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Recovery While Climbing

How to Rest Without Stopping Your Race

For fifty-two years now, in the historic Western town of Durango, Colorado, thousands of cyclists celebrate the first run of the train in the spring by accepting the challenge that was originally between two brothers, one a cyclist & the other a brakeman on the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. The contest was answering the question of who could arrive in Silverton first – the train or the cyclist. And so it began…In the 1970’s The Iron Horse Classic became a yearly event each May that continues to grow in popularity across the States and beyond.

It being mid-April now, the roads are littered with cyclists who are in the final weeks of training for this epic challenge that includes two mountain pass climbs, each over 10,000 feet, in the total fifty miles of pedaling.

It is in these grueling mountain climbs that anyone who desires to be successful at finishing this race, must master this key survival technique: recovery while climbing.

The year I turned fifty – and the first year we lived in Durango (our house at 7400 feet) – I set my sights on completing the Iron Horse Classic. Exciting…and daunting! What I didn’t figure on when I signed up was how much of the training would be indoors in spin classes. Ugh…But it was in one of those spin classes that the instructor introduced me to the concept of recovery while climbing.

Who would have thought, it is not only possible but necessary to learn how to take breaks – without actually stopping - while still ascending, still moving upward towards a daunting goal?

This insight served me well in my quest to make it to Silverton; and it continues to infuse me with energy for the long-term goal of living out of my God-given strengths and finishing my particular course of this life race well.

What I found to be true is the ‘how’ to recovery while climbing is about perspective and pace.

If I were to mentally look at the fifty-mile bike route from Durango to Silverton and all I saw were the two mountain pass climbs – each of them at six miles long – I would have been beaten before I left the starting line. And if I would have set a pace that was too fast at the beginning, where there are miles through a flat valley before hitting any climbing, I would have found out too late that I’d burnt all my matches by the time I got to the extensive stretches of needing a sustainable pedal pace for long periods of ascending.

But during my training for the Iron Horse, our spin-class leader taught us how to set a steady pace to save energy for the long-haul, how to down-shift our rpm’s, or pedal cadence, as we approach a climb; and then how to get short reprieves by sitting up higher to get more air in, take longer breaths, and maybe even change up our pedal stroke briefly...All resulting in a sensation of taking a break without stopping our up-mountain progress.

...let us run with patient endurance and steady active persistence the race that is set before us, [looking away from all that will distract us and] focusing our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith... Heb.12:1-2

I did make it to Silverton! What a feeling of accomplishment, and a foreshadowing of the many outdoor adventures to come in our new life in the San Juan Mountains of SW Colorado. But the greatest takeaway from the experience – both in the training and the actual ride – was this phenomenon of recovery while climbing.

I have found focusing on perspective and pace to be key concepts for running my life race – the course He has designed and set before me – sustainably, as it unfolds with different terrain each day. Left to my own unchecked wiring, I have been known to set too fast a pace and burn all my matches before the finish of the day, then paying the cost of that lack of wisdom in my body. And what usually precedes such foolishness is starting my day’s course without submitting myself to God’s perspective on my to-do list! If I just stop and ask Him, He is always faithful to help me weed through my objectives and release the day’s schedule to His wisdom; and somehow everything that needed to get done is accomplished without me sacrificing my peace or physical well-being.

You chart the path ahead of me and tell me where to stop and rest. Every moment You know where I am. Ps.139:3

May I bring the message down to a practical application? My daughter, Heidi, is in that very busy stage of raising their two school-age children (thirteen and ten), running the household, supporting her husband, extensive volunteering and in all, taking on about two dozen roles to keep all the plates spinning and the family unit cohesive. Many of you reading this have previously been in this season I speak of or are currently paddling in these same waters.

Recently in a conversation with Heidi, she mentioned how this concept of recovery while climbing (that I’d shared with her back when I was in training for the big race) is a very conscious mantra for her on a daily/weekly basis. So I asked her what that looks like in her current daily fury of activity.

How does she maneuver amidst her time-boxed day to actually feel like she’s had a breather that gives her enough of a second wind to keep on going?

Here are some of the notes I took as she hurriedly ran me through her thought process (while doing three other things, of course) as she shared her personal application of recovery while climbing:

1) She taps into a different mindset, different expectations during periods of schedule chaos – an example: when the exhaustion or not being able to turn the brain off actually keeps her from sound sleep, she tells herself “It’s ok, I won’t die from a lack of sleep.” Then, at least, she doesn’t take on anxiety about the lack of sleep, which would further disrupt her sleep!

2) Another powerful reminder she turns to when tempted to get overwhelmed by all the nonstop roles:

Because this season of life can be hard and exhausting, doesn’t mean I’ve made bad decisions or am doing anything wrong.

3) She looks for precious pockets – for example: use drive time, waiting time (in pick-up lines) ...for self-care. That could be listening to a podcast or book while driving, doing paperwork, calling a friend, or just closing your eyes for a few minutes while parked for pick-ups...

4) She revisits ‘familiar wells’- an example: she intentionally draws upon past times when God has come through for her, been faithful in providing what she needs to play all these roles. She may also reread a book that had proven to be a source of encouragement in another time.

5) She cuts out anything not vital during crazy schedule days – like cooking. She picks up dinner along the way with no guilt - ha!

Maybe some of that is helpful for you...Maybe you have your own proven recipe for how to get a breather while still pedaling upward and onward...Or maybe you are not currently in a frenetic season of life. In that case, may your heart overflow with gratitude! In any case, I hope you have found encouragement and had your creativity stirred regarding the necessary survival skill of recovery while climbing.

This race we are in is a marathon, not a sprint; and there is only One who knows what each day will hold. God knows what you and I will need for tomorrow’s terrain. I want to find rest for my soul in that comforting truth; and continue growing in my dependence on Him to supply whatever I need to live a fulfilling life, joining Him in His purposes each day.

Your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Matt.6:8
And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. Phil 4:19

I'd love to hear from you readers about this topic of carving out regroup times in the middle of busy or challenging days and seasons. How do you recover while climbing?

What techniques have you found helpful for catching your breath when all you can see ahead is more climbing?

What is one of your 'familiar wells' where you have gone in the past to get refreshed in the midst of hectic times?

What mindset sets you up for success - or failure - in times of challenge or busyness?

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Blessed to play a part ~


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