How Good Runners Can Become Equally Good Cyclists

Former-Runner “Syndrome”

Jason Gootman and Will Kirousis | Tri-Hard (

You’ve been a runner for as long as you can remember.  You’ve got several
marathons under your belt.  You’re lean and mean and proud of it.  You’ve
worked hard to be in this good of shape.  You did your first triathlon, a local
sprint, and had a blast a few months ago.  You just did your second triathlon, an
Olympic-distance race.  You had an okay swim, not very fast, but that’s what you
expected.  You haven’t been swimming very long after all.  On the bike, you felt
good, but it seemed like everyone was flying by you.  Some of these guys look
super fit and are on bikes more expensive than your first car.  But then this guy
who looks like he’s carrying 25 or so extra pounds goes screaming by.  Then a
guy who, by the marking on his calf, is 10 or 15 years older than you.  You’re
thinking, “What is going on?”  How are these people so much faster than me?
Well, cycling is a different game than running.   Cycling requires and rewards
some different athletic abilities than running does.   They’re not completely
different, but they’re not completely the same either. In particular, cycling
requires and rewards power more than running does.  You’re moving more than
just your body weight when you’re cycling; you’re also moving a bike around.
Cycling also has specific muscular-endurance requirements that are different
than those of running.  Many former runners who come to triathlon say this: “I
can ride all day long, but I can’t seem to go very fast.” Their relative leanness
may help them go up hills fairly well, but on flats and descents, they have no
“oomph”. They pedal and pedal with all their heart, but they just don’t go very

Does this sound familiar?  Are you suffering from former-runner “syndrome”?  If
you answer yes to two or more of the following questions, that qualifies as a

1. Do you enjoy long, slow rides much more than you enjoy interval workouts on
your bike?
2. Do you thrive on hills compared to other racers, but get blown away on flats
and descents?
3. Do you have very thin legs? Do you friends often comment that you “have no
4. Does the statement, “I can ride all day long, but I can’t seem to go very fast”
apply to you?
5. Is the speed you can maintain in a sprint-distance triathlon less than a mile
per hour faster than the speed you can maintain in an Olympic-distance
triathlon? Or is the speed you can maintain in an Olympic-distance triathlon
less than a mile per hour faster than the speed you can maintain in a halfiron-
distance triathlon? (In both cases, consider similar courses to make the
best comparison).

If you’ve got the sickness, we’ve got the remedy:

1. Stop just riding your bike. Do interval workouts. To get maximum benefit do
a systematic progression of interval workouts over 16 to 24 weeks building
from short intervals (like 8 X 1’) to medium intervals (like 5 X 5’) to long
intervals (like 3 X 12’). Do the work intervals at the greatest intensity that you
can sustain for the entire set. Take two-minute rest intervals after each work
2. For even more potency in developing your cycling, head for the hills. Do
interval workouts where you do the work intervals up a hill. Do one out of
every two interval workouts you do as a hill workout.
3. Get specific in long rides and bricks. We actually call these race-specific
rides and race-specific bricks because we have people do portions of the
riding at race intensity. For example, for a half-iron, you can do a 50-mile ride
where you do the first 30 miles at moderate intensity and the last 20 miles at
race intensity. This gets you out of the rut of always riding at a moderate
intensity and will help you become a stronger cyclist.
4. Run less. You may be used to running five, six, or more times a week. If you
are holding onto running this much while you train for triathlon, you are likely
limiting how often you can ride. Move to a more balanced schedule, or even
to a schedule that emphasizes cycling. You will be able to maintain, or even
build upon, your already strong running ability with less running than you are
used to because of the carryover you will get from cycling.
5. Dump the long running races during triathlon season, especially the
marathons. Save them for the fall after triathlon season. The longer runs and
the high volume of running needed to train for these races will both limit how
much you can put into your cycling and sap your legs of their power. Stick to
running races that are the same distance as the runs in the triathlon you are
training for or shorter (and always save marathons for after triathlon season).
6. Do good power training in the weight room. Use dynamic, functional, athletic
exercises. Squats, deadlifts, and single-leg exercises like lunges and stepups
are among the best exercises to put some “pop” into your cycling.

Be patient. Give it some time.  All the running you’ve done will serve you well.
With productive cycling over time, you can become a strong triathlete with a
balanced game.  Have fun with it!

Learn more about Jason Gootman, Will Kirousis, and Tri-Hard at

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