Transitioning from Bike Racing to Running a Marathon

Thinking of working the NYC marathon into my ‘season’ next year. Anyone have tips on plans to follow so that I can transition from bike racing to running? It looks like I’d have about 12 weeks (not counting 2 weeks of transition/rest time at the end of my road season) to shape up for the race.

I think I’m looking for plans to follow or hear other’s experiences trying to turn on the bike fitness into other kinds of fitness.

My running background is abysmal and I haven’t really done much of it since high school. That said, I turn 30 in about a year and want to knock this out as a personal milestone. Just have no idea where to start and looking for guidance.

  • Do you mean… from [bike] racing to running?

If so, there are quite a few threads on running training for cyclists:

If you don’t have a running background then build into it slowly, there is a high chance that your aerobic system will be far stronger from cycling than your running legs are capable of handling. Which is a receipe for injury.

If you can add just one run a week into your normal training schedule during the spring and summer then the transition would be a lot easier.

That said its completely doable and best of luck with it. Specifics with training would be easier to give with some context. (Background, expectations, fitness level)


Yes your interpretation was correct and I edited the post for clarity. Thanks for the link, I’ll check these out.

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Good tip on working a weekly run in during the season.

My background with running in basically nothing. I ran/walked like a 10 min mile in middle school and played a good bit of soccer in high-school, so negligible experience at absolute best. I’m essentially starting from zero.

Expectations are I’d be thrilled to get under 4 hours (3.5 would be my reach goal) although I’m honestly so new to running I’m not even sure if those are reasonable objectives.

Current fitness is not ideal - just about to kick up base training after being off at the end of my season. I’ve been racing bikes for three years and training with structure that whole time. Been riding with groups and socially for about 8 years now so I feel like I have a reasonable multi-season base and an understanding of how to train for something.

Let me know if you have other questions that’d provide helpful context for you.

Reading that info then I’d definitely look at introducing a run/walk session once a week to get you used to being on your legs. Building up to reaching around 7 miles within an hour would be good goal equal to around 55 minute 10KM. I’d even advocate entering a few 10KM races to get an idea of your progression, plus they’re fun.

Once that’s possible then look at continuing with it, even increasing the time on you feet if possible until your 12 week training window opens up.

There are plenty of sub 4 plans available.

I’m a big fan of the BarryP running approach which he’s outlined on Slowtwitch ( Basically his view is that the best approach is simply building weekly mileage by running frequency, initially all at fairly easy pace. This works well for cyclists and triathletes who, as above, already have the aerobic fitness needed to do a marathon but don’t have muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints that can handle 4 hours of pounding pavement. Building that up takes miles in the legs.

I would just start adding in short runs whenever you can. Good thing about running is there’s minimal kit needed, it’s a very time-efficient exercise so pretty easy to just go for a short run at lunch time, before breakfast, after a bike workout, etc. Keep it all easy so you don’t impact your bike training. The more miles you can get in your legs before that 12 week block, the better equipped you’ll be to be able to handle some more focused run training. Which should likely focus on increasing the length of your weekly long run, not on speedwork.

Other thing to think about is body composition, excess weight is a much bigger penalty in running than cycling, both in terms of speed and in terms of the extra impact on your body. So if you do have any weight you can lose that will help hugely. And adding in easy running miles alongside your bike training is a great way to lose weight.

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Many Slowtwitchers have had a lot of success with the Barry P programme as @cartsman has pointed out.

If you’re not coming from a running background your main issue will be injury risk. But you’re already fit rather than coming off the sofa. So maybe something like following the MAF approach (heartrate based, 180-your age) with strides thrown into each run for some neuromuscular benefits. Juts be aware, brevity is not one of Maffetone’s talents and I think he has some slightly sketchy ideas from podcasts that I’ve heard with him. I wouldn’t get my nutrition advice from a chiropractor, but he also has some interesting observations about overfat athletes.

With the rise of ultras there’s sometimes a sniffy attitude towards marathons, especially larger commercial ones. Running a marathon is not easy and deserves respect. It’s also a massively rewarding feeling regardless of your finish time. We were at the finish line of our local marathon recently and seeing how delighted some people were to get sub 3 and how happy some people were to finish full stop is heartwarming. Enjoy the experience!

Thank you for the tips, will look into all of these.

We went to watch people run the NYC one a few weeks ago, and I also had some friends running. Seeing all of it and just how many people come out to participate is incredible and made me realize this is something I need to do while I live here or I’ll always wish I had done it if I leave.

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As a first-time NYC marathoner a couple of weeks ago and having transitioned from mostly cycling to mostly running, I definitely encourage you to do it. It was a fantastic experience and must be something like what Tour de France riders see, hear, and feel, albeit at a much more pedestrian speed. I can’t wait to do it again next year.

The above commenters all covered the right angles: start really slow in both intensity and volume, build into it, and consistently stick to a plan. I used a McMillan plan to shatter my goal time, but most any plan will work.

Read “A Race Like No Other” for some extra motivation. I started reading it before bed one night a couple of weeks before the marathon, but I got too excited reading about the start, and so had to switch to another book that evening.

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This might be waaaaaaaaaaaay below the level you need, but I just added a Couch-to-5k plan to my SSBMV training last month, and so far it’s working out pretty well. I don’t have any running experience and I’m pretty awkward and gangly, with poor balance and weirdly attached limbs, so when I decided to start running my priority was injury prevention. C25k is a super super gentle introduction, so it gives your joints and supporting musculature time to adjust to a higher impact activity, without pushing anything into injury. It’s also low enough stress that you can add it to a cycling training plan without sacrificing performance on the bike. Once you get to the point that you can run a 5k comfortably, you’ll have a good physical foundation for training up longer distances.

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Do you mind to share the Couch-to-5k plan you followed? I guess I could just pick the first result I find on Google but if you are happy with yours I would give that a try.

Sure, I used one that a friend recommended: Android / iOS. (I paid the couple bucks to get the whole thing without ads.) I know the NHS program is also really popular.

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The important part of a base plan in running is (slowly) developing your ability to run for longer and longer periods. A slow progression volume-wise and intensity-wise and loads of slow running are the key to injury prevention. Starting from scratch with 12 weeks to go is pretty risky in that respect. As many have suggested above, start as early as possible to add ideally 2 weekly runs which can be as short as 45 minutes; slow. Very slow. Don’t go over 72-75% MHR. A couple of months of that, slowly increasing it towards 2 or 3 x 60mins, will give you a better preparation before starting a real training plan.