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 Zwift 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 tonight. 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 and on Zwift 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!

Being great at one or the other (i.e., running, cycling) does not mean you will great at the other. You might be or you might not be. The latter is probably more often the case than not. Not all runners can learn to push the pedals and take advantage of their cardio system. Likewise, not all cyclists bodies can endure the punishment of running, not to mention the different biomechanics.

It’s going to take time. Ride, ride, ride. However, I would ride w/purpose and do some structured training. Take a look at Zwift’s plans (e.g.,FTP builder, Build Me Up, etc…) Do the work and see what happens. Noob gains in the beginning typically come fast. Then the real work begins!


edit: I’m a cyclist who also runs (~60km/wk) and am a way better cyclist than runner.


Some of it will be down to the different physiological systems used in endurance exercise and short races or sprinting. Years of long distance running mean you probably have an excellent endurance system (fat burning, aerobic, slow twitch muscle) but won’t have done much to improve your glycogen-burning, anaerobic, fast twitch system. That will need time and training. Or you could go in for endurance cycling :grin: .

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Thanks for the advice! I’ll just keep on riding and I’ll try some of the plans that build power.

How confident are you in your setup? 525w max sprint seems low for any healthy adult male to me

:flushed: Never managed more than about 450 W, but I never was much good at the sprinty stuff. (Age 66, regular cycling for about a year and a half after a long break).

The cycling muscle is a bit different than the running muscle…You just need to build up. And at our age it takes time and their will be some limitation. Your FTP is pretty good. To build the max power will take training…practice sprinting up hill.

Also most of Zwift racing is full-on, short races. Similar to criteriums IRL That takes a bit of practice. Good luck.

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