Monday, March 12, 2018

The Importance of Cross-Training (aka Everything Hurts and I'm Dying)

Fair warning: I'm writing this post while soaking in my tub.

When I began running two years ago (yes, I mentioned in a previous blog post that I ran on the middle school track team; for a variety of reasons, we are not going to regard that as when I seriously began running)* I essentially ONLY ran. I rode my horse, too, but I didn't do any sort of cross-training. I was injured twice within my first three months of running, and to be honest I just kind of thought that's how running was supposed to be. Why else would we call it "Runner's Knee"?

In the weeks leading up to my first half marathon (May 2017), I sustained a number of "niggles" and problems that weren't QUITE injuries, and I did my best to prevent them from blowing up and keeping me on the sidelines come race day. The day of the race was essentially perfect, but I was body-sore and tired. I was, in a word, over-trained. I had done 10 weeks of hard running (I ran 4-5 days a week, and other than the occasional ride on my horse, had done little to no strength work or cross-training). I crossed the finish line at the Mystic Half Marathon in 2:05, but it wasn't pretty. I was dehydrated (likely hyponatremic) and had pulled my right hip flexor. I made a deal with myself to take a few weeks off from running (I got married two weeks after the race, and then went on an incredible trip to Spain, where my husband and I walked and rode bikes EVERYWHERE).

During my half marathon training, I had tried to get my husband to accompany me on some of my training runs. He politely declined, and said that he had no interest in running as a sport by itself, but that he was keen on doing a triathlon.

Well, that was the spark. We picked a date for our first triathlon, and began training. I slowly began running again, but was doing far less in terms of volume than I had been doing previously. I was running two to three times a week, biking twice a week, and swimming twice a week**. Since Summer has long passed and I am back in school, my training regimen looks a little different. These days, I run three times a week (about 20 miles a week), swim one to two times a week (I aim for 1750 meters or about one mile for each session), and bike one to two times a week (around 10 miles for each ride), depending on my work, school, and clinical schedules.

I'm going to touch wood now, but... I haven't been injured in nearly a year. I'm not counting the time(s) I've tripped and skinned my knees, of course. I'm talking about over-training injuries. The other cool part? I'm much, much faster in my running. Today, for the first time since middle school track, I ran an 8-minute mile. I'm about eight weeks out now from my first half marathon of this year (I'm aiming for the Providence Half on May 6th, and I'll be returning to the Mystic Half two weeks later on May 20th. I'm planning to break the 2-hour mark in Providence, and then enjoying the scenery in Mystic (hopefully also at a sub-2-hour pace, but we'll see). After that, training for triathlon season will be in full swing, and hopefully I'll start stepping up to two workouts a day at least twice a week. The main goal is to stay strong and injury-free, of course.

There's another benefit to my cross-training, as I found out. My husband and I went skiing yesterday. My husband is an exceptional skiier. I... am an utter novice. This was actually only my second time on skis (the first time was a little more than two years ago). To my delight, I wasn't terrible! I wasn't even half-bad! I made it to the summit, and skied down from there a few times before my legs turned to jelly and we had to return to the smaller lift for a few shorter runs to end the day. 

I was paying for it afterwards (hence the soak in a hot bath), but I was elated. I am physically in such a different place than I was two years ago, or even last year, and I am looking forward to what the rest of this year will bring.

*One of those reasons is that I had no idea what I was doing. I don't remember half of the practices or meets I went to, and I wasn't very good. I didn't know how to train on my own, so I didn't. This is probably a story for another day.

**The biggest thing I hear from people when I talk about triathlon is how much they'd like to try it, but they can't swim well. I did the backstroke on my first tri, no joke. This is definitely a story for another day.

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