Runners love to keep count. Whether it's miles per week, minutes per day, laps per session, or seconds trimmed off each race, those who relentlessly go the distance juggle more numbers in their heads than an inside trader avoiding a paper trail. Having kept obsessive catalogs of such statistics for most of my life now, I sometimes wonder if my mind wouldn’t be better applied to a profession in the financial sector…I also often consider that I have undiagnosed OCD.
Still, one can have too much of a good thing. Logging excessive miles can lead to exhaustion, injury and ennui.
This is where cross training comes in handy.
Supplementing your running regiment with a secondary workout is a great way to take your training to the next level without subjecting your joints to the pounding pressure from amassing more miles. It is also a great way to master a new skill, expand your social circle, balance your overall fitness, and keep things fresh.
I watched my race times drop considerably and felt a few chronic aches fade away when I began experimenting with cross training a few years back. Here is a list of alternate activities that I found to be the most beneficial, as well as enjoyable. I have rated each, from my personal experience, based on the improvement felt in my running performance.
Pros: Cycling may make the most complimentary counterpoint for most runners. It allows you to travel many of the same paths as running – and more – without the weight-bearing wallop on your joints. If you would rather ride indoors, you can squeeze a high-intensity interval workout during your running recovery days in a convenient amount of time as well. Finally, biking broadens your racing horizons, offering you the option to train for seasonal duathalons and/or triathalons.
Cons: Those looking to cross train for shorter distances may not find the fierce cardio session they are looking for while navigating traffic in the city. Indoor cycling classes can be expensive…not nearly as expensive, however, as a decent racing bike. Additionally, too much cycling can overdevelop your quads and leave them tight for your weekly runs, putting you at a greater risk of hamstring pulls and knee injuries.
Suggestions: Runners looking to add a low-impact, high intensity workout to their training schedule will want to look no further than Higher Power. Not only does this studio have cycling classes, it also offers Yoga (also included in this list).
If you are looking to train for a du-, bi-, or triathalon, here are a few local clubs you can partner with for those longer rides: Semi-Tough Cycling Club, New Orleans Bicycle Club, Crescent City Cyclists, New Orleans Metro Area Mountain Bike Association.
Finally, your cycle routine need not be a structured practice. Make riding your bike part of your daily travel plan. My policy has always been to never drive somewhere if I can bike instead.
Pros: The ultimate no-impact sport, and the final 1/3 of your possible triathlon-training triangle. Swimming provides a full body workout that is significantly more challenging than running. Although I tend to only swim when a triathlon that catches my interest comes along, I personally find it more therapeutic than running. I find peace and tranquility being submerged in the water, fully disassociated from the world above. Also, the buoyancy of the water puts all of your muscles at ease, working out any tight tissue from a previous day’s run.
Cons: Finding an affordable gym nearby with a pool may be difficult for some.
Recommendations: Tulane’s Reilly Center offers an “Early Bird” membership, averaging out to just $60 per month. In addition to the reasonable price, it’s easier to find a lane to swim in during the early morning hours. The UNO Lakefront Arena’s Aquatics Center has an Olympic size indoor pool open to the public during the summer for just $6 a visit as well.
Cross Fit/Interval Training
Pros: I did cross fit for about six months three years ago following a two-month long running injury in an effort to strengthen some muscle imbalances I developed. After six weeks, I ran what was then my fastest sub-40 minute 10k.
New Orleans has countless cross fit studios, in addition to other, similarly structured interval-training style workout studios, such as Orange Theory and City Surf NOLA, giving runners several options to find what works best for them.
Cons: Cross fit workouts incorporating power lifting may demand excercies that are counter to a runner’s regime, leaving them sore for their core training and putting them at a greater risk of injury. Additionally, cross fit and similar boutique fitness studios can be extremely expensive, costing well in excess of $100 per month.
Recommendation: I have written many times about the utter awesomeness of a free, boot-camp style workout designed for runners called the November Project. November Project meets at 6 a.m. on Wednesday mornings in Champions Square, and Friday mornings at Shelter #1 on the Lakefront across from Landry’s Seafood. Combining stair climbing, interval training, tabata, and a great group of upbeat, early risers, its truly the best fitness group in the city. Oh, and did I mention it’s FREE?
Pros: What runner wouldn’t want to develop “a very particular set of skills” and best their personal record at the same time?
I took up muay thai in 2010 during a long hiatus from running. One weekend, I did a 5k fun-run to support a friend’s something-or-other, and finished in 18:53. My friend Chris, an occasional runner who practices krav maga religiously, ran another 5k without any training in 18:43. I attribute this endurance purely to pounding out rounds on the heavy bag.
Cons: How much does a runner know about himself if he’s never been in a fight? Well, if he has been in one (or at least sparred for sport), then he knows getting beat up is part of the drill. I wasn’t training for races when I practiced muay thai, but my shins were always bruised and something was always black and blue from kicking or being kicked. It’s hard to run a race at peak performance when your body is in pieces.
Recommendations: Triumph Krav Maga has locations on the Eastbank and Westbank for those looking to get their Liam Neison on. If Kickboxer is more your matinee, Mushin New Orleans offers muay thai, Brazilian jiu jitsu, and other popular MMA-fighting styles.
Pros: The interminable pavement-pounding that comes with training for a race is sure to leave your muscles tight, and there is no better way to regain your sinewy elasticity than through yoga. After a half-month of one-hour, bi-weekly practice, your running form, as well as your overall posture, will feel brand new.
Cons: Yoga, while relaxing and rejuvenating, does not offer the adrenaline jolt that comes from a long, hard run.
Recommendations: I really dig the meditative vibe at Swan River on Canal Street. I find the spiritual inclusion both relaxes and exercises my mind as well as my body. If you yearn for a rush from your cross training, but still want to reap the benefits of yoga, perhaps try Higher Power and throw a cycling class into the mix.
Pros: I joined an indoor climbing gym near work while living in Atlanta for a short time, as there wasn’t much of a running community in my neck of the woods. My upper body and core strength were never stronger than during the three months I regularly attended this facility. Those hilly Georgia runs got easier in no time.
Cons: There is only one indoor climbing gym in New Orleans.
Recommendation: By default, New Orleans Boulder Lounge. This indoor complex specializes in a style of climbing called bouldering, meaning that one climbs without the support of a harness or ropes. I have not had the opportunity to try this yet, but I imagine this raises the difficulty of the climb as well as the rush from the implied risk.
I hope this list inspires you to expand your fitness horizons and attempt something new. Participating in more than one activity is a great way to stay well rounded-- physically, mentally and socially. Remember, though, if you are looking for something to give you an edge in a future race, there is no substitute for a well-devised running program.
With that in mind, below is a list of local running clubs and area races to keep you motivated during the summer months.
Speed workouts every Tuesday at the track at Jefferson Playground. Meets at 6 p.m.
The 5:20 Club
Meets on Wednesday and Saturday mornings at 5:20 a.m. in the Gernon Brown Gym Parking Lot at the corner of Harrison and Marconi Avenues. The group covers distances of 6 to 20 miles.
Happy’s Running Club
Meet at Happy’s Irish Pub on Poydras Wednesday nights at 6 p.m. for a 5k run around the CBD/Warehouse District and/or French Quarter.
Free bootcamp-style workouts geared towards runners. The group meets 6 a.m. Wednesday mornings in Champions Square outside the Superdome and Friday mornings at 6 a.m. at the Lakefront.
Power Miler Track Club
A competitive group that meets at least twice weekly to train for race distances from the mile to the marathon.
6 p.m. tempo run every Thursday beginning at Souther Runner’s athletics store Uptown in the Riverbend.
Varsity Sports Running Club
Possibly the city’s largest running group, Varsity Sports organizes evening speed workouts and long morning runs on Tuesdays, social runs on Thursdays, and Saturday morning distance runs around the New Orleans area each week.
Virtual Runners Club
The New Orleans' Virtual Runners Club chapter provides members with virtual races and training partners for online competition.
New Orleans Summer Series
When: Wednesdays: July 6 and 20, August 3; 7 p.m.
Where: City Park Festival Grounds Trail
Distance: 2 miles
The 14th Hotter than Hell Marathon
When: Sunday, July 3; 12:14 a.m.
Where: Audubon Park, Shelter #10
Distance: 9 hour run; must complete a minimum 26.2 miles (a marathon) by 9 a.m. to receive a medal
Spillway Classic Trail Run
When: Sunday, July 17; 8 a.m.
Where: Bonnet Carre Spillway, Norco
Distance: 3 miles
River Shack Tavern’s Eastbank River Run 2016
When: Friday, July 22; 7 p.m.
Where: River Shack Tavern (Eastbank), 3449 River Rd., Jefferson
Distance: 2 miles
River Shack Tavern’s Westbank River Run 2016
When: Saturday, July 23; 7 p.m.
Where: River Shack Tavern (Westbank), 714 1st St., Gretna
Distance: 2 miles
Bleau Moon Trail Run
When: Saturday, August 6; 8:45 a.m.
Where: Fountainbleau State Park, Mandeville
Distance: 5 and 10 miles
NOTC 53rd Anniversary Race
When: Sunday, August 14; 8:20 a.m.
Where: Garden of Memories, 4900 Airline Dr., Metairie
Distance: 3 miles