My relationship with running has been a good one, rewarding and mutual. The one time running breaks my heart is when I’m faced with an injury. And, oh, they will come.
When in shape, I tend to possess a feeling of invincibility. There are no workouts I can’t do nor races I can’t win. There comes a time when a body will break down, and pushing past that threshold is how injury weasels its way into my perfect running world. I tend to ignore signs of pain, (that might be the definition of running), hoping my positive thinking will magic the pain away. But sometimes small nagging issues turn into sharp pains and before I know it, even walking hurts and running is out of the question.
Why so foolish with my own injuries? Why not back off at the first signs of pain? Because I loathe cross-training.
To be “injured,” indicates any sort of pain, because this is your body trying to communicate with you. To “back off” means to do some kind of cross-training instead of running. Some non-weight bearing exercise, so as to give yourself needed rest.
That is the logical part, but what I hear is, “Blah, blah blah, you can’t run anymore, blah, blah, blah.” Now you know why I avoid facing my injuries like the plague. But if you’re stronger than me, you will tell yourself to ease up on the running.
If you’re injured – whether it is a stress fracture or just tight muscles – It’s time to cross train. What type? How long? How hard? How does it compare with running? Over the last five years, amid great running success, I have also spent countless hours sweating away cross-training. In other words, you’ve come to the right place. And if you cross-train well, you’re transition back to running will be easier and faster.
The type of cross training you do depends on the nature of your injury. When I had runner’s knee, or knees (they both hurt at the same time), the elliptical seemed to hurt me worse, so I chose to bike. When I had a stress fracture in my foot, I needed complete non-weight bearing exercise, and so I hit the pool. You need to determine what type of activity will actually relieve stress from your injury first. Next, pick one that drives you the least crazy.
I typically switch off between an elliptical, a stationary bike, pool running, and swimming laps. For me, variety keeps my boredom at bay. There are other options. You can ride a bike on the road or use a rowing machine. I’ve even heard of someone roller-blading to cross train, although if I did that I would injure myself far worse.
This is the greatest injustice of cross-training. It takes longer. An hour cross-training for me translates to about five miles. That is a 12-minute mile as opposed to my typical recovery pace of seven minutes per mile. You may have to adjust for your own pace.
As far as how long you need to cross train before you begin running again, well that’s up to when your body decides to heal. You could be back after a few days if you’ve caught the problem soon enough, but if you’re like me, sometimes, it can take months. And be sure you ease back into running. You should use cross training as a supplement until you’re back to full running again.
Riding an elliptical for an hour at the same speed is not fun. Mixing it up with hard intervals will not only make the time pass, but it keeps you in better shape – which is the whole purpose of cross training. You need to keep your fitness level as close as you can to when you had to stop running. Always warm up about 10 to 20 minutes, then crank up your resistance and the volume on your music and give these workouts a try.
1. Repetitions of 3-4 minutes at a hard pace. Try to keep a steady hard pace for the entire interval. I would start with three reps and work up from there as you become stronger. Your rest in between the intervals should be about half. So if you do three minutes hard, rest for one minute and 30 seconds. If four minutes hard, take two minutes recovery. Eventually, I might do two sets, for example: 4×4 minutes hard with two minutes rest, then 10 minutes steady recovery pace, then another set of 4×4 minutes hard with two minutes rest. Then cool down.
2. The countdown: I love these kinds of workouts! My favorite is a 5,4,3,2,1. Start with five minutes hard, take 2.5 to three minutes of recovery. Then four minutes hard, with two minutes recovery. Followed by three minutes hard and on down to a final, all out one minute hard interval. You can make up your own variations of this one and that’s why it’s the best. Try a 10, 5, 2, or maybe a 5, 3, 1. Whatever feels good.
3. If you’re in the mood to “sprint,” do repetitions of short and very fast intervals. It’s good to increase resistance on these, but take it down on your rest in between so you can actually rest. I wouldn’t do more than repetitions of two minutes for this. You can play with 90 seconds, One minute and 30 seconds as well, try to only give yourself half-time rest. Your heart rate will be in high gear and it feels awesome. Do as many repetitions as you like.
4. Finally, to replace a long hard tempo run, try maintaining at least a 160 bpm heart rate for 15-30 minutes. This one can get tough when you’re in a gym and the scenery doesn’t change. I find I do better with inspiring music or while watching a BYU football game. Nothing gets your blood pumping like watching football.
It really comes down to listening to your body. When that’s not enough and injury breaks you and your love of running up, cross training is the answer. Put in the time to stay in shape, and when you can run again you won’t feel like they are the first steps you’ve ever taken.
Cecily is a senior cross country and track and field athlete at BYU, and a two-time All-American.