Blog: Running rut? Take a break with a bike

Steve Milligan believes cross-training is crucial and told me it is good for me to hop on a bike while training for a marathon. (WTOP/Paula Wolfson)

Editor’s Note: To mark a milestone birthday, WTOP’s Paula Wolfson has signed up to run the Marine Corps Marathon. She will be sharing her journey along the way in a series of blog posts.

Paula Wolfson, wtop.com

WASHINGTON – I learned something this summer on my often bumpy trail to my first Marine Corps Marathon. To be a runner, especially a marathoner, you can’t just run.

Oh sure, you have to log the miles — even in the sticky, sweltering heat of a Washington summer. But it is just as important to cross-train.

That’s why from time to time, you are likely to see me out cycling with my husband(aka the man about to do his 14th consecutive MCM) or at a spinning class.

Steve Milligan is the guy who got me into spinning, long before I ran my first race. And Milligan, the master spin instructor, was only too happy to welcome me back to his classroom.

He believes cross-training is crucial and told me it is good for me to hop on a bike while training for a marathon.

“It is important that you work your muscles from different angles,” he says. “And that you vary your activities so you can progress in a safe way and to keep your level of interest up.”

Experts say cycling is the best cross-training sport for runners, in part because you work both the front and back of the upper leg. But swimming is also good — ask any triathlete.

“You are still going to work your circulatory system, nervous system, you are going to get exercise,” says Milligan.”But it is going to allow you to rest and alternate the use of your muscles.”

Elite athletes are firm believers in cross-training. Michael Phelps taking up golf doesn’t count. But Milligan says it is even more important for the rest of us who are — how shall we say — not quite so elite.

“The best thing that anyone can do is to vary their activities for a balanced approach and just so they don’t get into a rut” he says.

And that rut can be nasty! Milligan admits he’s seen a lot of people take up a sport or activity like spinning, push themselves very hard, and burn out. His advice: “Variety is the best weapon against boredom, isn’t it?”

So that is why I have decided to mix it up in the last months of marathon training, interspersing time on the running trail with outings on a bike, watching the runners go by.

And in case you’re wondering, no way am I going to do a triathlon. Getting through one marathon is enough.

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