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June 15, 2021

Gotta’ Run: Using a bike to help your running and overall fitness

My running heyday (that means the best timed results) was back in the mid-’80s through the ’90s. I was mostly a self-taught runner, although a few really good books on the subject eventually came out. Two events in my life made me realize that a bicycle is a good training partner for running improvement.

One of my experiences involved a stationary bike, shortly after the South Rowan YMCA opened in November 1994. I was running well in races and trying to stay right on the cusp of not training so much that I became tired while still maximizing my efforts and focus on the next weekend’s race. At that time, I was running 70-mile weeks and sometimes more. Sleeping too little as well.

When the Y opened, I joined right away with the intent of improving my training concept. It’s the sort of thing that a coach would help with now, but having a personal running coach didn’t really exist then. Several days a week, I ran twice a day, something fairly common with super competitive runners then and now. The Kenyans sometimes run three times a day.

Experimenting with a few things, I exchanged the second run (often done at lunch or at night) with an intense stationary bike workout. The South Y at that time only had two upright stationary bikes, the ones that more closely simulate a real bike ride. I kept my early morning runs and then added an evening programmed intense ride on the stationary bike twice a week for 45 minutes, usually Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Two things happened. Because the bike rides were not weight bearing, I didn’t wear my legs out. I had more zip in my morning training runs and almost immediately faster times.

The second event was arthroscopic knee surgery in 2012, just ahead of my first cross-country bike ride. I had loose cartilage in the knee removed, and then immediately went back to run training. For several months, no matter what I did, the scoped knee remained weaker. I listened to a couple of favorite physical therapists and the operating surgeon and used both road and stationary bikes to help strengthen it. I began to make improvement but wondered if my knee could stand more than 4,000 miles of pedaling across America.

Not two weeks into the ride, I realized that I couldn’t tell which knee had been operated on. I credit the bikes for finally strengthening the knee to evenly match the other one.

Here are some other good ways to use a bike to improve performance and increase overall fitness. Most runners pick a certain number of days to train per week. They usually mix in a long day, a couple of intense days at near race pace, maybe an occasional hill workout, and a slightly less long run. Often they plan to take a day or two off from running, yet still want to get the mental boost from exercise. Cyclists would say that you can get all those things from a bicycle. The benefits are similar, and just for fun, you as a runner might try a high-intensity bike ride and see whether it can fit your training program.

If you feel the need to fill an off day from running, that could be the perfect time for an easy bike ride, stationary or road, just letting the body move and recover from the impact. Keep the resistance light for active recovery and to balance the stress load on your body from the week. It’s an effective way to increase circulation without impact, which can help speed the rate of recovery. Some runners find it much easier to cycle easy than to run easy.

Next Saturday, May 15, is the Ed Dupree 5K, held at East Rowan High and benefitting Hospice and Ed’s scholarship. Ed’s daughter Allison is the race director and will make all runners and walkers feel welcome as she and Ed’s grandson, Frank, join the participants on the fast course. As a long-time Salisbury Post sportswriter and editor, Ed was one of Rowan’s foremost advocates of running.

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