I needed to organise my thoughts and feelings about cycling, which I had loved for so long, and running; the new kid on the block, packed with a whole range of exciting challenges. And there were questions I needed to answer; would running adversely affect my cycling, would I ever be able to run for more than a few weeks without injury, and how could I develop and maintain my cycling whilst learning to run?
In England, we are blessed with year –round rain. I hate cycling in the rain. You get spray from anything that moves on the road, you can’t see what a puddle may be hiding, for example a wheel- bending pot hole, and when you arrive home at the end of the ride, you have to wash and dry your bike before you start removing cold, wet clothes from your cold, wet body. To my relief, I found that running in the rain was tolerable. It was just a matter of wearing enough of the right kind of clothing.
But cycling was all I had known for 25 years. My body (apart from the bulk and bulges acquired over the last 18 years or so) had previously been modified by cycling countless miles up hill and down dale, in all weathers, twelve months of the year. So it made sense to supplement my running with some cycling, to mix the unknown with a little of the well known (if slightly forgotten).
And so through trial and error, I stumbled into a training programme of sorts, that would mix the two. Quite simply, I would run and cycle on alternate days. This meant my running would continue to improve, as would the cycling. I hoped that they would be helpful to me and to each other.
Running was creating pain in places I didn’t know I had; front of the knee, back of the knee, inside the knee…you get the idea. I found the impact-free, circular action of cycling was helping to ease the running pains. Each week, I studied weather forecasts carefully, and arranged activities to give me the best chance of cycling on dry days. So some doubling up was necessary, involving occasional back to back runs. At first, I ensured one of the runs- usually the second- would be a little shorter, a little easier. Back to back cycle rides presented no problem; the muscles and the mindset of bike racing gradually came back to life, if at a more modest level than was the case in the nineties.
As my body, principally my legs, learned to cope with running, I began to enjoy it more. I think most endurance athletes enjoy the challenge of pain. Not the pain of say, an injured achilles tendon, but the pain from our whole system that screams “Ease off!” or even “Stop!” when we are forcing our bodies to go further, faster, harder. I had only been running a matter of weeks, but I was fascinated by this new way of creating and then coping with pain. A new way of facing and fighting the challenge.
Although benefitting from a running career that was barely more than embryonic, I had decided that I would become a distance runner; long trail ultras were the ones for me. The more I read the more convinced I became, and I had soon set out a programme of training and racing for my first season. The mainstay of my training would be the weekly long run. I would start this in September (2015), at three hours, and build one hour on to this each month. So October would be four hourly runs, November, five and so on. I would carry this as far as I could. I used to do well in twelve hour bike races, I was hoping to be doing unsupported twelve hour training runs by the next June (2016). This may have been overly ambitious, but I believe that if you aim high, your actual performance will benefit more than it would with only modest ambition.
I was enjoying getting in to this new sport, I read everything I could about distance running, and took the advice that seemed to make most sense for me. The rest, I just made up or improvised. Over time, I lost the fat man running look, and began to feel a little more like a runner. Losing weight helped my knees, with the reduced pounding, and my endurance, which was beginning to develop.
I read Killian Jornet’s “Run or Die”, and found his story inspirational. His descriptions of running in the mountains, and how he kept going when battling exhaustion are fascinating. I found this read much more useful than any of the training schedules that litter the web, because it was written by a man who has achieved so much. This enables the reader to believe what is written. It is real life, rather than a table of instructions that could just as easily have been written by a robot.
Because we are human, we all have our different ways, and I think we need to learn for ourselves how and when to train. We need to become physically fit, but we also need to develop our mental strength,our motivation and our determination. The one fuels the other. Numbers on a table are just that; fine if you are a robot, but our own training plan needs to ensure our own mental as well as physical development.
One of the most important aspects of mental fitness is motivation; what makes us tick as a runner. Why do we do what we do, why do we continue when our body is telling us to stop?