From alcoholic to cycling fanatic: Fit Recovery’s ‘Big Daddy Jim’

The blogger known as Fit Recovery has beaten booze, cigarettes and soda guzzling en route to become a cyclist who churns out hundreds of miles a month during the season.

In September his 684 miles were good enough for first place in the state of Michigan for the National Bike Challenge, and 137th overall — placing him in the top 0.00456% of the 30,000 riders taking part.

His exuberance for riding, strategizing and number crunching are contagious. Check out his blog, and his answers to the questions below, and you’ll see what I mean:

Q. How long had you been running (or whatever else you were doing fitness-wise) before you took up cycling?

A. I started running ten or eleven years ago because I started to get fat after quitting
cigarettes. My wife and I go back and forth debating about how long it’s been, but ten
or eleven years is close. Before I met my wife I was big into rollerblading. I lived across
the street from a Metro Park that had an incredible 8 mile paved path. I’d skate it three
to five times a week – 8-16 miles on weekdays and 24-40 miles on Saturday, that’s
really where I got my fitness start, though I stopped going on principle when they started
requiring pads and helmets. Who needs pads and a helmet at 35 mph on rollerblades
(downhill of course)? Sheesh, to be a stupid kid again.

Q. What hooked you about cycling — and how long did it take to kick in?

A. That’s a really good question. I fought running from day one because it’s so slow and
arduous. I had initially chosen to get fat… I looked in the mirror and made the decision
standing right there, rather than run. I picked up running the next day anyway, but I
never really loved it.

With cycling, once I bought a properly sized Trek mountain bike, and once I found out that cycling actually wasn’t supposed to hurt that much, I went nuts. I bought my first road bike three months later because I “geared out” with slicks on the mountain bike – I couldn’t pedal fast enough in the hardest gear to go any faster downhill. I loved the speed.

I’d say I was hooked less than a week after I bought that Trek mountain bike, but I really went crazy when I picked up my Trek carbon road bike (a 5200) last January. This season was wall-to-wall fun, from March till I started slowing
down for the winter just this past week. I enjoyed all but maybe two or three rides (and we’re talking about two or three out of maybe 200 rides since March – I did two-a-days on the weekends).

Q. Do you have any previous athletic prowess to explain your success, other than (or in addition to) your oft-cited work ethic?

A. I have an ultra-marathon running best friend and I wanted to be crazy like him, but with something other than running and I didn’t have anywhere to rollerblade close to home.

I also have a fantastic mentor that opens his house to us runners every Saturday and
he’s pretty hard core. He was a Special Forces medic and tough as nails for 72 years-
old… I like to hear him say, “Wow” when I tell him about where I rode last week. My
first ever 10-mile run, he ran with us, he slipped on the ice at the turn around and fell…
He got back up, dusted off and ran all the way back. He found out later that day that
he’d broken two ribs. I watched a 62 year old man run five miles with two broken ribs
– I think about that when I’m feeling like I want to quit – what kind of sissy would I be if
I don’t have a broken bone? It helps.

Beyond that, I truly love the endorphin rush I get from cycling. I’m quite hooked on it. As far as work ethic goes, I don’t know, I like what I see in the mirror – I’ve spent my whole adult life trying to get to where I am right now, and that’s really what keeps me going.

Q. How good do you have to be to show up and ride with a club?

A. Now this is a fantastic question. ot very good, especially for women in my neck of
the woods. For men, it’s a little harder.

The trick to club rides is talking with the folks at the local bike shop. They’ll help each individual get into a group that suits them. For me, I talked to the shop owner for months before I showed up to my first ride. He had e ride with the advanced group, said I was ready, heck I thought I was ready, then I got dropped 8 miles into a 33-mile ride when they hit 28 mph on the flat. The trick was there were a lot of other people who dropped before me, and one that dropped just after… I caught up to him and we rode back together and eventually picked up a couple of other guys too.

Advanced groups are no place for a nervous person, but I had the time and the miles in (and a cell phone with maps on it) to feel comfortable enough riding in a new nvironment. The starter groups are a lot slower and take care to make sure noobs don’t get dropped.

Q. You’ve frequently defended your occasional consumption of fast food (as part of an overall diet that sounds like it’s generally pretty decent and disciplined). Was it hard for you to cut your consumption of Coke a while back, or are you the type of guy who, once you decide to do something, you find a way to make it happen?

A. I am not the kind of guy who can make his mind up and just make it happen. Dropping
things that make me feel good but have horrible side effects is a daily struggle. It’s
easier once it becomes habit, but that first few weeks are always torturous. I still
struggle with nicotine (chew the gum to this day) and haven’t been able to kick it. I keep
trying new ways, but I usually end up miserable and in line to buy another box of gum.

The only thing that I dropped in the manner you suggest, that I found a way to make it
happen, was drinking. But that was literally killing me, and a lot quicker than most –
at the rate I drank, had I not quit, they said I’d have died by 30 (12 years ago). When I
quit, I had the liver of a 60 year-old chronic alcoholic. Twenty years later my liver enzymes
are back to healthy (I’ve had it checked).

As far as Coke and eating go, there is a trick to how I maintain a balanced daily
intake. First the Coke, I did the math on how many calories I was consuming on a
weekly basis when it came to Coke. I had to burn an extra 4,000 calories just so I could
keep my Coke habit going – that’s about 80 miles a week, 100 if I wanted to actually
start losing my little bitty man-gut. That’s a lot of miles just to drink Coke, so it had to go
– this was last year, when 100 miles a week was a lot. I kept the coffee (black) for the
caffeine (long story).

Second, I started viewing food as fuel after I mini-bonked on some longer efforts (30-60 miles, around April/May). I wanted to ride every day, with a day or two off every two weeks at the most, I wanted to get into the club rides and I really wanted to do centuries. In order to do that I had to fuel my muscle recovery properly, carbs and protein within a half hour of exercise, the whole nine yards. It just so happened that I was cycling through so many calories, and I was used to eating just enough for 15 running miles a week, that when I started riding 150-200 miles a week, I couldn’t eat enough “good” food to keep from dropping weight. I went from 160 where I was pretty happy, all the way down to 150 before I started hitting the fast food really hard. I’m 6’ tall and 150 is getting a little too light, so I set my sights on 155 where I’ve stayed for months now.

I have preset days where I’ll eat my Burger King or McDonald’s… After the 30-33 mile group ride I’ll eat a Whopper and a Classic Chicken combo. After a century or the 200km I did, it’s a Double Quarter Pounder, no cheese, combo (the salt in the DQP is very much needed). Otherwise, once a week I go for a Fish O’ Filet combo. That seemed to balance me perfectly. I didn’t fluctuate more than a couple tenths of a pound over a 3-month period.

Now that the season is winding down and I’m no longer doing the club ride, that BK day is out – I don’t miss the food because it’s an ingrained “after the ride” habit. Now, if you paid attention, I could have brought the Coke back – I’d been riding enough… But, I’ve got to give up other calories for the empty calories in Coke to drink it, and that trade isn’t worth it. I don’t shy away from a Coke now and again, but I don’t know as I’ll ever buy another two liter again. I do like the new smaller 8 oz bottles, especially at about mile 80 (though I recently found that apple cider is way better).

Q. Am I nuts to try riding 90 miles in a day when I haven’t done more than 20 thus far? (I’m into trying it, and even willing to fail if that’s how it goes, but I’m just curious what pitfalls may lie ahead of us…).

A. The short answer is yes, you are, but that’s not exactly a bad thing either, and it technically depends on your definition of nuts. Centuries are all about two things: Fuel and Drive. If you lack either, you will hurt – especially if you’re riding faster than 15 or 16 mph…a better term is suffer. I love how I handled all but one of mine this year. Last year, my longest ride was 49 miles (but this was done very slowly, 12 mph). This year I progressed from the beginning of the season – from 25 miles to 35.5, to 63.3 (100km), to 90 miles, to two centuries and finally peaked at 125 miles (200km) before putting in another two centuries and calling my season done.

First of all, you don’t want to fail. Starting off with a failure makes it harder to try again. Failure in general also makes success harder on subsequent tries (I should know, I bonked and called the wife at mile 90 of my second to the last century and it made that last one harder to work through). The thinking here is that if you phone it in once, it’s easier to phone it in again. However, if you progressively increase your distance over a season, you’re more likely to succeed when you try to hit the century. You’ll be able to push through the minor aches and pains. I’ve written several posts on my long rides this year.
The most important is the Noob Roadie’s Guide to the Century and then 90 miles of
Awesome!!!. I go into great detail about how I prepared for my first 90 and my first
100… And that prep worked wonders for me. I’ve tried to tinker with different aspects,
no caffeine, no carb loading the night before, etc. and my initial setup was perfect and I
won’t be tinkering too much again.

Q. Anything else you’d like to add?

A. Running and cycling are both very important to my enjoyment of life and my recovery
from alcoholism. I’ve never experienced sheer joy the way I do when I’m out riding, be
it in a group or solo, but the camaraderie at our running club is second to none. It makes the little troubles in life bearable and it makes my recovery from being a drunk fun – and
that’s what is most important.

Have you ever noticed that there are no long faces at a running race or at a charity ride? I’ve never seen one in the ten or eleven years I’ve been at this. There’s a reason for that.

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One Response to From alcoholic to cycling fanatic: Fit Recovery’s ‘Big Daddy Jim’

  1. bgddyjim says:

    Man, who is that handsome fella? Thanks for such a great write up.

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