Christmas, 2014. It wasn’t only the goose that was getting fat; I was topping the scales at 16 stone. I used to race bicycles at less than 10 stone, so I was becoming a bit of a mess. I’d not turned a pedal in anger since 1996, when I retired from bike racing after a 25 year career in which I enjoyed some local success, mainly in long distance races – 100 miles and more. My best 100 was 3 hours 58 minutes, my 12 hour distance stood at 265 miles. Now aged 58, I did not relish the thought of sliding quietly into decrepitude, I had to do something.
I had dabbled with running a few times over the years since I retired from bike racing, but each effort was stopped short through injury. My knees, calves and tendons all had a say, and no attempt lasted more than a few weeks. I think the excess weight I was carrying was part of the problem, my knees were taking one heck of a pounding with every step. So I started walking. Wendy, my ever-slim wife, works in Lincoln, about ten miles away from our home. I began walking to meet her from work, finding a route along quiet lanes, tracks and across fields that was really quite pleasant, even in the middle of winter. I timed my walks, and I gradually became quicker. By February 2015, my leisurely walk had become an energetic march.
Wendy is a regular runner, and she encouraged me to have yet another go. So one day in the early Spring time, I donned trainers instead of walking boots, and ran the ten miles to Lincoln. Well almost. By mile seven I had resorted to run/walk; running five minutes, walking five. But it was a start, and my legs were not complaining too loudly. I persevered, and after a few weeks I was able to run the whole distance. I soon began timing my efforts. My walk/run evolved into a timed run. I wasn’t breaking any records, but I began to build my mileage with other shortish runs during the week.
But it was not all easy going. I was getting complaints from places I had forgotten about. Thighs were a constant trouble. I would start the next run still in pain from the last. When running, I could barely breathe, even at a pace only slightly above walking. I certainly could not talk. I questioned my sanity with every step. I felt embarrassed, pretending to be a runner. Even wearing baggy tops and bottoms did not completely hide my Michelin Man shape. I was pleased that most of my routes were off-road or on very quiet lanes; fewer people could witness this ridiculous spectacle, plodding through the Lincolnshire landscape, gasping for breath with everything wobbling. But at least the sheep and the cows seemed to accept me. The ducks, just down the lane from our house, were still scattering in mad panic as I approached. I didn’t blame them. Often, I would run in the darkness, to avoid being seen by “normal” people.
It was during this period that I also began to train more on my bike. This was much more home ground, though rather neglected. Inevitably, the two interests would clash occasionally. When there was only time for one activity, I was having to choose which one. I knew that I needed a schedule, so I could cycle and run without the guilt trip. I had to bring order to chaos.