8 min read

Stuck in a Fitness Rut? Discover the Transformative Power of Racing

Racing is not only for the elites, those training for the Olympics, or obsessed people like me. Racing is for everyone.
Stuck in a Fitness Rut? Discover the Transformative Power of Racing
There's nothing like heading off into the crisp morning air surrounded by a pack of like-minded people!

Regular exercise promotes a natural elixir of feel-good hormones such as endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin. But more than that, it helps you find a healthy weight and supports your heart, brain, gut, and mental health.

However, only 28% of adult Americans meet the recommended aerobic exercise and muscle-building guidelines. Ironically, according to the 2023 CDC study, people in cities are doing better than those in rural areas!

The recommendations are simple but not easy:

  • Sit less, move more
  • Do full-body strength work two or more days a week
  • Get in 150-300 minutes per week of moderate aerobic activity or 75-150 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity

Why Don't We Exercise Enough?

We don't need a study to answer this question. I know I have my reasons for slacking off, and I bet you can relate to a few:

  • Perceived lack of time
  • Injured, or fear of getting injured
  • Boredom with the activity we used to enjoy
  • Fear of the unknown when learning a new activity
  • Lack of progress when seeking weight loss or fitness gains

In other words, we can all get stuck in a fitness rut.

My Recent Rut

It's hard to imagine that an athlete training for the Leadville Trail 100 can fall into a rut, but she can! An injury triggered mine: the now infamous dog bite incident.

The whole story is here, but in summary, I was bitten three times by a large dog while riding, sustained multiple wounds, and needed six stitches. The physical pain paled in comparison to the mental, for my love of riding long distances in rural areas was transforming into fear.

I started devising all kinds of ways to train without leaving cell service (even though I often carry a Garmin inReach).

I couldn't imagine how a long-distance ride of, say, 68 miles in the middle of nowhere wouldn't have an angry, bike-hating dog off-leash. I knew I didn't want to be alone for that.

There was one problem. I had already signed up for a race that fell ten days after the attack. It was 68 miles through the middle of nowhere, and I'd mostly be alone. There were probably some dogs along the way.

Now what?

The Power of the Race

Few things motivate me more than a deadline or a race. They both make me come alive and do the absolute best work that I am capable of. I admit that I look forward to racing more than deadlines.

Racing is not only for the elites, those training for the Olympics, or obsessed people like me.

Racing is for everyone.

Don't let the skin suits and square jaws at the front of the pack intimidate you. Racing is for everyone!

Here are some powerful benefits of participating in a race:

  • Development of new skills
  • Opportunity to practice commitment
  • Introduction to new people and places
  • Growth in your favorite sport or activity
  • The accomplishment of something special
  • Support of community and charitable causes

I have personally experienced each of these benefits from racing. As I considered scratching the race I signed up for, I knew I was leaving an opportunity for growth, practice, and accomplishment on the table. I'm generally not OK with that.

Gravista, Baby!

Gravista boasts plenty of Gucci gravel, but you still have to work for it! Photo by Tori Duhaime.

Gravista is a gravel bike race based in Buena Vista, Virginia. It traverses some of the region's most stunning gravel roads, including six miles on the famously scenic Blue Ridge Parkway. The race is extremely well organized for a new endeavor and offers two distance options.

Considering the state of my dog bites, I had three choices:

  1. Ride the 68-mile course I'd signed up for, practice my nutrition and fitness over long climbs, and dog bites be damned.
  2. Ride the 34-mile course and get something positive out of the event (and my registration fees!)
  3. Stay home and ponder my wounds.

Sixty-eight miles was likely too much on my injured calf, and the anxiety of riding alone that distance was very real.

But staying home was not an option. I envisioned how awful I'd feel that Saturday morning when I was scrolling through YouTube instead of prepping for the race, watching other people do something fun. Forget that.

The second option made perfect sense. I could still camp with my friends in a new area, practice my racing skills, and get some miles in. Plus, I'd had a helluva taper thanks to reduced time on the bike to let the wounds heal. I was ready to ride!

Your First Race

I've done a handful of running races and several bike races, but I'm by no means an old hat. I still have trouble sleeping the night before a race and roll up to every start line with butterflies. Initially very intimidated by racing, I now absolutely love it. 

My mom was my biggest fan. Here we are after my first race ever, the Baltimore City Marathon!

So, how can you get started?

Pick an activity that you'd like to learn or expand. Run, ride, triathlon—whatever floats your boat. There are also walking races!

Sign up for an achievable distance. This distance should be out of your comfort zone for the first race but not too far. This is a do as I say, not as I do. The first race I ever ran was a marathon!

Find a training plan. Yep. That's right. You have to train. There are many options:

  • Just decide to ride, run, or walk more, but schedule it on your calendar.
  • Find a training plan online. You can Google "Couch to Anything" and find a framework to follow. (Example: Hal Higdon's Novice 10K)
  • Check out the Training Peaks app. You can purchase plans of all kinds and track your progress.
  • Trainer Road is a rigorous, AI-powered training software for cycling and triathlon. I've never used it myself, but it's fairly popular, and they have a great podcast.
  • Hire a coach! I work with Cycle Strategies to keep me focused on my cycling training and recovery. Having a coach provides more than a training schedule; it also provides access to experience, greater accountability, and a shoulder to cry on.

Stay consistent! Stick to the training plan. You may need a break day if you feel overly tired and have lost interest in training. However, try putting on your workout clothes and hitting the trail or road. If you still feel too tired to train, at least you know you're not just being lazy.

Educate yourself! If you've picked something new to you, like riding in a group or racing a triathlon, be sure to spend some time learning from others. Many lessons learned are disguised as race reports on YouTube and there are podcasts galore.

Start the Race! Showing up to the start line is often more than half the battle. This is why I call this newsletter the Victory Lap. The race becomes the grand finale of all your training, commitment, and preparation. It's something to celebrate!

Finish the Race - or don't! This is a strange one, I know. For a million reasons, sometimes the finish line isn't in the cards. But just showing up and getting on course is worthy of a badge of honor. Give yourself a mental medal whether or not the race organizers give you a physical one.

The Perfect Fix

I'm so glad I chose Option 2 and raced for those 34 miles. The day was sunny and gorgeous. The course was well-marked and enjoyable but still pretty challenging, with significant climbing. The people were warm and friendly, and so were the dogs.

Perhaps most memorable were the Northern Lights that graced us Southerners with their stunning beauty as we camped the night before.

Sure, I had to do a few things to accommodate the still-healing dog bites. I very carefully dressed them and wrapped my calf tightly with a bandage. I was able to ride some pretty bumpy descents without my calf getting thrown around and causing too much pain.

I also practiced the mustard technique when the same leg cramped at the top of the last climb. As soon as I felt the twinge, I sucked down two packets of mustard, then some water. I may have wrapped that bandage a little too tight.

Lastly, even when I got turned around at the very end, I kept my cool and figured out the route back. I also saw a lady about to overtake me, and I pedaled for my life to hit the single track before she did and then rode that trail as if I were on my cushy mountain bike.

I crossed the finish line exhausted, a little wonky in the stomach, but with a big smile. I was proud of my finish, even though I didn't know if I'd placed.

It turns out I did! I was 3rd woman overall and first in my age group. My friends both placed in their categories, too! We didn't get medals, but rather super cool sombreros. I'll take it!

What are you waiting for?

So there you have it. The race yanked me squarely out of a rut that could've swallowed me whole. This is why I think racing is for everyone. It's impossible to know what you might get out of racing if you never try!

Look online for an event near you, or ask one of your friends for suggestions. Chances are, once you race, you'll never look back!

If you enjoyed this story and it made you go "hmmm," please forward it to a friend. For daily meanderings, follow me on X @vweeks and Instagram @victoria.weeks.