Why I took up cycling in 2007 – from Fat to Fabulous

Well, its been 3 years since I first took up my cycling habit, and this habit has become a complete lifestyle alteration during this time. Why did I start riding a bicycle? Well, after raising a family, working part-time for a number of years, during which time I had become fat, and unfit. In fact by 2007 I had spent 17 years in the obese category of weight allowance for height of 5'6". I weighed 14.5 stones, was a size 20 and had a BMI of 32.

Fat Me 07

I am the one standing up here! Photo taken in August 2007

I had of course tried all the weight reducing diets out there. Each in their own way worked to a point, but eventually boredom would set in, and before long the weight would sadly go back on, and bring along a few more fat cells for company. It was a depressing cycle and one that I so wanted to change. I hated myself-image. Buying clothes was a nightmare, because I wanted to look good, and nothing, nothing could do that for me I loathed the whole experience. So I started to hide. When ever a camera came out, I hid, either I took the photos, or wore huge jackets and coats on otherwise warm days, or made sure someone was in front of me while the camera clicked away. Sadly there are very few photographs of me with my children growing up.

I never went to the hairdressers, or wore makeup or any of those things that other women did, because I felt unfeminised by my size. I avoided social contact and made excuses not to go out to places where skimming clothing was needed, such as parties etc a deep social shyness evolved. I lived in jogging pants and big jumpers. Activity was difficult as well. Until my weight loss, I really had not realised just how difficult simple things had become, it sort of crept up on me over the years. Getting stuff off the floor meant I had to hold my breath to do so. Climbing stairs left me breathless. All of these symptoms of obesity I put down to the ageing process, unaware that beneath all this there was a young person trying to punch her way out. It was not until I had lost several stone that i discovered how 'disabling' being obese can make you become, and this makes you want to do less. It doesn't happen over night like breaking a bone, it inches it's way into your life, so you don't blame your weight, you just accept it and how things are or have become.

In the August of 2007, I was offered a full time post as the head laboratory technician was retiring and having done 2 years unpaid voluntary work with the department, I was able to at last find the full time post I had studied for and I relished my newly paid work, it was a huge financial burden lifted. At this time, I was driving to work. Two weeks later, I was noticing that I had nothing to bring with me anymore, my books were no longer needed, and just a set of keys accompanied me to my lab each day. I had just started yet another diet plan, (I looked awful in a lab coat), But, I was fed up with following diets that I would fall out with. Instead I fancied a go at some exercise. There would be no way that I could go to a gym. That image thingy was going on in my head that everyone would stare at the 'Fat Woman', and know that she was out of control and HAD to exercise... how she had let her self go... (its a powerful thing is low self esteem).

My hubby had an old mountain bike. A huge framed machine, no suspension and V brakes as it was over 20 years old. A Specialized Rock Hopper. I would start having a go at cycling to work. I could also fit the exercise in at the beginning and end of my working day, no cost involved and no eating into my family time either, a winner! As we lived 10 miles from work over some mighty hilly terrain, I thought I would drive the car with the bicycle on a rack to my mother-in-law's cottage. Park the car then cycle the remaining 4 miles to work. I really wasnt sure if I would get on with it, it had been a very long time since i had ridden a bicycle.

My next problem was getting some cycle gear. We had not had the internet long at home, but I soon found out that fat people obviously didnt ride bicycles or wear cycle clothes because no one catered for the larger cyclists at all. In the end Flea Bay sorted me out, with some XXL mens cycling leggings and some tops. Mens clothing really are not very suitable for women, the leggings tended to drop down at the back, and tops had arms that were far too long. But I had to wear something.

The first day i shall always remember. Parked the car, unloaded this giant of a bicycle. It was overcast, and cooling towards the end of summer. The quickest route into work followed the main road way, and although not far it still had 2 large hills to ride up. (they are no longer large to me these days, but at the time they might just as well been mini Everests). I had to walk up these pushing the bicycle. The exhurstion of my first commute had me purple in the face, boiling hot, so that sweat was dripping off my chin and I threw up in the car park at work...

It took me nearly an hour to cool off and recover. (Thank goodness for my own laboratory sink and private area where I could take a wash).

Anyway, i continued. Initially 3 times a week, for about a month, then I increased this to every day except in really bad weather as I did not have wet weather clothing at this point. By Christmas 3 months later, although I had not lost a pound, I did feel a whole lot better, fitter if anything. Able to function better mentally and physically both at work and at home. I continued having got suitable clothing over the winter, it was a wet and mild one that year, but very windy. I knew if i could cycle the winter time, i could cycle anytime of the year. In the March of 2008 for the first time, I managed to cycle the entire distance of 4 miles to and from work without walking any part of it. My weight had also dropped to 13.5 stones. I was enjoying my cycling and bought a second hand hybrid bike off Flea Bay, one that fitted my frame.

Training Hadrians

Me and the girls, with our bikes with Albert the Cat in training for Hadrian's Wall Adventure

My two teenage daughters also watched with interest. I fancied doing a challenge. Something to stretch me a bit (hummm, sounds familiar does this bit...), so I found out about cycling Hadrian's Wall as part of a cycle touring holiday. Offered the girls if they wanted to come, so long as they trained for the ride, and so we were sorted. All three of us trained for the ride, which had 40 miles as its furtherest distance in a day, the total ride over 5 days was 160 miles, it felt like we were training for cycling round the globe! I remember our first day of megga training when we managed to cycle 20 miles round the north of the Isle of Man, which is the flat part and how chuffed we all were, proud as punch of this huge distance.

The C2C

Beth, Rosie and I, at the C2C sign in Whitehaven. (July 2008)

The Pit Stop

Not very proud of some of these pictures.

The Hadrian's Wall ride was done in July 2008 and we all had a fabulous time. I lost another stone over the summer, getting down to 12.5 by the time, I had been cycling for 12 months. At home, the 'diet' took another turn for the better, as I decided that as my weight was going downwards so slowly, portion sizes had to be addressed. Not many recipes tell you exactly what a portion size is, so I found out that basically the word 'portion' means fist sized. So unless it was fruit and vegetables where you were free to go as such, everything else was measured in fist size. Fist sized portion of meat, mashed potato etc. But we had also cut back on carbohydrates a lot as well.

EMbarrisng shot

Oh, my word! But, at least I was doing some thing about it I suppose. You cannot escape warm days when you are large and struggling to find clothing suitable that fits!

The next winter was colder, but I continued to cycle every day, by this time I had discovered Corinne Dennis cycle clothing. She looked after her 'larger lady cyclists' clients by offering personal service and clothing to fit up to an 18, by now this was my dress size. I still had to wear mens clothing for rain jackets and over trousers for winter use, but at least I had padded shorts that although they creaked when i wore them, did get over the hips just about!

In the Spring of 2009, I weighted in at 12 stones and I discovered Audax UK via the CTC forum. I entered my first Audax, the Forest of Bowland Populaire. This is a 100km ride but it is hilly, with about 1600m of climbing. I still ride this Audax as I did it again this year as well. I started to use Audax as a reason to get out and about on my bicycle. I was bought for my birthday a GPS machine and I cycled to Congleton (Well took the train to Crewe, then cycled, but I did ride back to the ferry) to do their Audax 100 as well. I was truly hooked and an interest soon turned into an obsession. In the May of 2009, I also joined the ladies division of the Manx Mountain Bike Club and went out on a weekly basis over the tracks and hills, it started a pretty good social life too.

I am not sure if during my fat years, if I had a malfunctioning thyroid, or if the obesity (I was obese for 17 years), caused my thyroid to say 'enough is enough'. In the June of 2009, I started to lose weight at about a pound a week, which for me was amazing, suddenly I felt like a light switch had gone on... My healthy lifestyle suddenly working for me. Then in August I found I was getting very tired, but unable to sleep much. Infact, I could easily get by on 4 hours sleep, only to feel like kipping later in the afternoon at work. I cycled the Audax ride in Arnside, and had a very funny 'turn' when I got to my brothers house, this coupled with me failing to complete a Mountain bike event I had trained hard for, took me to the doctors who confirmed an over active thyroid... Its taken a year to sort out, but I must admit, to feeling very good at this time, and over the past 3 months I really have had no symptoms of it anymore. (I stop taking the Carbimozole in 3 months time to see if it returns to over active again.) I consider myself as very lucky indeed, it could so easily have been diabetes my immune system opted for instead of Graves disease, diabetes is a far more complicated and dangerous autoimmune disease caused of course by obesity as well.

Currently I cycle about 100 or so miles a week. I still commute daily to work, but now taking a more scenic quiet route to work, which uses the hills to my training advantage. I cycle most weekends and at any opportunity, and cycle with the Mountain bike club twice a week. My social life has gone from zero to having a social life for the first time since before my children were born, its fabulous. My weight is good, I am eating well (still small portions and low carbohydrate, except on a long bike ride day) and I am now a size 10 and weigh a healthy 9 stones 10 pounds and it seems to want to stay that way. I even like myself now. (still don't own a full length mirror though).

Sportive 2010

This final picture is of me climbing up the Druidale Road during a Sportive cycle event held on the Isle of Man on 1st August 2010. Looking fitter and slimmer of course.

i have not written in depth as yet about this weight loss, as I am so frightened that I will get fat again. That somehow this story is about someone else and not about me, that at some time, I will balloon out again and all the horrible negative feelings will return. Almost like living my life now in some dream like bubble, that might pop and there I am all fat and round again. Currently, I feel on top of the world. I am also the fittest I have ever ever been in my entire life, even as a teenager.

Discovering my husbands dusty old bike lying in a corner covered in spiders webs was the best find. The best thing I ever did for my body was to lug it out and get on board. I have learnt so much, about myself, about cycling and about how brilliantly fantastic it is to be at the end years of my 4th decade of life and to be living it to the very fullest that I am able to. It has improved my health, the health of my marriage, my bonding with my girls and basically everything I hold dear. I hope and pray that others too find this wonderful mode of getting about out there, and can save themselves too.

I am closing the chapter of my fat life here and now with this blog. No more of what I used to be like anymore, from this point onwards, my old life closes and I turn the page of a new one, full of hope for the future, and of the adventures that lie ahead. (might keep my fat picture at the top of this blog on the fridge though, just in case 🙂

I heard recently, that the invention of the bicycle was THE most important invention of all time, nothing truer in my book. 🙂

10 comments on “Why I took up cycling in 2007 – from Fat to Fabulous”

  1. Patrick wrote:

    That's an inspiring story, bravely written. I doubt if the bubble will pop, now that cycling is embedded in your life. It's too much fun for that to happen. You just have to make sure nothing can ever stop you cycling, like a serious injury or something. I think about that and I cycle with care. As you know, my father cycled daily until he was over 90. Cycling is a life-extender, to be sure.

    I wish I'd started earlier than I did. I'd always thought that where I live is too hilly, then one day in the 1980s, on the spur of the moment, I bought an all-terrain bike for Mrs Taylor. It was an early type of mountain bike with lots of gears. Then the day after, I bought one for myself. Since then I've cycled almost on a daily basis, in the dark with lights in winter, seeking out the steepest hills. I really love hills! I feel jittery if I don't cycle for at least an hour each day, although I usually do more.

  2. Hilary wrote:

    Your story could be such an inspiration to so many people. Have you considered submitting it to somewhere like a womens' magazine where it could be seen by people who could gain so much encouragement and inspiration from it? Your story could really help people.

    I've always been an exercise addict. My mum was disabled (MS) and my dad had many hobbies but they were all sedentary which caused him serious health problems. I realised early on that a healthy body was not something to take for granted. To see someone turn their life round the way you have done is wonderful.

  3. Garry wrote:

    Superb article Mary and very well written. Well done.

    A tip to keep it off for life. This works. It's so simple you'll think it's stupid but IT WORKS.
    Tie a string around your waist and don't take it off except to replace it. An English GP wrote this up in the BMJ some years ago. He found that it prevented patients whom he'd put on a diet, regaining the weight, which they previously had.

  4. Kern wrote:

    Great blog. High Five.

  5. Chris wrote:

    I hope as many people as possible are able to read your story, Mary. "Inspirational" is a word that is sometimes overused. But not in this case.

  6. gill wrote:

    What a great article, you look fantastic, and to achieve that while doing something that you really enjoy is the key to staying slim and healthy. You should feel very very proud of yourself

  7. George Dombeck wrote:

    Good for you. Its so nice to read a positive life style change that works. I myself was diagnosed with Diabetes last christmas and so far have lost 50 lbs. due to excercise and low carb no sugar diet. Keep up the great work. g

  8. Pete wrote:

    Mary you are a legend! (and so is George Dombeck 🙂

    I was fascinated to read about the complexity of your story – how your physical and psychological health was affected by the journeys in both directions.

  9. Jane wrote:

    Hi, I've just came across your blog. wow is all I can say. I too am obese at 14stone and a height of 5"3 I am 49 and have now started feeling breathless during the day and when I lie down. I am sure its due to all this weight around my belly etc and lack of exercise.

    I do have a bike but afraid to get on it because of the breathlessness I am having.

  10. Patrick wrote:

    Hello Jane. Mary (the author of this page) is no longer active on this website so she is unlikely to comment on your post, but as far as I know she's still active on her bicycle. Her 'turnaround' from 2007 was certainly impressive. Good luck with everything.

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