Wahoo Le Col elite cyclist Marc Mäding shares the honest truth about his struggles with mental health and why he’s done doing things he doesn’t enjoy!
by Marc Mäding
My name is Marc. I am 30 years old, live in the south of Germany, and just quit my Master’s studies for mental health reasons. You might be disappointed if you click on this article expecting to read about my fancy cycling history and success.
It is more of a story about mental health, the role of cycling or sport, and hopefully, the beginning of a fancy and successful cycling career. I like to address mental health because it needs more attention and awareness. Especially in cycling, eating disorders are prevalent.
I find examples of it almost daily, simple things like only if I ride this long can I eat pizza, ice cream, or drink a beer. Why? They won’t hurt you in moderation. Fuel properly for your rides, and you can still treat yourself.
My Early Challenges
But back to my story. As a teenager, I focused on accomplishments like good grades and looks. It was a way to be “special” and deal with negative feelings. As a result, I became anorexic at 16 years old.
Unfortunately, I refused to get professional help back then. I thought I knew better. Me needing help? Never! Of course, I was wrong.
I got my weight back up and got into fitness and weight lifting. I developed more lousy eating habits. I got muscular and shredded but slowly developed Bulimia.
I got my first road bike at some point. I attained my Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and Engineering. Then I started my Master’s degree—And burned out!
My Burn Out!
It had to happen. You can’t compensate for negative feelings forever by accomplishing things where you have to force your body and not allow it to rest. Your body needs balance, and it will take what it needs at some point.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s nice to be successful and be good at something. But you need to remember that success or failure won’t change the opinion your friends and family have about you, and it doesn’t make you more or less valuable.
I got burned out and wasn’t able to handle my everyday life. I took two years off and did therapy. I wanted to finish my Master’s degree, or at least I thought so. I started writing my thesis last year but realized it made me sick again.
It’s not what I want to do. And I am done doing things I don’t enjoy.
That brings me finally back to cycling. I love cycling! It’s the best thing in the world. I’m trying to find my way in life, and I hope it has to do with cycling. Together with my lovely, beautiful, and supportive girlfriend Laura.
My Cycling Story
I got my first road bike in August 2015. My original plan was to get into triathlon, but I loved cycling too much, and my body is not made for swimming. Before that, I occasionally rode MTB but never with performance in mind.
Even after getting my road bike and working on improving my endurance, I never got into the racing scene, nor did I join a local cycling club. Cycling was just something I did for fun. That is, before it, unfortunately, became part of my bulimia and an effective tool to burn excessive calories.
It took a while before I was able to separate it again. It became fun again and, like therapy, a way to clear and calm your brain. Looking back, I was very fast on the bike from the beginning. But I didn’t know about Strava or KOMs.
2019 was the first year I became fit, close to my level now. I started competing for local KOMs but still had no interest in competitions. It was 2022 when I did my first outdoor race. Yes, only last year.
After my first Zwift team—Schwarzwaldmilch—“convinced” me to do it. It was awesome, of course. My biggest win was the “Schauinslandskönig”, a prestigious hill climb TT in south Germany, roughly 30 min in duration.
My Zwift Story
I only joined Zwift around Christmas 2021. I did many community races. It was my first time competing on a bike. It took some time before I learned about Zwiftpower and that you want to sign up there if you take Zwift racing somewhat seriously.
I indicated that I was looking for a team on my profile, and it was only a short time till Schwarzwaldmilch, a German Team, contacted me. I raced ZRL and other series with them. We made it to the ZRL playoffs, where I won the semi-final and became second in the final. Those were my most significant achievements till then.
Because of my power numbers, I got more into elite racing and what it takes to do it. So I started dual recording, and Wahoo Le Col contacted me. They wanted me for their elite team. It was an incredible offer and a chance I had to take.
WLC is so well organized and professional, and I like that. Now I made it to the highest level in virtual racing, participating in the Zwift Grand Prix and the upcoming World Championships.
I also joined the Eat DIRT team two months ago, mainly to do TTTs on Thursdays. I love TTTs. Not only is it excellent training, but the camaraderie helps push you further because you want to do good for yourself and others. The people there are simply amazing, with support, banter, and lots of positivity.
Let’s be real. Zwift is a superior training tool, but the community is why people love it and come back.
The Esports Racer
My strength is my aerobic engine. But my kick isn’t too bad, either. Races need to be hard and long enough, and I can beat anyone in a sprint. I think my style just changed recently. I try to make more use of my aerobic capacity by racing more aggressively, trying for breakaways, and making the race hard.
I’m 180 cm tall and weigh somewhere around 69-70 kg.
My indoor PBs in Watts:
My favorite training workout has to be the 30/30. Two sets with 20 repetitions—30 seconds on at 130 % FTP, 30 seconds off at 70 % FTP.
I love it for many reasons:
- Total time in Z6 (anaerobic) 20 min, training your anaerobic system.
- Each of the 20 min sets has an average of around 100 % FTP, so you also train your aerobic system.
- You prepare to recover between efforts.
- You teach mental toughness, it will start hurting, but you push again and again.
Many benefits to eracing. You can find the workout in the Zwift Academy 2016 folder on Zwift.
What needs to happen first is a definition of accuracy! All these accuracy claims have no real value. 1% accuracy compared to what? There has to be a strict test protocol manufacturers need to follow to test accuracy. At least for the World Championships, every rider is on the same model trainer. And, of course, within one model, there can still be differences, but they should be little to none.
I love the Zwift Grand Prix format. First of all, it separates eracing from road racing now. You need different tactics, and your team can’t just work for one strong star rider. Every rider has to play their strengths to make it into the next race. It takes a complete rider to win it. Many Zwifters struggle to repeat efforts or make a significant effort after one hour of racing. The 12 riders who make it to the third and final race will undoubtedly be the strongest AND the ones who mastered the Zwift-craft.
I want to become World Champion. That’s what I work towards, and I will race my heart out when the day arrives. In the long term, I want to help grow the sport, make it more attractive to sponsors, and increase transparency.
I’m confident it will grow, although I’m not an expert on what needs to happen. Well, improving coverage would be one point. Maybe get GCN back in the boat again?
How can Zwift not be attractive? Where else can you ride with Mark Cavendish (cycling pro), Cal Crutchlow (ex-MotoGP rider), and myself (haha) in the same group? Yes, that happened, and not just once.
I want to take the chance to give a shout-out to all the awesome people I have met since joining Zwift. You know who you are.
Connect with Marc
Do you have a not-so-fancy cycling story to tell?
Comment below! Your fellow cyclists, like Marc, want to know.
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Semi-retired as owner and director of his private Orthopedic Physical Therapy practice after over 20 years, Chris is blessed with the freedom to pursue his passion for virtual cycling and writing. On a continual quest to give back to his bike for all the rewarding experiences and relationships it has provided him, he created a non-profit. Chris is committed to helping others with his bike through its work and the pages of his site.
In the summer of 2022, he rode 3,900 miles from San Francisco to New York to support the charity he founded, TheDIRTDadFund. His “Gain Cave” resides on the North Fork of Long Island, where he lives with his beautiful wife and is proud of his two independent children.
You will read him promoting his passion on the pages of Cycling Weekly, Cycling News, road.cc, Zwift Insider, Endurance.biz, and Bicycling. Chris is co-host of The Virtual Velo Podcast, too!