Why I Ride

Not too long ago, I used to get these horrible knots in my stomach and nagging headaches every time I mounted my bike. I was so anxious, I made myself feel physically ill. I was in constant fear of, well, let's see...

  • Crashing and slamming into the bone-breaking pavement
  • Getting hit by a car—and slamming into the bone-breaking pavement (yup, this is a big one)
  • Getting a flat or wanting to quit in the middle of nowhere
  • Rolling backward on an impossibly steep hill
  • Looking like a dork in unforgivably tight bike clothes that hug me in all the wrong places
  • Bulking up my thighs so much my fave skinny jeans won't fit anymore

I could go on and on—and I'm sure you could help me add to the list, too (please share your own fitness fears in the comment box below). I entertained these negative ideas for years, ever since I learned to really ride six years ago at age 25.

Growing up in New York City (Queens, to be exact), the only wheels I had access to were on buses and trains or my parents' car (I never got my license, so I don't drive). I had a bike as a kid, but I never touched it because riding up and down busted urban sidewalks just didn't sound as appealing as watching TV. I first picked up legit bike skills (like braking without smashing my crotch on the frame or shifting to make it easier, not harder) when I signed up for my first triathlon, which was part of my hair-brained scheme to terrify myself fit (if I didn't train, I'd clearly die). It worked! Ten triathlons later, I was a pretty decent cyclist, but only on closed, car-free roads with volunteers directing me exactly where to go.

When I transitioned from doing nerve-racking races (I never came close to placing) to charity bike events, I found I could enjoy a lot of the same benefits, like car-free roads, limitless snacks, and Gatorade at rest stops, and welcome “You go, girl!” cheers from spectators. If I got a flat or ran into any trouble, no problem: A man in a van (called a “sag wagon”) would be there with a bike tool kit and pump in hand to save the day. And the best part was, I was doing it all in the name of a good cause, raising money and awareness for things like diabetes (Tour de Cure), cancer (The Dempsey Challenge), multiple sclerosis (Bike MS), local youth development programs (I Challenge Myself), and more.

Along the way, not all of the events were car-free. But when you're riding next to McDreamy—yes, Grey's Anatomy actor Patrick Dempsey takes his fire-truck red Specialized bike out for a 50-mile spin every year as part of his annual October event, the Dempsey Challenge, to raise money for his cancer center in Maine (you can still register!)—you're focused on other things (like his skin-tight spandex) rather than the day's traffic.

Which leads me to this very moment: This October 12 to 14, I've decided to bike in the Tour de Pink west coast ride for the first time. Similar to my triathlon days, I'm diving head-first into another train-or-die fitness scenario. But this one's different. Maybe even a little crazier. Here's how:

  1. It's a multi-day event: three full days of riding in southern California (from Thousand Oaks to Foothill Ranch). Up until now, I've done two hard back-to-back bike days before, but never three in a row.
  2. The total distance is 200 miles, which is just about the same as driving from NYC to Boston, as I did (in the backseat!) countless times during my college years. Should have biked it, duh!
  3. Worst of all is the elevation gain (the total feet I have to climb—you know, go up and down). Over the course of 72 hours, I will cover nearly 13,000 feet. In other words, by day three, I could have just hiked three-quarters of the way up Mount Kilimanjaro.

I'm not gonna lie. I love a good physical challenge, especially one that scares the crap out of me. I also love giving back to an amazing cause—one I stumbled across in May when I interviewed a woman named Lisa Frank for an article. Frank founded the Tour de Pink, a series of single or multi-day bike rides to raise money and awareness for the Young Survivor's Coalition. The YSC started in 1998 when three survivors decided to form a community dedicated to women like them who were diagnosed before 40 (the age when women begin to get annual mammograms). A three-time breast cancer survivor herself, Frank is such an inspiration and deserves her own post, so I'll tell you more about her later.

Back to training for this ride. I have six weeks. Starting RIGHT NOW. Lucky for me, I already have the greatest coach in my corner. He's preparing my training plan as I type this and I'll share it with you (and more on him) early next week, promise. In the meantime, I'm going to spend as much time as possible in the saddle. Yesterday I did 21 miles of speedwork in Prospect Park, Brooklyn (that's six loops around the 3.4-mile park for anyone who's counting) with my friend Caitlin, a cycling fiend who somehow manages to get faster, stronger, and more badass toward the end of our rides when I'm just about ready to keel over.

Today, I'm taking a high-intensity, 45-minute spin class at Soul Cycle, the hottest indoor cycling studio in NYC, the Hamptons, LA, and Miami. I'm calling it my cross-training because the spin instructors—who are all one-part motivational speaker, one-part drill sergeant, one-part DJ—have us doing push-ups, crunches, biceps and triceps curls, and other strength-training moves all while pedaling on bright yellow stationary bikes in a dark, night-club-like setting. It's so much fun—not to mention, I love the occasional celeb sighting. Rumor has it actor Jake Gyllenhal (yum!) bikes at the Union Square studio. He's no McDreamy, but I'll take it.

On Saturday, Caitlin and I plan to do 40-some miles from Brooklyn to Manhattan to New Jersey and back. And on Sunday, I will take my cousin, Rich, out for his inaugural ride on his new aluminum steed as we attempt to cover 75 miles around Brooklyn and Queens (not sure my legs will hold up). To find out if I bail early (let's hope not!), follow me on twitter (@XstinaGoyanes) for live updates.

If this all sounds a bit too ambitious to you, that's coz it is. You may be able to tell by now that I like to get in way over my head. When my anxiety inevitably starts to bubble, I think about this quote that Peter Whittaker, a climbing guru who has bagged Kilimanjaro 13 times, once told me: “Fear is nothing but the imagined future.” It usually calms me down—and so do the people around me, like my coach, Caitlin, my sister Maria, and other great family and friends who constantly remind me that I can do it. I hope you'll follow me on this short journey and help me stay motivated—and hopefully get motivated yourself—to do something, well, a little crazy.

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