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Cross Training

Cross training with my son - low impact, low key, but vital.
One lesson I learned from this past year is the importance of regularly cross training to  improve fitness, prevent injury, and enhance recovery.

When I began running trail races as training runs for road marathons, accomplished ultra runner & cyclist, Gary Gellin, encouraged me to buy a mountain bike.  This was in the first few miles of my first 50 miler, the White River 50 Mile Endurance Challenge.

At first, the suggestion seemed counter to my western mentality geared toward specificity.  Naively, I assumed I could rely on my youth and road speed to drop Gary and finish strong.  Instead, the much more experienced Gellin dropped me.  Needless to say, I bought a mountain bike as soon as I returned from the race. 

As I considered the cross over that occurs between other athletic activities, Gary's suggestion didn't seem all that counter at all. In fact, as a teenager I began running to get in shape for basketball.  While it ultimately led me to begin running more and balling less, running helped me have the endurance to run up and down the court for an entire practice or game.  Similarly, many of the best high school runners I coach come from a soccer background.  Running around on uneven grass for 90 minutes tends to strengthen the lungs and lower legs. 

Felt like a total newb, but enjoyed the change of pace.
Given that I don’t really live near much single-track or mountains to climb and descend on foot, biking seemed like the most logical way to strengthen my quads for climbing and descending in trail running races while also training my eyes and body to shift and adjust to the technical terrain below.  I began commuting to and from work and just about everywhere else I could reasonably ride.  This not only saved time and money as I was able to get through congested stoplights faster than if I were in a car, but it also helped warm my legs up on my way to work, on my way home for lunch, and before and after my afternoon run.     

I enjoyed cycling so much that I signed up and trained for a mountain bike race in my area the EchoRed2RedXC.  The fact that I had never done anything like it and that there would be plenty of accomplished riders to destroy me was actually comforting.  There were no expectations and I was simply able to do it for the fun of it.  It was also one of the few endurance events in the area that I wasn't a part of organizing or directing so that lightened the load as well.  I was able to simply kick back and enjoy the event.

In addition to the cycling, I took advantage of the indoor pool and hot tub at my local gym, the Columbia Court Club, to warm up from cold winter runs, stretch out, and recover. 

I was trying to replicate my college days in Hawaii.  During the 2.5 years I lived & trained there I ran twice a day and swam in the ocean after each run.  My only forms of transportation were my bike, my feet, or my thumb if I needed to get into town.  My mileage was higher than it has ever been and I was injury free.  I believe that the varied terrain and time in the ocean helped me to remain healthy while training at high volumes.    

Photo by Paul Nelson.
In 2013, during the time that I was biking & swimming regularly, I began running better than ever before.  I won races, set course records, and recovered well between events.  While these performances were certainly influenced by high levels of competition, favorable weather, and improved nutrition and gear, I can’t discount the added strength, comfort, and confidence I had while racing on trails during the times that I was regularly biking & swimming.  I arrived at the starting line healthy and excited to race.

Conversely, I learned through a few unfortunate experiences that when life got too busy and I wasn’t able to bike and swim as much, I got to races broken down, tired, and unmotivated.  I tried to compete, but my legs and mind had nothing left in them.

While there are several lessons to be learned from my experiences this past year, one lesson I learned is to regularly cross train as a means of improving performance, preventing injury, and enhancing recovery. 

As I ran my last race of the year, despite thoroughly enjoying the time away with my family and friends, I knew I was ready for a break when rather than engaging and competing, my mind just wandered.  Neither my mind nor legs would fire.  Multiple times throughout the course of the race I thought, “I wish I had my bike.  This would be a really fun place to ride.”  As we neared the end of the race, I no longer wished I had my bike, I just wanted to swim.

No more nudging was necessary.  I went directly from the finish line to the nearest pool I could find before returning to eat and hang out.  I took the next few weeks completely off and did nothing but biking, swimming, & hiking for about a month. 

I resumed running this past week and feel energized and refreshed.  I intend to continue to ride, swim, and do a body-weight circuit as often as my schedule permits throughout the year.  And while I’m doing that, others will be skiing, climbing, and exploring, preserving and strengthening their legs so that we can hopefully run like Gary when we are his age.

1 comment:

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