Last hurdles and fast legs

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.


Katharine said...

Ai lu- I'm so glad that you like biking so much! While I understand enjoying being in male company, I disagree with your assessment that it brings you away from eating disorders. While traditionally eating disorders are feminine concerns, in the arena of sports, the male athletes I know often have similar or MORE unhealthy or obsessive attitudes to food that women athletes. Their relationship to food and their bodies may not be as apparent to you as it would be with women, partially because it often doesn't manifest itself in the same way. Also, you may not pick up on it as much as you would with women because you don't feel the same level of competition or comparison with their bodies because they are men, and therefore their bodies are so very different. All of this is to say, although you may feel that you are getting away from unhealthy eating/attitudes, I'm sure if you looked under the surface a bit more, you would see it in abundance. However, it doesn't really matter to you because what really matters is what YOU feel, and if you feel more comfortable, then that's all that matters.

Kristina said...

Ai Lu,
I love reading your posts on biking and because I've finally gotten back on my bike (after a 5 month "resting period") I find them so inspiring!!! And I do want to push myself and use cycling not only as a form of exercise but also to engage socially and to meet different people.
It's funny because I work in a field that "should" be female-dominated (education) but where I work, it's actually very male. For me, I almost find that more competitive (maybe because I grew up with 3 brothers), and so I love the time that I spend with just female friends.
Very cool to read about your experiences!

Kristina said...

And... One more comment.
I think a lot of people who do develop an eating disorder are pretty competitive, and for me, it's been important to discover healthy ways to channel that competitive energy, to not turn it inward, against myself but to focus on specific goals that are positive and life-affirming.

Tiptoe said...

Ahh, all your post on biking make me want to get one! :-)

I think it is great that you are redeveloping your relationship with exercise healthily. It can be so hard to find that balance when exercise was once in such excess.

I actually think it's good for those who had problems with exercise to find groups. It offers a different mentality versus being completely alone all the time. It's something I wish I could do, but every single group around here just doesn't fit my funky work schedule. And it's not enough of a priority right now to finagle things.

As for men versus women, you are right that it can feel different to be with men. There may still be competitiveness, but it is much different than from women which seems more catty and threatening. I think when you're a female in with a group of men, most are pretty impressed you are keeping up. Of course, there are also those who may think you look good in a uniform too, but I know what you mean. ;-)

verification word: copes

Gaining Back My Life said...

What an amazing accomplishment - and defeat of your ed.

Kudos to you, Ai Lu.

jenninat0r said...

That is a great revelation--to enjoy exercise. I loved the question in your last post too... I've been asking myself that: would I exercise if it wouldn't change my body? And it was pretty much No, but in the past years I've discovered I enjoy yoga and pilates and weightlifting, and sweating...so I'm keeping to that.

I disagree about preferring masculine company though, as it seems like you regard female relations and feelings as threatening, or treat them like beauty enemies, an interfemale phenomenon described by Naomi Wolf in Beauty Myth. I agree, being around women who put themselves/others down and fat-talk/complain about their weight isn't enjoyable but I dont think I would be about to trade exercise company of women for men on a an intersubjective basis. As long as we feel insecure with ourselves and continue to feel like we as women are in competition with each other to feel or look more beautiful we will be unhappy being around each other. I found that as soon as I realized they were just as unsure as I about my body or even unhappy about it, I didn't feel that thin pressure anymore. I also feel far enough recovered to not become triggered by someone eating less or listing what they ate to me. It might be my generation or the people I know in third year of university but I feel like eating and body image issues are becoming more evident in male culture and it's harder for them to talk about--although there are some that could talk incessantly about exercise/body/diet. I think this is a terrible myth that needs to be undone because a few of my male friends have fallen down the rabbit hole in different ways...