Cross Training For Runners

Written by guest contributor, 2016 ambassador Aaron Hewitt.

Summer is in the air and people want to be outside!  And over the next several months you’re going to read many articles on the blog about how fantastic running is.  And I agree.  I love running and I cannot wait for the Novant Health Charlotte Marathon in November.  Nothing feels better than having the headphones on, the sun in my face, and hitting the pavement after a stressful day at the office.  But I’d like you to consider running as a part of your overall fitness and not the “end all, be all”.  Let me explain…

If I were to ask you “why” you run, most likely you’re going to give me one of two answers:  fitness or mental well-being.  Both are excellent answers.  Now, I’ll ask you another question:  What sport is most often associated with injury?  Football?  Soccer?  Crossfit?  Nope.  Nope.  And Nope.

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Unfortunately 50% of running athletes, regardless of sex, age, running surface, foot strike, or BMI will suffer some injury in their career.  The most common running injuries are the overuse ones:  Plantar Fasciitis, Achilles Tendonitis, Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome, IT Band Friction Syndrome, Shin Splints, and Stress Fractures.  The biggest risk factors for running injury are a previous injury, running experience, running to compete, and excessive mileage.  And with ~50 million people identifying themselves as a “jogger” last year alone, that’s a lot of people that won’t be able to do the thing they love.  That’s why I’m here.  To keep you doing the things you love for a long time, injury-free.

Why should you cross-train when you’re trying to run a half marathon/marathon?  First off, for injury prevention.  Cartilage and muscles provide the cushion and stabilization around a joint (especially the knee).  Having strong supporting structures allows the joint to absorb more of the stressors that come with running 26.2 miles.  When you cross-train that’s one less day of running, meaning one more day of rest for those feet, knees, and hips.  Next, you can actually become MORE aerobically fit by participating in low impact exercise.  Did you know that on average, bikers and swimmers can perform aerobic activities twice as long as runners?  Hello fat burning!  Third, it can actually make you faster!  A Swedish study replaced one third of a group’s running workouts with plyometric exercises and after nine weeks, they found the cross-trainers to have increased stride length, reduced ground contact time and subsequently faster races.

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When I ran my last two marathons I used a method of training where I ran three times a week.  I had a sprint day, a tempo day, and a long slow distance day.  I augmented my running workouts with full body High Intensity Interval Training (Crossfit) on my non-running days and a deep stretch, low intensity yoga class on my rest day.  I work out one hour a day, 6 days a week with the exception of my long run day, which was upwards of 2-3 hours.  My goal was to run the entire 26.2 miles and at 40 years old, I was able to do just that (4:05:31).  And I (knock on wood) have yet to have an overuse injury.

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Are there exceptions to this rule?  Of course there are.  I’m not an elite runner with aspirations to qualify for the Olympics.  Heck, I’m not even in the ballpark to qualify for the Boston Marathon.  If these are your goals, odds are, you’ll need to run more frequently than I do.  I run because it provides cardiovascular health and helps my emotional well-being.  And to me, the ability to do that for a lifetime is much more important than being able to do that for a short window.  Do us both a favor and avoid seeing me in the office.  I hope you’ll consider adding cross-training to your summer running program.  See you at the starting line!


Stay tuned for our next blog on how Yoga can help prevent injury from guest blogger, ambassador Jen DeCurtins!