Sunday, May 22, 2016

6 Reasons to Run if You're a Bicyclist

As I'm nearing the end of my Master's program, I've become less active.  Where my mind and scientific writing has gotten quite the workout, my body has gotten much less exercise. To help with the metaphor of crossing the thesis finish line, I started running again as my exercise of choice when not bike commuting.  You may wonder why a bike addict would chose to go the way of the sneaker for exercise, so I compiled both biological and personal preferences as to why a cyclist should also incorporate running into their exercise regimen.

1. Impact Exercise to Prevent Brittle Bones

There is evidence to suggest that bikers may suffer from lower Bone Mineral Density (BMD) in the femur, neck, and lumbar spine compared to weight bearing exercises.  You can read the full 2011 study here. More research needs to be done, but there is substantial preliminary research that points to low impact sports like swimming and biking decreasing BMD. For anyone that rides in traffic and has potential to get hit by a car, or for off-road bikers who can take a spill from aggressive terrain, strong bones are a good thing.  Cross training biking and running is a good way to prevent unwanted premature bone deterioration.

2. Quick Boost to the Cardiovascular System

Now, this is just from my personal experience, but I find that biking in Texas does not prepare me for climbing mountains in Colorado, lung-wise. As a long-time long distance cyclist, any time I get on a bike, my body automatically adjusts to a moderate pace, which is good for enduring long distances, but it doesn't help when I really need to be building my lung power, and working on my breathing for future mountain bike climbing endeavors. Even if it's only for 20-30 minutes a day, my heart rate stays up the whole time when running.  There's no break during a downhill, when you stop moving your feet, you stop running.  This really helps me to improve my cardiovascular system quickly. This study discusses some of the physiological differences between cycling and running.

3. Building Strength in Complimentary Climbing Muscles

As you may (or may not) be able to see from the pictures above, there is much overlap of muscles used for both running and cycling. When mountain biking up steep grades in the Colorado Rockies, I was primarily standing up on my pedals to navigate large boulders and pull 100 pounds up the side of a mountain; and when going downhill off-road, you tend to stand up so your legs act as a shock and to maintain a strong sense of balance over your bike and load. When first starting out in the Rockies, this all too familiar position of standing up made me wish that I had incorporated running into my regimen beforehand to prevent muscle fatigue on long climbing days (which are most days in Colorado!). Also, keep in mind, the air is thinner at the high elevations, which is why a strong cardiovascular system that can get your oxygen to your muscles efficiently is important too (reference #2 above).

4. More Efficient Exercise when on a Short Schedule

My biking need has dwindled from about 150 miles per week to maybe 30 miles per week as I finish my thesis (yay!). Between schooling and family, I have less time for extracurriculars. If I really want to get a good workout on a bike (here in mostly flat north Texas), I have to be gone for about an hour or more. With running, I feel it right away and really notice a difference from something as small as 3-5 kilometers/day, which takes only 15-30 minutes. I can run while Neva is brushing her teeth in the morning, and be home before she is dressed. I feel somewhat accomplished, and don't beat myself up too hard if I drive that day due to time constraints (the guilt is real as a biker anytime you drive over biking!)

5. The Distance is Shorter, yet Effective

Not only does it take a while to get a good workout on the bike, you have to go quite a long distance to get in your hour-long workout. Typically you're looking at around 15 miles, and when you're in the heart of suburbia, you've very much left the neighborhood and have ventured into the next town over. That's not to say that you can't get in your weekend long-rides of 50+ miles; that's necessary for long-distance bike training. But for maintaining a daily routine, it should be something that's tangible on a daily basis, or something you can feel comfortable keeping up with.  Biking to work daily also fits the bill, but currently, I work from home, so that one is out for me right now!

6.  You Eliminate the Morning Stress of Dealing with Cars

When you don't have to leave your neighborhood, the urgency of morning traffic does not exist. Our neighborhood is a 2 kilometer course that I can run 2-3 times, and not worry about the stress of dealing with cars trying to get to work. Once you leave the neighborhood on your bike at 7am, you're right in the heart of traffic here in Texas, breathing exhaust fumes, and dealing with impatient drivers. When running, I notice that cars actually see you much better because the pace is so different from them, which takes down the stress level. Lastly, stretching is a mandatory part of post-running procedure, so a post-run 5 minute yoga and meditation session is a great way to destress your morning and start the day.

Relax like the Nevatar!

So, to recap, I am still a bike addict, and with many friends that are marathoners, I definitely cannot call myself a runner. However, I wanted to share the value I find in cross-training to strengthen my cycling performance. Neva also alternates between running and biking for her afternoon exercises, and we make a great team when I'm running and she bikes next to me. Since I cannot end a post without showing an adorable Neva shot, here's my biking running partner in action (with an iguana in tow)!


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