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Mix It Up!

Having just run a 5km PB at the Achilles St. Patrick’s Day race, I have been thinking about how I did it.

In two words… Do Different.

I am someone who gets bored pretty quickly. So to get my training in and to keep my butt off the couch all winter I am always looking to Do Different.

Different Sports

I picked my 2015 races in October of 2014. Knowing that I will be doing two triathlons this year, I’ve tried to be a semi-regular swimmer/cycler/runner throughout the winter.

The body adapts to the stresses imposed upon it.

By including cycling in my training, different leg muscles are recruited and strengthened. Running uses a specific set of muscles, cycling uses specific muscles. Both sports use “leg” muscles but they aren’t used in the same way. In the end, the cross-training not only strengths the muscles, but also teaches the body to recruit more of the available muscles. This ends up helping with both sports.

When mixing in swimming, a noticeable improvement has occurred in my core muscles. This translates directly to keeping you upright on a long run. I’ve found my back doesn’t fatigue as quickly when I’m out running.

Whatever your “different” sport is, find a way to connect it back to your running. By having a mental connection between two sports, you may approach them both differently and use them to augment each other.

Different Times/Speeds

Running can be pretty monotonous.  When I am out running, I look at my available time and make the most of it, which means mixing it up. Some runners go out and run their same steady pace for whatever time/distance they have. Other runners work in some kind of interval (ie. run 10 min, walk 1 min). But they seldom change it up… the pace is the same, or the intervals are the same…

If you are always doing the same thing, your body will adapt to that level of stress and will remain there. No further change will occur.

Try finding a way to change it up.

If you do “10 and 1’s”, try doing “5 and 1’s” at a faster pace, you’ll work harder, but you’ll get twice as many breaks. By going faster, you will raise your heart rate higher for the period of time but you shouldn’t burn out as quickly as you’ll get lots of breaks.

If you are a steady-state runner who always runs the same speed, try running a shorter route at a quicker pace.

Find some way to do your run differently. In the end, it has to work for you, so try different things.

Lastly, what I didn’t talk much about above, but what doing things differently ultimately does is cause your heart to react to the different stimulus. The object of a race is to finish, and finish doesn’t just mean crossing the finish line. Finishing means that you have trained your body (core muscles, leg muscles and most importantly Heart muscle) to be able to go the distance.

After getting a good pair of running shoes, a heart rate monitor should be your next investment. In hindsight, I should have started using a heart rate monitor when I started training.

By watching how your heart rate reacts to different speeds/inclines/breaks, you will be able to learn how your heart rate behaves. Once you know what your heart does, you can start training it the same way you train your legs to run.

During my last race, I ran based on heart rate alone. I didn’t pay much attention to my pace. I knew how hard I could push myself and I let my feet go. At one point, I started to feel a stitch coming on in my side, looked at my watch found my HR was higher than I wanted, backed off by 5 bpm and kept on truckin’.

Daniel MacKinnon already wrote a good article about training by heart rate a while ago, it is worth the read.

In conclusion, by mixing it up:

– you will learn about your body and what it can handle and can’t handle

– you will stress your body in different ways, causing it to further and better adapt

– get your hands on a heart rate monitor, it’ll pay off when you actually know how your heart behaves and reacts.

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