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  • Writer's picturedirtyheart


The jury is still out amongst the cycling community, on the benefits of running for cyclists. Can running improve your cycling and if so , how? We take a look at the science behind running for cyclists and then we hear from our resident contributor, Nicki Sunderland on how running has improved her cycling.


Science suggests that some running may be beneficial for cyclists. Our muscles adapt to riding a bike but in many cases over develop in some areas and under develop in others. From a bicycle positioning and efficiency perspective, running provides an excellent supplement. Changing the muscles we use, allow better muscle development and efficiency on the bike.

Several recent studies have shown decreased bone density in cyclists compared to non-exercising subjects. Not exactly the news you want to hear. You spend a lot of time training and eating healthy only to find that your sport may be contributing to weaker bones. It’s not all bad news though. It turns out that cyclists that supplement their cycling with running actually have higher than normal bone density. This lowers your risk of broken bones and other health problems associated with low bone density. Increased bone density from running is not the only benefit for cyclists.

Running can give you a refreshing mental and physical break from long hours in the saddle. It maintains your cardiovascular fitness and because running takes less time, it can be a great way to stay in shape when you are traveling.The important thing is to not think about your heart rate, pace, or any other metric, just run. Remember that this is supposed to be a break from cycling not another competitive endeavor. Save the competition for your main sport.

Nikki Sunderland

I recently had the privilege of combining my two loves: Mountain Biking and Trail Running. I competed in the duathlon component of the 8 Hour Challenge held at Paarl Rock. It comprised of 3 laps of Mountain Biking and 3 laps of Trail Running. It was a stunning setting, winding up past the Taal Monument, through Paarl Rock Nature Reserve, and then making it’s way back down. The views from the top were worth the climb every time.

The trail running component was tough. A 6km loop with 200m of climbing, of which more than 150m of it was in the last 2km. So you basically would “dip” on the downhill and “die” on the climb out. The coke stop before the last 2kms was an oasis in the desert! And the folks from Primi even made the effort to put ice in each cup of black-elixir making it EXTRA special. It gave you just what you needed to take on the heat and hill to the finish before it all started again.

It was a tough day with the highlight being the support from old and new friends; fellow crazies, like me, abundant in energy and enthusiasm.

The reason I was so excited about this event was because it was supporting my goal for this year. First to get back into running, and then to run more. Within 4 months I had gone from walking to running, to running 23kms. I was thrilled!

I had tried for a few years now and failed miserably. At first it was due to an injury, but then more because cycling completely consumed my time (and body!). What finally helped me “flip the switch” was having nasal surgery in January. My recovery saw me completely off the bike for 6 weeks. After 2 weeks I was able to start slowly walking, hiking, and then shuffling. After some consistency, I started to feel my running legs return. Previously, during all the cycling, every time I would try to go for a run, my legs were just dead! But now they were gradually starting to feel snappy again.

What’s more, is when I finally was able to get back on the bike, I felt somehow revitalized. I’ve been joking for years that I’ve lost my turbo button on the bike. Now I was wondering if my turbo button was attached to my running legs! Although I am spending less time on the bike, when I do ride, I feel more energized and able to recover quicker from high intensity efforts. Additionally, I think I can feel more power in my legs.

I’ve been trying to convince my hardcore cycling friends that hiking mountains WILL make your cycling legs stronger. Think about it… On the bike, you will work hard to climb a 1000m. Then you get to coast down on the other side. When hiking or running, you have to work hard to climb the 1000m then still work hard to climb DOWN the 1000m. And going down is HARDER on your legs! So how can you NOT benefit from a 2000-meter leg press exercise?

There are those that will tell you running is bad for your cycling. I think cycling is bad for your running. Running will compliment your cycling before cycling could ever benefit your running.

Cycling makes everything muscle-wise shorter. Not to mention that sitting on a bike is not the most natural position for your body. Oh and to be frank, I’m NOT missing the saddle sores. Running stretches out those tight muscles, will balance out your posture, and is great for increasing both aerobic and anaerobic capacity.

With winter coming, running can be a better option in bad weather and short days and give you a lot more “bang for your buck”. Sneakers on, hat on, grab some water, GO! Riding requires much more equipment and accessories before you can head out the door.

So I challenge you this winter… Give it a try! Start slow. There’s nothing wrong in doing a lot of walking initially, then shuffling slowly. It’s not about going fast; it’s about becoming steady without injury. I know this will be a HUGE challenge to those of you that are attached to your bikes and fear separation anxiety. But I promise you; it’s going to be OK.

Don’t get me wrong… I love my bike! But this year, instead of seeing how many miles I can just ride, I want to keep the balance and see how many mountains I can climb, both running and riding.

Come join me!

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