My Split Personality: Runner vs. Cyclist

I have a confession: I am at complete odds with myself.

You see, I have this problem. And it stems from the development of what may very well be multiple personalities.split-personality

The thing is, I am both a runner and a cyclist.

For me, these two disciplines are in direct opposition to one another. And so I go about my days ill at ease, thoughts clouded by a sensation of cognitive dissonance.

Now I understand this may not be true for all multisport lovers, but for me, my “runner self” and my “cyclist self” simply cannot be left alone together. If my cyclist self met my runner self–well, let’s just settle with saying that my passive, flighty runner self would be lucky to make it out alive–but she’d probably preach some pacifism before daintily flitting away.

It all stems from, well, the very root of my brushes with endurance sport: high school cross-country. That good, old, salt-of-the-earth discipline that involved trudging through muddy fields in rainy, autumnal Connecticut while wearing candy-striped short-shorts. Running, therefore, was my first love–my high school sweetheart, if you will. I spent a good six years honing my runner self before any bikes came along and got in the way. But you know what they say about first loves–while sweet, they usually aren’t soul-mate material.

Enter Trek 1000, my first road bike. This steel steed, a “base model” donated to me by Trek prior to my cross-country ride with Bike & Build in 2007, was the bad boy who swayed me to change my ways. My love affair with running was shelved for a few years, and I traded in my Mizunos for a fancy pair of stiff-soled Shimano cycling shoes and clipless pedals. The allure of sleek and seamless speed lured me in and held my attention for quite some time. My body adapted accordingly.

Re-enter running, gradually throughout late college and more regularly during my first two years of medical school. I found myself bicycle-less when I moved out to California, and took up trail running. Suddenly my memories of cycling were characterized by the patina of the past. I was a runner again.

I distinctly remember thinking, during those days, about how “stupid” cycling was. At the time, I was fully embracing the addictive and pure trail running culture of the North Bay, and on long runs up Mount Tamalpais I could think only about how euphoric it felt to be so close to nature. I was, of course, also convinced that I was “so much stronger” then than I could ever have been as a “bike rider”. Such is the nature of the human mind–we usually bias toward favoring ourselves, and overestimate our naïveté in the past.

More recently, I’ve embraced the two disciplines simultaneously–cycling some days, and running on others (and even doing one after the other on occasion–someone call a psychiatrist!). This has made me keenly aware of the distinctive personalities I’ve harbored as both a runner and a cyclist, and, quite frankly, the vacillating nature of my personality on a daily basis is starting to perplex me.

For one, there’s the complete clash between the cultures surrounding the two sports. With the exception of the more recent “marathon madness” that has swept the nation, running events tend to be more minimalist. Running is pure and simple. As a runner, I actually feel almost puritanical of sorts (weird, I know), and identify strongly with the concept of “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner.” Running is primitive. Running is straightforward. You just put on your shoes, and go. My runner self is relatively unchanged from the 14-year-old girl who laced up her first pair of Brooks trainers some 12 years ago.

The cycling culture could not be more different from the running culture–at least in my experience (although anyone who pays attention to news about professional cyclists would probably agree with me on this one). There is nothing simple or primordial about cycling: it’s this odd, completely man-made practice that contorts the body into all sorts of unhealthy shapes and postures to mold it into the most efficiently-positioned power source for an impressively-engineered classical mechanics experiment. Cycling culture is technical. There’s technique, there’s jargon, heck, there’s a whole new lexicon associated with cycling that completely trumps any sport-specific vocab running has to its name. There’s talk of gear, components, parts. What kind of frame is that? What material is that? What model derailleur is that? Aero this, dynamic that. Layer on top of this unique culture the fact that I was first introduced to cycling in a highly social environment, and you’ve created a monster. My cyclist self shuns the frivolous self-indulgence of “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner”–heck, rides are just a gateway to socialization, and of course extreme speeds and competition. My cyclist self jives well with who I was at the time that I first encountered cycling culture: a wannabe-badass college kid who was suddenly enamored with going fast and flashy things.

And then there’s the biomechanics of it: cycling and running place alternating and often oppositional demands on opposing muscle groups, forging an even greater divide between my runner self and my cyclist self, and making the relationship between them all the more tenuous. My cyclist legs demand that my quads get as beefy as humanly possible, while my runner legs shriek at lugging around all that extra muscle mass. While my cyclist body is perfectly content keeping all parts other than thighs as immobile as humanly possible, my runner body dies a little bit inside every time I crouch over handlebars in a C-shape. My physical therapist friend says I need to develop a stronger relationship with a foam roller, but she just doesn’t understand the deep-seeded psychic complexity of it all.

So where do I stand today? Completely at odds with myself, a split personality, a multisport misfit. The truth is, I mostly enjoy wearing multiple hats. It keeps life interesting, right? While I have found myself pondering which represents the “true” me, the reality is that both do. Running was my first love, and will forever hold a special place in my heart. But cycling was that catalyst that introduced the concept of change, nudging me to shake things up and take a step away from familiarity. Today, I feel more like a cyclist who also runs–but tomorrow, it’ll probably be the other way around.

As for my “swimmer self”–well, let’s just say she’s beyond help.


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