Gratitude and Other Lessons Learned on the Bike During COVID-19

Sarah Sung
by Sarah Sung
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Gratitude and Other Lessons Learned on the Bike During COVID-19

Cycling in one form or another plays a major role in my life. Whether it’s commuting to work and around the city, fundraising for worthy causes or teaching indoor cycling, I spend lots of my free time on a bike. And I love it. From the moment I learned how to ride, my bike was my ticket to freedom. It’s been that way ever since I was a kid and goes double for life these days as we shelter in place for what is now my eighth week.

When San Francisco was ordered to shelter in place in mid-March, it became clear I would no longer be commuting to work, teaching spin classes at the gym, nor would I do my favorite annual charity ride, Chefs Cycle for No Kid Hungry in June. My life on the bike as I’ve known it was put on pause. It was a no-brainer I’d figure something out, and I was happy to shelter in place, but what my new reality would be on the bike wasn’t clear at the moment. Luckily, I love a good challenge.

GRATEFUL FOR: GETTING MOVING

I took this as an opportunity to shake up my admittedly rigid routine. I even found I started foam rolling more and doing the exercises my physical therapist kept reminding me to do (hello, clamshells), which previously weren’t “hard” enough to count as a workout. I continued to run — and I have a fair amount of medicine balls, bands, Swiss balls and the like to do HIIT at home, and I love yoga (even on Zoom).

Then, I have my road bike and gravel bike, but what about on rainy or busy days? I’m not a fan of cycling in the rain or wind if I can avoid it. For rainy days, we bought a Wahoo Kickr, which helps me get my indoor cycling fix. Then, I bolstered myself for long, exhausting outdoor bike rides on the weekends with my boyfriend, who doesn’t consider a ride a “ride” unless it’s 80 miles or longer with at least 4,500 feet of climbing.

Good thing we got that trainer because it rained for a bit, so I rode the trainer, which we set up in the kitchen. The trainer may be the runner’s equivalent to the treadmill, but being an indoor cycling teacher for 20 years means I’ve built a tolerance for being able to ride indoors and still get a good workout. Biking indoors has an element of moving meditation for me, so long as I have good music. One day I’ll switch to podcasts. Maybe.

GRATEFUL FOR: GETTING OUTSIDE

That first dry weekend I was needing to get out of my apartment in a big way knowing that being outside has so many tangible and intangible benefits. With social distancing top of mind, we rode to Point Reyes Station, which was a good 80-miler. I was just happy to make it home for so many reasons. The obvious one was just how tired my body was. But also, during this pandemic, learning how to manage social distancing on the bike as well as balancing how much intensity is too much to support a healthy immune system was mentally exhausting in a new way.

However, I realized social distancing on the bike comes more naturally than running because the bike automatically creates space between people. Sure, there are white papers on the aerodynamics of walking, running and cycling that make you think you need a minimum of 60 feet of drafting space (though, from my understanding, this studies the airflow and not also the infectiousness of droplets and aerosols, which still isn’t fully understood yet).

So, recognizing I could be asymptomatic, I tried to stay 6–60 feet or more from others. I wore a buff to act as a mask for riding on the Golden Gate Bridge, which was the most congested part of the ride. I held my breath when I saw people and tried not to chase others down or be passed without offering a wide berth. We also tried to leave early or at times when the bridge would be less busy. Once we got about 20 miles from San Francisco, the cyclists and runners became fewer and fewer until it was mostly just Paul and I on the road for miles and miles — me drafting inches from his back wheel and definitely grateful for being able to do that since drafting is known to save lots of energy.

The next day, I was planning on a shorter 35-miler to Muir Woods loop — enough to count as a workout but not so far that I wasn’t sure I could get back home since I wasn’t going to call a Lyft if my legs gave out. But we got moving and I started to feel better, so when Paul suggested riding further out to Stinson, I said OK. What’s another 15 miles … of (mostly) climbing? Well, I survived. But I had to admit it was wonderful to get outside and made sitting inside during the week more tolerable. I was hooked.

GRATEFUL FOR: GETTING STRONGER

Eventually, I started extending my mileage or pace each weekend until the same ride didn’t physically and mentally exhaust or intimidate me as much. Noticing a boost in my energy and not feeling shelled is motivating in itself. I was definitely happier on our rides, even toward the end.

Instead of only focusing on one pedal stroke after the next, I’m starting to spot deer, sunbathing seals and the occasional coyote, as well as the cows and horses you always see in the pastures. I could smell and see that the spring flowers are out — and I have the energy to notice that. The blue sky and sun on my face, arms and legs feel priceless (and the already prominent, yet dreaded, tan lines on my thighs and calves are almost like badges of honor). The Pacific coast continues to be awe-inspiring during the climb out of Stinson Beach.

Just one of these is amazing alone, but all of them together on a ride makes me feel like the luckiest person ever. As I ride, I’m in the moment, reminding myself that I’m so fortunate to be able to be outside, to push myself mentally and physically, to have someone to share this experience with, to live in such a beautiful place, to ride my bike.

Crossing the bridge is the most treacherous part of the ride due to the other cyclists, and the close quarters on the bridge. But I’m covering my face for my fellow riders and many of them are doing the same for me. I couldn’t ask for more.

About the Author

Sarah Sung
Sarah Sung

An avid runner, cyclist, swimmer, yogi and all-around gym rat, Sarah Sung has written lifestyle, health and fitness content for publications including AFAR, San Francisco Chronicle, Sonima and UrbanDaddy. Now she manages editorial for MyFitnessPal and MapMyFitness. In her spare time she teaches indoor cycling in San Francisco and has raced in triathlons in California and Hawaii. Traveling and checking out the latest dining scene are always high on her to-do list.

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