When I started my first run training (with Nike+ Run and a Couch to 5k app) to prepare for the Color Me Rad 5k in my hometown, I treated the suggested cross training days as rest days. Sometimes I’d meet with my personal trainer, sometimes I’d do yoga or barre, but mostly, I took that suggested “45 minutes of non-running activity” into rest time...channel surfing was as rigorous a non-running activity I could stand.

Slowly, I worked my way up to my first half marathon training plan, but again, I mostly ignored the suggestion of cross training. “I’m a runner,” I thought, “I run for exercise. I want to be better at running, so running is what I’ll do and all I’ll do.” And, I was an OK runner.

But it wasn’t until I raced my fastest half marathon that it clicked for me. I used the same training plan I always used because it’s challenging, but not overwhelming...except I actually dropped one running day and turned it into an extra cross training day. That in addition to paying really close attention to my running nutrition (what I ate before and during my run), is what truly set me up for my half marathon PR.

Here are three of my favorite ways to cross train for races.

Barre

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There are lots of option, in real life and online, for barre classes. My husband swears I’m the only one to differentiate between styles of barre, but they are all different. My favorite is barre3. They really promote a strong balance--in working out and in life. Their workouts focus on emotional, physical and mental strength--all of which I believe is important when running half marathons (or races of any distance, for that matter). Running can be incredibly selfish because to train for long-distance races takes a lot of time, and at barre3 they encourage you to be selfish for the hour you’re there, to commit to the hour you’ve taken, so that you can be selfless and giving of yourself the rest of the day. I just love that idea. And once you get used to it and start living and believing it, it carries over into your runs and you don’t feel so bad about the time it takes away from your family, friends, job, pets, etc. The workouts are an hour (but their online community offers workouts that range from 10 minutes to 60 minutes) and utilize big movements, isometric holds and balance (among other things). My legs feel strong after a workout and I feel powerful because even though it’s hard and challenging, it feels so amazing to stick with it and complete the workout. The instructors offer a lot of modifications to each workout so you can do what feels right for you (which goes great with my mantra, “Run Your Own Race!”) on that day and in that workout and they are super cognizant of what works for runners. The positive effects of this are endless.

Kickboxing

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This is a high impact workout for sure. It’s a great way to get out aggression and work the whole body. In this workout, you’re doing tons of different movements than what you do when you’re running and you’re using muscles that you probably aren’t as you pound the pavement. I liken the mentality of these workouts to when you’re feeling pent up and frustrated and just want to get out and let your fit hit the ground over and over and over until you’re in a different place. This is the workout you do when you feel like you just want to run, full speed ahead, not in any form or fashion or following any rules for training (which can lead to you getting hurt). This is a much more aggressive class format, it’s loud and quick and fierce. Depending on how hard you work, you can burn about 500 calories in a session. To me, this workout is the most like running without actually running.

Yoga

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This is wholly restorative. There are tons of different types of yoga classes you can take. From hot yoga (in a 95 degree classroom) to bikram (the same series of movements every time)...there is literally something for everyone. I get a little intimidated in a yoga studio when I’m in a class full of people doing all kinds of inversions and fancy moves while I struggle to stay in down dog, so I like to do it in my living room or on my porch using a YouTube channel called Yoga with Adriene. She literally has a practice for everything (from going back to school, to being sick, to being in love, for climbers and people with sciatica, morning and bedtime and a focus on the core, the list is endless) and they range in time from seven minutes to 56 minutes. Her voice is great, her personality is comforting and she meets you where you are and encourages you to work at your level. It isn’t stuffy or formal, it’s nurturing. Group classes are great for yoga, too, but for me, this is where I go when I’m trying to take care of myself and overcome any negativity I’m feeling. For me, yoga is a solo practice.

Of course, there are many, many, many other ways you can cross train on non-running days that include bike riding, swimming, weight lifting….to name a few, but the key is to get out and do something that uses muscles you aren’t using when you’re running. You’ll be surprised at how cross training helps you keep your strength and endurance up--even if you have to take a week off running for one reason or another, keeping up your cross training will help ensure you don’t backslide so far you get discouraged.

What are your favorite ways to cross-train? Share in the comments below!

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