My biggest takeaway from this blog post: never underestimate the power of cross training! Not to toot my own horn right from the start, but I would label myself an excellent cross trainer. Without even knowing it, I cross trained full-time for the first 6 years of my athletic career (just kidding - I swam competitively from age 5-11 until I quit for running). But in all seriousness, cross training has saved me multiple cross country and track seasons. Although in the past I’ve usually used cross training only when I felt injury coming on, it can also be a great tool when you need to build up your base. I have been utilizing it a LOT since training for this marathon. Let me tell you a story that may blow your mind (or just remind you that I am quite dumb sometimes)…
It’s January of my sophomore year of college. I am on vacation to Steamboat Springs, CO with my family, but of course no winter vacation is complete without training for indoor track on your trip! Since there was so much snow on the ground, I was sentenced to the treadmill daily for my workouts – tempos, long runs, easy runs, the whole sha-bang on the good ole tread. But then came time for my interval workout that week – 8x400 at 70s. This was a workout I did NOT want to do on the treadmill, I mean, who wants to sprint 4:40 pace on one of those things at ALTITUDE. So, me being the brightest person in the world, I decided it would be a good idea to LACE UP MY TRACK SPIKES (Nike Victory Elites to be exact), head down to the street, and SPRINT for 70 SECONDS on the ICE 8 times in a row. Now, looking back, was this a smart decision? Absolutely not - a horrible idea, I do not recommend. Anyways, what do you know… the next day I wake up with a very sore achilles. HMM… I wonder what it could be FROM?! I did not panic, but immediately I headed to the elliptical and then began my 6 week journey back to running. I had had a very bad achilles injury in my past (freshman year of high school), where I was running on and off, on and off throughout the entire season. The end result? Dropping out of my CIF San Diego section prelims meet because it almost tore. What I learned from my first achilles injury was that it will only get better if you STOP RUNNING on it IMMEDIATELY. If it hurts to walk, chances are it won’t be getting better if you continue to run on it.
Knowing this information, I decided to take a few days off after getting back from vacation that January, and then began to simulate my scheduled workouts on my buddy the elliptical. Every day I would be in the University of Oregon rec center sweating enough to fill a pool on that machine, literally watching my teammates on the track down below complete workouts to gear up for the first race of the season. The reason I chose the elliptical specifically for this injury was because I didn’t feel my achilles being worked at ALL. When I went on the spin bike, it was pulling. In the pool to swim or aqua jog, flexing my foot made it ache. My cross training preference depends on the part of my body that is sore. For example, when I had IT band issues in high school, swimming was perfect because it was zero impact. This is a lot of trial and error to find out what works best for you.
It took 6 full weeks to be able to run on land again. I would say my achilles stopped hurting when I walked after 3-4, but I added on an extra 2-3 weeks to make SURE I wouldn’t re-hurt myself when I began working out on land again. I knew 6 weeks off now in January/February is a lot better than running on and off for the next 6 MONTHS, just to end up hurt at the end. After 6 weeks, I took one week to ease back into mileage. I remember my first long run back that week – 8 miles in beautiful Forest Park in Portland. I took a picture because I was so happy to be back running on land without any pain at all!
At this time, I had already missed out on the first few meets of indoor season, but my coach wanted me to run at our indoor conference meet that next weekend. I was quite nervous, but I was basically thrown right back into workouts. These workouts ended up being some of the hardest of my entire life (please watch the video for a full description lol), but I knew I needed to get my butt kicked to whip myself back into shape. I raced at our conference meet and did.. horrible. The worst mile I ever ran in college - 4:58.41 (mind you this is a similar time to what I ran freshman year of high school!). However, after two or three more of the grueling workouts, I was back to my normal self in 3-4 weeks. I ended up running a PR at our second meet of the outdoor season - 4:20.98 for the 1500. I was honestly shocked at the entire situation. I couldn’t believe after 6 weeks off I barely even made a dent in my fitness level. I attribute this to one thing: CROSS TRAINING.
Especially when it comes to injuries, my biggest advice is to be honest with yourself. Does it hurt to walk? Don’t run. You are just prolonging the window of time between injury and being able to run again. If I kept running through that injury my sophomore year, there is ZERO chance I would have made it to the end of outdoor track season. But because I utilized cross training, I was able to make a relatively smooth transition back into racing immediately.
With this marathon training, I am able to add significant cardio time to my week without the impact by implementing long bike rides. This has seriously helped build up both my mental and physical stamina over the past few months coming back from my hiatus. Not only has it kept me relatively pain free, it has also given me confidence that I will finish the 26.2 mile race.
MY CROSS TRAINING STAPLES:
In terms of specific workouts, when I am using cross training as an addition to my normal running plan, I usually only add in EASY sessions, say an hour or two a week. However, when I am injured and my training plan only consists of cross training, I simulate the workouts during my cross training sessions. For example, if I am supposed to have an interval workout on the track that day, I will go to a hard spin class instead. Rather than overcomplicating it and stressing yourself out, just go in and try to make sure to get your heart rate up to what is similar to running.
I hope you guys enjoyed this lil story time, or maybe you even learned something from it. And if you are currently suffering from an achilles injury, head over to the elliptical fella and start that cross training GRIND! You will be back before you know it ;)