Q. I'm a cyclist. I split my time between road cycling and mountain biking. Heading into the fall and winter, I'm beginning to wonder if I should take up running. I haven't done any distance running at all and I'm not sure I even like running; but, last winter I quickly grew tired of the indoor trainer. There were times I was so burned out on indoor cycling that I didn't do a workout at all.
I'm beginning to think that running might be a way for me to keep motivated to do some training. At least I can run outside when I can't ride my bike outdoors. I've tried adding more weight lifting to my winter routine, but I don't really like to pump iron.
I'm wondering several things: Does running help cycling? How long do I have to run in each workout and each week to get any benefits? Can I just start by running a mile and then add 10 percent to that distance each time I run? Let me know what you think.
Thanks ~ J.K.
A. You have a lot of good questions J.K. and I think there are other cyclists that are wondering the same things. Let me see if I can help.
Does Running Help Cycling?
I don't know of any studies that claim running helps cyclists improve at cycling. However, most studies only span a short period of time failing to look at cycling fitness over the course of a year or multiple years.
But running can help you maintain your offseason aerobic fitness—especially if you can't make yourself do more trainer workouts and you're skipping workouts. If you get bored with indoor trainer workouts and your choice is a run or no workout—then running will help cycling. Additionally, running keeps your weight in check much better than sofa surfing.
The Bone Density Argument
Several studies have indicated that cyclists lose bone density—if all they do is ride a bike. We all need weight-bearing activities to keep our bone density from decreasing. Running, of course, is a weight-bearing activity. If you want to maintain life-long fitness, and more importantly health, there is a good argument to include some running in your routine.
What I cannot tell you is the exact amount of running needed to keep your bones healthy. Is running in the winter enough? Is running 20 minutes, twice per week all year enough? I don't know for sure, but I would assume that some running is better than none.
Cyclocross Racers Run
Running is also good cross training—just ask cyclocross racers. Though cyclocross doesn't typically include extended sections of running, many cyclists have used a fall cyclocross season to maintain, or improve, fitness.
Why Not Run?
Is there any reason not to include running in your offseason cycling plan?
If you have trouble with your back, knees, hips or ankles and those troubles are aggravated by running, there is good reason to exclude running from your fitness routine. If you exclude running, I encourage you to find another weight bearing activity to keep your bone density from diminishing.
For cyclists who are extremely pinched for time, and can only afford three workouts per week, all workouts need to be cycling if the primary sport is cycling.
I think there are good arguments to include two or three running days in your offseason program. If you run some 20 to 30 minutes in each offseason workout, this can be an excellent complement to your winter cycling program. You might even decide to keep running in your routine year-round.