Less Running, More Biking and Swimming: Will I Still Be 100-mile Ready?

As I alluded to when I posted about having to defer my Run Across America dreams, I have been cleared to run and train for my upcoming 100-mile race at Burning River (also my very first 100M race, although not my first ultramarathon, I have done two 50-milers and one 50k). However, even though the doctors say I can run as long as I feel up to it, based on having hemoglobin levels that are finally on the low end of normal I feel like running six days a week is really hard on my still recovering body.  I feel best, fitness and recovery-wise, when I am running 3 days a week. Not much more and definitely not much less, as running is still my best stress-buster–a much needed outlet in the final year of my PhD program.

Keeping my running limitations in mind, I wondered if it would still be possible to train for the 100-mile race I am registered for in three running days a week, so I reached out to a local coach to see what he suggested. Much to my surprise, he not only thought it was possible to train effectively to finish a 100M – he even thought it was a good idea! He suggested that I approach my training in a new way which would mean, in essence, that I would take up triathlons.

Now, I’ve dabbled in triathlon with a sprint triathlon or two in the past, but when running inevitably won out, I put swimming and biking in the “active recovery” category. His plan for me was to run three days a week and then add cycling workouts for cardio and swimming for recovery. I was sold from almost the moment he brought it up. I’ve missed swimming (but not necessarily cycling, which is definitely my weakest discipline) and if I could do both triathlons AND ultras while staying healthy and injury-free, I was in.

We worked out a training plan for Burning River that I am very happy with – not only manageable, but fun!  Basically, I keep in my three key running workouts, which is one speedwork run and two long runs per week.  The rest of the week I mix up interval, hill and long bike rides with swims on my recovery days.  I will still peak my long run mileage with one 24-20 back-to-back long run three weeks before Burning River, and 50M race (coming up in three weeks!), but the most I run in a week is in the 50-mile range most weeks. I completed my 50k run last week and I have a marathon next weekend which will substitute as that week’s long run. I will also include some brick workouts, which are combination bike/run workouts, because it will make me a better runner and because I’m also going to do a few triathlons this summer for fun.

I’ve been training with the new plan for over a month and a half now, and I am incredibly happy with the results.  I’m actually running the fastest I have ever run since I began running, with a winning 5k this last weekend (20:23).  I also ran my best marathon time since my first marathon at Lake Wobegon! I think part of this is because I’m getting much more recovery than I have in the past, which is helping my runs to be key workouts and ensuring I am fully recovered going into them.  But also, cycling has been found to enhance running, so my cross training is enhancing my running, which is a benefit that isn’t making me complain at all.

Bottom line, time will tell if this new approach to ultra training works, but so far I feel like it is. And, most important, I’m enjoying it too!


Have you found success in running when you tried cross training?  Have you used cross training to great effect in your running ability?

Ultrarunner, adventurer, academic, and feminist. Running Across the USA in 2021. I write about ultrarunning, adventuring, and the intersection of endurance athletics and life.

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    1. Thank you! I think I still need a few more races to confirm if it works or not, but so far I’m feeling good about it!

  1. Cilantro, so glad to hear your recovery is going well. The “Run Less, Run Faster” training approach is typically three days of running a week (one day intervals, one day tempo, one day long) with active cross-training on the alternative days (e.g., biking, swimming), which I’m using for upcoming half marathon. Loved running every day but my body didn’t…look forward to hear of your continuing successes and the triathlons as the bonus!

    1. I’ve heard of that training plan, but didn’t know the details! Sounds like a book I should read! Good luck for your half – and I’m glad to hear that my training plan isn’t as radical as I thought! 🙂