Life in the Big Ring – Part V

Trust yourself.

How boring life would be if our entire existence, the road ahead, were known to us the minute we were born, or the moment we got onto our bike.  Going off course is inevitable – the discomfort that comes along with that is often our best teacher.  Rather than punish ourselves for going off course we would be better served by accepting that as part of life, part of the ride, learn what we can from the experience and use it to our and our community’s benefit moving forward.

Once we decide to move forward in life we need to accept that not everything will go as planned.  It is impossible to anticipate every directional change our lives will take, no matter how well planned we believe our lives are.  Comparing ourselves to others is not helpful; we have no idea what challenges others have faced and how they responded in order to know what they know.

As cyclists we are lucky.  We have the opportunity to train and prepare for the specific event we choose to participate in; life does not offer that.  Life is constant on the job training – so oftentimes we believe we got it wrong because we make an error in judgement, commission or omission.  To then continually punishing ourselves for having made an error is to detract from the opportunity we created – to learn something and to improve.

To use the past as our map for what we will do or what we can accomplish in the future is a limiting belief; it is not truth.  It is important to accept that the road is not flat and straight but rather it is lumpy, filled with blind turns, fast descents and challenging climbs.  How we decide to navigate the terrain is really up to us.  There is one truth – if we don’t get on the road we won’t move forward.

Trust yourself, accept that the road will not be easy, believe in the training we call life and be grateful for all the learning experiences that come your way.  Please don’t judge yourself harshly, it isn’t helpful to your well being and will not allow you to move forward and continue learning.

Don’t trade your humanity for privilege (a paraphrase from the book “Radical Dharma”.



Life in the Big Ring – Part IV

I told this story to Uli during our last GFNY Podcast (“>) and thought I would share it with you as well.

Subsequent to my surgery to remove a cancerous tumor and testicle I visited with the oncologist who was going to treat me.  When he let me know the treatment he proposed I explained to him that I had accepted what was going to happen to me, which he took as me accepting that I was going to die.  I explained to him that I meant I was accepting that I had a serious issue that had to be dealt with in a serious way and that there were going to be difficulties along the road for the ensuing 12 weeks.  Clearly I hoped that the treatment would create a positive result, but if not then we would deal with that at the appropriate time in the appropriate way.  Of course I was hoping not to die.  I have an incredible wife, I have brothers, sister, nieces and nephews and a great group of friends.  I also believe I have something to offer in life.  Living is my first choice; but if it isn’t meant to be then let;s not pay the price twice by suffering during the process – let’s live every day to the best of our ability and go from there.

I was simply accepting “what is”.  Wishing that I didn’t have cancer would have only caused more difficulty for me and those around me thereby making a difficult situation more difficult.  Those that know me know that I am not without emotion – I laugh, I cry, I try, I feel a lot – but what I try not to do is hurt myself by wishing something weren’t what it is.

The world is full of noise; sometimes we are in such pain from our own “what is” we find it easier to get caught up in that noise, even though we have no ability to directly effect the outcome, than to focus on our own well-being and goals.

We do however have the ability to positively affect the collective consciousness of the world by being our best possible self, accepting our “what is” in the present and working toward creating a better future.  To be able to focus on our in and out breath while we take simple and effective action toward developing a better future for ourselves and our community helps us feel more in control of our destiny.

The climb is the climb, the grade is the grade, the elevation is the elevation – that is the “what is”.  What will you do when you make the turn, the grade increases and the end is nowhere in sight?  Fight and you will lose, of that there is no doubt.  Surrender and you carry it with you to suffer again and again.  Be present, focus on your in and out breath, do your best, accept the “what is”.  Cycling mimics life.


Life in the Big Ring – Part III

“When we are in the trance of unworthiness, we’re not aware of how much our body, emotions, and thoughts have locked into a sense of falling short and the fear that we’re going to fail. The trance of unworthiness brings us to addictive behaviors as we try to soothe the discomfort of fear and shame. It makes it difficult to be intimate, spontaneous and real with others, because we have the sense that, even if they don’t already know, they will find out how flawed we really are. It makes it hard to take risks because we’re afraid we’re going to fall short. We can never really relax. Right in the heart of the trance, there is a need to do something to be better, to avoid the failure lurking right around the corner.”  – Tara Brach, Author of Radical Acceptance (and much more…)

I applied for a program being offered by Seth Godin recently.  It was an intensive, two day publishing course at his office – and it was free.  They were only accepting 8 participants and as you can imagine the number of people applying would be very high so my chances of being accepted were the opposite, not very high at all – about 8 in 1,000.

I applied.

I found out today that I didn’t get accepted.

I do not consider myself to be a failure for not having been accepted; we both know that my chances of being accepted would have been much lower had I not applied!

 What is it that you would like to do, and why are you not doing it?  The perception of safety is just that, a perception.   Over-analysis causes paralysis; you can always find a rational reason NOT to do something.  You can always limit your beliefs by what happened in the past or by the story someone tells you about what happened to them.  Don’t believe either one of them, they are just perceptions of the reality created by a limiting belief – that “trance of unworthiness”, that fear of failure.

Fear = False Evidence Appearing Real

What are you waiting for; start now, join now, move forward now, sing now, ride now!


Life in the Big Ring – Part II

“It’s hard to know whether to laugh or to cry at the human predicament. Here we are with so much wisdom and tenderness, and—without even knowing it—we cover it over to protect ourselves from insecurity. Although we have the potential to experience the freedom of a butterfly, we mysteriously prefer the small and fearful cocoon of ego.”
– Pema Chodron, The Places that Scare You

In cycling and in life we often interpret current events and predict what will happen tomorrow based on what happened yesterday, last week, last month, ten years ago or perhaps even by what happened to someone else.  And yet, if we stop and think about it for a second we realize it doesn’t have to be that way.  Each person’s circumstance is unique, and even our own circumstances and therefore potential result are also unique.  We create limiting beliefs based on nothing more than experiences, either our own or someone else’s, the hold us back from accomplishing the great things we are capable of.

If we look hard enough we can always talk ourselves out of something.

If we look hard enough we can always create a reason not to do something.

If we look hard enough and don’t find a reason not to do something we can always find someone who will convince us not to do something.

Personal progress does not occur by magic.  The magic has already happened, we exist; the rest is up to us.

Part III tomorrow.

Life in the Big Ring – Part I

“Well, its a lot like walking into the ocean, and a big wave comes and knocks you over.  And you find yourself lying on the bottom with sand in your nose and in your mouth.  And you are lying there, and you have a choice.  You can either lie there, or you can stand up and start ti keep walking out to the sea.

So basically you stand up because the “lying there” choice equals dying.

Metaphorically lying there is what a lot of us choose to do at that point.  But you can choose to stand up and start walking, and after a while another big wave comes and knocks you down.

You find yourself at the bottom of the ocean with sand in your nose and sand in your mouth and again you have the choice to lie there or to stand up and start walking forward.

So the waves keep coming.  And you keep cultivating your courage and bravery and sense of humor to relate to this situation of the waves, and you keep getting up and going forward”

Advice given to Pema Chodron by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

Please look for Part II tomorrow.

Dream, Plan, Do, Celebrate!

Cycling…………..relationships……..mimic each other in many ways including this: leaving it up to chance or said another way, not investing some time to think about a plan for yourself, essentially saying that you will live by someone else’s plan for you. 

Somehow you have convinced yourself that the pain associated with the development of a plan and perhaps not achieving the exact result you desired is worse than the potential pleasure of successfully executing your plan and getting those results, or perhaps you just don’t think you know what to do so you just don’t get started.  I have found, both through my own experiences (the “good ones” and the “learning ones” – there aren’t any “bad ones”) that by simply getting started you set in motion forces that have been lying dormant inside of you, simply waiting there to help you…except you have been too busy focusing on all the perceived problems in your life that you haven’t been able to see the opportunities. 

A couple of things come to mind from my own experiences (perhaps you might identify):

  • “I’m not a morning person.”  What does that mean exactly?  Does anyone really believe that people are genetically predisposed to either getting up or not getting up early?  If that’s the case what happens when one makes a drastic change in their time zone?  Tell me you don’t get to bed until 2AM for whatever reason and of course (well…maybe) I understand not getting up at 4:30AM (I said maybe).  Perhaps the real reason is it just isn’t important to you to get up early and jump-start your day by training (perish the thought).  The truth is this: anyone can do it if they attach enough meaning to it.
  • “I don’t have enough time.”  I don’t know about you but when I was using that excuse and looked down at my watch it seemed to have the same 12 numbers on it as the next person’s (pre today’s super watches of course!)
  • “I’ll start tomorrow”.  Let me leave you with this thought.  Leave 1 ounce of bodyweight extra each day for a year – one ounce.  365 ounces…23 pounds….without compounding….

Some thoughts that might inspire you to get going, especially on those days when you expected to wake up to a sunny, 60 degree day…and the temperature reading is 24 and dropping!

  1. Start where you start and go from there. Make a realistic assessment of your starting point, and make sure to focus on all your positive attributes and characteristics rather than waste time thinking about the three l’s – lack, loss and limitation (in other words, what you don’t have, what you thought you had and don’t any longer, or the idea that you aren’t good enough for something).  Think about those positive characteristics as your base, something to build on!
  2. Remember your dream – create a vision for your future. Your future is created by you.  Circumstances move through your life without permanence – how you perceive them and deal with them is what creates your present frame of mind and therefore your actions which lead directly to your future.  Success breeds success – in sports, in business, in life – it is known as momentum… it right and it becomes a tidal wave!  If you thought of your potential as limitless, and that is really the only way to think about it, what would you do right now?  What decisions would you make?  Even undecided is a decision….can you imagine sitting on a picket fence, with the choices being right or left and saying “I think I will be undecided”?  More painful than the saddle on your first bike, no doubt!
  3. Learning more is critical! You can only make decisions and choices based on your current point of view and information you have at that moment in time.  Learn more and you will develop greater perspective, leading to a deeper understanding about yourself and the world around you, which in turn will empower you to make the best possible choices in the current moment…your future is NOW!
  4. Always do your best. You will hear this from me as we ride together – “you are a champion when you do your best….YOUR best, not someone else’s”.  Always do your best in any given set of circumstances; do that and you will begin to have confidence in your ability AND you will trust yourself to make what seem like difficult choices.  Recognize that “your best” changes with different circumstances; my own example – my power output in my current classes is 60% of what it was prior to my cancer and chemo treatments.  Clearly circumstances changed, for now.  It isn’t permanent, and with dedicated effort improvements will come.  I know that because as low as it is compared to a year ago it is still better than it was a few years ago.  Be careful not to use the given set of circumstances as a crutch…always give it everything you’ve got…or don’t bother.
  5. Create something new. I will paraphrase my friend Mary Lynne – “don’t waste time trying to repair what doesn’t need fixing, there is nothing wrong with you.”  Keep your eye on the horizon as you follow your path –an Aurora (a new beginning, a new dawn) is always being created from that point forward.  You MUST accept everything that has transpired in your life to this point as something that was required to happen in order to be here and now!  Some of the experiences may have been challenging (to say the least), but if I were a gambling man I would bet dollars to donuts that those experiences are the ones that have helped you grow the most.
  6. Celebrate and build on your success. You can feel a quiet satisfaction from your success – the celebration does not necessarily need to be loud…but it can be if you like!


P6 – Perceived Effort – how I feel while I am doing the work

Cycling mimics life; being mindful of the amount of effort it takes to move from place to place, learn the next skill, further a relationship, earn the next dollar or build the next business is important.  How much more do you have to do in order to accomplish how much is perception of effort.  Perceived effort also matters in our previous conversation about power; how much more effort do you need to make in order to generate those 10 more watts, and is it worth it?

A simple measure of perceived effort is to break it down into three perceptions – comfortable, uncomfortable and breathless.  Perception is the key word here as there is no independent basis to measure those three descriptions of effort; you simply know how you feel while riding a specific segment at a certain pace.  You can gauge your improvement by riding the same segment over time and when what was causing you to become breathless is now only uncomfortable you know you have improved.

Measuring heart rate allows us to attach some data to those perceived feelings; we create ranges that mimic comfortable, uncomfortable and breathless.  For example, if your heart rate remains at or below 70% of your theoretical max you are likely to be in the comfortable range; when your heart rate between 71% and 85% of your theoretical maximum is your uncomfortable range, and anything above 85% will likely cause you to feel a little (or a lot) breathless.  Caution – these are ranges used for the purposes of this explanation and not exact; we normally do a simple physiological test in order to find the ranges that are more specific to the student/athlete.  Training within specific zones will lead to specific results, for example if we are working with a new student/athlete whose main interest is to shed some extra weight and body fat we would do most of our training below the uncomfortable range in order to help build their basic cardiovascular system.  If, on the other hand we were working with a cyclist interested in developing greater endurance and speed we would have them spend additional time in the “above 85%” category.  Everyone has different starting points and goals; the idea is to do the work in the ranges that provide the most specific benefit.  Using heart rate zones does now obviate the question “how are you feeling?”

Combing the question “how are you feeling” with the date from a heart rate monitor along with the data from a power meter is the best of all worlds.  It allows us to ask the question “how are you feeling?”, measure it against what the heart rate monitor is telling us and compare it to the power output.  We then go back and answer the original question which was “is the extra effort worth it”.

I can give you two specific examples related to my own cycling.

Example 1.  I do not use a power meter on my road bike although I use a Garmin 1000, a heart rate strap and Strava.  I know the power meter would be a benefit but the extra investment of money plus the extra analysis would take away some of the joy of riding outdoors therefore the answer to the question for me is “the extra effort is not worth it”.  I do power vs. heart rate and speed analysis on my indoor rides at Gavia where the focus and specificity of the training helps me tremendously and the data is easily captured without changing the focus of my ride.

Example 2.  As I trained for GFNY 2016 I analyzed my heart rate and perceived exertion vs. speed on the segment that drops us down into Haverstraw then along the water and back up to 9W.  I know that I can keep my heart rate at 132 – 136 bpm riding into the wind and maintain a speed of 32kph (it is relatively flat); I know that if I try to increase my speed to more than 35kph my heart rate will increase to 150.  Given that I need to conserve some energy for the upcoming climbs and the remaining 100km it doesn’t make sense to me to try to ride faster than 32 to 35kph at that point in the race, it isn’t worth the effort (actually I am not sure that I can ride faster!).  Faced with a similar choice in the park on the return I would make the extra effort and suffer the consequences knowing that I was almost home; it would be worth it to finish the race with a better time.

I hope this series of blogposts has been helpful to you.  Please feel free to visit to join our email list in order to continue receiving information designed to help you improve your cycling performance and enjoyment.

If you have any specific questions related to these blogposts and/or would like them all together in  eBook format, or might be interested in a participating in a cycling coaching and training program specific to your needs and goals please feel free to email me at and let me know how I can help.

Thanks for reading!

Teaching is my life’s purpose.  I have been teaching, coaching, training and inspiring cycling students of all levels since 2004.  From 2004 to 2006 I taught indoor cycling (I certified as an RPM teacher in 2006) and in 2006 I decided that in order to be a better indoor teacher I ought to begin riding outdoors.  That has been the most impactful, life-changing decision I have ever made.  Cycling has provided me with just about all the meaningful relationships I have in my life (I actually met my wife through cycling!) and has provided me with THE platform that allows me to accomplish my objective as a teacher/coach – to effectuate positive change in people’s lives.  I am one of the founders of Gavia Cycling, where I am involved in developing the coaching, training, classes and group rides we offer at our studio located in Englewood Cliffs as well as on the road.  I have been a member of Gruppo Sportivo Gran Fondo New York since 2011.

Vito Valentini, Human Potential Catalyst – DeRosa I Gavia Cycling


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