cycling adventures and beyond

Category: Training (page 1 of 2)

I’m doing something right this time

I never thought that I would feel the need to write a blog post about my weight. Well here it goes.

I have always had a complicated relationship with my weight, and while I was always thin and athletic as a child, I was quite chubby in High School (a direct result from two things: emotional overeating after my mother’s death and a year abroad in the USA), until Senior Year when I was actually pretty slim. Of course back then I thought I was still chubby. I always think I’m chubby, no, fat. Why? Because my body image is fucked up. Years of comparing myself to other, slimmer women and images of what I should look like have led me to believe that I can never look that like, but worse, never feel like that – and that I’ll never be adequately thin anyway.

Over the past 10 years, I have tried pretty much every diet and lifestyle change you can imagine. I’ve done Atkins, the 5-Factor diet, low-carb, low-fat, low-everything, vegan, juicing,… A few years ago I decided that I was done with eating so many animal products, and that’s the one thing that really stuck. I went mostly vegan for a while, then vegetarian, and gradually introduced organic meat and fish back into my diet – in much smaller quantities.

My weight goes up and down within a 10kg-range, but it hasn’t been at the lower end of that range since 2009 (I’ve also never been very overweight). Back then, I lived in Southern France for the summer, it was ridiculously hot, I had a boyfriend who was into a slim figure and I had it. I also had weird eating habits and still ate a lot of sugar.
I have been continually at the high end of a healthy weight for my height for the past three years and I am not happy with it.

During the Trans Am 2014, I lost a few kg and looked much trimmer. Here’s a comparison:

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It wasn’t much weight though. The food I ate during the race was mostly fried stuff, sugar, sugar, and some more sugar. Disgusting really. To think that I ate a Clif Bar for breakfast on more than one occasion.. washed down with OJ or chocolate milk and usually followed by a bag of Sour Patch Kids. A few weeks after the race I started working as a bike messenger which helped with the weight but I was still munching on candy and cookies to survive the day.

Then came Maggie. Our first dog. I’ve wanted a dog for as long as I can remember, and here I sit with two on my couch.
When Maggie came along, I stopped cycling for a long time. You can’t leave a dog at home alone right away, and once she was ready to be home alone, a proper Bavarian winter rolled in and we spent our days walking in the snow for hours or horseback riding.
Once the snow had cleared and it was time to get back on the road bike, Moritz entered our life. He wasn’t planned for and I definitely never wanted a dog like him (a “challenge”), and he didn’t stay alone for 5 minutes. No chance to go for a bike ride.

So for all intents and purposes I stopped exercising (except for the daily long walks). But I didn’t stop eating like I was still riding my bike all day.

Fast-forward to a few months ago. I pick up a book about tidying. My husband likes to make fun of the fact that I can become completely fascinated with something I’ve read. I’ll talk about nothing else for a good while. If it’s about something I want to do it usually doesn’t stick for very long. Well, this one struck a chord. It’s called “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo, and it’s not exactly new, so I’m sure you’ve already heard about it.
After reading it once, I started tidying our house methodically. I must have thrown about about 40% of our possession – at least. I radically reduced the books and clothes I own, put the workshop in order, even threw a lot of memorabilia away.
It took weeks of running around the house for 8 hours a day. I drove to the recycling place eight times with a full car.

It was a revelation. I always knew we had too much stuff, but I never really knew what to do about it and how to change that permanently and methodically.
Now I actually cringe when I think about acquiring new stuff. I can go without cleaning up for a week and the house still doesn’t look bad, simply because there isn’t too much left to create a proper mess.

What does this have to do with weight loss? 

Somewhere along the way I picked up two other books, about weight loss (again.. I’ve read my fair share of those). One of them talked about the mental aspect of weight loss. Picturing yourself with the figure you want to have. Acting like you’re already at your target weight. Speaking about your journey as something you’re going to do, not something you’re trying to do. Losing weight methodically and with a plan. It was quite similar to the mental aspects of the tidying approach.
That, too, really spoke to me, and I went on to implement some of the “habits” the book talks about.
Between Christmas and today I’ve lost 4,5kg. I don’t exercise that much right now and I eat great meals. I also don’t count calories.
It has never worked this well for me, so effortlessly, and with such a positive outlook – so why not share my journey with you? !
But what am I doing different this time? I have always cooked fresh food, I very rarely eat processed foods and don’t have a “chocolate problem”. Something must have changed.

Changing habits

In the end, any lifestyle change is about changing habits. In the case of weight loss, most of those habits relate to food and exercise.

I started planning my meals. I’m in the privileged position of eating all my meals at home and having time and money to cook all of them if I want to. I make a spreadsheet and plan my meals for a few days in advance.
You could start with just planning dinners (or lunches, or breakfasts), but I decided to go all the way.

This enabled me to go shopping for food less often. I now go to the supermarkets two, maybe three times a week (fresh produce and meat wants to be purchased fresh).
When I have a plan, I have all the ingredients at home that I need for a healthy meal.
Why is that important? Because once I have a half-empty fridge, I make bad decisions. If I’m hungry and trying to come up with something to eat I don’t choose right. So I make sure I don’t have to choose.

Of course this doesn’t always work out – I don’t follow the plan to a T. Yet I usually only change three of four meals per week which is pretty good.

When I plan my meals, I strive for a balance of sorts. At least one meal a day is veggie-heavy, sometimes two.

Then, I changed two more habits.
I started drinking my coffee black. Now, this doesn’t seem important – but it is. I went from drinking 2 to 4 Latte Macchiato a day to drinking drip coffee with milk to drip coffee, black. Speaking about weekly calories, that’s a change from 1512kcal to 672kcal to 0kcal.

So, compared to using my Nespresso machine every day, I’m saving 1512kcal every week – that’s 7000kcal (~1kg of fat) every 4.5 weeks. It also means that just with this change, I’ve already got a huge chunk of my caloric deficit in the bag.

The second habit is alcohol. I like alcohol! I love beer and wine and we have (had?) a habit of drinking a beer almost every night. It goes great with dinner and hey, we’re in Germany!
Well, an average 330ml-beer has about 140kcal, so two beers every night (which is realistic) comes to almost 2000kcal extra per week.
I’d say I usually had on average only one beer per night (maybe more on the weekend), and realistically save 1000kcal by NOT having alcohol during the week.
I still drink alcohol on the weekend, but usually much less. Yes, occasionally we still share a bottle of wine (and empty it). I won’t stop having a few cold ones with friends, but the rest of the week.. nope. If I do have a hankering for a cold one, I drink alcohol-free beer (which, once you find a brand you like, tastes quite good really).

In the end, my days may look like this…

Breakfast: Coffee, a slice of Banana Bread [no added sugar, coconut flour, almond butter]
Lunch: Broccoli-Tofu-Stir fry [500g broccoli, 100g smoked tofu, onion, herbs, a sprinkle of cheese]
Snack: Coffee
Dinner: Chicken pad thai [rice noodles, chicken breast, sprouts, spring onions, dressing, cilantro]

Or like this…

Breakfast: Coffee, baked sweet potato with black beans and an egg [baked in the oven]
Lunch: Beets with feta cheese, olive oil and balsamic vinegar
Snack: two clementines
Dinner: Chana Masala [chickpea curry] with coconut yoghurt and a fried egg

I have a few staples that I like to come back to (like the broccoli scramble, cooked beets, dishes with beans and chickpeas, tuna, organic chicken), but I always plan something “special”, too. This week, it’s Chicken Wings (surprisingly diet-friendly if you leave all the other stuff out and bake them in the oven) and a Grilled Cheese with avocado and sun-dried tomatoes.

During the same period that I lost the weight, I’ve gone to McDonald’s twice (not proud of it, just stating facts). I had a couple of dinners out, including pizza and three-course meals. My weight doesn’t go back up, it goes steadily down.
Not just my weight – measurements, too. Pants fit me better. I’m actually able to wear pants that were too tight before.

I’m not trying to lose 10kgs. I’m doing it.

Why all this?

Not just because I look better with less weight, but because I really don’t have the ideal figure for climbing mountain passes on a bike, and I want to perform well at this year’s events. I don’t want to be hindered by my weight anymore, even though it is a healthy weight for my height and body shape. Instead of shaving off gram by gram trying to optimise my gear, it makes sense to take 10-15kgs off me.
I fully believe that I’ll have 8kgs done by the time I fly to the US for my cycling trip there. This time, I’ll have time to eat well and won’t have to shove every piece of candy in my mouth.

What’s your journey? Did you try out a lot of diets? Have you found your way yet?



A well rounded athlete

There is no use in training muscles to perform singular motions since it doesn’t teach them to coordinate properly. Well coordinated muscles lead to better stability and reaction, minimizing injury. Thus, even when you’re training for a big race such as the World Cycle Race, there is no use in ONLY cycling.

As you know I’ve been working out twice a week, courtesy of my trainer Florian, who has been whipping me into shape quite successfully. Today I got the chance to try out how functional the training is.. turns out, very!
We participated in a Biathlon workshop in Ruhpolding. Of course I was put into the beginner’s group (good choice, actually) since I hadn’t been on cross-country skis since about age 10 or so. I’ve never been a naturally gifted skier but I’m also not a total klutz. We learned how to maintain our balance on one ski (whilst moving, imagine that), push off, break,… all very nice in theory, all very difficult in practice.
In the end I did manage to skate for a while and even get some decent form for a couple of paces, but it never lasted very long. The classic technique is too ingrained into my skiing brain. The shooting part was actually kind of fun, though I did have to do a lot of penalty loops… 😉

I keep on waiting for my muscles to be tired but the truth is, though it was exhausting, my muscles aren’t really exhausted. It was amazing to feel how much stability I now have in my core. I’ve never felt this strong in my life. Let’s hope it can translate to all the strength I need on the bike! Today in three weeks, I’ll already be on my second day in France…

…and the countdown begins

22 days. Let me repeat that: 22 days. Until I set off from London. 
This seems unrealistic (that’s what I always say to my personal trainer when he shows me some new exercise). 

I stopped blogging when I took the news over to my Facebook page, … I felt that more people were interested in short news clips than in my ramblings. Nevertheless, some people asked why there aren’t any new blog posts, so here you are, folks. 

Since September, when I decided to enter in the World Cycle Race, a lot of things have changed. I bought a ton of stuff, the apartment has turned into a bike storing facility, or at least it feels like it. My bike lives in the living room. I constantly stare at it, trying to imagine spending 5 months on it. I wiggle parts around, practice changing tires and tubes – I hardly get any punctures, so I don’t have a lot of routine – or just think about what I could optimize about the bags and stuff. 
I work out twice a weak usually, gaining strength, building up muscle mass. By now I actually have a pretty strong core and am starting to complain when I don’t work out. Abs exercises have started being fun. Fun, I say! 
When it comes to nutrition, I have adopted the system of “eat more”. I’ve lost barely any weight (6kgs since August) but probably a bit of body fat since my measurements have gone down. During the past months I picked up eating meat again (I barely ate any meat for many months), but noticed that my joints really don’t like it, so it is back to tons of veggies and beans. 
On top of all the normal food, I also forced myself to learn how to like sugar. I don’t usually eat sugar, I find most sweets quite disgusting. When I was training with Juliana she basically forced Torrone down my throat after training and it really does make a difference to have some quick carbs for recovery. A hit of sugar, combined with something more long-lasting (like protein, hence chocolate milk for a recovery drink) makes the phase right after exertion a lot more enjoyable and eliminates the after-workout bonk that I used to get quite often – when you hang over the sink shoveling orange slices into your mouth, it is a sign of not having eaten enough. 
With the help of an excellent doctor, I’m now almost through all of my immunizations and have a great set of medication for the road. One more shot to go and then I can barely fall victim to fatal diseases. Rabies was the most important one, Cholera (which, as some studies suggest, also prevents a large portion of travel-related diarrhea) and Influenza are also quite valuable additions. 

But it is the planning that is really starting to get to me. I am an excellent planner, in fact, my friends and family know me as the organizational nazi (they don’t always mean that in a nice way – I tend to get really upset when things don’t work out as I planned them). But the logistics involved in this race are huge. Have you ever tried doing day-to-day planning for a 29.000km trip including finding out about accommodation, road quality, weather and wind patterns and costs? It is tough, even with the vast world of the Internet at your fingertips and the aid of guidebooks and, finally, people who’ve been there and done it. 

However, all of the planning will mostly accomplish one thing: I feel like I’m prepared and not completely jumping into the unknown. I’m sure lots of my day-to-day plans won’t work out the way I planned them. That doesn’t matter, I’ve grown more tolerant and flexible (yes, really!). 

One of my biggest concerns has been what to bring. After all, it isn’t very nice to realize on the road that you’re missing some important pieces. In my opinion, a race is not a place to try out something completely new, I wanted to be able to test everything beforehand. 
To that end, I’ve been very happy so far with my Revelate Designs bags. I train with the bags on to get used to the handling and dynamics (and the added weight). Small things like repair equipment I’ve been using for a few months now and am familiar with it. I have figured out most of the common ailments my bike may have and am able to fix most of them. I just got new shoes so I have to wear these in over the next weeks, but my butt has conformed to the bibtights I got and my saddle is well worn-in, too. 

More tomorrow! 


Winter is tough

After the short respite from winter in Napoli, I returned to Germany with high spirits. The weather was said to be great for cycling, cold but not quite freezing and sunny during the day, yet I found no time to make use of it, unfortunately.

Right after returning, I focused on being pretty for the company Christmas party, then I did a training session in the Gym, horseback riding, and three days after Italy, went to visit my brother and his family in Hamburg. There, I picked up a nice head cold which basically sidelined me right until Christmas. Fun! 🙁

But of course one needs to get back to business after the holidays. Though I managed only two hours outside today, my toes were freezing, my nose running and my skin red and dry. This will be tough training over the last two months until I set off to cycle around the world (finally).

What goes down must come up

Yesterday, I felt quite smug about our 150km-day (I still do), done in 5:50 hours and with a more than decent average speed for a long time. Here is one lesson I have learnt since the start of training in September: build your strength up and speed will follow automatically. The stronger you are, the faster you will go with the same effort. Speedwork is just that – going faster without actually using more energy. There are two ways to do speedwork outside of the gym: intervals and hills. Hills are like killer intervals, and today we did a serious hill repetition workout.

It only lasted 2:30 hours (for me), but now my thighs are toast, I’m tired, and craving dinner already. Remember that last hill I told you about, the 13 Tiers of Pain? Today, I did it 6 times. This is equal to about 18km of pure climbing and an elevation change of just about the Stelvio Pass. I’m ready to climb the Alps (with a couple of stops to stretch).

The feeling I got from finishing these six goes was incredible. No one has ever said that I am determined because I tend to be more of a quitter. But I did not quit and I did more than I thought I could. When Juliana is happy with my performance, I know I am on the right track. It gave my ego a long needed cuddling.

In fact, the whole Boot Camp Napoli did. From learning how to not get killed by Neapolitan drivers to learning to fold a pizza correctly, it has been a great time. Juliana pushed me far beyond what I thought I was currently capable of. It felt good to be praised, and nothing is more fun than training together when you don’t have training partners at home.

Tomorrow, I must leave this beautiful place and its warm sun, but not before one last Italian dinner. I am already thinking about what to take home with me (Provola!) to recreate some of the after-ride goodness. On Friday, I will throw my now slimmer body into a pretty dress and attend a company Christmas party, and then work out on the weekend. It seems that cycling conditions are actually perfect in Munich right now and I am determined to make use of it. Now that 80km feels like a slow day, I really have to find some new routes though…

This was on our first day training, my very first encounter with this hill – I remember how hard it was last week and how much easier it felt today (for the first 5 times, mind you).


Will cycle for food

Oh, how I love the fact that when you have cycled for a few hours, you can basically eat whatever you want and not gain a gram of weight. My thighs are slowly solidifying – makes me sounds like a stick of butter, but it is true – and all the food I keep on stuffing into me goes to building muscle. So far, Boot Camp Napoli has made me lose weight, which is amazing considering the amounts of food I eat.

Perfect. So, what did we do the last few days? After doing hills for four hours, there was a break day, which was much appreciated. We did girl stuff (shopping, mostly) and ate our own body weight. On Friday, we did a long day – 135km and quite a few hills, too. It was an amazing cycle, a little outside of Napoli where the roads were luxuriously smooth and the air not as stifling.

Saturday we spent kayaking on the Mediterranean, a great upper body workout, and relaxing in natural Hot Springs afterwards. No cycling on Sunday either which was a proper rest day, meaning we sat at the beach, had a few beers and read a book. Everyone needs days like that.

Today, it was back to the bike. Somehow, we really felt that it was Monday. First Juliana got a puncture (bless my thick 28mm tires, they have so far taken the beating without a hitch), the drivers were exceptionally awful, we cycled into the wrong direction to Decathlon, then Decathlon didn’t have what I wanted which was new gloves since mine are falling apart,… Luckily, the rest of the ride went smoothly after an exceptional Espresso. The steeper hills didn’t feel quite as bad as last time I did them, and if I pushed myself more, I managed to even go up a bit faster and not drop below that discouraging 10km/h line too many times. Good times, I am actually getting stronger!

Tomorrow will be a long day and apparently, Wednesday will serve to test my stamina when it comes to that bitch of a hill. We decided to call it The 13 Tiers. I would like to add ..of Pain. If I make it up 7 times, I am deemed a strong cyclist. Honestly, I am more worried about making it more than twice.

Thursday I fly back home to a flurry of Christmas parties, horseback riding, strength training and family visits. Once December is over, it will be time to focus completely on cycling, and if this means 8 hour sessions on the turbo, so be it.


Jack and Jill went up the hill

Today, we did ‘hills’. This is code for arduous climbs over and over again. Basically, we descended to sea level (about 1000 meters of altitude if I am not mistaken) and then climbed and climbed and climbed. Every strenuous climb was followed by a sweeping descent, sometimes with amazing views of the coast, and there even was a sightseeing break to see some Roman ruins. Still, it took everything I had in me today.

Apparently, I have more strength in my legs than I dare believe. Otherwise I would not have made it up every single time, without getting off, even when it would have been faster to walk.

Yes, it was hard. Yes, sometimes my thighs were yelling at me to take up competitive video gaming or any other activity that doesn’t involve pushing yourself so hard all the time. However, the pushing is the fun part about hills. It hits the sweet spot, that area that is just beyond what you are able to do. Without the sweet spot, one does not become any better.

Juliana asked me, after a big lunch of a Mortadella, Antipasti and Mozzarella Sandwich, “More hills or straight home?”. Remember, home means climbing a bitch of a hill. She basically asked me whether I wanted to torture myself, or torture myself a little more.

I chose more hills. Why not test your limits once in a while? After four hours of climbing hills, I was done. A bit of Torrone, some magnesium, lots of water and a hot shower, that is all I had in me to do after that. Maybe I could have cycled on, but only on a straight road for sure.



Changing up my training

Exciting news! I am lucky to be sponsored by a personal trainer who just happens to work at my physiotherapy practice. It will be a huge advantage to work with a professional to increase my strength and flexibility, all the while looking out for my joints, ligaments etc. And it already starts this week!

This will probably mean changes in my training routine. I don’t mind, it is good to change things up. In the meantime, I’m going to split my training into morning and afternoon sessions. Today, this means a 1hr easy spin on the turbo (done), horseback riding and then a 1hr interval session on the turbo trainer again.

The first snow fell last night, so until I’ve got spike tires I am truly confined to the turbo (and Italy 😉 ). It doesn’t look like the weather is going to change for a few days. Cycling aside, I LOVE the snow. I’m already excited to go for a ride outside, bundled up in warm clothes, my horse’s nostrils letting out clouds of steam, the fresh snow in the forest…

Time to get indoors

When temperatures hover around freezing and the roads are slick with rain, cycling can be a dangerous affair. Not to mention the pain of putting on multiple layers of clothing just to soak in your own sweat and have your feet and face freezing anyway. But while I still forced myself onto the bike when it was 3-5 degrees celsius, I’ve finally given in and got the turbo trainer from the basement. Now, you know what training on the turbo means, right? Basically you’re taking all of the fun stuff out of cycling – the being out and about, seeing places, feeling the wind in your face, taking a break for coffee,… – and instead focusing on relentless pedaling. At least I can watch TV and put the ventilator in front of me for a light breeze… the long and steady riding is good for your fitness though. Afterwards, I did some strength training – mainly for my upper body, supporting the shoulder and all.

Luckily, the lovely Juliana Buhring invited me to train with her in Naples this winter, so I’m actually flying down to Italy on December 2nd to get my ass kicked in style. I’m sure I’ll be able to pick up tons of advice from her and get a boost in cycling fitness on top of that, in warm weather, too!

What else is going on right now? Well, I’ve finally rolled out my fundraising campaign on Indiegogo, which will run for two more months. It seems to be starting out quite slow, but I’m sure it’ll gain some traction. The other fundraising dimension is writing to companies and media outlets directly. I’ve got a first interview lined up for December, so there’s a start.

The test run

This week, I braved the wonderful fall weather (attention: sarcasm) and went for a two-day trip from the middle of Germany to Hamburg. My intention was to test both material and body. That I did.

The short version: I’m glad that I won’t be spending too much time in winter weather next year, the Revelate Design bags really are waterproof, and I need a better rain jacket. And proper lights.

The long version: First, I followed the Weserradweg from Hann. Münden to Holzminden. From Holzminden, I took a turn away from the river and towards Hildesheim, where I spent the night at a youth hostel. I’d forgotten to check where exactly the hostel is and was pretty surprised when I saw that it was actually on a hill next to the city, but I’ll get to that… After Hildesheim, I skipped a segment by taking the train and then followed the local road to Hamburg.
I had set my daily goals way higher than I could do. Up until this week, I had never done more than 80km in one day, so it was bizarre to think I could do 180km. But had I said, well, I’ll do 100km, I probably would have been satisfied with 90 – I know myself. This way, I was motivated to try as hard as I could and get as far as I could.

It was a nice contrast to be in northern Germany. The architecture is different and very pretty. Everything is so flat, at least compared to where I live. And the fields were still green, whereas down here, almost all of them are already plowed.

On the first day, the sun came out a few times and it rained very little, the terrain was softly undulating and mostly on well-paved cycle paths so I managed to maintain a 24km/h average even though I had to take frequent breaks to find my way. In a lovely town along the way I had lunch in a butcher shop.

What a nice lunch break! Food was followed by coffee, and then I pedaled on. For hours and hours. Until it was almost dark (4.30pm these days), I was freezing, and started to lose my way. After the wind turned against me and I fought in the dark and crept along at a decidedly discouraging 12km/h. Since I had inadequate lights, didn’t really know where I had to go and was starting to be really cold, I found the next town and took the train to Hildesheim, where I then found out that I’d have to cycle up the hill to the youth hostel (in the rain, of course) with a 10% gradient.
Luckily, I had my own room and a local pizza place agreed to deliver to the hostel. I devoured a ridiculously overloaded pizza, downed a beer, brushed my teeth, and fell into a coma-like sleep.

The next day, I decided to skip the first part of the cycle and take the train instead of cycling first and then finding a train station later. While the network is very good in Germany, this was still easier, plus it gave me more time to wake up. So I cycled back to the train station in Hildesheim and bought some breakfast.

Later that day, I found myself cycling in torrential rain on a road that hadn’t passed through a town in 25km (not that common for Germany) when, out of sheer luck, a small Italian restaurant appeared as if out of nowhere. I gladly stopped, had some hot tea and spaghetti, dried my clothes, and then got back on.
I arrived in Hamburg without any more glitches, met my sister-in-law at the Apple store (they allowed me to take the bike inside as I didn’t want to leave it outside in the middle of the city), smothered my niece in kisses and that was it.

Though I was happy to have a rest day after that, I can report that while I certainly can’t to what I have to do next year yet, I’m not that far behind. Cheers to that!

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