TOO THIN TO BE A FAT LAD!
Dominic Irvine - Ultra-distance cyclist and FLAB rider
“You shouldn’t be wearing that kit - you’re not fat enough.” If I had a pound for everytime that comment is made to me. More often than not I hear it from those who’ve sat on my wheel as I’ve pounded out the miles. I wasn’t always a super fit endurance monster. Let me take you back a few years.
It was the summer of 1999 when I headed out the door and walked to the top of the street I lived in in Ilkley. I was 112kg and about to start my first run in years. I made it to the next lamp post before having to stop and walk. For the next mile I ran between every other lamp post and walked the rest. I repeated the run a few more times before realising I could not lose weight and at the same time get fit. I also felt very self conscious. It was all too much for me. So I decided to focus on weight loss and 4.5 months later I was down to 82.5kg. What no-one ever tells you is losing weight is incredibly hard, often demoralising and requires epic amounts of motivation. You spend your life hungry and being a bit miserable. It’s definitely not as simple as calories in versus energy expended. That’s the sort of nonsense spouted by thin people who’ve never tried to lose a lot of weight. The reward for me came from standing on the scales every day and plotting the overall trend downwards. Once lighter, I started running and it was so much easier. Within a few months I was really starting to enjoy it, I particularly loved off-road running and even entered a few fell races.
One drunken evening, a neighbour talked me into entering an Ironman triathlon. I hadn’t swum since I was a kid and my bike had a shopping basket on the front for carrying groceries. I rarely rode to the shops a mile or so away, the car was always easier. In the pool, I was out paced by elderly ladies swimming breast stroke and chatting whilst they made their way slowly down the lane. I managed a couple of lengths of thrashing around before being exhausted. My first ‘serious’ bike rides were not much better, I was dropped almost before we’d started the ride. I kept reminding myself that at least I was out having a go and surely that was better than sitting on the couch? What I remember from my first Ironman distance triathlon was the marathon. It was off road. The sun was shining and I was running along eating a packet of crisps listening to a play on Radio 4. I cruised over the finishing line a shade under 11.5 hours and decided if this was sport - I was loving it. 8 Ironman races later my knees called time on running. Incidentally, I got to my lightest weight during my Ironman phase at 79kg and 5% body fat, but at this level I was almost always miserable, ill and cold. I realised I was too light.
But back to the story. I was always a dreadful swimmer and with running no longer an option I decided to focus on long distance cycling. It was back to being the Fat Lad At The Back - in my first ultra-distance race, I was the last rider to make the cut off taking 30 hours to complete the 525km and 13,500m of ascent. In the final 12 hours of the race I kept vomiting and could only eat an occasional boiled sweet as long as I just sucked on it and didn’t swallow (I had a lot to learn about nutrition and hydration). At about this time, a casual comment in a conversation led to what was become a 5 year obsession with the Lands End to John O’Groats tandem bike record. It had stood for decades at 50 hours 14 minutes and 25 seconds. The record had withstood attempts from Olympians and National cycling champions. It felt as crazy as doing an Ironman as a first triathlon. Once again I was back to novice status this time learning to ride a tandem. It was about this time I came across FLAB. I totally related to the brand. It was about getting up and getting out there - not taking yourself too seriously but at the same time not being afraid to give it a go. It was this spirit that kept me going through the two failed attempts on the record. Finally, at the age of 47, in 2015 along with my riding partner we set a new tandem world record of 45 hours and 11 minutes for the 842 miles that is LEJOG (this stands to this day). Building on the back of this fitness led to a win and a 3rd place in a couple of European Ultra Distance races.
The learning curve from running between lamp posts to standing on a podium in Italy had been huge and so it made sense to commit these lessons to paper. So I wrote a book co-authored with Professor Simon Jobson, who coached us to break the LEJOG record. These days I’m lucky enough to have one of the best cycling coaches and a world class levels of fitness. I work with a nutritionist, a psychologist and my race bikes are custom made to deliver the riding characteristics I want. But once again I am the Fat Lad At The Back. Now I’ve shifted to ultra distance off-road. My next race is 2750 miles. It’s highly improbable I will win, unlikely I will finish (most riders don’t) but in the true spirit of FLAB, I’m giving it a go. I’m still no weight weenie at 84kg and 9% body fat, and I get my butt kicked on long climbs, but who cares - the important thing is getting out there and enjoying your cycling.
What I have learnt is that FLAB is an attitude, it’s a mindset, it’s not a specific weight or body mass. It’s a philosophy that recognises ordinary people can do extraordinary things when they set their mind to it. I wear my kit with pride.
You can read Dom's book on ultra distance cycling here.