Updated: Aug 10, 2020
Welcome to the Coach’s Blog powered by Dillman Coaching. This is where I get to share my experience and knowledge of cycling with the athletes I coach and anybody else who is interested.
Wonder what sets Dillman Coaching apart from the other guys? Check out Blog #5 where I explain the Coach-Athlete relationship and why it is important. I also discuss the reason behind the company name and the purple lightning logo.
For this post I want to focus on running; why I believe it is beneficial, the right way to run and the wrong way to run. I will also lay out some running workouts I enjoy and how to balance running with cycling.
Running is Good
I have heard many cyclists argue that running is bad and if you want to excel in cycling then you shouldn’t run. I disagree with these folks and I will explain why. I believe running is good physically and mentally, even for the cyclist.
I believe running is good physically because it involves all the same muscles as cycling, just in a different way. Running and cycling are both “leg” sports that rely mostly on the quads, hamstrings, calves and hips. While cycling is a low impact sport, running is a high impact sport. You’ve probably heard this already. There are many guys and gals who were runners their whole lives and then when their knees just couldn’t handle the beating any more they turned to cycling because cycling offered a pain-free alternative but allowed them to use all the muscles they had developed from running. However, impact isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Cycling develops strong leg and core muscles while improving cardiovascular health as well, but cycling does not do much for bone health. Running, on the other hand, because of the impact involved, helps strengthen bones and improve bone density; something we lack as cyclists. So adding some running into your training plan will improve your overall health and fitness.
One of the most beneficial aspects of running is that it is typically a high intensity, low volume workout. What this means is that you can get the same amount of stress from a 30 minute run as you would for a 1 hour ride. And trying to squeeze a 1 hour workout into an already packed schedule can sometimes be really difficult for the working-man. When I was working 8am-5pm after college it was almost impossible to get outside and ride after work, especially during the winter when it was already dark when I got home. So I found myself running 2-3 times a week to maintain my fitness for cycling and surprisingly it worked pretty well. I could go for 30 minutes at a pretty high heart rate and put a pretty good amount of stress on my body in a lot less time.
If you enjoy trail running then you also get the added bonus of balance & coordination. I live about a mile from the Jefferson Memorial Forest which is filled with all kinds of intense hiking trails. One of my favorite things to do on an early weekend morning is to get out there and go for a trail run. And I’ve found that with the constant elevation change and the ever-changing terrain it involves a pretty good amount of focus and coordination. I am constantly hopping over fallen trees and jumping from rock to rock up tight switch back turns. All it takes is one second of day-dreaming and a root has grabbed my toe and I’m tumbling down the side of a hill. So yea, trail running can add some extra adventure and elements of focus.
One of the best benefits I believe running provides has nothing to do with your physical fitness or your cardiovascular system, but rather for your mental health. Running provides an alternative to your bike. Obviously, you love to ride your bike and so do I, but after riding nearly every day of the year can start to wear on you mentally. What do you do when you just don’t want to ride your bike? Answer: Lace up those running shoes and hit the trail. One of the challenges I often face as a coach is when an athlete calls and says they just aren’t motivated to ride this week. And if they are in the middle of an important block of training or racing I can’t just tell them to take an entire week off their bike or I won’t be helping them accomplish their goals. However, I can work with them to help them raise their motivation levels and sometimes running can help with this. Running can provide training stress to the body and help maintain fitness even when a cyclist doesn’t feel like riding.
Rights & Wrongs of Running
There are many benefits of running, even for the cyclist, but it can also lead to injury or cause negative effects if not done properly. This is typically why most cycling-focused athletes probably stay away from running. If cycling is your primary focus then why would you risk getting injured from unnecessary running. However, if you can avoid the risk of injury then I believe running can add a lot to your training program.
Just as a disclaimer, I am not a running specialist. If you want an expert on running I’d recommend calling Micheal Seiler at Stage 22 Performance. However, I have been incorporating running into my own training plans for almost my entire cycling career, so I’m just sharing my personal experience and knowledge.
Run like a ninja. What I mean is that when you run it should be quiet. You shouldn’t hear your feet smash the ground with every stride. Make your feet glide upon the ground with elegance and grace. Imagine soft bunnies or clouds under your feet. The main reasoning behind this is that it lessens the impact on your joints, which also lessens the chance of soreness or pain in those joints as well.
Listen to your body. Soreness is often normal after running, especially if it’s been a few weeks since your last run. While running involves many of the same muscles as cycling, running is quite a bit more intense on those muscles and joints which increases the fatigue and soreness. I usually try to run at least once every 2 weeks just so I don’t lose my “running fitness.” If I don’t run for 3 weeks or longer then the next time I run I am so sore the day after that it’s painful just to walk, which as you can imagine, is not good for training.
Ease into it. If it has been a while since your last run, then don’t start off with a half marathon. Just go for a short 20 minute jog to loosen up the legs and get them back into the swing of things. And take breaks every couple of minutes if you have to. You don’t want to end up so sore from a 20 minute run that you can’t do an important workout on your bike the next day. Add more volume and intensity as your body adapts.
Don’t run on rest day. If you have just completed 2 back-to-back days of intense workouts or long endurance rides then you’re probably due for a rest day. Don’t fall into the trap of over-training. Rest days are for resting. Running is hard on the body and usually does not promote recovery. So don’t run on rest days. So then what days should I run? That is a good question and it depends on the rest of your schedule. If you’re racing on the weekend then Tuesday or Wednesday would be good days for running, because it will give your body enough time to recover. But if you’re not racing then it could be more flexible.
Run in the mornings. This may be a bit of personal preference, but I still think it’s better. If you can wake up early before work or school and run then that gives your body all day to recover and you should feel pretty good on your bike by the afternoon or evening. And there is something nostalgic and motivating about running before the sun is up or doing bleachers as the sun rises. It usually pumps you up and makes you think, “I’m crushing it right now, while everyone else is still snoozing!”
This doesn’t have to be complicated. Your primary focus is cycling and that’s where the complicated workouts should stay. Running should be a bit more relaxed. Here are the workouts I incorporate into my training plan:
1. Endurance Run 30-60min: Just go out and enjoy the air and keep it at endurance pace.
2. Trail Run 30-60min: A bit more intense. Requires more focus. But usually more entertaining and fun.
3. Jog 20-30min: Very easy jog to ease back into the routine of running after a long break.
4. Bleacher Run 30-40min: 15 minute run to bleachers. 10 minutes of bleachers. 15 minute jog home. When you do bleachers you should do single-step and double-step. The single step simulate a steep run up with foot holes when you have to do quick, little steps to get to the top. Double-step simulate running barriers or running up stairs which require longer strides.
5. Run with Sprints 20-30min: 10 minute warm-up jog. 5-10 minutes of 15/45 sprints. 5-10 minute cool-down jog. This means a 15 second sprint with 45 seconds of recovery between. Don’t stop running during the recovery, just do a very light jog. This is usually the running I’ll do when it’s late in the cyclocross season and my racing and training on the bike are very high. This is just enough to maintain your running fitness without causing unwanted fatigue.
Balancing Running & Cycling
In the spring when I do most of my base miles and gym workouts I will still incorporate running into my training plan, but with less intensity. I won’t do any sprints or bleachers, but more often it will be 30-60 minute endurance runs. I’ll usually try to get out 2 times a week. This is the time of year when I really like to get out for some long trail runs because I don’t have to worry so much about fatigue since I’m not racing and it really helps improve my endurance.
During the summer I am usually racing Mountain Bikes and Crits so I dial back the running a bit with only 1 run a week. And later in the summer I will start to throw in some bleachers or hill sprints to get the legs ready for Cyclocross.
In the fall I’m full-focus on Cyclocross so I only run once a week for 30 minutes or less and almost always with some form of intensity; either bleachers, sprints or hill sprints.
Sometimes training is hard and running can be that way too. But if you want to accomplish your goals and become a stronger, faster cyclist I believe that running can be very beneficial to your training program. So stop complaining, dust off those running shoes and hit the trails. You won’t regret it. (Unless you trip and fall. Then you’ll probably regret it.)
And as always, if you have any questions about training or racing then feel free to shoot me a message on the contact form and I’d love to help you out. Also, if you or anyone you know is looking for a coach then feel free to share my number or email. I’m still looking for more athletes to work with and would to chat with anyone whose interested.
Also, if you have 2 hours of unmanaged time on your hands I would highly recommend watching “Chariots of Fire." This is my favorite movie of all time. It is the true story of a Christian runner in the 1924 Olympics named Eric Liddell. I have to admit that the boring parts are quite boring and quite long, but the exciting parts are well worth the wait!