Interview with Martyn Irvine
We had the chance to meet Martyn Irvine, former World Champion in track cycling. He kindly accepted to reply to our many questions, and we are happy to share the interview with you all!
Standing in the sun – because yes, we have a surprisingly amazing weather here at the moment – Martyn is relaxed and happy to share about his experience with us. Thisinterview was very interesting, even for people who do not know a lot about track cycling. We went deep into a sports professional’s feelings, motivation and mental state during the competitions.
“It was all worthwhile”
- What would you say to young people going into cycling?
M.I: Cycling is awesome. There are loads of opportunities coming out of cycling : travel the World, by racing or just for fun. If I had not started cycling, I probably would not have left my town. It really got me around the World, and cycling does that.
- So you say you travelled the World, what is your favourite memory or the best place you have ever been to?
M.I: It was in the middle of China near Tibet, just really high up -4000m. You are in the clouds. That stands out because it is kind of unique, but Cape Town in South Africa was cool, Melbourne also is nice, Thailand is cool. I liked to travel around America, I lived there for a year. So there is a lot of things I did but China is kind of unique.
- What were the dietary restrictions and what did you miss most?
M.I: I suppose sweet treats is something that you have to put on the long list. I got away with murder to be honest. I have a pretty fast appetite, but I did not really get that fat. You want to eat right and it is not so much of a chore if you are in that mind set. But I think that a bit of chocolate cake does not hurt, you do want that after a while.
- We talked about the best places you have been thanks to cycling. Which people did you meet thanks to cycling?
M.I: My wife! I met her at a bike race in North Dublin, I haven’t been home since to be honest! I suppose that another kind of unique person is my coach who I met in Switzerland, an American coach. He trained me up to Championship. He’s a pretty unique character.
- Is your wife a cyclist, does she like it?
M.I: She does like it but she can’t do as much of it as she would like to, she is working away. But if she didn’t like cycling I would not be a cyclist at all!
- Do you think there are a lot of Irish women in cycling?
M.I: There is not as many as you want really. When I started, you would struggle to see 10 women racing around Ireland. The bunch is getting bigger now, there are 20 or 30 maybe, and up to 50 or 60 at certain races. So there is definitely an upward trend these last few years. But it is a fraction of the men.
Does an interest in cycling run in your family?
M.I: Absolutely not! I did not even do PE in school, I got out of any physical activity. I was the laziest thing! My family were not even into sports! It is actually a car mechanic who got me into cycling, which got me into racing and that’s how I started. I am a bit of a freak in that way in the family.
How have you gone from mechanics to cycling?
M.I: The guys in the valley bay just loved bikes, and for a year or two I thought they were crazy. I was sitting in a corner and looking at what they were doing, reading bike magazines and all this. They got me out on a bike after work one day, and then I got a road bike and then that was it. I was 18 when I started cycling and I went mad at it.
- Do you like urban cycling, commuting?
M.I: I love commuting around town but it is hard for me because I live further away, so when I commute it is 1:30 each way so it’s a proper cycle, you have to get the right clothes on and all. It is a bit of a chore. But I would love to be more central and be more relaxed. But the bike is definitely the best way to get around town!
Tell us about drugs?
M.I: There is a real culture in road cycling. I was a bit blind when I came into road cycling and I did not know what was what. I can focus on a track which is shorter, faster than road racing. The craziness comes in when bigger contracts and bigger money is in the road side of cycling. The ethics are questioned because if you are a good road rider you can get 1million euro contract whereas with track cycling you do it for the glory of the Olympics, and that’s the way I went. When I started racing for Ireland, I got tested all the time. I think 20-30 anti-doping tests a year would have been normal for me. You hear a knock on the door, at any time of day, could be 6.30 in the morning, and they take bloods. I had to update my whereabouts everyday. I had to say I am home at this time, I am training at this time and so on. They run random tests. The system I was in was real skewed. If I had cheated I couldn’t have slept at night. I don’t know how they do it, the dopers you know. Never really interested me. Maybe I am just too honest.
Is it very common?
M.I: For sure! I have raced with guys that have been banned since. When you hear the whole story, that they can come from difficult backgrounds, you can kind of see their reasons for trying to make it. But for those who cheat people out of a living, I cannot see how they can sleep at night, that’s stealing people’s money. I suppose there is an argument for everything.
Do you mind/like being in the public eye?
M.I: I was never really in it to be honest! Being World Champion was kind of cool. It is funny when you try to get somewhere, there are no sponsors or little help. But then, when you win something, you get stuff really easily. I always find that funny. I struggled to get any sort of results and then when you have got results, you get helmets, shoe sponsors, bike sponsors who want to give you stuff. So that side was cool. For a few years I just got stuff given to me, it was nice. I wasn’t really for self promotion. I did not really go and shout about it. If I had I could probably have made more money!
- What were the mental challenges before and after cycling?
M.I: It was a lot more mental than you think. It is not like a skills-based sport, like golf skills. Everyone can cycle so everyone can do it but it is a mental challenge to persist with it. I used to spend time talking myself out of races or out of good performances. The mental side was massive. If I could do it all again, I would be more, not arrogant, but more confident and have a positive mental attitude. I was probably a real pessimist when I was cycling, I questioned anything I did and I think there’s a lot to be said for a positive attitude in anything you do.
It really works for me now. I had no nerves towards the end of my career, and I have put that down to planning right, training right and just doing everything that you had to do right. And then once you did everything well, you had this real confidence that you have no need to worry, because everything is done. And I think that’s something I would push forward again. For talented people, just do what you can and then the rest is easy.
Are you naturally competitive?
M.I: I don’t think so. I would not race you up to the stairs! I could not care less about a card game or something just to win. I don’t feel the need to win everything, but I think that I am maybe more focused and driven than cut throat competitive. When I used to race, it wasn’t beating other people that motivated me, it was kind of just winning something to justify what I did. When I won the World Championship, I felt satisfaction, justification for the work I hd put in. It was all worthwhile. Mentally I was a bit weird, probably not your typical sports person in that way.
I started in 2007-2008 and I did not get any proper results until about the end of 2012. Perseverance actually pays off. If you really want to do something and you push at it long enough, it happens. You really just have to work at it. I was close to quitting loads of times. But planning really helps things work out. The quitting rate in cycling is massive. What you see on the news is generally either really bad news like retirement or someone is giving up or good like when someone has won something. You never hear about the years of work in the middle. Everyone is a natural talent bla-bla-bla. I really don’t believe in those talents. You just need to put the most work in. There is always a background story for why someone is good. Cycling is easy to do, but hard to do well. That’s where the work comes in.
Let’s finish by a fun question… How much Vaseline did you go through in your cycling career?
M.I: Very little actually! I was lucky really! I got Chamois cream. It is the same thing, a fancy version of Vaseline. I did not use a lot really. For track racing I used more though. It sounds silly but when you are trying harder, you sit on less of the seat, and then you need help. But if you get a good bike position, I found I never needed any. Proper clothing, and well trained. Less was more for me. The big problem was being given buckets of the stuff when cycling on pro-teams. However this Chamois cream was well engineered. It was absorbed into the shorts. I don’t really know but it worked. It is worth buying actually!