Cross-training: An Umph Element to your Marathon Training

Source: wiserunning.com

Source: wiserunning.com

Never one to settle for just doing it, I’m always game for doing it better. By “it” I am of course referring to running that much coveted 26.2 miles. Being a runner and a bit of a “gym girl” have had its advantages: I’m in pretty decent shape, I’m told I look way yonger than my age and I could run with many in that category too, I manage to stay pretty healthy and I keep up with on-going trends, research and data as it pertains to being fit and healthy. All of this I credit with my passion for running though I’m pretty sure my gym workouts as well as other random physical exercise have helped in shaping this 3:29:24 PR marathon girl.

What is Cross-training
That form of exercise, pertaining to runners, whereby runners train utilizing other modes of fitness training to supplement their running. For example; cycling, swimming, a fitness/aerobic class or strength training.

The Cross-Training Debate
There has been may debates of the benefits or not of cross-training for runners. Conventional wisdom says runners should run, as you perfect what you practice while there are others that argue cross-training can inmprove running performance and reduce workout boredom and burnout. Current school of thought seems to be leaning toward the way of cross training to improve the all-round performance of runners with an emphasis on low-impact workouts that complement your running without the same impact of running.

Using Cross-Training to better your marathon time
The focus of the marathoner is on increasing speed, endurance and fitness level. Cross training improves your endurance base without adding unnecessary stress on your body. It can
help you improve your race-day goal while reducing the risk of injury assosiated with intense high-impact training (Jeff Horowitz, certified personal trainer, running & triatholon coach and runner of 150 marathons across 6 continents). Jeff highlights three considerations in choosing the cross training mode that is right for you:

(1) It should be an aerobic exercise that you can engage in for hours at a time, at a moderate intensity level (at an RPE of 6-7)
(2) Is it low-impact ir no-impact?Β While high-impact exercises is necessary for training as it prepares ypur body for the stress of the day..you need only so much and no more or it increases your risk of injury. The idea is that lower impact workouts as identified in cross training provides you with the means of strengthening supporting muscles and lowering your risk of injury.
(3) Does this option complement your running? Aerobic cross-training will help you become a better endurance athlete, afterall you’re working with breathing, muscle-building and endurance, but to get the most out of it you need to choose a mode that works different muscle groups in support of your running, and thus becoming a more balanced, injury-resistant athlete.

What works for me
Cycling/Spin: Cycling is touted as maybe the best mode of cross-training as it complements your running training by working supporting muscle groups such as the quadriceps, which are super important in supporting the knees and are not effectively worked by running. Strengthening them can reduce the risk of knee, IT Band and patella problems.

Spin classes are something special; they encourage comraderiere, motivate, the hell out of you, kick your butt and pushes you to discover the badass within, all without the continuous pounding of the feet, providing necessary rest for the knees.

Strength Training/ Weights
Because of my small frame, I’m always mindful of weight-lifting. I can get really muscular without even trying and so I often limit my reps dependending on the muscles I’m working on to 4 sets of moderate to heavy, increasing weight as I decrease reps. Weight training is so versatile and there are so much variety to work on any one area – I tend to usually work my legs, calves & thighs together, then back and shoulders, or chest and arms and do core exercises separate; employing a yoga or pilates class to assist in this area. The benefit with weights is that you get to utilize & build muscles that are not necessarily in primary use while running, but again supports your running by providing strength & support to those secondary areas, which decreases your chances of injury and helps you develop power and ultimately your best physical self.

Swimming
As an aerobic exercise it’s on par with developing power, performance and efficiency. For my part, the focus here is on breathing and strengthening leg and arm muscles. Although I don’t go often, when I do I spend 1 & 1/2 to 2 hours in the pool, half as much time as a cycling workout as recommended by Horowitz.

Finallly, Cardio Classes
To me these are the real test of any mettle. An hour per class of constant movement: jumping, punching, swinging running, crawling and everything in between is geared to condition you into the finest athlete; build stamina, test endurance, defy limits and leave you fit and hurting and enhances and supports running training. Classes such as cardio kickboxing, mentally strips me and burns calories like crazy but it mentally and physically challenges and develops me for long term, which for me means race day.

I can’t promise that I’ve peaked or that I’m even performing at my best now, I believe that is still ahead but I continue to improve race by race so I know that I’m doing some things right most times. For the times I bum out, I remind myself that I’m a work-in-progress and I shake it off and try again – always with hope and the training as outlined above – pushing for a better race next time.

Sources:Β Active.com, Competitor.com, Runners World, Runnersconnect.com, Healthland.time.com

At the Heart of Running

The Heart

At the heart of running is a fragile yet strong, complex, judicious, and vital organ upon which our entire being depends. The human heart is as critical to life as air and it goes with little saying how dependent we all are on its proper functioning to live enjoyable lives. Yet it could be, that it is the least appreciated and understood of all our body organs in-so-far as how it works, how we should care for it, and even maximize its efficiency.

The Heart: How it Works

Your heart is an amazing organ. It continuously pumps oxygen and nutrient-rich blood throughout your body to sustain life. This fist-sized powerhouse beats (expands and contracts) 100,000 times per day, pumping five or six quarts of blood each minute, or about 2,000 gallons per day.

According to an article written on – How Does Exercise Affect Your Heart – on Active.com, Over time, with chronic cardio training, our resting heart rate drops because each beat delivers a bigger burst of blood, and fewer beats are needed.  This takes work off your heart and is why cardio exercise is recommended for heart health. However, cardiovascular exercise can also produce stress. If we get into over-training, we may hit a point where we are drowning in cortisol.  This eventually leads to immune-suppression and fat gain around the abdomen and face.  People who spend a significant part of their day in stress, who have poor digestion or other sources of physiological stress, should not further their stress levels by over-training.  It’s recommended that one should always think of their goals, moderate exercise if necessary, and work to reduce stress level.

As a runner, I have a deep appreciation for the role my heart plays in assisting my natural ability.  But even so, there are times I can take its steady beat for granted and cause it unease and unrest.  In this I know I am not alone.  There have been much debate and discussion about the dangers and or benefits of running, more so long distance running, on the heart.  Dr. Paul Thompson, a cardiologist who specializes in heart disease in athletes, says most Γ©lite athletes have hearts that are enlarged by exercise.  Scary right. I’ll step out on a limb here and say that our lack of education on the issue is even scarier.  Doctors, researchers and various writers on the issue seem to believe that there is no one-size-fits-all.  There are runners who’ve run 50+ years without any incidents and then there have been the 1/ 50,000 who have met with disastrous results. For example, a recent study showed that while regular exercise does indeed benefit the heart, some experienced marathoners past the age of 50 had significant calcium deposits in their arteries, thus increasing their likelihood of suffering a heart attack.

imageCaring for The Heart

Our hearts are so complex, there remain many unknowns but what is known is that family history and dietary habits play as critical a role–if not a greater role–in heart health than exercise. This puts your own risk factors high up there on the things to look after when deciding to pursue an active lifestyle. Consider the gene factor, do you have a predisposition? Is there anything in your medical history that could contribute to an onset of any heart issue? These are just two of the many questions that you should consider.
It’s worth the time, effort and money to invest in seeing a doctor about your exercise and or running plans and have a complete check up done, which should include an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)) which is able to measure the electrical activity of the heart and in most cases would show up any abnormal activity. As with most things, this is not fool-proof and a lot is left up to you the runner to ascertain your body limits. Learn to read and listen to your body; know when it’s calling out for rest and when it needs a work out and provide it with a proper diet and nutrition thereby maximizing your chances of being an effective runner while minimizing your risks of injury or even death. The thing is, even with all the advances in technology, knowledge and medicine, no test is infallible, it’s a matter of assessing your odds and going with your gut to pursue something you love. Your chance of dying in a marathon is far slimmer than that of a car accident. That is to say, risks are inherent in everyday life, at every turn and in all impracticality, it is the risky stuff that challenges us, causes us to dare to dream and extend ourselves beyond our human limitations. The joy comes when we discover the hidden potential within and a strong and healthy heart to boot.

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