Olympic Training Log May 7-May 13: Cross-Training SUCKS!

The Injured Runner: It Sucks to Be You!

Yeah, we all know injured runners are unhappy, hyper, worried they’ll gain weight, worried they’ll have to miss (or screw up) their next race, and driven to run no matter how much it hurts!

Don’t.

It sucks to be me, too. I was rarely uninjured during my running career. After 1987, I always had to take at least three “rest days” from running a week. Yet I still managed to run a PB in the 10,000m in 1988 and PBs in the half-marathon and 20K in the early 1990s (true, I hadn’t run those distances before then…) But I also set numerous age-group records when I was in my 40s in distances from the 5K right up to the half marathon, while running only three or four times a week.

So what’s the truth about cross-training? Let’s bust the myths first. Let’s be honest: nothing can replace running for a runner; and running workouts are the best way to improve your running.

If you’re a running fanatic (as opposed to a triathlete or a recreational runner), you cross-train because you have to. You cross-train to avoid letting injuries get serious enough to ruin your racing season or even end your running career permanently. You cross-train to stay fit and to maintain your sanity when your body is used to exerting itself hard every day and suddenly that stress- and energy-release is cruelly snatched away.

So once you’ve made the wise choice and accepted that you’re going to cross-train for a few days or weeks or months (as long as it takes for running to be safe again), what cross-training activities should you choose?

This depends on several factors:

1) Your injury. Some running injuries will allow you to cycle but others may not.

2) Your preferences. It is better to choose a substitute activity for running that you actually enjoy, especially if you’re going to have to put in a lot of hours for an extended period of time.

3) Your motivation level. If you are highly motivated to achieve your running goals, you may be willing to do an activity you hate, if you are convinced it is the best way for you to maintain fitness and return to a high level of running quickly. For example, I’ve known elite athletes like Lynn Kanuka and Tina Connolly who spent countless hours in the pool water-running because it proved to be a very effective way to maintain fitness. During her top years as an international runner, Lynn suffered many stress fractures but was always able to return to competitive running quickly.

4) Your schedule. Some kinds of cross-training take more time than others.

kettlebell swing both arms

I started using kettlebells regularly four years ago. Kettlebell swings are great for the glutes, hamstrings and core muscles.

The table below summarizes the pros and cons of various kinds of cross-training. Remember, this information is somewhat subjective, because it is based on my preferences and experience.

Before you start, try to have a positive attitute about your substitute workouts. You may rebel at first, if you are like me. Running will always be my favourite kind of working out. There is nothing like running on a forest trail, fast enough to feel like a powerful animal, yet relaxed enough to be graceful and enjoy the synchronized rhythms of loping and breathing. I love all the sensory experiences that come with being outside: the fresh smells of the forest, the moisture in the air, the warmth of the sun or the sharpness of cold air. When I run my body feels a part of that physical world around me.

Yet I’ve learned about the “silver linings” of not being able to run. The bonuses of cross-training include:

  1. Developing and enjoying new skills that you never suspected you had; for example, after starting Pilates four years ago, I’ve become more flexible than I’ve ever been in my life. I think doing Pilates would have improved my running earlier in my career.
  2. Making new friends and becoming immersed in the “culture” of a new sport, such as mountain biking.
  3. Developing overall body strength that will contribute to your success and longevity as a runner.
  4. Preventing boredom and burnout from doing a relentless number of running workouts every week.

For the above reasons, I suggest that even when you’re not injured, you might try incorporating one to three cross-training workouts per week into your training program. These workouts could take place on your “easy” days. If you do this, it will be easy to switch to a complete cross-training program should you get an injury that requires you to stop running.

Cross-Training Options for Runners: Pros and Cons

Activity

 

Cycling (road or mountain bike) Pros

  • enjoy scenery and fresh air outside
  • a specific destination or route can provide a goal
  • cardiovascular benefits
  • fun; speed, variety of terrain and technical difficulty possible
  • strengthens legs (though uses different muscles than running

Cons

  •  not an intense workout like running except when going uphill
  • takes more time than running to get a similar feeling of fatigue
  • doesn’t use running-specific muscles
Cycling (stationary bike) Pros

  • can adjust resistance to have very high-intensity workout
  • can do “interval training” to mimic running workouts
  • a great variety of workouts is possible; you are limited only by your imagination
  • can do a very tough workout in a short time

Cons

  • indoors—can be very hot and boring
  • to combat boredom, vary your workouts and use music
Arc trainer or elliptical Pros and Cons

  • The pros and cons of stationary bike training apply to using an arc trainer or elliptical machine
  • Motion on these machines is more similar to running than cycling is
  •  more weight-bearing than cycling, but still much easier on the body than running
Swimming Pros

  • not weight-bearing
  • good for leg muscle recovery
  • good cardiovascular workout, especially if you have good swimming technique
  • do sprints to mimic running intervals

Cons

  •  boring in a pool
  • chlorine
  • doesn’t use leg muscles much
Water-running Pros

  • pros similar to swimming
  • In addition, water-running mimics running motion without weight-bearing

Cons

  •  very boring
  • chlorine
Weights Pros

  • tremendous variety of exercises possible
  • can strengthen specific areas to prevent injury recurrence
  • having good core and overall body strength is beneficial to running

Cons

  • learning curve to figure out which exercises are most beneficial to your running and possible weaknesses
  • most exercises not at all similar to running
  • cardiovascular component can be minimal unless you do a high-intensity workout that uses your legs a lot
Yoga/Pilates Pros

  • improves core strength
  • greatly improves flexibility
  • good for relaxation
  • teaches body awareness

Cons

  • not specific to running
  • cardiovascular component minimal

Mountain biking at Birkenhead Lake

Mountain biking can offer scenic challenges

Do you have any comments to share about your cross-training experiences? I’d love to hear them!

Olympic Training Log

May 7, 1988

AM: Rode easy for about 1 hr to investigate park near Pam’s house. Then did ½ hr (35 laps) hard on track—but couldn’t work too hard because track too dry and slippery. Felt lethargic. Also foot very sore—virtually no improvement in a week—I’ve decided I can’t even walk on it.

May 8, 1988

AM: Did 3 hr bikeride, 5 laps around lake, then out to Terveuren on great bike path, along country road and back.

May 9, 1988

AM: Swim 50 lengths 38:00. Felt fantastic, pool very empty—don’t know why I wasn’t much faster.

PM: Weights—new gym—“push-endurance” plus hamstring curls and extension, situps, hyperextensions. Worked hard 63 min, followed by 3 min and 15 min on bike.

May 10, 1988

AM: Rode bike to Von Karman with Paul (easy), did 4 times up and down long road (˜1 hr hard), rode bike beside Alan about 1 hr (easy), rode home (medium). Freezing because of rain, but good workout—tired after.

PM: 30 min continuous stationary bike. Legs very tired after.

PM-2: Weights—about 1 hr. Did about 3 sets of “pull-strength” workout but part of time was easy because I was showing Pam weights.

May 11, 1988

AM: Swim 50 lengths 38:00. Arms very tired.

May 12, 1988

AM: Did bike ride with Alan [my brother, visiting from Copenhagen where he worked for a few years]—about 3 hrs. Good ride, beautiful weather and countryside. Good pace much of the way—quite tired after—quads getting stronger.

May 13, 1988

AM: Rode to acupuncture appointment and back—1¼ hrs easy riding each way.

PM: Weights—“push-strength” + situps, hypers, hamstring curl & extension, chinups, bent-over rowing, curls with bar—combo workout. Worked very hard 67 min—then 15 min on bike.

This week: 5 bike workouts (outside), 63 min on stationary bike, 3 weight workouts, 2 swims.

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About nancytinarirunswrites

I used to be known as a competitive runner, but now I have a new life as a professional writer and editor. I'm even more obsessive about reading, writing, and editing than I was about running. Running has had a huge influence on my life, though, and runner's high does fuel creativity. Maybe that's why this blog evolved into being 95% about running, but through blogging I'm also learning about writing and online communication. I'm fascinated by how the Internet has changed work, learning, and relationships. I love to connect in new and random ways!
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2 Responses to Olympic Training Log May 7-May 13: Cross-Training SUCKS!

  1. From one cross-trainer to another; agree with all you said – except for water running – to me it is not anymore boring than any other form of indoor cross training – I was water running in the 80’s when it just began – we would blast the tunes and I would do my track workouts in the pool – became so strong at it – I used no floating device and ended up with weights on my ankles and wrists to make it more difficult. Water running has always been a part of my training regime. In 2003 fractured my ankle and spent 3 months in the pool – lost no fitness level and was up to racing speed very quickly when given the ok to run once again. When you talk about stationary bike – you could add in spinning classes which are amazing – most spinning instructors are runners or former runners whose classes are full of high intense interval training – been teaching spinning classes for over 12 years now.
    Like both articles on cross-training and will now have to try the arc trainer, I tried it once and found it very awkward to us. Also, yoga has helped my flexibility and running as well.
    Keep up the blogs
    PS: me too – injured once again – in the mid-80s destroyed by plantar fascia- didn’t run for a couple of years – just a month and a half ago it went out on me again and in great pain and no running for me.

  2. nancytinarirunswrites says:

    Hi Caroline,
    Thanks for your comments. There is always more to learn. I know water running works to maintain fitness as I’ve witnessed many other elite runners use it successfully. I have a bit of a closed mind about it, I’m afraid. Basically, I don’t like pools, either for swimming or water running, because I can’t stay warm in them and feel sensory deprivation not being outside and not even being able to see properly.
    Good of you to point out the spinning option, I have heard how tough those workouts are and have wanted to try them but my gym doesn’t offer them so it would mean more $$$. But I will get there one day!
    I know plantar fascitis is a wicked injury–one that I’ve escaped, miraculously! Be patient and you’ll be back running–eventually.

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