They said the jogging boom wouldn't last. Then along came the London Marathon and everyone, it seemed, was donning trainers and pounding the pavements. A phenomenon turned into a way of life. This Sunday's London Marathon will be the 28th, a sobering thought for those of us old enough to have run the first, as I did, back in 1981. It's the usual sell-out, with 34,000 lining up at the start, but I won't put putting in an appearance, I'm afraid. Instead, like increasing numbers of people, I'll be out on my bike, getting my endorphin rush that way.
The boom in this kind of cycling – club runs, audaxes, sportives – as well as in commuting by bike is well established. But will it prove to have legs like the jogging boom? In the wake of the success of the Etape (the amateurs' stage of the Tour de France, now in its 16th year), a host of sportives has sprung up in the UK and on the Continent, but it's the rise of the domestic event that is most revealing of the strength of the trend.
The Etape Caledonia, for example, sponsored by The Independent, will draw some 3,000 cyclists to Scotland in mid-May, myself among them. The prospect of roads closed to motorised traffic and full organisational back-up count heavily in its favour, but much smaller rides are flourishing too.
I've also signed up for a 100-mile sportive in the Chilterns in June; the 300 places all went within a fortnight of the event being publicised in February. I did it last year, and it's a wonderful ride, but it's not alone; similar challenges are on offer right across the UK.
Running a marathon, riding an Etape: both are tests of strength, endurance, and willpower. That my own preference is for cycling has something to do with scale. In the four-and-a-half hours it took me to run 26 miles, I can cycle almost three times as far, and the bike opens up a world of sensation that's beyond me at the speed I am capable of running. Plus, being load-bearing exercise, cycling is easier on the knees, an important consideration at my age.
That brings us to economics. For jogging, the only expense involved is a decent pair of trainers. Cycling requires money, at least in terms of start-up costs. I'd say a minimum of £1,000 for the bike, clothes and accessories that you would need to ride a sportive. So it's surely no coincidence that cycling has taken off at a time of economic prosperity, and that it has proved a hit with those in their forties and fifties (the average age of Etape entrants is 44). At this stage in life, it's a sport we can afford. But while an economic downturn won't stop people jogging, it might stop people cycling.
I thought my marathon running days were over. But maybe not...
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