This morning I joined a pack of riders from my cycling club on a fast-paced, three-lap tour of New York's Central Park at 6:00am. This was a no-holds-barred, keep-up-if-you-can ride -- and I was proud to be the only woman hanging on at the end! I keep surprising myself with cycling, putting in longer distances and reaching faster speeds than I would have thought possible even a year ago. But it's easy, in a way, because I love it! I took to cycling, as I told one of my ride leaders, like a fish to water. It feels right and good to be perched on top of my bike, to go fast and furious down the roads of New York and New Jersey, and to join in the camaraderie of a long, slick paceline.
I like cycling, too, because in becoming a cyclist I feel that I am overcoming the last hurdle in my eating disorder, meaning that I am beginning to repair my relationship to exercise. For a long time after my eating disorder abated, I did not want to engage in any form of intense exercise; I had forced myself on too many runs and had spent too many hours of my life on the elliptical machine at the gym to continue to do so once the compulsion to exercise ended. I turned to yoga, and long walks, and occasional jogs; those things were healing and gentle, and I needed them for a time. But now I yearn for sweaty exertion, for the feel of my body soaring through the air. Cycling gives me these things, but it also gives me a community of likeminded people to share in the endeavor; while in the past my exercise was solitary, now it is almost always conducted in the company of others, my early-morning training buddies and weekend ride partners.
Many -- or most -- of these people are men, and I find that I enjoy being in masculine company for a change. Eating disorders are such feminine concerns, after all, centered around women's bodies and women's roles; writing here, for example, I am mostly addressing a female audience. Clinical psychology, my chosen field, is also increasingly dominated by women, as men flee pscyhology for the less touchy-feely disciplines of psychiatry, neuroscience, and behavioral medicine. As for myself, most of my classmates are female, and I spend a few days a week working with breast cancer patients, so I certainly have my share of the fairer sex! When I'm cycling with (mostly) men, on the other hand, it doesn't matter how thin or how pretty I am; all that matters is that I go fast, or ride well in a group, or show up on time. It's such a relief, for a change, to be able to focus on those things in a sport, instead of thinking about how I look in the uniform.