Is running good for a cyclist?
When the November’s bad weather comes, each and every cyclist in Poland begins the count-down to the closest training camp in warmer countries. After the recovery cycle and the period of rest from a bike, comes the nagging question: To run or not to run? The answer will vary depending on whether you are a road, mountain, or a cyclo-cross cyclist. But before analyzing particular groups of cyclists, it is important to know that, from the physiological perspective, we may perform aerobic work during both cycling and running, yet for our muscles these will be completely different stimuli. When you are running, concentric-eccentric contractions occur (concentric ones on propulsion and eccentric ones on braking), whereas when you are cycling, only concentric contractions occur (muscle shortening). Therefore, the mechanical cost of your muscle work will vary considerably. When you are running, the muscle fiber damage that occurs is significantly greater than the damage occurring when you are riding a bike. Thus, a two-hour running training session in aerobic conditions will be a much greater strain to your body than a two-hour aerobic training session on a bike. Another issue is that when you are running, you do not develop the neuromuscular connections specific for cycling. In other words, running will not enhance your threshold power, nor will it give you the sense of “feeling the crank” better. Thus, is running good for a cyclist?
Running for a road cyclist
The first group encompasses road cyclists who have already finished the recovery cycle and are currently in the phase of total body conditioning. If you belong to this group, you may begin with run-walk intervals. This can for example be a 4 - minute running and a 2 - minute marching alternately, for about 20 to 30 minutes. In the period of adaptation of the skeletal system, it is essential for you to focus on the frequency of running rather than on its volume; i.e. 3 x 30 minutes interval workout a week will be a better solution than a continuous running for 1.5h once a week. At this stage, running will enable you to maintain the condition of your cardio respiratory system and will bring diversity to your cycling trainings. When you move on to more advanced training sessions, you should completely give up on running, due to the high risk of injury.
Running for a mountain cyclist
With regard to mountain cyclists, total body condition is of greater significance and thus, if you belong to this group of cyclists, you may treat running as an alternative form of aerobic endurance training in the pre-start period. Frequently, after the first season’s peak, running can also bring diversity to your training, and it can as well be a good idea for training during holidays. What is more, when you are running, you improve your body balance and the neuromuscular coordination, which is necessary for MTB cycling. An enhanced body stability and total body condition may reduce the risk of injury in MTB. From my experience as a trainer, I have learnt that running has a good psychological influence as it breaks the monotony of cycling training sessions and may “rebuild” an athlete suffering from overtraining.
Running for a cyclo-cross cyclist
Last but not least, there is the group of cyclo-cross cyclists for whom running training is much more frequently applied in the pre-start periods. A remarkable cyclo-cross cyclist, Niels Albert, performs 30 - minute running training sessions once a week for most of the time. During such a training session, he repeats some sprints, uphills, and downhills, and the session never lasts more than 30 minutes. Moreover, he never uses a bike during running trainings. A regular and relatively short running session should then be treated as a part of the training cycle in cyclo-cross.
To sum up, depending on your main discipline and the preparation period, running training will perform different roles. Nevertheless, in order to avoid training injury, such training should always be implemented into the training plan under the supervision of an experienced trainer.
This article was published in sports magazine Bike Board (11-12/2015).