I’m not entirely sure as to the efficacy of the bathroom scales that I bought for £3 from the charity shop but they’ve never registered as low as this before.
This is despite me finding it a continual struggle to wodge enough food into my mouth, losing weight is not something that I am aiming for, nor is it something that I’ve ever actually seen as a goal, but it is just dripping off me. As well as being permanently hungry, I am also indelibly tired. Just a fair bit hungry and a little bit tired all the time, it is the new normal.
The gradually longer days and the gentle rise in ambient temperature as we enter Spring have made the ongoing and unremitting training for the Transontinental a lot easier, not that the past Winter has been a harsh one by any means, around this neck of the woods at least, but things are generally less of an effort when it’s lighter and warmer, both in finding the enthusiasm to get out the door and banging your head against whatever weather is out there at the time. Although there have been moments. This extra daylight on the bike, and the back-catalogue of distance that has preceded it has led to a perpetual shadow of hunger and light fatigue.
Time not spent in the saddle, without a heavy plate of food on my lap or napping is spent thinking about when and where to next ride the bike, what to eat afterwards, and maybe try a departure in the heavy rotation of meals that have the required nutrition to budget ratio. And napping. The increase in calorific consumption is quite a significant drain on finances and I never was an opulent eater to begin with, always sniffing at the bargains and probably relying a little too much on cheap pork pies. Meals are now even more heavily biased to what’s available on special offer or anything with a reduced yellow sticker on, and I regularly schedule my shop visits towards the end of the day when they tend to wheel out the bargain bins of dented produce and whatever’s for supper is built around that which has fallen victim to the price gun. I figure that this feral scavenging omnivorous attitude will stand me in good stead during the race where we’ll have to eat whatever crosses our path. The middle of Romania at 3a.m. and 250kms into the day’s ride is no time to be picky.
My body is pretty good at telling me what it needs to refuel; there was that week when all I wanted was walnuts and spinach, and recently I’ve been scarfing down handfuls of sultanas whilst butter beans seem to be making an unexpected break for the top craving at the moment. Then there was that social evening I finished off two other people’s risotto suppers, quietly and without fanfare as plates were discreetly shuffled over and forks swapped. Then I picked at the cake for pudding which was left too close to me on the table afterwards. They seemed to politely understand, as does my sister who brings round Tupperware boxes of left-overs at regular intervals and cake appears at my door often and quietly from various good friends. I obviously visibly need feeding up.
Eating tablespoons of crunchy peanut butter straight from the tub are standard pre-meal amuse-bouches, or mid-afternoon snacks when alternated with spoonfuls of crunchy Biscoff. There is absolutely no guilt about this sort of behaviour any more.
Whenever team-mate Gavin and I meet up all we talk about is Transcon prep; whether that’s discussing how the training is going, or food, the acquisition of the required kit, food, or how tired we are, and food. And we haven’t even touched on figuring out which way our possible route from Belgium to Greece is going to take yet, all 4,000kms of it. By heck we must be exciting company.
We try to ride together as much as possible, and from where I sit (which is more often on his wheel than it ever used to be) I can see that Gavin’s training over the winter has really kicked in, he’s improved enormously and the rides we have done together are definitely more pacey than they used to be, and better paced, which has set both of our minds at rest a little bit for what’s to come. I will often join him on his commute to work, which is about 15 miles as the crow flies (we seldom go that way) and then after what’s rapidly becoming a ritual pause for coffee and eccles cake return the long way as a fake commute to work from home and sneaky way to get the miles in. And a bigger breakfast.
Always just a fair bit hungry and a little bit tired.
Within that tiredness there are a thousand levels of weary. A body of pestled bones full of subtle blurred distinctions between a Good Tired; one of a job well done that maybe earns the weekly beer ration, the Overdidit Tired, the Listen To The Body And Have Some Rest Tired, the Tell The Body To Shut Up And Go For A Ride Tired and the You’re Not As Young As You Think You Are Tired. All of these are a physical and mental juggling match to discern, it is tiring. Sometimes I get the guessing, double-guessing and bluffing right and I fight and punch through the tiredness into a grinning and powerful cyclist, sometimes I get it wrong and snivel, snot and grovel home. Today I am Proper Tired and despite the sun ride-teasingly shining I know I am briefly broken and all I can manage is to do the many things neglected whilst riding a bike. Work, hoover, clean, tidy, sort, fold. Snack. Nap. Eat. Start again strong tomorrow, or maybe the day after.
To make sure all of this effort doesn’t literally fall apart at the seams I’ve been seeing a physio with the aim of getting this old, tired, creaky, crooked, skew-whiff body through two weeks of hard and tiring pedalling. Anyone can survive a tough day in the saddle, or two, or three, but a fortnight of non-stop sleep deprived pedal and grind is going to take some pre-emptive measures. I’ve known Sabreen for quite a few years now and she’s mended my failing and wonky body more than once before, so she knows me, she knows cyclists and she knows what my body has ahead of it. She has looked me up and down with a critical eye (with some laughing in between as well) and pulled and pushed and tweaked me slightly straighter and sent me away with a list of exercises and stretches to do that alongside my standard perfunctory stretches now take about an hour each day to work through. Cup of tea, something to pay half attention to on the telly or radio, help from the cat, all part of the necessary routine. My right shoulder drops less when I’m tired now, and I kind of miss my right knee brushing the top-tube, but it’s doing me a noticeable good. It has got to the point now where it feels odd and I feel taut and rusty if I don’t stretch for a couple of days.
Riding, eating, stretching, napping, more eating, sleep; there really isn’t much room in the day for anything else.
All of this though will soon be looked back upon as The Easy Bit as preparations are set to shift up another gear right about now; in just a few days Gavin and I are riding to Bespoked in Bristol in one hit. We did the same journey last year over a day and a half with quite a few café stops and a stay-over ¾’s of the way there, but this time there will be no such messing about. All of the 150 miles in one ride on loaded bikes. It’s going to be a proper indication of how we’re both progressing. And then we're riding back. Deep breath…
It’s impossible to know if we’re doing enough, there’s a nagging little voice that says we’re not, we’ve never done this sort of thing before so it’s impossible to say with any confidence. Are we doing all that we can? I think so. Judging by other aspects of my life that are not only taking a back seat but getting lost down the folds in amongst the fluff and 20p's I can only reply in the positive, and looking back at the amount of times I’ve nearly fainted as I've mistimed getting food into my system, and by the mid-afternoons I’ve melted face down on the sofa for a short collapse I don’t think I can do much more. But, but, it’s feeling a little less like pulling the trigger on a gun and a lot more like pressing ‘Go’ on an exciting roller-coaster ride, even if that roller-coaster ride has already started. And if you listen real hard you might hear a little less screaming as it goes faster.
I really really fancy a falafel and halloumi wrap right now, with chilli sauce. And fries.
Thanks for making me hungry for something again Mike.
Jo Burt has spent the majority of his life riding bikes, drawing bikes and writing about bikes. When he's not scribbling pictures for the whole gamut of cycling media he writes words about them for road.cc and when he's not doing either of those he's pedaling. Then in whatever spare minutes there are in between he's agonizing over getting his socks, cycling cap and bar-tape to coordinate just so. And is quietly disappointed that yours don't He rides and races road bikes a bit, cyclo-cross bikes a lot and mountainbikes a fair bit too. Would rather be up a mountain.