With the recent launch of the SSE Airtricity 2018 Dublin City Marathon it got me thinking of cycling and how it could be useful in preparation for running a marathon.
As a racing cyclist I always enjoyed running for fitness maintenance in the winter as preparation for my next cycling season. It is something I still advise for some of the cyclists that I coach.
Running is a great builder of the aerobic system as well as being good for bone health.
However, a lot running can be tough on the body. The constant pounding of feet striking the ground is hard on muscles, tendons and bones.
Overuse injuries are often a concern for runners.
Cycling is also a great builder of the aerobic system. But it is much easier on the joints, muscles and tendons.
Using cycling as cross training for running can be very beneficial, and could lead to quicker running times and less injuries.
I first noticed the benefits of cycling training on running several years ago when I coached a triathlete for an ironman.
We agreed that to get the workload required to complete the ironman in his goal time, and remain injury free, that mainly cycling would be used to gain the endurance levels required.
So, the amount of running and type of running sessions did not change.
His cycling training increased up to five-hour training sessions. Despite no change to his running training his running times got faster.
I have seen the same effect several times when working with triathletes.
I have also trained several very good cyclists who have either run marathons between cycling seasons, or when they retired from cycling.
I thought that it might be interesting to get some observations and thoughts from cyclists who have turned to running during or after their cycling careers.
I am delighted to get contributions from some very fine racing cyclists who are now putting in some very good marathon. times.
I thought it might be best if I just published their responses to the questions I posed below.
They are in the order that I received them. If you are a runner wanting to improve your marathon times, or a cyclist wanting to run your first marathon there are some very good learning opportunities in the contributions.
- I’m writing a blog on cycling as part of the preparation for marathon training. I am looking for a few quotes to include from people like yourself with a strong cycling background and who might include cycling as part of their marathon training.
- Can you provide some information like how much running and how much cycling -specific cycling sessions for the marathon training: Why use cycling, longest runs versus longest cycles, intensity of the various sessions… your best marathon times?
High Performance Director Triathlon Ireland. Stephen is responsible for all aspects of Triathlon Irelands High performance programmes
Stephen was an elite amateur cyclist and winner of Ras Tailteann 8 Day bicycle race.
Stephen also raced in a top French club and raced many of the major international amateur races in Europe
Note (Ras tailteann is an 8 day bicycle race around Ireland the distance is usually around 1,200 kilometres)
Best Marathon time 3.03
Did 3.03 down in Longford in 2006. So not super-fast but I was 43 at the time. Was doing a bit of bike coaching at the time so on bike probably 1-2 times per week.
Long at weekend and short lots of standing around mid-week.
4 runs. 3 x 9km 1 with surges. 1x long.
The longest I got up to was 1x 21km about 5 weeks out and 1x 23km 3 weeks out.
Something I think really helped was I was coaching a juvenile run group at the time and doing lots of drills with them while demonstrating.
Long bikes through winter were basis of aerobic endurance though.
Stephen the feedback I’m getting is that endurance is usually good from the long bike rides. but if you want to go fast in the marathon you must train fast. Paddy
Yep for sure. Trained a guy for Kona last year 9.15, and some marathons 2.35ish Always had 3k and 5k pace work and similar on bike + short work
Paul Griffin Kerry
International and professional cyclist winner, of Ras Tailteann Stages and International events, coach
2.47 in Dublin 2016 Latest marathon 2.57.54 for Cork Marathon June 2018
I wouldn’t do any bike in the 12 weeks build up to a marathon, it would be exclusively 4/5 days running that’s it.
In the month after a marathon though I would take a break from the running to let tendons and bones have a break and I would use the bike to keep my level of fitness high and weight down.
So, I’m at a good level starting back running for the next marathon.
Also, I can see how the bike would be very beneficial if you picked up a running niggle/injury and had to take time off from running but wanted/needed to keep your hard-earned fitness.
Another thing I found coming to running from Cycling is I had very little bother with Endurance.
People say the Marathon is long but when you are used to racing a bike 4 to 5 hours day after day in a stage race a 3-hour marathon wasn’t a huge issue.
Quick running sessions for fast Marathon time
Personally I had to work on running quick if I wanted to get under 3 hrs ( 6.5 min miles ) so that meant I had to do a lot of 4 or 5 mile runs at 6 min miles.
Running at that pace took a lot more getting used to that doing a 20-mile run at 7.5 min/ miles.
Just another comment on Endurance. I found it easier to run 6.25 min/miles in Dublin 2016 than to run 6 min/miles for 10k.
Both of which are my P.Bs and it doesn’t make much sense seen as there is only 25 seconds per mile of a difference.
The Endurance from the bike is really the only explanation
Best Marathon Time 2.48 Dublin 2016
I used race bicycles in the 90s and have ridden 9 RASs and multi National Champion.I ran 2.48 in Dublin in 2016, 2.49 in Berlin in 2015 and head back to Berlin this year for one last throw of the dice.
I believe Cycling is better for Runners than the other way around. A cyclist wouldn’t necessary run mid-season but a runner could cycle mid-season.
Easy cycling for recovery
I also felt an easy cycle was a great recovery method for running and if you were to do a little bike racing/duathlons or triathlons you would get great strength from cycling – something which is evident if you hit a hill in a running race.
One place running could assist cyclists is in the off season. 45/50min run is like a 2/2.5hr bike spin! Plus, I always felt that you lose more weight running than cycling.
No matter how many miles I cycled I didn’t necessarily get my body fats down but once I started training for endurance running my muscle mass and fats dropped.
I always felt that I could cycle up to the day before a running race but I always just spun the gear!
The bike is good for runners who have a few niggles and all endurance runners carry niggles! If a runner has a running injury then most likely they can cycle!!
Too many boring long runs
Also, for endurance training – too much of one thing i.e. lots of long runs gets a little boring after a while and your motivation may dip. So, the bike is a great back-up for something different which is low-impact of the joints so runners will opt for that!
Patrick Moriarty Dublin
International Cyclist, National champion TT. Represented Ireland on many occasions.
Cycled from Cork to Dublin in circa 7 hours for one training session when cycling competitively.
Patrick is Third from the left in the photo. 200 k Des Hanlon race in a snow shower and sidewind. Develops toughness for marathons.
2h51 Dublin 2017 2h52 Dublin 2014 2h52 Dublin 2015 and Manchester 2017
Patrick also included some thoughts for a cyclist who might be thinking of running a marathon//
For cyclists thinking of doing the marathon
- The big difference between a marathon and cycling is that in a marathon you will have moments of pure fear where you are not sure if you’ll make it to the finish. On the bike you usually will get there.
- From a career on the bike the heart, lungs and suffering ability are all there. However, for the marathon you must have the leg strength. There is no substitute for running condition. Biomechanics are also important some people are natural runners.
- Running puts you at high risk of injury, doing regular cycling and being ruthless with training load increases will help reduce the chances of being out.
Most cyclists will need specific strength and conditioning when they run, this helps reduce injury risk.
For runners who wish to use cycling as part of marathon preparation
- Ensure that all running time is highly effective, reduce the junk miles
- Gradually build up your days on the bike so that they complement the high-quality running training sessions that you retain. For example, do recovery on the bike not on your feet
- Get strength and conditioning guidance that gives you exercises that simulate running effort and movement but that don’t mean time on feet
- Use bike to do longer spins that replace long damaging sessions to the legs runs and that keeps the endurance ability prepared
Rachel O Hara international cyclist, now runner and artist
Marathon times pb 3.32.32….
Ran Dublin 2015 and 2016 pb 3.32.32….
I Hoped to run Amsterdam 2017 to break 3.30 but sustained tibial stress fracture.
I now feel that more cross training ie biking would have possibly helped me avoid stress fracture ..
Peak mileage was a few weeks over 100k…only took up the running in 2014 to compete in duathlons but got the running bug…it’s a a bit more problematic for injuries though!!!!
Aishling Hoare Club racing cyclist and runner
2016 Dublin Marathon . 4 11
Paddy I hadn’t ran in 18months and in 2016 at end of summer I wasn’t feeling it on bike and a bit fed up.
12 weeks to marathon and I signed up not having ran in that long.
I can honestly say it was the best sporting experience of my life.
I ran it really comfortably. I guess a good endurance base from the bike!
- Monday easy 8 to 10km run
- Tuesday tempo run building from 10 mins to 40mins
- Thursday easy 10km run
- Saturday long run week 1 starting at 30 mins building to last run two weeks before been 3 hours. Really steady and slow!
Really enjoyed the long runs around canal in Kildare. 4 11 finish.
Did one or two cycling spins with club Paddy but very little. It was easy compared to some bike races.
Owen Ryan Limerick
Club Cyclist, Man of the Ras and runner
Best marathon time Limerick May 6th 2018 time 2:58:19. ………..7th in the Wexford Marathon on June 10th 2018
Paddy I trained for 16 weeks before Limerick !
For the first month – 4 long runs on a Saturday from 12 miles to 15 …… I used do 5 by 1 kilometre usually of a Tuesday nite and 6 to 8 mile tempo of a Thursday night …..
I’d use the mountain bike for one hour Monday’s , Wednesday’s and Sunday’s !
I’d always take the Friday completely off before my long run !
When I was on the bike I would do a lot of out of the saddle work to replicate running !
I kept the training pattern the same throughout the 16 weeks but I increased the long run to 18 to 20 miles in the second and third month !
I ran one 24 mile run a month out from Limerick and finished my long run sessions with a 18 mile run 3 weeks out from Limerick!
I kept my bike sessions the same , the purpose of this was to stay injury free and recover from the running sessions !
Between Limerick and Wexford Marathons
….. The first few days after Limerick I didn’t do anything at all ….
Towards the end of that week I went back on to the mountain bike…. Again only for 1hr sessions …..
I ran for the first time after Limerick around 10 days later keeping my runs easy !
I took the first two weeks after Limerick very easy both on the bike and running to recover !
The third week I went back to my usual training week ….. Some interval training on a Tuesday and a tempo on a Thursday !
I ran a 20 mile run again 3 weeks out from Wexford (5 weeks between Limerick and Wexford ) with the last long run of 10 miles two weeks out from Wexford !
Sean Mc Fadden Donegal Cyclist, triathlete and runner
Marathon time 2.50 Dublin 2017
I did it last year (2017) did the Ras Tailteann then did Dublin Marathon .. 2.50 in Dublin Marathon 2017 following completion of the Ras in June training began for the Dublin Marathon.
With running midweek and long cycles at the weekend to retain cycling fitness for an ironman after the marathon
End of contributions
First of all a big thanks you to the contributors. They have been very generous in sharing their training and experiences, which I am sure people will benefit from.
Its also clear that there are many ways of achieving the PB but there are also patterns in the contributions.
Look for the patterns and apply them to suit your own circumstances.
Cycling could possibly help with the following
- To assist runners to manage bigger endurance training loads
- To improve leg strength
- For recovery from running training
- Assist in injury reduction / prevention
- Maintain enthusiasm for training
- Cycling is not a substitution for running but supplementary to running as cross training
If Introducing cycling to your running programme
Set your saddle height / and bike position correctly
Cycling can be manipulated through gearing and terrain for recovery, endurance or leg strength.
Easy Cycling for recovery the day after tough training sessions.
Long easy sessions to train the muscles to burn fat more efficiently
Short sharp HIT sessions to improve your maximum aerobic system
As with all training it must be progressive. Always begin from your current fitness level.
Consider join your local running and or cycling club who could have groups training for the marathon. If they don’t already know how cycling can help running maybe you will introduce the concept to them.
Enjoy your running and or cycling
Need support to begin a cycling programme.
Have you seen our Cycling Training Booklet.
Everything that you need to know to prepare for Cycling cross training. How to set your bicycle up for safety, speed and comfort. Training programmes from 60kms to 200km and much more. All for less than €5. Get your copy here
Paddy Doran High Performance coach Peak endurance coaching
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