Sunday, June 3, 2012

Your secret weapon: why triathlon is great for runners

There comes a time in almost every runner’s life where then they need a break.  Not because they are injured or sick, or they lose the desire to be physically active.  More that they just feel a lack of motivation, maybe a little bored with their routine, slightly “burnt out,” and, well, just “blah.”  There is tremendous joy in running, and when that joy is lacking, it can be difficult mentally.  For a lot of us, training and racing is only part of the equation. Running frees the mind and lessens the stressors of daily life.  When running itself becomes a stress, then we have a problem!  Many years ago, before I started triathlons, I heard some great advice from a trusted source.  It was to try riding the bike for about 10-15 minutes before heading out for a run.  This advice was aimed at runners.  Not to get them into triathlon necessarily, but just as a warm up and to get the legs feeling good.  I tried this at the gym on the spin bike one day, then went out running.  My legs felt fantastic.  And it was more than just because the blood was flowing (compared to runs where I did other types of warm-ups).  There was something about the motion of cycling that was quite complementary to running.  It was only later that I learned about the relationship of cycling cadence to running.   While there is always going to be debate when it comes to training, it is generally accepted that a cadence of 85-95+ RPM mimics an efficient running cadence (90 foot strikes per minute).  It makes sense.  Your body and brain are ready to run. 

We have all heard how great swimming is for runners, as cross-training (the same can be said for the bike).  I’d like to look at it from another angle.  For me, the runner’s high is an endorphin party like no other.  The swim endorphin high is a more peaceful type of euphoria.  I heard it described once as “all is right with the world.”  Learning proper swim technique does take time and practice.  It is important to get a some coaching on proper technique.  If you put in the time, the rewards are great.  In my own marathon training, I have found that a swim the day after a long run is great for recovery.  My body doesn’t do well with short, easy runs the day after a 20-miler.  Body and mind do however, appreciate a swim. 

One day at the gym, just for kicks, I swam for about half an hour, rode the spin bike for 60 minutes, then ran a treadmill 5k.  Something clicked after that.  I “got” why people did this.  There is magic in the trifecta. 

So what does this mean for runners?  Many things.  If allowed, cycling and swimming are great for maintaining cardiovascular strength during injury.  Cycling and swimming as cross-training will improve overall conditioning, leading to stronger running.  But here is something else I have found:  I do not put nearly the pressure on myself in triathlon as I do in marathons.  The first couple years or marathoning,  I found myself with lower PRs.  When I started heart rate training, another PR.  Now its “game on” in my mind, and I am hungry for lower and lower race times.  This can take a toll mentally and physically.  It can be hard for runners to let go and just enjoy.  This is where triathlon comes in.  Give you mind a break.  Loosen up.  Have some fun.  Sign up for a sprint.  You will learn a lot about yourself and I promise you will have a great time.   You don’t have to train like Lance Armstrong or Michael Phelps.  There are no sea monsters in the lake.   Take some time to mix it up, try something new. You will become a stronger runner and gain a mental edge in racing.    If it turns out you love it like I do, there is a whole world of new race opportunites waiting on your doorstep. 

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