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Non-Track Workouts to Keep up Your Running Speed—and Stay Injury-Free

Use this effective combination of hill repeats, water running, elliptical and cycling to not only maintain but also improve run speed.

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After many years of trying different workouts to avoid the monotony and pounding of the track, I’ve come up with this effective combination of hill repeats, water running, elliptical and cycling to not only maintain but also improve run speed—it’s like speedwork in disguise. Substitute one of these for a track workout once a week to stay fresh and fast.

Hill repeats: A hill with a 3 to 7 percent grade will do, or you could use a treadmill. By nature, hill repeats are speedwork—you are running fast and on your toes. And you are doing this up a hill, which creates nice natural resistance. Start with 6×2 minutes and build to 15×2 minutes over several weeks.

Water running: An injury-friendly exercise you can do any time of year. After a short warm-up of five minutes, do 10×30 seconds at 5K to 1 mile pace, with 15 seconds rest. Build up to 20 of these. Or you can try one minute fast, with 30 seconds recovery for 15 rounds. It may not sound like much, but 15 minutes of high-quality water running is a solid workout that trains the muscles in a way that’s similar to running on land.

Elliptical: Work up to your normal long run time (or a maximum of 90 minutes) while staying in Zone 2, or about 75 percent of your max heart rate. Once you feel comfortable, add in a normal threshold set on the elliptical. For example, 3×5 minutes at high tempo (just under your lactate threshold, or the max effort you could sustain for about 30 minutes), with three minutes recovery after each interval.

Bike: Tough bike intervals will help you maintain your aerobic fitness without the wear and tear you’d get from a hard run workout. Start with 10×30 seconds at 110 to 125 percent of the highest power you can hold for about 45 minutes, and build to 30×30 seconds with equal rest.

Warm up right with these exercises

A strength coach once told me it’s better to cut your run short by five minutes to work on mobility than to run the scheduled time without any mobility work. Young and injury-free at the time, I didn’t get what he was saying, but I can tell you that a proper run warm-up is part of my routine now, no matter what. Do these simple moves before every workout to prime the body to perform.

Foam roller: Work the knots out of your legs before you train to get the most out of your workout. Do 10 strokes up and down on each of the calves, quads, hamstrings and ITBs.

Mobility exercises: Overhead squat, using a broomstick as your barbell. Then three-way lunges (front, side and to the rear at 45 degrees), and leg swings, front to back, and side to side (while facing a wall or holding onto a pole in front of you). Other exercises that I like include a few rounds of sun salutation (muster up your inner yogi), and ankle bends (stand two inches from a wall and try to bend your knee toward the wall, trying to make contact).

Mike Ricci is a USAT Level III coach and the founder of the D3 Multisport coaching group.