A Life Lesson from a Biking Grandma

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Preparing for RAGBRAI 48

My partner Rebecca is preparing to ride her bike across the state of Iowa. Yes, the entire state, 454 miles in seven days. She will join 15,000 riders in late July on the 48th RAGBRAI, the [Des Moines] Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa. “Wow,” you say. That’s what I said two years ago when she did it the first time. COVID erased last year when she would have done it again.

How do you prepare to ride as many as 84 miles in a day? RAGBRAI officials recommend 700 miles of preparation. Rebecca has ridden 160 miles thus far this spring, usually 14 miles a day three or four times a week. Decorah’s 11-mile Trout Run Bike trail circles the city and offers steep switchbacks through the countryside that provide perfect training for this endeavor. “Every mile up these hills will decrease my pain in July,” said Rebecca to me yesterday at the top of the steepest switchback.

“For Sunday and most of Monday in 2019, all I could think about was that I could call Paul and he would pick me up. On Tuesday, I thought why would I do that?”

That’s Rebecca reflecting back upon her preparedness for Ragbrai 47 in 2019. Each of the 700 miles of preparation added to Rebecca’s capacity to bike across Iowa. Her leg strength, stamina, and confidence got better. But biking more than 400 miles for someone in their late sixties was still a formidable challenge.

“We had just gotten to the top of a very very steep and rather long highway going into Keokuk on the last day of the ride. I made it! I did not get off my bike and walk as so many did. But the comparison between myself and my team mates became evident when Colleen said, “Whew, that was tough. I actually slipped down into my granny gear.” Hmmm. I had been in my granny gear most of the week. But whatever.”

Better but still…

Yesterday I did a couple of things better than I would have done them several years ago. My improved performance on each activity happened slowly, incrementally, and intentionally. While better at each task, I am still a long way from where I want or, perhaps, ever can be. Whenever you are faced with a challenge or frustrated with a ceiling on your progress, remember this life lesson from Rebecca, the biking grandma.

Rebecca preparing for RAGBRAI 2021 on Madeline Island, in Minnesota.

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