Cross training is increasingly becoming a key feature of the marathon runner's preparation. It develops overall conditioning and can improve running performance. Yet many still subscribe to the view that to be a better runner, you must run.
Of course there is an element of truth to that, running should always be at the very core of any marathon programme. But cross training can complement and enhance your running. I inadvertently discovered the powers of cross training several years ago. I had completed three marathons in 12 months and was probably a little jaded with running.
A good friend persuaded me to enter the London Triathlon with him and so I did. The whole process really freshened me up physically and mentally. The cycling and swimming disciplines were new challenges. I found I was fairly adept at cycling, but swimming was a struggle to master. Yet, although I found the sessions tough, that made them amongst the most rewarding. I could also see real progress where my running had begun to plateau since I had got into it two years earlier.
I also found I was a lot more eager for my running sessions. It became like a treat. 'Yes, this is the one I'm good at,' I would think. To my surprise, on race day I clocked a 10k PB for the running leg, despite having swam 1500m and cycled 40k just before.
I put it down to a two reasons. Firstly, the greater variety had meant I was training with greater regularity and vigour and thus increased my overall fitness.
Secondly, although I was running only twice a week, the swimming and cycling had still provided me with the overall conditioning to enhance my running. Since then, cross training has always been a key part of my training programme. Here's my favourite cross training activities…
Running will always be my first love. But cycling is a tempting mistress. Both are great fresh air exercises where you can really take in some scenery too. Physically, I've found cycling great for my quads and helping me to be stronger up hills in running.
The rowing machine provides super intensive exercise, offering a lung bursting workout in a relatively short time. It's excellent for intervals. Try 5 x 500m with 30 second recoveries. It's a killer workout.
Once you get the hang of breathing and get a decent technique, this can be a really satisfying workout. Test yourself to front crawl a mile. It's tough, but achievable for experienced runners.
CROSS TRAINER OR ELLIPTICAL
A great piece of gym equipment to use when injured or when you are mindful of injury-prevention. It's non-impact, but you replicate many of the key movements in running without the risk of hurting yourself. Can be a bit boring though, so make sure you have a TV, music or reading material close at hand.