My (Not) Dirty Secret

What you are about to read may frighten and confuse you. It’s ok. They’re just words. Beyond that, only suggestions. That you will read these words on a site dedicated to cycling, to moving through space on two wheels, is only minor blasphemy. I am writing them to try to help you, but also maybe to dilute the purity tests at the entrance to the big tent with CYCLING scrawled on its side.

Let’s begin. Cyclists have to run, and runners have to ride.

First. I’m no one to tell you what to do. I’m not your life coach. I’m not your fitness coach (unless I am). I’m not your priest or pastor. I’m not your mom. My use of the imperative “have to” is only for drama, to raise your hackles, to get you to keep reading.

So hear me out.

I’m 49, 50 in December. In my life I have ridden tens of thousands of miles, no real clue how many. Maybe more. I have run thousands of miles, too. My whole adult life, nearly, I have played soccer regularly. I’ve dabbled with rock climbing. I’ve hiked, and I have years of Suffer Club under my belt.

I’m not trying to impress you. True, I’ve been busy as hell, but also true that I’ve been stunningly mediocre at all those things. As with my writing, what I lack in quality, I make up for with quantity.

One thing I have learned is that each of those activities has its own tribe, who have no interest and see no point in doing anything else. At one time and another I have belonged to each of those tribes and had that attitude. Quite why someone who is so mediocre at stuff thinks he should focus on any one of them, is a fair conundrum. And yet, I have always felt palpable tension inside each of the tribes, whenever I have performed a ritual with another tribe. Runners find it very suspicious if you ride bikes. Cyclists can’t fathom why you would run. There aren’t purity tests, per se, but in each cohort there are very certainly those who won’t take you seriously unless you are maniacally devoted to their tribe.

Fair enough. I should not be taken seriously.

But I think runners need to ride, and riders need to run. Here are the whys: 1) Riders need to run because weight bearing exercise improves bone density. This is less important when you’re young. It gets more important later. Running (especially trail running) improves proprioception and multi-directional mobility. It will help you avoid the repetitive motion injuries that cyclists tend to incur. 2) Runners (of a certain age), accumulate wear and tear as they increase their mileage. If you don’t find another, lower impact, form of cardio vascular exertion, your fitness will always come up against what your body can tolerate. Riding gives you long period, low impact effort that can improve endurance without pounding your tendons to dust.

But also.

3) The world is large and time is short. Do as much shit as you can. All the shit. Quit fucking around. Stop staring at your navel. Break your routines. Do shit that scares you. Do things you’re bad at. It’s all good for you.

And in this way, you can live forever, or at least better, for longer, with more friends and a wider array of experiences and a smaller ego. Your mileage may vary.

This post appeared originally (in slightly altered form) at Dirt Soul Search.

Join the conversation
  1. jlaudolff says

    Totally agree. I’m a hiker and do a little trail running. But I don’t know any soccer players who make it much past 40. They all have knee woes. You might have different data for soccer than me.

    1. Emlyn Lewis says

      @J – My winning move for soccer longevity is to run my own pick up game with people who love to play and aren’t any more interested in getting injured than I am. We don’t keep score much. We don’t slide tackle. These days a lot of us bring our kids, so it’s nice without necessarily being the knee-wrecking nightmare that competitive leagues turn into.

    2. keith.allaway says

      I do agree that cross training is invaluable in creating longevity in any athletic activity. The one thing however I see left out by endurance activity devotees is a discussion of strength/weightlifting. As a 20 year personal trainer/weightlifting coach and cycling nut in my late 50’s the one thing that has kept me on the bike has been my weightlifting. Many cyclists/runners think and often say to me that heavy lifting will make then slow, less mobile or to bulky. In my professional opinion all of these are steaming piles of bovine sediment. A well constructed weightlifting program will offset concerns with bone density and create a systemic resilience, along with more robust connective tissue that will only enhance the cycling/ running experience.

    3. Emlyn Lewis says

      @Keith – I agree. Weight bearing doesn’t just mean running. See How Suffer Club Works for a quick rundown on how I fit strength work in.

  2. pfnavin says

    So many people I ride with were serious runners. Knees, hips and ankles led them to cycling. I would love to hike or run, but physical limitations due to the side effects of cancer surgery have rendered those activities moot for me. I can ride a bike because I can sit (or stand briefly). I simply ride as much as I can. Stay healthy. Stay fit. That way, when adversity strikes in the form of illness or other physical malady, you can weather the storm(s) better than most.

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