A Case for Cross-Training: Winter – Part One

I want to make a case for cross-training because there are ways to race fast other than just plain running. I know it’s the ideal to stack weeks upon weeks of 50, 60, 70, 80+ miles, but sometimes our bodies and minds—mixed with the stress of everyday life—just don’t dig it.

Enter cross-training.

My best example of this is my athlete, marathoner Sarah Brewer. Every time she edges close to 50 miles for a few weeks, she gets injured. So we decided to try something new: she would average 25-30 miles a week and supplement with a bike on a trainer in her living room.

She now runs less than she ever has, but gets in more volume than ever before. 

After that first running + cross-training training block she ran a 9-minute marathon PR on a very hilly Portland Marathon course and broke 3 hours for the first time.

Photo courtesy of Sarah Brewer

And perhaps most importantly, baring a few niggles here and there, she’s remained injury-free for a couple of years now.

While Sarah is an example of why adding cross-training can help your body, Kelly Babcock is an example of why adding cross-training can help your mind.

I’ve been working with Kelly for almost a year now. When we started working together, she was coming off a stress fracture and wanted to make sure she wasn’t feeding into her tendency to over-train.

Over the last year, Kelly’s had a few hiccups—soft tissue niggles–she normally would have run through in the past, resulting in season-ending injuries. But this time she was deliberate and smart with how she handled the hiccups. She brought up pain or discomfort early so we could address them before she blew up a training block.

[ Check out my mental health series on panic attacks ]

Now that she’s gotten so good at taking care of her body while training over the last year, she wants to spend the winter taking care of her mind.

Enter cross-training, again.

Kelly deals with seasonal depression, and training in Michigan through the winter season can be brutal. So this winter she wants to try something new, an experiment of sorts: cross-training through the winter.

Below are Kelly’s thoughts/feelings/ideas on what she has planned for the winter.

Photo courtesy of Kelly Babcock

The idea

Winter running has always been a struggle for me. Physically and mentally, I’ve always felt that I’m in an uphill battle from the months of December through March. From injuries due to falling, to getting frostbite on my face, physically I feel drained come springtime.

I also really struggle with seasonal depression. Running day in and day out during the winter has left me feeling mentally exhausted in the past. I’ve just put my nose down and worked through it, thinking that it’s the only way to be fit come springtime.

However, my April and May fitness always seems to be dampened by physical and mental fatigue.

I’ve actually been thinking about doing something like this for a long time. In high school I was a three-sport athlete, so I never ran through the winter because I was playing basketball. 

Once I started running in college, that obviously changed. So I’ve always had this idea in the back of my mind.

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The pros: not having to run in the dark all the time (in MI during the winter it’s only light out from like 7:30am until 4:30pm), and not getting injured from slipping/falling/overcompensating while running in the snow and ice. 

The cons: the fear of “not being fit” since I won’t be running as much, and also having to pass up on group runs with my friends during the winter if running isn’t best for me/my body that day. 

The concerns

Obviously during college my winter running was based on what my coach was having us do. However, a lot of my personal motives towards keeping a strict running schedule through the winter were rooted in a toxic/disordered exercising mindset. In the past, I wouldn’t have thought cross training was “enough”.  I think this was the biggest hesitation I had to overcome.

The decision

Over the last year I have really worked on changing my mindset as to WHY I’m running. I love running, but there was a long time for me when running was strictly viewed as calories burned and fitness gained. That’s not what it’s about. I finally feel like I am at a point mentally where I can see the benefit of easing off running over the winter so I can thrive in the spring-fall. I’m really excited to be at this point. 

I’m looking forward to having flexibility with my training. If I feel like indoor biking one day, I’ll do it. If cross country skiing sounds fun, I’ll do it. If going for a run is appealing, I’m lacing up and heading out the door.

Photo courtesy of Kelly Babcock

The plan

I’ll be starting on November 9th!

I think I’ll mostly do spin biking and rowing, because they’re the most accessible. I also want to get in cross country skiing and maybe some boxing, just to mix it up!

Nicole and I landed on minutes to keep track of volume.

The buzzword for this winter will be strength. I think that having the flexibility to “choose my own adventure” every day will be really beneficial to my body and mind.  I want to leave this winter feeling strong and ready to take on spring training, and I have a very good feeling that this plan will do exactly that.

You can follow Kelly’s running and life adventures on Instagram @its_babss. And, for the data nerds (nerds welcome!) Kelly’s PRs are: 5:05 (mile), 18:40s (5k) and 1:31 (half marathon).

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