Cyclists Guide to Running
Cycling can be tough in the winter. Bikes get filthy, the days get shorter and trying to stay warm on a ride is often a losing battle. It sometimes feels like more time and effort than it’s worth.
Maintaining or even boosting your fitness throughout the winter isn’t impossible though, and one of the best ways to do so alongside cycling is by running.
So why might you run as a cyclist? Here are some of the key benefits:
- Running adds variety to your plan, which can be very helpful for motivational purposes
- It helps develop muscles that aren’t sufficiently worked through cycling alone
- There’s no down time (like coasting down a hill), so it’s a very time-efficient way to exercise
For cyclists who want to get into running as a cross-training activity, here are some tips that should help you start out the right way and come to love running as great way to stay in top condition.
Get Serious About Footwear
In the same way as you carefully consider the rubber that keeps you upright when cycling, there are a whole host of reasons why it pays to invest in proper running footwear.
Firstly, dedicated running shoes (as oppose to general purpose trainers) will drastically lessen the impact on your muscles. It’s a given that your legs will be a little sore when you run for the first few occasions, but it doesn’t mean you have to hobble about for days and days afterwards.
Next, running shoes will bio-mechanically align your legs and knees correctly, which can be the difference between serious knee or hip pain, and being completely injury-free. You might need to add in custom orthotics like insoles to improve the alignment further, but running shoes will offer you the support you need.
Footwear also extends beyond your shoes and includes your sock choice too. Making a wrong decision here can cause painful blisters and chaffing, so pulling on some running-specific socks is highly advised. These will usually have a multi-layer system that minimises friction between your foot and shoe, making your runs far more comfortable.
Start Out Slowly
If there’s one mistake that cyclists who start running make time and time again, it’s doing too much too soon. Starting slowly means being conservative not only with the speed you run at, but also the distance you cover in your first few outings.
As active individuals, our cardiovascular systems are often more than capable of handling a run of an hour or more, but what lags behind is the musculoskeletal system, ie. the muscles and tendons. Being overzealous when you start running will often result in some kind of injury and won’t be conducive to consistent running throughout the winter.
So, when first starting to run, keep the duration of these workouts to a maximum of 15 minutes for the first week or so, remembering also to keep the pace comfortable and slower than you’d ideally like to go. Another good tip is to alternate running for a few minutes and walking a minute.
It won’t be long before your muscles catch up with your aerobic fitness and you’ll be able to run without any issues.
Run with Good Form
On top of getting the right equipment and being conservative when you begin, running with good form is another key component to staying free from injury.
Making sure your form is solid will mean you’ll get the best muscle activation as you run, turning what could be a injury-risk into an injury-prevention exercise. Obviously it’s tough to know what your own form is like, so here are some tips.
Firstly, get someone else who’s a more experienced runner to watch you and give you some tips. If you don’t have anyone locally, consider filming yourself with your phone and send an expert the film. You can also get a simple gait analysis at most local running shops.
Another good way to learn more is to read running forums or websites and watch YouTube videos. There’s plenty of information out there and you can discover a lot about the techniques that top runners use to run with good form.
Hit the Trails
A tip that a lot of cyclists who start running use to good effect is to run off-road.
Minimising the impact stress that running has on our delicate cycling legs is quite an attractive prospect and by using softer surfaces like canal paths, fields or gravel roads, you can really lessen the soreness that running can cause when you’re just starting out.
Whilst running on woodland paths does pose some risk in terms of tripping over roots or rocks, if done with care it can help work on your balance and ability to look ahead, both of which will positively influence your cycling. For mountain bikers, this is especially true.
Run with Others
Just like riding with others can be motivating and make cycling more enjoyable, running is just the same. What’s more, it’ll help give you some accountability, meaning you’re far more likely to get your run done if you know there’s someone waiting for you.
In an ideal situation, try to find some of your cycling friends who are also wanting to start running as a cross-training activity and organise to meet up for some runs with them. As you’ll all be starting out from roughly the same level, you can keep each other in check when it comes to pace and distance.
Resist the temptation to make your initial runs competitive and instead treat them as a chance to have a nice chat and an opportunity to enjoy the outdoors.
In summary, how to start running for cyclists.
- Wear dedicated running shoes, not trainers
- Start running slowly, maybe just 15 mins
- Run short distances
- Run with good form
- Run off-road, on trails and paths
- Run with others
Follow these tips and you should be well on your way to being able to run the whole winter long. Of course, everyone is different and the amount of running you’ll be able to tolerate alongside cycling will depend on many factors, but starting out with the right gear and mindset will go a long way to building a solid foundation of fitness for the upcoming season.
About the Author: Tom Bell is a professional XC mountain biker, writer and podcaster who offers training advice and coaching for all types of cyclists.