Sunday, May 11, 2014

Double Duty - How Being Carless Can Make You A Better Athlete

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about sports training; more specifically, I've been thinking about running, because John and I are beginning to train for a half marathon in October.
Full disclosure: This is an extremely audacious goal for me. I ran my first nonstop mile a little less than a year ago, and I ran my first 5K last August, and a couple of 5Ks since then. As a person who spent my entire life being told (and worse, believing) that I was just naturally unathletic, I never thought that I'd be running races, or hell, even running at all... for fun. Because of that, I owe these achievements to the support of John, who always believed in my potential and who has coached me through whenever I thought I couldn't take the next step.

Our first 5K together - my first ever!
However, there's another influence at play here that has allowed me to make the quantum leap from running 5Ks to actually thinking I have a shot at running a half-marathon in less than six months, and for that, I have being carless to thank.
I know it sounds a little weird to say that not owning a car is making me a better athlete, but I absolutely believe it. My running skill before I moved to Oklahoma City (when I still relied on a car for transportation) and my running skill since I've moved here and ditched the car has followed a trajectory that isn't entirely explained by the normal rate of improvement that comes with continued practice. In fact, there was a period of about two and a half to three months there in which I didn't run at all because we were in the midst of final-stage wedding planning, the wedding itself, moving to Oklahoma City immediately afterwards, and then settling into our new home. And yet, when I began running again here in OKC, I was a much better runner than I was before, even with the extensive break from training.

Cats help with sports training. It's a scientific fact.
It didn't take long for me to realize why I had improved so much: Relying on walking as our main form of transportation had greatly upped my overall endurance. Ever since ditching our cars, John and I were regularly trekking around on foot for hours at a time, and without even realizing it, I had increased my ability to keep moving at a quick pace.
There's a lot of knowledge out there to back me up; almost every beginning running program employs walking as a way to build up endurance in preparation for running. It's one thing to set aside a certain amount of time during the week to walk; it's another thing entirely for walking to be an integral part of your everyday life. It adds up quickly to help you get to a point where you're comfortable walking for a long period of time, which translates easily to being able to run (if slowly at first) for a long period of time. Without even realizing it, our lifestyle change had positively impacted my athletic skill in an unexpected way.
Similarly, getting bikes has coincided nicely with our training for the half marathon, as our training plans both call for cross-training a couple of times a week. Generally, cycling for a workout is much different from cycling to and from the library; however, getting those extra bike rides in during the week, even on non-training days, is helpful to us from a training standpoint. There's also the option of planning and executing our evening bike rides in a way that can serve as cross-training: cycling to dinner, for example, at a restaurant that's located far enough away to constitute a good workout.

Training hard or hardly training, am I right?
This kind of training/living overlap was not the case when I was driving a car as my primary mode of transportation. If I wanted to train or work out, I had to fit designated workout times into my schedule. Serious training and exercise, of course, have to be planned and executed no matter what, but because of my carless lifestyle, there's this seamless integration of many of those same elements into how I get around. Training and becoming healthier and more athletic is just a natural part of my daily life now, and I love that.  

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