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How Sucking at Cycling Made Me a Better Runner

one-trick-helped-zone-out-running-spotify.jpgPhoto: Johner Images / Getty Images

I'm not being humble when I say that I have no rhythm. At concerts, when the audience starts clapping along, I always end up screwing up and have to try to look chill while I'm staring at other people's hands trying to get back into it. I can't follow dance moves in eight-counts, I just practice moves until I memorize them. I am rhythmically challenged. (P.S. You need rhythm to box, too.)

This isn't a huge deal—but it has held me back in classes like SoulCycle, where you ride to the beat of the music. If I can't really hear the beat, I can't sync up my pedal strokes. As a result, I feel like I'm not getting much out of the class. (SoulCycle is all about that "we're in it together" vibe, right? Well, I am so not in it.) Needless to say, I've never been an avid indoor cyclist. But thanks to a recent change in my schedule, I discovered that the Peloton studio near me offers free classes almost every day. (They do it to fill up the classes when they're filming live-streaming workouts.) With nothing to lose—hey, it's free!—I started going two to three times a week. (I'll talk running in a sec, promise.)

Once I started spending more time on the bike, I noticed something: I was slowly able to follow along when the teachers cued to pedal on the beat. They'd call out one-two-one-two-one-two, and I'd echo their voice in my mind. Sometimes I kept counting, mouthing the numbers out loud. But with repetition comes success: Once I got out of my own head a bit and got more comfortable on the bike, I realized their cues had actually helped me hear the beats of the songs without the counting. I was able to sync up my pedaling without mouthing the numbers. I was following along, and it felt great. (You should consider training in your personal heart rate zones, too.)

I began to wonder if I could use my new skill during a workout on my own. I had a baby this year, and I've been running since I got clearance from my doctor. But I'm still a minute or two behind my pre-pregnancy pace. The combination of not having as much time to run and wanting to be kind to my postpartum body has made it hard to push myself. (See: Why It's Perfectly Acceptable to Walk During Your Runs) Now that moving to a beat felt doable, I had a realization: Maybe I could use my new spinning skills to help me run faster.

I came up with a plan to test it out. First, I downloaded a playlist from Spotify's Running section. Under that genre, you can find playlists curated to specific beats per minute, from 140 to 190 bpm. I calculated roughly where I wanted to be and chose one to match, then laced up and hit the road. With the music pumping, for the first time, I found it easy to focus on moving my feet to the rhythm. That first try, I logged my fastest 5K since baby by far, and it didn't even feel like an all-out effort. Striking my foot on a beat helped me zone out on my run in a way I never had before. (This runner ran a 5K in total darkness to try to understand mindful running.)

If you're a seasoned runner (or just a naturally rhythmic person), maybe this trick sounds really obvious. But if it hadn't been for my successes in cycling I never would have thought to try it—or felt confident that it would actually work. I'm so glad it did. (Research backs it up: Running to the right music can make you faster.)

Now I love choosing a BPM and challenging myself to stay on the beat the whole run. Yes, sometimes I still fall off it, but I'm able to get it back easily and recalibrate. I choose faster BPMs when I'm solo and slower ones if I'm running with my stroller. I feel more in control of my pace than I ever have before. Next up? Finding out if I'm a better dancer too.

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