I’ve been doing some running recently. I beg you not to think of me as a traitor to the cause. I’m more like one of those Victorian explorers who topped off their safari suits with a pith helmet (“Oh, blimey, almost forgot to take the pith,” etc. etc.), headed for a bit of African jungle and spent a couple of years being mistaken for a man called Livingstone by some bloke named Stanley, before finally coming back to the Royal Geographic Society to tell everyone how awful it had been over cocktails.
From running I can bring you back this observation: runners have injuries. I don’t mean as an occasional thing. They have injuries the way other sportspeople have careers or children. Mrs Doc is a runner. She’s had a sore Achilles tendon since 1995. Every cell in her body has been replaced multiple times, but that tendon still twangs.
But things like that give her, and people like her, an inexhaustible supply of interesting conversation. “I’m very well, thanks for asking. The old plantar fasciitis [what runners call ‘a sore heel’ to give it a bit of sciency pizzazz] is almost under control.
“The physio sold me a special stick to rub it with for £20, which has helped a bit, and I tried another five or six different pairs of shoes…”
Other runners nod, stifle a yawn, and wait till the first runner takes a breath so they get a chance to jump in with the saga of their iliotibial band syndrome, and the new stretch the physio showed them for £50.
If the shoe fits…
Cyclists do not do this. We do not, for the most part, get the sort of chronic overuse injuries that keep so many running club barbecues flying. The nearest many of us get is the saddle sore, and frankly anyone who tries to tell me about one of those over the sausages is likely to get a fork in the eye.
If you do have a chronic injury, chances are you’ll be referred to the world of bike-fit. Runners have this too — it’s the fancy mat in the running shop that you run down while a computer produces a picture of how your foot hits the ground. Runners have had this sort of thing for ages, but it’s relatively new to us.
As my friend Bernard once put it, “In the days of proper clubs, there was no such thing as a professional bike-fit. You just kept fiddling until everyone stopped laughing at you.”
Over the course of my riding, chronic injuries have numbered exactly one. I spent two years with incredibly painful feet. This was because I read an article in some cycling magazine or other that said changing your shoes to half a size smaller could take 10 seconds off your 10-mile TT time because you’d have “a more stable foot”.
I reckoned that if I went to two sizes smaller, I’d knock 40 seconds off. It’s possible that this was chronic stupidity, not chronic injury. (Even the half-a-size bit is rubbish, so don’t try it, or if you do, don’t come running to me with your sore feet.)
The truth is that cycling injuries are incurred rather more dramatically than they are in running. A runner will develop tendonitis over the course of three tedious months. We’re more likely to develop a broken collarbone over the course of a couple of spectacular seconds.
Yet we hardly ever talk about our injuries. I think maybe it’s because quite a lot of the time we’re a bit embarrassed about how we got them, given how often some bit of idiocy was involved.
Which is ironic, really, when you consider how it works in running.
After all, runners get running injuries from running. How embarrassing must that be?