Professional cyclist, Romain Bardet running a winter race.

How to Start Running

Just as a runner cannot hop on a bicycle and ride a century, a cyclist cannot throw on some running shoes and run a marathon. Even though the aerobic part of the two sports is similar, muscles take time to adapt to running. Proper running technique makes all the difference. The most common running mistakes are that cyclists run too fast, too hard, and too long. Admittingly, running feels great once you get into the rhythm, but you pay for days afterward. Running is simple, but it is crucial to start with the correct technique.

Selecting a Pair of Running Shoes

Buying the right pair of running shoes is equally important as your cycling shoes. Running shoes function to protect your feet. The golden rule for running shoes is that they are comfortable. Go to a specialty running store where there are professional staff who understand shoe construction and running biomechanics. A good rule of thumb is to leave a thumbnail’s width distance from the tip of the big toe to the end of the shoe. Finally, test the shoes out before you buy them.

Leg raises – 100-Ups

The first thing a new runner should consider is to practice 100-Ups. These exercises were made popular by the late Christopher McDougall, author of Born to Run. The 100-Ups consists of standing with both feet on the targets and your arms cocked in running position. Next, raise one knee to hip height, bring the foot back and down again to its original position, touch the line lightly with the ball of the foot, and repeat with the other leg. But it’s not so easy to hit your marks 100 times in a row while maintaining balance and proper knee height. This action is precisely that of running.

Start Small and Build Gently

Initially, keep the runs short and easy. Once you are confident with your running technique, go out and run a mile or two at a comfortable pace, but no longer. Run once or twice a week until you are comfortable and have no pain. A bonus method of keeping your runs easy is to perform nasal breathing. This will increase your CO2 tolerance and forces the body to maintain a comfortable pace.

Run at what pace? Constant or a variable pace?

Most average Joe cyclists who run aim to hold a constant pace without any real purpose. Our human bodies naturally run at a variable pace, just as we naturally cycle at a variable pace. Variable pace running is precisely the opposite of constant pace running. Variable pace running has many benefits over constant paced running. The most significant benefit is that it takes less running to achieve the same fitness gains and, therefore, less injury risk. French exercise physiologist Dr. Veronique Billat is a leading authority on variable pace running. Her studies show that variable pace running increases aerobic fitness three times more efficiently, in less distance, and with fewer injuries. For the time-crunched endurance or master’s athlete, this is a good thing.

Variable Pace Running Benefits

Variable pace running increases VO2 three times more efficiently and less distance than constant pace running.

Variable pace running increases maximum exercise intensity three times more efficiently than constant pace running.

The advantages of variable pace running over constant pace running are that it is more natural, safer, and more effective at increasing your VO2max.

Fewer injuries and takes less time to achieve the same benefits

Easy, Medium, and Hard Pace

Break your running pace into three areas: an easy, a medium, and a hard pace. An easy pace is one where you might still be able to hold a conversation. A medium paced one where you need to stay focused to hold the pace and talking is difficult. A hard pace is something you can hold for about 3 to 5 minutes, but not a sprint. It is essential to determine your easy, medium, and hard pace. Dr. Billat showed that you can distinguish these three paces without a GPS-watch. By learning these different paces, you are ready to start running at a variable pace.

Variable Pace Workouts

Once you are comfortable running these three paces, it’s time to train using specific workouts. An easy workout is to run at an easy pace for ten minutes, a medium pace for 5 minutes, and then a hard pace for 3 minutes; repeat this sequence two times. Another beneficial running exercise is accelerations or short sprints. Accelerations are important because the faster you can increase your heart and respiratory rate, the better your body can handle a fast pace, whether cycling or running. A cyclocross race is a classic example of a fast start, where increasing your VO2 very quickly is essential. During a 20-minute run, perform 1-minute sprint accelerations to a hard pace, and then recover for 4 minutes at an easy pace. This workout can also be done on a bicycle.


This exercise involves alternating between 30-second surges at a medium to hard pace and 30-second jog recoveries. Perform 30-30s for as long as possible. Remember, the point of this exercise is that it allows you to spend nearly 40 percent more time at VO2max. This is an excellent exercise for beginners and during the early season. Fifteen to twenty minutes of 30-30s are usually sufficient. For a great article on 30-30s, see running coach, Richard Lovett article here.

Cardio Session

After a warmup, run at a medium pace, accelerate for two minutes at a hard pace, and then deaccelerate two minutes back to a medium pace. Repeat these ten times for a total of 20 minutes. Run on a flat surface.

Perception Session

Perception exercises are best used to test how well you can perceive your pace without a watch. Consider incorporating these exercises with other workouts. The perfection of the art of variable pace running is mastering these types of exercises. Run four minutes at an easy pace, then two minutes at a medium pace, and then one minute at a hard pace. Finish with three minutes of recovery. Repeat this exercise three times during a 30-minute run on a flat surface.

The key to long term success without injury or overtraining is to run and cycle with quality and not quantity. Varying the speed or pace sounds easy enough, but most runners, whether at a club or school, are taught to run at a constant pace and little else. Variation of speeds while running is not only natural, but it is healthier for you. The book, The Science of the Marathon and the Art of Variable Pace Running encourages you to rediscover running by gradually slowing down, running at your own pace, and learning to accelerate. Integrating this type of training into your home or workplace is easy. This training method is equally applicable to other endurance sports like cycling, swimming, rowing, and cross-country skiing.

All these techniques and more are detailed in the new book: The Science of the Marathon and the Art of Variable Pace Running by Veronique Billat and Johnathan Edwards.

The Science of the Marathon and the Art of Variable Pace Running can be found on Amazon,, and anywhere books are sold.


Link for the book on my website

Link for the book on Amazon