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Cross-training is a great help for runners
No Caption - photo by Kim Cowart
To be a good runner you have to run. To be a great runner you have to cross-train.

When you love to run, its all you want to do. I get it. My happy place is on my favorite running trail just as the sun starts to peek over the Rockies, before the asphalt heats up for the day and the gnats make their grand entrance. I love nothing more than landing at my porch, sweat dripping down my face, my hair plastered to my forehead and happy, tired legs. I get it.

I also love pizza, but if I were to eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner day after day, my love might start to fade as my body revolted.

Running will always be my first love, but with such a buffet of workouts to choose from, its good to break away and try something new. Here are just a few reasons to take an occasional rest from running and try something new.

1. Cross-training strengthens running muscles. Weak glutes and hips make for sad, injured runners. Knee pain, back injuries and other ailments can often be traced to weak muscles elsewhere. A good strength training program can work wonders and keep runner away from the injured list.

2. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Sometimes you just need a break from running. You need to miss it a little to remember why you loved it in the first place. Whenever I find myself dreading a run, I know it's time to take a leave of absence. Running has always been there for me whenever I wanted to return. And there's nothing like that first run back to reignite old passions.

3. Cross-training keeps the muscles guessing. If youve hit a fitness plateau, chances are your routine has, too. The muscles are used to doing the same workout on the same days and adjust accordingly. Throw in a Zumba class, cycling or step class, and suddenly youre using muscles in a different way. Sweltering temperatures are a perfect excuse to set running aside and ramp up my outdoor cycling. Around the holidays, after my races are done for the year, its fun to return to classes at the gym that I may have missed and not just get a great workout, but see old friends and catch up while reminding neglected muscles what they were meant to do.

4. You may unearth a secret passion. Who knew pedaling in place for hours at a time could be so cathartic? Indoor cycling was the first group exercise class I ever took. It was a dark room and I was in control of the gear on the bike, no coordination required. That appealed to me. After the first class, I was hooked. Indoor cycling is what inspired me to pursue a job as a fitness instructor. No one was more surprised than I to discover this hidden part of myself, but that first cycle class changed my life in more ways than one.

5. Cross-training helps runners cope during injuries. If all you do is run, when youre injured, all you do is sit. And for those addicted to sweat and endorphins, inactivity breeds dark moods. But if you also cycle, swim, do yoga or strength train, theres no need to worry about losing fitness or sanity. You just shift your focus to the bike, pool or group exercise room. And if youre not panicking about gaining weight and losing fitness, youre more likely to allow the body to heal completely and come back a stronger runner.

6. Active recovery. Recovery is just as important as the workouts we put our bodies through. Tough, strenuous workouts break down muscle fibers. Without adequate recovery, those muscle fibers never fully repair, leaving us susceptible to injury, not to mention mental burnout. Recovery doesnt mean sitting on the couch. It simply means using the muscles in a different way or using different muscles completely. Active recovery promotes blood flow to the muscles to aid in repair. Cycling, swimming and elliptical machines are great low-impact options after a tough race or workout. They get the blood flowing without jarring and damaging the muscles further. The day after a marathon, I always spend some time on my bike or an elliptical machine. My legs are always grateful after.

Its OK to put running aside once in a while. Youre not cheating on running. Youre enhancing your running. The best thing we can do is listen to ourselves and take care of the bodies we have. Do this, and your relationship with running will last for years to come.
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