If you've been reading my blog for the past few weeks you've seen a big emphasis cycling and nothing on swimming and running. Have I crossed over to the dark side of single sport?
No, I'm a triathlete at heart. Although the main event I'm training for this year is a 100-mile mountain bike ride, swimming and running remain in my schedule.
I got my first mountain bike about 15 years ago, but I didn't ride it much. I was a genuine white-knuckler and the fear of falling was on my mind all the time. There is no place for mind-freezing fear in any sport that includes high speeds, instinct, quick decision making and utilizing obstacles to your advantage.
Looking back, there was a slow and sneaky transition from fear to fun. The leading edge of the transformation was entry into a 24-hour mountain bike race, with four other team members.
If you don't see the cliff that is to your right, because your headlamp is illuminating the trail in front of you at midnight, then you can't have cliff-a-phobia. Darkness can be a handy way to reduce fear.
Another benefit of the 24-hour race was that it was multiple laps. Riding multiple laps gives you a chance to ride sections repeatedly and improve your skills. Some of this comes from personal repetition and another piece is seeing how other riders handle tough sections and trying to imitate their moves.
Helping my new moves was that shortly before the race I got a new full suspension mountain bike. That bike allowed me to ride sections of the trail I would not have been able to handle on my old hard tail.
In the same summer as my first 24-hour race was my first 100-mile mountain bike race. The 24-hour race was a couple of months before the 100. The more mountain riding I did to prepare for both events, the more I liked it. It began to feel more like downhill skiing to me, a sport I had done for years. (In fact, I taught downhill skiing lessons for three seasons-in case that question comes up in a trivia contest.)
Although I was enjoying the mountain bike riding, I still loved swimming and running. I decided to keep one or two days of swimming and two days of running per week in my schedule. Even though I was focusing on mountain bike races, I didn't yearn to be exclusively on the bike five or six days a week.
Is swimming and running beneficial to training for mountain bike racing? At the elite level, I think the benefit is minimal. For the rest of us, I can argue that swimming is a great recovery workout if you control the intensity. I can also argue that swimming maintains upper body and core strength.
Running is a slightly tougher argument, because it is certainly not restful for your legs. However, for events that require a chunk of hike-a-bike, I can argue that trail running is helpful.
I suppose I could do a test one year and eliminate all swimming and running from my personal training plan to see if my performance level improves...but I don't see it happening. I simply enjoy swimming and running.
For me, for now, enjoyment trumps performance.