Cycling, running and life: trying to find a healthy balance

When you first get into cycling, it doesn’t take long to work out that you’ve fallen in love with a time-intensive hobby. A ‘short ride’ might be a couple hours long and if you really want to improve — particularly when it comes to your endurance –you’ll need to get used to spending many hours in the saddle.

Sadly, most people that enjoy riding their bike don’t get paid to do so. It’s far more likely that cycling is just one of many things you need to cram into your day, around all the other important stuff.

Some of you might remember a post on CyclingTips back in 2010 in which the site’s founder (and now my boss) Wade Wallace wrote about The Two-and-a-Quarter Rule. This section of the article sums it up very well:

“… people have the capacity to be 100% committed to only two and a quarter things at one time.  If you try to fit any more in something will have to be sacrificed.  For most of us, work takes up one point, wife and kids take up another point, and you have a quarter of a point left to play with.  You can see why competitive cycling is a young man’s game.”

I’ve run into the constraints of this rule over the past few months as a result of training up for my second Melbourne Marathon.

Compared to cycling, running is a very time-efficient form of exercise but in my case, as an inexperienced runner, the recovery required after each long run is greater than it would be with a comparable ride. And this has made it tough to keep up my riding.

I went into last weekend with a plan; I’d do a long run (15km) on Saturday and then back it up with several hours out in the Dandenongs on Sunday to stay ‘bike fit’ and to rack up some vertical metres for the Climb for Nepal challenge.

For those of you that haven’t heard of Climb for Nepal, it’s a fundraising effort designed to help those affected by the devastating earthquake(s) that rocked Nepal back in April and May. It’s being coordinated by my good friend and colleague Andy van Bergen, the founder of Hells 500 and Everesting.

There’s obviously a nice link between Everesting and Nepal and so Andy, in conjunction with Strava and charity group More than Sport, is challenging riders to rack up 8,848m of climbing in the month of June, with special rewards for anyone that does it one ride (an ‘Everesting’). The idea is that friends and family (or the rider themselves) will sponsor the climbing effort, with the funds raised being sent to Nepal.

After getting through Saturday’s run in good shape I headed out to the ‘Nongs on Sunday feeling fine and looking forward to getting some metres on the board. It took barely a kilometre of the 1 in 20 to realise that I had nothing in my legs and that I was in a for a bit of a grindfest.

I managed to scrap my way through 40km and 1,000m of climbing before my screaming ITBs told me it was probably best that I stop. The run the previous day had clearly taken its toll.


My challenge over the next few months is going to be finding a way to keep progressing with my marathon training while continuing to ride. It’s important to me that I keep riding, not only because I enjoy it immensely but because it’s important for my job at CyclingTips.

I’ve got a ride to do in Austria in a few weeks time for work that I need to be in decent shape for (tough gig, I know); there’s a gran fondo in Korea in August (postponed from next weekend due to the MERS outbreak); and, beyond work, I need to be fit for the 2015 Melbourne Dirty Dozen which, fingers crossed, will be held in September …

One thing I’ve learned in the past few months is a new-found respect for amateur athletes who train up for an ironman triathlon. Training up for a 3.8km swim, a 180km bike ride or a marathon is hard and time-intensive enough, let alone training for all three at the same time!

The complicating factor in this whole discussion, for me, is the issue of health. Those of you that have followed the blog for the past few years will know that I struggled on and off with a still-undiagnosed illness for the best part of 18 months. Thankfully I seem to be over whatever it was (touch wood) and I learned a lot along the way, not least the warning signs when I’m on the precipice of getting sick again.

When I get a few days of poor sleep or when I push myself too hard physically for several days in a row, I start to get fever-like symptoms (including cold sweats, aches and pains and nausea) and I feel as if I have no energy. I need to ensure I’m keeping a close eye on how I’m feeling and be ready to take a step back if I’m not feeling 100%.

Assuming all goes well though I’ll be pushing on with the marathon training while also doing everything I can do get as close to 8,848 metres of climbing by the end of June. Regardless of whether I reach that target or not I’ll be donating to what is a terrific cause and I’d encourage you to do the same. Congratulations to Andy and the folks at Strava and More than Sport for getting this off the ground.

Thanks very much for reading. Until next time, please stay safe out on the roads!

How do you fit cycling in around everything else going on in your life? If you’ve trained up for more than one sport at a time, how did you manage it? I’d love to hear your thoughts below.

17 Replies to “Cycling, running and life: trying to find a healthy balance”

  1. great blog. I am a newbie when it comes to running and riding. since November last year I decided to get a bit fitter. with number 2 arriving in December I wanted to be an active dad. so I decided run every couple of days, then little man came along sort of pushed back the training. fast forward a couple of months and I’m getting back into it. over the Christmas period bought a bike off gumtree (I will upgrade eventually). I did a few rides here and there and loved it. a few weeks back I thought I’d better put my running into something other than fitness and signed up for a 16 week marathon training program. then on sunday my church launched a fundraiser with a bike ride – 10km, 20km or 110km. when talking to my wife about the 110km ride she said “I will kill you, if you have a heart attack”, so I better get fit.

    So on Monday I began the marathon training – ran 6.4km in about 43 mins (I’m not too fussed on time as of yet). This morning I got onto the bike and rode 10km. with two kids like people have said, timing is limited, but what I have found is early mornings suit me. I can get up @ 5 – usually when the little man gets up, and back before 6.30 when my daughter wakes up. as things progress i’ll just listen to my body, see what works.



  2. Try throwing 3 kids into the mix! Thats when you truly learn to live on 4hrs of sleep and get used to starting and finishing a ride in the dark. I started running last year and am also training for a half marathon in a few weeks. I find running in winter is so much more enjoyable than winter riding – you don’t need to spend 15 minutes putting on a thousand layers of clothes, you don’t need to clean a bike at the end, you dont come home with frozen toes and feet, and you dont have to worry about being run over or hitting a kangaroo in the dark. So winters now are mostly running, with 1-2 rides a week when the weather isnt too foul and some CX/MTBing for fun.
    I’m finding cycling is a great recovery for the running though. And I’ve also realised that I’ve now got enough base fitness (possibly from riding to and from work) that I can pretty much tackle (almost) anything on the bike without doing any really structured training. I used to get really anal about training for races and big cyclosportifs, but now just happy to compete at whatever level I am at (cyclocross and MTB are great for this cos it doesnt matter if you get dropped). I was in Europe for work a few weeks back and rode the l’Eroica route (240km and 4000m vertical) solo with pretty much no training – the last 30km was tough but no worse than 3Peaks where I spent 6 months training my arse off.

  3. Hey Matt

    Agree with the previous comments about serving one mistress. Put cycling on the back burner to let your legs fully adapt to running. Also in terms of the pain with ITB maybe there is some room for some strength training of particular muscle groups that might need more attention? Dandenong trail runners have some pretty elite members including some physios and doctors and they might have some good hints. Caleb McInnes and Ross Kinsella have a running/cycling/triathlon sports clinic calles Freedom Sport IIRC and they always have good advice.

    Keep up the good work.

  4. The time committment is definitely something that cannot be ignored. I have a very young family 2 and 4 year old and time is something that you do not have a lot of.

    I have been trying to train up just to run 5km, but for the past two years I have not been able to get there because of illness (longest stint was 3 months continuously getting sick) or not being able to run regularly during my lunch break at work. I’m lucky enough to have access to a shower at work.

    Most of my cycling these days is to/from work and during January was my primary form of training while getting ready for the cadel Evans people’s ride. Sad part is, because of where I work there isn’t much difference in travel time between public transport and cycling. So it’s a bit of a win for me , invisible training.

  5. Matt,

    Firstly – good luck with the marathon in Oct.

    Just so you know where I am coming from, a brief history.
    I got back into running about 10 years ago at age 45. Started with small (5 / 8 / 10 km) fun runs and moved onto half marathons and then marathons.
    Started bike riding in 2007 as a form of recovery from runs where I had ‘niggle’ injuries.
    For the past 7 years I have really only run ‘ultra trail runs’ – that is more than 42 km usually on dirt trails (so I do 50 / 80 / 100 kms runs). I run 3 – 5 times a week depending on race schedule and try to ride on a Saturday with Kaos Custom Bikes (weather permitting)
    And I managed a full ironman in 2013 but that was a sad effort.

    Now for the bike stuff ….

    You can’t serve two mistresses – one has to be put on the ‘back burner’.
    Training for a marathon is hard work (if you are doing it right).
    So don’t expect to be at 100% on the bike – accept the comprise and also manage your health.
    If you have to take a ‘rest day’ then take it….

    I often ride on a Sat morning for 120+ kms – and then wonder why I struggle thru a 25km hilly training run in the Nongs on Sunday ……

    Accept that running is your focus until Oct – with the knowledge that after that you can switch back to your ‘other mistress’.

    And don’t get sucked into that feeling of ‘I could ride all day’ … it will bite you on your next training run.

    Whilst my riding is not as ‘heavy duty’ as some, it only takes me a few weeks of serious effort to be back to full ‘bike fitness’ after the running season.
    Usually Nov – March is my ride time with few running events.

    As for your comittment to Korea & Austria – happy to fill in for you 🙂

    Looking forward to the DD2015 …

    Train hard


  6. Matt – Sounds like you need to become very good friends with a foam roller (Iron Edge make some good ones).
    20 minutes a day rolling and releasing those ITB’s will make a world of difference – from a previously very sore runner and rider.
    Good luck with the marathon – David

  7. Matt,

    If you’re having ITB issues at 15km, you NEED to do something about it! I’ve been running regularly for 3 years and have just had another bout of ITB. So far it’s almost 8 weeks and I’m still not running and I’m doing everything I can, but it’s just not improving.

    Cycling is absolutely fine, no pain at all, but running is no good. MM is still what, 16? weeks away, so you have time. If you keep running, it will get worse and it will cripple you for weeks/months! It’s a shit of an injury!

    1. Hi Chris, thanks for this! Just to be clear, I’ve had no ITB pain while running at all, even on my longer runs. And when I did a marathon four years ago I had no ITB pain then either. I get pain when I’m cycling sometimes — often when I go straight into doing a lot of climbing after not doing much riding for a while. Either way, rest assured that I’ve been on the foam roller every day for the past month or so and I plan do keep rolling my ITBs until the marathon in October!

  8. good luck Matt. I only ride now, but I used to run at one point. It’s difficult to take on running all at once – particularly for a cyclist. The impact on your body takes getting used to. ITB syndrome is a classic symptom. I’ve had that and found that stretches and manipulation were highly effective at relieving tightness.

    we all struggle with time. I’m riding 10-15 hours a week at the moment, trying to build race fitness. only possible with no kids, this takes a major toll on other aspects of life. My wife supports my riding – in principle – but it is a cause of conflict. I think your marriage would be on the rocks if you were doing 10 hours a week on the bike and your partner didn’t care 🙂

    But I know really strong riders who cross-train with swimming and running. Once you bed yourself down with those activities, you get cross-benefits, i.e. don’t need to spend the same amount of time on the bike to maintain same level of fitness. At least, that’s what I’ve observed of others.

    In terms of strategy, the key to time efficient training for me is working training into:
    1. commutes, particularly trying to get it done in the morning.
    2. racing – racing is training really.
    3. also having structured training with high intensity – not doing 6 hour tempo rides.

    there’s nothing too radical in there, I know some really strong racers who squeeze so much out of a short time. it can be done.

  9. Another tip, don’t have kids! (I jest, kids are awesome…..)

    The main thing I (try t0) do to get more time on the bike is to make the most of early mornings, and the work commute. And the late evening after-kids-are-in-bed trainer sessions if I haven’t been pushing the commute enough.

    Also, baby-sitting both the kids for a whole day to let mum go shopping by herself with your credit card once in a while helps too… 🙂

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