Friday, November 19, 2010

"Ride the bike"

Before I became a serious runner, I was a cyclist. In fact, I was a pretty committed cyclist. Did you ever see the movie 'Breaking Away' - where the guy is riding his bike right up to his apartment, and then into his apartment - finally falling over as he tries to retrieve his mail? Yeah, I understood that scene.

I used to have bikes in the living room. I've ridden in weather that you wouldn't even venture into in your car. I've ridden thousands and thousands of miles and I absolutely loved every mile. 

I actually started running to keep in shape during the off season from racing my bike. One year I recall coming up with the brilliant plan to ride through the winter and come out even stronger in the spring. I rode the rollers for hours and watched movies. I rode in the snow and over ice. I commuted back and forth to work in the dark (both ways) and cold. And in the spring - I was rocket fast. Of course by July I didn't want to be anywhere near my bike. I had to hide it for fear of doing something dastardly to it if I saw it. From that experience I deduced that riding all winter wasn't such a great plan.

So I started running.

I often say that I've been running 'seriously' for the past 4 years - but actually, I've been running for the past 15 years or so. Nothing far, nothing fast - just to keep in shape. But looking back now - I enjoyed those runs even back then, even if I viewed them more as a means to an end than anything else. A means to stay on my game in the off months without taking an axe to my bike in July.

But when I started running 'seriously' - I kind of let the bike languish in the garage. I didn't have time for it, what with my running training plan dominating my day. I couldn't bother myself with tiring myself out by riding the bike.

But recently, in the last year or so, I started riding the bike again. And you know what? My bike wasn't bitter about the hiatus. In fact, it welcomed me back in an unconditional way. The minute I climbed aboard, I felt 'home' again. As the bike moved underneath me, it's such a familiar pattern of movement and sensations. Hang the bike in the back of the dusty garage for 3 years and see how it welcomes you back. The saying, "It's just like riding a bike" didn't just spring out of nothing.

When I was a cyclist, I was taught that there was no such thing as cross-training. I was taught that by crusty old guys that ran the pack. The guys that looked like they never got off the bike. The guys that still wore wool shirts and smeared chamois cream in their shorts (look it up). The guys that would put a hand on your shoulder as you rode and say, "Here sonny, let me tell you a story - all the time though just using the hand on your shoulder to hitch or slow you down because you were burning a little too fast of a pace in the pack and they didn't want to have to draft your sorry, spent ass back to the barn. One of those stories the crusty old guy, with the arm on my shoulder told me, still sticks in my brain. And I get to embellish it a little because, well... now I'm one of the crusty old guys and I've earned that right.

Before Lance, there was Fausto Coppi. An absolutely dominating cyclist of the 1900's, Fausto earned the nickname, 'Champion of Champions'. He was legendary. One day, a reporter asked him what his secret was. Fausto replied, 'If you want to be fast on the bike, there are only three things you must do.' Silence grew over the audience as they leaned closer, and the champion ticked all three items off; "Ride the bike, ride the bike, ride the bike"

A lot has changed since Fausto. For one, drugs are no longer allowed (he was a frequent user of amphetamines and is rumored to have died of cocaine overdose (both improved performance and neither was illegal in professional cycling). But also, modern coaching now says that cross-training is actually quite helpful in improving performance. Especially as you - ahem - age.

I can attest to that. In fact, running and cycling go perfectly together for me. I find that running has paid dividends in the aerobic capacity department when I get on the bike. Running has lightened me up and taught me to endure even more discomfort (which is key if you want to climb fast). Cycling helps my running legs recover. It focusses on different muscles and helps flood the legs, knees and hips with oxygenated blood, flushing and speeding rebuilding. And I can run and cycle on the same day and feel fresh doing both, regardless of the order. In fact, if I ride hard on Saturday, I actually feel like I can run faster on Sunday than had I taken Saturday completely off.

So Fausto had it partly right. If you want to be fast, you must "Ride the bike, Run, Ride the Bike, Run...." (lather, rinse and repeat). You get the idea.

Needless to say, I'm pretty happy about this revelation. And so is my bike. Yes I know that bikes don't actually experience emotion. Because.... well, it's just a bike. But I like to pretend they do. Because when you've spent as much time on your bike as I have in my life - you like to think that you weren't riding alone all those miles.

Sorry I was gone for so long my old friend :-)

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