When I first started coaching runners 20 years ago, I began to experiment with cross-training recipes for a few reasons. One, these were mortal runners that enjoyed karate, step class, yoga, cycling, elliptical and more. They didn't want their race goals to completely take over their other interests. In time, I began to notice these cross-training runners had fewer aches, pains and injuries. They developed balanced strength and maintained a constant level of motivation through the season than the runners who didn't cross-train.
Now elite athletes are beginning to understand the power of cross-training. It allows you to maintain a high volume of training, while lowering the impact on your body. If you are new to distance running, evolve into higher volumes and frequency of running days during the week.
Start this season by alternating a run workout with a cross-training activity. Modes that are similar to running such as cycling and elliptical (or the ElliptiGO) are great to mimic the running motion but don't have the impact forces on the body. This allows you to recover faster. Other activities that move in a variety of movement patterns including dance classes such as Zumba, skating, boxing, karate and swimming (to name a few) are excellent for balancing the active muscle group and decreasing the risk of overuse injuries. More importantly, add an activity you enjoy as you'll look forward to it and it will translate to a more satisfying training lifestyle down the road.
Every day will offer up a variety of training situations. Some days will be perfect: you wake up fresh and can't wait to run; your running clothes match (including your socks) and you feel like you can run forever. Other days, will feel like you wonder why you're even trying to run: your breath is labored during the walking warm-up; your iPod dies in the middle of your workout and every mile feels like 10. This is the life of a marathon runner.
You have a series of workouts that run the gamut from awesome to WTF. The key is to maximize every workout to push on the days you feel like a super hero and ease up on the throttle on those challenging days. When you adjust in the field, you allow your body to run at the right effort on the day and recover more rapidly -- setting yourself up for a stronger run down the road. Run by your effort, by your breath and how you feel rather than a pace on your watch. Pace is the outcome; effort is the focus.
Easy runs should be at an effort where you can't hear your breathing and you can recite the Pledge of Allegiance three times out loud easily. Moderate effort is one notch up; you can hear your breathing and you're taking notice but it's not so hard that you are looking for your watch to stop. And hard effort is just that. Your breathing is labored. You are well outside your comfort zone and can hold this effort for minutes rather than hours. Your pace will vary based on sleep, recovery, fuel, stress, fatigue, and more. Your effort will be your north star and guide you through a high-quality workout and efficient recovery.
As you create, modify, and tweak your training plan, keep track of all the details along the way. It's a great way to stay motivated as you'll see your progress in time and an effective means to optimizing all the secondary training variables including number of hours of sleep each night, your diet and the changes you make along the way, what you eat or drink while running, stress level, travel, mileage on your shoes, flexibility, strength and more. Long-distance running is the staple ingredient for your training, and these variables flavor your recipe giving it structure, stability, and success. Whether you use a manual or digital log, keep tabs on the details—because with every mile, you're creating your marathoning style.Sign up for your next race.