I find myself in that awkward spell just before an event (the week before a Half-Marathon) where my training has peaked nicely and now I’m supposed to taper.
I struggle with the enforced not-running thing. Is it just me, or does everyone get that sensation of the heart and lungs shrivelling by the day, as the lard spreads…?
So this week I tried something different and took my bike out.
Note to any triathletes who have stumbled on this: I am hugely offended by anyone who refers to me as a “fun-runner”, but my cycling is definitely only ever going to be at the fun level… and that’s even before getting to the bit involving drowning.
But what fun it is! I feel a bit sorry for my bike, as it only ever comes off the garage wall when I am injured. I realise now that I have been missing something: adding an occasional bike into the running mix has lots of benefits….
- It’s a great cardio workout. I have tried the power-walking thing but can never get anything like a decent heart-rate going. Put me on a bike though, and I’m puffing and blowing within minutes – and you can regulate that easily, by using the highly-specialist technique of… slowing down a bit.
- It’s non-impact but load-bearing on the lower legs especially, so if you are carrying any calf or ankle problems, or are prone to shinsplints, it offers good strengthening. (Watch out for those knees, though.)
- Not just the legs, either: you can feel a lot of work in the arms, shoulders, ribs, abs, lower back… especially when climbing and on the rougher bridleways where the bike is pitching and bouncing around. Like running off-road, all those continual tiny adjustments – instead of a repetitive action – must be doing some good.
- You have greater range, so you can get to visit some of those favourite places which are definitely only for the most high-mileage runs. (Psst! Maybe even take a breather at a convenient pub, which definitely doesn’t work so well mid-run.)
- Modern bikes make it easy: mine is definitely only an entry-level version, but even so things have changed a huge amount since my days of cycling to work in London – significantly lighter, 18 easy-change gears cope with anything, spongy gel seat, and suspension forks to cushion the battering.
- And yes it’s great fun! For starters you can go as fast as you dare, and the speed seems very immediate. It’s like being a big kid again, deliberately aiming to make a splash in the puddles, a skid or unintended sideways slide, and even taking a fall now and again… You might say that at my age I really shouldn’t be coming home with my knees grazed and knuckles bloodied, but say what you like, I’m having a great time!
So, note to self: take the bike out once in a while, not because you’re injured but simply because it’s great fun.
There is another ingredient to the run + bike mix, too. In a month or so I have agreed to do the Yorkshire Three Peaks with a bunch of friends – walking, not running. I have done a lot of climbing and walking over the years, including the Pennine Way, Coast-to-Coast and Ben Nevis-Snowdon-Scafell Pike version of “3P”. Now Pen-y-Gent, Whernside and Ingleborough are now relatively local and I have walked them many times… but never on the same day. So this walk has been brewing for years and I’m really looking forward to taking it on.
But now that it is closer, it’s looming very real… so much so that a weird change of perspective has happened. Instead of worrying about anything jeopardising my half-marathon, and maybe even lining up another one soon, I am now fretting about over-running, and fearful of doing anything which would jeopardise the walk. The world’s gone upside-down!
And at that point, not wanting to over-train or aggravate an injury, but wanting to keep up the fitness and stamina, I reached for the bike.
Clever really. And huge fun. And a beer half-way round. Don’t know why I never thought of that before…!!