Lungs growing, heart racing, legs pounding – 180 miles every day for five days. For most, this is a difficult enough distance for a day on the bike, but for Thomas Martinez, this immense distance from Land’s End to John O’Groats was a whole new experience.
Cycling is many things to people, and everyone has a different journey into the sport. For Martinez, a tattoo artist from Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, cycling was his lifeline to a brighter future. Having made the decision to get sober on New Year’s Eve 2020, it wasn’t going to be an easy road to recovery, even before the added strain of a global pandemic.
“Once lockdown came to the UK I didn’t have my job to fall back on and I was at a crossroads: could I make my drinking an even bigger problem or could I focus my mind elsewhere,” Martinez tells GravelBikes.Online. . “Having made that pivotal decision, I really went for it on the bike when I could have so easily gone the wrong way.”
Life on two wheels is not abnormal for him, as he was a keen BMX rider from the age of 10. However, when I was in my twenties, I would do a few laps at the local skate park and get out of breath. “Now, after putting in some serious miles on the road bike and almost two years sober, I could now go out on the BMX and it doesn’t even feel strenuous. I could easily ride around the skatepark all day.” he says
Since then, Martínez has taken on tests of his strength and endurance on the road, having taken on numerous challenges, including an Everesting in Sa Calobra de Mallorca, and taking on the grueling Dragon Sport Devil in Wales But does dedication to quitting an addiction help during those darkest moments of suffering on the road?
“You definitely go through a lot of emotions,” she says. “Obviously it’s very trying on the body, but also on the mind. There are times on the bike when you’re suffering, but you really start to think about what you’re achieving, and I never imagined I’d be able to do things like this before I was sober: my health and fitness would never have increased.to him.
“It makes me think that if I’m strong enough to do this, I’m definitely strong enough to leave my addictions alone.”
Before weekends were replaced by coffee, cake and chaingang rides, Martinez would spend the weekend at the pub, where his addiction began. “Society normalizes going out and drinking on the weekend,” he said. “I thought that was the only way to have fun: going out, drinking too much, spending all Sunday hungover. I was in a rut, but I just thought it was normal.”
Martínez is not alone, thousands of people around the world, cyclists or not, suffer from alcohol dependence. We know it can be all too easy to hit the pub or have a few drinks after the ride, but how can too many of them affect our performance when it comes to pushing the pedals?
Will Girling MSc SENr, sports nutritionist and head of performance nutrition for the WorldTour cycling team, explained to EF Education-EasyPost that alcohol consumption can be very detrimental to recovery from training efforts.
“We all know what alcohol does in general, and we know when too much of it isn’t good for us,” says Girling.
“But in terms of athletic performance, alcohol can reduce your ability to repair muscles, recover quickly and adapt to different training sessions, because drinking will reduce what we call our muscle protein synthesis. For example, if you train five days a week and drink three or four days a week, your recovery will suffer and you won’t get in shape as quickly and perform as well as you’d probably like.”
He adds: “If you have a healthy relationship with alcohol, then an everything-in-moderation approach may be best, even the pros have a beer now and then. But if you’ve had a history of alcohol in the past, the sobriety is probably the best course of action for your mental and physical health.”
Martinez cycles every day and has done so for the past 12 months, whether it’s a quick 30km session, a 300km ultra or a 60-minute sweat session indoors. “Being sober is 100% why I’m physically so strong on the bike now,” Martinez adds. “It’s even helped me become a nicer person and mentally stronger. Cycling has given me the space for some peace, especially if I’m overthinking or dealing with stress, where I would have come to have a beer before.
“I’ve realized there’s a bigger lift than alcohol and for me that’s riding a bike, pushing myself, experiencing new places and achieving things I never thought I would.”
Reflecting on what he has overcome, he is not on a crusade to convince others to become abstinent.
“I don’t want my sobriety to define me,” she says. “I talk about it on my social media channels and it’s amazing when I get messages saying I’ve helped someone get sober. It certainly helps me stay accountable, but I’d rather be associated with cycling than alcohol.
“For someone else, alcohol might not be a problem, but for me, the feeling of being on my bike is much more enjoyable than any night out.”