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  • Writer's pictureBrijesh Balakrishnan

The World Is My Gymnasium

Fifteen years of professional life at different geographies of the world, an unscheduled exercise routine and allowing myself to indulge in what my taste buds prefer, presented me a 3 digit figure on the weighing scale, apparel sizes that came along with multiple Xs and a lifestyle waiting to slip into a state of lethargy. Like most people, I didn’t miss an opportunity to make a new resolution at different points of time. Trying an impulsive gym membership, a new set of sports apparel and a starving-diet routine, life was expected to take a 180 degree turn, but reality hit back in matter of days, routine went for a toss and the stored fat cells heaved a sigh of relief.

The holiday break of 2012 December was different. Instead of plunging directly into yet another gym and diet regime, I decided to research and understand the science of food, body and metabolism. This month-long learning led me to a new exercise routine, food management and lifestyle. The results were amazing - in about 6 months I dropped fifteen kgs. Though a leaner, meaner, trendier me took shape, it offered me a new challenge - to learn the art of preserving, maintaining and continuing with this new shape. And there started the hunt for new exercise routines: swimming, running, trekking, gyming, hiking, racquet ball, badminton at different times of the year followed.

While these forms of exercise were interesting and brought in the everyday needed energy and enthusiasm at work, none of them were impactful enough to last for more than a year. And then in late 2015, I visited a cycle store in Mangalore to pick up a bicycle for my son. Checking out the models of the bicycle intrigued me enough to try out one as well. Given my history of losing interest after a few months with sports and electronic gadgets, the ‘home ministry’ wasn't very supportive. Also, any road beyond a gated boundary wall was deemed unsafe to ride on. But I thought I should be able to complete solo riding of at least 5 kms every week and went ahead and bought myself a cycle. At this time I didn't know of anyone in my friends circle who exercised on a cycle nor did I have any clue of any bicycle clubs around.

My first ride on the bicycle changed all of this. On that day’s early morning ride I crossed paths with a gang of passionate cyclists in front of the Mangalore City Corporation and they invited me to join them. That was the Mangalore Cycling Club or MACC. This presented me a new chapter in discovering myself. The non-intrusive time schedule of 5am - 7am made it possible for this routine to become a daily one. Weekends gave me the flexibility to explore more. Each ride was about a exploring a new route. Within the first few months - I explored Mangalore city more than I have done in a decade of living here. With my work taking me to other parts of the country and world, my cycle became a flight check-in companion. And at each city - new paths, routes and a new bunch of passionate friends became an inevitable part of my world.

The daily cycling routine gave me a new way form of exercise, a new meaning in work-life balance and a renewed focus on the task at hand. It was a progressive development in the world of cycling and its influence on my activities and in the people around.

  • The 5 am to 7 am daily grind: What started as a 20 kms ride on a flat terrain, soon led to exploring tougher elevations, climbs and rolling terrains. The cycling app Strava and its live segments with ranking of oneself in a particular segment gave me the initial motivation to keep improving my speed and performance. Snatching a few of the KOMs (King of Mountain) segment ranking from the veterans I was cycling with gave me the first milestones and the enhanced commitment to improvement.

  • The Long Long really Long rides: Weekends were to explore the world around - serene, scenic creations of mother Earth. What started as a painful 50 kms ride gradually grew to an easy 100 to 150 kms. With the thousands of calories burnt in these longrides – relishing the best food of every place became a guilt free affair! It was during these rides that we enjoyed the true bliss, greenery and fun in store for us.

  • The Audax, Brevet and the world of Randonneuring: The 19th century originated event that started with 12 Italian cyclists attempting a challenge of riding from Rome to Naples (a 230 kms stretch) later took the shape of the most famous amateur fixed distance and time challenge. The 200 kms, 13.5 hours Brevet was the one we first got exposed to. Having never done 200 kms at one go on a motor cycle or in a car, doing that on a bicycle was unbelievable. But the principle of breaking any task into simpler sub-tasks worked the magic.

  • From 200kms to the mighty 400kms and the dreaded 600kms: Having experienced the 2 ton version, we graduated to thinking of attempting the crazy 400kms. And when that was captured the next milestone was the 600kms in 40 hours challenge in Jan 2017. My wife still describes this attempt as madness exemplified. But in 28 hours of riding time and skipping thru the Saturday night – the 600 kms challenge was completed.

  • Touring: The dozen odd gang of cyclists were also like minded to lift the cycle and explore the beautiful terrains - be it be Apple farms in Kerala (unbelievable isn’t it! Well, apples grow in Kerala in a pristine place called Kanthallor near Munnar during the peak July rains), the Western Ghats, Aravalli range and the list goes on.

  • Bhutan – the land of happiness: A year of cycling, the confidence and endurance built over this time and the passion to explore new terrains took the like-minded bunch of eight cyclists to Bhutan. The conditions were like never seen before, elevations of 4,000 meters, sub-zero temperatures, steep climbs and down hills besides the scary valleys. The initial days were tough with acclimatization and oxygen deficiency, but the desire to challenge oneself led us to exploring the most beautiful land with the highest happiness index from Paro to Bhumtang, passing thru 7 mountain passes including the highest motorable peak point at Bhutan - Chelela pass.

Now beyond the 362 rides, 14,563 kms of distance and 1,48,453 meters of elevations I have clocked in year and half of cycling routine – it has taught me, inculcated in me and engraved in me 5 key learnings:

  1. To continue any passion along with all the ruffles and unpredictable schedule of the professional and personal life – select a time schedule that is least intrusive. The 5 to 7 am is one that I found the best.

  2. Riding on the heavy and dangerous highway roads in the tiniest, smallest and least powerful vehicle versus riding the same roads in a massive SUV is an affair of confidence. To enjoy the same on a cycle makes you learn the art of attacking tough situations even without being fully armed.

  3. If you don’t take care of yourself, you cannot take care of anyone else! Just like the simple instruction on using the oxygen mask from the airline staff prior to take off.

  4. To remain sharp, alert and attentive to face work and home stress, our mind and body needs exercise and dopamine releases. There isn’t any substitute to this.

  5. And above all this - the ability to inspire many more, like my own teams across India and US as well as my teenaged daughter who is balancing her studies as she prepares for her boards with this new found passion to take up cycling. 

So what are you waiting for? Pick your passion. Remember - time, age and place are no limits to explore, enjoy and relish the world around us.

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