runABC’s Christine Appel looks at how taking to two wheels can make you a better runner.
Cycling is probably the most popular ‘outdoors’ cross-training activity for runners, and for good reason. It’s low-impact, so you can give your heart and lungs a good workout without giving your joints too much grief. What’s more, although they’re both lower-body intensive activities, running and cycling use broadly the same muscles, but in different ways. This variety helps you achieve a more balanced fitness and reduces injury-baiting repetition. Cycling also gives your upper-body muscles a bit of a workout too, especially when you’re out of the saddle and pushing hard up a hill.
The distances and varied scenery that can be covered while cycling make it very satisfying. There’s no doubt a 20-mile cycle takes much less of a toll on your body (and your leisure time) than a 20-mile run. Many marathoners swap out the odd long run in favour of long cycles, just to give their bodies (and minds) a break from looking at pavement all the time. And if you’ve ever fancied triathlon, adding cycling into your routine now means you’ll (only) have to master the pool.
Cycling looks like it needs a lot of gear, but in reality, the essential kit list is pretty short. A suitable bike (more on that later), helmet and gloves are really the only things you need to get started. Cycling-specific clothing is a bonus, but isn’t necessary. The same goes for cycle computers: your running watch will tell you what you need to know about your speed and distance while you get into the swing of things.
Two Wheels Good
Getting the bike (and saddle) right is the key to happy riding. Fit is more important than fashion, so look first to your local bike shop for guidance. But wherever you ultimately buy your bike, choose the right one for the job. Put some serious thought into what type of cycling you’re most likely to enjoy (and therefore most likely to do), and buy accordingly. Cycling 30 miles on road on a mountain bike is absolute purgatory; likewise, try to go off-road on a racer and you won’t even get out of the car park.
Hitting The Road
As with running, build up your cycling mileage gradually to give your muscles (and, if we’re being honest, your backside) time to adjust. It’s also a good idea to have some knowledge of basic bike mechanics. Know how your brakes and gears work as well as how to fix a puncture before you head out.
Pedalling with likeminded running pals to and from a picnic or cafe is a very sociable way to build up your aerobic fitness for your main sport. But watch out: cycling doesn’t burn as many calories as running, so don’t overdo it on the cake when you get there!