Whilst nosing through my twitter timeline, I spotted an extended conversation that Jack Thurston (from ‘The bike show’) was enjoying with his followers; what’s the cycling equivalent of the London marathon? A few suggestions were bandied about. 200km? London to Brighton? The rule of four? (cycle 4 times the duration to get the same benefit). From bitter experience, Jack suggested a 300km ride was approximately equivalent. I mulled it over.
Over the years, I’ve been involved in lots of endurance stuff. I’ve enjoyed much of it, I’ve hated some of it and now have a rough idea of where my – modest – talents and interests lie. I’ve run 3 road marathons, 6 mountain marathons, cycled theTour of Flanders and completed an Ironman. There’s nothing remarkable about any of this; where there’s a will there’s a way and really – anyone can do this stuff. But when push comes to shove and I’m asked what was the hardest thing that I’ve done I can tell you in a blink of an eye – it was none of the above. It wasn’t the heat of Ironman Switzerland or the bobbly hardship of Flanders cobbles. Nope, the lesser distance of 5km taught me what ‘proper’ hurting really meant (rather than slogging it out endurance style). Finishing 2nd in a Division 1 Welsh League 5000m race back in 1998, was the most painful 15 minutes, 43 seconds that I can recall. Eyes watering, lungs bursting, legs screaming, lactic acid pooling in my ankles and all the skin from the edge of my left foot removed by running too close to the edge of the track. The marathons aren’t far behind. 26.2 miles definitely wasn’t for me. Taking that tippy-toe-tartan-track running style and sticking it on tarmac was a disaster. Without exception, my experiences on the streets of London, Paris and New York were a lot less than fun, though I wouldn’t describe them in the same terms as sardonic Richard Wilson. As scriptwriter for Have I got news for you, room 101 and author of ‘Can’t be arsed’ (a classic toilet book), he’s well versed in scything commentary. Here’s his less than flattering – though pretty amusing – take on us endurance types.
‘I honestly can’t see the appeal in thousands of pallid ectomorphs loping around like something out of the corpse bride, spilling liquid out of paper cups, with their bony elbows and stinky feet, sh*tting themselves as they run’.
Richard Wilson, ‘Can’t be ar*sd’, 2008
Harsh, Richard harsh. Though I have to admit that whilst the spilling didn’t bother me too much, I don’t miss my bony elbows or bowel issues (I was 66 kilos when I was running well. I’m now a chunkier 78). There is no doubt though, running places more demands on the body than cycling.
Watching the closing throes of the London marathon yesterday from the safe haven of the tourist office cafe outside Caerphilly castle, through a mixture of teary eye’d respect and ‘Nam’ like flashbacks, I mulled over that big question, – what’s the cycling equivalent of the marathon? I think Mr Thurston was probably bang on. 300km seems about right for me, even then we’re not really looking at like for like. All of my marathon efforts beat me up in a way that only the Tour of Flanders has approximated – and that was courtesy of the cobbles not the distance. One thing is for sure though, I wouldn’t swap bikes for daps (again) if you gave me all the beer in belgium. Give me the majesty of the Col, the relentless grind of hill climbing, the meditation of solo coastal riding and even the <gulp> cobbles of Flanders over the mass marathon experience. I’ll take those 300km anyday; no matter how hurty they are.
Congratulations to all those who ran the London marathon yesterday. Respect, as they say, is due. My views on tough events may well change after the Twentyfour12 mountain bike race in July.