Monday, June 10, 2013

An Updated View on Cross-Training

I am often asked how much, if any, cross-training I do in my normal routine. For the past few years, the answer was easy: slim to none. Looking over some old blog posts I see my ideas of how cross-training fits into my life has evolved.  So, I felt it was time to update them.

During my 52 Marathons in 52 weeks, I went to the gym a total of 2 times. The entire year. Mostly, I was deathly afraid of an overuse injury from the gym that I could not afford.  As such, I felt it was best to avoid it altogether. Obviously, one can hurt themselves simply stepping off the curb but I thought why risk it. To me, all a runner needed to do to be in running shape was to run.
Hello, Zermatt!

Since that time, I have done multiple other events and different sorts of physical activity to stay in shape. But mostly, when I want to exercise, I go for a run. It is just so damn easy and convenient. Put on the shoes and go. Sure, I do some trail running here and there (which to some extent is a type of cross-training) but other sports and activities have had to be pushed to the backburner. For a few years, I was more or less making a living on being a runner, in a variety of different ways.  When your paycheck relies on your legs, you cannot go will-nilly repelling down a cliff or go paragliding on a whim without some trepidation.

However, with a slightly different lifestyle not as reliant on hitting the finishline, I have learned about balance.  Without a doubt there is room in a runner's life for a bit of cross-training, regardless of your goals and speed.

I have been quoted as saying that cross-training doesn't really help you become a better runner - except for all the ways it does. What I mean by that is any sort of exercise is going to help your body if done in the right way. Period.  But the biggest problem with most runners is that they cannot simply turn their running off. From injuries they should not run through to races that should be DNF so they can live to run better down the road, runners like to run. Cross-training (whatever form it is) allows you to get that exercise jones while actually taking a break from running.

In the past few years I have done triathlons, aquathons, decathlons, adventure races, ultra marathon, stage runs and just about everything else in between. I still feel best when I go for a run.  This tells me I love running. Duh.  But it also tells me that mixing in different disciplines is good as well. The question to me is not whether cross-training actually helps my running, but does the time off from running help my running, regardless of what I am doing.  There I think the resounding answer is yes.

So hitting the gym every once in a while is very important for runners.  To work on legs. (Seriously.)  Runners think working out their legs is the last thing they need to do.  However, through much experience in this area, I have learned the hard way that neglecting all the legs in your muscles that running does not work can make running much more difficult down the road.

I won this fight. I don't remember much of the one I lost.
The proliferation of adventure racing and crossfit (and mud run and color blast and juggling hop scotch, etc.) has brought up a different breed of runner. These runners are incorporating different activities into their running schedule.  I am not going to say they are having more fun than those who simply run because I do not agree with that.  But they are adding variety which is a good thing.

Recently I have begun hitting the heavy bag again after more than few years off.  Just 15 or so minutes broken into two-minute rounds has left me sweaty and exhausted.  But on days when I really needed a break but wanted some exercise, this allowed me to get that fix without overworking my legs.  Given what I have put them through both intentionally and not so much in the past few years, they deserve this break.

Basically, as with all advice I give about running, it is given in the hopes that what I have learned from my failures and success can people others from having to do the same thing.  I am trying to impart that I want you and everyone else to be running healthily and happily for as long as you can.  I love the act and sport of running so much I want to make sure you can enjoy it as much as possible.

In short, if you love running and want to run for a very long time, learn to not run every once in a while.

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