This post’s been long overdue, and something I’ve been trying to write for several months now. To sum it up in one sentence, I had chronic achilles tendonitis that wouldn’t allow me to train at the level I wanted. I’ve had achilles problems for years- starting back in 2011 while I was still at Notre Dame- but it was always something I could control/would only flare up near the end of seasons/never bad enough to take me out of extended blocks of training. Even in 2015, when I ran all my personal bests, my achilles was holding me back. The day before I ran a 3:36 1500m in Heusden I wasn’t able to do pre-race strides in spikes. Going into every race that year the things I would normally stress about like competition, pacing, weather, and fitness were replaced by just stressing about if I could physically complete 1500m without my achilles giving out.
2016 was meant to be a big year for me, which called for harder, more consistent training, yet it ended up being the most inconsistent year of running I ever had. My achilles hurt more than ever, but because it was an Olympic year, I ignored all warning signs and pushed through the pain. I never ended up racing, and watched all my friends and teammates qualify for Rio which was something I had been dreaming of accomplishing and working towards for years.
Around this time I moved out of Guelph and back in with my parents in Niagara. I needed a long break from running, and seeing as my whole life in Guelph revolved around running, it was hard for me to actually take the necessary time off when I was still in that environment. In July 2016 I also bought a road bike, which I thought would be a good way of keeping in shape until I returned to running later in the fall. Turned out I really liked cycling… so much that even when my achilles started feeling a bit better, I found myself wanting to get out on the bike just as much as I wanted to run.
By the end of fall, my running mileage was getting back to where it used to be, I was starting to commute to Guelph for workouts with the team, but the achilles pain slowly started becoming an issue again. Nonetheless, I pushed on. I committed to going to Flagstaff for an altitude camp in April (2017), and while the thought of quitting running was already creeping into my head, I wanted to give myself one last shot at getting fit. My thought process at the time was that if I surround myself with teammates, in a competitive environment free from distractions, with some of my favourite trails and roads, I’d be giving myself the best possible chance to overcome the achilles injury and get in good form for the season. I flew down a week ahead of my teammates and started seeing a chiropractor in Phoenix who had been highly recommended. Throughout the camp, I drove down from Flagstaff to Phoenix just to be treated by him. Things were actually going alright for the first few weeks. I was getting in okay mileage, some good tempo and threshold efforts, but when it came to high-end track work, I just couldn’t manage it. By the last week of camp, I had essentially already made the decision to not continue with running, but to make the best of the situation, I went on some really great, long bike rides. I bought a used bike off Kijiji, and on one of the final days in Flagstaff I rode up to the snow bowl on Mt Humphrey’s (10km @6%). Looking back, that probably ended up being one of the better workouts of the entire trip, and the most fun.
Within a week of being back home, I joined the local cycling group, and started going out for their weekly rides. Up until now, I had almost exclusively ridden by myself, so there was a huge learning curve involved. I was absolutely smashing myself to keep up with the group, and it’s not like these guys were a group of pro’s. They were mostly just 9-5ers with a passion for cycling, weekend-warriors, masters class guys. They were really great about teaching me the basics of pack-riding, etiquette, and strategy. Within a few rides, I was really starting to get the hang of it, and soon I was riding off the front of the group.
I started to get the itch to bike race, but I wasn’t confident enough yet with my pack riding skills for a conventional road race. What I found instead was the Whiteface Mountain hill climb, a mass-start, 13km @8% race from bottom to top. These types of races lean more towards fitness than actual bike handling or strategy, so it was a perfect first race opportunity. I ended up placing second, only being passed about 100m from the finish line. I ended up doing a lot of leading up the second half of the mountain, and we ended up posting two of the fastest times ever for the race.
After that weekend, I was hooked. I ended up racing about a dozen times over the summer, and every one of them was just insanely fun. Cycling provided several things I had been missing from running for some time. 1. Whatever I put into cycling, I got out of it. I could train hard at something, and within a few weeks, I’d notice an improvement- something which my achilles had prevented me doing in running. 2. I was racing, and being competitive- even though it wasn’t nearly at the same level (local class racing vs. national class in running), I absolutely love competition. The fact that I wasn’t able to race at all in 2016 and 2017 was really really difficult for me to handle. Cycling provided me that missing avenue to be competitive again. 3. It was fun as hell- running when you’re injured is one of the worst feelings. I dreaded nearly every run I did for about three years. Now, I’d finish one ride and immediately be thinking about where I’d get to ride next.
There are some things I don’t like as much about cycling. It’s expensive. It’s sometimes (often) gear-dependent (races can be ended by something as simple as a flat tire). It requires more training time. Races aren’t as much about pure fitness (in cycling, being the fittest guy doesn’t really mean anything, whereas in running, the fittest guy almost always wins a race). Nonetheless, I was still having a blast.
Cycling will never be an exact replacement for what running used to provide me. I’ll obviously never get to the same level of competitiveness, nor do I want to. I’m back in school now, and I have a part-time job. I just don’t have the time (or headspace) to commit to high-end performance anymore. I’m also 26 now, and realize that I don’t have that huge foundation of skills and bike-specific fitness that true elites have by the time they’re my age. However, I’m totally cool with this. Cycling is just a way for me to stay in shape, meet people, and get to explore whatever city I happen to be in. I’m still involved with the running community through work, and get out for the occasional jog, but otherwise I have no ambition to start serious running again. For now, I’m just having too much fun on two wheels.
(edit: weird how I can write these 1300 words in about 30 minutes, yet a 1000 word paper for school takes me 6 days and 3 Starbucks trips.)