Maybe it IS About the BikeTwo feet plus two wheels might equal better running performance
This article appeared in our August 2010 issue.
Mike Mason, a veteran trail runner from Charlotte, North Carolina, spends as much time in his man cave as he does on the trails. There, he is surrounded by race posters, medals and the whimsical race tschotcke. But he’s not reminiscing or surfing the Internet. He’s hammering on a Cycleops—a device that turns his road bike into a stationary bike. Here, Mason will spin off 40 miles in preparation for his next trail race. Mason is a major proponent of cross training, off setting his ambitious running schedule with the right amount of bike time. But does cycling—even if it’s stationary—make him a better trail runner?
“Absolutely,” he says, “It makes me a better climber.” But there’s more to it than that.
Research has shown that running and cycling are friendly bedfellows when it comes to training and building fitness. One study, which examined cross-training effects in elite triathletes, concluded that crossover benefits occur between cycling and running, but not swimming.
Another study examined the effects of one group running four days per week and another group combining two days per week cycling and two days per week running. After five weeks, the results were almost identical for both groups. Both had significantly improved their VO2 max (the maximal oxygen uptake or the maximum volume of oxygen that can be utilized in one minute during exercise). The running-only group reduced their 5K race times by seven percent. The running-cycling group lowered their times by eight percent.
While studies point at cycling being a potential gateway to improve 5K times, Mike Mason was not preparing for a paved event. Instead, Mason was training for Virginia’s 2009 Massanutten Mountain 100-miler, a brutally tough race known for its unique Appalachian blend of steep climbs and ankle-wrenching rocks. As his training ramped up, he developed severe discomfort in his foot, until finally he could barely walk. A visit to the podiatrist delivered unwanted news: torn ligaments.
Mason could have taken a DNS at Massanutten. But his stubborn will, and blinding love of the sport, would not allow it. With four months time till the race, he turned to a bike. “I began training hard on the Cycleops and doing very easy runs,” he says. “All of my long workouts and hard efforts were on the bike.”
On race day, Mason had no idea what to expect. Would his legs blow up from lack of preparation on Massanutten’s punishing course?
“I finished third in a very competitive field and got a course PR of 20 hours and change,” says Mason. “Bro, the bike is king.”