Thursday, August 25, 2011

Cross Training

The past while, I've been running 5 times a week and following a training program which should allow me to complete my upcoming half marathon in about 2 hours. This is a bit of a big deal for me as the times I ran a half marathon in the past (the last one being in 2004...), I didn't really follow a program. I just ran when I felt like it, and for as long as I wanted, with no real attention to what kind of running I was doing. I'll get into kinds of running another time, but the point I'm trying to make here is that running 5 times a week is a lot more than I was previously used to, and it doesn't really allow me to do much else, workout wise. There are, after all, only 7 days in a week, and the other 2 days (Mondays and Fridays), I'm supposed to rest completely. That is, maybe go for a walk, but not do anything where I might break a sweat, to allow my body and muscles to recover from the stress of previous runs and be ready for the next set.

Running 5 times a week so far has been really beneficial. I think after a while of running a little here and there, I'd plateaued in my fitness level. I was fit and healthy, but not making significant improvements in anything anymore, as I wasn't challenging myself enough. Now I'm running all the time, and I'm forcing myself to do distances that I might not have necessarily chosen to do otherwise on a particular day. Putting it into my calendar that on this day I'm going to run this much and that day I'll run that much, makes it happen. I have no choice but to make time for it. I'm running when I feel like it, and when I'm not really feeling like it. They are in my appointment book and have to be kept. Now, as a result, certain distances feel effortless, longer distances don't seem so far out of reach, and I'm noticing a difference in how I feel and look, especially in my legs. So advice to anyone who says "I can't run past x distance"..... my answer is simple: run more often and then you can run further.

Ok, I need to confess that I lied a little. I've not exactly been running 5 times a week every week. Most weeks I've been hiking the Grouse Grind once or twice in place of one or two of the runs I'm supposed to be doing, so it all adds up to 5 workouts in the end. I never replace a long run (my Sunday runs), but often replace a short run I would have been doing on a Tuesday or Thursday with a hike up the Grind. I'm a little hesitant on how to classify the Grind though, in terms of my half marathon training. I'm inclined to call it cross training, but at the same time, I feel it's too related to running (even though I brisk walk, not run, but up a very steep mountain) and I think it simplifies things to just say, "I run 5 times a week" and not clarify the little white lie. What do you think? How would you classify it? What I do know is that hiking the Grind is a nice challenge, with great reward when you reach the top, and it makes my Wednesday hill repeat sessions feel like a piece of pie. It's clearly benefiting my leg muscles, but with way less impact than pounding the pavement running.

My understanding of true cross training is that you pick an activity that isn't running, that helps build your overall endurance. This will no doubt make you a better runner. The thing is though, that the best cross training is where you use a different set of muscles, so that your running muscles can heal and rest, but your cardiovascular system is still getting a workout. There's no direct benefit to your running muscles, but your overall fitness is still improving. A great example of cross training for running is swimming. It's a great cardio workout, that uses mainly your upper body (I'm referring to a freestyle / front crawl type swim). So it gets the heart-rate up, but allows your running muscles to rest and have a workout with zero impact. And like running, it's very meditative. I appreciate being hyper-aware of my breathing, my inner thoughts, and the strength in my arms.

They say that if you spend about the same amount of time swimming as you would have spent running, you'd get roughly the equivalent workout. I was supposed to run 7km this morning, but decided to swim laps for 40min instead. I didn't realize how much I missed the water! It's literally been months since I've been to the pool. All the added daylight we get in spring and summer just beckons me to be outdoors. The thing with swimming though is that it's so gentle on the joints, I wouldn't feel guilty about swimming on a rest day, because I tell ya, when you're addicted to running, rest days can be hard to cope with. And I gotta say, with all the running I've been doing, I had no idea how un-awful a feeling wearing a bathing suit was going to be today. I think I'll be back at the pool again soon. :-)

What's your favourite cross training activity?


  1. 5 times a week! Wow, good for you!
    I think the Grind is great strength training! I did it for the first time last weekend and I loved it. I only wish it didn't take me so long to make the trek to the mountain, otherwise I would try to do it more often.

    Swimming sounds lovely... especially since running in this hot weather can be brutal!

  2. glad you enjoyed the Grind. Bet you finished it quick. I live super close so let me know if you ever want to do it together! But I know you'll be running the BMO too so I'll be seeing you there at the finish line :)