Running for Cyclists?
“I just rode my bike 4 hours last weekend, so of course I can go for 5 miles on my first run of the year”, said the cyclist who is then hobbling around for the next week.
Many cyclists look to add other activities into their weeks during the “off” season, and running is a very common sport to incorporate. Yes, we have the heart and lungs to complete almost any endurance exercise, but, without taking it slowly and considering past running experience, running can be painful or downright detrimental. However, if done right, it doesn’t need to be painful, but is it helpful?
There are multiple layers of this question. One, is there a potential performance benefit for a cyclist that incorporates running into their training program? Two, could the benefit be through helping to make us healthier human beings and more versatile and durable, hence producing an indirect benefit to our primary sport? Three, is there a mental component that running will give us a break from riding and let our minds reset? Four, is it actually detrimental to our performance and/or overall health?
There are not easy yes/no answers to each of these questions. I believe it’s important to us to use our muscles differently, especially during the winter months when there will be many hours where we’re locking into a stationary bike or trainer. Running isn’t the only way to accomplish (XC skiing, snow shoeing, hiking, etc.) this, but running is typically very accessible and most likely we all have some history of running, even if it dates back to our youth.
First and foremost, I see running as a healthy human benefit, which can then secondarily improve our cycling through durability and injury prevention. This is especially true if you mix it up and do some trail running where the movement is even more dynamic and stresses (good stress) our muscles, connective tissue, and bones in even more dynamic ways.
If you are considering incorporating running into your routine, it’s important to check your ego and start slow and short. Like really, really slow and really, really short. Cyclists are often used to rides of 2 or more hours, with some folks riding 6 or more hours regularly. We have the engine in our well developed heart and lungs, but we just don’t have the chassis in our muscles and joints.
Make those first half dozen (or more) runs short, like 10-15 minute short depending on your history and how long it’s been since you last ran. Those first “runs” should probably also be more of a jog, and if you’re not an experienced runner, make them jog/walks. Jog for 30 seconds, walk for 60 seconds or some easy combination like that. Have patience. Progress slowly. You’re not looking to break any speed records here, but to just acclimate your body to the demands of running so you can actually then start to do some work. You do yourself no justice of heading out for your first run, banging out 10 miles, and then not being able to move for the next week. Or worse and actually injure yourself.
Then, once you’re “used” to running and residual soreness does not appear, if it works in with your goals and objectives, you can slowly add some intensity into your routine. Science has shown that there can be real benefits, particularly in the area of VO2 Max work that running can stimulate better than cycling. If this is not part of your dial up or you’re prone to injury, then just keep it easy and use this to build your aerobic system while strengthening your body. Don’t rush into the intensity, especially if you’re coming off and long and hard cycling season.
Running is typically more abusive that cycling, evidence in the number of “former runners” that I coach who came over to the light side due to running related injuries. However, running does not have to equate to injury with patience and proper equipment.
Here’s a great podcast from the folks at Fasttalk that really gets into the meat of it all and lays out some actionable steps for starting, or re-starting a running component of your training:
So again, take your time, be OK with going slow and not far, and enjoy the slow roll. Who knows, maybe a multi-sport event is in your future for 2023. At the very least, you may find you’re a healthier and happier human being!
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Coach B.L. is the head coach at BJL Coaching and an avid racer and cycling enthusiast himself.