I have committed cycling the last couple of weekends. I know. I always said that cycling was basically cheating. I used to hate those smug bastards with their two-wheeled ways, spinning along merrily in sociable bunches of two or three, chatting away easily as they cruised past me on my long runs. I was the one working hard. I was the one who was making a real effort. Not them. Not them with their silly helmets and their carbon crotch rockets and shorts Linford Christie would think twice about putting on. They didn’t appear to be doing anything at all. Cycling? Pah! It’s for people who weren’t hard enough to run.


I have silly shorts you have to smear unguents into now. I have shoes I can only wear one one bike. I have two bikes. I have one bike made from carbon fibre and air and the other of aluminium and spite. I have to wear different shoes for each bike because the pedals are different on each bike. I have a helmet which makes me look like a weird hybrid of Alien and Scot. I have discovered new ways to spend money I really, really don’t have on stuff I’ve found that I really, really need. And sometimes I properly need things like food instead of gels and to pay a bill instead of a new tyre and things become all tense and angsty.

I am obsessing over my time up the hill to Fulbourne. I have become a slave to Strava. If you don’t know about Strava and you like your stats or are a bit competitive but already have a full online life, do not – and I can’t emphasise this enough – do not look at Strava. Don’t.

The last two Sundays, I’ve run in the morning and ridden in the afternoon. It was easy the first week. I’d just bimbled round the Gogs and Wandlebury in the morning and I was still feeling quite fresh. Yesterday was different. Yesterday, I smashed myself in a PB attempt at the Cambourne 10k in which I went off a little too hard and died on my arse at 4k. God knows how I held on. For the rest of the race, I kept Stuart Mills’ words of wisdom in the front of my mind, “It’s not pain. It’s a challenge.” The TORQ Trail Team selection doobrie paid dividends. There was a strong wind at times, and some insidious climbs at least two of which were into the wind but I just about kept it together. The bit I normally enjoy is a downhill section around a lake just after 5k. Yesterday, that was straight into a 20mph headwind and it was tough work. I was running at the front of a group for most of it because nobody else would take on the wind. I got round in 44:41 for 81st gun time (44:31 and 83rd on the chip), over a minute faster than last year when I was 143rd. I was completely broken by the end. The sprint finish I needed to stay in front of a group who were chasing me down finished me off. I took one place from a woman on the line but lost two to other blokes in the final couple of hundred metres. I thought that one of them was a club mate who had started beside me but they were a bit further back.

So, how do you recover from that sort of effort? Recovery drink, a massage, a proper protein and carb meal and the afternoon in front of the telly watching a re-run of the F1, right? I suppose you could do that. What I did was have a cake, a bit of milk shake, a cup of tea and a couple of rice cakes with peanut butter before I anointed bits of myself with chamois cream, got into those ridiculous shorts and headed out for a 30 mile ride. In the end, I cut it short because I couldn’t face the climb up to Balsham into that headwind yesterday. I did just over 30k in an hour and ten.

Cambourne is my anniversary race, the first one I did when I started running so it’s a bit special for me. When I’m Dictator Presidential Emperor of Earth for Life, I’m going to have the New Year start on the same weekend as the Cambourne 10k and make everyonel celebrate by running around a beautiful 10k course instead of getting drunk and having inadvisable sex. The first year I did this race, I spent the afternoon eating pancakes with cream and Nutella. Last year, I celebrated my PB by sitting in a jacuzzi. This year, I flogged my guts out on the bike because I could. I was shouting at the wind and singing songs to the grass verges and having one of the best afternoons of my life – not actually spent in the intimate company of my beloved wife – and I didn’t feel like I was cheating at all.

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I’m All Torq

I feel slightly sick. I spent a chunk of today learning about nutrition strategies. TORQ Fitness, purveyors of fine nutrition products to the running and cycling classes invitied me along to an assessment day for their new trail running team. I spent a fascinating few hours learning about nutrition for exercise, psychological strategies for success and a little bit of injury prevention. I put all that to good use this evening by not stretching after my run this afternoon, driving home, getting cramp in my calves, eating pizza and half a family-sized tub of very nice Green & Black’s vanilla ice cream. With maple syrup. I’m pretty much every kind of awesome.

I’ve been thinking a lot about nutrition for performance of late. Julie Pashley at GCAN put together a couple of coach workshops on nutrition for beginner athletes and elite athletes respectively. They were excellent. There was lots of science I didn’t understand at the time. I’ve had to go away and do more reading on physiology and energy use in the body. I love that, I really do. I like it when one thing that you read leads you to another and another and then you find yourself reading and learning about things that you never expected. I haven’t done that since since I was at university and lost weeks because I tried to read Fleurs du Mal instead of getting on with Chekhov and the collections of really, really dull 19th Century Russian verse I was supposed to be reading. My French wasn’t up to Baudelaire but that didn’t stop me. I was enjoying the intellectual journey too much.

The nutrition session today was what originally attracted me to take part and it was excellent but the highlight for me was Stuart Mills’ talk on the psychology of success. Stuart is an ultrarunner, a Kiwi who has represented Great Britain in the ultradistance world championships. He is also an academic as in sports science and has a blog which I’m looking forward to reading immensely, If I remember what he said accurately – and I wasn’t taking notes so I may get things very wrong in places – his attitude to race preparation is to concentrate as much on mental preparation as on physical training. He might acknowledge negative thoughts and feelings but only to find positive strategies for dealing with them. Pain is a negative. Challenge is a positive. Live in the moment even if the moment is full of pain, or challenge as he would have it. Don’t count down the miles. For example, when you get to Mile 20 in a marathon don’t think “Great! Only 10k to go!” We run because we love it. Why would we want the run to end?

I try to turn that into a positive. I’ve reached 20 miles. How fucking incredible is that? I’ve been running for about three hours and I’m still going. For someone who didn’t run three years ago, that’s tremendous. I do get a huge kick out of movement, rapid movement. Well, rapid for me. There is joy in movement even when continuing that movement is a challenge. To answer the question about wanting the run to end, we have a goal in every race that we do. It’s usually a time goal, and one that’s tied to the end of the race: 26.2 miles and not our time at Mile 20.

Positivity can only carry you so far. You need the physical preparation, the long runs, the tempos and hill session and the run until you puke reps on the track. Confidence is good. I have my “Train hard. Rock up. Run like fuck.” thing going on. I think this is the common ground Stuart and I share. He notes that training hard gives you confidence which leads to an improved perfomance. It’s not the training which improves your performance so much as the confidence that training engenders. It’s an interesting idea. My performance at the Cambridge Half was all down to a couple of really good training sessions in the week before the race which gave me the confidence to rock up and run like fuck. I could have run 1:42 and change but I just sneaked under 1:39 because I was feeling incredible.

There’s a lot to think about and a lot to process. I really want to carry on with this process and having the support of the TORQ Trail Team would be a help. I might spend even more time training on the Roman Road. I’ve entered an 18 mile trail race in the Lake District in August as a way to relax after the stress of the Cambridge Triathlon. I’m contemplating another in October after the Great Barrow Challenge. I could do 25k reasonably easily but today has got me thinking about doing the 50k instead. I’ve said I’m not doing a marathon this year but I didn’t say anything about not doing an ultra.

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