How cycling can make you a better runner
Brennan Townshend is a former professional road cyclist who raced for Raleigh and Madison Genesis at events all across the world. Now a top mountain, fell and trail runner, Brennan talks to us about the benefits runners can gain from including time on the bike into their training regimes.
As runners we are always looking for ways to increase speed, strength and endurance. There is a very fine line between constantly pushing all these parameters to the limit and becoming injured, burnt out or just plateauing. Running is also high impact and takes its toll on muscles, joints, bones, plus the bodies' stress and immune systems. The bike can be a great way to support your training.
Cycling is lower impact and can also be completed at a very low intensity. These areas can really help with active forms of recovery which are much harder when compared to just running. Getting low-intensity cardio exercise can really help recovery between harder and longer runs, giving the body a much-needed break and refresh.
At the other end of the spectrum, cycling can offer runners additional training in the form of strength and endurance, plus increased leg speed. To move fast on the bike you need power from major muscle groups such as glutes, quads and calves. These are all used in running. If they are stronger, especially for hill running, you can climb faster and descend with greater control.
With cycling you can also generally add more volume to your training, increasing endurance, building mitochondria and improving fat metabolism. If using a high cadence on the bike, leg speed can also be improved. I also find the bike really activates muscle groups like the glutes, which are key for running.
The first thing to do when introducing cycling to your training regime is to make sure your bike fits you properly. This will help you avoid injury. Build slowly with the distance and duration as it will take time for your muscles to get used to both the cycling position and the way you are using them differently.
Trying to fit cycling into your training plan can be difficult. When using the bike for recovery you could change one of your easy runs for some time on the bike, spinning a light gear. When using the bike for intensity training and intervals, make sure you're fresh for the session, in the same way you would be for a key running session Also, because at first it will put strain and stress on the body, maybe drop one of your higher intensity runs that week to allow the full adaptations to take place.
Cycling is definitely a useful training tool for runners. It can increase endurance, speed and strength, as well as aiding recovery and freshening up your training plan if you find it taxing to run every day.