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Don’t get X, get X

There was a glorious moment several years ago in my running career when I realised that to maintain my fitness I didn’t have to exclusively go out running. And better than that, doing different activities means different muscles are exercised which is generally a positive thing for running too. A welcome to the world of cross-training.

The problem I’ve found with cross-training is that I run out of calendar time. My goals over the years have always been directly linked to a particular race, and usually a targeted finish time for that race. As it gets closer to the race date I tend to reign in the cross-training and focus on running only, as if every final mile of tarmac run will shave seconds off my final time.

This is a shame as different activities keep things interesting. I’ve done several different activities for cross-training but have most consistently come back to cycling. To be clear, not lycra-clad, ultra-light road bike cycling, no triple figure distances sought out on a damp Saturday morning; I prefer to take my bike out and go exploring through the wilderness. Handily, there’s a good amount of countryside and overgrown footpaths nearby, and I count myself lucky to have such an amount of rich ground to traverse.

My bike is a heavy mountain bike I’ve had for over ten years. I’ve barely had to do anything with it, apart from the odd spray of WD40, so probably needs a bit of a service. No matter through, it has kept going, and kept me going through the years, and between us we have uncovered much undiscovered local territory.

The bike will handle anything, but I prefer the fair weather – I don’t mind a bit of rain, but would rather be out in the sunshine, hacking through some backwoods and overgrown trails, half unsure of my legal grounds for being on that particular piece of land. Any problems I can always feign ignorance – ‘is this the footpath that goes to Sprattlingborough?’. 

This type of exploratory cycling has additional benefits for running: it gives a great insight into potential new running routes and is ideal for scouting out the best hills for bolting up and down. Running will be my main goto fitness routine, hopefully for many years to come, but there is something about running that means there is never an option to stop, once you’re off you’re off. Maybe it’s the way I set out to achieve a target time in the first place, maybe it’s a concern about cramping up if I stop. And this is where cycling wins out – what better thing to emerge from an uncharted piece of woodland into a village, complete with a welcoming pub. Even in the height of training season it would seem churlish not to stop in for a quick pint!


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