The Cycling Stud Who Shed His Couch Potato
FRIDAY, July 15 (HealthDay News) -- Kids stretched out their
open palms over barricades as I crossed the finish line Sunday of
the Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic, and I high-fived them as I
rolled past, feeling like an utter rock star.
Farther down the "chute," volunteers handed out garish yet
glorious blue-and-green patches to finishers of the grueling
202-mile, two-state bike ride. I smoothly plucked the offered patch
with one hand as I rolled past the smiling girl, slowing only
As I dismounted, I took a closer look at the patch and thought
back over the months -- years, really -- of training that brought
me to this moment.
My doctor in 2009 had told me that my obesity had pushed my
health to the edge of ruin. I was pre-diabetic, I had dangerously
high cholesterol and my liver enzymes were elevated. I had the
beginnings of metabolic syndrome, a group of conditions that
combine to greatly raise the risks for serious heart problems.
Luckily, I also had my bicycle. I'd gotten into bicycling after
moving to Oregon several years earlier, and enjoyed long weekend
rides that felt like workouts but did nothing to help me shed
So I started eating better -- cutting back on sugar and simple
carbohydrates, eliminating most fats from my diet, eating more
fruits and vegetables, choosing lean cuts of meat. I read food
labels like other folks read murder mysteries.
And I got serious about my bicycling, too. I began riding at
least four days a week, and either lifting weights or running on
the off days.
The results were surprisingly quick in coming. Within six
months, I dropped from 270 to 210 pounds. My bad cholesterol levels
fell, while my good cholesterol levels increased dramatically. Most
important, my blood glucose levels decreased -- I was no longer in
danger of developing type 2 diabetes.
I kept up with the bicycling, partly to maintain my weight loss
but mostly because I'd fallen in love with it. I found myself
lifting weights and performing balance exercises to improve my
performance on the bike. In 2010, I rode about 2,500 miles,
savoring long climbs through lovely countryside and exhilarating
sprints on fast-pace lines.
So when my wife early this year suggested I sign up for the
Seattle to Portland ride, it wasn't something I could reject out of
hand. But at the same time, it was daunting. Could I ride more than
200 miles over two days, basically two bicycle centuries
I figured I'd give it a shot.
'Fat guy legs' to the rescue
The ride started Saturday morning, cool and clear, with 10,000
riders signed up. I'd gotten up at 4 a.m. and was on the starting
line by 5:30 a.m. With most bicycle event rides, you just start
rolling when you like, following the direction markers painted on
the road surface. Not the Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic, or
STP. The organizers sent us out in waves, stacking us up at the
starting line and then sending us through with a thrilling
The most enjoyable endurance rides are the ones where the
gorgeous scenery is at the beginning. Toward the end, riders aren't
really paying attention to anything but the road, the bike and
The scenery along the STP's first 20 miles was stunning. The
ride took us out of Seattle around a beautiful lake. At one point,
riders could see both the delicate spires of the Seattle skyline
and the hulking mass of Mt. Rainier across water shimmering golden
from the morning sun.
I fell in with some other riders who were going about my speed,
and we formed a pace line that soon was hitting speeds of up to 25
miles per hour.
There are a few hidden benefits to being obese, getting into
bicycling and then losing a ton of weight. My favorite is Fat Guy
Legs. Your legs get very strong carrying around all that extra
bulk. When you lose the weight, you find that you can rocket along
flat stretches and climb hills like a monster. Lose the weight and
your Fat Guy Legs give you an advantage over slender riders who
have never battled obesity.
I soon found myself out in front of the pace line for extended
periods, with the other cyclists "drafting" off of me. That was OK
-- nearly all of them were one-day riders who aimed to complete the
202 miles that same day. I didn't mind giving them some relief,
since my ride would be broken over two days.
As the miles ticked off, my mind went quiet and the mental
jukebox kicked in. Riders shouldn't wear earbuds, because it's
important for safety to be completely aware of the road and your
surroundings. So your mind supplies the music. A tune will pop into
your head that matches the rhythm of your riding, and you can't get
rid of the thing.
Luckily, a woman in the pace line mentioned that her mental
jukebox had fixed on "September," a late '70s disco song by Earth,
Wind & Fire. Oh, that was a good one. I latched onto it and was
soon humming, "Ba de ya, say do you remember, ba de ya, dancing in
The route then took us up one steep hill, and along an extended
stretch of asphalt through a dense forest with huge pines looming
over us. The day's last section included a heavily wooded bike
path, which was unusual because endurance rides usually stick to
By then, we were at the mid-point of the ride, in Centralia,
Wash. I chugged some chocolate milk as a recovery drink and wished
the other riders in my pace line luck as they pressed onward. My
wife soon picked me up and drove me to the motel where we'd stay
Another wonderful thing about endurance riding -- you need to
eat a lot. It's not that you
can eat a lot, you absolutely
have to. Otherwise, you run out of fuel and your muscles
cramp and your body bonks and you either don't finish or you have a
really, really lousy day.
Chowing down with 100 miles down
So that night, for the first time in years, I ate at an Olive
Garden. First up, salad and breadsticks dipped in alfredo sauce,
and then ravioli carbonara with chicken, and I didn't feel a twinge
of guilt. I even ate a whole Cadbury bar back at the motel room,
I got started the next day around 6 a.m., after a breakfast of
waffles -- another rare luxury. I wasn't as stiff as I thought I
would be, and again fell into a fast-pace line.
But as the day wore on, my legs did not have as much punch in
them as they did before. I started paying less and less attention
to the scenery, focusing solely on the road and on finishing the
ride -- something my wife calls "going brain stem."
We crossed into Oregon riding single-file over the Columbia
River on a tall bridge with traffic screaming past us, probably the
scariest moment of the ride. After that, we spent a long time
cruising on the shoulder of a characterless highway.
Then, there it was before us, the marker we'd been waiting for,
a green utilitarian road sign bearing the most gratifying words on
the planet: "Welcome to Portland."
There were still another 10 miles to go. Climbing a steep hill
to another bridge that brought us speeding downhill into the city
proper. Excruciating stop-and-go stretches where every traffic
light seemed out to get me. A few hair-raising moments in metro
And then, off to the right past the last red light of the ride,
was the finish line and the outstretched hands and the patch and
I averaged more than 19 miles per hour over the length of the
ride. To put that in perspective, the U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services considers riding a bike faster than 10 miles per
hour to be "vigorous" exercise.
I rode the 202-mile route in 12 and a half hours, with 10 and a
half hours in the saddle and two hours spent at rest stops.
And as with every other event ride, I had two thoughts fill my
head as I walked my bike toward my waiting wife and dog:
"God, that was hard. I'll never do that again." And, "Maybe in one day, next time."
Visit this U.S. Health and Human Services website for
physical activity guidelines for Americans.
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