Running: Does it Help or Hurt?
Wether or not running helps promote fitness or destroys performance on the bike is a question I get asked every time I trade my cycling kicks for sneakers.
Like many cyclists, I was 'forced' into cycling after a running injury. I was running several marathons a month and racking up 100 miles a week and getting really thin (different topic) and fast and then BAM stress fracture (not shocking). It took 2 years to diagnose, rehab and heal and in that time I began riding my bike more to maintain fitness. This eventually lead to bike racing and a lot less running, but never giving up the run completely.
In the past month, I've been lacing up my running shoes more to give my body and mind a break from cycling. I'm training for a marathon and once again the questions and comments start flooding my inbox with the general theme of:
IS RUNNING GOOD FOR CYCLING???
I'm choosing to answer in blog post format. Enjoy.
All it takes to go running is a pair of sneakers (some would even argue that) which makes it easy to do anywhere. Traveling as a cyclist can mean stress about missed workouts when bringing the bike isn't an option. Extended time away from the bike can lead to declining fitness. Being able to go for a run is an easy way to keep up on fitness when you aren't able to ride.
Only cycling deprives the body of weight bearing which builds bone strength (cyclists often have lower bone density) and running is a great way to incorporate weight bearing movements into your routine. This pounding will feel exhausting at first because your muscles are not used to carrying your body around (the bike does that!). This will start building stabilizing muscles that will help increase your pedal stroke cadence.
Look at your cyclist body and you'll likely see your legs are big and strong, but the rest of you... well... Running is a full body activity. You're lifting your body with every step forward, working small leg muscles, hamstrings and glutes but also your entire core. To keep a good running form, posture is key. This will build a tight core which will give you more power and stability back on the bike.
Running also burns more calories in a shorter amount of time compared with cycling. In addition to upping the burn, it decreases appetite more than cycling because of the stomach being in an unstable position, meaning you're less likely to over eat after a run compared with a bike ride So if you're trying to slim down, go for a run.
Mentally, having a break from your sport is always good. The brain needs variety to stay focused and motivated and not suffer burnout. Adding running to your fitness routine will spice things up and get you to view terrain around you in a different way. The term 'runners high' exists for a reason, the act creates a euphoric mood!
Running is hard! Not just on your feet, but your lungs too! Running provides great cardiovascular training that can benefit your riding, helping you keep calm, deep breathing during hard efforts.
There's less risk of crashing. Yes, you can trip on your shoelace or stumble over a curb, but runners aren't known to crash each other out in races or group workouts.
Running is hard on the body. It takes more energy to go for a run, especially if you are new to the sport. The body takes a long time to adjust to the constant pounding and engagement of new muscles. Even for skilled runners, the activity creates greater muscle damage compared to cycling; essentially breaking down the muscle tissue when you want to build it up for cycling (just compare a cyclist's legs to a runner's). This can leave you drained, sore and unable to perform well on the bike.
All that pounding increases the risk of chronic injury. Because cycling isn't weight bearing, there is much less risk in over doing it. You can ramp things up rather quickly without fear of hurting yourself. With running, you must be more cautious. if you are adding running to your fitness routine, make sure to start very slow and increase slowly.
If you want to be better on the bike, ride your bike more. This is hard to argue. Running will not allow you to handle a bike better or develop a smoother pedal stroke, these things come from riding more and focusing attention to your sport of choice.
In short, running can help you gain aerobic fitness, add full body strengthening and provide a mental boost that will only help you become a fitter person overall. To make sure you're not taking away from or hurting your cyclist by running, keep the runs short, intense (you can gain endurance on the bike with less risk so use runs for boosting VO2max), add more stretching, and do the running mostly in the off-season.