Returning to a sport at the bottom, where you once were on the top of the pyramid, is equal parts humbling and frustrating. Far away are the days of equal output for each input. What I mean is I, as any elite athlete would, got really spoiled while I was at the top of my game. After 15+ years of competition in the sport there is a tremendous amount of residual skill sets that just don’t go away and you come to take for granted. Elite athletes are obsessed with the smallest of changes to have an impact on their performances. Like switching up hang cleans in the gym to clean pulls trying to get an extra 50w in your jump to improve your 200m TT. Or having a need for more fitness and throwing in a handful of lactate threshold workouts and in 2 weeks you’re largely improved.
When you’re at that pinnacle it’s easy to take for granted your physical base that allows you to have an “apples to apples” input/output. Once you’ve thoroughly lost all your “base” strength/fitness/endurance, you’ve got to respect that and rebuild from where you are NOW. Not from who you used to be once upon a time ago. You’ve got to respect and embrace the physical changes you’ve endured and adapt accordingly to them. Or else you’re going to be fighting an exponentially painful fight that will probably make you want to walk away again (as I have done many times). It is like having been an Olympic hurdler but having completely lost the ability to walk. So you’ve got to learn to crawl before you can walk before you can run.
So where is that for me? Well at a resoundingly plump 240lbs, I’ve gone from a size medium t-shirt, all the way up to a XXL (if I want to truly be comfortable and breath deeply without looking like Santa Clause in training). My waist size has gone from a 34 in 2012 to a 38 if I want to have any circulation to my lower extremities. So when it comes to fitting back on to my bike, I’ve got to acknowledge these changes and adjust accordingly. I also have to remember that adjusting to these changes is not a negative reflection on myself and I have not gone back to “fred” status. I am simply refitting my position and equipment with the same principals of necessity as if I were adjusting for aerodynamics 3 years ago. Let’s get into some specifics.
First off is going to be adjusting my position on the bike. Prior to my time away from the bike, I had taken my road bike and set it up to F1 levels of performance. Saddle way back and low for maximum muscle recruitment patterning. Handlebars low and flat to keep me bent over in an aero position which was the only place I was actually comfortable. Well, if I tried to get on that bike right now and pedal down the street my GUT would have crushed my junk, my hands would be numb from all the weight on them and my knees would be killing me from bowing out to fit around my stomach. Let’s not even mention the pain my Fizik saddle was causing me. This is no way to enjoy riding a bike.
Enter ERO sports and their fit guru’s Jim Manton and apprentice, the ever lovely Missy Erickson. As soon I was ready to get back on the bike, I took both my bikes (GT and Felt FC) to ERO and got all sensor-ed up and measured to see where I was at. Given my extra weight I have to carry now and the extra force exerted on my joints and contact points, it was obvious my seat needed to come up and forward while my handlebars got closer to me. We also took my standard 38cm bars and widened them out to 40’s on the GT (I kept 38’s on the Felt). I also changed out my 23-11t cassets for a 28-11 on both bikes and took my 55t chainring off my Felt. Time to go back to being human. We also changed out my Fizik saddle to the SMP Avant with a 155mm width. Now, if you know me at all, I have long been a critic of how ridiculous these saddles look. But from the first ride with my new saddle I finally understood what my “sit bones” are and how they are meant to be used. My “undercarriage” might have a lot of adapting to still do so that I can once again sit on my bike for 6+ hours without walking like I just rode a horse for 3 days straight, but at least this is as good as it’s going to get.
Next we addressed my kit. Long gone were the days of my size large jersey and shorts in race cut. It was obvious I’d have to move up to a XL short and XXL jersey in a club cut if I wanted to resemble anything other than a stuffed sausage on the bike. And thank goodness I had Gary and Theresa at Vie13 Kustom Apparel to come to my rescue. They rushed me some club kit in my new sizes so that I could ride more comfortably. That was truly a life and pride saver. Thanks again guys!
Last and finally was my shoes. I have been a Simmons Racing custom carbon shoe guy since the first day I put them on. There really is nothing like a shoe that is 100% made just for you. Only problem is that the me above my feet is not the same me that was attached to my feet when the shoe were made. With how much my knees were have to track outwards to fit around my gut, the stiffness of the high performance Simmons shoes were not compliant enough to let my body move the way it needed too. So I found a used pair of S-Works shoes for sale on facebook and hit the go button. I also had to give up my lifetime use of “fixed” no float cleats for the use of the yellow shimano float cleats. This took a lot of pride swallowing on my part, but ultimately my knees thanked my greatly for it.
With all that preparation done now it’s time to plot a course to gaining back my fitness…