2012 Renewal — If cross-training is such a good thing, why is it so hard for me?

Mark Russell is one of the owners of Metro Run and Walk and is an avid walker and runner.

Mark Russell is one of the owners of Metro Run and Walk and is an avid walker and runner.

Tale of the Tape Through Week Five

Weight:  January 1 = 189, February 5 = 183.   5 weeks,  loss of 6 lbs. Ahead of 1 lb per week pace.

Mileage: Week 5 run/walk miles: 42.4.  Average weekly mileage: 38.7. Above target min of 35 mi/wk.

Confessions of a reluctant cross-trainer

OK, I admit it – for exercise I mostly just run and walk.  I don’t like cross-training very much, in the traditional sense of the word.  Biking and swimming are two of the most common cross-training activities enjoyed by runners.  The three combine quite nicely – just look at all the triathlons and triathletes around us. 

Yes, cross-training is a great idea and the benefits are undeniable.  And I have had success with it in the past, but… 

My lone try at cross-training with swimming

In 1992 I was living in Texas with Helen and our first 2 kids.  I had (once again) fallen into bad habits as the winter approached with a brutal work schedule and too much food and drink.  I did the New Year’s resolution thing, and supplemented my running with swimming 3 times a week, and pledged January to be vegetarian, and no alcohol.  I swear – I could look in a mirror and see the pounds actually fall off me!  I lost something like 15 pounds that month.  But that was the last time I swam for exercise.  It made me feel bad for the rest of the day – kind of green around the gills.  Some people told me to check my form, but I think I have a ‘torqued’ inner ear that makes me feel seasick when I do too much circular motion with my head – like the chin-tucking motion of breathing while swimming.  It is too similar to this one round-and-round carnival ride of my youth that made me swear off all spinning rides for a lifetime.  But a little research showed I am not the only one with this swimming – seasick problem.   I was also not crazy about the goggle/chlorine/waterlogged ear/dampness aspects.   Interestingly enough, I kept up the vegetarian diet for the rest of the year.  Maybe that is a sort of sustainable cross-training?

Tuning up the running machine through bike and weight-lifting cross-training

About 10 years ago, I was in good running shape, and I was trying to improve my times.  I got a good road bike (always use your local specialty bike shop, like The Bike Lane) and also joined the local YMCA.  So for most of one summer in addition to my 3 quality run days, I dedicated 2 days for a combo bike/strength workout.  I mapped out a 20 mile rolling hills road route with the YMCA ¾ of the way through.  I would bike pretty hard for 15, stop at the YMCA and do a circuit on the weight machines, then bike the remaining 5 home.  That really did the trick!  I was in terrific shape and felt great.  Then the fall arrived and biking got much less inviting in the cold and dark.  The next spring I was plagued with flat tires the first couple times out.  I’ve had it out a few times since, but there it sits on the rack in my garage.  I had a disc in my neck fixed a few years back, and now I cannot tolerate the head/neck position while riding a road bike at speed.  Maybe I would do better with a hybrid off-road bike, so I could sit more upright, enjoy more trail variety, and have less tire problems (and have a softer seat!!).

Finding cross-training activities that are enjoyable and still help running/walking

Great physical successes both times:  cross-training works to burn calories, promote better overall muscular and cardiovascular fitness, and reduce the chance of injuries due to repetitive motion and impact.  But, I can’t tolerate the swimming.  And while I have had some great bike rides, the collective issues of weather, equipment/gear problems, routes crowded with cars or bikes, and my balky neck make it not right for me.  Most of the senior staff at Metro Run & Walk and most of my neighborhood running posse are passionate about biking and triathlons, so I don’t lack for opportunities and encouragement. 

So, what I have done is create a mental priority list of ‘cross-training’ non-running/walking activities that do work for me.  Then, I just work them in as I feel like it.  Right now my list is two deep: 

1)       Stretching

2)      Floor exercises for strength

Others further down the list include yoga, aerobics, and yes, biking.  But my top 2 can be done any time, any place,  and for any duration.

Next week I will get into the specifics of what stretching and floor exercises work especially well with my distance running and how/when I fit them in.

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