We have talked about it so many times. The importance of cross-training and strength training regularly. How varying your workouts is the only way to improve as a runner and – most importantly – avoid injury.
But I’m guilty of not practicing what I preach. After a race-heavy fall and early winter, I was burnt out. I wasn’t sick of running. I was just over prescribed workouts, and that feeling that I “had” to run the next morning.
So, I gave myself a break. I took an unplanned week off from running, and then told myself that until I was mentally ready to train again that I would only exercise when I wanted to. On runs I would have no distance or pace goals; I’d simply go with the flow and see what happened.
I’ve been approaching workouts this way for two solid months now. And I’ve learned some interesting things about myself when I’m not in training mode.
I just ran. Before this “break”, I was running four days per week and doing spinning and TRX workouts another two days each week. I assumed I’d keep up this routine, but nope – I just ran. I love spinning, I really do, but when I got the urge to sweat, there was only one thing I wanted to do – run. Even though I knew I should be cross-training, I still chose only to run.
I stayed outdoors. I have a gym membership, and run on a treadmill year round. I have this notion that in order to hit fast tempo or interval paces that I need to train on the treadmill, otherwise the hills in my neighborhood and weather could hinder my performance. And I run to the treadmill for any weather-related issue. Wind, cold, heat, humidity, rain, snow – I’m on the treadmill at least one day per week when I’m training. But when I didn’t “have” to run, I opted to do all of my runs outside – even in freezing temperatures – which really surprised me.
I got faster … In a twist of irony, my average pace dropped when I wasn’t training. I felt strong on most runs and almost always ran a negative split. I have a bunch of theories as to why this happened – because I wasn’t tired from the demands of intense training, because I only ran on days when I really wanted to, because I didn’t run on the treadmill, I got better at running hills. This was my favorite unexpected benefit.
… But I felt like I was on the brink of injury. My hips and IT bands were constantly tight. I moaned every time I stood up from sitting and often found myself randomly stretching throughout the day. Even though my weekly mileage was about half of what it was during the peak of marathon training, my body was unhappy. For the past several weeks, I felt like I was only a run or two away from injury.
This is why I won’t keep up this only running approach. Even though I’m a runner at heart, this little experiment showed me that I need the cross-training, I need the flat terrain of the treadmill, and I don’t need to push the pace on every run even when I feel strong.
What have you learned about yourself as a runner when you changed up your routine?
Written by Jen Matz.