Angela Bekkala: Variety Is The Spice Of Running

Angela Bekkala shows off her wild thing pose. Photo: Angela Bekkala

Before running became such a big part of who I am, I was a gym rat. I loved cardio equipment, weights and classes such as step and yoga. I loved having a variety of workout options so I never got bored.

Then I got rid of my gym membership right around the time running and I became serious.

My variety changed but I still do weights at home, cycle outside, hike and occasionally take Barre or Yoga classes at a studio. Cross training has never been an issue. It’s what I like. While I love running, I need some variety in my workouts. Variety is the spice of running for me. I’m not someone who can run seven days a week. My muscles and joints need a break from pounding the pavement and trails otherwise I end up injured. With cross-training, I get that break and am able to use different muscles and movements that enhance my running.

My favorite form of cross-training that mimics running is cycling, either indoors or outdoors. It builds muscle endurance in my quads, hamstrings and glutes—the same muscles used in running. It also helps with leg turnover if cadence/rpm is equivalent to running. I live in quite a hilly area, so there’s no avoiding the quad burning as I try to power up an incline to simulate running. I do this thinking one day I’ll love hills but so far, it isn’t happening! During training, I will get at least one day a week specifically on my bike.

I am also a big fan of yoga. I think it’s the perfect complement to running. While it doesn’t necessarily mimic the aerobic endurance of running, it does build core strength, flexibility and corrects muscle imbalances. These are all things that are the root of common running injuries.

I’ve always been quite flexible but yoga has helped build up my core strength and balance, especially since I’ve made it a focus after a tendon injury last year. It’s also helped with my mental focus particularly during long runs. When I feel like I am struggling, I do a mental sweep of my body and “let go” what I do not need. Am I holding tension in my shoulders? How is my posture? Is my core engaged? By calming my mind, I focus on my body and stay present. I concentrate on my breath, taking one step at a time, creating a sense of rhythm.

I try to do some form of yoga daily. It could be 10 minutes of sun salutations or a 60-minute Power Yoga class. With marathon training, it gets tough to fit it all in but I know if I don’t, I’ll be hurting, big time. I turn more to gentle classes during heavy training just for relaxation and to rejuvenate. It’s a great release for my muscles and prepares me for my next run.

A lot of hardcore runners advocate that there is no cross-training in running. If you want to improve your running, you need to run. It’s the law of specificity. I agree with that but I personally need other activities in my life even during training. It makes me happy and keeps me running longer!

For more on the Saucony 26 Strong program, which pairs up 13 coaches with 13 marathon rookies, visit 26Strong.com.

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