Should Cyclists Run In The Off-Season?

It is widely accepted that, during the off-season, cyclists should replace their main form of training (aka riding a bicycle) with other activities – at least partially. During and right after the season break, you shouldn’t be riding much at all and engage in other forms of physical activity. As you progress through the off season, the amount of cycling should gradually increase, while alternative forms of training gradually decrease. This helps not only to balance the body, but especially the mind.

While the overall picture is pretty clear, different coaches and self-coached athletes have greatly varying opinions as far as what this looks like in detail. It is complex, like training in general. In this brief blog post, we are going to look specifically at running as an off-season alternative for cyclists.

Running is Great

Running engages more skeletal muscles and burns more calories than cycling, over the same time period and at the same perceived level of exertion. This is because we have to support our entire body weight while running, opposed to cycling. In addition to being a time-efficient form of endurance training, which is refreshing to most cyclists, running is also easy to do. You can do it almost anywhere and don’t need much gear for it. For those of us who live in regions where winter means low temperatures, it is also much easier to keep warm while running outside, opposed to cycling outside. So why don’t we all run in the off season then? Because…

Running is Bad

Running can easily lead to injuries in the common (and mostly rather fragile) endurance cyclist. If you are running in the cold, you might slide out on ice or the like, which can end badly. But that’s not even the number one reason for injuries in running. The culprit is progression – or the lack thereof. As a trained cyclist you probably have pretty good endurance. However, if all you have been doing during the season was to cycle, your musculoskeletal system is not ready for vigorous running. Your “engine” might be ready, but your “frame” is not prepared for the pounding that comes with running. After the cycling season and in regard to running you are pretty much like a Model T with a modern Porsche engine, looking for some off-road fun – something is bound to break.

So what now?

The first thing you should ask yourself when contemplating whether to make running one of your off-season activities or not is: Do you like running? Many cyclists don’t. If you are one of them, don’t run and find something else. The off-season is especially important to relax the mind. Forcing yourself to do something because you think it will be good for you or because someone tells you so, but in reality you hate it, is not going to do the trick. If you like it or you are at least open to the idea it is paramount that you TAKE IT SLOW and follow a few rules. If you just jump into it and jog for an hour or so, you have a good chance of injuring yourself. Here are a few tips to make your off-season running a success:

  • Get proper shoes (visit a running store, consult your triathlon friends, etc.).
  • Warm up properly before EVERY run.
  • Pay attention to how you run – get some help if unsure and find an appropriate service provider. Rule of thumb: your shins are sore after a run? Your technique is probably not that great and you are on your way to injury. Your calves are sore? Your progression is to steep, but your technique might not be the worst.
  • Start with 15-20min at a slow pace & alternate 1-2min of light jogging with 1min of walking.
  • Do not exceed your endurance 2 zone. (If your breathing is very labored, you are going too fast.)
  • Avoid consecutive running days. At least alternate running days with non-running days.
  • Slightly increase from week to week:
    • first extend the jogging vs. walking intervals,
    • then expand overall running time (add +5 to +15min to each session from week to week),
    • and only then increase intensity or start interval work (optional).
  • Run up stairs or uphill, avoid running downhill (especially in the beginning). If you cannot avoid it, go extra slow or just walk. Stair work is great. You can even do sprints up and then walk down or slowly skip back down.
  • Do that thing, called stretching. It doesn’t even have to be elaborate.
  • STOP when you feel any pain (other than mild muscle soreness), especially in tendons, ligaments, or joints.

Happy trails, stay healthy, and always keep striving – with Strivemax
Rich