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Frequency (how often), duration (how long), and intensity (how hard) are the three factors that determine run training load. Increasing training load improves run form, economy, and fitness, but more running also increases impact stress on the body leading to a greater risk of injury. Incorporating alternative sessions that produce the same training response as running—while allowing the legs and feet more time to recover from increased stress—is a smart approach. Here are three alternative run sessions you can use to conservatively boost your run load.
Hiking is an ideal strength session that adds significant muscle loading without adding impact stress. Form can deteriorate and injury risk goes up when attempting long run sessions without adequate strength. Long hikes are a great alternative for building strength and aerobic fitness. Try using hiking for a long session, additional frequency workout, or to add volume on top of a run workout.
Breaking up continuous running with short bouts of walking is ideal for increasing duration, frequency, and intensity in a session, because walk breaks reduce fatigue, help you maintain good form, and accelerate post-run recovery. Incorporating walk/run intervals as part of an overall run program creates the opportunity to perform longer and more intense sessions that are easier to recover from. Walk/run training is also a good rehearsal for running in a longer race: Practicing alternating running race pace with walk breaks at intervals that simulate placement of aid stations is great race prep.
Water running eliminates or reduces the impact of running on the road, while maintaining engagement of the hips, glutes, legs, core, and arms. Not just for injured runners, it also lets healthy runners add volume with less wear and tear.
Both deep- and shallow-water running challenge leg, core, and arm muscles to push against the resistance of the water while turning the legs over and maintaining upright posture. These workouts are great for boosting frequency between run training sessions. Adding water sessions for recovery—or as a second session after running on land—adds training load while allowing the feet and legs to recover.
PRO TIP: Wearing shoes in the pool creates a more realistic running “feel” in the water.
• 5-minute walk, focusing on workout intention
• 2x (8 min warm-up; 2 min walk, focus on cadence)
• 2x (6 min comfortable aerobic; 2min of 15 sec stride, 45 sec easy)
• 4x (8 min build to half-marathon pace and hold; 2 min walk)
• 5-minute walk cool-down
Water Run Workout:
• 5-minute warm-up focusing on turnover and posture
• 5x (4:20 of super fast turnover (try to get 30 “steps” in 10 seconds)/:40 regular turnover)
• 1-minute easy cool-down
• After long run day, add in a 2-3 hour hike with uphill for strength.
Melanie McQuaid is a former pro world cup mountain bike racer, a four-time off-road triathlon world champion, and six-time 70.3 champion. McQuaid is also certified by the Coaching Association of Canada and has been working with athletes for more than a decade through MelRad Coaching.