Running for Cyclocross

Howdy folks,

Today we’re going to talk a little bit about running.  Cyclocross running, that is.

A couple of years ago, I wrote this:

With certain regional exceptions, the way folks are designing cross courses in the US these days you might not need to train your running at all to be really, really damn fast, even at the top level of the sport.

For the most part, It’s just not that important anymore. If you’re in really  good bike form, you can fake your way through the miniscule amount of off-the-bike awkwardness that is required on most of today’s courses.

In fact, for most folks, I don’t recommend doing any run-specific training during the season.

99% of what goes on in a Cyclocross race has nothing to do with running at all, so why would you waste precious training time on that remaining 1%?

Well, guess what? Times have changed. It’s like promoters all got the same email, and suddenly long run-ups appeared on courses across the land, and you need to have some running legs if you’re going to compete at the big events. Nationals last year was pretty close to being mostly running for some of the categories, and while it doesn’t look like Nats this year is going to be quite that bad, it’s going to have some serious off-bike vertical in it, even if it’s dry. If it’s wet, suffice to say they’ll be a bunch of running. Potentially even some on the descents. I’m not kidding.

All of which means that you would be well advised to integrate some run time into your training these days, regardless of what I – and many other coaches – may have told you in years previous. 

So, what should you do?

Probably unsurprisingly, the answer begins with “it depends…”

What does it depend on?
How much running you have in your legs so far this season.

Unless you’ve already been running a bunch this summer, don’t head out the door and lay down a blazing fast 5k. That would be a really bad idea.

I can’t tell you how many times over the years I’ve seen athletes put themselves on the couch for a whole week – even weeks – by  blowing up various body parts in a misguided attempt to channel a year’s worth of not-running anxiety into one single workout. Don’t be that guy/gal.

Take. It. Slow. And short. Really short. 

I am going to tell you to go out and run today, but just a tiny little bit. 

How little?

Well, for right now, you need to stop running before your legs get sore. If you haven’t done any running since last Cross season, that’s going to seem like an absurdly short period of time.

Seriously absurd. We’re talking 5, 10, 15, maybe 25 minutes.

Yup. A five minute run. A ten minute run. That 25 minutes is serious outlier territory. You need to stop before you hurt yourself, and if you start to feel sore knees/legs/whatever, you’re starting to hurt yourself. When that happens, you stop running, and you walk home. Ideally you stop before that happens.

That’s it.

Put your running shoes on, walk out the door, and go for a run, stopping before you get sore.

Don’t run hard, don’t run fast, just run.

Exercise some serious self control, and stop when you feel the very slightest of indicators that something is starting to get wonky. Which is probably going to be way before you think it should be.

The default setting here is “ridiculously short.” We’re going to build up the running time slowly, and while we’ll do some running that feels more like an actual workout soon, for now the sole idea is to get something that’s a little bit like running into your legs without messing yourself up.

Goals for today, in order of importance:

  1. Don’t hurt yourself.
  2. Get a little bit of running-like activity into your legs.
  3. That’s it.

Have fun!

Some notes:

  • If you don’t have good running shoes, and if you’re going to train your running, go get some. Buy them at a specialty running store that will spend time with you to make sure you get the right ones for your feet and for your (probably terrible) running mechanics. Don’t listen to the advice of friends who tell you to get some kind of barefoot glove monstrosity to run in. Go to a good running store, tell them exactly what you’re doing, and take their advice on what to buy. It’ll be worth it.
  • Try to run on grass or on trails if you can, while you can. Cross races generally don’t have you running on pavement, and there isn’t much reason to train on a surface that’s just going to increase the pounding on your body if you don’t need to.
  • Don’t do your running workouts with the bike on your shoulder. Something analogous to good form is really damn important if you want to be good at running, and you want to avoid injuring yourself. It’s basically impossible to run with good form with a damn bike on your shoulder, so do yourself a favor and don’t learn to run that way. Establish form without the bike, then add the bike in practice and in races. That’s plenty enough to pick up the little tricks to running with bike attached, and not so much that it decimates any chance you have of learning to run properly.
  • 99.9% of you are going to ignore almost everything you just read, except for the “Go Run” part. Have some Ibuprofen and a hot bath waiting for your return from your ill-advised marathon.
Matt Hill Coach

As a coach and trainer, Matthew’s client list includes multiple National Champions, a World Champion, and many successful local racers, fondo and recreational riders, and entry-level enthusiasts.  At the 2015 Cyclocross National Championships, ¾ of his clients placed in the top ten of their respective events, with two reaching the podium, including 3rd place in the Elite Men’s category for long-time client Zach McDonald. Learn more about Matt.