Stirring custard. Or why I run like a cyclocross rider.

I went on a Fell/Offroad Leader in Running Fitness course last weekend. It was an absorbing and inspiring introduction into coaching for running, something I’ve been wanting to do for a bit since becoming involved with the Junior groups at Clayton Harriers, with whom my daughter trains.

We spent time on the course looking at uphill and downhill running technique, with the usual element of peer assessment to see how we could improve each others running style. I was described as ‘stirring custard’ with my left arm and hand whilst running. Not my right, just my left which apparently dangled out to the side, with a strong elbow bend and didn’t drive in the ‘pocket to socket’ forward plane that is conducive to efficient forward motion. Combine that with some fairly nasty twisting across my pelvis and core under effort, and you have an inefficient style with lots of energy wasted. And a bit of a bruised ego, for my part.

I’d gone away thinking about this, and how I might correct it with drills and excercises in the gym and begun to work on it. It was out on my cyclocross bike that I realised with a classic lightbulb moment why I was doing this, why I was stirring custard.

It was I deduced, as a result of carrying and running with a cross bike for years and years. A habit and an evolution of hours of training spent doing something inherently unbalanced and unhelpful. Watch this video of a professional cyclocross race in Belgium from a couple of years ago. These are the best riders in the world, and it features in particular, arguably the greatest ‘cross rider of the modern age, the recently retired Sven Nys (in Belgian Champ red, yellow and black).


When Sven and the other riders hit the long sand carrying section to run, they also seem to stir to varying degrees with their left arm, balancing and helping along forward motion with an unhelpful bike across their right shoulder.

Here’s further proof, this time with me (as second rider) training in 2012 for the 3 Peaks Cyclocross race with teammate Dave Haygarth. Hmm.


I seem to have learned to run like a cyclocross rider very well. Except I still do it when not carrying a bike. Food for thought, and for retraining myself to run like a runner a little better. Now to work on that pelvic/core twisting…

Entering the Lottery


Time was when I used to enter the 3 Peaks Cyclocross and not even think about whether I would be able to ride, or not. It just wasn’t that popular.

But that was 1991 (when I was MUCH faster, honest) and before social media, the growth of the cycling press and the rise of ‘challenge’ events and sportives. The Peaks back then was the preserve of (mostly) Northern cyclocross devotees who would meet in late September for a crazy canter round Yorkshire’s finest on their patently unsuitable bikes, before resuming the winter seasons 1 hour lapped ‘crosses in a Park the following week.

Fell runnners showed up first – and spectacularly and rightly made the event their own – before some curious mountainbikers and the odd ‘outdoor’ athlete joined in the fun. I didn’t ride after 1992 (DNF) until 2005 and it had already changed greatly by the time I came out of, ahem, retirement. The real change though has been in the last 3 or 4 years where its popularity has rocketed, to the extent where the event now attracts well over 1000 entries for its 600 or so places. And people are getting turned away in large numbers. Regular 3 Peakers, pit crew who have supported riders and the event for years but fancied a do themselves (incl my pit crew Mark), cyclocross devotees, newcomers, the curious and so on. The nature of the event, I believe, has changed. But that’s another discussion…

Nevertheless, following 2 years out after breaking my neck and back, I have thrown my lot in and submitted an entry. To pre-selection only mind – I’ll have to wait till July to find out if I am successful. And I’m not holding out hope, ironic given my level of public blogging/social media obsession in recent years, aided and abetted by ex team-mate Dave Haygarth who runs the current and excellent 3 Peaks Cyclocross Blog (go check it out).

I’ll let you know if I am successful. In the meantime, I shall commence training as if I am riding…