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transitioning between sports

-By: Tomas Swift-Metcalfe

Last modified: November 18, 2013

I have transitioned from running at school, where I was an all-Ireland finalist a couple of times, to a brief stint as an elite Duathlete on the GB squad at university and then a whole career as a professional cyclist. My sporting journey has taken me through a wide range of events, levels and sport. Along the way I’ve raced everything from 400m hurdles, to the Volta a Portugal and even enjoyed (but was terrible at) rugby.

By far the hardest transition I made was from multi-sport to cycling. Cycling is tremendously technical and requires very good bike handling skills and acquiring these motor skills as an adult is possible, but very hard. As well as pedalling hard, you’ve got to be a good ‘driver’ and really it doesn’t differ that much from motor sports in that regard. The easiest transition I made was from athletics to multi-sport, where although my swimming was bad, my run was good and bike was excellent. I think this transition was made easy by the great people at Loughborough triathlon club made the sport inviting and fun. I also had the exceptional luck of meeting Martin Yelling on a bike ride who became my first coach.

From road cycling to mountain biking the transition is less hard, especially in less technical mountain bike events like the Marathons. My first event I was over an hour of the leaders; gastrointestinal problems and a fear of the descents. But the second mountain bike race I did I came third and just lost it by a whisker.

Right now I am facing a daunting challenge: transitioning back to triathlon (I want to do Ironman specifically) and the challenge is no smaller than it was when I first changed to triathlon. I’ve had to ‘teach’ myself how to run efficiently again, which is more complicated that you may think. After eight year cycling find just keeping correct posture while running difficult… But it’s coming together and I love it.

I figured the best way to get going running would be to run barefoot, after all shoes aren’t there when we’re born and I was aware of the likes of Zola Budd and Abebe Bikela running barefoot with supposedly no ill effect. It seemed logical. So I did. I started very, very slowly, literally jogging just 500m down the road and building this up. While I am far fully adapted, I can run 5km now in 19 min on a hilly course, unshod. This might not seem impressive, but pace is only half the story, the fact is it feels good and it feels easier than running even with minimalist shoes. I’ve read in quote article that running barefoot is 4% more effective. I figure if the benefits are ‘only’ 4%, that that’s 6’ at the end of an Ironman.

Abebe Bikela didn’t find a pair of Adidas trainers in his size, so he ran the marathon barefoot, in 2:15 in 1960!

I’ve also noticed that I don’t get that terrible, crippling delayed onset muscle soreness, it seems that taking the jarring heel strike out of the equation can help avoid that muscle soreness.

So while I look like a madman, I feel I am doing the most natural and most rational exercise: Just the way the human body was designed for.

This is only the first step in preparation for Ironman. I figure when I can run consistently at high speed, then I can put cycling back in a work on swimming. Also my cycling career wont be over if I’m given reasonable conditions to continue pursuing the sport.

Swimming is a sport I am not good. I am a lanky ectomorph with large legs and a puny upper-body, the exact opostite phenotype to a good swimmer. I am not looking forward to long hours in the pool, I am just going to train in the sea I think and use the pool to be coached on technique… Just need to get a wetsuit.

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