It’s been a while since I’ve posted on here, mostly due to wedding preparations and associated craziness taking up a lot of my spare time. I’ve had some interesting training experiences since my last post so I thought I would share them.
Most of my ‘training’ is spent trotting around the beautiful Leicestershire countryside whilst, hovering around my MAF heart rate. I also incorporate occasional Fartlek and hill work sessions as well as regular body-weight strength training. This approach has served me well over the last couple of years and has produced sustained performance improvements with very few injury issues. I don’t really follow a plan or a structure these days, I just do whatever feels right and it rarely feels like work.
However, this year has been really busy for me and I’ve had a few health and injury issues that have made me realise that something has been amiss in my work / life / training balance.
In focusing on developing my aerobic system whilst trying to limit the overall stress on my body, It’s not that often that I really let myself off of the leash unless I’m racing or on a trip in the mountains. The Skye visit was no exception to this and 4 days of continuously testing my limits pushed me into a state of fatigue and injury which culminated in quite severe bilateral calf pain. Prior to this, I had also developed an issue with my hip abductor which had been bothering me for a while and some other more subtle signs which should have made realise that something wasn’t quite right.
Admitting to myself that I had these problems due to over training took a while and I’m embarrassed to say it but my pride took a bit of a knock as I spend quite a lot of time telling other people how they can avoid this situation and exercise in a healthy manner.
Looking back now, I think that this was a very valuable experience which has provided me with a dose of humility and additional insight into the process of over training. I would encourage anyone, however experienced they may be to regularly take an honest look at their training and its impact on their health as it’s all too easy to lose perspective. We all need a reality check sometimes and it’s far better to pro-actively make changes than it is to wait until we are suffering from injury or illness.
I managed to self-treat the trigger points in my hip and calves very successfully with Acupuncture but I had a couple of weeks of feeling out of sorts and thought it best to take a few days off. Once I recommenced exercise, I decided to incorporate some cycling into my routine and reduce the amount of running I was doing during the recovery period.
Cycling was my first love but I stopped riding regularly in my mid twenties having become a bit disillusioned with all of the marketing hype and unnecessary technology which had initially swept me along. Now I’m a bit older I don’t really care about having all the latest expensive equipment and I soon remembered that cycling is primarily good fun and another great way of exploring my local area. Riding a bike is also an excellent way of training at a MAF heart rate as if you use your gears correctly you can easily moderate your effort on a variety of terrains and gradients.
A surprise consequence of this was that after about a month of less running and more cycling, my running performance actually improved significantly and my body seems to feel fresher on a day to day basis than it has done in a long time. It’s also meant that I have been able to increase the amount that I am getting outside and exercising without feeling negative consequences.
Cycling is non impact and does not require the rider to support their own body weight so it can be less physically taxing than running. Whilst this was probably a contributory factor to the improvements I have experienced, I feel the main benefits of incorporating something different into my routine has been down to the added variety and the new type of stimulation that it has provided.
I’ve always been aware of the benefits of cross training and have continuously tried to incorporate it into my routine but when you really love doing something it can become all too easy to loose perspective and neglect the fact that other things can be healthy and fun too. It has taken a period of enforced cross training for me to really understand how useful it can be and I would recommend that you give it a try.
As above, I don’t think that the improvements I have noticed are particular to the relative dynamics of running and cycling. I feel that the key thing is that you find an activity you enjoy that also provides your body with a different type of stimulation to your normal training routine. You can then keep an eye on your progress by and using methods like the MAF test asses whether it is helping. Be flexible and above all else, listen to your body and do what feels right.
Want to find out about how to spot the signs of over training? There is a great introduction here at the Sock Doc site