Running Fiesta

Writing and running in Austin, TX.

Adventures in Cross-Training

According to pretty much every running magazine, book, Web site, and coach in the world, cross-training is a good thing. My Rogue training program even has cross-training specifically written in to it, albeit only as additional exercise on a day that also includes a short run. According to Runner’s World, cross-training — engaging in any sport that isn’t running — can both prevent injury and “give runners an extra edge”. They also claim it “prevents burnout” caused by too much running, but I’m skeptical on this one given that their “hands-down best cross-training activity” is…running. In a pool. With a bunch of weights attached to your waist so you don’t accidentally float to the top and, you know, breathe.

One of the most interesting things about cross-training is that it’s right up there with eating 6 servings of vegetables a day. When someone mentions cross-training (or kale), we runners all nod sagely. “Why yes, a combination of snow-shoeing and leafy greens IS the key to a sub-4:00 marathon.”

But the truth — for me at least, and I suspect for many others — is that I cross-train about as frequently as I eat arugula. Even the venerable Runner’s World found 35% of respondents to an online poll were willing to admit they never cross-train, and my personal observation would put the actual number closer to 50%. Sure, lots of people “work out” with a mixture or running, cycling, and gym classes, but when you dive into a marathon training program that has you running 40-60 miles a week, somehow the motivation to hop on the elliptical gets left out there on the pavement.

In my case, it’s not even laziness that keeps me from cross-training. (I swear! No, really!) It’s fear.

Friend: “Can you sub for us at soccer tonight?”

Me: “Heck no. I might twist my ankle and miss my 3-mile recovery run tomorrow! My running career would be over!”

Frankly, we all know I’m plenty good at hurting myself while running — stride, stride, stride, splat! — but I’m even better at hurting myself on a bicycle. Case in point – yesterday’s rides to and from work.

It’s really my fault that I had to ride to work in the first place. Last weekend, I brought home an exotic German strain of cold that Handsome J couldn’t possibly resist. When he first mentioned he might stay home sick from work, I thought, “No problem, I’ll just run to work, and then you can come pick me up in the evening when you’ll probably feel better.”

That idea stuck around until I started packing my bag yesterday morning and realized that running to work would mean carrying a huge backpack full of jeans, shirt, sweater, shoes, towel, shampoo…I mean, come on. I’m not exactly a Marine here.

I had three options:

  1. Drive: Impossible. Our car here is a standard, the lanes here are roughly 3 feet across, and there’s no such thing as a “no parking within 15 feet of an intersection” law. Turning a corner generally involves crossing yourself, flooring it, and praying there’s not a city bus hidden behind that Passat. For the health and well-being of the citizens of Aachen, me behind the wheel of a car during rush hour traffic is out of the question.
  2. Bus: Aachen — like most of Europe — has fantastic public transportation. Certainly better than any I’ve seen in the US. Unfortunately, it’s also full of mysterious express buses, lines that share numbers but follow different routes, and professional commuters who wouldn’t appreciate a dumb American holding up the line trying to dig out 2 Euros. 
  3. Bike: Well, we did ship our bikes all the way over here because it’s such a great biking town, didn’t we? And didn’t I also just shell out 30 Euros (around $50 US) for the splashguards that, while mocked by US cyclists, are absolutely essential in a town that gets 8-12 inches of rain per month. (To put that in perspective, Seattle averages 1-6.)

There was really only one, minor glitch in my bike-riding plan: It gets dark at 4:30 these days. But hey, we’d bought lights for our bikes. How bad could it be??

Okay, mistake number one: Failing to remember that riding a bike uphill is about 3x as vomit-inducing as running up that same hill. Especially if you never ever bike and therefore are completely out of shape for it. Here’s what the elevation gain is like over the 6 miles to work:

Ow, ow, ow, ow, owwwww!!!

Mistake number two: Failing to remember that being “in shape” for biking means more than just having big quads. There are also certain, ahem, contact points that you need to toughen up. And it turns out the width of my bike seat is exactly the same as the distance between the two points of my tailbone. At this very moment, I’m sitting in a soft leather office chair, and shifting 3 centimeters to the right or left is enough to make me wince.

Mistake number three: Failing to remember that 4 of those 6 miles have NO street lights whatsoever. Okay, riding in the “dark” is one thing when you’re riding along a decently lit road. But riding in the dark of the forest, with only the glare of oncoming headlights to blind you, is another matter entirely. It took me an HOUR to get home, which means that I was successfully biking slower than I’m capable of running. It was so dark at one point that I actually had to get off the bike because I couldn’t tell if I was on the trail or headed into a tree. And boy did I give that lady and her German Shepherd a story to tell…

Mistake number four: Failing to remember that I always hurt myself cross-training. I don’t know how it’s possible, but without any crashes and with a relatively small number of miles covered (for a bike), I managed to injure both my knees. By the second half of the ride home, my left leg complained so much about having to contribute to the effort that it pretty much became dead weight. And today the inside of my right knee added its whining to the mix. These certainly aren’t serious, career-threatening injuries, but they’re enough to be a major PITA.

So now I’m stumped. What’s the solution here? How will I ever complete an Ironman if I can’t even bike to work? And does this mean I have to learn to drive the car?

One comment on “Adventures in Cross-Training

  1. Jeanine
    November 20, 2010

    wait, did I read right???? Ironman??? I am about to get truly excited at the potential for training dates when you move back. Galveston April 70.3 in 2012…it's awesome…think on it!

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This entry was posted on November 20, 2010 by in cross-training.
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