Sunday, March 13, 2011

Once again, strength training helps my run

Today I ran a 10k. I was not supposed to run one. I signed up for a 5k. I fully intended to run 5k, or at least as much of it as I could manage given that running bothers my calf, which in turn pulls on my knee.

But the race was disorganized and poorly marked and a bunch of us did not turn left when we should have and ended up on the 10k course. Some people self corrected at some point and their "5ks" ended up being 4-5 miles long. But, by the time I figured out I was in the wrong place, I was pretty committed to the 10k course and I figured it was easier to just kept going.

So I did. I made it through the entire course without walking. I did have to slow down a bit to ease pressure on my calf. But I didn't have any issues with my lung capacity or any other aerobic limitations. In fact, I spent a fair amount of the run passing people who were either slower than me to start or started out faster but ran out of gas. I finished in 1:05, an acceptable, but not spectacular time.

What is surprising about this result is that I just haven't been running much at all. In fact, I haven't been doing much cardio at all.

Because of my injury, the most I've been running is these short 30-35 min. sessions one or two times a week. These sessions have involved a combination of running and walking. I haven't been biking much either. I've managed two spin classes this month and that's it. None last month. Add to that two three hor bike rides and that's about it for biking -- average of 15 miles a week!

Now, I have been swimming but only three times a month, due to other commitments.

What have I been doing instead of the traditional triathlete training of swim, bike, run? I've been doing a heavy stretch of strength training, especially these last few weeks. It's been Crossfit this and "Power to the People" that for all of February.

The end result is that I've gotten crazy strong, but also I'm fitter overall and I can run for an hour without barfing up a lung.

I have read a lot of scientific explanations as to why doing crossfit-types of exercise will increase your cardiovascular fitness. I can never remember them well enough to explain them to others. I did come across this recently:

Does Weight Lifting Also Have a Cardiovascular Effect?
Dr. Scott Collier, an exercise scientist at Appalachian State University, researched changes occurring to arteries and blood flow "after 45 minutes of moderate intensity resistance exercise." He found that resistance exercise, such as weight lifting, increases blood flow, which reduces blood pressure. The results "continued about 30 minutes after the exercise had ended and as long as 24 hours in individuals who trained for 30 to 45 minutes three times a week." The findings demonstrate that aerobic exercise isn't the only way a person can improve cardiovascular health.
That isn't exactly the same thing, but I think it makes sense and it's similar to other statements I've read about how the body adapts to HIIT and to strength training.

I also think that we fall into the trap of thinking "if I want to get better at X, I need to do more X." That works for many things but, for fitness, there are so many ways to the same path. What you want is the muscle and cardiological adaptations that you need for a certain sport. Cross-training in other sports and increasing your fitness overall are ways to get those adaptations too.

In the end, you don't have to run 100 miles to get your body read to run 100 miles. (Or, in this case, 6.2 miles.) Combining different types of training lets you improve your fitness in a more balanced way -- which is good for injury prevention -- and it also helps with fitness plateaus because you are making more and more varied demands on your body than just performing a limited set of movements over and over.

That said, now that I know I can run for more than 20 minutes, if I go slow enough, I think I'll add more running to my training plans. After all, I didn't get into triathlon because I hate to swim, bike and run.
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