"After 20 years as a nationwide runner, I gave up on biking."
"I'd like to think it was a wink," suggested Dave Mitchinson. "I can't believe that someone with their knowledge of top-class sport would seriously believe that they would run that fast."
He is referring to Tom Pidcock who a few days earlier posted a run on Strava entitled "5k PB 13.25" with data that appeared to support the claim. If that's true, he would have put him second on the British all-time list for 3 miles. "Too good to be true" was putting it mildly.
Mitchinson, a Hertfordshire ambulance worker, is well-qualified to provide comments: he has true PBs of 14.04 for 5,000m and 29.45 for 10km and is now an elite category cyclist after switching to cycling in 2016 . Neither of us fully understand Pidock's motivation for releasing a far-fetched PB, but we agree that he was probably just taking advantage of a GPS bug to laugh and attract attention.
It's not that with the right training he can't run very fast, says Mitchinson. "I suspect that he could lose his cycling skills at 3:30 pm as he is built like a runner," speculating the former British half marathon champion would be pointless since he would not be a paid athlete to do that. "
Aside from the lack of financial incentives for running, I want to know how and why Mitchinson hung up his trainers to pedal instead. He was still fast paced in 2013 at the age of 34, but the relentless 100-mile weeks took its toll year after year. "Every time I ran hard I was in pain for a few days and for two years I couldn't figure out what the problem was." Eventually he was diagnosed with a speech hernia, a tear in the abdominal wall, and had an operation, which created a comeback dilemma. "I was 35 and I just didn't feel the need to get back to running," he says. "I never expected to quit, but I just didn't want to do it anymore."
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After trying duathlon a few years earlier, Mitchinson already had a cat-three driver's license and was enjoying cycling. So the next step was a breeze. "I realized that it was the competition that I was going to miss and not run myself," he recalls. "I jumped in, did a few reviews for the third cat, and loved it – much to my wife's disgust!"
Memories of his first foray into cycling are still vivid – "I caused a bad fall at the Elite Duathlon Champs" – Mitchinson knew he had a steep learning curve ahead of him to avoid skin loss and repair bills. On the advice of a friend, he honed his bike handling skills in distance and grass track races. "That definitely helped," he confirms.
Its aerobic foundations, carved deep by years of mileage, and prolonged high-level exertion would never be a problem. "It was more about learning how to ride a bike and hold a bike," he says.
The way his running traits have carried over to cycling leaves Mitchinson at a loss. As a runner, he has barely won a sprint, while sprinting on a motorcycle is now his greatest strength. "It's bizarre, I don't get it," he says, admitting that cycling encouraged him to collect himself. "Physically I've changed quite a bit. I've put at least one stone on it and now I'm lifting weights, something I've never done as a runner."
Does it make him feel different? "Yes, much healthier," he says emphatically. “As a nine-stone runner, my immune system was terrible. I would have five or six colds in winter and staying healthy was as hard as avoiding injury. "
The training now also feels more manageable. Mitchinson works eight to nine hours a week, less volume than a runner, and with much less wear and tear. "Running was a lot more physically demanding," he explains. "You can train hard day after day on a bike."
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Now, five years after the move, what is the 42-year-old's proudest achievement on a bike? "I won the Emergency Services Road Race 2019," he says, "that was a big one for me." It was even more satisfying to share the journey with his daughter Ellie, who is making her way through BC's talent development. "That was the most precious thing for me – there aren't many 14-year-old girls who are happy to spend so much time with their father."
Does he regret not having switched to cycling earlier? "No, I'm pretty happy," he says. "If I had started riding as a kid I might have stopped … there are still opportunities for me on the track, as well as critical hits, and I don't crush myself like I used to. I'm realistic." With others Words as much as he likes, he doesn't expect to be sitting next to Tom Pidcock and comparing PBs anytime soon.
How complementary are cycling and running to fitness?
We asked Josh Walker, professor of biomechanics at Leeds Beckett University, to evaluate the mutual benefits.
“Cycling and running require very different inputs from the neuromuscular system: different muscle activation patterns and different loads on the musculoskeletal system. Research has shown that running improves running economy, while cycling doesn't seem to have the same payoff for cyclists. With that in mind, running may be more specialized than cycling. It can take a long time for a cyclist to switch to running to achieve excellent running economy. At the elite level, it therefore seems more practical to switch from running to cycling than the other way around. Running doesn't seem to undermine the bike economy, however, so it makes a great quick exercise solution for time trial riders. "
This feature originally appeared in the print edition of Cycling Weekly, which is available in newsagents and supermarkets for £ 3.25.
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