OVERREACHING for RUNNING PERFORMANCE GAINS

Elisabet and Sondre training in Lanzarote in 2019. They will return again, January 2020.

Recently, I wrote an article about ‘RUNNING and INJURY’ and how fine the balance is between the two (here).

In summary, training is about adding stress to the body and with rest, the body adapts and we come back stronger. Get the balance wrong and we get injured.

The secret is planning and usually we will have an A race or target event that provides an end date for training with maybe one or two, B/C races or Prep events: This is a Macrocycle – typically 1-year but it could be longer. For example, an Olympian may have a 4-year Macrocycle.

This training year is then broken down to Mesocycles, these can be 2-weeks in the shortest scenario or several months, or even a year, in the longest scenario.

Finally, a Microcycle will be one week within the Mesocycle plan, with a plan for each day.

A year plan could look like the following and for simplicity, I am starting in January and ending in December. A Macrocycle though could run, August to August for example:

The above provides an overview of the year. This helps one prepare meticulously knowing how to plan stress and recovery and importantly, it enables one to understand when one needs to peak.

Progress in training is a delicate balance. A failure to not add enough stress and one will not meet potential. But, adding too much stress without relevant rest and recovery, and one risks injury or in an extreme scenario, *overtraining.

But, and this is a big but. For the experienced athlete, overreaching can be an excellent way to make significant progress gains.

WHAT IS OVERREACHING?

Overreaching is often common among the dedicated, obsessed and addicted athletes and in many scenarios, they do not even realise they are doing it. If unmanaged and not planned, it can be a slippery slope that leads to overtraining, so, caution!

Short term periods of overreaching followed with strategically planned recovery, can result in significant gains in endurance, speed and/ or a combination of the two.

This is ‘Functional Overreaching.’

In the Macrocycle above, you will see four periods of graded boxes, June, August, October and November.

These four periods of 1-week have no recovery, they are specifically planned periods of running too hard and/or too far to bring on significant performances gains. This is ‘Supercomensation.’ 

“Supercompensation training is the act of dramatically increasing your training load for a short period of time and then compensating by going very easy to maximize recovery and absorption.” ****

However, these gains will only come with a week or weeks of recovery and de-stress. Continue to add stress with no rest or recovery and injury is likely… If this continues for weeks/ months, then overtraining is distinctly likely. 

A good way to understand an overreach week like this with super supercompensation gains is to imagine one of the following scenarios:

  • Someone running UTMB as a target race and then doing the UTMB route over 4-days in an overreach week.
  • Signing up and joining a specific training camp for one week that provides one or more training sessions per day for a 7-day period.
  • Having entered a 100km race and then specifically planning 3 back-to-back days of running 30km per day.
  • Maybe entering a multi-day race like Marathon des Sables and then replicating a percentage, say 60-75%, of the daily MDS distances and re-creating a mini MDS week in training.

“If the stress and recovery are sufficient we can improve performance and fitness and gain a host of positive physical and mental adaptations. However, if the stress is too high or the recovery is insufficient we may see impairment in performance and fatigue and it may be a significant factor in the development of running injury.” **

In an overreaching phase, it is not unusual to feel depleted, have disrupted sleep and feel mood fluctuations. Everything returns back to normal during the recovery/ rest phase.

Remember, food and nutritional needs, just like training, should be adapted and planned to coincide with training stress.

After a block of planned overreaching, place an emphasis on the following:

  • Recovery
  • Sleep
  • Diet
  • Massage/ physiotherapy
  • Analysis

Overreaching depends on the individual and recovery/ stress levels should be assessed on an individual basis.

“It is commonly known that fatigue can be either positive or negative; everything depends on the scale. On one hand, with more training and exercise, the more trained the athlete will be. On the other hand, if the level of fatigue is not monitored, the athlete may receive an “overdose” of fatigue…” ***

We can all have off days, but if you notice for extended periods you can’t run as fast, run as long, you are moody, constantly tired, seeing fluctuations in resting hear rate, legs are always sore… Chances are you are on the edge of overtraining. You need to kick-back immediately, de-stress and recover.

Remember, the reason for planned functional overreaching is to increase performance. Anything else and you are in non-functional overreaching or in danger of overtraining syndrome. Overtraining syndrome can be difficult to treat and, like many things, prevention is better than cure. 

Finally, planned training, taking time to look at a macrocycle, plan mesocycles and and then implement structured microcycles will improve performance and reduce the likelihood of injury by maintaining a balance between stress (both physical and emotional) and recovery.

JOIN OUR TRAINING CAMP, INFORMATION HERE

References:

* – ‘It involves a barrage of symptoms such as decreased motor coordination, force production, and glycolytic capacity, alongside the possibility of recurring infections, sleep disturbances, and depression.’ – Mike T Nelson PH.D

** – Running Physio – https://www.running-physio.com/stress-recovery-balance/

*** – Omega Wave – https://www.omegawave.com/2013/02/06/overreaching-and-overtraining-what-are-they-how-to-avoid-them/

**** – Runners Connect – https://runnersconnect.net/coach-corner/supercompensation-training/

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Planning a Running and Racing Year

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You have looked back over 2016 and decided what worked and what didn’t for you, haven’t you? With that information, you have looked at your strengths and weaknesses and you have now started to plan 2017/18, you have, haven’t you?

If the answer to the two above questions is no or maybe even yes, please read my thoughts on what you should be doing now in preparation for a great 2017 of running and racing.

In a previous post I questioned if ‘Base Training’ is something that you should be doing now? (Read HERE) This post was directed at experienced runners or ultra runners who have been in the sport for sometime and have already accumulated many miles and hours of running. They may not need more endurance but speed.

But planning is key. You need to periodise training so that you get the most from it. Below I go through a classic training program that has key phases for a successful season. It’s a classic training program that includes:

  • Base or Speed
  • Build
  • Maintain
  • Recover
  • Build
  • Race
  • Recover

Depending on experience, how this plan is put together is very much dependant on the individual. However, certain key elements should be present in any training plan and this article is intended to provide the basics from which you can develop a strategy that works for you. I must stress, for you!

Firstly, asses last year and understand what worked and what didn’t. This will give you a list of strengths and weaknesses.

  • Did you lack endurance?
  • Did you lack speed?
  • Was your strength and core weak?
  • Were you mentally strong?

The answers to the above questions will help you understand what your plan needs in the coming months.

Secondly, decide on objectives for 2017 and even 2018, decide on A, B and C races. Put them in a diary and ideally have a wall planner so that you have an overview of the year. It’s easy to see how a year looks on a planner.

Set a timescale and work back from THE key ‘A’ race. In our scenario, we are saying that our key race is a 100-mile race, 28 weeks away.

Yes, it’s a long way off but don’t be fooled into thinking you have plenty of time. Key races have a habit of sneaking up on you.

Fancy an early season multi-day TRAINING CAMP? Join us in Lanzarote with 2015 Marathon des Sables champion, Elisabet Barnes HERE

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100-miles is a long way so *base training and getting the miles in is key. We have allocated 8 weeks for this in the plan below. Hours of easy miles progressively building up to a C race (marathon or 50k). It is always good to have a goal and a target to aim for. The C race is a training race and will have no taper, you would race through it as a training long run.

*A traditional pyramid training plan starts with base and then typically adds speed as an event comes closer. However, we are ultra runners and it is important to be specific. High intensity training creates a lot of fatigue and this is why I am a huge fan of reversing the pyramid and getting speed work done during the winter so that the training plan that leads into an A race is specific to the demands of the race.

So, if you are an experienced ultra runner looking to improve in 2017/18 with years of running and loads of endurance, think about making weeks 1-8 speed based with a fast marathon as a C (or maybe even A) race objective at the end of this block.

When you enter your racing season this will be in the build phase so it’s a good idea to place a B race objective that will allow you to progress to the A goal or multiple A goals.

As you come to the end of the build phase, you should be in form and race fit. What you want to do now is fine tune that form, tweak it and hold it for the A race. If you are cramming long runs in or looking for speed, it’s too late. You basically misjudged the planning or started training too late.

Maintaining what fitness you have is also about being specific to the A target.

  1. Is your 100-mile target race on groomed trail with little elevation gain?
  2. Is it an out-and-out mountain race with gnarly terrain and plenty of elevation gain?

It’s important to be specific now, the two races above require very different approaches. This is something that you will have understood in January (or earlier in the year) when you looked back at last year, looked ahead to this year and understood your strengths and weaknesses so that you could plan accordingly.

  • Scenario 1 requires running, good form and leg speed.
  • Scenario 2 requires hiking, climbing, leg strength and plenty of endurance.

You can’t perform well at every event and this is why A, B and C races are important. Yes I know the elite runners manage to race several key races a year but look at the training and look at the planning. We have all seen top runners turn up at early season races and place just inside or outside the top-10.

Rob Krar and Francois d’Haene provide good examples of how to:

  • Build,
  • Peak,
  • Win,
  • Recover,
  • Build,
  • Peak,
  • Win,
  • Recover,
  • Build,
  • Peak,
  • Win,
  • Recover.

In 1 racing year, both Rob and Francois won 3 x 100-mile races.

That is an incredible skill and for sure as racing becomes more aggressive, faster and more brutal, this training approach is going to become far more important for those who want to race to their own potential and maybe more importantly race year-on-year. We have all witnessed the damage that racing and training too much can do at an elite level runner. Listen to my podcast with Geoff Roes HERE as he provides a great insight into potential problems.

Ask questions such as:

  1. Do I race every weekend?
  2. Do I rest?
  3. Do I allow easy and recovery weeks?
  4. Do I cross train?
  5. Do I sleep well?
  6. How is my nutrition?
  7. Am I constantly tired?
  8. Do I feel alive and full of beans?
  9. How’s my resting heart rate?
  10. Is my pace good?
  11. How’s my strength?
  12. How’s my recovery?
  13. Do I have a plan?
  14. Have I structured my plan to an A race?

The above questions are a starting point. Read through the list and add your own questions to appraise what type of runner you are. It may well be that running for you is an escape and social thing, you may be happy to race week in and week out and you are not worried about gaining a PB or improving; if that is you, great. I’d still say planning some RnR is a good thing to avoid burn out.

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If you are someone looking to perform and improve, you need to be more self critical. Plan your training and periodise your training so that you are able to (hopefully) predict good form on 1 or multiple A race days in a year. This is not easy.

Carefully plan your races in terms of importance, ‘A’ being the most important. Also make the races progressive and inline with your A race. For example, if your A race is a 100-mile race, a C race may be a marathon, a B race may be a 50K or 100K and then the A is the big step of 100-miles.

Remember you can only hold form for a limited length of time and if you want to peak, you need to make sure that this planning stage is done early so that you understand what you are trying to achieve. It’s all about stepping stones.

Ask yourself, what is the purpose of the training blocks you are planning:

  • Are you laying base training?
  • Building fitness?
  • Maintaining fitness?
  • Racing?

A training block with 2 x ‘A’ races (the 2nd race being 100-miles) may look like this:

Base Training Phase

Week 1 – Base or Speed

Week 2 – Base or Speed

Week 3 – Base or Speed

Week 4 – Base or Speed (with the addition of a longer run)

Week 5 – Base or Speed (with the addition of a longer run)

Week 6 – Base or Speed (with the addition of a longer run)

Week 7 – Base or Speed (with the addition of a longer run)

Week 8 – Base with C Race probably a marathon.

Build Training Phase

Week 9 – Build

Week 10 – Build

Week 11 – Build maybe a C Race just as a long run?

Week 12 – Build

Week 13 – Build

Week 14 – Build with B Race 50K.

Maintain

Week 15 – Maintain/ Specific

Week 16 – Maintain/ Specific

Week 17 – Maintain/ Specific

Week 18 – Maintain/ Taper with A Race

Recovery

Week 19 – Recovery

Week 20 – Recovery easing back into Build.

Build

Week 21 – Build

Week 22 – Build

Week 23 – Build

Week 24 – Build

Week 25 – Build

Week 26 – Build

Week 27 – Taper

Week 28 – Taper and A Race (this scenario 100-miles)

Recover, Recover and Recover.

This article is not a hard and fast plan, it’s a guide for you to go away, look at your targets having assessed past targets and hopefully it makes you think about 2016 objectives so that you can plan for a successful, injury free year of running and racing.

How long should The Long Run be? HERE

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CYCLING for RUNNERS – Girl What Cycles (3)

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“I love running cross country….

On a track, I feel like a hamster.”- Robin Williams

I’ve always felt the same as Robin Williams about the indoor trainer. To me, training indoors on a bicycle is just like running on a track or treadmill. Yet, like track and the treadmill, cycling indoors can provide a huge advantage to your training if used in a structured way.

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First and foremost when the weather is horrendous (like it is in the UK at the moment) you can get a good workout indoors in a warm, safe and controlled environment. I am new to cycling and although not inexperienced, braving winter conditions on a bike would be a step too far for me at the moment. This is where the home trainer becomes a useful piece of equipment.

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I can still get my fix for the outdoors with my running… to be honest, I love running in cold temperatures but I also incorporate one treadmill session which allows for faster running (hills or intervals) with some fast-paced loud music which is difficult to do outside.

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In a research project at John Moores University, researchers found that when participants exercised to faster-paced music they “chose to accept, and even prefer, a greater degree of effort”. As well as enhancing performance, music lowers the perception of effort. It dulls or masks some of the pain associated with training. We know from scanning the brain that when athletes are played loud upbeat music there is an increase in activity in the ascending reticular activating system.

For all these reasons I have also been using the home trainer to get in some recovery training after racing or long run sessions. At the beginning of December I completed a 72km trail race at night in sub-zero temperatures. Conditions were very muddy, icy in some parts, with a head-on wind to contend with and as it was at night with poor visibility, the going was tough. Also I forgot to mention I flew out to Lyon on the Saturday, picked up my number, took a shuttle to the start in St Etienne, started the race at midnight, ran to Lyon through the night and flew back to London on Sunday, took a coach, another train ….All a bit crazy and exhausting to say the least. Over the next 2 days following the race, I suffered DOMS (delayed onset of muscle soreness). This meant no running for a few days. I had a fun run planned in Paris the following weekend so I decided to use cycling as “active” recovery. Like running on the treadmill you can quickly get hot very quickly on an indoor trainer. I set myself up near an open window to allow for some ventilation. If you were doing a hard session, an indoor fan would also be a good idea.

Recovery is all about spinning my legs, easing away muscle soreness, getting the blood flowing and I suppose not having too much structure. However, I find indoor training easier if I have a plan to follow and music!

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Hints ‘n’ Tips

  • Use your own bicycle. I am using my SCOTT bike fixed to my indoor trainer via the rear wheel. This is perfect as I do not compromise on my cycling position which I have worked hard to make perfect.

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  • Use your normal cycling shoes and pedals

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Suunto Ambit 2

  • Have water available
  • Use a fan or train near an open window
  • Have a towel handy – you will sweat
  • Use music or a TV for stimulus

Need some free music to help you with your indoor session? Try HERE for 50minutes of audio. I personally recommend that you make your own playlist that is specific for your session. Using something like iTunes makes this really easy. Alternatively, a company like Audiofuel provides specific music mixes with or without coaching.

Session 1:

Length : 44 min        

  • Warm-Up : 10min in a very easy gear allowing me to ‘spin’ at a cadence of 90
  • Main Set: 24min alternating 3min at 90 cadence and 3min at 110 cadence. Gearing should be easy and light to allow your legs to spin around. The faster cadence session of 110 allows me to concentrate on cycling technique using the up and down of the pedal stroke and adds souplesse to my legs.
  • Cool Down: 10min easy gear at a cadence of 90

Session 2:

Length: 35min

  • Warm-up: 10min in a very easy gear spinning at 90 cadence
  • Main set: 15min broken down into 30sec at 90 cadence and 30sec at 120 cadence
  • Cool Down: 10min very easy gear at 90 cadence

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Initially you will find your legs struggling to get used to using different muscle groups in this recovery work-out. The aim is not to PUSH the gears or have resistance. We don’t want to stress sore muscles. These two sessions are all about spinning legs with an easy gear on the bike and allowing the muscles to recover. This is what is so great about cycling… you can exercise in a non weight bearing way. However, the increased cadence sessions of 110 and 120 will allow you to raise your heart rate.

I shall be doing a turbo session at least once a week as active recovery in my build up to my next long distance run, Paris Mantes 50km towards the end of January. This will be followed by a week off running but 2 turbo sessions before a trip to Costa Rica and the opportunity to run The Coastal Challenge stage race.

Happy New Year and remember, cycling is great for running if used sensibly.

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CYCLING for RUNNERS – Article 2 Recovery, Cadence, Long Sessions and Strength

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In article 1 of CYCLING for RUNNERS we discussed finding the correct sized bike and then how to fit the bike. Niandi and myself ride the same size bike (52cm) however, our experience on a bike are different. I have been riding and racing bikes for years whereas Niandi is new and very much on a learning curve in using cycling to improve her running. Also, our morphology is different. Niandi has a slightly longer leg whereas my torso is longer.

My bike is a SCOTT Addict 10. It’s a stiff bike, made of carbon and it’s all about speed. The geometry is classic race geometry with a 74deg seat angle. It’s fast, sometimes a little twitchy but really grips the road.

Scott Addict 10

Niandi’s bike by comparison is a SCOTT Solace 20. It’s a new breed of bike from SCOTT that provides comfort and performance with relaxed geometry. It’s still a super light bike but for long days in the saddle or for the novice cyclist, this bike will certainly help ease the transition. Also, importantly the ‘reach’ of the Solace is less than the Addict. As we mentioned in bike fit, we can tweak saddle, height, handlebars and stem to ensure that our bikes work for us.

Solace 20

So, how is your bike? Do you have it set up properly and do you feel comfortable? Before progressing with some specific cycling sessions on how to improve, we wanted to provide you with several key bullet points why cycling can benefit you as a runner.

You may well have turned to cycling in the past because YOU HAD TO! Yes, we all get injured and as an injured runner we are usually desperate to get an endorphin kick, maintain fitness and reduce impact. Step in cycling…

Although cycling is great as that ‘alternative’ to running, why not think ahead and plan cycling into your weekly schedule to avoid that injury that is almost certainly waiting to happen. 

RECOVERY

Injured or recovering from hard run training, cycling provides great ‘active’ exercise with no impact. We have often heard the phrase, recovery run! But does a recovery run really exist? 20/30 or 40mins of easy running is still creating impact through all your joints and muscles, even if you do not elevate your heart rate. So, why not replace some of these sessions with cycling? Cycling provides all of us with an opportunity to move our legs, increase blood flow, ease joint stiffness, ease tired muscles and we will flush out lactate acid from tired or stiff legs. This is nothing new. Runners have been using cycling as a means of active recovery or injury rehabilitation for years. The addition of a Turbo Trainer (indoor device that attaches to your bike) will also allow you to spin away indoors while keeping warm, dry and you can even watch some TV or listen to music if that is your thing.

Tips: Keep your gearing very light and ‘spin’ your legs. You do not want to be pushing big and heavy gears. Remember, this is about recovery and injury maintenance.

CADENCE

Cadence is something we will have all heard of. Cadence in cycling refers to how many revolutions our legs make per minute. If has often been stated that 90 rpm (revs per minute) is an optimum cadence. We agree! Spinning your legs for 90 rpm (180 for both legs) provides ‘souplesse.’ This souplesse (flexibility) is key to becoming an efficient cyclist. Look at this objectively and the next time you go out for a run, count your foot strike. Maintaining 90 rpm or 90 foot (180 both legs) strikes per minute will make you not only efficient but will also help with technique. Bike and run cadence are two transferable skills. When coaching cyclists, we often use 90 rpm as a benchmark; this also provides a great indicator as to when to change up and down gears. In time, as you become a stronger cyclist you will find that you are able to push a harder gear for the same cadence. In simple terms, you are getting stronger and this means you will go faster.

Tips: You can use a cycle computer and magnet to provide information ‘live’ while cycling. This can be extremely useful when looking to maintain optimum cadence. When running, you can use a foot pod or similar device to relay cadence back to a wrist unit. Both are great tools for improve bike to run cadence.

LONG SESSIONS

Long run sessions and back-to-back run sessions are an essential part of a good runners training plan. However, these sessions can damage the body and in time, potentially injure the body. A long bike ride in isolation or a ‘brick’ session is a fantastic way to gain added fitness time without impacting on your body. Long bikes allow you maximal aerobic time with minimal impact; the only downside will be that you need to be out longer for a similar gain to running. However, this is not the point… a long bike session is about adding variety, providing a new stimulus and increasing or maintaining fitness without impact. A brick session is when bike and run sessions are combined to make one session. Anyone coming from a duathlon or triathlon background will be well aware of this. Running on bike legs is quite a unique experience, the term ‘jelly legs’ is often used. This is because the legs and muscles are used in two very different ways. However, this transition process provides great stimulus and if done gradually, is a great addition to a training plan.

Tips: If you want to translate long runs to bike time, we often use 15min per mile, so, if you did a 20-mile run we would recommend a 5-hour bike ride as starting point. Of course many variables come in to play so be careful. Brick sessions are challenging, start by adding just 10-15 minutes of running to a bike session. In time you can build this but be gradual.

STRENGTH

Running builds a certain set of muscles, fine tunes them and makes them extremely efficient for the job that you ask them to do; run! However, we have many other muscles that feel a little bit neglected with our run habit. Cycling provides a stimulus to these neglected areas. Running and just running makes us all plateau, adding cycling will not only compliment our run muscles but also so many other areas of our body will become stronger (such as our core, arms, shoulders, hips and so on). Add all this together and what we have is a faster and stronger runner.

Tips: Like anything, if you haven’t cycled before, start easy and progress slowly. No need to rush. After a bike ride, make sure you stretch, particularly hamstrings! Cycling turns your legs over in a smaller circle than running.

We caught up with Salomon International athlete, Philipp Reiter on his thoughts on why CYCLING is good for RUNNERS.

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Philipp Reiter, Salomon ©iancorless.com

Philipp on RECOVERY

Spinning out the legs” on a bike is definitely one of the things I personally look forward too after a hard and/or long run. Spinning makes the blood go through my body faster and takes all the acids and by-products away. Shaking the legs out on a bike makes my muscles ache less and speeds up recovery.

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Philipp on STRENGTH

Even if you just hike or walk around (instead of running on a rest day) your leg muscles always have to push to move the body. Have you ever recognized that you never pull and use the complementary muscles? Using cycling and specific bike shoes/pedals allow you to pull the pedals as well as to push them more intense than you would do without. But what is the advantage to build up the “other” muscles? After many years of running, muscle can become imbalanced and this increases the risk of injuries or other problems with tendons. Cycling will work these unused areas.

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Philipp on IMPACT

Running impacts on bones, hips, tendons… no doubt! Cycling is relatively impact resistant, especially road cycling! However, you must ensure you have correct bike set up and fit. Don’t try to save time or money by cutting corners here. A bike that is too small or too large or one that does not have the correct fit will just impact on your power output and after a while you may get problems in your back or knees!

Philipp on LONG SESSIONS

Philipp Reiter Cycling

Philipp Reiter Cycling

A long bike ride is a great way to have a long endurance session. I usually double my run time, so, if I wanted to do a 2-hour run I would replace with a 4-hour bike. You still get tired, you still get just as hungry and you definitely get the fitness benefits. What you don’t get is the damage and impact. However, you still need to run long… cycling is great is a great alternative to mix things up and provide stimulus but would never replace long runs. You just need to work them into your schedule.

In our next article we will talk about the right kit for cycling and provide you with some guidelines on how to include cycling in your current training plan.

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