“Shit, Gideon, you have LOST WEIGHT!”
I know that’s what some friends and family are thinking. They see me for the first time in six or so months and the shock on their face shows, though no-one actually says it to me.
Well, maybe my brother says it to me, but hey, we can carry out a perfectly adult conversation while one of us is sitting on the loo with the door open, so it doesn’t really count.
No-one else says it because where the weight has gone is an unspoken and delicate truth. The tumour in my brain has been gobbling it up like some pulsating hungry blob from a horror movie.
But I can hide no more; it is time to put the record straight.
I have lost a fair chunk of weight since last year. But it’s got nothing to do with cancer, or tumours, or depression, or stress, or even some new age flax-seed diet I’m on to keep the tumour in check.
It’s down to cycling narcissism and a guy called Graeme.
You see, it all started after I’d shovelled the last spade full of Granny’s snowball pudding and cream into my mouth on Christmas day last year (and experienced a post-Queens speech bloated stomach not unlike that inflicted on me this week by my all new gastric ulcer).
Wiping my mouth with a Christmas tree decorated serviette, I decided that maybe, just maybe, it was time to start racing my bike again.
Not plodding around the Essex lanes with a few chums, or the occasional lap of the reservoir by my house. But proper, balls out racing. Time trials. Road races. Pain, effort, work.
The last time I’d pointed my bike in anger was, you know, pre-children. Heady days. I just couldn’t get in the hours once babies came along.
But now they are older and less time intensive? Try as I might, they weren’t a good enough excuse to avoid training on, rather than just riding my bike.
So on Boxing Day I renewed by British Cycling racing license and the next day I started seeing Graeme again.
I say, seeing. I mean watching.
Graeme Street is a US fitness expert who specialises in cycling and triathlon training. Davina McCall has nothing on this guy, and I have his 12 week Off-Season Core Strength DVD set.
Or to give it its proper name, his 12 week Batter Your Legs, Abs And Lungs Until You Really Can Take No More And Have To Have Your Sore Arse Prized Off the Saddle With a Crow Bar DVD Set.
From New Year’s Day onwards, I’d toddle off most evenings to the training bike in our outhouse, dressed only in lycra shorts, with one of his DVDs and an exercise matt tucked under my arm.
“Oh, going off for a hot workout with Graeme,” my wife would chide with narrowed eyes, as I’d smile weakly knowing what was in store for me for the next 60 minutes.
Graeme is one of the no-mercy types of fitness trainers. In fact, he says exactly that a lot.
“I want no mercy on those abs guys,” he says while demonstrating the exercises without a bead of sweat sullying his forehead. “I want active compression, I can’t just have you moving up and down, wiggling around.”
I, of course, pause the DVD every five minutes to take a breather, only restarting when the blue birds have stopped flying in circles around my head.
“Lift your butt up, don’t let it sag. Hold. Hold. No mercy here guys. ”
That’s how I measure my progress. The fewer pauses per session, the fitter I must be.
And do you know what? It works. Along with regular weekend club rides and dropping bread, alcohol, crisps and anything else from my diet that is actually nice, Graeme gets me in sufficient shape to feel confident enough again to enter a few road races.
And when I turn up for a cycling training camp in Majorca in February, I’m greeted at the airport by a fellow cyclist who looks me up and down, grimaces slightly and says:
“Shit, Gideon, you are looking scarily fit.”
Inwardly, I smile, but of course brush it off with something like, “nah, you’ll see when we hit the mountains.”
You see, for a cyclist being accused of being thin, gaunt and sinewy is the highest compliment, second only to someone admiring your new tiagra chainset, on your flashy freshly polished carbon fibre racing bike. (Oh, this old thing? This is just for training).
I wasn’t blessed with the lankiness and litheness of David Miller or Bradley Wiggins, nor the raw bulky power of Chris Hoy. I’m stuck in the middle. More precisely, cake gets stuck on my middle.
So the body you see before you today took work. Lots of work. And as long as I’m shooting up those (admittedly not very steep Essex) hills, I’m not complaining.
It’s ok to tell me I’ve lost weight. If you want, I’ll show you the new hole I made in my belt with a corkscrew.
But there’s no way in hell I’m letting this tumour take the credit.
By the way, I never did get to compete in those races I’d entered.
A bike crash which left half the skin from my arm scraped across the Clacton Road, and then this pesky epilepsy/brain tumour thing meant I had to pull out of any races I’d entered this year.
Graeme is back in his box for another year, but I’m still doing the big miles and eating pretty well. Thanks for asking.