Back on Track

Here’s a little overview of the seemingly random series of events that have got me where I am now – about to embark on an amateur career racing in track cycling sprint events. I’m mostly writing this because I can’t contain my excitement, but it also leads me to begrudgingly agree that cliches like “do what makes you happy” and “anyone can get super fit” might actually have some credibility. Hear me out, ok?

Last weekend I completed my velodrome accreditation, meaning I’m officially licensed to start cycling quickly in a circle for hours on end. It’s been about two years since I first rode on a velodrome, and since then a few things have happened:

– I set a big goal last year (riding up the Stelvio Pass in Italy) which motivated me to make more progress on the bike than I ever thought I could.

– I started riding with other keen cyclists. Having the pace set by the Espresso Library Race Team showed me how much fun competitive cycling could be (although I maintain I’m not a competitive person).

– My training kept getting more disciplined, more strategic, and bringing better results.

– I moved to Manchester, parking a velodrome right on my door step.

– Finally, my girlfriend started racing on the track. It looked unbelievably fun. I couldn’t wait to give it a go

So things have been coming together for a while now, and now the planets seem perfectly aligned. But let’s backtrack a little further.

I’ve never considered myself sporty. I only started doing exercise out of choice about 4 years ago, aged 20. Just making a little progress was always enough, even if I took a couple of months off here and there. I never took it seriously and strictly stuck to what I enjoyed, namely:

1) Cycling for hours at a time on the road in the summer which requires endurance and low body weight.
2) Hitting the gym in the winter, lifting heavy weights to build muscle and increasing body weight.

You may think that these two types of training are somewhat opposed. Essentially, you’d be right (if you’re a sports scientist, bear with me here, I know it’s not that simple). But because I was starting from pretty poor level of fitness I saw some progress most of the time. It was seeing this progress that kept me interested in fitness. In fact, it was what drew me to weight lifting in the first place – it’s simply the most effective way to get stronger. And I found I liked getting stronger. I was never worried about being the strongest, because getting just a little bit stronger was plenty for me.

Over time, I kept getting “just a little bit stronger”. Of course I haven’t stopped cycling. So I’ve also accumulated thousands and thousands of kilometres (cyclists don’t use miles) of riding fixed gear bikes. That’s variety of bike used on the track, with a single gear and no brakes. So it’s not the most efficient kind of bike to ride on the road, but I still find them more fun. The point I’m eventually getting to is that I always did the stuff that I liked, despite having no plan or expectations. Now, unexpectedly, it’s all come together.

As it turns out track cycling sprint events require the rather unusual combination of:

1) Being able to cycle rather quickly.
2) Having stupidly strong legs, regardless of the cost in weight.

This rather obscure discipline is the speciality of riders such as Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton and the Team GB sprint squad. The small number of events they compete in require massive acceleration to speeds topping 70kmh (40mph) over a few laps of a 250 meter velodrome. Races last less than a minutes but are insanely intense. Check out this race form the 2012 olympics.

So I’ve unintentionally been doing exactly the right combination of training for years. I’m in the unprecedented position of not only wanting to see how I shape up against serious athletes, but potentially being able to do well.

Is this any more than a self indulgent boast of how far I’ve come? Yeah, I think so. This isn’t some rags to riches fairy tale – my performance isn’t, and wont be, earth shattering. But I’ve massively exceeded my expectations from getting out there and doing what I enjoyed. It’s a lot more achievable than I thought it would be. So maybe you should cut the excuses and find something fun to do. Then keep on doing it.

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