Prepping for the Season: To Run or Not to Run

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Running is an important part of most cyclocross races- so should you train for it?  periwinklekog

Running is an important part of most cyclocross races- so should you train for it? © periwinklekog

by Molly Hurford

It’s the debate of the ages: should you be incorporating running into your cyclocross training program? We run during our races constantly: over the barriers, through the mud, across the beach, up the hill. For a pure cyclist with no running experience, that can be an overwhelming addition to a race.

But when it comes to whether or not running should be a part of training, it seems like everyone has a different opinion, and the answers vary depending on whether you’re talking about a new rider versus a veteran. It also depends on weather, race courses, and how much time you have to devote to training. In some cases, running is deemed as an extraneous exercise, and in others, an absolute necessity. So as someone training for the upcoming season, what should you be doing?

We went to the source and asked some of the pros to weigh in. The input ranges from long-time racers and crazy-fast juniors to coaches and authors.

Georgia Gould:

“I do run a fair amount during cyclocross season, but I don’t think it’s necessary to incorporate running into a ’cross training program; rarely does a cyclocross race come down to who is a stronger runner.  I enjoy running because it is a great way to stay mentally and physically fresh; after a full MTB season, I am usually excited to spend a few days a week off the bike. Also, since I don’t ride the trainer in the winter, running in crappy weather (rain, sleet, snow, cold) is usually more enjoyable than riding in crappy weather.”

Want more on Georgia’s training? Read Women’s Wednesdays: Georgia Gould.

Luke Keough:

“I ran as a kid. I was always athletic so I would train to run. As far as cyclocross specifically, I do beach runs in the sand because it’s just like running in mud. After racing in Europe as a junior for a while, I saw that I was losing ground to guys who could run. They’d get off the bike and get a 30 second gap. I did start training for running, like one mile once or twice a week, with perhaps a little interval training throughout that mile, but I don’t go over that.”

Luke may only be 19, but he’s making a name for himself in cycling. Read about him in In The Saddle With Luke Keough.

Amy Dombroski:

“I train by running. I try for 20 minutes every morning or every other. It’s also handy to have that muscle memory if you’re short on time when traveling and don’t have the time to get out and spin the legs. There seems to be more running in Euro courses so I have felt an increased need to have the leg speed on foot. It’s important for any ’cross rider to do a bit of running so it is not such a shock when you take those first steps.”

Amy Dombroski was our first woman in our Women’s Wednesday feature, so you can read more about her racing and training habits there.

Tim Johnson:

Tim Johnson running away from Todd Wells at Mercer Cup Day 1, by Michael Franken

Tim Johnson running away from Todd Wells at Mercer Cup Day 1, by Michael Franken

“I’ll tell you what I do — I haven’t actually done any running in probably 10 years. But I think it is well worth it for people who don’t feel comfortable running and it also depends on what kind of races. When I’m coming up on races with more running, I’ll do more running at cyclocross training. Going out for an hour-long run doesn’t do anything, especially if you’re able to train on the bike and get your cardio on the bike. The running we do is so short and so intense that a jog doesn’t do much for it.

The best thing I can say for a new person in cyclocross is to not forget to get on and off your bike. In ’cross, whether on race weekends or at practice, the point of running for us in a cyclocross race is that all you have to do is get on and off quickly. That’s being comfortable transitioning. But if you want to do a brick, you don’t have to go extreme. Going for a 15 minute run while riding might be perfect.”

Can’t get enough Tim Johnson? Neither can the rest of America! Read about his many projects in In The Saddle With Tim Johnson.

Adam Myerson:

“It depends on so many factors that I don’t think there is one right answer. I think that how much running you do, when you do it. and how you do it depends on where you live, the weather conditions you’re faced with, and what your courses are like. Is there a lot of running in the courses you’re racing on? If you live in the Pacific Northwest, you probably need to do more running training than if you live in the mid-Atlantic. The minimum that you need to run is enough so that the running in the race does not cause you more damage. You want to run enough to become adapted to the running movement so that you’re comfortable running in the race and it won’t take you all of the following week to recover. I don’t think most people should run to the point where they’re winning races because of the running alone.

I think most people can get all of the running they need in a specific way. So make sure that there’s a run-up in your cross workout. If you do a skills practice, run-ups could be part of your practice. But if you’re in the adaptive period where you’re trying to get used to the motion, just jog 20 minutes without your bike.”

Want to find out what else Adam thinks about cyclocross training as a racer and a coach? Check out In The Saddle With Adam Myerson.

Emma White:

“I do run.  I run for 20 minutes twice a week throughout the season with a small hill I use for sprinting to get my muscles moving. I think cyclocross racers of all levels would benifit from running both before and during the season. I also think basic exercises like hopping, skipping, and jumping are benificial for the sport of cyclocross.”

Want more on 13-year-old powerhouse Emma’s training? Read Women’s Wednesdays: Emma White.

Niels Albert:

“Most of the time I run once a week for half an hour. During preparation I do a little bit of running, a little bit of sprinting, a little bit of up and down. We make some difficult exercises for a bit of power in the legs. But mostly, during the season, it’s just half an hour of running, and always without the bike.”

Want more on this Belgian pro’s training? Read In The Saddle With Niels Albert.

World Cup Cyclo-Cross Koksijde sjaradona

Running can be an important part of the race, like here at the World Cup Cyclocross Koksijde © sjaradona

Simon Burney:

“Running for sure!

My opinion is that a little running regularly (say, 15-20 minutes per day, three times a week) can do no harm and will not detract from or impair bike riding ability, and it’s generally a great exercise that does all the things cycling doesn’t (weight bearing, full body exercise). Additionally, unless a cyclocross race is on a particularly badly planned circuit, you are going to spend some time each lap on your feet, more so in European races than US maybe, and therefore it’s something that should be part of a training plan.

I like doing it first thing in the morning to wake up, but it’s also something that one can easily fit into a work lunch hour, or do in the dark more safely than a bike session. It’s quick, effective, and doesn’t require any equipment other than a decent pair of shoes. If you are happy running, then when you get the muddy course or steep run-up, you’ll most likely be better prepared than the guy behind you! So my first thought would be why not run?”

Simon is the author of one of the top books on cyclocross, Cyclocross: Training and Technique.



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How often do you guys train on your cross bike? Would you ride your cross bike with road tires every now and then or would you just ride the cross bike during cross specific sessions? 


I've used the Burney plan for cyclocross training for ever since I started racing.  His plan includes running pretty regularly, and it WILL help your racing ability, not just from a fitness level, but from a strategic level as well.  While you may not win a race while running, you can certainly wear down a chaser who is constantly getting gapped on the run ups.  I've switched out running with roller skiing to save what's left of my left hip joint.  Running regularly will also put you at less risk of strain type injuries during a race as your muscles will be adapted to the exercise.


Something I've been thinking a lot about lately. I like the plan Simon Burney outlines in his book - plus, a shorter early morning run is a great way to start the day. As we get into summer, I'm hoping to do that more by shortening my run volume but increasing intensity.


I run as a part of interval training. There's a ~12 minute dirt path climb that I live near. During CX season, I get off the bike every two minutes, and sprint with the bike to the next obstacle, or until I pass a group of people. That way I get intervals in and do a little dismount/remount training. I switch the way I run or carry the bike each time, so I do some running with it beside me, in a simple carry, and in a shoulder carry.

CX running is almost always about a short, intense run. I don't know why I'd go for a 15 minute run when almost none of those factors will be the same in an actual race.


I second Brians assertion that most riders would benefit from more variable fitness. I would find this article much more usefull if it referenced the experiences of a few top level amateur racers. Unless you're a pro, you shouldn't be training like one.

Running rounds out my fitness and helps me lose lbs. Most importantly for me, running trains my brain. There's no rest, up or down, as soon as I start my body/mind starts begging me to stop, it hurts immediately... sound familiar?

Running will toughen you up, and may the toughest rider win!


Running can also strengthen some of your supporting muscles, ligaments, and tendons, so when you DO run during a race, you are less injury prone. Something to think about.


After taking a short break at the end of my short-track season, I'll be running twenty minutes three mornings a week before I go to work. Nothing crazy or dangerous, just down the street to my local park for some laps around the grass and berms. Will it help? I don't know, this training stuff is still pretty new to me. But if weight work helped me get stronger for short-track, hopefully running will help me for 'cross. I'll let you know in December.


Throw out all the variables (where your live, experience, race conditions) and boil it down to a simple yes or no - should you run - and the answer is emphatically yes. Combine with the bike ride or after a warm-up then mimic your race efforts. Sprints or repeats up hills/steps will do wonders for you in a race and perhaps give you an advantage to gap your competition at critical moments when your feet are on the ground instead of on the pedals.


Also seems like most riders could benefit from a little more varied and balanced fitness, especially weight bearing exercise. Running and nordic skiing make winter training a lot more enjoyable.


Actually, Emma White is a top level amateur. Additionally, Simon Burney and Adam Myerson spoke as coaches, and their opinions are focused on amateur racers! Maybe we will do a follow up with more top level amateurs if people are interested in hearing about more on run training. Personally, I whole-heartedly agree that running will toughen you up- love it! @TravisBook

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