With the birth of my second son and an increase in work load at my job I have been struggling to find time to fit in any cycling and over the winter months noticed a severe drop in my fitness levels judged purely on my weight and my lethargy.
Exercise for me has always been about more than staying fit and looking relatively lean. It is equally if not more so about the mental benefits of getting the blood pumping and getting outside away from the stress in life. Everyone will have a different experience but for me, when I am pushing myself hard my mind goes completely blank and is unburdened by the stresses of daily life. Maybe for others it is the catalyst for radical thinking.
With the time demands on me, cycling was becoming impossible so I went back to my first love (or perhaps second after football) and put on my running shoes. In my last blog, as a prologue to this one, I touched on the fact that I had always been a naturally gifted runner so I was hoping to rely on my natural ability to get me back into running after probably four years without lacing up my shoes.
Compared to cycling, running is a really efficient way to burn some energy and keep active. In the time it takes to even get ready to go out on your bike with the bike checks and the sartorial checks you can be halfway through your run. I can fit a decent length run in at lunchtime during work or when the kids are asleep. Typically my favoured distance is around 10km since for me it offers a combination of distance and pace.
Unlike cycling, there is less snobbery around running and what you can and can’t wear. Any old shorts and t-shirt will do. I usually run in my Croatia football jersey in an ode to my adopted football team. With a decent pair of trainers all you then need is the motivation to get out the door.
Those first few runs however were brutal. Genuinely horrible. Each step felt like a confirmation of my low fitness levels. As I ran, delirious with exhaustion, I could see a mirage of the former me running ahead with ease and grace. At this point it seemed completely inconceivable that I would get back to any sort of running fitness. 10km was a long way away.
Through sheer perseverance the green shoots of fitness were starting to spring and I was actually, against all odds, beginning to enjoy running. Well maybe enjoy is a strong word (have you ever seen a smiling runner?) but at least I was not feeling like a potato with legs and was edging closer to at the very least a more athletic potato. In a lot of ways I was reveling in the uncomplicated nature of running compared to cycling. No gears to change. No punctures to worry about. No cleaning. No lubing (nipples excepted in some cases perhaps). No fixing. Just one foot in front of the other.
Getting back to running also coincided with a period of increased travel for work to give presentations in various oil towns of Europe. On every trip I was packing my running stuff (easier than a bike) and spent the evening running as a way to take in my new surroundings despite only making flying visits. I think herein lies the great beauty of running compared to cycle. It is flexible. You don’t need good roads. You can go where your head or legs want.
Running will never completely replace cycling in my life despite rediscovering some of its joys. Cycling is without doubt more fun, especially the downhill parts where, perversely, running is more painful for my ancient knees. That leads me nicely onto injuries. When running regularly I always feel I am carrying some niggling injury either in my knee or hips. The beauty of cycling is that once you have you bike set-up properly for your size it is mostly an injury free sport if you stay upright. The bike takes all your weight compared to your knees in running.
At least now I have the motivation to get out running in winter and don’t have to exclusively rely on the dreaded indoor turbo trainer.