Becoming a father for the first time is an undoubtedly life-altering experience. Most that have been there will tell you it’s the proudest achievement of their life, that little comes close to the feeling of helping a child find their way in the world.
Of course, becoming a parent comes with a set of significant challenges. Reduced independence, sleep deprivation, reduced personal time — all factors that can make it hard to stay commited to the life of a dedicated cyclist.
But as Nathan Hosking writes about his first year as a father, it’s not impossible to stay fit and active while maintaining your responsibilities as a parent.
It was a slow February afternoon in the manchester department of my local Myer store when the words hit me. “I’m pregnant”, said my wife. A momentary of high elation was followed by an equal moment of apprehension as my mind calculated the due date. I’d been training hard for three months towards my personal Everest: the Gran Fondo World Champs in Perth, September 2016. “But that’s just six weeks before the champs!,” I thought to myself. I couldn’t help it, I’d been training so hard!
I discovered cycling in 2010, aged 30, after a mildly successful career as a weekend sportsman playing field hockey with Old Trinity, getting as high as State League 4 (think Victorian Road Series B grade). I’d always been committed to staying fit and so I figured cycling would be a good way to maintain that commitment as I began my 30s. That’s before I learned about Amy’s Gran Fondo and something on the summer weekends called ‘criterium racing’. Fast forward to mid-2016 and I’d worked my way up to be a strong B-grade/mid A-grade crit racer.
At my first Dads & Bubs class the instructor asked what ‘lifestyle changes’ we all expected to be associated with fatherhood. “Reduced athletic performance!” said someone in the corner. “Speak for yourself, buddy!” was my mental reply — I was determined to show him, and society generally, that becoming a dad doesn’t mean a one-way trip to physical decline, as we so often hear.
At this point let me say that nothing prepares you mentally for the life-changing event that is parenthood. You will hear good advice, and you will hear horror stories of sleep deprivation, dirty nappies and frayed nerves. But for me, as the big day approached, I had to block it all out — nobody was going to do this for me and their experience wasn’t going to be my experience. Like most things in life, you never know how you’re going to react to anything until you’re neck deep in it.
That said, being used to 5am starts and three-hour bike rides gave me a good head start. Through the alarms, the feeds, the stinky nappies and the wailing late-night lungs, I found that being a dedicated roadie was actually an advantage. I was well aware of the challenges of operating in a state of fatigue, having done so for the past five years.
You hear a lot about the importance of goal setting. For me it is simply a case of finding your vehicle, the thing that will motivate you to carve out saddle time in among all the other things you need to accomplish during the average week. For me, it was a desire to continue being a competitive club racer, after the birth of my child.
It didn’t take me long to discover that time is the greatest commodity we have. Sure money is good, but at the end of the day you don’t need to spend money on those shiny carbon hoops. As for time: well, you’ve really got no choice in the matter — you have to spend it regardless.
I found that changing my approach to training — from tracking distance to tracking time — was of great benefit. That little ‘weekly goal’ feature in Strava is worth the cost of a premium membership on its own. Here are some other things that helped put me in good stead, to keep the legs ticking over in my first year as a father:
– Getting a good indoor setup at home. When it comes to being efficient with your time, the likes of Zwift, TrainerRoad etc. offer great ‘bang for your buck’. If a smart trainer is outside of your new budget constraints, a classic trainer will be immeasurably better than nothing at all and will take traffic and poor weather out of the equation.
– Doing structured training. I learned about the importance of structure during six months of coaching with HPTek. The likes of Zwift and TrainerRoad also come with their own training programmes, so if you’re stuck for what to do, just get onto one of them and stick with it for the duration.
– Making the most of the commute. This is an oldie but a goodie. We all have to get to work somehow and incorporating a quick bunch ride into the morning commute gives me two hours of saddle time along with another full hour on the way home. That’s 90km combined!
– Working from home one day a week, if possible. Modern workplaces are often pushing for a good work/life balance so this one might be more available than you think. Working from home will give you kudos from your other half as it will give you more time to help out around the house; kudos you can draw on later to obtain saddle time. Working at home also means you can get a few extra Zs without having to worry about getting up early for the work commute.
– Working hard to stay disciplined, away from the bike. Be sure to drink two bottles of water per day, watch what you order for lunch, and invest in a foam roller so you can squeeze out the lactic without taking away from your time at home or the workplace. Finding a bike shop near your workplace can be beneficial, too, saving your weekend afternoons for time with the family and for doing things around the house.
Doing all of the above means I’m still managing 8-10 hours of saddle time per week, which is more than enough to be competitive in any B-grade race Melbourne has to offer.
Even with all these things considered, the first few weeks of parenthood still hit me pretty hard. The disruption in sleeping patterns and daily routine is something you just have to deal with at the time. Luckily for those of us here in Australia, we have two weeks’ paternity leave up our sleeve, which you can use to spend with your new family. And believe me, you will want to.
The transition period is a tough one, but what they say about children is true – it’s different when they’re your own. Night and day, black and white – it’s a completely new life. The experience of becoming a father, and the added responsibility it entails, is something truly special.
Once I was in a rhythm, I found I had a 2-3 hour period where I felt somewhat human — normally from 6-9pm. An indoor trainer session kept things turning over during this time. Anything was better than nothing plus it was a mental escape while still being physically available for my new family.
So the wheel turns and we’re now through the first year of parenthood. It hasn’t been an easy ride, but then again nothing worth truly having is ever easy. But cycling is a hard sport, and cyclists are tough.
At a recent one-year-old’s birthday party, I overheard a bunch of blokes chatting as they stood near the drinks cooler. Beers in hand, the conversation turned to the subject of weight — more specifically, how much they’d put on since having kids and how much they wanted to lose. Smiling quietly, I helped myself to another Coke Zero and left them to it, still in the same trouser size I’ve had since high school.
Fatherhood really is no reason to stop loving your bike, so whatever shape cycling takes for you post-children, make sure it’s one that works for you. Do so and you’ll be treating yourself to a continued active lifestyle which will pay dividends for years to come.
Your kids will thank you for it.
How has having kids affected your cycling? Have you found a way to ensure you’re still getting time on the bike?