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What I Didn’t Know About Running and Cycling… That Noobs Need To Know

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February 2013
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There are a few things that I didn’t know about running and cycling that I had to learn the hard way.  I started out as a runner and I ran for the better part of a decade and I always had a problem with trying to recover between run days.  I ran three days a week and I tried to push at least two of those.  Before long I grew tired of hurting all the time so I dropped down to twice a week (one long and one short run).  My Thursday (short) run was slow – I ran with a friend, and then I’d push on my Saturday long run.  This worked great for about two years before I grew tired of running altogether.  I needed a shake-up so I bought a bike and started training for triathlons.  I added, almost immediately, to running twice a week, four to five additional days of cycling.  Both run days were bricks.

All of a sudden, muscle recovery became pretty important.  Unfortunately, I’m pig-headed and cheap so I had to figure a lot of this out without the aid of a coach…

1:  Refueling

Refueling the muscles after a workout (within a half hour works best, but no more than an hour after) is probably the most important tip I’ve picked up.  A decent mix of carbs and protein.  I don’t pay any attention whatsoever to actual numbers, grams and the like (though it does make a difference when you get it right), I just make sure I eat a decent mix of carbs and protein.  If I skip the refuel, muscle recovery takes three times longer and when you’re exercising every day, recovery is a big deal.

2:  Recovery Rides

After really hard running efforts, bumps in running mileage or after long rides I always go for a recovery ride the next day.  I keep my cadence normal but I slow the speed way down and take it easy.  After running, if I have time, I’ll ride immediately afterward and the benefits are amazing.  I can literally recover from the run that day.

3:  Running and Riding

Riding provides an excellent cross-train to running.  I can run faster and longer because I ride on off days.

4:  Hydration

Hydration requirements on the bike are even greater than for running.  I’ll go through a couple hundred ounces of fluids (or more) on a Century ride.  Usually around 25-30 ounces per hour works well.  Skimp on hydration at your own risk – dehydration will cause cramps, fatigue and more pain that you’re going to want to deal with.

5:  Water

Though a lot of people like to push water over so-called sports drinks (Gatorade or Powerade), I can’t limit myself to just water while I’m riding.  I need the sports drinks.  Two years ago while training for Olympic length triathlons my sweat stopped tasting salty.  I didn’t know what was going on so I just kept training as normal (with only water).  A week later my performance dipped pretty dramatically so I started thinking about what I might be doing wrong…  That’s when it hit me:  I wasn’t replacing electrolytes fast enough.  Adding Gatorade balanced everything back out.

6:  If you want to go fast, you have to train fast – but within reason.

There’s a delicate balance between training, racing and recovering.  During the season (May thru October) I only take one day every two weeks off.  This isn’t enough.  I should probably be taking at least one or two days a week off but that’s just not going to happen – I like going out for my daily endorphin fix too much.  That said, if I train wisely – mixing in recovery rides a couple of times a week with the hard efforts, I can manage quite well without feeling cooked.  In short, I had to learn my balance.

7.  Watch the caloric intake – this is not what you might think…

I am getting to the level of extreme cycling, though on the slim end of that classification.  At almost 5,400 combined miles last year, I ride a lot.  Riding and running this much burns up a lot of calories (a little over 280,000 or the equivalent of 80 pounds last year alone).  If you have weight to drop, riding and running will do it in a hurry but when you’re getting close to your desired weight you have to replace those calories.  If you’re riding and running 10-15 hours a week you can expect to have to eat quite a bit of food to keep your weight up.  Fitness tracking software helps quite a bit – I use Endomondo which tracks burned calories along with everything else, but the most important thing I learned is that I have to eat.  Generally speaking, this is a great problem to have.  It’s a rare day that I’ll turn down a piece of cake during the season.  Off season is a different story though.  I don’t mess around with riding in the freezing cold, I ride on my trainer in my office four days a week and run once or twice a week as well.  As such, I’m only burning through 11,000 calories a month instead of 30-40,000.  Because of this I am much more careful about what I eat off-season.  Again, this is about balance.

8.  Diet, exercise and weight loss are all about balance.

I dropped a lot of hard to lose weight over the last couple of years by simply riding my bike for at least 50 minutes a day (much longer Friday’s and on the weekends) but this wouldn’t have been possible if I’d just tooled about for that time.  I had to move.  Also, I operated on a weekly deficiency of calories until I got to where I wanted to be.  Not buy much, only a few hundred calories per week and I was still careful about refueling after each workout, but you can’t expect to lose weight if you replace everything.  Also, I was “lucky” in one aspect of weight loss:  I naturally eat small meals.  This isn’t to say I didn’t overeat back in the day because I did, but when I decided to take responsibility for my weight, shrinking my meals down to where I could burn more than I ate wasn’t much of a struggle.  This isn’t to say I didn’t have days where I wanted to pig out – I still do, but once I connected distance and effort to getting myself back to square, overeating became a lot less attractive.


11 Comments

  1. IowaTriBob says:

    Great post for us new guys. I’ve found #7 – calorie intake is so important. When I first started some serious training in the summer I had some extra baggage to shed and after the first 2-3 months it was gone. The problem I ran into is exactly what you mention, keeping the weight on at this point. I found that I needed to add a few extra meals in and felt like I was literally eating all day long. If I didn’t I began to get very tired during my workouts because the fuel and energy just wasn’t there.

  2. cimmyyeoman says:

    Reblogged this on Why Not Run and commented:
    Some excellent points here

  3. Sandra says:

    Awesome post that is encouraging and motivating (and, of course, educational and appreciated!)

  4. Sandra says:

    Reblogged this on A Promise to Dad and commented:
    Great tips for us newbies!

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