Get on a bike to give your joints a break now and then

Credit: Allsport
Few people in Colorado are aware of the great Alphonso McGuinn scandal. I am going to confess to you all that I was involved in this scandal and it was one of my last great acts of infamy before I fled the East Coast a decade ago.

It all began when I took a spill on my bike. The crash wasnt anything spectacular, I just wasnt paying attention. My front tire clipped something on the road and I went down pretty hard. My hip hit the pavement just right, causing a painful inflammation of the bursae a condition that would plague me for over a month and worse, prevent me from running.

Well, to an obsessed runner, this is akin to a death sentence, so I immediately began exploring other options of exercise.

It was just a matter of days before I discovered that I could still ride my bike pain-free. So there I was, every day, pounding the pedals, enjoying the speed and distance that I could cover, and daydreaming about my return to running.

Just over a month passed, and I could finally begin running again. When I did, though, I needed to know just how much fitness I had lost to the injury.

On day two of my return to running, I entered a race. It was a 2.5-mile cross-country meet a small, low-key affair (or so I thought).

Convinced that I would race poorly, I decided to use a fake name Alphonso McGuinn. My friends and I would often use fake names at races during college like Ray Zinn or Mike Rowave ... you get the idea. This time, it was the infamous McGuinn.

Well, Alphonso won the race. A race sponsored by the local newspaper. The local newspaper that ran a big story and color photos about the unknown runner Alphonso McGuinn (along with a wild made-up tale about the life and times of this now semi-famous runner).

The story, however, does not end here, because this was the first race in a summer cross-country series. As Alphonso toed the starting line in race number two (what was he thinking?), he was unaware that the race director had been tipped off.

The director angrily pulled him from the starting line, chastising him in front of the entire field of racers (including his new girlfriend, who eventually married him anyway).

Well, that was 10 years ago, and I have been running and biking ever since. Ironically, I discovered the benefits of cross-training on a bike through an accident on my bike.

In fact, injury rehabilitation is how many runners incorporate cycling into their training. Phil Hackbarth is a Colorado Springs-based endurance sports coach who works with athletes ranging from beginner to elite. Though unaware of the whole Alphonso McGuinn incident, Hackbarth recommends cycling as an alternative for injured athletes.

Cycling is a great way to maintain your sanity and fitness without the pounding of running, he explains.

Cycling is a low-impact aerobic activity that is kind to the joints, and this is why many chronically injured runners turn to cycling when their knees can no longer stand the abuse of daily runs on the pavement.

And while Hackbarth does not advocate a steady diet of cycling for the elite runner, he believes that the average runner can benefit from incorporating some regular cycling into the weekly training mix.

Cycling will not give you the specific muscle training for running, but you will benefit from the additional cardio training, he says. Long, easy-paced runs of 90 minutes or more are not physically possible for many runners at their current level of training, he added. Yet its this type of run that can better develop the network of capillaries deep within the muscles necessary to make you a better runner.

Most runners, however, can work up to a 90-minute bike ride fairly easily, and in the process, gain many of the same benefits without all of the pounding on the joints.

Hackbarth is quick to point out that cycling is not an exact substitute for running. He notes, however, that the muscular crossover from cycling to running will be most pronounced in events like the Pikes Peak Ascent, where racers climb 7,000 feet to the summit of Pikes Peak in just 13 miles.

So whats the connection? Hackbarth points out that cycling develops the same muscle groups that runners use for climbing, which explains why former professional cyclist Andy Hampsten holds the unofficial record for running up the incredibly steep west ridge of Boulders Mt. Sanitas.

Hill climbers aside, Hackbarth believes that there are two types of runners who will benefit the most from the addition of cycling to the cross-training lineup: those who are injury-prone and those who physically cant handle additional running mileage.

Cycling is a low-impact activity, which is much easier on the knees than running can be, yet it offers the same opportunity to increase your overall fitness level. Regular cycling also helps to strengthen the muscles around the knees and, when combined with a regular running program, helps one develop more balanced leg muscles. This explains why triathletes seldom experience the same knee aches and pains that runners do.

Hackbarth cautions those who are just picking up cycling not to become overzealous, though. He advises runners who are new to cycling to start at an easy to moderate effort and increase the length and intensity of their rides slowly.

Runners should also take the time to make sure their bicycle fits them properly. Seat height and other factors will not only affect your comfort on the bike, they will also help to prevent cycling-related injuries from occurring. Most local bike shops will set up your bike to fit you, or help you pick a new bike.

So with the weather becoming more summer-like, now is the perfect time to dust off the old road or mountain bike and get out there and cross-train!

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