Chasing 42

Life, the Universe, & Running

Cycling: Training vs/and/or Cross-Training

It should be clear by now that I love to run. Everyone should have the activity or interest that can completely transport them to a new place, one in which they can simultaneously clear their mind and iron out the kinks that may be persisting. Running is that activity for me.

With that being said, I’ve slowly incorporated road cycling into my life as well. I’ve always know intuitively that it works different muscles than running does, and thus is logically a good choice for diversifying my workouts. Over the last ten years, I’ve made progressive leaps from a mountain bike to a hybrid, and now to a road bike. I have many friends who compete in triathlons, and thus are much more serious about cycling than I am. However, the passion is contagious, and so it was a logical next step for me to move from the much heavier hybrid to a much lighter road bike. In case I had any doubts about the difference, my first duathlon with my road bike, in which I shaved 17 minutes off my bike time, made it abundantly clear.

I’m at the point where I am still much more committed to running, but enjoy cycling and have a wonderful community of friends who enjoy cycling, not to mention a wonderfully supportive partner who enjoys cycling (our first date began with a morning ride!). The combination of contagious passion and enjoying time with friends led us both to sign up for RAGBRAI this year. For those who aren’t familiar with the event, it can most simplistically be described as a week-long bike ride across Iowa. However, it is probably more aptly described as a week-long party with some cycling thrown into the mix. Thousands of runners gather and ride from city to city each day, each leaving at their own time, riding at their own pace, and stopping whenever they like for the various food vendors and festivities that towns lay out along the way. It is most definitely not a race and there is no pressure to ride at any particular pace. However, you are still cycling between 60 and 100 miles each day, so your legs had better be ready!

Thus, with RAGBRAI as an impetus, and the added bonus of cycling being constantly mentioned as an excellent cross-training activity for runners, I am committing myself to properly training this summer in anticipation of RAGBRAI. After training for an ultramarathon, it’s clear to me that I’m going to need to scale back my weekly mileage in order to incorporate cycling into my schedule. This is where the debate in my head begins. I LOVE where my training is at right now and am excited at the prospect of maintaining this level of endurance such that I can theoretically run more and more marathons and ultramarathons. However, I’m realistic about the time constraints and the financial implications or registering for every race that sounds like fun.

Photo Credit: RAGBRAI

Intellectually then, cycling makes a lot of sense for me. I know it is great for cross-training and will improve my running while giving me another venue for challenging myself. There is no shortage of literature which reiterates the benefits of cycling as a cross-training activity for runners, and I know from firsthand experience that it aids in recovery quite well, allowing for low impact workouts. Emotionally, I also know that I rarely commit to something half-way, and thus I find myself torn. Can cycling be “just” cross-training for me, or will it end up becoming training itself?

As I get most accustomed to longer distances on the bike, I will no doubt enjoy it more and more (even though my butt is currently not enjoying the adjustment nearly as much!). However, right now, I still feel a twinge of jealousy and guilt when I am out riding and pass a runner. I am relatively confident that those feelings will dissipate with time as I learn to enjoy cycling more and more, but I  have a feeling I’ll always feel more at home lacing up my running shoes than clipping into my bike.

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