Most of my training in the last few weeks has been on my cycling commute. Enough, I would have thought, to avoid morphing into a total couch potato. So why do my occasional runs now leave me feeling like a crocked octogenarian, when everyone’s been telling me how great cross-training is? Well, I’m sure there are benefits, particularly bike training for hill runners, but only up to a point. Astronauts are observed to have a considerable reduction in bone density after only a few weeks in space – a case of the body simply adapting to its new requirements. I suspect that this effect happens, albeit perhaps on a smaller scale, when runners do too much pedalling and not enough pounding. No matter what sort of cardiovascular system you can upkeep by cross-training, if you don’t do enough of your main sport, the specific physiology and co-ordination that you need for it fade away and you become worse at it, only to become good at what you’re doing instead. If only human-powered commuting were a sport.
OK, so what about triathletes. Shouldn’t their cross-training be enough to make them excel at running AND cycling? Yes, champion triathletes might be very good club-level athletes at individual sport but no triathlete is going to be troubling the 10000m running World record any time soon. Nor, I suspect, will one be challenging for a Grand Tour win.
Although runners are generally considered to be poor cyclists and vice-versa, with specific training, some athletes have successfully switched sports; HBT’s Claire Thomas for example – having cracked her hip on a skip and taken to the bike to maintain fitness while being unable to run, she just stayed on the bike and never looked back, now being a successful cyclist at UK level. And Clydesdale’s Prasad Prasad has gone the other way – originally a cyclist, he’s now taken to hill running with great success. Perhaps it’s just a case of these two athletes happily finding their true sport - though in Prasad’s case, I’m not sure which sport he’s actually better at. Perhaps he’d be the ideal triathlete?