by Daniel Cooper
Running takes a huge toll on your body. If you are constantly pushing your body to new limits, it is inevitably going to push back at you. This can put a major hitch in your giddy-up and hinder your training in the weeks leading up to your race and hurt your overall fitness. A good way to avoid this is to develop a regimen of cross training.
I am a big proponent of training 7 days a week. I think it is very important to have rest and recovery time, but to never have a day of complete inactivity. A lot of people are very surprised that at my university where I run, we have mandatory practice on Sunday mornings. Much of this surprise is due to our culture and viewing Sunday as a day of mandatory rest. The sheer reality from a competitive standpoint is there are 52 weeks a year and if you take one day off a week that is 52 days you aren’t improving yourself and getting stronger. You want to always be working when your competition isn’t and using all opportunities to improve.
(Editor’s note: many runners say they feel closer to God when they are running. Many say their prayers while they run. For those of faith, running on Sunday does not preclude obligations to go to church, but can augment that experience of connecting to God. Don’t rule out a Sunday run because of church, think of it as additional to fulfilling your spiritual duties.)
I am not saying run seven days a week all year round; because the reality is no one can handle that. A great way to improve your training is to add some form of cross training. Choose a sport you enjoy that uses different parts of your body than running and yet still delivers a good aerobic workout. Biking, hiking, swimming, rowing, roller skating, rock climbing, lifting weights, yoga, elliptical, or any other exercise you prefer that will make you a stronger athlete while working out your lungs, raising your heart rate, but gives your running legs a much needed rest. It is great to do cross training when you are coming down off of a big cycle of training or after a race to maintain fitness but give yourself a break. Also, cross training on your off day is a great way to improve your running without even lacing up your shoes.
Cross training becomes essential to the prevention of injuries or as a substitute to stay fit while you recover from an injury. When Laura, the creator of Island Boost, discovered she was running with two stress fractures in her heel, she sobbed like a baby, but I encouraged her to look on the bright side. I had been trying to get her into a cross training regimen which she refused due to her running addiction. “Get a bike! Let your foot heal, and you’ll see, it will become as enjoyable as running, keep you fit, and let your body heal.” Because of that, she’s more fit than before and it allows her another outlet to work out her energy when not hitting the road.
If you feel an injury coming on, a few days away from pounding the pavement might be good for it, switch to another form of exercise and you wont miss out on training your body through other stimulus.
I am also a firm believer in active recovery. Things that don’t quite count as strenuous physical activity yet are mentally stimulating, and often-casual activities. Things like golfing, bowling, nice long walks, playing catch, kicking the soccer ball, shooting hoops, playing Frisbee, or taking your dog to the park. These things that get you moving and your blood flowing yet don’t tire you out quite like running. These activities are not very strenuous yet are things that take coordination, skill and focus. They will improve mental sharpness and being active even in this manner on your off days is richly beneficial. Doing any of these things will do your body far more good than sleeping in or spending a lazy day on the couch watching sports.
Maintaining an injury-free training regimen is crucial to having positive results in your running. Implementing cross training into your schedule will help you gain fitness without adding more miles into your beat up legs. It also provides you with fun new activities to enjoy and progress at. Overall, engaging in other activities will surely contribute to a new strength you will find in your running whether that is in your legs, core or upper body. Enjoy the run, have fun, rest and recover as needed, but stay busy and the hard work you put in off the road will help you see better results on the road and on race day.
Yours in Running
Daniel Cooper is a collegiate runner and has spent the last eight years running cross-country and track and field. You can send him questions and ask advice by emailing: Daniel.Cooper@islandboost.com.