Ride Hard to Run Better

Five bike sessions that'll make you a better runner


Posted: 12 June 2006

Cycling really can improve your running. Researchers at the University of Toledo in the United States asked 10 regular runners to add three bike sessions to their existing schedules. After six weeks, the scientists found that the runners' perceived effort during hard runs was lower - they found it easier to run quickly - and, on average, they improved their 5K times by 30 seconds. Joe Beer - the man behind our triathlon schedule and a coach to top cyclists including Graeme Obree, the former One Hour world record holder, has come up with five bike sessions that'll make you a better runner.

To boost your stamina…

…Get up early and hit the road hungry
Warm up for 10 minutes, gradually increasing the resistance by changing to gears that are harder to turn. Then spend 80 minutes riding steadily in a low gear - spinning - before riding for 50 minutes at around 80 per cent of your maximum heart rate (MHR). Cool down with 10 minutes of easy spinning at a cadence of less than 90rpm. (Count the complete turns of your pedal for 60 seconds.)
Focus on taking on board 50-70g of carbohydrate for each hour of the ride (100-150ml of sports drink every 15 minutes).
Top Tip If you take on board the right amount of food and don't ride in too high a gear, you can safely increase the length of your ride far more than you can a long run.

To build strength…

…Ramp up the resistance
Warm up for 15 minutes, gradually increasing the resistance by changing to gears that are harder to turn. Find a hilly route and then spend 45 minutes standing out of the saddle on all climbs, while also climbing in as high a gear as is comfortable. Spin downhill. (No hills? Ride in a "big" gear - hard to turn - out of the saddle for the two to three minutes, every eight minutes.) Cool down with 10 minutes of easy spinning.
Focus on picking a gear that will make you climb at a cadence of between 60 and 70rpm. This way you're sure to be using strength to get you up the hill.
Top Tip Just as you wouldn't run hard the day after a speed session, so you should sandwich this ride with easy runs.

To boost recovery after a hard session or race…

…Pick a low gear and spin
After a race, or tough hill session, hop on your bike - either on an indoor trainer, or a flat route - and choose a low gear. You should feel almost no resistance and the pedalling should be easy and relaxed. After 30-50 minutes of spinning, get off the bike and perform some gentle stretching.
Focus on feeling as if you are pedalling against thin air, and sipping an energy or recovery drink to speed up rehydration and muscle recovery.
Top Tip Add a couple of layers of kit to avoid becoming too cold as you cool down.

To boost your speed and increase your lactic tolerance…

…Ride your way to the threshold
Warm up for 15 minutes by gradually changing up through the gears. Once you're warmed up, pedal hard for 30 seconds, and then click down to a low gear and spin for 30 seconds. Repeat four more times. You're now ready for the main session, which involves riding at around 85 per cent of your maximum heart rate for five minutes, then spinning for 90 seconds, before ramping back up to your threshold pace for another five minutes. Repeat until you've completed five sets of five minutes. Cool down by spinning for 15 minutes.
Focus on not flogging yourself. A threshold session, both running and riding, should be comfortably hard, but not flat out.
Top Tip Make sure that you eat a high-carb snack within 30 minutes of this session to boost recovery.

To warm up before a race or session…

…Ride to the event or track
You don't need to warm up for the main event, but if you live within 30 minutes of the race start or the location of your hard sessions then pick a low gear to start, and pedal to the main event gradually selecting higher gears. This will gently warm your muscles, and raise your heart rate.
Focus on having a great race or session, and not over-exerting yourself on the bike.
Top Tip Swig a high-carb recovery drink as you spin away for the race afterwards.

Shop tactics

As with running shoes, purchasing a bike isn't a case of picking the prettiest, or cheapest. As well as aesthetics and budget, think about how you'll use the bike and whether it fits you. "There's a simple order of priority when buying a new bike," explains Guy Andrews, editor of www.roadcyclinguk.com. "Top of the list is the frame, as it's the heart of the bike."

"Pick a bike with a light, but strong, frame and it will feel great to ride and you'll get more from your cycling. Bear this in mind when looking at a manufacturer's range and don't be fooled into spending more for a better component specification. It can be wiser to choose the next frame up the range with a lesser groupset (the collective name for the gears and brakes) and upgrade the components later." Ensure you are measured by the dealer, so it fits. "It's no good saying I'm 5'10" so a 56cm frame will do, you have to consider arm, torso, leg and foot length," explains Andrews. (Bike sizes are given on seat tube length, most manufacturers measure from the centre of the crank axle - the bottom bracket - to the centre of the seat tube where it joins the top tube.)

Andrews also points out that you should insist on taking the bike of your dreams for a spin before parting with your money. "A test ride will confirm several important issues," he says. "You'll find out whether the bike really is the right size; that it works well and has been well assembled by the shop; whether it ‘feels' right; and you'll be able to check that you still like the colour in the daylight."

All the gear...

Helmets You don't have to wear a cycling helmet on UK roads but it is a good idea, and you can't race in a triathlon without one. The Specialized Chamonix (www.specialized.com), at £30, is light, well-ventilated and easily adjustable for comfort.

Clothes Cycle any further than the local shops in shorts without padding and you'll end up saddle sore, while cycling jerseys have back pockets for stashing gels, phones and spare inner-tubes. Gore Bikewear is made by the company behind Concurve running kit. Its Cortina II ladies' vest (£30) is a great summer top, while the matching shorts (£41) (www.gorebikewear.com) boast plenty of cushioning.

Shoes If you switch to a clipless pedal system, you'll need cycling shoes such as the Specialized Sport Road (£60) on to which you can attach cleats.

Glasses shades such as the Adidas Evil Eye (£87, www.adidas.com) promise to protect your eyes in all light conditions and will keep debris out.


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