What happens when a runner tries to do some cycling?
Lands End to John O’Groats (LEJOG) or John O’Groats to Lands End (JOGLE) have long been known as benchmark multi-day rides for endurance cyclists. Whether you take six days over it or six weeks, it’s generally recognised as a pretty decent achievement as it covers the full length of the UK, with mileage ranging anywhere from 874 miles to as many as you like.
I remember feeling like I properly established myself in the world of long-distance running last year when I ran the approximate 1,000 mile LEJOG route in 27 days. Then roughly six weeks ago, in a moment of inexplicable confidence and misplaced nostalgia, I decided on a whim that it would be quite cool to try my hand at cycling back the other way to see what happens.
It’s worth mentioning at this point, that in the heat of the moment, I have a tendency to get the ball rolling very quickly on impulsive decisions, before really thinking through any potential problems. Before I knew it I had a train ticket up to JO’G and a week booked off work. What possible problems could there be?
Well my first problem was I didn’t have a bike; I would need to buy one. This then leads nicely up to my next minor issue; I didn’t know the first thing about bikes.
My old nemesis: Money
I can remember being 17 and buying my first car for £1,000 and it not really being a big deal financially. I used to have money back then you see. I lived at home with parents and earnt a part time wage. Things were simpler then.
I now find myself in a situation where I have postgraduate loans and personal trainer course repayments to think about; plus all the usual bills. Money is not something I could just “throw” at this.
Clearly the bike was going to be the main expense; I couldn’t afford to buy anything new, but via outrageous good fortune and some very knowledgeable cyclist mates, I managed to pick up a second hand carbon fiber (I heard this is good) bike for £450.
Great start! This only puts me over budget so far by about… £450. This is where I have to get a bit creative. Obviously hotels were out of the question, but camping in strange places is free. Eating in pubs and restaurants each day would not be a financially viable option, but sitting outside a supermarket, eating a loaf of cheap bread would be just about acceptable on my budget.
Obviously, I would carry a credit card of some form for emergencies. Can’t rule out illness or rough conditions, but as a June challenge, I felt I could at least expect… “reasonable” weather conditions.
So from a combination of buying budget kit and recycling from last year’s running adventures, I cobbled together a kit list and fit it inside a 20l lightweight backpack. Here’s what it looked like:
- Bivvi – Second hand ex-military. Did the job keeping the rain off last November in Wales for me.
- Sleeping bag – 1-Season. Was comfortably warm enough in this last July, wild camping in Wales.
- Helmet – £9.99 from Argos. Don’t know much about this.. Seems hard enough.
- Bike lock – Nothing fancy/heavy as I wasn’t planning on leaving the bike alone that much.
- Bike repair kit – Roadside tools plus puncture repair kit.
- Bike pump – Cheap one. Would do up to 85DPI with excessive arm strength.
- Spare inner tubes. No experience in replacing one of these, but how hard could it be?
- Sports camera – I did naively ask GoPro if they’d maybe just give me one as sponsorship for my future challenges, but they were having none of it, so got myself a budget one from Aldi.
- Phone + battery chargers.
- Spare clothes – The bare minimum.
- Tooth brush etc…
So just drifting a little over £500 further into the red (total inc. bike) and I was now ready to go… Now I just had to learn how to ride a bike before I set off. Well, obviously I knew how to ride a bike; I’d just never owned one quite so fast before, and it felt strange riding something that didn’t feel like it was going to fall apart at any moment.
I did 11 bikes rides before setting off for Scotland, I feel like I knew roughly what I was doing, but definitely did not feel like a confident cyclist yet. I’d be learning by doing!
All the gear, no idea…
We’ve all seen these people about; the kind of people who insist on the best of everything. I’m talking about the 20 stone man who pays an extra £2,000 on a bike because it weighs six grams less than the previous model. Or those who like to flaunt their latest gadget purchases more than actually going out on the bike.
The “look” of “cyclist” conjures up a number of different images to a lot of people, from the victorious Bradley Wiggins and the rest of the unbelievable array of athletes we have in this country on a bike, to the people who simply try comically hard to look like them in every way.
The reason I bring this up is because it has come to my attention that there is an awful lot of cycling gear about, and I have no idea how important any of it actually is. I don’t own any lycra and the idea of clipping my shoes into the pedals actually terrifies me a little bit, but is it something I should be looking at?
One thing I worked out from running is that not all the top of the line running kit is all it’s cracked up to be. However, if it is worth the hype as I found with GPS apps and watches for example, I appreciated it so much more from experiencing life without it first. I spent three years running all round the Peak District without having a clue how far I’d gone. I genuinely feel that at least the first year of this was good experience.
I can’t speak for everyone, but I love the feeling of an upgrade of kit improving my performance in some way. Imagine if you just started out with all the best kit and equipment available? I just don’t think you’d appreciate it the same.
But maybe cycling is different. For running, the required kit is somewhat minimal and quite often completely optional. Who cares what kind of shorts you decide to run in? As long as they’re not restrictive, it doesn’t really make that much difference. In contrast however, cycling shorts come with strategic padding that looks like it serves a purpose. Maybe I’ll need that? Guess I’d find out.
So to summarise:
In this endurance challenge, I don’t expect to be massively good at it because I don’t really know the first thing about cycling, but I would learn by doing. I reasoned that endurance is endurance in any discipline regardless of experience. I already have the aerobic capacity and the mental staying power. To a certain degree, the physical aspects of the challenge would act as training for itself.
So what am I hoping to learn?
As a personal trainer specialising in endurance events and injury prevention, it would certainly be of interest to me experiencing first hand which muscles are going to be most worked and under the most stress from a form of exercise that is not as familiar to me as running.
Like it or not, I’m going to learn what equipment I’d most like to have had with me from the start. I had already begun to appreciate having a lightweight bike with gears that actually work, over my previous biking experience on an eight tonne, steel framed beast with gears that click into place (if they feel like it) after a two minute satellite delay; I’m certain there will be a lot more to come.
Also, as some of you may have already realized, I am actually writing this AFTER already completing the challenge **SPOILER ALERT** I make it. Sorry.
So quite clearly then I did in fact learn a few things…. Yes. Yes I did; a bit more than I bargained for if I’m honest. In the next blog, I fast forward ahead to the far north of Scotland, dressed in my running attire and clueless expression, I attempt to find out how to be a cyclist.