Some thoughts from the running track about cycling

HurdlesOnWetTrackSo, yesterday I signed up for the Galena Duathlon. That would be the race that has more vertical mileage than horizontal.

And what did I do to prepare? Why, I went to the track last night, of course!

If we’re smart, that’s where we all go to test our fitness. Because even if the training is not specific to running hills, you still need to know how fast you can run at a steady state near race pace to help your mind get ready for the effort of racing.

Those of us old enough to still have cinders in our butt crack from years of running on less-than-all-weather tracks know one thing is true: track is where honesty lives.

Fun and humbling

It’s both fun and humbling to do a track workout. My companion Sue is not so convinced about the fun part. She’s more convinced about the humbling nature of track work. Yet this winter during our many repeat interval workouts on the indoor track at the local high school, she saw definite improvement in her leg turnover and speed by doing intervals together on the track. Her form improved. By indoor season’s end, she was running 3-4 miles of ladder and interval workouts at her 5K pace or below.

That’s a pretty cool result, wouldn’t you say? And yesterday on the outdoor track she replicated that pace. I told her that’s a really good sign. Perhaps it helped that she was wearing my faithful Timex watch, which I lent to her because her Garmin battery died? She’s got way more gadgets than me. Hee hee.

On our own

IMG_8605Meanwhile I did our workout of 6 X 800 using my internal watch. Built on years of pacework on the track, starting from middle school through the current day, my pacing sense is fairly consistent. But the workout called for increasing our pace as the session progressed. I ran the first 800 with Sue in just over 4:00. Then came the drops, and through three repeats I could feel my legs start to loosen enough to deliver a faster pace.

I was clipping along by Number Four and Five, and with one 800 to go, I called out to Bob Hammond, the Experience Triathlon track coach managing our workout: “Sue has my watch,” I told him. “Could you just give me these two laps?”

The first passed in 1:35 and the second in 1:36. 3:11 for the 800. 6:20 pace.

That’s exactly my goal pace for the first two miles of the upcoming duathlon. Given that I felt no strain during the 800s workout, I’m on track (no pun intended) to handle that effort in the first stage.


Of course it is really hilly out in Galena. It’s unlikely I’ll be running 6:20s. But in order to race at your relative fitness, you must know how it feels to run at your race pace in order to manage your effort. Because then comes 16.8 miles of cycling, again in the hills. Followed by 4.2 more miles of running with a brick in your legs.

Strava Hill plot

click to enlarge

So to begin preparing for the bike segment, I rode out to our local hill called Johnson’s Mound to do hill repeats earlier this week. It was really windy on the way west to the forest preserve. I’d ridden 50 miles the day before and could really feel that in my legs. But as you roll along the lactic acid flows out of your muscles and you prepare for a new round of anaerobic goo. It’s what we do.

Johnson’s Mound sticks up like a lone boob from the Illinois landscape. It’s a kame formation laid down by glaciers 10,000 years ago. Once farmed, it’s now a park with a winding road that circles its backside and then launches up the north face in a series of four semi-switchbacks. It really resembles those climbs on the Tour de France, and there is a 9% grade I believe at one point. Several seasons ago I led a friend into the preserve who did not know about the hill. As he climbed with me I heard the definite use of a French word that begins with an F and ends with either a Q or a K with an ER added on the end.

Rite of passage

It’s a tough little hill, and I first ran it with my high school cross country team back in 1971. It was a rude surprise to me then. Since that time I have run up Johnson’s Mound hundreds of times. Way back when I was racing fit at 31:00 10K pace, I would train on Johnson’s Mound to prepare for hillier races. I knew that I was ready for a good effort when I could run from the woods entrance around the main road and up to the top of the circuit in 3:00 or under. That meant I could race under 5:00 pace even in the hills. That strategy once delivered a 20:00 flat four-mile at a very hilly race in Glen Ellyn, Illinois where I got beat by two seconds in one of the most thrilling race finishes in my life. You don’t win them all, but an honest effort feels almost as good as winning. And that one felt honest.

Modern pain

Strava Ranking on Johnson's Mound this year

Click to enlarge

This time riding the same circuit on the bike I came round at just under 2:30 in four out of the six repeats. There’s a Strava segment on that stretch of park road that tells you how you compare to other riders. There are tons of riders here who use , for hillwork during training season. The All Time fastest climb belongs to a pair of excellent riders named Nathan Troia and David Ross. They climbed the segment at 39 seconds. My best All Time is 1:22. And that really hurt. So they’re some 40 seconds faster than me on that climb.

Truth be told, there are plenty of CATEGORY 1, 2 and 3 riders in our area, so I’m not too upset that that on that segment I rank 93rd overall. I’m kind of a marginal CAT 4 rider, and that’s only when I’m really fit. Otherwise I hang out and CAT 5 and try to stick with the bunch finish.

New Goals

I’ll be out to improve on that approach this year, starting with a new goal of getting up that climb in under a minute. That will mean 1) I’ve likely lost some weight and 2) I’m ready for challenges like the Horribly Hilly 100 in Wisconsin and other rides mapped out for the year.

I’m built a bit like a climber. Of course, I’m also built a bit like a runner. So there’s this strange balance that goes on between your speed in running and the muscle needed to be a fast cyclist. In some ways they’re the same, but in many ways they’re different.

In any case, together they add up to greater fitness overall. There’s a definite benefit of general aerobic fitness. It’s called cross-training in everyday nomenclature. Not an effort is wasted, in other words. The flats help the hills, and the hills help the flats. In between lie the peaks and valleys of mental preparation, and how bad you really want to succeed.

It’s a fascinating landscape, this world of running and riding. In the end, it’s a topography of the mind.


About Christopher Cudworth

Christopher Cudworth is a content producer, writer and blogger with more than 25 years’ experience in B2B and B2C marketing, journalism, public relations and social media. Connect with Christopher on Twitter: @genesisfix07 and blogs at, and Online portfolio:
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