Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Running and Cycling

Over the winter I wrote about my dislike of running, and moreover my inability to understand how someone could stick with something initially so painful and unpleasant. While cycling lured me in with its gentle, romantic demeanor, running had all the charm of a back alley beating - each encounter leaving me clutching my side, tasting blood and seeing stars. I have tried running at various stages of my life, usually as part of attempts at "fitness," and each time with the same result: hating every moment of it so much, that to continue after several efforts just felt like masochism. The same thing happened this winter. After 5 years of cycling and a general increase in fitness, I had hoped things might be different and, inspired by several local friends who are runners, gave it another try. Through sheer force of will I'd manage a mile up and down my lane, but again hated every agonising second of it so much that I soon gave up.

This makes what happened this summer all the more bizarre. One time I accompanied my boyfriend on his evening run - not to run myself, but to keep him company on the way there and back. I took my camera and wandered around photographing while he did his 10K. A short while later he returned, eyes glazed over and in a state of thorough depletion, yet so elated that he seemed to be levitating. Seeing him this way, something shifted in my perception of what running was, or could be. And I felt jealous - in an "I want what he's having!" sort of way. Next time I would try running too.

Cautiously excited that I actually wanted to do this, he offered some suggestions when I described the problems I've had in the past. Ankles hurt? Try hard sand or dirt instead of pavement. Lungs hurt? Start ridiculously slow. I replaced my 10 year old sneakers with a new pair of running shoes. And then off we went to the beach.

My first time I ran 3 miles on sand, slow and steady. I expected this to feel like some tremendous feat, but when I finished the loop I realised that I could have kept going. I had none of the symptoms of misery I recalled from previous attempts. My lungs were not coming out of my throat; I had no aches or pains. I felt a tightness in my legs, and I would have been bored out of my mind if it wasn't for the music in my earphones, but that is it.

The next time I ran 4 miles and felt much the same. This time I started slow and then sped up when I felt my energy increase on the return leg. Two days later I ran 5 miles in the same manner. And two days after that, I increased the distance to 7 miles. All of this was on sand - trying to pick a line close to the water, where the stuff is hard packed.

My boyfriend was greatly entertained by my sudden success with this activity I used to hate. He had not expected me to increase distances so quickly. At the same time, he felt I was not getting much fitness training out of the running if I was able to do it this way, my breathing close to normal at the end. He suggested next time I try a shorter distance but make it more intense. So we decided to cut back to 3 miles, but incorporate sprints - bursts of very fast running.

On the day of the evening we had planned to do this, I forgot about it and went on a 35 mile bicycle ride. Then on my way home I remembered, but figured I could still do the run since my bike ride was not all that long or intense and there would be a break of about an hour.

The result was interesting. Starting the run so soon after a bike ride, I felt a distinct shallowness in my reserve-pool of energy. At the same time, stretching out to run felt good as a contrast to my scrunched up position on the bike; it was as if my limbs and torso were unfurling.

While normally we run each at our own pace after the first few minutes, this time my boyfriend accompanied me most of the way to demonstrate sprints. We ran slow to start with, then increased the pace, then ran fast, then back to slow. On the return leg this was repeated more intensely, the fast part replaced with "as fast as you can." After doing this last bit, I had trouble catching my breath even after the final stretch of very slow running. My legs were killing me, my lungs were on fire, my entire body was overheated, and my heart was pounding so fast and so loud it blocked all other sensory input. But I wasn't miserable and I didn't hate it.

What changed this summer to make me not only able to run but actually enjoy it, I don't fully understand. But I do know that cycling the next day felt delightful …if a bit unnervingly easy!

50 comments:

  1. Not sure what your previous state of health is, but it seems that your recent years of cycling have significantly improved your cardiovascular health and your muscular endurance. Not surprised that running is not as laborious as it used to be!

    I don't bike your distances, but I've run about 2 to 4 times a week since I was a teenager. I do not have the physique for elite running: I weigh close to 210 pounds and tend towards the more muscular rather than lean build. But I've noticed that deliberately engaging in an activity I am not predisposed to really challenges me. Minute for minute, running is a more intense workout if you're pushed for time and don't have the luxury of a 3 hour training ride.

    You'll also find that alternating running and cycling will benefit you in multiple ways.
    * My massage therapist notes that cyclists have very tight calves because the frame locks you into a particular profile.
    * Cycling does not promote bone density, a key health issue as we age and particularly for women. The frame bears the weight and so while cycling promotes muscular health, it does not provide the same stimulus as weight bearing exercises, such as weight training, running or walking. So, incorporating running should really help your overall health.

    I assume you might already do some cross training anyways, but if you don't, consider some strength training: weights, push ups, pull ups, etc. Or, what I've done lately is to walk, jog, run (sprint), do 10 push ups, repeat. Also, incorporating sideways running, etc. to build up lateral movement strength.

    Good luck! Love your blog!

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    1. "Cycling does not promote bone density, a key health issue as we age and particularly for women."

      This concern was one reason I wanted to try running again. Otherwise my activity level tends to veer between bike and sofa, with only a bit of walking in between.

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    2. Sadly, with a 2 month old infant now, I've gotten pretty good at sofa too! ;-)

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    3. Question about this: Can one run with an infant if they are strapped into one of those bundles that attach to the parent, or is the head not supported sufficiently?

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    4. No, you'd need a stroller. Slings and carriers work well for hiking, though.

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  2. Way to go, lady! Running is fun, plus you get to eat more. Yay!

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  3. Running on sand?! Sounds horrendous, you must be from another planet!

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    1. That is what I thought at first. But you are picturing deep, soft sand, which is indeed challenging - I can't run in that for more than a few yards. Damp, hard-packed sand feels entirely different. I prefer it to pavement, finding it easier (if a bit slower), because it does not hurt my ankles and shins.

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    2. Sand near the surf line is one of the few places I find comfortable as a running surface. Not that I'm a runner, mind you, but I do have an athletic puppy to keep happy...
      Good that you have so much beach line so near to you.

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  4. Yes, that line between the water and the dry sand is best. But, ha! It is interesting to see you run. It is a great way to exercise if you watch you joints and sand and good running shoes help, along with the right gait.

    As it turns out, I'm back running as of yesterday. 6 miles in the AM and a fast 40 mile ride in the afternoon (vacation day). And I'll run today, though not on soft sand.

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  5. What is it about cyclists and running this year? It seems they're (we're) all taking on running now, too. Friends of mine, you and I all seem to be dabbling in running this year. It's like a big contagion that just spreads across the globe. Only, in a good way.

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    1. That is spooky, I had no idea you were all running back in Boston. So where do you buy your vintage running gear?

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    2. Lovely Jogger.

      I told you y'all would get tired of cycling. <--that was annoying, but true.

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  6. All the best with your running. I also run a bit as well as ride a bike, and love them both for various reasons-- some overlap and others are unique to the activity.

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    1. Ah yes, I remember reading the running parts of your blog and thinking "craziness!" : ))

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  7. I don’t like running but watching joggers at work, especially when I am setting, is pleasant.
    We can have meditation on the best way to have a good stride: I’ve looked to the link “his evening run” and I wouldn’t be surprising if supple hips are the key of efficient running.
    An opinion from a novice: running on sand with naked feet might be funny.
    L.

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  8. Up just after 4:00 a.m. this morning to do my run in the Rillito dirt in singlet & shorts before the heat overtakes.Ran every day for more than 20 years; gave it up and then took it back again. Addictive like cigarettes & drop tops (forsworn both). Define myself as a runner (and also now a cyclist), bound up with my identity, a portal to athletic endeavor and challenge I did not know I had in me. Running all these years later even with fallen arches (sports orthotics!!), I exceed considerably the VO2 Max of someone in their 20s. Strength is not just muscle but also stamina and endurance.

    Hopefully, you will give your legs and skeletal frame time to catch up with your cardio capacity so that you don't invite injuries. Think conditioning over a couple of years.

    Running's elegant, elemental simplicity, its beguiling and persistent whisper and invitation is a gift when accepted. Congratulations, Velouria! Jim Duncan

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    1. Good advice re avoiding injuries.

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  9. i always thought running was something you did, when desparate for exercise, when your bike was broke.

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  10. Cancel my subscription, I'm out'a here.

    Spindizzy

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    1. I will bide my time.

      But if V starts praising Tri-Bars all bets are off!

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  11. Just kidding.

    Spindizzy

    I like what you said about your activity veering from Cycling to couch. Can I use that?

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    1. Old racer adage: Don't stand if you can sit. Don't sit if you can lie down.

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    2. A gentleman does not do standing up that which he may do as well whilst sitting down.

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  12. Isn't cycling weight bearing in some ways, like when climbing up steep long hills? You are also holding your body up with your arms. I have a series of exercises even the laziest person can do for basic body weight bearing bone density exercises. I do alot of hiking and walking, always have to keep the legs from getting too tight, and other things, but sadly not running. I loved running as a kid, won competitions, but something happened and i could no longer run without being in agony-pain in sides, knocking knees, twisting ankles and getting the itchies from the vibration. I could always still run short distances well and fine, like chasing a bus or ferry etc or running away from wasps or other dangers. I had hernia surgery last summer, and in the fall I just started running and the strange pain in side was gone. I was running on trails-pacific northwest soft earth through forest....and going fast, but being the clutz I am, I tripped on something and fell hard on rocks. Have been nervous ever since to run. I know i 'can' do it, but the likelihood of tripping etc is too much. I would love to run on hard packed sand as not too much could go wrong but, no beach is long enough around here for that. Have you tried running barefoot on the beach? It's great.

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  13. We can only hope that as a cyclist you'll remember not to run down the middle of the path with headphones on so loud you cant hear "on your left" or a bell.

    Happy for you, but i still hate running. Its for suckas, yo.

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  14. I was waiting for this post to arrive. No surprises. Your transition is almost complete. Stay smart with regard to training b/c injuries can result in life long issues. Godspeed.

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  15. We all know where this is heading - triathlon or a 300k run, HA!
    How's your swimming?

    Running...jumping...standing still, all so much more enjoyable w/the significant other.

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  16. I know you said you don't like people telling you this, but you look good. Can't see your face, but don't grimace, even if it's hurting. Try that the next time you're pulling hard up a hill on the bicycle; check out your expression then ask yourself if you really need to be pulling that face, and who's it for? Maybe you don't do it but most of us do, we're all play-actors. If you do, don't try not to grimace, just try telling yourself you don't need to and you'll find you don't, then it won't hurt so much – it's easier if you don't make it look hard. :)

    I went to yoga classes a few years ago. The yoga teacher ran on sand; she said it saved her joints. You should try yoga, if you haven't already; most of the pro cyclists do it. The first time I was walking out of the class was the first time I ever felt my body was properly connected up. You'll understand if you've tried it.

    I used to have a whippet called Joey (so called because he had the same markings as a kangaroo). He was in his element when he was running on the shore, especially when the tide was out, and particularly when he got wet; he had no body fat and the cold made him hyper, then he would just run for the thrill of running, flat out – like you cycling flat out on your road bike at Magilligan Point. I'll never forget seeing Joey running with what you once called "a peloton of swans" – they were flying parallel with the water's edge and Joey was running alongside, looking up at them, keeping pace – one of those magic moments you only ever come across a few times in your life. I was cheering!

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    1. Well apparently I have the opposite problem: I smile and look blithely cheerful when I'm putting in hard efforts. I first realised this when Pamela Blalock began snapping photos of me during rides and I'd be grinning like an idiot in all of them. She would then show me the photos and say "See?! You were having fun!" after I'd complain about how difficult a particular ride was. Now my boyfriend tells me the same thing: I smile when I'm running, and they're genuine types of smiles not gritted-teeth ones. Must be a defense mechanism I guess ("I am NOT suffering I tell you!")

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  17. A cement surface is the hardest of all for running, even tar/asphalt is a bit softer and level grass if you can find it is the best. Like commenter above, I agree re the triathlon, they're the best!

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    1. Yeah, the lane I live on is cement, as are most of the little farm roads nearby and they're the worst. So basically I have to cycle a couple miles to the forest or beach in order to run. Not that I mind. But no thanks to triathlons!

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  18. In my twenties I became a runner while studying art in college. Then I started work in a bike shop and embraced all things about these machines while still running and studying painting. My town had several middle and long distance Olympians constantly training and running the same trails I did and at the same time. So running with them, for brief moments, was blissful. Triathlons were next and I met a great bunch of folks. I was immersed in a lifestyle of fitness. This was the early eighties. That part of my life's arc was fun and challenging but it peaked. These days the only thing I continue with is making art and cycling. I still like the burn in my legs and feeling shoulder and stomach muscles work while standing on the pedals as I sprint to the grocery store or post office or visiting friends. Running caused so many injuries I, sadly, couldn't play with my kids as they embraced soccer and ultimate frisbee. I once ran with the woman who first set the world record for the marathon, and many others, who now limit their running or don't run at all. Bicycling offers a challenge and chance to navigate space and invites the mind on many levels. My apologies to Joan Benoit Samuelson, a marvel of running, and all others who make it a life long experience. For me, running was more about the act of one foot after another, and breathing, and less about the experience of a bigger world of movement and space. Yes, I'm sad that I can no longer run but glad that that door is now shut.

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  19. I entered my first 5-mile road race cold turkey, wearing borrowed shoes, on a whim, because it looked fun. Finished in 54 minutes, but what a feeling when I crossed the finish line. I was hooked, and running became a regular part of my life. Years later, my running miles have waned due to foot issues. I'm cycling more than before and have run in a couple 5k races over the past few months. Cycling seems to suit my aging body better. Congratulations on pursuing a new healthy outlet.

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  20. I chalk this up to the power of love, or at least the power of a patient, kind, and attentive instructor.

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    1. It seems, for whatever reasons, you've been into new experiences these last few years. This all makes sense. You're growing. Still, you're young and I witness this all from the balcony :)

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  21. Forgive me, but I can't remember, is your Ph.D in neuroscience or something of the sort? So many of your posts are about sensations, imagination, perceptions, and I'm trying to get a context for your writing. Thanks.

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  22. I used to run a lot as an airborne infantryman. I was never very fast. My ideal distance was somewhere between 3 and five miles. Once a month we had to run 10 miles. But to be honest, I never enjoyed it. Even when I wasn't under compulsion. I have tried and tried over the last 20 years to enjoy running but alas, it isn't in the cards for me. It's not because I didn't give it time, because I served in the airborne for 6 years, running 3-10 miles 5 days a week, racking up thousands of miles. It has always hurt my ankles, knees, and hips. Nothing ever made it better. My dad was a runner. He could run marathons in respectable time, in extremely hot climates even. I WANTED to like it. Even if only to be able to understand things about my dad. I am happy though to have found randonneuring, as it gives me a link to him in terms of endurance sports.

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  23. It seems this blog started with a certain co-habitant reintroducing you to bicycles, and now a boyfriend does the same with running and, it seems, some new endeavors. It's oddly interesting from an outside perspective, and a bit painful to be truthful, as one who went through a hard divorce. Some things to me just seem less meaningful now, but you seem to have landed on your feet and grown. I guess that in itself is lovely.

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    1. My ex-husband didn't introduce me to bicycles; it was something we tried together - him having no more prior experience than me. His natural aptitude was better than mine to start with, but my interest was more intense and enduring.

      Landing on one's feet, growth, etc., are not straightforward concepts; I would not jump to conclusions from posts on a bicycle blog.

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    2. If you are reading the comments to your posts and thinking that people read you to benefit from your expertise on bikes, bike design, bike parts, bike riding, bike training, bike maintenance, bike clothes, or any other bike topic, you are wrong. Your knowledge of those topics is about average. Like it or not, your blog is akin to reality TV and readers find you, not your bicycles, to be an interesting and entertaining distraction.

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    3. Definitely not expertise, as I am openly and distinctly a non-expert. But there are other reasons to read things. That is to say, there is a lot of territory between a technical manual and reality tv.

      Weblogs are still a fairly new medium, with neither readers nor authors having an established set of rules or expectations. This can create ambiguity, blurring lines between what people interpret as journalism, commentary, op-ed, fiction, and personal diary. Ultimately, it is up to the author to decide how much personal information to share. At the same time, there will always be a degree of readers' interest in the author's personal lives. This is only natural, and the is no reason the sentiments cannot co-exist respectfully.

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  24. I'm more inclined with cycling than running. Even when I can't bike outside, I just do it inside with a stationary one. It's just that I have a year long plantar fasciitis and I know. It really sucks I can't run anymore. When I bike, it doesn't hurt as much and yeah, need some NSAIDs once in awhile.

    Mark

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  25. John Le MarquandJuly 4, 2014 at 12:48 AM

    I use to do runs 3 times a week for years but now my knees don't like it so I cycle 5 to 6 times a week. I live on a small hilly island so a ride around the island from my house and back is slightly under 40k with a least one 17% hill and over 2000 feet of climbing.

    We have an active group of riders that meet 3 times a week to do a lap around the island. In that group there is one runner who had done the Boston Marathon a couple times but now is knees won't take it so he cycles. There are a few others that run on a regular basis as well as cycle.


    There is an active running group that does trail running that meets once a week for a group run. They have a 10k road race coming up which goes up a 18% hill for one k.

    I enjoyed running and miss that I can't do it now.

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  26. Not related to post: do you know about the two Russian girls traveling around Great Britain on Bromptons? They will be traveling through Northern Ireland at some point of their adventure, to promote bicycling. 2girls2bikes.com

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  27. So it's become "unnervingly easy" has it? Well then, don't be twiddling about taking your wheel for long walks. Take your wheel for a run. Your bike will love it. So will you.

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  28. You should read the book "Body by Science" as it explains in great detail the benefits on NOT running to increase "fitness". Excellent read if you really want to approach your overall 'health' and fitness from a logical perspective.

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  29. Haven't read the whole comments thread, so I hope this isn't redundant. What transformed running into pleasure for me was adopting the use of a heart rate monitor. With the monitor, I discovered that I had been running way too hard. When I dialed my heart rate back, way back, my runs turned into a meditative pleasure, much like my bike rides had been. I also abruptly started doing multi-hour runs, which rather surprised me.

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  30. I absolutely love cycling. It's a from of meditation to me, which is great sense it provides excellent health benefits. Running isn't my personal favorite thing to do either, but my cycling routines have helped to improve my running abilities. Thanks for sharing your post!

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