We’ve heard many stories from people who came to cycling after running. For Matthew Gilson, cycling has always been first. He became an avid cyclist before college. “Every moment I had, I was on a bike.”
For a hint at just how enthusiastic Matthew was and is about bikes, he talks fondly of his now-vintage Graftec road bike, the precursor to the modern day carbon fiber ones, that he got in the 70’s. (Yes, a carbon fiber bike made in the 1970’s! Who knew?) He talks casually of Zeus components, friction shifters and sew-up tires. (Or shall we say, “tyres?”)
Matthew left cycling behind for a few years, getting absorbed in school in New York City and forging out a new life with his wife. But the birth of their first child brought them back to the town where Matthew grew up. In Chicago’s North Shore, Matthew discovered open roads and hills. In his words, he found himself “in the perfect place at the perfect time.”
He got back into cycling and introduced running into his repertoire. He started running as a way of “being able to explore Wilmette/Evanston, but that eventually led to finding groups of people who were also running.”
Matthew actually found himself, quite literally, surrounded by runners and cyclists – and good ones, too. He rides regularly with a group of guys “whose history goes back to the Little 500.” (Ever see Breaking Away?) There are several Leadville finishers among them, too, some of them two-time finishers. “One of the guys is a master level racer for Zipp. I think he just cools down with us.”
As for runners, his neighbors are not just marathon runners, but marathon winners. “Training with people at that level has helped me to reset what fast is.” Matthew also does long runs with Evanston Running Club and hill work with Precision Multisport. “I work out with Ironman guys. They’re fantastic.
When Matthew first started running, he says, “I was just by myself for the first couple years,” but he kept getting injured, so his wife encouraged him to get a coach. “Craig [Strong] was just getting started. I hooked up with him and I’ve been fundamentally injury-free since then.”
Having great people to run and cycle with was certainly a motivation during this miserable winter. “If it was above ten degrees, we were out on cross bikes.” Matthew emphasizes that the sense of community he has found here is “invaluable.” “I’m always getting email… A few months ago, it was ten degrees out and we had six people running hills.” And training through a winter like this one, with “a lot of 17 degrees and 30mph wind days… takes some real resolve.”
Matthew follows a very nontraditional training schedule. “I ride three days, have one down day and run three days. I don’t give myself recovery run.” During his three runs during the week, he gets in the traditional long run, tempo run and speed work. “You can’t really find yourself, your endurance limit, without those three.” In lieu of recovery runs, he cross-trains on the bike.
“The bike is my ‘social’ activity. It’s competitive, but very friendly.” He clarifies, “It’s serious cross-training for me. It’s not casual, but it kind of is my relaxation. It’s less regimented. Effort levels are ‘crimes of opportunity,’ rather than calculations as it is in a run.”
As far as running and cycling, Matthew says, “I keep recognizing similarities.” He recognizes that the cadence of running and riding is the same. “It’s 90’s on bike and 90’s on the run.” Matthew adds, “The two draw from each other. Even where you pull power from. The brush back on your downstroke is similar to what you’re trying to do on the run.
“When I bonk on a bike, it’s lactic acid, not cardio. On a run, it’s my heart – that’s my threshold on a run. But hills are mix of legs and lung. Running hills is more physically similar to riding, more so than running flats.”
Matthew finds that the bike really helps him when it comes to running hills. “Being conscious of your ‘gears’ as you run is a lovely thing. The gear shifts that I use going up hills and back down are similar to how I approach hills.”
Just like cycling, it’s about “managing the uphill and picking it up on the downhill.” He continues, “The moments after the uphill, where you think you’re going to die… It’s just like speed work, like doing 800’s. You think, ‘I don’t ever want to do another one,’ and a minute later, you’re doing another one and you’re fine.”
Matthew typically does three marathons per year. To qualify for Boston 2014, his first Boston Marathon, Matthew ran a 3:23:12 at Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth. “A couple of years ago, I would never have expected to run a marathon that quickly. As proud of as I am of that time, I still feel like I could go faster.” While the Boston Marathon was certainly on his bucket list, he plans to return. “It may not be a consecutive year thing. It’s expensive. It’s a privilege.” He adds, “There are too many races that I’d love to run, ones that are as much a part of the community.”
After Boston, Matthew is contemplating an ultra. “I have my sights set on an ultra. I just want to mess with it.” He adds without a hint of sarcasm, “Fifty is not that much longer.”
“The first IronMan I met, I asked, ‘What do you do after you cross finish line?’ He told me, ‘You find yourself in this shape and you start looking around to apply it.’ They begin looking at different ways to maintain what they have and stay within the community, while branching out.”
“I’m looking forward to Boston. Boston becomes your goal because of the qualification. Boston has this level of enthusiasm. These are my people. There’s a level of community, people who understand the effort and love of the sport… It’s the symbol of enthusiasm for a sport. It’s the annual gathering of people.”
He goes on. “I remember thinking at my first marathon, ‘My God, I do all of this by myself and suddenly there are all these fools doing the same thing.’ You no longer feel all alone. It’s the epitome of ‘misery loves company.’ It’s what I do less and less by myself these days.”
“It’s about priorities. Priorities got all of these people there.” Matthew made it his priority to get to Boston and his efforts are delivering him to the starting line in Hopkinton on Monday, April 21st. Congratulations, Matthew. Enjoy your victory lap!
Meet more Higher Gear customers who are running in the 2014 Boston Marathon:
For more information:
- Learn more about the 2014 Boston Marathon.
- Not a runner? Check out this summary of everything you need to know about the Boston Marathon.
- Check out the B.A.A.’s website.
- Get all the details about the Boston Marathon.
- For more background, check out the Wikipedia entry for the Boston Marathon.
- Listen to Scott Simon’s interview with Mike Barnicle on NPR’s Saturday Weekend Edition.
- Listen to Higher Gear’s own Joy Sherrick’s interview immediately following the 2013 Boston bombing.
- For tips on how to approach running the Boston Marathon, visit Dark Horse Triathlon.
- If you’re a local runner not already involved, get to know the Evanston Running Club.
- Learn more about Matthew Gilson and see his photography.
Joy Sherrick is a two-time Boston-qualifier and a Boston Marathon 2013 survivor. She will be returning to run Boston in 2015. Joy runs, but she also bikes, swims, strength trains, practices yoga and plays soccer. She is a fitness coach and Higher Gear’s own fitness guru. She is also her IronMan husband‘s biggest cheerleader.