The right amount of cross training

How much cross training is right for me?  Am I running enough miles?  Am I cycling too much?

Lately I’ve been asking myself these questions.

Rain continues to pound my home state of New Jersey.  Hurricane Irene combined with last week’s five straight days of heavy rain and thunderstorms left local streams and rivers flooding.  It was so bad that the second day of school was cancelled.

The unrelenting rain left me in unprecedented territory— last week I recorded my first 80+ mile running week ever.  To avoid cycling in wet / flooded conditions, I substituted runs for my two planned rides.  The net result?  Six straight days of running for about 85 total miles.

My body survived the pounding.  I felt better than expected at the end of the week, providing more momentum towards running higher mileage.

I recently replaced one rest day with an easy running day.  My current allocation of workouts is 4-2-1 (4 runs, 2 rides, 1 rest day).  Of the four runs, three are high intensity or long and one is easy.  Should I replace a ride with a run, for a 5-1-1 allocation (5 runs, 1 ride, 1 rest day)?

Here are the most likely impacts:

  • Energy fitness.  More runs and fewer rides should have a minimal effect on my energy fitness.  Running and riding put similar demands on the energy systems, and my cycling workouts are already difficult.  So I wouldn’t expect major changes in my energy fitness from replacing a ride with a run.
  • Muscular fitness.  My running-specific muscles will get stronger at the expense of my riding-specific muscles.  This could be good for me.  I’ve read that cycling and running use similar muscle groups, but I notice distinct differences between a cyclist’s body and a runner’s body.  Cyclists typically have thicker quadriceps and calf muscles.  My body structure is currently more like that of a cyclist than a runner.  I expect that to shift if I replace some cycling with running.
  • Injury and illness.  Injury is a major concern and the primary reason I cross-train so much.  I am nervous that increased mileage would lead to injury or illness.  I’m now confident that I can manage this risk.  I can avoid injury and illness by running on softer surfaces, running easy on some days, building my strength and flexibility, and changing my nutrition.
  • Mental and Emotional Factors.  I love cycling.  I would definitely miss the time on the bike.  I love running too, but I worry that too much running could cause burnout.  Those two days of cycling per week provide enough variety to keep everything fresh.

The question “how much cross-training is right for me” can’t be answered theoretically or on paper.  I need to experiment with different options and see what delivers the best results.

For now I plan to stick with my current weekly workout allocation of 4-2-1 (4 runs, 2 rides, 1 rest day).  I just added the fourth run, and I want to see the impact of that before making another change.  I won’t hesitate to substitute a run for a ride if circumstances dictate (e.g., weather, travel); I know my body can handle the pounding.

I’ll continue to revisit this topic.  I could easily see an increase or decrease in cross-training depending on the kind of fitness I’m trying to build, but the optimal mix could remain elusive.  All the more reason to keep working at it.

Photo Credit:  Christy Ward (Long Valley Patch)

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August into September 2011: Fueling a breakthrough

August was a month of transition.

After descending through June and July, I finally stabilized in August.  I gained control of my eating habits, re-started consistent workouts and even got a bit inspired.

This is the first time I have calculated the total number of miles I’ve run in a month.  I frequently calculate the total number of miles per week, but I never extended the idea to the month.  I was actually shocked when I saw the totals for August:

  • Running:  252 miles on 17 runs
  • Cycling:  350 miles on 9 rides

The total mileage feels good, but the number of times I got out the door (26 of 31 days) feels better.  It confirms that I’m starting to get the consistency back.  It’s interesting to compare August with July…in July I mustered the strength / discipline / resolve to do a meager 11 workouts.

In August I experimented with adding an extra easy running day to my week.  My weeks have had the same profile for the last 10 years—running 3 days, cycling 2 days, strength / flexibility work 2 days.  I decided to add the extra running day because I’m convinced that:

  • More running (done right) leads to faster running
  • I can manage the potential for injury from increased mileage
  • Shorter, more frequent strength and flexibility work is better than allocating two whole days

And you don’t get breakthroughs without trying new things.

So far so good.  The extra day of running hasn’t negatively affecting anything yet.

In September I plan to increase the intensity of my workouts (most of them anyway).  I’ve got a strong enough base that I can add intensity without risking too much injury.  I don’t plan to increase the miles.

My Big September Challenge…Nutrition

In September I intend to crush a 30 Day Primal / Paleo Challenge that I issued myself.  The rules are as follows:

  • Eat Primal.  Eat vegetables, fruits, nuts/seeds, meat and healthy fats.  The good news (for me anyway) is that I already eat these items.  I’ll need to make some changes however, like eating more fish and evaluating the “quality” of what I eat in these categories.
  • Avoid eating junk.  This is where it gets interesting.  I’m completely avoiding my key vice, the 5 Cs (Cookies, Cake/brownies, ice Cream, Candy, sugar Cereal) and as many other processed foods as possible (including pretzels, popcorn, chips, soda, bread, pasta).  What will I eat as snacks?  I have no idea.
  • Focus on sleep.  I average five or six hours of sleep per night.  For the next 30 days, I’m aiming for seven hours of sleep per night.
  • Play.  I’m going to play more actively.  Hopefully my two kids and dog won’t wear me out within a few minutes.  If things go well I may even get stronger.

I know 30 day challenges are trendy and this might seem a little extreme, but I’m eager to see how my body responds.

And you don’t get breakthroughs without trying new things.

To accomplish my 2011 and 2012 running goals, I need to master the art and science of recovery.  My current nutrition strategy just isn’t effective enough.  It’s constraint that I must eliminate.  I’m hoping to go all in on a new nutrition strategy, and now is my chance to experiment.  I’ve been reading about Paleo / Primal for two months.  I recently picked up The Paleo Diet for Athletes and it looks promising.

After circling around for the past 3 months (really the past 12 months), now’s the time to take a real step forward.

Does anyone want to take up the Paleo / Primal Challenge with me?  Got any experience with Paleo / Primal that you’d like to share?