The simple act of rediscovering cycling three years ago brought about a transformation that has seen Jason Searle of Silverdale lose more than 40kg, develop a taste for healthy food and regain his enthusiasm for life. He talked to Terry Moore, in Bikewise Month, about how old habits die hard, 1km at a time.
I was an active kid, but had a congenital heart defect so had quite a few stints in hospital, the longest ones were in my teenage years. That heart problem eventually meant I had to cut out all contact sports and it wasn’t long before I began to put on weight. I had an operation when I was 21 which fixed the heart problem, but in the meantime an inactive lifestyle had became normal and that lasted for a long time – I had turned into the typical couch potato, eating bad food and doing bugger all. That was until my wife, Pauline, decided that we would do the Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge together three years ago. We only had a month to prepare and as a result it was brutal. Although we did some training, we weren’t nearly fit enough for the 40km we had to ride and got to the first relay point and didn’t go any further. I might have made it further if I’d gone on alone, but didn’t see the point because I was there to ride with my wife.
I used to cycle a lot with my mates when I was at school – we were always out on our bikes – and I guess what that first Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge did was give me that passion for riding back. Once I’d begun cycling, other things in my life began to change, but not straight away; eating bad food is a habit that’s very hard to break. Just from riding, I dropped 15kg, without really having to try. I found I could still eat the same rubbish and lose weight and of course I thought that was fantastic. I dropped another 15kg, and got to 100kg, which was my first goal, but because I thought I’d ‘made it’, I relaxed and the result was that I gained another 10kg. I don’t drink, but I like sweet food and as a family we ate burgers and fish and chips a couple of times a week. We are a busy family and takeaways are seen as an easy option. Although I kept cycling, my weight stalled for around a year until, last year, I made a conscious decision to change my eating habits. I had another Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge coming up and wanted to do better that time. In 2012, I’d been way better prepared for the event and it took me 7.5 hours to ride the full 160km. For the 2013 Challenge I stepped up the training and was doing an average of 400–500km per week. By starting most mornings at 6am, I’d be back by 9am and ready to start work. I cut out bread and soft drinks and stopped snacking between meals, apart from healthy options. As well as losing 30kg and being fitter overall, my skin improved and I was sleeping better. I work as a building inspector and it became a whole lot easier to get under houses and squeeze into the roof cavity. My health improved in other ways too – I used to get migraines and when I got a cold I’d be down for a couple of weeks and get a chest infection. Part of that was due to the fact that I also used to get through a 50g packet of roll your own tobacco every week, but I stopped smoking the year Pauline and I got married. I gave up by going cold turkey – I failed three or four times but then something clicked and I just didn’t want any more cigarettes. You have to want to do it and be determined. The same has happened with eating well – I don’t feel like eating junk food any more. We’ll go and get KFC for a treat, but half an hour later you feel bad from eating all that fat. The better I ate, the less hungry I was because I wasn’t loading my system with processed food. I’ve always been the cook at home and so the whole family’s diet has changed with a lot less fatty food, more vegetables and better quality meat. It’s given me loads more energy – it used to take a coffee or two before I was wide awake, but I don’t need that any more.
What’s important at cycling events is beating my last time. Last year I knocked almost two hours off my time at Taupo and I’m doing similar times at other events. This month I’m doing The Rev in Cambridge, which has a killer hill that’s even steeper than Albany Hill so I’m looking forward to that. I got advice from a coach last year, and now work out my own training schedule. I try and go for a ride six days a week, occasionally by myself but usually with a group of local riders. I’d rather be outside, in any weather, than on the indoor trainer even though it’s not exactly cycle friendly around the Hibiscus Coast. What it boils down to is that there is a minority of idiot drivers, and idiot cyclists and those few bad apples spoil it for the rest of us. The road network needs to improve though; we need more dedicated cycle lanes. They are redoing the roads where I ride in Waitoki, Wainui and Helensville, but unfortunately appear to be going back to rough chip instead of tarseal, so it’s hard on cyclists. There are also no decent shoulders to ride on and when there are, they usually have glass on them that’s been thrown from cars. I’ve had quite a few near misses, but no major injuries although I did have had to go to the cops once or twice about dangerous drivers who didn’t look or slow down for bikes, even when we were riding in a group. The fact that it’s not very safe for cyclists has put off the rest of my family from riding on the road, but we’ve just got mountain bikes and we’re doing some of the trails in Rotorua – it’s a great family activity and something we’ll be doing more and more.
I’m down to 85kg and it hasn’t been cheap – I had to buy a whole new wardrobe. There were unexpected things too such as dropping a whole helmet size, and my shoe size changed because my feet got narrower. Buying the right gear, like carbon fibre bikes, and entering events is not cheap and you have to take time away from home and work – you can spend several hundred without even blinking. Family support is important and you need that give and take; generally they try to be there at the finish line. My wife might tell you different, but I’m not obsessed with cycling; some days I wake up and don’t feel like going for a ride, but I do anyway because I’ve made a commitment to the other riders I train with. I don’t let it rule my life. I gave up my other job, professional photography, not only because I was doing too much bike riding, but also because I lost my passion for it. That’s not going to happen with cycling, because the more I do it, the more I enjoy it. When we first started riding, keeping going for just 5km was a struggle, so we did the easy option of riding around the Orewa Estuary cycleway, and built up to going around it several times. Little steps matter.