Ridiculously Optimistic Old Lady Cyclist

O.k., so I exaggerate a bit. After all, I am only turning sixty. It’s just that I never imagined myself training to bike for a week across the state of Iowa (Ragbrai). I never thought of myself as athletic (that’s still open to discussion). And, most of all, I never thought it would feel sooooo good.

Aging is truly not for sissies and if you’re aging, you know what I mean. The first shocker was menopause, of course. I had no idea I would be so completely wiped out by hotflashes. “Power surges” just did not say it for me, more like God getting even with His mom by torching her hourly. That was followed, of course by body breakdowns including osteo-arthritis. Arthritis! Me! You had to be kidding.

When I finally had to throw in the racket and stop playing “senior tennis” cause my knees were making too much noise, I didn’t know what would come next to keep me happy and alive. I even questioned the point of keeping happy and alive. Fortunately, Minneapolis is number one in the world of cities set up for bikers and the bike trails were calling me, loud and clear. I spent last summer ecstatically pushing through and around hills, parks, lakes, and ponds on my two-wheeler.

Then I turned 59 and with that, realized that 60 would follow. How to celebrate? (Should I celebrate? Why celebrate?) Then this thought, the best of all, celebrate with a challenge to myself and the negative thoughts that insisted that I would be using a cane within two to three years (following knee surgery, I figured). Voila! Ragbrai, the cross Iowa bike ride in July that just happened to be passing through Carroll, the town of my birth, and Iowa City (more specifically, Coralville) the current home of my soon to turn 90 year old mother (her August birthday precedes mine by a month). I named my team “Marvel’s Marvels” after my Mom. (She’s the Marvel. We, her seven children, are simply marvelous because of her).

I have never shirked from my duty to turn social norms on their head when the opportunity arises, and here was another perfect opportunity. However, I have discovered (no surprise) that I am part of a herd of baby boomers committed to active aging, but that’s o.k. I really don’t have to be the first and certainly not the only. I’m not in a race. Not my style. More, I’m in a community celebrating, what else, community. Everyone welcomed!


6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Sharon Parker
    Apr 28, 2011 @ 15:18:29

    Yay for community and for active agers! I remember being downtown a few years ago, on my bicycle, and seeing a gray-haired woman on a bicycle come sailing gracefully around a corner, her hair and black sweater flying and fluttering gaily behind her, and I instantly made her my role model for how I want to be when I “grow up.” You, too, are an inspiration to your peers. Go, Mary, Go!


  2. maryaltermanwrites
    Apr 30, 2011 @ 14:22:30

    Thanks, Sharon, and you and Craig are an inspiration, too. I think of you often as I’m on a ride cause I know you are out there on your bikes, too.


  3. Paul Mollway
    Apr 30, 2011 @ 21:41:13

    I’m now 69 and started biking five years ago when my knee would no longer let me play tennis. I biked about 1600 miles the first year and have biked 6-8,000 miles per year since then. I’m doing my first RAGBRAI this year too. I did a 500-mile week-long ride in Wisconsin in 2009. My only advice is to ride a lot, but to work up to it slowly. By that, I mean start out with something like 10 miles, but keep increasing that by biking 2-3, then 3-4 times a week until you get up to 50 miles becoming a ‘normal’ ride. But to do RAGBRAI, I think you need more than that. You need to keep increasing your mileage until you do 100. Try to do that in June. And, since we’ll have to be biking about 70 miles a day for seven days. I’m going to try to increase my biking frequency from 3-4 times a week to 6-7 times of at least 50 miles a day for a week in late June. I think that if you can ride 100 miles in a day, and can bike 50 miles a day for seven days, then you’ll be pretty well set for RAGBRAI. I love biking and am really looking forward to my first ride across Iowa. Oh, one more thing . . . you’ll obviously need a decent bike and bike clothes.


    • maryaltermanwrites
      May 01, 2011 @ 03:02:13

      Thanks for taking the time to answer in such detail. sounds like you are quite the athlete. I’m inspired.

      I am up to thirty miles starting tomorrow twice a week. Don’t know if I’ll get up to a hundred and/or if I’ll be doing the entire seven days of Ragbrai, though I intend to be riding all week. Just likely not the entire seventy every day. This is all pretty new for me. But so far, I’m loving it and that’s what counts.

      Also, I have a good bike and I’m starting to put together some cool, new biking clothes (all high up on the priority list).


  4. Paul Mollway
    May 01, 2011 @ 03:57:16

    I think you’re doing great. After thirty miles twice a week for a week or two, go to three times a week and work your mileage up to 50. Yes a hundred miles sounds very intimidating, and it is always a chore, but I’ll bet that you’ll get there, if not before RAGBRAI, then sometime afterward. It’ll seem relatively easy after RAGBRAI. Good luck, and ride safely.


  5. Jane
    May 12, 2011 @ 22:33:07

    great stories, Mary…I enjoyed reading them…you bicycling adventures! Keep it up!


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