This was a question I asked myself many times when, years ago, I thought I’d never run again, or really be able to push myself like I wanted to running. I was battling injuries, depression and having a crisis with identity. I didn’t feel like a runner anymore, and after months of not being able to walk, let alone run, the only activity I could do was on a bike.
I resented its two wheels, as if their existence were taking away my ability to walk or run myself. But, I’d still find motivation to get on a bike. Maybe at first it was harder than normal to like cycling since I was restricted to riding my Saris bike trainer, but soon, even that became a fun challenge to overcome. I actually resisted riding my bike outside, at first. There was a huge amount of fear of falling or being unable to unclip my feet from the pedals. But something began to shift when as I began to ride outside and explore my familiar roads and dirt trials on two wheels: I began to find my identity in sport again.
Instead of being just a runner, I was also a cyclist. All the strength work and recovery work I was doing in the gym to get healthy again also added to that. All of these aspects contributed to me being an all around athlete and the more I did each of them, and got back to hiking and then running, the more I found out that I needed them all to be the best athlete I could be.
My first bike race was Unbound 200 in 2019. I had never ridden 200 miles on rough gravel roads, nor had I ever ridden in a group before, yet I was so motivated and intrigued by an event rooted in endurance sport, that I had to try. I succeeded and this year I completed my 3rd finish of the Unbound 200 gravel bike race, besting my time in more extreme conditions and some unexpected mechanicals.
So maybe this doesn’t answer the question that I started with. How can cycling make you a better runner? Maybe you expected me to map out my training plan, with workout schedules, and how I mix riding and running, but that’s really not the point. Of course, I did work with my coach to adapt my training to incorporate cycling and it’s become a huge asset to me, but the reason why I think cycling can make you a better runner is that it emphasizes being an athlete over one category. Of course I have my favorite activities, or routes I prefer to do on foot or on two wheels, but the most important shift in my athletic career came when I started to get on the bike, go to the gym more, and focus on strengthening my weaknesses, or simply having fun doing another sport.
I think an emphasis on being a whole athlete – whether that’s cycling, climbing, skiing or water polo – keeps you well rounded, and mentally adaptable, knowing that success in one sport doesn’t define you, and enjoyment in others can bring balance to your life. That’s what I mean when I say to runners that cycling can make them better. It has for me, and not only from a fitness standpoint, but from enjoyment and adding a new skill to the mix. What started out as a consolation prize to running has now become an integral part of my routine. The best part is, now I’m running more and better than ever. You don’t have to choose one sport or the other, let any pairing challenge you mentally and physically to make you the best all around athlete you can be.