Life is a learning process, as is running marathons. In the last quarter of 2021, I participated in two marathons. My focus at the beginning of my training cycle was to stay on track and avoid injuries at all costs. That’s why I started to embrace cross training.
My intention was to improve my cardiovascular endurance, my fitness level, get stronger and have a bit of fun at the same time. It’s more entertaining when you mix things up. I found myself getting out and doing a lot of cycling, swimming, weightlifting and hiking over different terrains and landscapes. It feels good to liberate endorphins and adrenaline by practicing other modalities than running. And to top it all off, it turns you into a better athlete. It makes you stronger and wiser.
While cross training got me ready for my races, I also learned that is a solid strategy to avoid burnout and has taught me some valuable lessons I can apply to my professional life.
The benefits of cross training for a marathon runner
From a purely physical perspective, cross training helps to reduce the amount of stress you put your body under from running. It also improves cardiovascular endurance, strengthens your muscles and breaks up the monotony of embracing just one sport.
For example, cycling can help us to develop fitness, stamina and endurance without damaging your leg muscles. It’s a low impact activity that you can do for several hours to improve cardiovascular performance. It also allows you to exercise muscles that you don’t use when running. The same goes for swimming. You work every muscle with no impact. Magic.
But the benefits go way beyond just physical fitness…
Cross training as a means of switching off
Cross training will bring you to nature – to amazing landscapes, with wild animals and fresh air. Long trail runs, walks or rides in the mountains give me time to clear my mind of any work-life related issues. It gives me time to really enjoy my surroundings while getting stronger, and I often do so while listening to music or a podcast to learn about new stuff. It helps me find solutions to problems as I had no distractions other than dodging rocks and trees.
I see swimming as a switch-off activity. The water creates an atmosphere that provokes great relaxation in my mind. The ‘stroke-stroke-breathe’ routine helps me to focus, to think about stuff, and to resolve issues. Mountain biking also increases my level of happiness after liberating some adrenaline. When I write an article or approach a task that requires real focus, I love to do it after a mountain bike session because it resets my mood, and I can fully focus on any creative activity. I find road cycling is useful to find a bit of a headspace and relax while discovering new routes and landscapes for my long runs.
The bonus benefit of cross training: learning and improving
During my training cycle I added multiple cross training sessions. Along the way, I realised that I’ve learned a bunch of things that have made me to be a better athlete overall. For example, running on a track was a game changer. Exploring new routines can help you really up your game.
It helped me to improve the control over my pace and stride, to keep a healthier shape when running, especially in the most exhausting moments. Tracks are perfect for speed and tempo runs, no passersby, no cars, no traffic lights, no change in elevation… just your legs, your lane and your workout ahead.
And then, just one of those days swimming I had a light bulb moment: if I am a better athlete because I’ve learned a bunch of things from doing different sports, I may become a better professional if I learned new skills not necessarily related to my day-to-day at work.
Embracing the logic of cross training to my work
Still in the swimming pool, I grew to realise that a few months after starting in my current position as a customer consultant, I was already using skills I’d acquired in my previous job as a corporate trainer. As with cross training, by embracing a broader range of exercises, or in the case of work – skills or duties – you can broaden your horizons and become a better workplace athlete.
I began adding new activities to my daily tasks. I started to help new joiners with the onboarding process, which allowed me to mix up my day, to meet new people and establish great relationships within the company. I jumped from a singularly focused working day to a much more enriching and entertaining one. It helped me to be more valuable for my team and the company, as I could help not only customers, but also new colleagues from their very first day with us.
Branching out further
I kept swimming, and my mind kept digressing. What if I learn some prospecting skills? This might be help me to become more productive and effective when helping customers over the phone. It would also give me a wider vision of the sales cycle. And maybe I could support my sales colleagues with some leads. It sounded like a plan. The next day, I reached out to some of my colleagues to help develop my sales skills. Over the following months I had a few meetings, shadowed sales calls and took some online courses related to prospecting and the sales funnel.
I started to increase my understanding of the sales cycle and the importance of creating connections between different teams to provide the best service to the customer.
I couldn’t stop making comparisons with my marathon preparations. Be consistent, learn, prepare in advance, track and review results, build connections with other people who can help you to improve (other runners, a coach, a running team, the guy from the shoe shop, an ex-Olympic athlete you have the chance to connect over social media and so on).
Gaining new skills in sales led me to perform better as a customer consultant and become more valuable as a professional. I can now say that I’m heading to a new position in the sales team.
I’m sure I’ll be able to use the skills I’ve learned as trainer, as consultant or as content creator to become a valuable sales advisor.
I’ve grown to realise that cross training hasn’t just led me to perform better as a marathon runner. Embracing a variety of sports and developing new skills has made me a stronger athlete and at the same time, it’s opened up a world of opportunity in the workplace.
Never get tired of learning!