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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 June 2018

From fat to fit: get on your bike 

Our writer has at last hauled himself into the saddle and he’s feeling much better for it

Boy delivering newspapers on his bicycle. Getty Images
Boy delivering newspapers on his bicycle. Getty Images

Finally, it’s happened: I got on my bike. Having procrastinated for longer than I care to admit, and just as the temperatures go from “ideal for outside sporting activities” to “hotter than the surface of the Sun”, I’m back on two wheels.

Cycling is huge in the UAE. With routes through desert enclaves and open, free-to-attend track sessions at venues such as Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi or Dubai’s Autodrome, there is no real excuse for anyone with a bike to not be out there using it. Even if you don’t possess one, they’re available all over the country for hire. And still, I’ve managed to ignore the nagging voices – both the one in my head and the one from Mrs H, which has issued me untold ultimatums, to either use it or sell it.

And I’ve maintained, all along, that I’d soon get back in the saddle. I have all the gear – the silly Lycra shorts, the helmet, the gloves. I also have foam ear plugs to stop the wind giving me unbearable earache, and a pair of cycling glasses to prevent my eyes streaming or getting bugs in them. And yes, dressed up in all this stuff, I look ridiculous – something I cannot escape as the lifts in my building have mirrors for walls. At least with the cycling helmet on, I don’t catch sight of the ever-expanding area of exposed skin on top of my head. Getting old really does suck.

That said, my legs have always been exceptionally strong, even if they’re a bit skinny. A good friend, who’s unfortunate enough to have a body shape similar to mine, once remarked that we looked like barrels teetering around on stilts. He was right, for if the rest of me was as lean as my pins, I wouldn’t need to be writing these weekly columns.

When I was in my mid-teens, I used to do a paper round every morning. For anyone under the age of 35, this used to be a job mainly carried out by children of school age and involved (usually) picking up newspapers from a shop and delivering them to homes along a route. And for me this involved cycling seven days a week over a distance of roughly 16 kilometres per day. It would take a couple of hours, in rain or shine, and I was fitter than a butcher’s dog. As soon as I turned 16, though, I ditched pedal power for a small motorcycle and it was all downhill from then on, at least when it came to my physical fitness.

Imagine cycling up and down hills with a heavy bag of newspapers on your shoulder for nearly 6,000km every year. That was my life – it’s how I made a bit of money to buy my own clothes, build a music collection and take my first overseas holiday. It’s amazing how motivated you can be when there’s only one way for you to achieve your goals, and now my goal is to live longer, be in less pain and generally be less of an eyesore to my svelte better half. This so-called bike “seat” and I shall need to remain closely acquainted for some time.

And something that any gym-goer says rings true at the end of each ride: you’re always glad you made the effort. My aim is to never give in to temptation to make life a bit easier by standing up and pedalling while off the seat or even, depending on my frame of mind, dismounting and pushing. Even on two steeply-inclined parts of the circuit route, I resist. As I tackle the final brick-paved ramp that leads from Dubai Marina’s walkway to the streets above, I make that effort to summon all the strength I can muster from my aching thighs.

My reflection in the lift’s mirrored walls as I head back up to my flat is quite unpleasant – I’m broken, soaking wet and completely dishevelled. But I’m happy because I actually did it. I’ve got my heart pumping like a thing possessed, I’ve increased my strength levels and, crucially, I’ve just burnt off nearly 800 calories, effectively neutralising the breakfast and lunch I’ll be having later on.

If I can turn this into a regular habit then I’ll soon need to buy some new clothes and, for once, I won’t mind a trip to the shops.

I might even invest in some more lycra

Some things are worth getting out of bed for

Cutting out animal products is one thing, eating healthily is another

Find the right coach to reach your goals

Results after a month of hurt

Staying the course when one is sick

Sorting out the diet one week at a time

Getting started with the first workout

Facing the hard truths

Sedentary with sciatica, it’s time for a fitness fix

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