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Can You Substitute Cycling for Your Long Run?

BY Hal Higdon

To become a better runner, you need to focus most (if not all) of your attention on running. That does not mean you should never cross-train; just be aware what your main sport is when choosing workouts.


“I missed my long run (12 miles) yesterday and ended up biking 30 miles instead. I know that when it comes time to training muscles, there is a big difference between biking and running, but all is not lost, right? I tried to push myself on the bicycle, so I was getting a good workout.”


No, all is not lost. I have seen charts comparing run workouts with bike workouts, the most famous being those in Dr. Ken Cooper’s best-selling Aerobics books, but I don’t put too much faith in the numbers. The main reason is not the runner, but rather the bike used by the runner. A skinny-tired bike might be twice as fast as a fat-tired bike.

A muscular cyclist might have an easier time pushing up the hills than a skinny runner, who in turn might be faster on the flat. So was your 30-mile ride better than, or at least equal to, your missed 12-mile run? I can’t offer even an educated guess. Don’t take too seriously anyone who claims they have the right answer.

Consider also that training is sports-specific. To become a better runner, you need to focus most (if not all) of your attention on running. Similarly, to become a better cyclist, you need to spend most of your time on the bike. That does not mean you should never cross train; just be aware of what your main sport is when choosing workouts.

One other comment: Rather than pushing yourself on the bike to get a good workout, you might have been better off sitting back in the saddle and cruising. If scheduled to run those 12 miles at an easy pace and you chose a hard pace for your 30-mile ride, you might have done more harm than good by developing the wrong muscles. Don’t convert an easy workout into a hard workout, simply because you can.

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About Hal Higdon

Hal Higdon is a Contributing Editor for ‘Runner’s World‘ and author of 34 books, including the best-selling ‘Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide’. He ran eight times in the Olympic Trials and won four world masters championships. Higdon estimates that over a quarter of a million runners have finished marathons using his training programs, and he also offers additional interactive programs at all distances through TrainingPeaks. Hal uses TrainingPeaks to power his interactive marathon and half marathon training plans — check out more of Hal Higdon’s training plans on his website.