The Big Cycling Comeback Project 2008
*** In August 2011, I found out I have 'megaloblastic anaemia' and have probably had it for a long, long time. This is the result of a possibly hereditary malabsorption of B vitamins and results in red blood cells being deformed and oversized. Obviously, this has HUGE metabolic consequences! Treatment seems to have resulted in someone else's heart lungs and legs being grafted into my body. I feel loads better!
I wasn’t too bad at time-trials years ago. No national heroics or anything but just one of those club riders who wins the odd Open event every now and then. According to the East District Handbook, I’ve still got a 2-up course record in Suffolk and, as far as I know, still got the record at the now defunct 15km course at Horsford (which I took off Zak Carr!!).
But that was a long time and about 2 stone ago.
I got into cycling in about 1990. I think my car had got terminal problems and I couldn’t afford to fix it, so I got on my bike to get to work etc. We’ve all been there – you’re absolutely shattered after a couple of miles for a few weeks then, almost imperceptibly, it gets easier and easier. You get fitter surprisingly quickly when you’ve been a lazy sod most of your life.
I packed my job in and ended up doing a couple of cycle tours around Europe in 1992, 93. When I started University in 1994 I was regularly cycling to my mum’s in Leicester – just over 200km! Think I did it in 5 hours once, helped by a screaming tailwind. I remember cycling down to see a friend in Bognor Regis from Norwich without batting an eyelid. I’ve just been on multimap and discovered it’s 180 miles! Bloody hell.
At university I got talked into trying a bit of racing. Did a couple of road races but didn’t really like it – too much going on – although I got 11th in one. Did a time trial though and that was a different story – lonely just like touring, but faster! I liked the discipline immediately. I was spoilt a little though as I think I did a 23 something at my first ever 10 mile TT just mucking about. I was a lot fitter than I realised back then. That makes it sooo hard now when, first time out in march 2009, I did a long 27. After 4 months, I still hadn’t cracked 24 minutes! For a bit more background to this bizarre sport, have a look at the CYCLING TIME TRIALS WEBSITE
Being a layabout student I had nothing else to do but ride my bike all day. I had a couple of other uni mates who had bugger all else to do too so we spent loads of time out and about. Being a mile eater, my most pleasing ride was cracking 4 hours for the ton on a not terribly fast course in Essex. Having said that, I think Gethin Butler beat me by ten minutes but for a mere mortal like me it wasn’t a bad ride. Early in 1997, something apocalyptic happened. I had a few weeks of quite debilitating illness and never quite seemed to shake it off. From that point on, all my good rides were behind me and it got more and more soul destroying.
My GP was typically unhelpful.
“Doctor, I get ill every time I ride my bike.”
“Okay, so don’t ride your bike then! Next!”
Thing is, I did stop riding my bike and it didn’t get better, in fact my general health was appalling for years afterwards. To be honest, I rarely feel completely ‘well’ even now. I was in and out of clinics for nearly a year. It’s a parasite, no it’s ME. No, it’s Epstein-Barr, hold on, could be AIDS. Leukemia? Aha, it could be malaria…
I was still trying to race and train and still (looking back enviously now) still doing half decent rides. Blimey, I can only dream of being pissed off at 21 minutes for 10 miles now!
Then a clubmate came up with the idea that it could be something I was eating perhaps. Some sort of allergy or intolerance? I did some research and this seemed a distinct possibility. I immediately embarked on a diet of nothing but boiled rice, tuna and water and was staggered by the results. Within days I felt better and the heavy legged, achey muscle training rides vanished. I turned up for a ‘50’ a few weeks later feeling ok but clubmates were horrified by how much weight I’d lost. I must have looked bloody awful. I think I got down to 10 ½ stone (I’m 6’ 1” and quite broad) – that’s 3 stone lighter than I am now! I’d also lost all my power and form – it was a shit ride.
I had another crap ride on a fast 10 course the next week, despite feeling great. Then I had a disasterous ride with my usual 2-up partner and really let him down by packing at the halfway point. Time trialling had become a real chore. The local cycling journo at the time misunderstood my explanation of my dietery problems and reported me as having an ‘eating disorder’ in the paper that week. Anorexic Andy – brilliant, just brilliant. How could things get any worse!
I was still in and out of hospital although at my insistence I’d been referred to a dietician and specialist consultant who specialised in gastric problems. The latest theory was that I’d got Crohns disease, so I had the unique experience of having cameras and god knows what else shoved up my arse and in my mouth (not at the same time though), along with biopsies etc. Quite an experience though, watching a journey through your innards on a colour monitor, especially with the doctor doing a galloping horseracing style commentary as he went….
“The oesophagus now… HERE’S THE STOMACH! Round the bend… pyloric sphincter… AND INTO THE DUODENUM!”
Obviously I couldn’t laugh as I’d got a bloody hosepipe down my throat but it still tickles me.
"No Doctor, I don't know what's up with him either. Tell you what, let's just stick a massive camera up his jacksey for a laugh. With any luck he won't come back again... haw haw haw...."
I’d also graduated by this point and was facing the reality of life in the grown up world where you have to earn money and can’t spend all day arsing about on your bike. I’d got other interests by this point too – the wads of dosh from my new job meant I could resume my flying activities and one of the first things I did was buy a little microlight to bomb about in at weekends. Cycling got squeezed out. I didn’t have the time and I was a bit bored with it. Apart from the odd run to the pub etc, I hadn't really ridden for 11 years until the end of 2008.
They never did find out what was wrong with me but I’m still not 100%. The diet thing definitely helped but you can’t live on crud like rice and tuna for ever.
I’d had a couple of attempts to get back on my bike about 3 or 4 years later. Both times I’d been thwarted by a) the frustration of been so agonisingly slow and unfit after being an ‘athlete’ and b) within a few weeks I’d succumb to the mystery syndrome again. a) made it seem that I’d never be fit again – I had to keep going through my scrapbook to reassure myself that I actually had been once. B) generally scared me enough to pack it in immediately.
I put this down now to being just too damn busy. I was running my own business, partying, drinking, doing horrendous self-destructive hedonistic things to myself in places like Ibiza and various music festivals, - generally burning the candle at both ends etc. End of 2008 though I’d got a normal job once again and, although not quite heading for ‘pipe and slippers’ territory, my life seemed a lot quieter.
I felt that there was a lot of unfinished business from my few seasons of racing. I know I’ve not been gifted the right genes to be a seriously quick rider and probably was close to my genetic limit but I rarely felt I did a ride in any sort of real form – I was just a mile eater who did time trials with nothing but big miles in his legs. I never really got to find out how quick I could go. I can honestly say I only ever did one ride where I thought, ‘bloody hell, I’m going like a train!!’ and that was squandered on a poxy sporting club 10 during which I came within seconds of breaking one of Zak’s records. I woke up with a resting pulse of 38 that morning and did the ride of my life. Still don’t know what happened or how I did it. But that ride on a float day on a fast course? I still wonder…
I can also honestly say that I hardly ever rode on a really fast ‘drag strip’ course in nice weather either. I remember scrounging lifts to dual carriageways all over East Anglia and beyond but always ended up in the rain or a howling crosswind. I set my 25 pb on a really fast course where Gary Dighton did a 49 but my rear mech broke about 10 miles in and I was stuck in a ridiculously low gear for the rest of the ride. That was another one of those ‘if only’ and ‘I wonder’ sort of days. I think my seat pin broke on another drag strip somewhere as well… so you sort of get the picture.
Anyway, I made up my mind towards the end of October 2008. I set myself the goal of a sub 24 minute 10 by the summer of 2009 and to aim at a much faster 10 in 2010. Probably not my best distance but I’m really not sure I have motivation or attention span to do anything longer. I have a faster ride than my old PB within me – that much I’m certain of…
Early November 2008
Got my old training bike out of the loft and set about blowing the cobwebs off it. It was in surprisingly good nick after spending 11 years up there although 11 years appears to be a long time in cycling - all the spares I needed for it kept appearing under ‘retro’ or ‘vintage’ on Ebay. Ah well. Most of my gear still fitted, except the jacket which, er, must have shrunk or something….
Right then – first ride….
I’ve never let myself get particularly ‘unfit’. I swim a couple of miles a week, plus I have a pair of totally doolally Siberian Huskies and it’s not uncommon to walk 12 plus miles with them. Still, the first time out was a bit humbling – I grovelled around a former 90 minute training route in over two and a half hours. Legs etc were fine actually but, my God, my backside was sore.
Andy refused to accept that he'd let himself go a bit....
I really enjoyed myself, my head full of past glories and personal bests and I vowed to keep it up. I decided I’d join a club again and definitely have a bash at a couple of 10’s in the summer. I aimed for my swimming as usual (at least until the clocks changed), a big ride on Saturday (when my wife Sue is at work) and the odd short ride here and there if I felt like it. Just like in the old days I got into the habit of taking my resting pulse every morning. First day – 65 beats per min.
I did have the odd day when I didn’t fancy it or the legs felt a bit heavy so just packed it in and went home. Everything was great – over the weeks I found my leg strength increasing and my cruising gear got slowly higher and higher, very encouraging. I was still having to get off and stretch every 45 mins or so though because my arse was killing me, although that seemed to be getting easier too.
Then disaster. I decided to attempt a really nice 80 miler I used to do in the ‘old days’. I’d only been a maximum of 45 miles since getting back on so it was a bit of a jump. It was much too far for me – the sight of me staggering into Steve’s burger van just outside Bungay and gasping ‘cheeseburger… please…’ to the bewildered owner must have been pretty comical.
Resting pulse closer to 60 – woohoo!
My 12 year old Look pedals bit the dust. One of the bearings let go and the whole right pedal popped off still attached to my foot. Fortunately, I wasn’t far from home. On closer inspection I also reluctantly decided my faithful Sidi Techno’s had seen better days too. I bought these second-hand in 1996 so they didn’t owe me anything but the plastic & stitching was disintegrating rapidly. Ebay to the rescue – a pair of Look Keo’s dead cheap and a set of size nine shoes even cheaper. Excellent.
New shoes, new cleats, new pedals. God, it took me ages to get everything set up to feel right. Left ankle started playing up, then right knee… I’m sure my right calf never used to brush the bottle cage like that… Bloody hell, how frustrating. The resting pulse was already hovering just below 60 though. Blimey, it was working!
Resting pulse down to the high 50’s and I still felt really healthy. I’d barely had my heart rate over 130 in the last two months and so was still content to take it nice and easy. January the 4th saw me start my new job. Lovely new management position – no charging round the workshop or climbing over stuff at grubby, windswept factories in the back of beyond. No million hour weeks or 600 mile round trip site visits. Nice and chilled. Easy on the legs too…
It was a bit too far for my feeble legs at that time and too dark to consider commuting by bike. I’ve always had serious reservations about cycling at night – I ride a motorbike and I won’t even use that when it’s dark! It had to be done though; there was no other way I could get the miles in so again I turned to Ebay for the biggest, baddest, brightest set of lights I could find. Two mega bright LED’s for the back and a twin headlamp 12v battery powered job for the front, the bulbs of which quickly got upgraded to 10w halogens. Head torch just for good measure and, tada, I now looked like a UFO! (UnFit Object).
Within 5 mins of setting off on my first night training ride, a ‘youth’ wobbled in front of me on a zebra crossing and nearly knocked me off. “Sorry mate, didn’t see you…”
What?? Bright yellow bike, yellow tyres, dressed head to toe in Scotchlite, fluorescent sash and about a kilowatt’s worth of lights on board? This was worrying. However, the rest of the ride and subsequent rides all passed without incident. Except for the one pitch black, crystal clear evening when, looking up I could see the whole Milky Way up there. Hadn’t seen it that clearly for years, cor, fantastic…. Thump. Picking myself off the grass verge I saw the funny side but quickly realised I’d bloody hurt myself and rode home grumpily. Bloody idiot.
I was actually starting to feel pretty fit and like a ‘proper’ cyclist again so decided it was time to commence Phase II – start putting a Time Trial bike together.
Again, Ebay was perfect. Bargains galore, just so long as you’re not bothered about all the trendy stuff. Spent £300 quid on a really nice second-hand carbon / aluminium aero TT frame and a mega set of nice but slightly ‘retro’ carbon aero wheels for £150. I’ve always maintained that the two most drag-beating things on a bike are a) body position and b) wheels, in that order, so considered the dosh well spent. The frame was a perfect fit and would allow a lovely slick position.
Over the next few weeks I sourced the odd component and the TT bike was nearly finished. It only cost me 600 odd quid. Problem was, I had no idea how I was going to ride the bloody thing – it was just sooo unnatural, it felt like I was upside down almost and was as twitchy as hell. Ah well, something else to get used to.
Friday 23rd Jan
Had a bit of a surprise. After taking the previous evening off (went to the pub instead – sort of training, it’s a 15 minute walk!), was astonished to find my resting pulse that morning was 51. Blimey. For a fraction of a second the monitor flicked onto 50 then back to 51. Bloody hell. I then got so excited it shot past 60 and I gave up. Was that real? Was it playing up? Perhaps it had lost the signal for a beat or two?
Saturday 24th Jan
I woke up and my legs felt like they were bursting with energy so went out and had my first tits-out ride on the big ring. Had promised myself I wouldn’t do this until the spring but I blasted round the old Somerleyton 10 course to see what would happen. Staggered to find I hadn’t even averaged 20mph. That was really demotivating but I really enjoyed it and it felt fast to me.
The next day the weather was appalling so I opted for an hour on the turbo. Again, I hadn’t done a proper turbo session for years and always used to hate it, so decided to keep it short and sweet. It was hard work – I had to really hang on for the second 20 mins. I didn’t even make the last one. Bit of a reality check again and I promised to stop demotivating myself like this. For some stupid reason I thought I’d jump back on the bike and it’s all come back within weeks. God, it’s so up and down this cycling lark.
Trained at night as normal that week. Even met a fellow cyclist out training! Nice to know I wasn’t the only nutter. I was spinning at my own ploddy pace and he came flying past with a friendly but breathless ‘Ello mate’. He sprinted impressively over the small hill by Somerleyton Hall and left me feeling as if my head had been kicked in. Never mind.
Bloody hell. Took an afternoon off work ‘cos it was such a nice day. Got the bike out but within 10 minutes I was lying on my arse in the middle of the A143. Car just pulled out on me and clattered me clean off. Bike was a distinctly odd shape and clearly written off. Worse still, ouch, I’d bloody hurt myself and was dripping blood from somewhere. And, ouch, my bloody knee hurt when I stood up…
I know shock is a funny thing but the woman who knocked me off seemed nothing but inconvenienced by my plight. No, she wouldn’t call the police. No, she would give me her insurance details. No, my bike wasn’t damaged, it was ‘just a scratch’. No, I wasn’t injured and no, she wouldn’t give me a lift home. She buggered off as quickly as she possibly could. I got her name and reg number though, that’d do.
But I had got a witness who saw the whole thing and he was kind enough to take me home.
I ended up in A & E being treated for cuts etc and a worsening case of whiplash. I worried that the big comeback was dead in the water – besides which my bike was now scrap and I’d got nothing to train on anyway. I consoled myself with seeking out the biggest, baddest ambulance chasing firm of bloodsucking lawyer bastards I could find and leave it to them.
It was over a month before I got back on my bike properly. I went to Halfords and bought one of their off the peg cheapies for 300 quid as a bit of a stop gap. Credit where credit’s due though, it’s actually turned out to be quite a nice bit of kit and I’m still riding it now. However, my neck was still playing me up. Actually, it’s bloody hurting now as I write this and it’s July. Bloody motorists.
I rode one of those ‘hardrider’ type events at the end of March to see how things were going. Bloody hell. As usual it was cold and raining. I crept in at just under 28 minutes and was devastated. I did a 21 round there in 1996. The guys I used to mix it with in the ‘old days’ were up there with 21’s and 22’s. But it was nice to see some of the old faces again. I was down to ride a ‘fast’ course on Good Friday but DNS’ed on the day. It just wasn’t worth going through all that just to demotivate myself even further.
It’s about at this point it’s easy to succumb to the ‘I’m obviously not training hard enough’ scenario and then go out and ride yourself into the ground and make yourself ill for the rest of the season. I was only doing about 5-6 hours a week of low intensity stuff after all. My old mate Angus had some encouraging words after my disappointment at the 10 though. “Anyone who gets round here under half an hour is doing okay,” he’d said kindly. Of course, he was right. I mean, bloody hell, it wasn’t as if I’d come last or anything. I was expecting far too much of myself.
I still was doing what used to be called ‘base’ training but it’s probably called something really trendy now. That 10 was only the 2nd time I’d caned myself since getting back on the bike. I hatched a bit of a plan but it would require a lot of willpower.
Okay, I wasn’t fit enough. And everyone knows you can’t race AND train at the same time. So I decided to stick to the base training right up until the end of June, then have a bit of a rest then focus everything down into speedwork and time trials and see what happened. I’d chuck in the odd club 10 to see how things were going though. By the end of the season I would be getting the best out of the little training I’d done hopefully and achieve my 23 minute ‘10’.
Did a club 10 and did a mid 25 min time - and suffered. Two weeks later on the same course I blew myself to pieces before I’d even got to the turn but still did a 24:07. I caught my minute man and another rider! That was very pleasing – for the first 3 miles I was awesome, you should have seen me! The next week I was just short of 25 mins on a rolling course in a howling wind – subjectively, that was the best ride I’d done yet. It felt like the power was coming and it was the first time I actually felt like a tester again.
Middle of June
I started feeling a bit odd. A definite blip with my resting pulse should have given the game away really but I shrugged it off as probably caning the red wine a bit too much that week. I turned up to ride the same course as the previous week but just couldn’t warm up. I couldn’t shake a stingy feeling from my legs and I had no strength. Stupidly, I started but gave up after a mile or two. I had a sniffle and sore throat for day or two and that weekend I went out for a really steady ride. I span the strange stingy feeling off after 40 mins or so and then didn’t feel too bad. Just as well – I’d entered an Open event on a quickish 10 course and, although I was still not remotely race fit, I was quietly confident I’d get my 23 something that evening.
Warm up was strange again on the day. The resting pulse blip was continuing and I found another convenient excuse for it rather than the obvious one. Yes, yes, I know I shouldn’t have ridden but I was aware that this’d be the second Open I’d have scrubbed from in a row and would look a bit wimpy. Besides off behind me was my old 2-up mate Alan and I hadn’t seen him for years.
I felt crap from the off. My legs felt almost cramped up and I felt so weak. Alan caught and passed me in no time (I always knew he would but I was hoping it’d be a bit closer to the turn!). It was windy and I didn’t seem to be able to do anything. I was at the turn in 14 minutes and pretty much gave up. I rode back half-heartedly but had a bit of a ‘purple patch’ with about a mile to go and really went for it, especially when I realised a 23 minuter was on! I crossed the line in 24:20, bloody furious I’d pretty much sat up for 3 miles. That evening as I sat enjoying a glass or five of red wine with Sue, I was aware my legs were as sore as hell. Abnormally so. I felt fine in the morning so I rode to work but felt bloody awful by mid-afternoon. I nearly had to push the bike over the bridge at St Olaves on the way home as I wasn’t strong enough to ride over it.
The next day (Friday) I was mega ill and I missed the day at work. On Saturday, I dutifully took the doggies out for a walk and towards the end I was pretty much crippled. On Sunday I could barely walk and on Monday Sue ordered me to go to the docs. Despite my enthusiasm, the doc refused to diagnose me with Pig Flu, putting my joint and muscle pains down to some random virus. I missed most of the next week at work, went in for a couple of days the following week, only for the ‘virus’ to do a second lap and cause me to miss another day. I went to work today and have felt a little better although not sure when I’ll be back on the bike though.
I was looking to have a bit of a rest early in July but this is ridiculous!
Feeling much better. Steady spin on the turbo at last.
Felt healthier than I have done in weeks. Resting pulse finally bottomed out so I went for an awesome smash up on the turbo. Felt nice and fresh but very flat. Great recovery though. Hallelujah!! Back in business...
Well, that’s it, 2009 season over. Scraped a 22:39 in the end which is considerably better than I was expecting but I think I could have improved on that. Never mind.
My personal ‘debrief ‘ for the season is along the lines of ‘made the best of a bad job.’ I mean, bit of an overweight, unfit lump in November when I started, then I got knocked off in Feb and missed a month, then missed nearly another month mid-season with the flu, then getting a spot of the 'old trouble' for the remainder of the season. I'm extremely concerned that the same syndrome that ruined my cycling first time round resurfaced in the summer as soon as I tried to ramp up my training to a half useful level. It's a real worry but I'm hoping I may have found the answer after all these years and it may be as simple as a vitamin deficiency.
I’ve learned a few lessons – or rather ‘relearned’ as it’s stuff I already knew from last time around. Don’t know why I expected it to be any different this time!
· Don’t get hung up on ‘training’. Just enjoy riding the bike.
· Don’t get too hung up on training levels. Do what you feel like doing.
· Listen to your body. Resting heart rate is the ultimate guide to whether or not you’re over or under doing it. Push yourself every now and then but allow plenty of time to recover.
· Stay away from high intensity training. I mean well away! This has always emptied the tank for me dramatically. I can go all day up to 135 bpm but beyond that takes a disproportionate toll on my body. I think I may have issues with my ability to recover, I always have. The only consolation is that so did Chris Boardman!
· Taking a day or two off before a race doesn’t work, it actually takes the edge off your ride.
· ‘A Little Often’ is considerable better than ‘A Lot Every Now And Then’. In the same way, Less is often More as the saying goes.
· (You have to say this like Darth Vader) “Never under-estimate the Power of a Recovery Ride…”
Subjectively, did a couple of decent rides this season but I just wasn’t fit enough which is to be expected really. Some consistency and dedication over the winter should change that and I’m confident I can get into the 21’s fairly easily, even 20’s.
I also need to be racing more regularly as there’s nothing like racing to bring your form and fitness on. That almost certainly includes doing a few 25's.
Goals for 2010:
A sub 21:30 '10'
A sub hour ride in my FIRST attempt at a '25'
A sub 55:00 '25'
Bring on 2010!
Take a last look at Lardy Boy here. I'll be 10kgs lighter next season...
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