‘Cycling gives me a bigger high than alcohol’ - Finding sobriety through cycling

Thomas Martinez explains how he became faster, better, stronger, thanks to life teetotal

Lungs burning, heart racing, legs pounding – 180 miles each day for five days. For most, that’s a distance which is challenging enough for one 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 for people, and everyone has a  different journey into the sport. For Martinez, a tattoo artist from Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, cycling was the lifeline to a better future. Having made the decision to go sober on New Year’s Eve of 2020, it wasn’t going to be an easy road to recovery, even before the added strain of a global pandemic. 

“Once the lockdown in the UK hit, I didn’t have my job to fall back on and was at a crossroads moment – I could either have my drinking become an even bigger problem or I could focus my mind elsewhere,” Martinez tells Rouleur. “Having made that pivotal decision, I really went for it on the bike when I could have so easily gone down the wrong path.”

Life on two wheels isn’t abnormal for him, having been a keen BMX rider since the age of 10. However, by his late twenties, a few laps around the local skate park and he’d be out of breath. “Now having put some serious miles on the road bike and being almost two years sober, I could get out on the BMX now and it not even feel strenuous. I could easily ride around the skate park all day long,” he says. 

Martinez has since thrown himself into tests of his strength and endurance on the road, having taken on numerous challenges including an Everesting on Mallorca’s Sa Calobra, and taking on the gruelling Dragon Devil sportive in Wales. But does the dedication to quitting an addiction help during those darker moments of suffering on the road? 

“You certainly go through a lot of emotions,” he says. “It’s obviously very testing on the body but also on the mind. There are moments on the bike when you are suffering but you really start to think about what you’re achieving, and I could never have imagined being able to do things like this before I was sober – my health and fitness would never have been up to it.

“It makes me think, if I am strong enough to do this, I’m certainly strong enough to leave my addictions alone.” 

Before weekends were replaced with coffee, cake and chaingang rides, Martinez would spend his weekend in the pub, where his addiction began. “Society normalises going out and drinking at the weekend,” he said. “I believed that this was the only way to have fun – going out, drinking to excess, spending all of Sunday with a hangover. I was in a rut but I just thought that was normal.” 

Martinez is not alone, thousands of people around the world – cyclist or not – suffer from alcohol dependency. We know it can be all too easy to head to the pub or have a few drinks post-ride, but how can one too many impact our performance when it comes to pushing the pedals?

Will Girling MSc SENr, sports nutritionist and head of performance nutrition for WorldTour cycling team for EF Education-EasyPost, explained alcohol consumption can be seriously detrimental to recovery from training efforts.

“We all know what alcohol does in general and know when in excess it’s not the best for us," Girling says.

“But in terms of athletic performance, alcohol can reduce your ability to repair muscle, recover quickly and adapt to different training sessions as drinking will reduce what we call our muscle protein synthesis. For example, if you’re training five days a week and drinking three or four of those then your recovery will be impaired and you’re not going to get as fit as quickly and perform as well as you’d probably like to.” 

He adds: “If you have a healthy relationship with alcohol then an everything in moderation approach can be best suited, even the pros have a beer from time to time. But if you’ve previously had a history with alcohol then sobriety is probably the best course of action in terms of your mental and physical health.”

Martinez rides every day and has done so for the past 12 months, whether that's a fast 30km, a 300km ultra, or a 60-minute sweat session indoors. “Becoming sober is 100% why I’m physically so strong now on the bike,” 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 previously reached for a beer.

“I’ve come to realise that there’s a bigger high than alcohol and that for me that’s being on my bike, pushing myself, experiencing new places and achieving things I never thought I would.” 

Reflecting on what he has overcome he isn't on a crusade to convince others to become teetotal.

“I don’t want my sobriety to define me,” he says. I do speak about it on my social media channels and it’s incredible when I receive messages saying that I’ve helped someone become sober. This certainly helps me to remain accountable, but I’d rather be associated with cycling over alcohol.

“For someone else, alcohol might not be an issue but for me, the feeling of being on my bike is far more enjoyable than any night out will ever achieve.” 

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