Transitioning from Distance Running to Cycling and Lack of Power

I’m a long-time distance runner (ultramarathon runner since 1996 having run 100 milers, 50 milers, 50Ks and marathons competitively) primarily on the trails. I’ve just gotten more seriously into cycling and I’m wondering how I can build more power. I raced bikes back in college 30 years ago and always thought I was a decent climber (not sure if I actually was!). After being a distance runner for 20+ years, my body definitely changed and my power as a biker seems to have left me as well. Over my running career I usually weighed between 145 (66kg) to 155 (70kg) pounds at 5’10". Now I’m generally between 155 (70kg) and 165 (75kg) and I’m running less and biking more. I’m still a much better runner than biker respectively. I can usually win my age group in just about any running race I enter even when not in the best running shape. As a biker, I’m at the front of the mid-pack at best and not competitive in my age group.

On platforms like Zwift and TrainerRoad I can’t seem to generate all that much power. I can barely hit 500 watts in a sprint with my best maximum wattage around 525 watts on a direct drive smart trainer. My FTP has been around 204 but just jumped up to 212 with a good effort in a race last night. I just don’t seem to be able to generate big watts. I am more comfortable at a higher cadence which I’ve heard is fairly common for runners transitioning to biking. My legs seem to tire out before my cardiovascular system does except on a hard climb.

Does anyone with experience going from a running background to cycling have any advice on how to build more power? What things have you done to build more cycling power? And, if you were able to go from being a competitive runner to a competitive cyclist, how long did that process take for you? Any advice or information would be greatly appreciated!

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I cant give you the advice from experience you are asking for but a few things do leap out;

As a competitive long distance runner asking about bike sprint power - these are naturally different areas, you might find early success by looking at long distance cycling; enduro, Ironman, stage racing rather than the short distances.

You’ll have have a level of aerobic fitness most of us here will envy, but still a little time and patience on sweet spot base then short power build is likely to reap rewards, fuelling those rides, eating and resting well.

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I can’t really offer any personal experience either, but it sounds like you need to work on bike-specific power. Maybe just follow a regular TR base and build program, and see where that gets you? For sprint power, perceived wisdom is that you need to go to the gym and build muscle with heavy lifts first.

One point I wanted to make is the it sounds like you’ve mostly raced on zwift. What you need to keep in mind is that most zwift races are the opposite of what you’re good at - a zwift race is like a mass-start 5k with about a hundred other people. Plus zwift really rates you on W/kg, and you’re currently pretty much mid pack in that.

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My experience of runners is those that have come to cycling have done well after a bit. I suppose the only real way to improve the sprint is to work at it. You’ll get there :+1:


Indeed - I’m an ex decent runner (2:47 marathon, 1:17 half and 16:48 5k). I switched to TT in 2017 (although I did triathlon in my youth and a couple of years of TT/running at the same time) although I still run 3-5 mile 2-3 x week for bone density. In my first TT I couldn’t get my HR up even though I wasn’t tired at the end. So…advice. 1/ Gym work - you need to develop those cycling muscles with squats (or leg press if you have crap technique like me) deadlifts (hex bar for me), leg extensions and hamstring curls (less useful) etc. Get in the gym 2-3 x week if they are open. 2/ Big gear hill work at 40-60 rpm up a steepish hill - this worked for me in my youth as long as you have no knee issues - although recent research is suggesting it is not universally effective - always popular with triathletes in the past. 3/ Ride a lot of SS initially - I did SSBHV in my first year - yep it’s a grind but the 90-120 min SS sessions build your muscular endurance. That said I have cut it down now to a lower volume with more over./under and VO2 work - I couldn’t do the HV builds. 4/ Go out and ride in zone 2 for 3-4 hours at least once/week you can’t build a high FTP off just short Zwift racing and intensity (at least not in the long term). I weigh 61kg and my FTP is rather varied - I can get a 300W ramp test using the 50x17 on my kickr snap. However, I now use the 36x17 as there is better control of resistance change and I get a wattage floor in recoveries - my FTP for that is 270W with the ramp. That said for a true FTP I can put out 255W roughly in a 25 mile TT in my best aero narrow elbow turtle neck TT position…and last year I did a 54 as my best ride …and it was windy - certainly think there is a 52-3 min ride in me on a good day. When I started …couldn’t break the hour…so you can get there…especially as I’m 52 and an old fart! :laughing:


You’re absolutely right that one of the biggest differences between cycling and running is the muscular demands of cycling. If you go to the extreme and look at top level pro distance and ultra runners vs road cyclists, their bodies look very different despite pros being at ridiculously low body fat percent. Distance road runners especially have really skinny legs that are flexible and springy, and are much lighter because they have a lot less leg muscle. By contrast, even super light climbers have visibly muscular legs and weigh a solid 20-30lbs more at the same height. You need the strength to push down on the pedals, especially to follow attacks and surges that you see in bike racing.

You can obviously get to a very high level at both (look at pro triathletes, especially in draft legal racing), but to some extent your muscular composition is going to limit potential in one or the other. Personally, I genetically have super muscularly, bulky legs which help me push a lot of power for a long time on the bike, but my stride is much shorter and less “bouncy” and efficient when running. It’s taken a LOT of work this past year for me to BQ and run a 1:23 half, and I only was able to make those gains by losing 10-15lbs. I’m better at trail running where strength is more important than strides length and efficiency, but I know that I’ll likely never be a 2:40 marathoner without significantly changing my muscle composition (which is not something that I want to do).


Thank you everyone for all of this excellent advice! I should also mention that I’m 52, so also an old fart jdman! :grin: I definitely get everyone’s points and they make a ton of sense. I’ll likely continue to be a runner and keep adding more cycling into my training. Interestingly, I have fallen in love with gravel cycling and have been naturally drawn to the endurance end of the cycling spectrum, so I think that’s good! I probably won’t be competing in criteriums. My wife and I have also fallen in love with bikepacking, so some of the really long bikepacking and gravel races look appealing (and she’s a WAY better endurance cyclist than me!). I also enjoy mountain biking, so I may do a few mountain bike races, including some of the longer endurance events (Lutsen 99er, etc.). I think I’m on the right track, I was just curious about my seeming lack of high end power and what you’re all saying makes sense. I really am not all that powerful, but my legs are definitely getting stronger! I would just like to hit 700 watts in a sprint at some point! Haha, I’m not really sure why…