Riding back to fitness

A series of articles of my journey, post-pneumonia, back to fitness

How it all began. Early 2023 and I had picked up various small colds and bugs. I put it down to having young kids still at school. But as I was training to race at some more of the UCI’s World Gravel series, it was getting annoying. I kept having to take a week or two off to recover and then start again. My targets were the Gravel Fondo Limburg, the Gralloch, Gravel 150 and the Houffa.

Finishing 7th at the Houffa in Belgium last year. I want to regain that level of fitness
Finishing 7th at the Houffa in Belgium last year. I want to regain that level of fitness

I rode the first two and knew something wasn’t quite right. Both races were really hard for me and I finished out of the qualification for both of them. A week after the Gralloch I had a fever, which made it hard to sleep and I wasn’t eating. I work from home, so could carry on, but after five days it was time to visit the doctor.

Gravel Fondo Limburg, was a tough race for me
The Gravel Fondo Limburg wrecked me! Was this where the wheels started to come off?

A quick examination and he said I needed to go to A&E as he couldn’t hear air going into the bottom of one of my lungs. “You’ll be on oxygen and intravenous anti-biotics” he warned. So off I trotted and five hours later, after multiple examinations, was sent home with antibiotics. Five days later I hadn’t improved and was back in A&E. This time I was put on oxygen, intravenous antibiotics and a drip. I had pneumonia and was going to enjoy six days in hospital. This was not my year!

What is pneumonia?

Pneumonia is an infection – in my case bacterial – that inflames the air-sacs in one or both lungs. They fill up with fluid or pus (purulent material) making it hard to breathe. My x-ray showed that half of one lung and part of the other were affected. The doctors were surprised that I had it as fit people generally aren’t affected. Just my luck to be ‘special’! The question was where had I picked up the bacteria? While riding, especially in my weakened state? Or just from the atmosphere? I’ll never know, but can’t help but lay some of the blame at over-training and racing. – and the kids!

Not a good look for a cyclist!

After I was sent home – still on antibiotics, but oral now – I stepped on the scales. Three weeks had seen me drop five kilograms. As I was already sixty-four kilos, that was quite a drop. However the scariest part was seeing how much muscle I had lost on my legs. While I’m no Michael Hubner it was easy to see how my legs had wasted in a relatively short time: how would I get back from this?

How to regain my fitness?

With a few days doing nothing at home to recover, I started looking at what remained of the year’s events. I had planned some evening crits, some Mtb races, the CX Century and the Kings Cup gravel race. And of course there was the cyclo-cross season to look forward to. However after having to laydown suffering from dizziness, nausea and ringing in the ears after a little light stretching, I figured I might have to re-think the season.

Which brings me to the point of this article, or what hopefully will be a series of articles. About what? Why, about my return to fitness, ready for next season’s races. I’ll be taking it slowly, that is what all the health professionals and my mum tell me I need to do! I’ll describe the training I’ll be doing and any kit that I use to help me on my journey.

It helps if your coach is a racer himself. Coach Ric practices what he preaches

As an extra bonus for all the older riders out there, I will also be dealing with an arthritic hip and bulging lower disc. This is all down to forty plus years of cycling and not a lot else. I’ll be working with a physio to help with the last two. For the more cycling-specific, cycling exercise, I’ll be working with Ric Stern of Cycle Coach. I’ve worked with Ric before when he started his Membership Coaching. This provides training plans, strength training and nutritional advice along with a monthly Q&A session. And all at what is a very affordable price! I have tried some of the app based systems out there, but never quite go on with them. I want to be told what to do by a human!

Positive thinking

I’m going to be positive about this period, rather than seeing it as a lost season, I’m going to regard it as a chance to re-set. Like a lot of riders I’ve probably developed a lot of bad habits in my training and this will be a chance to right them. For instance, strength training, I’ve read loads about the need for this, especially for the older rider – I’m 58 – so that’s me. However while I have started a gym membership, I’m not really sure what I’m doing! So having an expert telling me what I need to do is just what I need.

Join me for a post-race beer at the Gravel Fondo Limburg
The plan is to be this guy again!

So you’re welcome to come along with me and see how I, hopefully, progress back to fitness. I’ll keep you informed of what I’m doing and the events I hope to do next year. Maybe some of you will be riding them as well? If so, come say hi, I could do with the boost!

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