Dimity McDowell: Cross-Training, The Key To My Miles

Dimity feels like a rock star after climbing about 2,000 feet of vertical at Red Rocks Amphitheater outside Denver. Photo: Dimity McDowell

I’ll just come right out and say it: even though I love running, I’ve called myself a runner for nearly two decades, and I’ve built a career around writing about running, I can’t do it every day.

Usually, I can’t even do it two days in a row.

I blame it on my injury-prone body, which is nearly 6-foot-4 and, as such, seems to have muscle and ligaments to spare. My lengthy core sometimes seems as long—and as flimsy—as a red carpet. The nerves that make my leg muscles fire often feel like they’re communicating via tin-can telephones. My shoulders can flare up for no reason, even if I haven’t lifted a weight or swam a stroke in weeks.

Through trial and error—and plenty of injuries—I’ve finally settled on what works best for me so I can continue running: building muscular strength and cardiovascular depth through cross-training at least two days a week; running no more than four days a week; keeping my core solid and aligned through regular Pilates sessions; and staying extra diligent about my running form.

I’m currently training for the Pikes Peak Ascent, a 13.32-mile race with 7,815 feet of altitude gain that ends at 14,050 feet. (Yes, I’ve studied the website a little too much.) Sounds exhausting—and it’s going to be a quite an adventure—but the good news is that training for it has kept me healthy. Climbing requires good form and since I’m not emphasizing pace—getting to the top is the only goal I have—my body isn’t complaining too much.

Once I get up the mountain on August 16 and my legs recover, this is what a typical week in my training life will look like as I focus on the Philadelphia Marathon at the end of November:

Monday: 4-6 mile run with a few pick-ups thrown in

Tuesday: 75-minute bike (usually on the trainer in our basement to keep things efficient) + Pilates (1 hour)

Wednesday: An Orange Theory Fitness class (my newest obsession: a circuit of rowing, running and strength training done in a full-of-energy, loud studio … fun counterpart to hours of solo exercise)

Thursday: 60-75-minute run with some different pace efforts

Friday: 2,500-yard swim + Pilates (1 hour)

Saturday: Long run of anywhere from 10-18 miles, depending on where I am in the training cycle. Because this marathon is about supporting my cadet Kelly Pollock, I’m not focusing on my performance. As such, I want to mitigate any injury potential on my end by not making my long runs too demanding.

Sunday: Off (yay!)

Although a session in the pool or spinning at the gym don’t give me the same kickass endorphins that running do, cross-training keeps me running happy and healthy—which, any long-time runner knows, is the ultimate goal.

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

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