So when do you qualify as a Middle Aged Man In Lycra, or MAMIL as it is otherwise known? 3 years ago at the ripe age of 31 I was on a family holiday in Wales staying at a caravan park with our friends, when one morning Gary (yes my friend is also called Gary, just spelt differently!) asked if I would like to join him on a 17 mile bike ride. Saddling up on his spare, fairly light weight mountain bike (although a tractor in comparison to his Giant hybrid alucarbon road bike), we set off around the picturesque mid Wales area of Tywyn. The further inland we travelled the more mountainous the landscape became. “You see that mountain over there” Gary pointed out matter of factly, “we are going to cycle around it”. My reply was a nonchalant “sounds good”, although I’m not so sure the delivery quite met up to its intention, I was just glad he said ‘around’ rather than ‘over’. We averaged 13mph over, what I thought at the time, was a hilly route, and when we got back I could barely lift my legs up the steps back into our caravan. I’m not afraid to say, I was beat, no I was wiped out! What I can also say, with some pride, is an addiction was born from that ride, a love affair, I was well and truly bitten by that bug (maybe that’s why I could barely move my legs, some allergy to a rare, low altitude Welsh mountain bug?). All I knew is that I had to dust off my 8 year old mountain bike and find another little adventure as soon as I possibly could.
Before cycling I was always fairly into sport. At school I played football, after school I played football, and of a weekend I played football. I was never really any good, I had the occasional good spell, scored a couple of goals but as I approached late teens I found myself more on the bench than off it. Number 12 was my number. I left school after my GCSE’s to start an apprenticeship. In terms of fitness, I was fast approaching the opposite end of the scale. I was being paid and the company I worked for had a subsidised canteen. Number 12 was definitely my number and at 5ft 7 my BMI said ‘get off the bench’. I played a bit of 5-a-side football for a few years but as there was no bench I just hung up my boots and got a gym membership. This was the closest I came to being ‘fit’, although I was more interested in achieving some athletic shape than actually getting fit, and cardio was not my thing. As I also started studying on top of working full time this soon went to the way side, or back to the waist side.
After a few years of studying I flirted with football again, but got injured, a lot! For no reason either, just running, or turning. No physical contact. The air tackled me and kept me out of action for a week or so. I was back to number 12 and fast approaching 30. Now don’t get me wrong, I haven’t gone from 30 to 11 stone from cycling, those guys are amazing. I am just trying to explain where my cycling started and at what fitness level I was at. What I found with cycling is that it ticked all the boxes, weight loss, fitness and so far (touch wood) I haven’t got injured from it.
So back to cycling. Fully recovered I fixed up my mountain bike and went on a couple of rides back home. Trouble was, it was September and my ‘Tour of Wales’ was in glorious August sunshine but now it was getting colder and wetter and I was seriously fair weather. The next 6 months was a fast learning experience in terms of road cycling. The gear, the types of bikes, the etiquette of the road and the sport in general. I watched my first Tour de France in 2011 where an Australian chap called Cadel Evans won it, and some English bloke crashed out with a broken collar bone. I was hooked. I couldn’t believe I had missed out on such an accessible (yet a little expensive) sport. After a 40 page presentation to my wife (there is a recurring theme here), my road bike pitch paid off, and armed with £500 I went straight to Halfords to pick up a 2010 Boardman Road Bike Comp. I noticed the difference straight away. Compared to my tractor this bad boy had speed. Immediately I was averaging just under 16mph (I rode 4 miles!). Im not afraid to say there was a slight learning curve to my new road bike. The last ‘racer’ I had was 20 years ago where the shifters were on your frame. This bike had paddles like a formula 1 car, and in the drops shifting down I felt like I was in a formula 1 car! The embarrassing part however, came when I got into first gear, and had absolutely no idea how to shift back up again! Powering back home pushing watts Chris Froome (see I’m caught up now) would be proud of! At least thats how it felt to me, although a cadence of about 30rpm’s would warrant a pitty head tilt! A google search later and I was up to speed, literally!
Back to my original question, one of the pre entry criteria to qualify as a MAMIL is that you have to have some regularity in your cycling and be seen on the road, in your full lycra kit. For 2012 my new years resolution was to ride my bike, just get out there and ride. 2012 however also happened to be the wettest on record and I was still seriously fair weather. My only means of cycling was to get a turbo trainer, and up to June that year I did more indoor miles than outdoor. This didn’t stop me from entering my first sportive, The Shropshire Hills 50. Now up until this point I had ridden 17 miles max, but watching the Tour whilst on my turbo trainer gave me a false sense of cycling security. For those of you unfamiliar with the event the profile is rolling with a tarmac tsunami thrown in (from where I was standing). 5.5 hours later I rolled over the finish line with those who who did the 70 mile option and the elite 100 milers. It was an amazing experience but drilled home my fitness level was way down. How did those guys average 20mph over such a challenging route? What does it take to reach that level? What training could I do to get cycling fit? And so my quest began to find answers to these questions to try and understand what level was realistically achievable to me.
I tried to keep cycling over the 2012/13 winter on my turbo trainer, but I started completely wrong. September 2012 was by far my most active, I rode to work 3 times a week averaging 75 miles and by the end of the month I was feeling good. As soon as the weather turned and I lost the light, for some reason I stopped for 2 months. Barely a turbo session recorded. When I came back to the turbo, what I had gained I lost in what felt like a heart beat. I just didn’t have a big enough fitness base to allow that long a break. For the following 3 months I kept spinning on the turbo to some DVDs but with no real ‘plan’. I started 2013 with the same objective as 2012, which was to just ride as much as I could, get the miles in, and this year has been much more fruitful than the last. More about this in the next blog.
What I aim to achieve with this blog is to ‘paint my diary by numbers’. By this I mean set out on a journey to get fitter, cycle faster and further and portray that journey with my training and diet diary. I am an office worker with a young family and balancing the work, life, cycle balance isn’t easy but I’m convinced there are ways to get more out of your cycling. I want to achieve more in my cycling and I need to balance the limiting factors to achieve this. Hopefully this blog will give me focus and inform those who are in the same boat, but provide a platform for feedback and ideas when things aren’t going to plan.
In the next blog I will run you through my current ‘base fitness’ from what I have achieved in 2013 from the stats I have recorded through Strava, using the numbers to display how my year started and how I have progressed throughout the year. I will also cover how I plan to continue training through the winter with my turbo trainer, Garmin Edge 800, and the Garmin USB ant+ stick for virtual power training with a nifty website I have come across. I used the turbo trainer to shift the weight going from 12 st to 10st in 6 months and now I plan to use virtual power and the turbo trainer to achieve cycling fitness. Which, according to Graeme Obree and Chris Carmichael is more than possible.