Ever wonder why so many runners compete in triathlons? For most, they went out and bought a road bike, thinking, “Oh, this will make me a much healthier runner”, went on a few rides with friends, and discovered just how much fun it is to ride. For the second part of this three part series on cross-training for runners, I will be breaking down the basics of road cycling, the benefits for runners, and how to make it a ton of fun!
The basics of road cycling
Most folks own some sort of bicycle; it is, after all, the most efficient form of transportation. There are large differences in style between mountain bikes (designed for off-road, thick tires), road bikes (designed for the road, thin tires), and hybrids (a compromise between mountain and road). For cross-training, any of these bike styles will do, however you will be able to bike much faster and much farther with ease on a road bike than the other two. Furthermore, if you have any interest in completing a triathlon, a road bike is the way to go.
Compared to mountain or other recreational bikes, the rider on a road bike tends to be more bent over allowing the core to aid the legs (see Lance above). Two pedal types are common on road bikes. First and most inexpensive are clip-in pedals. Clip-in pedals have a shoe cage that you can slip the front half of your sneaker into and cinches to tighten it down on your foot. The second type are clip-less pedals. These pedals are typically bought separately from the bike ($80 and up). Once installed, you also need special bike shoes ($70 and up) that directly connect to the pedals with a locking mechanism when the toes are pointed straight. Clip-less pedals are ideal as they allow you to not only push down to pedal the bike, but to also pull up adding double the power. When selecting a road bike, make sure to ask for help in fitting the bike. A bike that is too short or too tall is no good. Fine-tuning of bike fit for a more comfortable ride can be made at your local bike shop.
Saddles are very uncomfortable on road bikes. Investing in a pair of bike shorts (with a comfy seat pad called a chamoix) is a really good idea. Make sure to buy some anti-chafing lotion for the chamoix if you are planning on going on longer rides. Also, when you head off on a ride, remember to bring a spare bike tube and a small pump or compressed air canister in case you get a flat tire. And always remember to wear a helmet (click here for why) and bring a phone.
The benefits of cycling for runners
If you have ever had to go through physical therapy for a leg surgery, you know that you put a lot of hours on the bicycle to rehabilitate. Cycling is a non-impact sport and allows (if you work hard enough) for the same endurance level as a run. Basically, you can improve your running endurance without worrying about stressing your knee, ankle, and hip joints and, at the same time, strengthen your power muscles: the quads, hamstrings, and calves. Does it get any better than that?
To get the maximum benefits of cycling to aid your running, begin with one 45 minute ride each week. Your pace should be moderately fast, but not too fast that you can’t talk. It will be tough at first for runners beginning a cycling regimen; you will be using your running muscles in a very different way. After 4 weeks, increase your weekly ride time to an hour (about 15-miles). For myself, after about 2 months of 10- to 20-mile rides, I was ready for 2 hour (30-mile) rides. If you want to pursue farther distances, go for it, but I have found that 30-mile rides provide the endurance and stamina cross-training that is perfect for running.
Bike rides become an absolute blast when you are joined by friends. Almost every city has a bike club. You can find a full list here from USA Cycling. Many workplaces have bike clubs as well. If you are looking for bike riding routes, your local bike club is a great resource. GoogleMaps can also help you plot a bike ride but be cautious; we all know Google can make mistakes. In all, cycling is a great way to meet people, get a good workout while preserving your joints, and explore where you live. From 5000-meter race winner Lauren Fleshman:
“Cycling opened my eyes to something outside of running. It’s nice to see the world fly by at a different pace.”
Ashley is a geologist at Schlumberger, specializing in geologic modeling software. She completed her Masters degree in geology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is an avid runner, cyclist, and rock climber. She will pretty much race anything and everything. You can find her hanging out on White Oak in Houston, TX or climbing and running in Austin.