Maybe it IS About the Bike - Page 2Better-Rounded Leg Strength
Like Mason, Paul Dewitt of Palmer Lake, Colorado, discovered the bike could be an instrumental training tool. In fact, nowadays, Dewitt, who has won such renowned trail races as the Pemberton Trail 50K (Arizona), Mount Mitchell Challenge (North Carolina) and the Leadville Trail 100 (Colorado), spends more time on two wheels than he does running on two feet.
“I started as a trail runner who cross trained on the bike,” he says. “Now I think I’m a biker who cross trains by running.”
Dewitt no longer competes on the trails as frequently as he once did. He stays close to the sport by coaching (www.dewittcoaching.com), where he preaches the benefits of cross training.
“Just because you can run 26, 50 or 100 miles doesn’t mean your legs are strong,” says Dewitt. “Cycling is a great way to combine cardiovascular training with functional leg strengthening, which will pay off the next time you are running or power hiking a super-gnarly hill.”
Dewitt is correct. The muscles exercised during cycling—upper thigh muscles, backside and calves—are instrumental during mountainous trail runs.
The legendary Tim Twietmeyer of Auburn, California, the only person to complete the Western States 100 25 times (while winning it five times), concurs. “I started cycling in late 2003,” says “Tweet.” “It improved my hill-climbing strength, because riding a bike uphill is not that different than running uphill, but with less impact and more resistance.”
Cycling can also help runners counter muscle imbalances that result from repetitious miles, helping them to become better rounded physically and athletically.
Remedies On Wheels
Triathlete Rachel Fenton of Washington, DC, feels that a singular training approach can lead to long-term problems and even injuries. Fenton incorporates running, swimming, running and yoga into her training routine. “Most of triathlon fitness is gained through biking, not running, thus reducing injuries,” she explains. “I did an Ironman Triathlon last year, and ran the most pain-free road marathon of my life, even though my longest training run was only two hours.”
On the other hand, Fenton ran the HAT 50K (Maryland) this year and got injured. “I didn’t bike during the snowy months,” she says. “So I blame my injuries on the lack of cross training and too many running miles.”
While it is unfair to draw a correlation between Fenton’s training techniques and her injury based upon such a small snapshot of her history, there is supporting evidence. The American Journal of Sports Medicine notes that one of the best determinants of running injury is not the warm up, cool down, body weight or even (gasp) running surface. It is miles run. Data points out that runners experience an injury for every 150 to 200 hours of running. And other studies have shown that almost 60 to 65 percent of runners are injured at least once per year.
Also, a 2009 report posted on Running Research News (www.runningresearchnews.com) took into account several recent studies, stating that aerobic cross-training activities such as cycling “enable the runner to get more endurance training in without further compromising the running muscles and joints. It uses the same muscle groups in a different, non-weight-bearing way.”
“Cycling offers a strong option for runners to either avoid injury,” says Brian Wyatt, a personal trainer and trail runner in the San Francisco Bay Area, “Or, more obviously, it can help runners stay fit while healing.”
The colorful Tom Corris, a 57-year-old trail runner from Woodbridge, Virginia, turned to the bike, he says, “due to a number of knee surgeries, and not an excessive consumption of bourbon as has been widely reported.” He had found it nearly impossible to run enough to prepare for his target races.
“To supplement, I ride a singlespeed or attend spin class at the gym two or three times per week,” he says. “What seems to translate well to running is to ride standing up as often as possible.” Corris also tries to maintain a slightly-faster-than-running cadence, and sets the handlebars at maximum height to keep his upper body in a slightly forward position, similar to running.
And mountain biking can provide an even tougher workout. “You’ll be amazed at how sore your core and upper body are after your first few off-road rides,” says Dewitt. “Mountain biking is a much more full-body sport than road biking or spinning.”