I admit that only a few months ago I did not have the physical energy required for cycling long distances. Just getting out on my bike required a huge mental effort. Every time I went out and came back, I never seemed to improve and there were very few rewards. Normally, after a little break of a few months, it’d take me three, four or at most five rides before my fitness level returned to ‘normal’. That was when I was in my twenties. But last summer I turned 31. I’d gone out regularly more than a dozen times and I was still finding it rather difficult. I guess that’s what it means to be in your thirties!
I no longer had that lively spring in my pedalling stroke. You know the feeling when the road in front of you starts to ramp up, and you jump off the saddle and dance on those pedals a bit like Marco Pantani climbing in the French Alps? Well that feeling had completely vanished. Hell, even my own sweat reaked of somebody else. Realising this only made me more determined – I wasn’t going to permit myself turn into yet another fat bastard quite so easily!
If you’ve read one of the recent articles “How to get back into cycling.”, you’ll know that I’m doing just that. I had a big break from road cycling this year. My on-road training was initially interrupted by a lingering iliotibial band injury and further stifled by a bout of major chronic depression. Well enough about that already.
I’m pleased to annouce that after six weeks of consistent training, I can finally say that my metabolism appears to be changing. I’ve lost at least 2kg. I’m absolutely certain that my leg muscles have grown and strengthened while some fat has also disappeared. That goes some way to explaining why I haven’t lost more than 2 or 3kg recently (muscle has a higher density than fat).
All I can say is that it was damn hard to keep motivating myself to go out when I knew I wasn’t fit. Persistence is the key. Had I never cycled before, I am sure I would have given up already. But from prior experience I know that -eventually- you reach what I call “the zone”. Whenever you’re in the zone, you feel alive. You’re satisfied that you’ve done the last ride and looking forward to the next one. On the other hand, whenever you’re out of the zone, you feel guilty for not doing enough. You procrastinate and make up excuses. Yes I definitely underestimated the difficulty of getting back into the zone in my thirties.
Some time last week, I went on the same old short ride that I’d been doing 3-5 times per week (only 16km, but half of it uphill) and noted one important change. I felt the desire to go further the very next day. Without realising it, that was a very important stage I’d reached. I call it: “getting my motivation back”. I was finally beyond the hardest part. Exercise had suddenly become an addiction not a chore!
Then, the day before yesterday, for the first time this season, my stomach actually grumbled after I came back from my ride. It wasn’t painful. In fact I smiled, because it means I know my body is having to burn its own fat that it’s stored up. That in turn means that I’m losing weight. I don’t need a scale to tell me that. Eventually, I hope to get back where I was before… being able to cycle up to 80-100km a day and also looking forward to larger food portions!
You see, it’s all a matter of energy input and energy output. Burn more calories than you consume, and there is a net loss. Your body must consume its own fuel. I have been watching what I’ve been eating in the last few months, but I’m convinced that diets alone simply don’t work. Whenever you return to eating as you did before, you end up putting all the weight back on AND MORE! So instead of dieting, I’ve simply cut down on a few things, like so:
I think twice before adding that second slice of edam cheese to my toasted sandwiches for instance. When I’m full, I stop eating. Period. No exceptions. If I’m still hungry immediately after finishing my plate of food, then I go back and get something else to eat. It’s not the first piece of chocolate marble cake that makes you fat, it’s gobbling down a second, third or fourth slice that does it.
I am basically at the point where the constant satisfaction I get from having a healthy body is enough to surpass the temporarily good feeling of eating whatever I wanted. This is hard for me because when I was training 500km a week or more, I could literally eat whatever I wanted and I still remained a skinny person.
Today was another good day for me. My glycogen stores were finally depleted. How do I know this? I completely ran out of energy half way through a 75km ride. The thought of cycling 30km home without food was daunting to say the least. So I stopped off for a ham and cheese roll and an Aquarius drink. This is good news because it means that at least some of the belly fat would have been consumed. Before this point, I didn’t feel the need to carry any energy bars or gels [at least not this year]. From now on, it looks like I’ll have to revert to using them again.
It’s also the first day this year that I can say that my legs need a rest. I returned home eight hours ago and I can still feel those Lactic acid after-effects. That ‘urge to surge’ has finally returned!