The running cyclist

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The running cyclist

Today’s cyclist is no longer only riding his or her bike. More and more cyclists regularly put on a pair of running shoes, hit the gym or indulge in a boot camp class. 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 Tied during their altitude 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 is new. The question that immediately comes into mind for us mere mortals is: should we all be running now? 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 further into this matter, we need to keep a few scenarios separate. First, there is the cyclist who likes to run now and then. He or she sees this more as support and sets his or her goals primarily on the bike. A very healthy approach as far as I’m concerned. Then there is the cyclist who has set himself a running goal. This means that cycling is still a part of the training regime, but the cycling training should be allowed to suffer from the running violence. 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 cyclist who wants to use running to improve their cycling performance. Like the case of Roglic. Is that a good idea? As with almost everything, it depends. But let’s be clear: running is not as disastrous for the cyclist as is often assumed. In the first place, 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 little from running on the muscle level. Nevertheless, for the muscle running does contribute to the cycling condition. In addition, running trains the heart-lung system and this is also needed for cycling. Because running, unlike cycling, is always a weight-bearing activity, while cycling is only uphill, the intensity of running is soon much higher than on 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 more successful with running than with a road bike, unless you live at the foot of the Alpe d’Huez perhaps.

The eccentric impact of running

You can therefore train the heart-lung system very efficiently with running and you use the same muscles for a large part. Ideal! The only problem is that you don’t only use these muscles concentrically, but also eccentrically, which is something the cyclist is not used to. In the cycling movement, you contract the muscles and at the same time they shorten, this is the concentric muscle movement. In running, you also tighten muscles that are meanwhile lengthened. In this way you actually catch yourself and it is precisely this that causes the necessary muscle pain. This also makes it very difficult to run a lot of training volume in running. 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.

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 careful. The condition is often of such a level that you can run ten kilometers at a brisk pace. The muscles, tendons and joints, however, can not handle this at all, so usually after about three running training sessions, the shoes disappear into the closet again, when the first injuries appear. A novice runner with a good physical condition should really start with a few minutes of running alternated with a minute of walking and be careful not to run for ten to twenty minutes straight.

Running as medicine

There is a positive aspect to the impact load. Because cycling is not a weight-bearing activity, the skeletal system is rather 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 particularly lurking 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 train at a decent volume and intensity on the bike, you can’t just add running training with impunity. If your name is not Roglic, you 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 goal 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 cyclist who, for whatever reason, has set a running goal. Firstly, the advice is to build up your workouts very slowly. And secondly, build up your workouts very slowly. 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 the total training volume with only running is lower than you are used to. This is why longer endurance trainings on the bike are an ideal addition. So for this cycling runner, the combination with cycling is actually very easy.

Practical tips

Finally, a number of practical tips. As mentioned, it is especially difficult for a trained cyclist to start off calmly enough. 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 you 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.
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