Many of today’s cyclists are no longer just riding his or her bikes. More and more of them are regularly putting on a pair of running shoes, hitting the gym or the pool or joining a boot camp. But the cycling world was really turned upside down last spring when Roglic and Wout van Aert were running together on the flanks of the Teide volcano on the Canary Island of Tenerife during their altitude training camp. We already knew that Wout van Aert is not averse to a bit of running through the mud with his bike on his shoulder. But the fact that a general classification guy like Roglic regularly puts on his running shoes was news to many in the cycling world.
The question that immediately comes to mind for us mere mortals is: should we all start running now as well? Did they immediately send Robert Gesink and Steven Kruiswijk a pair of Nikes with carbon soles at Jumbo-Visma? In other words, what use is running to the cyclist? Before we dive into this matter, we need to separate a few scenarios. First, there is the cyclist who likes to run every now and then. He or she sees this more as support but the primary goals are still on the bike. A very healthy approach as far as we are concerned. Then there is the cyclist who sets himself a running goal. This means that cycling is still a part of the training regime, but that the cycling training could be subordinate to the running goal. Of course, there are also plenty of runners who cycle occasionally, but they probably aren’t reading this, so we’ll leave that group aside for convenience.
Running to ride your bike faster
Let’s start with the cyclists who run to improve their cycling performance. Like in the case of Roglic. Is it a good idea? As with almost everything, it depends. But let’s be clear: running is not as disastrous for cyclists as is often suggested. Firstly, running largely uses the same muscle groups as cycling. However, the coordination (the relationship between strength and length) is completely different and an experienced cyclist will therefore benefit only a little from running as far as muscle build is concerned.
Nevertheless, running does contribute to the cycling condition through muscle adaptations. In addition, running trains the heart-lung system and this is also needed for cycling. Because running is always a weight-bearing activity, while cycling is that only uphill, so the intensity of running is quickly much higher than riding a bicycle. In other words, with running you can train the heart-lung system in a short time at a high intensity – and thus very effectively and efficiently. Actually, this is much more effective with running than with riding a road bike, unless you live at the foot of the Alpe d’Huez.
The eccentric impact of running
You can therefore train the heart-lung system very efficiently with running and largely use the same muscles. Ideal! The only problem is that with running, you don’t only use these muscles concentrically, but also eccentrically, which is something a cyclist is not used to. In the cycling movement, when you contract the muscles they shorten at the same time (concentric muscle movement). with running, when you use the muscles they are lengthened when you hit the ground. This is precisely the movement that causes muscle pain and makes it difficult to do a lot of running training volume. Of course, there are plenty of runners who run as much as seventy kilometers a week, but in general, an experienced cyclist can train many more hours on the bike than an experienced runner can run on the road.
Running is always weight-bearing
So with running, you are constantly supporting your own body weight. This impact not only has repercussions on your muscles but also on your tendons, joints and even on your bones. That’s why, as a beginner, you have to build up the load very slowly and, as a beginner who cycles, you have to be very, very careful. Your cycling condition is often at such a level that you could easily run ten kilometers at a brisk pace. The muscles, tendons and joints, however, can not handle this at all if you have not run regularly for a long time, so not unusually after a few running training sessions, injuries start to appear and the running shoes disappear back into the closet. A novice runner with a good physical condition should really start with a few minutes of running alternated with a minute of walking in the first few weeks of training and be careful not to immediately start running for ten or twenty minutes straight.
Running as a medicine
There is a positive aspect to the impact load. Because cycling is not a weight-bearing activity, the skeletal system is spared. Especially when you get older, when you cycle a lot and are a woman, merely cycling can have a negative effect on bone density. So-called osteoporosis is a particular danger for this high-risk group and running is actually the medicine to counteract it. Based on time considerations or other positive effects, the cyclist can very well add running training every now and then. But will it make you cycle faster?
That is actually very questionable. Ultimately, based on your level, you can handle a certain training load per day, week or month. In addition, not everyone has as much time to train as Roglic. Let alone as much time to rest. If you already do decent training volumes and intensities on your bike, you can’t just add running training on top of the cycling. If your name is not Roglic, you, quite literally, run the risk of doing too much. In addition, you may only be able to train a limited amount of time per week and then – depending on your goals and level – it is very questionable whether running training will add anything. One of the most important laws in training physiology is to train specifically. Train precisely what you want to get better at to achieve the greatest effect.
Cyclists with a running goal
A word about the cyclists who, for whatever reason, have set a running goal. Firstly, the advice is to build up your workouts very slowly. And secondly, build out your workouts very slowly as well. It is precisely the running injuries among cyclists that have given rise to the persistent idea that running is inherently bad for cyclists. Because of this very slow build up, but also if you are already trained in running, you will notice that when you only run, the total training volume is lower than what you are used to on a bike. This is why longer endurance training on the bike is an ideal addition. So for this cycling runner, the combination with cycling is actually very easy.
Finally, a number of practical tips. As mentioned above, it is especially important for a trained cyclist to start running very slowly. In addition, in terms of technique, running is way more difficult than it looks. Therefore, especially in the beginning, do not run on an uneven surface, get advice on shoes that fit your physique and consider taking some lessons. This will reduce the impact load to a large extent and will significantly reduce the risk of injuries. And if it still does not work, remember that you can win the Tour de France without running training.