I have this recurring nightmare every year in the months leading up to the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic. I’m all lubed up, and so is my bike. I’m standing astraddle my steed at the starting line at dawn, when I realize—I have not trained for this ride, not one single solitary bit, and I am now as boned as a walrus penis.
Every year, that is, except this year. This spring is the first time in six years I haven’t had that nightmare, that I haven’t woken up grasping for my protein bars and electrolytes like I was just visited by the Ghost of Race Day Future. I have no idea why the nightmare has avoided me this year. But, if I had to venture a guess, I would suppose it’s because I haven’t technically ridden my bike at all this season. There’s no nightmare to have, because it turns out that NOT bike riding in preparation for the Iron Horse is the most comfortable way to do it!
But just because I haven’t actually ridden my bike since last year’s Iron Horse doesn’t mean I haven’t trained. Quite the contrary, my darling readers. I have simply been dancing the Argentine tango instead.
For all the other forms of crosstraining already out there, all the myriad options for training without riding a bicycle, I imagine you’re thinking, “I wish I had thought of that first!” Because I gotta tell you, tango is where it’s at. It’s less sweaty than running, it requires less snow than cross-country skiing, and it breaks fewer ribs, on average, than mixed martial arts.
Besides, road cycling is always such a solitary activity, especially once the first rolling hill separates the men with creative training regimens from the ones who have only been riding bicycles every day. One sails onward without close companionship for hours at a time, relying on the meditative rhythm of pedaling and the soothing natural sounds of frogs and birds and trucks giving one nowhere near the three feet of legally required clearance.
Dancing tango is the perfect way to both defy and complement that road-cycling experience. On the one hand, there’s music, so one’s not left to one’s own thoughts, which one finds really disconcerting after several hours of subsisting on sports water at high elevation. And on the other hand, one still gets the benefits of solitude.
You wouldn’t think so, right? I mean, any YouTube search of “tango videos” shows that most dancers, like bicyclists, also do not receive the three feet of legally required clearance. But the beautiful thing about tango is, you can enter your own flow state, where nothing else exists in the world, and you are finally at peace within yourself. That’s why the old saying goes, “It just takes one to tango.”
Plus, tango has many other benefits as outlined in articles on the internet. It reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s, improves balance and coordination, builds tolerance for instruments in the accordion family, and reveals any long-repressed appreciation for fine leather shoes. All this from what amounts to, essentially, walking! And every bit of it absolutely applicable to rocking the Iron Horse, probably.
Sure, there’s other people in the room that you have to put up with, just like there’s other people riding bikes on the road. But where other people waltz into tango thinking they’re going to learn cool moves they saw on Dancing with the Stars, I step onto the dance floor with the right attitude: I’m here to improve my butt.
For all the deep emotional/philosophical reasons that dancing tango is legitimate training for the Iron Horse, none are more applicable than toning those glutes. I learn as much in every class, when invariably the instructors instruct certain dancers—namely, the followers—to engage their buttocks.
Normally in life, I am a leader. And in social dances, men (of which I am one) are leaders. But for the sake of making it to Silverton, I decided to learn to follow.
And I now have a newfound respect for women having to listen to men all the time, because following is shockingly challenging. Squeezing your butt (without the use of hands, mind you) certainly helps, but there’s so many other aspects to dancing as a follow. For starters, did you know women dancers have to walk backwards? And there’s something there too about opening your heart, and caring for your fellow dancer, and trusting other human beings with your exposed toenails, and so on and so forth. But none of it is as daunting as going backwards.
Anyway, I got so engrossed in learning tango that it became the entirety of my Iron Horse training. And I’m feeling really good about my chances this weekend. That is, chances are good I’m following each and every one of you into Silverton. But at least I’ll be doing it backwards.
This Fool’s Gold originally appeared in The Durango Telegraph.