ASK THE GOAT: Cross-training
Goat: “I am ramping up for my big race in the spring. I am attempting my first 100-miler. My distance is getting better but I am losing strength in other areas. I am OK with the muscle loss because I also worry about carrying too much weight when I run long distances. Any recommendations?” Signed “Long-distance Lucinda”
Dear Lucinda: You need to cross-train. There is no such thing as carrying too much muscle weight while running distance. Your distance training will realign your musculature to best benefit your running form.
What is happening to you is very common in the ultra-running circles. I, myself, used to avoid strength training because of the “muscle-weight myth.” And my running suffered from it. Little things are the first to go, such as the ability to comfortably wear a hydration pack. Your atrophied pectoral girdle just cannot support the weight for 24 hours of bouncing down a trail with both water and gear. A runner’s upper body is the most neglected part of his/her training regimen, although good form necessitates a strong core. Having adequate shoulder strength and powerful chest and arms also benefit the long-distance runner.
What I recommend is one to two days each week of cross-training. Find a reasonable Bootcamp or Metabolic/Plyometric group. There are more systems out there now than ever.
To keep your musculature in the right proportions for your running, use your bodyweight plus maximum gear weight as your guide. For instance, engage in burpees and chin-ups with your hydration pack stuffed to 100-mile capacity. Even wear your gear for speed training and short runs. Focus on glutes, abs and upper body power development to help you recapture the functional strength required to go the full distance. As long as you do not dive into a low repetition, high weight scenario that focuses on excessive protein consumption and lessened intensity, you will maintain the proper body type for your sport. And it can be packed with muscle weight.
Some types of cross-training are provided below. I have included many name-brand systems that are available.
For home use, there is Insanity, P90X 1 and 2, Turbo Fire, Body Pump and myriad Yoga/Pilates systems.
Gyms (and various individuals) offer Spinning, Bootcamps, Strength and Conditioning, Zumba, Step and other Cardio Classes.
There is swimming, biking, in-line skating, long boarding and adventure racing. Martial Arts offers speed, balance and flexibility development, not to mention Cage Fitness Classes and other cardio training.
Last, there are many military-based programs online that list exercises and their intended result.
One could effectively design a strong and sound cross-training regimen using a combination of any of these available aspects.
Remember that running is only one part of run training. Almost anyone can maintain a near-resting heart-rate and plod along for 12-24 hours. The deciding factor is how much you desire to suffer during this period. I always factor two variables: “time on feet” versus “energy expenditure.” I have to balance the desire to be done sooner with the energy output to make it so. The more you cross-train, the more leverage you have to tweak time. Strengthen peripheral musculature, buttress primary muscles and increase cardio capacity. This makes everything easier; even plodding 100 miles at a seeming crawl.