Tips for the Trail – Cross Training for Trail Runners – Xterra – 6-3-2011

By Rachel Cieslewicz

published in Xterra 6/3/2011

Rachel CieslewiczRunning day after day can take a toll on the mind and the body.  Periodically, the joy of taking a day to swim, water run, go for a bike ride, or anything that is different can provide the best relief. The burnout factor is dimmed, weaker muscles may be developed and balanced, and the body in general gets a chance to rest from repetitive motion. As running is a high impact sport, doing something without impact is a great opportunity for the body to have a break from pounding while still achieving cardiovascular benefits. Not long ago, I was invited to live this fully due to injury.

Last year, I had a huge reminder that while I love to trail run, sometimes cross training can be the perfect lifesaver.  I started out the year having a great time. But being me, I started running more and more and didn’t listen to the signs of overtraining. Despite my body’s call for rest, I raced a really hard mountain race as my hips screamed for me to stop. The result was a debilitating injury of seized muscles, dysfunction and pain.  It took quite a while to heal.  In the meantime I had other races I was obligated to race. In order to keep my heart, lungs, and muscles in shape, cross training became my best friend.

There are many activities a runner can do to cross train.  My activities of choice were swimming, biking and yoga. The swimming and biking were fabulous, as they come naturally for me due to my background in cycling and triathlon.  The ability to ride my bike was the best, as I was could hill train, keep my legs in shape, and think about what it would be like to run my trails as I biked them.  Swimming was great as a non-impact full body workout, reminding me to use my core, and having an excuse to cool off on hot summer days. And yoga is the perfect blend of stretch, strength, balance and breath.  All three activities calmed my mind, as I was still able to train hard and enjoy my endorphin fix!

For a fair amount of time, I was only able to run on race days.  Yes, there was worry that I wouldn’t do well or my body wouldn’t remember how to do it, but amazingly enough, I was rewarded greatly.  I had one period where all I did was cross train for over two weeks before a big race. It was at elevation, in the heat. The course had over 3,000 feet of climbing and descent, with many great athletes competing.  When it was all said and done, I finished 2nd female overall and took eight minutes off my time from the previous year!  This reminded me of how wonderful cross training can be.

It is still important to train specifically when possible. But, when things go astray from the original plan, know that you have the possibility of coming back stronger than ever by cross training. It is okay to do other things sometimes.

Perhaps this week, take a day and enjoy a swim or ride. This way your trail running will continue to feel fresh and strong through the season as the body and mind receive a change. A note on this if you are choosing something new to your body.  Don’t try something new on race week!  Engage with care. Ease into the activity as you would anything else. Let the brain and muscles have time to adapt.  Just like with running, do as much as your body says is okay.  If you are not sure, use caution and do less than you think. Chances are you will be sore as different muscles are recruited or used in new ways.  Allow cross training to balance your running and you may find that it can refresh your trail running ways!

Rachel Cieslewicz is an elite runner and triathlete based in Salt Lake City, Utah. She won the women’s division of the XTERRA Lake Las Vegas and Santa Cruz half-marathons this year, and placed fifth at the 2010 XTERRA Trail Run World Championship last December at Kualoa Ranch, Hawaii. She is a talented sports massage therapist, Pilates and yoga instructor and is a certified running form coach. She can be reached atrcanyon1@gmail.com  or visit her website atwww.newageathlete.comor follow her onwww.twitter.com/newageathlete.