Guest post from my husband Gareth. He's writing monthly training updates as he heads towards his Étape du Tour crazy Alpine cycling adventure.
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!")
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:
- Try your hardest and give it a red hot go, or
- 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!