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September 3, 2010 / elodie kaye

Cross-Training, Meh

It’s practically sacrilegious of me to say so, but cross-training doesn’t seem to be doing much for me.  By ‘cross-training’ I mean the 50 miles of cycling and 2000m of swimming that I’m averaging weekly, and by ‘doing much’ I naturally mean running better.  After a slow build-up period, I’ve logged a steady four weeks of swimming and cycling.

They’re both sports I’ve engaged in before.  I didn’t need to buy any new equipment; my bike only needed a lube and tune-up.  I’ve achieved some kind of workable competence in the saddle and the water, so it didn’t take a lot out of me to start again.  I’m not about to race triathlons or anything, I added them back because the sense of movement in each is distinct from running, and pleasurable for its own sake.  In spite of my disappointment (yet again) that it doesn’t help my running at all, I get excited about my ride or swim for the day almost every morning.  It’s another happy consequence of choosing not to run a marathon this year.  I’ve never been such a cheerful quitter!

This might be the third or fourth time I’ve rediscovered that only running more makes my running better.  Running 30 miles a week made me stronger and smoother than running 20 mpw, and 40 mpw feels better than 30.  More total mileage gives me the endurance to absorb more speedwork, too.  The rule of thumb is that you can do 10-15% of your weekly miles at speed.  Running more miles at a fast pace makes it easier run fast, logically enough.  Nonetheless, I seem to feel the need to check every couple of years, whether it really is still true that cycling won’t make me a better runner.

I’m bumping up against the ceiling of how much total endurance training I can handle though, physically, mentally and logistically.  Last week I spent over 13 hours in motion.  Trying to squeeze in more miles or laps would feel a bit frantic.  Especially with the school year starting, I won’t have as much flexibility in my day to swim or go for a late morning ride.  Another hazard for me is that riding a lot has the side effect of making me more ambitious about it.  I start thinking about what I could do to get faster and more efficient on the bike.  In the past, it has proved to be an efficient way to burn myself out.

For the amount of time I spend cycling, I’m probably better off running more, but 45 mpw feels close to my comfortable limit.  I might be able to break into the 50s if I focused solely on running, but I haven’t held that kind of mileage for more than a few weeks at a time.  It’s uncertain territory.  That always carries some risk, and at this point not as much benefit.  Forty miles a week is plenty for racing half-marathons.  Plus, cycling and swimming, well freediving really, are a lot of fun.

I suspect that one reason why sheer volume still brings improvement is because I’m relatively underdeveloped.  1500 miles in a year represents an average of 30 mpw, I’ve only exceeded that number 5 times and they weren’t consecutive years.  One of my coaches has had good success running less but cycling and swimming more. When he started his experiment, he had been running for over 15 years, averaging no less than 3000 miles a year for 10 consecutive years.  Where he used to run 70 – 80 mpw, he now averages 50 – 60 mpw, but the total number of hours spent training has risen.  He spends a dizzying 27 hours in motion now.

I can only hope that I run long enough to stop seeing progress.


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