The summer of 2015 was a landmark summer for my cycling. It was the first year that I had not gone faster than the previous year. Suddenly I was no longer new to cycling and was no longer magically improving. Deeply distressing indeed. I knew exactly why this was. I’d simply not ridden enough. Rather than clinging onto my clubmate’s rear wheel winding up Sa Callobra on our usual spring training holiday, I was nursing a hangover in a tent high up in Sierra Nevada. Rather than strapping on my panniers and conquering more hills from the top 100, I’d been drying my socks in front of a bothy stove. By the time summer came I was desperately hanging onto our Tuesday night fast ride and found myself being passed by newcomers on the hills. For years I had been enjoying feeling myself getting stronger, entering harder races and completing longer rides than ever. Now I was going backwards and to get back to that level of fitness I would have to not only train hard, but train smart.
So I decided that I should become a runner instead. Surely some cycling has meant that I’m fitter than your average guy and the runner does not need to dedicate nearly as many hours as his cyclist equivalent. You can run literally wherever you are, all you need are some shorts and a pair of trainers and you probably aren’t going to get hit by a car. Probably.
My first ever race was to be only a few weeks after deciding I would become a runner. It was a steep learning curve. Over the last six years I learned so much from my cycling club and cursed myself for not joining earlier – it’s amazing what you can learn from a well established club. So without delay I joined my local running club, Holme Pierrepont RC and opened my ears. Just my first run and I learned about blister prevention, how to train, which races to enter and that I didn’t need to worry about what I looked like. In cycling image is everything. If you don’t think that is the case then you just aren’t a cyclist. In running it appears that you are supposed to look terrible. On a running club run, nobody’s kit matches, shoulders jerk arhythmically, a left foot scrapes a right calf and never mind perfectly shaved, oiled legs – there is enough tricep hair around for granny to knit you a new winter bobble hat. I didn’t want anyone to take the piss out of how my trainers clashed with my socks but nobody noticed. Perhaps I like it that way.
Fellrunning was the biggest draw. I’d seen a few of these scantily clad madmen and women panting their way through misty bogs while I’d been out and about on my walks. It looked like hell but it looked like good hell. I checked the no nonsense Fell Runners Association Website and knew exactly what to do. I turned up in on a hot September Sunday to the Padfield Plum Fair Scamper and paid my entry fee, a measly £5 to enter on the line. You’d have to add at least a tenner to that for a road race and even more for cyclocross. And that’s without a British Cycling racing licence. I did a simple run up the road for a few mins as a warm up, no turbo trainers here and attached my number. There were all sorts of shapes and sizes, men, women and children all off together in a mass start. There were a lot of veterans with scruffy old vests that looked older than me. You could also smell how old some of these vests were.
A cyclist always pins their number on their back and never on their front. You may see families on mountain bikes with a soggy paper number on their chest, or even worse, on their handlebars but refer to the previous sentence. I looked down at my shaved legs their once razor sharp tan lines slowly being blurred due to my skimpy running shorts. I took a deep breath and pinned my number on my chest.
It was just over five miles and with one large hill. The sun was shining and it was just beautiful. I had an elated feeling being part of a mass gallop weaving our way through the tiny picturesque village and up through grassy fields. In years of cycling I’d never raced in such beautiful surroundings. I felt welcomed by my new peloton(?) and without carbon fiber or aero helmets was equally well equipped. I didn’t get hit by a car or ridden off the road. I did however get carried away and then like the true beginner that I was, I vastly exceeded my limitations, went pop and painfully staggered back down the hill to the finish line. Beetroot red and covered in white salt I helped myself to some squash and a couple of fairy cakes (cupcakes are American) and got chatting. I was hooked.
I’ve since started running more regularly, increased my distances and speed, entered more challenging races, and thrown in some mountain navigation events. I’ve even met some of the world’s best ultra runners at the Alpkit Bigshakeout Festival. In a short space of time I’ve learned a lot and after stagnating in cycling it’s great to be on an upward curve again. I’m still really enjoying riding the club runs on my bike but for now I’m really intrigued to see what else I can get out of running. Don’t think I’m going to let my leg hair grow back, I know that when those long summer evenings come around again I won’t be able to resist a savage burn up after work or even the odd carnage filled, adrenaline fueled road race. Road cycling is intense, euphoric and exhilarating whereas running is pure, liberating and natural. Yes, cycling can be snobby, expensive and time consuming but one thing is for sure, cyclists smell a lot better than runners!