Category Archives: cross training

My best marathon training cycle

Right now, training and weight wise, I’m not where I want to be. I’m executing most of my scheduled weekly workouts, and made dietary improvements over even my best running days in Chicago. But I’m not creating the results I had during my better training cycle just a couple years ago.

Once again, I looked to the past for answers. Despite hiccups derailing my 2018 Chicago Marathon effort (which I finished with substantial difficulty), that summer had probably been my best marathon training cycle and (until the hiccups struck halfway through) I had run the race fairly well, feeling physically capable of finishing strong… if not for the whole being unable to breathe properly thing.

It was ultimately some stupid decision-making with nutrition that derailed me. I decided to use a thicker protein-based recovery drink for fuel, despite not having trained much with it. My stomach and epiglottis likely flipped me the bird because of its relative nutritional thickness.

Never mind the problems with using thicker nutrition as race fuel. I made the cardinal mistake of doing something in a race that I had not worked on in training. So, it was not the training that derailed the race. In fact, given my condition at mile 13, and even how good my bones and muscles felt in the later miles despite my plight… the training beforehand had been sound. So, what I did during the cycle is worth reviewing.


I took a look at that cycle and noticed several key factors. Sure, I built up to a pretty solid 40-50 weekly mile volume and was running without injury. I was able to hit goal paces in key workouts leading up to the race. But there were some other not as obvious factors that helped me enter that race prepared.

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Cross Training With the ARC Trainer

ARCTrainerI’ve talked about the ARC Trainer’s benefit in runner cross training before. But how do you effectively use it?

The machines are infrequently used for a reason. Most people aren’t just not comfortable with the machines… they don’t really know how to integrate it with their fitness goals and training plans.

I pointed out a key valuable use in my previous linked post: To cross train as part of runner training. But most are not totally sure how to best utilize the machine and its many settings.

I’m going to share 10 tips on how to get acquainted and effectively utilize the ARC Trainer in cross training for your fitness or goal race… possibly even for other fitness goals as you wish:

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Five Reasons For Runners To Cross Train

If I’ve learned one thing from this past year of training, it’s that cross training can be more useful than most runners think.

It’s not just an easy form of activity to do on recovery days, nor is it just a cheap substitute for normal running when injured.

Cross training, especially in the forthcoming years, especially for those getting older, is an important form of aerobic training. And there’s several key reasons I discovered for why it may become more valuable for those training to run marathons and other endurance races….

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A tip for an easy, productive Double Workout Day

adventure athlete athletic daylight

If you do double workout days, a short jog isn’t your only option. Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Higher volume runners practice doubles, where they add a 2nd shorter run later in a day after a prior regular morning run.

It’s a key to building those 120+ mile weeks that elites run. Otherwise, such a runner’s typical workout tops 10 miles and with few exceptions that’s not sustainable long term.

However, miles on your legs are still miles on your legs, and a runner wanting to avoid burnout and injury probably should avoid two runs on easy days.

Still, there’s value in endurance training with doing double workouts, and there’s an easy way to do two workouts in a day without taxing your legs through an extended run more than once.

Just cross train for the second workout. It seems so obvious, and yet so many don’t think to do it. Cross training is low impact aerobic exercise, and there’s a reason IronFit refers to the practice as “Free Miles”. Even if you’re not actually running, you’re working and developing aerobic fitness that will help you down the line.

On top of that, you’re resting bones, joints and muscles that have to do work on a regular run, and avoiding wear and tear that exacerbates the amount of recovery you need.

For example, you run 6-10 miles in the morning. You go through your workday. After work, instead of a 3-4 mile recovery run, you hit the spin bike for 45 minutes at an easy aerobic heart rate. Or you use the rowing machine for half an hour. Or the ARC Trainer, or the elliptical. You get the idea.

You could also do strength training for that 2nd workout instead, provided your body is up to doing so. The extra anabolic boost could jump start your overall recovery, especially when paired with a good healthy dinner and a lot of sleep.

Basically, there’s no law stating that to do a double workout day your 2nd workout has to be another run. Provided that morning workout was a full aerobic run, you could do just about any other form of cross or strength training for that 2nd workout and still receive dividends.

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Despite Not Running For A Week, I Might Have Improved My Running Fitness

After taking a week off from running due to a bum hamstring, I reeled off three days of short runs in a row, none over 3 miles. Felt fine.

Two days after that last run, I ran over 5 miles home from work, despite not having run farther than 3.5 miles in over a month. Felt fine.

How, despite not running double digit miles in a week since mid-June, despite losing an entire week after a month of minimal running… was I able to reel off 12 miles in 5 days?

Okay, I left out all the cross training I did in the gym. Sure, I also ate well and got good rest. But, along with the 5 hours of cross training I did during the week “off” from running, I’ve been cross training quite a bit outside of any running. This is in large part because I’m about to move cross country, and with no goal race on the horizon I want to take it a bit easier while focusing my energy on cleaning up and packing.

At the same time, I’ve been ramping up my weekly cross training akin to a runner ramping up their mileage ahead of a goal race. Of course, the cross training is not as physically intense as regular running. And that’s a key reason I’ve been able to do so much of it in the interim.

The week after my last double digit mile week, I logged 2 hours of non-running cross training. The week after that, 2.5 hours. The week after that, 3.8 hours. And sure, I was not feeling great the week I got hurt, so I only logged 2 hours. But, with no ability to run, I logged extra time cross training and got 5 hours that week.

In this past week, I logged 5.8 hours of cross training in addition to 16.2 total miles, close to 8 hours total. Factoring in the heart rate training and calorie burn of the cross training, I finished last week trained to a level equivalent to about 24 miles of running a week.

My aerobic fitness development didn’t stall as my mileage dropped to lows unseen since before I began seriously running. I still logged easy/moderate efforts on the ARC Trainer, and easy sessions on the spin bike. Plus, this ignores all the day to day walking I have to do while living in Chicago (for now).

And because of this it’s certainly possible that, despite not running for a full week, my running fitness may have improved. Sure, a week of relative rest from running helps too. But I not only didn’t lose aerobic endurance… I might have gained some.

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The ARC Trainer might be a runner’s best cross training tool

ARCTrainerI’ve cross trained with a variety of methods and machines over my time as a runner. There might be more runner-specific cross training methods than the ARC Trainer, but you won’t find one simpler and more readily available in most gyms.

The ARC Trainer is a machine developed in 2003 by a company called Cybex International. Your legs move forward and back on tracking similar to an elliptical, except the motion is more straightforward, and the angle is closer to that of running uphill. On some ARC Trainers the arms may move as they do on ellipticals, but on most (including the ones at my gym) the handles are stationary and only your legs are intended to move.

The ARC Trainers are usually empty at gyms where they’re available (including my current gym), and it’s a bit of a surprise they have stuck around this long given their limited popularity. But they’re still present in many big gyms, and after discovering them recently I quickly discovered that they’re my most effective cross training tool. When the gym’s packed and everyone’s crowding the weights, treadmills and ellipticals, the ARC Trainers are a widely available and welcome training option.

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How runners can effectively track cross training

person on elliptical trainer

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

One thing clear to me this summer is that getting in a lot of miles is probably not going to happen. It’s one reason I went ahead and joined the gym near my home: I need to do more to fill in the blanks with cross training. I’ll hit my key workouts whether outdoors or indoors, and then have a variety of indoor options with which to fill in the blanks.

Filling in the blanks however requires some analysis. People cross train, but people don’t have a firm basis from which to equate their cross training to the needed aerobic development.

How much work on the bike or elliptical equals one mile of easy running? Most do an indeterminate amount of cross training, but beyond knowing that it helps some with training, they have no idea how many miles or how much progress it has helped make them.

(I will also note that, while some writers and coaches think it so, I don’t consider treadmill running cross training. I realize at a zero incline, with a consistent surface, and with no wind resistance… running on a treadmill could be easier than regular running. However, there are enough equalizing factors I’ll discuss another time that can and usually do make it as difficult, sometimes more difficult, than regular running. Plus, you still are bearing all of your weight at a higher speed and intensity, as you do with running. So, I consider miles run on the treadmill equal to regular running miles.)

What’s the best way to figure out how much value, how much volume, a cross training workout provided to your training? It’s a question I’ve dabbled with over time, and wrestled with more in recent memory, especially now that I’m cross training more frequently at the gym.

I think the best way to figure this out is:

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