The Marathon Diaries: Top 10 Cross-Training Tools

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The Nike for Women Marathon that Outside's assistant managing editor, Ali, and I are running in is approaching quickly. It’s a little more than two months away and I should be strictly sticking to our training plan.

Our schedule has us running up to 16 miles on the weekend and nine milers mid-week. It should be obvious that I shouldn’t take two weeks off right now. But I did. I had to: RAGBRAI, the statewide bicycle race across Iowa. Being a fifth-generation Iowan, it would have been remiss for me to miss it.

I rode with my 65-year-old dad and, for all of you who don’t already know, Larry Erb is one bad-ass rider. He rides 75 miles a day for fun. He loves hills and, most of all, he loves kicking my ass on the bike.

My dad isn’t the type to let his daughter win to boost her self-esteem. He’s hyper-competitive. Trouble is, so am I. And what could have been a leisurely bike ride across my home state turned into multiple sprint pushes where we rode neck and neck, refusing to let the other one pass. Until we'd get to a hill—and then he’d power past me at 20 mph up hill, while I fell back, pushing a mere 15 mph.

RAGBRAI was a chance to reconnect with my dad, to spend a full week with him as an adult, and to finally go on the father-daughter adventure he’s been promising me since I was 14 years old. It was also one solid week of cross-training for the marathon. Yes, I could have ridden 92 miles and then hopped off the bike and ran another 10 miles but, let’s be real; I’m nowhere near that extreme. And, to be honest, all I really wanted to do was end each day in a lawn chair next to my Pops and drink an ice-cold beer.

I love cross training. It’s been my favorite part of training for a marathon. I enjoy my run-free days—the ones I get to spend hiking a fourteener with my mutt, Santos, or driving up to Leadville, CO, to mountain bike freshly cut trails.

And what’s cross training without the ultimate cross-training tools?

Sugoi Evolution S/L Jersey, $65: I’m  a girl and, for some odd (but totally predictable) reason, I feel like I can run, bike, and climb better if I’m dressed really cute. And Sugoi is one of my favorite brands for adorable bike wear. Their stuff is stylish and sleek. Their retro-looking jersey features three elastic back pockets, where I stuffed shades, gingerbread vanilla-flavored GU and my cycling cap. Iowa is brutally hot and humid in the summer and this jersey kept me dry and comfortable even after mile 60. The 10” front zip was long enough to provide me with ample air. It also comes in a short-sleeve version.

Pearl Izumi W’s Symphony Cut Short, $100: These lightweight shorts’ vented panels kept me (almost) sweat-free on our 92-mile day. Plus, more than a dozen bikers complimented me on my shorts. When does that happen?

Garmin Edge 705, $500: The Edge 705 comes with a built-in base map, adds map details and stores workouts, courses and saved rides. Just moved to a new city? It can give you turn-by-turn directions if you get lost on your way home. It has a topo map for off-road adventures. It auto measures your speed, distance, time, calories burned, altitude, climb and descent. It measures your heart rate, cadence, and, my most favorite part, swaps saved rides with other Edge 705 riders.

Smith Optics Interlock Trace, $139: I need indestructible sunglasses. The Trace’s arms twist and bend, not only so you can swap out the different-colored polarized lenses for varying light conditions, but also so they're nearly impossible to break them.

Thule 964 Revolver, $460: My training partner, Santos, joins me on every mountain bike ride, every trail run and every big-mountain climb. Call me obsessed:

The Revolver is the ultimate bike-carrying tool. It easily unlocks and swings up to four bikes out of the way, allowing me to open my SUV’s trunk so my whining pooch can jump around me ecstatically at the trailhead. It’s easy to load and unload and, it’s quite frankly, my favorite piece of gear.

Ruffwear Singletrak Pack, $90: Santos has long owned a giant hydration pack for multi-day hiking trips and while I’m sure he appreciates its water bladders and extra room, it’s completely impractical to take on a run. So, for the last five months, I’ve planned my training runs around river access. But, as my mileage has increased, it’s been harder and harder to find a 13-mile route that’s dog-friendly. Enter the Singletrak Pack, a sleek, lightweight hydration pack that’s just big enough for two bladders and a few poop bags.

Osprey Raptor 6, $79: This pack is a great addition to any trail running and mountain biking gear collection. It’s a minimalist pack that’s just big enough to carry a two-liter reservoir, a spare tire, bike tools, a Clif Bar, cell phone, an extra layer, or, in my case, bear spray.

Camelbak Podium Ice, $20: Cold water is a necessity on long bike rides and the Podium Ice never let me down. It kept my water cold hour after hour. I never drank warm water once, even after eight hours on the road. Plus, its jet value really works like a jet. The water shot out of the bottle with one little squeeze. Quick and easy to use.

Suunto t4d, $219:  This watch and its heart-rate monitor, the Suunto Dual Comfort Belt, tracks your heart rate, notifies you if your heart’s pumping too fast, calculates your calorie consumption and easily tracks up to 50 split times. 

Specialized Dolce Elite Triple, $1,300:  I bought this bike when I was living off a freelance writer’s salary in Jackson, WY. I needed something affordable and that could handle riding up a dozen switchbacks to the top of a mountain pass. Does Specialized make sexier, faster bikes?

Of course they do. Do I love this bike all the same? I sure do. It has fully manipulated E5 aluminum tubing, carbon seatstays to quiet vibrations and oh-so-smooth Shimano shifters. Translation: It’s a bomber, affordable bike. —Christina Erb

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