiently for them to finish getting ready.
By the time it was all said and done and we were ready to ride, it was already 7:15 am. As we pulled out of the parking lot, they started to discuss where to ride. Different names of streets and towns were mentioned, and then one said they only had an hour, another one mentioned an hour as well, and then someone else mentioned two. I took note of the one that said two since I was hoping to go for four hours that morning. The debating and wavering took several minutes, and just as I was thinking, “let’s just go, it doesn’t matter where” someone said, “who is going to lead?” No one stepped up. They look around at each other wondering. Finally, one of the ladies started rolling, and 35 minutes after the expected time, we were off.
As we rode, I started talking to a lady next to me. After the initial introduction, she pulled back and said that we needed to ride single file and follow the rules. Okay, I thought, they apparently had different rules than the men I rode with. What happened to riding in the middle and owning it, I thought. We started cruising at only 13 mph at first. When we got to the country roads we started picking up the speed. All that was in me was screaming to go faster, and I did. From the last position, I moved to the second.
25 minutes into the ride the lady in the front pulled into a gas station and started circling. One spoke up and asked why were we circling and not riding. The leading lady said we could turn back or we could continue. What shall we do, she asked the rest. While they were debating, one suggested that we all gather closely for a photo. By the time we did and stopped a guy in a truck to take our picture, 10 min flew by. As we were posing for a photo, I saw a small group of men zooming by. For a moment, I was tempted to leave the group and continue riding on my own. I was trying hard not to judge and observe, but every fiber of my being was screaming to take charge of the group. However, part of me wanted to exercise patience, meet women athletes, learn from their experiences in during races and learn new bike routes around the town.
So I stayed and we went rolling. Finally, we got to an open road where we could develop higher speeds. The lady in the front was now riding 18 mph and setting herself apart from the rest. I stayed right behind. 10 min later she turns and says, this is where we are going to turn around. I thought, now for sure, I am going further regardless of whether anyone else wanted to. When the rest caught up, they chastised me for not staying close to the edge while riding. I was all over the road they told me. I smiled. When they asked what race I was training for this late in the game, they said they would pray for me. They posed for another picture. I started turning my bike towards the path again and said I was going further and thanked them for their company. I smiled and said, don’t worry I will ride safely. The 2-hour lady joined me. And off we went riding.
The first chance I got, I pulled next to her and told her about what those guys said about riding together in the middle of the lane, and she smiled. She seemed to be fine having me ride next to her and I enjoyed talking to her for the rest of our ride together.
I came home and thought how different my two bike experiences had been and, instead of feeling annoyed, I asked myself why I felt that way. Here’s what bothered most, I realized: the
confidence, assertiveness, decisiveness and authority that was present with the men in the first ride was missing from the second ride with the women, at least from the surface, and I’ve grown very accustomed to either being in a leadership role, or working with a strong leader to achieve a goal. I’ve never been great at the middle ground, and the fact that these qualities are so often stereotyped as masculine annoys me, and makes me want to change it. This is, in fact, the heart of the HIIT&RUN™ program.
My goal with this course is to help you develop those traits. They are not unique to men, you too can develop them. But, just like with anything in life, it starts with becoming aware of it. Now, go out into the world and pay attention to how you make decisions, how you assert yourself, how you project your confidence and authority. Do you find yourself conforming to others and their rules and stay in line, “in your place” or do you challenge the status quo? Do you find it hard to make a decision and count on others to make it for you? When you make a decision, do you look back with regret and guilt or move forward even when you are wrong? Do you find yourself letting others dictate your time and activity or do you have your own plans? Do you find yourself helping others achieve their dreams or do you have a goal of your own? These are all important questions to answer. And only when you are aware of your actions you can begin to change them.
I always believed that to be a good leader you must be in service to others and lead by example. You must have an idea, a vision to change for the better, and you must display knowledge, confidence, assertiveness, authority, and decisiveness to spark the desire in others to uphold that vision.
Decisiveness, the last trait I listed is the top trait of successful CEOs according to a recent article from the Harvard Business Review, called “What Sets Successful CEOs Apart” by Elena Lytkina Botelho, Kim Rosenkoetter Powell, Stephen Kincaid, and Dina Wang. Deciding with speed and conviction is essential to being a good leader. Good CEOs realize that a wrong decision may be better than no decision at all. They make decisions earlier, faster, and with greater conviction. They do so consistently—even amid ambiguity, with incomplete information, and in unfamiliar domains.
Being indecisive can make you look like you don’t know what you are doing. So, don’t be afraid to voice your opinion and speak up and even make the wrong decisions. You can always make another decision to correct the last, just like an adaptive algorithm!
The fact that I was able to finish my first triathlon, which happened to be the mother of all triathlons, an Ironman race, was credit to my mindset and HIIT&RUN training!
For more on leadership check these blog posts: