But I like to do all the Things! How to Implement Other Activities into Marathon Training to Keep your Running Game and Continue to do all the Things that you Love
Are you training for a marathon? A 5K? An ultramarathon? Good for you! You’re on a long and rewarding journey. Like many runners, you’re probably following a training plan to reach your goals, whether you’re going for a personal best or completing your first race ever. However, many runners may also find training plans slightly constricting; where’s the space for all the other activities? If you’re one of the people who like to do it all, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s discover how to implement other activities into marathon training so you can keep doing all the other things you love!
Written by Coach Karen Peterson
Edited by Pavlína Marek
Now that the 2023 San Francisco Marathon is behind us, it’s time for most to reflect, regroup, recharge, and decide what’s next. Fall means crazy schedules for many—and not in the fun, how-much-can-I-fit-into-one-summer way. Days are getting shorter and soon, our pre- and post-work workouts will be accompanied by darkness. Depending on where you live, it’s a time of year that can feel bittersweet. Here in my home state of Vermont (I’m back after 36 years!), we children of the trails have been frustrated by the exceptionally muddy conditions.
This brings me back to our topic today: can you still stay in excellent running shape, or even train for an event, while doing other activities that you enjoy? How do hiking, skiing, golfing, climbing, pickle balling, horseback riding (asking for a friend), and other activities affect your race training?
Balance & Endurance: The Oft-Overlooked Backbones of Running
There are so many ways to stay active; I know a number of runners who love to hike, rock climb, dance, swim, do yoga, and so much more. It makes sense—we like to move! Still, it is true that specificity is incredibly important. If you’re training for a marathon, you will need to run. However, cross-training is also crucial to the overall agility and health of any runner—and if you’re someone who likes to stay active in various ways, it can actually boost your training. How exactly will engaging in those other activities change the way you get to your race day?
Climbing, dancing, yoga, and other activities that require focus and coordination are great cross-training endeavors for runners! They help strengthen muscle groups that get overlooked when you run. When you incorporate these and other activities, you become stronger overall, often without the negative side effects of the repetitive impact you experience when you run.
Good old hiking and swimming are great for your cardiovascular endurance. Hiking in particular, since it is weight-bearing, performs all kinds of magic for you. It strengthens your stabilizing muscles, prepares you for the very different rigors of up and downhill running, and can really help you nail down your fueling.
I love hiking with trekking poles; not only do they engage your upper body and help keep you from slumping over (so easy to do when we are fatigued), but they also provide stability and another point of contact. This leads to more confidence on tougher trails. Lengthen those poles and you’ll cruise downhill faster as well!
How Much is Too Much?
In short, anything you can do to keep moving—and moving in different ways—can benefit your running as you increase your strength, agility, and focus. Diversifying your activities also helps prevent burnout, which is another huge plus.
That being said; remember specificity? There are two types of runs you should avoid replacing with other activities: your long runs and interval training. If you are signed up for an event, research the course (surface, elevation, weather, aid stations, etc.) and make sure your long runs mimic those conditions. Is the race going to be hot and hilly or lat and freezing? Will you need to reapply sunscreen and use trekking poles? Will you need to carry lots of things or do you plan to run with minimal gear? Rehearse running with your gear, figure out your fueling strategy, and practice your pacing for maximal preparedness.
You should never neglect interval training as well as midweek runs which help you to check your stress and assess how you’re feeling physically. As always, it’s best to discuss your unique situation with a coach but as long as you do these three to four runs a week, you don’t need to feel anxious about replacing your other runs with various activities once in a while.
Especially as we go into fall, you do you! Enjoy whatever additional activities keep you happy. For some, fall is a time to be social outside of group runs, and for others, it’s a meditative solo happy place. As a running coach, cross-country skier, and equestrian, I’m happy to help you find your balance! Email me at coachkaren1964(AT)gmail.com for tips—I’d love to hear from you.