So, How Many Hats Do You Wear?

My photo
Pensacola, Florida, United States
Husband. *Dog Dad.* Instructional Systems Specialist. Runner. (Swim-challenged) Triathlete (on hiatus). USATF LDR Surveyor. USAT (Elite Rules) CRO/2, NTO/1. RRCA Rep., FL (North). Observer Of The Human Condition.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Our Own Cross (Training) To Bear

Here on the Gulf Coast, autumn temperatures and conditions don't show until the end of October, and when they do show they make themselves known quite readily. My northern friends consider me a sissy for pulling out knicker tights when the temperature drops below 60 degrees, but once your blood has thinned out from two decades of sunshine and warm, humid conditions there's no turning back. Even rainy evenings (which during the summer present precious comfort to us until the sun returns and we feel like we are in the world's largest sauna) can be a tad uncomfortable, pretty much because we get those 15-20 mph gusts cutting through the dri-fit gear we've chosen for our run.

These conditions can motivate you to very strong workouts, like last Thursday's mile repeats. I won't say they were heroic by any stretch of the imagination, but they were pretty darn good. I think my training partner and I would have been 15 (well, maybe 20) seconds per mile slower if not for the ungodly amount of rain dropping on us. Frankly, we both wanted to get that workout over with...even our warm-up was a little on the warm side.

I wrote an article last year about winter running; something I feel thoroughly unqualified to talk about, since I can count the number of times I've run in snowy, slushy or icy conditions on the fingers of one mittened hand. However, it was more about dealing with darkness, decreased visibility, drivers in a hurry to get from point A to point B, and a thumb in the eye of all those folks who love to run with headphones. It's a love/hate relationship, but we're not going there today.

One of the things that most runners do not think much about is cross-training. Perhaps they do more in the northern climates because they are in snow and snow-related products for months at a time. Down here, we race from September until May, with a little bit of a break over the holidays; for us it's more of a time where training has to be focused because of the lack of daylight. Cross-training does some wonderful things, in my humble opinion. It keeps you from getting burned out over running; that variety is the spice of life thing, you know? You have the opportunity to do some of the lower-intensity training indoors, saving your quality work for those times when it's light enough to get out there and hammer. Perfect for guys like me who haven't completely learned the benefit of easy days. Didn't say I wasn't learning, but it's usually by necessity. And, if you have a spouse, partner, friend or significant other who isn't into running or doesn't run as fast (or runs faster) than you, cross-training can also give you both some quality time, depending on the activity.

When I talk about cross-training, I'm talking exercise activities that can be done indoors, such as spinning, elliptical trainer, treadmill running or swimming. There's also basketball, racquetball, aerobic exercise of all sorts and weight training that can be done, but I'll limit myself to the first four I've mentioned.

Spinning - think of a spectrum of exercise spanning an exercise bicycle and the Tour de France.
: controlled conditions (no traffic), minimal equipment hassles (no flat tires), and the ability to work out at your own intensity level and still be in the vicinity of your fellow exercise enthusiasts. Oh, there's also the motivation of high-energy music (my instructor has played everything from Al Jarreau to ZZ Top in the past two years) and an instructor who tells you what you need to do, such as get up out of the saddle, hands at a particular position on the handlebars, pedal at a certain pace/heart rate intensity.
Negatives: doesn't help your bike-handling skills. Some instructors are less cycling-focused than others; while most Spinning instructors have a certification through Madd Dogg sports, they may (or may not) understand the focus of a cross-training athlete. You also have to find a place with a spinning class (local Y, fitness center, gymnasium, health club), then hope a bike is available. In my case, I like to use my road bike shoes, so I have to find a spinning bike that has Look-compatible cleats, or settle for platform pedals that accept workout shoes and aren't as efficient.
Burn: a 40-minute class will burn between 300 and 400 calories, depending on the intensity.

Elliptical trainer - lets you go through all of the motions of running or cross-country skiing, without the jarring of a treadmill. These are especially good during taper periods before a half-marathon or a marathon, when you absolutely feel the need to put a check in the got a 60-minute workout block of your daily to-do list; they're also great for rehabilitation from injury, say, when you break your arm and can't run for eight weeks.
Positives: most good machines have a variety of programs which allow you to work at a fat-burning or cardiovascular-stressing intensity, as well as hill climbing, interval and random programs. All of the information (distance, pace, calorie burn, heart rate, terrain) is right in front of you, so you are not left in the dark. You can let your legs and lungs feel the burn without beating yourself to death.
Negatives: most gyms don't have enough elliptical trainers, or the ones that are available have broken pulse monitors. A good solution for that problem is to take your own heart rate monitor strap with you to the gym. Also, without a television, music or other diversion, using elliptical trainers can be about as much fun as watching paint dry. When I do use an elliptical I'm always stuck in front of a television that has The Jerry Springer Show, or Fox News (now there's an oxymoron...) on...making my workout even that much more uncomfortable. You don't get the mileage in that you would cover on a treadmill or on the road. Also, if you have knee issues, some programs will trash your knees long before you stress your heart.
Burn: 40 minutes in fat-burning mode, without going too far over the line, will burn between 600 and 700 calories. You could do another 20 minutes, but the antidepressant use may outweigh the calorie burning benefits.

Treadmill - the original, and probably the most commonly used piece of indoor cardiovascular exercise equipment. I don't have to say much about this that you don't already know.
Positives: infinite variations on a theme. The ability to walk, jog or run on these things are a plus. Add the hill, interval, heart rate, and random programs to a good treadmill and you would wonder why any of us would ever go outside. The feedback on most treadmills is pretty much the same as elliptical trainers.
Negatives: doesn't replicate road running as well as most runners would like. Why is it I can run a 5:47 mile on the track and I cannot run a mile on a treadmill at 10.8 miles per hour? The shock absorbency of the treadmill deck varies from model to model, and a good model costs serious money. Also, while treadmills have ways to carry your fluid bottles and your music player, I've only seen one that has a ventilation fan...and even it isn't all that good. Watch me sweat all over a treadmill and you'll understand why I think fans are a great thing. And again, while I don't want to complain, treadmill choice at most gym facilities are like men and parking spaces at the mall: the good ones are all taken, the rest are way out there or damaged.
Burn: running an eight minute mile, you can burn about 500 calories in the space of 40 minutes.

Swimming - the one cross-training activity that I believe really transfers over to running.
Positives: no jarring, no pounding, and (relatively) easy on your muscles and joints. You know when you're improving in the pool, and when all of the techniques are falling into place. The discipline of breathing (inhaling especially) at the right time pays back dividends during that hard second mile of a 5K run. Also, there's not much you need to get into the pool, outside of a swimsuit and a pair of goggles. Everything else; kickboards, pull buoys, fins, caps, and so's all optional.
Negatives: large learning curve. Technically a complex activity, unless you plan to limit yourself to easy breaststroke. Time your breathing wrong and you're likely to end up with a mouth full of pool water rather than air. Certain times of the year, especially in this area of the country (where lightning is a near-daily occurrence) can pull you out of the pool in a flash...pun intended. And most swimming facilities around here are very strict on pulling folks out at the first flash of lightning.
Burn: an hour of good, vigorous swimming can burn up to 600 calories.

So, it's a good time to start thinking about what to do other than just running during this fall and winter. The fitness and strength you can maintain over the dark months will shorten the time it takes for you to get back into form once spring arrives...especially if it keeps you from gaining those five or ten pounds that somehow jump on our bodies between the end of October and the beginning of January.

Kia Kaha. Stay Strong.

No comments: