At Total Women’s Cycling, our number one favourite form of getting active is cycling, obviously. However, as dark nights close in sometimes it’s tempting to swap the odd cycle ride for a short run.
Running is an incredibly time efficient way of squeezing a cardiovascular workout into a busy weekday and it doesn’t require too much kit or preparation time. That makes it ideal if you often travel for work – or just have a busy schedule.
It’s not just about convenience, either. Since cycling isn’t weight bearing it’s actually very good for those of us who spend most of our active time on two wheels to add a little variety. Exercises like running or weight lifting can help strengthen the bones that cycling neglects, and this is particularly important for women who are more prone to osteoporosis than men.
Running is generally considered to be the highest calorie burner of the cardio trio of cycling, running and swimming. However, if we were to rank them in order of ‘prevalence of injuries’ it would also be first. This can become a real problem for cyclists who are aerobically fit, but haven’t strengthened the muscles used to run as much as those used to cycle.
So how can you use running to your advantage, without risking injury? Here are some tips…
Carrying over fitness from another sport can present problems – not least that it’s tempting to try to do too much too soon to replicate the level of exercise you might get on the bike.
A trained cyclist is more likely to try to go straight into running for 30 minutes or an hour because they feel that represents a ‘proper’ workout, whilst a total beginner might be more cautious and build up from ten minutes. Not only that, with a stronger aerobic base cyclists are also more likely to be able to run for longer (even if their legs aren't ready).
The problem often occurs after the run. Or worse still – when half way through a journey that takes you far from the safety of your start point. Muscles that aren’t used to running begin to ache and the resulting pain or DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness the next morning) can see you limping for days and even off the bike.
The best way to avoid this is not to go all out on your first run. Don’t see this is as ‘replacing your normal bike ride with a run of equal length’ but as a move into a brand new sport, or even sport for the first time. Break up the running with walking. Take it easy. Don’t try to be a pro straight away.
Run laps not out and back
Many cyclists will keep running through pain, even if it starts to rear its head on the run. There’s no helping these people – aside from asking a loved one for repeated text messages reading 'BE SENSIBLE YOU IDIOT' (takes one to know one).
If you’re smart enough to spot the warning signs (you know - like being unable to step without pain) you can limit negative effects by running in small laps close to your start point (home, hotel, work, car…). This way if you become aware you need to stop, you actually can – without a very long walk ahead of you.
Don't add intervals too early
IMPORTANT: By running laps we do not mean go down to your local running club and join in a track session.
Speedwork (hill reps, intervals) is great if you want to get faster. But don't move onto these until you're comfortable with endurance running and know you can do it without injuring yourself. Fast running puts a lot more pressure on your body.
If you get bored of 'just running' then look to include some drills such as high kicks, bum flicks or skips which encourage good technique and will build strength that will pay dividends on the bike.
Stay off road
Every time you stomp your foot onto the ground you’re sending shockwaves through your feet, ankles, calves, quads – right up to your shoulders and neck. With this in mind, if you’ve got a choice between running on the hard tarmac and the soft mud and grass, it’s sensible to choose the latter.
This said, do be careful after dark when you can’t see the ground for ruts and holes where you could turn an ankle. You can run with a purpose designed head torch (or take a bike light!) or stick to lit parks if there are some around you. We really hate to say it, and you can ignore us if you like - but please do be aware of the dangers of running alone in rural areas, especially at night, and choose somewhere more populated if you can.
Keep it up little and often
Our initial points were around breaking yourself into running gradually if you’ve not used your two feet alone for exercise for a while. Once you’ve gradually got yourself to the point you can run as and when you want it’s a great idea to maintain that ability.
It’s not too tricky for most people to fit a 30-45 minute run (adjust as per your fitness levels) into their schedule once a week. If you keep up with one run a week, it’ll mean next time you go away for work, or a holiday and can’t take your bike, you’ll be able to get a longer run in without totaling yourself for the following week.
Stretch and foam roll
Cycling – and in fact sitting at a desk – can cause your hip flexors to become tight. When you run, they have to work really hard and if they’re already shortened from your normal activities this can become a real problem and can result in injury elsewhere as a result of your altered posture. Though cyclists do use their calves heavily when riding, the impact to the foot, ankle and calves can also quickly result in overuse injuries like tendinitis if you’re not careful.
So if you’re going to run, up your stretching routine too, paying special attention to your lower back, hips, calves, feet and shoulders (everywhere, then).
Looking for a way to change up your training over winter? Check out...