Back in November, when I said that I was getting back into cycling, I was full of good intentions. I pumped my tires, lubed my chain, and had mentally prepared a progression plan to build up my legs around my lifting schedule. There was a glimmer of a hope of an actual outdoor ride before the new year and dusting off of jackets and base layers. I was prepared. I was ready.
You know how they say the road to hell is paved with good intentions? Yeah, that.
In my defense, it’s not like I’ve been sitting around. I’ve been sitting around and doing research, catching up on all the races I missed last year. Some might say “missed” is a bit of a strong word, but it’s really the only one suitable to describe that feeling when you realize that Grand Tour stages can actually be more interesting than the action montages so graciously put together by Steephill.tv. I say “can,” because while it’s been exhilarating, it can be kind of exhausting. I haven’t quite managed to stick around long enough to see who has won what.
It’s not because I have the attention span of a squirrel, or because my smartphone and the inundation of technology has conditioned me to only seek instant gratification. It’s because I’m watching these races on the big screen at my gym, where a replay of a three-week Grand Tour fills up a nice five-hour chunk of the day. I linger in the stretching area, staring at a 50-inch flat-screen TV, looking for Degenkolb, Cav, and Lotto, while wondering if my yoga pants are really getting more snug, or if it’s just a self-conscious reaction to the reminder that cyclists should always be unsustainably skinny.
Afterwards, I cross my fingers and step on the scale. Though I’ve perfected the art of making the act seem casual enough, I’m usually mentally pleading with the universe. Please, please, please, I think, make it a number over 51.5kg.
As I get back into a sport that places a premium on being light, I am, for the first time in my life, deliberately trying to push my body the other way. Once I reconciled myself to the need to build some mass, I figured it’d be pretty easy. I’ve gotten fat before, and I love to eat. The only way I could see this going wrong would be if I got blubbery but made zero gains.
Honestly, thus far, the whole process has been kind of like a dick slap in the face. What I considered a slow, reasonable weight gain of 1kg per month has been frustratingly out of reach. My former ability to gain weight at the sight of food has suddenly disappeared, and those fat jeans that I bought two months ago still have the tags on them. I’ve gained and lost the same pound approximately three times in the past two months, and have been fighting off the teeth-grinding nausea that comes with eating too much food when you have gastroparesis. I’ve reincorporated donuts back into my diet, but I’m also tired of chewing. So far, it’s been a losing battle.
The worst part, though, is that it’s still an extremely mentally uncomfortable thing to do. When I realized that I wanted to ride again, there was a nagging fear of falling back into old habits and unrealistic expectations. I didn’t want the bike to become a vehicle of insecurity: something that made me feel bad about myself and exaggerated my inadequacies. Yet, despite seeking a more balanced life with the bike, purposefully trying to gain weight is still sometimes countered by those endurance sports tendencies to be as skinny as possible. I love the muscle I’ve built on my shoulders and arms – they balance out my wide hips and thicker thighs – but am prone to falling down the social media trap of wishing I looked different. Once or twice a month, I’ll complain (“I feel fat”) to friends who tell me I’m being ridiculous (“there are professionals that can help you with that”).
Fortunately, this time around, that’s pretty much where it ends. There is – and may always be – the temptation to fall back into familiar routines; to only ride and go hungry and get on the trainer every day. It would be the comfortable thing to do, the thing people in cycling tell you to do, the thing I’ve almost always done. But as much as I voice my displeasure at feeling heavier, at eating so much, at doing something new, I’ve been enjoying the discomfort. With the past few months getting me comfortable with being uncomfortable, here’s hoping 2017 brings more of the same.