Whether you're looking to improve performance or just need a break from the bike, running is a great cross-training option. As a cyclist, you already have a great fitness base, but there are a few things to keep in mind before you hit the ground running (literally).
You love cycling, so why leave behind your beloved bike for a pair of running shoes? For starters, running will strengthen different muscle groups and build bone density. Cycling is great for cardiovascular fitness, but because it's a non-impact sport, it doesn't increase bone density. Activities such as running, dancing and jumping create stress on your bones, which eventually makes them stronger. With stronger bones, you'll be less at risk for things like stress fractures and osteoporosis as you age.
Running is also a way to hit the refresh button after a long training season or tough race. Cycling can require a lot of mental focus, especially when you're riding on busy roads. With running, you can let your mind wander a bit more. And it's much easier to run side by side and chat with a friend!
Finally, running can help you maintain fitness when cycling isn't feasible. Traveling without a bike? Living in a place where it's icy, cold and dark during the winter? In these situations, running will ensure you stay fit and active until you're able to cycle again. Plus, because running is such an intense exercise, you can get a lot of bang for your (fitness) buck in a short amount of time.
The best time to add running to your training plan is during the offseason. That way, if the miles leave you sore, you won't be interfering with your cycling workouts. Aim to run more frequently the farther you are away from peak cycling season and taper off to once or twice per week once you start ramping up your rides.
You probably already have a pair of athletic shoes on hand, but do yourself a favor and pick up a pair of running-specific kicks. The worn out pair you wear to mow the lawn or walk the dog just won't cut it (and may even lead to shin splints).
When using running as cross training for cycling, be warry of the trap of doing too much, too soon. Because you're already in shape, you may feel the urge to pile on the miles and speed. However, because running is a much higher impact activity, it can lead to injury if you're not cautious. Your aerobic engine may be up for the task, but it will take a while for tendons and ligaments to adapt to the demands of running.
When adding in running workouts, think frequency and not duration. Try three 20-minute runs throughout the week rather than one 60-minute run. And don't be afraid to use walk breaks as part of your training. As you get started, an example schedule might look like this:
Run No. 1: Warm-up by walking briskly for a few minutes then repeat the following sequence four times: 3 minutes running followed by 2 minutes walking.
Run No. 2: Warm-up by walking or jogging for a few minutes then repeat the following sequence four times: 4 minutes running followed by 1 minute walking.
Run No. 3: Warm-up by walking or jogging for a few minutes then repeat the following sequence four times: 5 minutes running followed by 1 minute walking.
Run No. 4: Warm-up by walking or jogging for a few minutes then repeat the following sequence four to five times: 6 minutes running followed by 30 seconds walking.
Run No. 5 and beyond: Once you can comfortably run a mile without stopping, add a brief walk break after each mile. Once you can run 3 miles at a conversational pace, feel free to eliminate the walk breaks.
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