L’Étape, Oh Crap! – Part 2: Just Like Starting Over

Guest post from my husband Gareth. He's writing monthly training updates as he heads towards his Étape du Tour crazy Alpine cycling adventure.

Onward, G!


I've always been really lucky with my health but last year I got sick and it pretty much kept me off the bike from July until New Year. When I tentatively hopped back on the spinning bike to assess the damage I found it fairly depressing. Half an hour in, I was dripping sweat and puffing like an old train.

A trial run on the real bike wasn't much better, ending with thigh cramps five miles from home. I'd gone from a fairly competent and fit road cyclist to someone who was struggling to ride five miles without stopping for a breather!

I was already feeling pretty bad then I read this warning about the level of preparation required for the Etape:

"Try to imagine 2500 cyclists, that’s like an entire UK Sportive not making the finish line – it can be for various reasons – they get swept up by the Sag wagon because they are not fast enough or they physically just cant make it – but as I came up Ventoux in 2009 and the Tourmalet last year, the roadside was littered with bodies of people walking; lying in gutters asleep; people seeking shade; people who had just fallen off their bikes with exhaustion.

It may not be what you want to hear, but so many people are ill-prepared for the difficulty of the Etape or they're simply not fast enough to avoid the Sag Wagon – the Sag is a series of coaches filled with Gendarmes and they hold no mercy for those deemed too slow. If that’s you, you get dumped off your bike, it gets chucked in the back of the truck and you have quite possibly the most depressing coach ride of your life…"


There are around 10,000 cyclists in the Etape so 25% won't finish? Cue moaning to Shauna: "Bloody hell… how am I going to finish this thing, I can't even ride for 30 minutes on the flat without stopping. What's the point?"

Around the same time I was watching the American version of The Biggest Loser. One of the contestants is Emily, is a former champion weightlifter. For various reasons she gained weight and is now learning how to lose the pounds and deal with the issues which led to her weight gain.

During the episode Emily was not happy with her weigh-in result. She was struggling to come to terms with the fact that she used to lift enormous amounts of weight and now she could only lift relatively baby weights. She started to cry up there on the scale, until the brilliantly crabbit Bob Harper gave her a piece of his mind!

I'm paraphrasing but he pretty much said, "I don't care what you were or what you used to do. I don't care what anyone else thinks! All that matters is where you are now so get on with it!"

(Or as Garth Algar would tell you, "live in the now!")


The man is wise

Emily and Bob's exchange really struck a chord as I realised I was in one of those strangely exhilarating situations where you only have two choices:

  1. Try your hardest and give it a red hot go, or
  2. Give up!

Has to be Choice #1 really.

There really is no point beating yourself up for the situation you find yourself in. Nothing will change; you'll still be where you are.

So whilst fighting every fibre of my Scottish "snatching defeat from the jaws of victory" being, I experienced a rare bout of positivity. At that moment I couldn't ride 70 miles or batter through a Sufferfest training video. So what. When I got back into cycling twelve years ago I was 30 kilos (65lb) overweight, still smoked and after riding four miles my legs were shaking so much I couldn't get up the stairs! It's all relative.

Lo and behold, we're midway through February and things are getting easier. I can now ride the spinning bike for an intense hour. I still sweat and puff but it feels much better. I'm back to completing Sufferfests and at my pre-Etape medical check last week the doc told me my resting heartrate was nice and slow. It's still a bit too cold and icy here to ride outside regularly but I'm feeling positive and am looking forward to getting my fitness back and ramping up my training for the race.

I'll sign off with a nod to the moral message segment at the end of He-Man and leave it to the brilliant Scott Walker and his brothers to say,"Make it easy on yourself". Au revoir!


19 thoughts on “L’Étape, Oh Crap! – Part 2: Just Like Starting Over

  1. I love this post and completely agree.
    The past is past. The future isn’t here, yet. But there’s a lot of things we can do with the present.
    Plus, the fact that you willingly hop on a bike makes me ooze with admiration.
    That’s the kind of self inflicted torture I’m not ready for yet, so major kudos.

  2. You are right! Trying your hardest really is the best option if you’re going to try at all 🙂

    Glad it’s getting easier!

  3. Yeah, go Dr G!.

    I was in the same position 6 months ago, and had the choice of buckling down and just getting on with my training, or sitting around acting like a whiney cry-baby and feeling sorry for myself. Because you know, I USED to be fit and strong and lift heavy things, do a billion pushups and run 5k like it was nothing…

    Luckily I chose Door #1 and I’ve made massive improvements. I’m not quite back to my best, but at least it’s in sight now.

  4. I hear you on the dodgy knee… I have had 5 knee surgeries and am now awaiting my second ACL reconstruction. It is defeating to be unable to do things you love to do, it is easy to just sit on your bottom and say you can’t… believe me I had a nice rebound weight gain after I re-injured! I found that if once I built up my muscles around my knee I have been able to do things again, but I am not sure at what risk…
    Good for you for getting back on the bike! I can also relate to that feeling, I did a half marathon a few years back, and can barely run for 7 min in bootcamp… sad really! Wish you well, and glad you are back!!

  5. I love this post, I needed to hear that. I’ve been really struggling with going back to my pump classes, because I can lift nothing and still about die, whereas I used to be so much stronger. Thanks for the motivation!

  6. Dammit I hate it that there is only one choice! But it’s true. Also shattered that the music won’t play here in oz, stupid copyright. Off to look it up on youtube now 🙂 Allez allez allez Gareth!!!

  7. I’m in a similar spot right now, Dr. G. Although I was never in fabulous cycling shape, I was able to easily ride 10 miles last May and now I’m struggling to ride 1/3 of that and too terrified to get on the real bike (I’m hiding in the gym on the stationary one). I’ve registered for the same event I did last year – Tour de Cure for diabetes – and I simply must get out there and face my fear. Thanks for the kick in the backside!

    (Also, Hi Shauna!!!)

  8. Thank you for sharing this journey with us. I also saw the Biggest Loser/Bob and Emily moment, and found it very real. What’s the point, if I can’t do it how I used to? But that was her breakthrough moment, and I was inspired. It doesn’t matter what percentage won’t make it up the mountain. It only matters that you have chosen sufferfests and blogging and doctor checkups—good for you! Thanks for a thoughtful and entertaining post.

  9. That was hilarious! Who knew the amazing Dietgirl was married to an equally amazing and brilliant writer like Dr. G!!??
    Glad the stamina is returning. Garth is indeed a very wise man! Just take out the E from Gareth and you have Garth!! I figure that out all on my own. The brilliance must be catching!

  10. Everyone has to face this moment at some stage, whether it be from surgery, illness, childbirth or just … losing the fitness groove for while. It really is depressing to get in the gym and day after day be reminded of what you used to be able to do (and can’t now), BUT it only takes a few weeks before the improvement starts to show. If you have been fit it does not take as long to get back there because your body ‘remembers’ how to do it. It seems unlikely at first, but it really is true. 😀 Looking forward to updates, that course sounds brutal! Are you mad?

  11. one of my beloved yoga instructors used to say – you don’t start over, you begin again from where you are.

    And that is true, because we have the positioning and knowledge. We never again start from scratch.

    I have had surgeries and secondary conditions that have given me stalls and restarts several times. I identify with what you wrote.

    Good post.

  12. “There really is no point beating yourself up for the situation you find yourself in. Nothing will change; you’ll still be where you are.” Are you sure? Flogging feels so good when you’re done! LOL Oh, Shauna…I so admire your willingness to go through life without blinders. Even in your most hard-on-yourself moments, at least here on your blog, you shine a light on the problem, you pick yourself up and (it’s OK to whine a bit) get back to it. Show that bike who’s boss! xoxo

  13. Ah, a great post! I am just about to face the gym again after surgery so it’s encouraging to read this. Part of the struggle is always mental, right, and you’ve overcome that part!

    Bike on, Dr. G!

  14. I am such a dufus! I looked at the first pic and thought – that doesn’t look like Dr. G … wait a minute! That’s John Lennon! Of course, just like starting over.

  15. Hi Dr G,

    Good to read your post and hear of your progress. A wise move to use Shauna’s blog as a reflection and accountability tool. Perhaps you need to consider having your own blog 😉 I’m looking forward to reading your next guest post.

  16. Hi everybody, thanks for the nice comments again. I always think that the two best motivators are fear and not looking like a numpty. Hopefully the combination will keep me going!

    Don’t know about having my own blog, I’m not prolific enough! Shauna’s the real writer in this relationship, she’s the cranky artistic one!

  17. You’re an inspiration, Dr G. And I love the “Live in the now” Garth quote.

    The other day I ran (and struggled) 15 kilometres. I had to stop and rest at my halfway turnaround point for a couple of minutes in lieu of keeling over. I was basically cursing myself and freaking out that I had to stop. I’ve got a half marathon coming up and don’t feel fit enough.

    When I started running again, I passed this old bloke who I had seen walking with great effort about half an hour earlier. He was hunched over and pretty much Quasimodo (I think he may have had a stroke as he seemed partly paralysed). He had the biggest smile on his face and was shouting something encouraging to me, with his thumbs up, etc.

    Either that or he was calling me a dickhead (while smiling).

    Who knows, I was wearing earphones!

    Anyway, his struggle and seeming positivity gave me new energy and I kept on running with vim.

    Not sure how this ties in – in fact, it doesn’t – but don’t give up, you’ll get there! And don’t worry about the mop up coach.

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