During the present COVID-19 pandemic, several sources have recommended limiting high-intensity training that could possibly weaken our immune systems. Long runs or hard interval sessions can deplete our glycogen levels and leave us more susceptible. I agree with this and would suggest keeping the majority of training aerobic and limit most higher efforts to a ‘comfortably hard’ tempo at most, such as marathon pace. If you are going to run faster paces, keep the number of reps on the lighter side compared to what you would normally do in training. With no races in the near future, this is a perfect time to focus on staying healthy, keeping up base training and laying the foundation. 

The following strength workouts are great for base building periods like the one we’re all in, and can all be done at a moderately hard effort without overdoing it.

Long Hill Repeats/ Hill Circuits

Find a hill on road or trail about a half-mile to a mile long that includes 400 feet of climbing per mile (about 7-8% grade). Run at a moderately hard effort on the uphill portion and recover on the way back down, making sure to focus on a good mid-foot landing and not over-striding on the downhill portion. While there is obvious benefit to running uphill on hill repeats, using good form when running back down can strengthen the quads, knees, and calves. 

Running uphill strengthens the heart, legs, and arms while putting less stress on your joints compared to a similar heart rate effort on flat terrain. 

  • These can be done in an up and down repeat fashion, or a loop that includes some flat recovery at the top to loop back down to the bottom
  • I’ve found that around 400 feet per mile is the sweet spot — less would suffice, but once you start hitting 500 feet per mile or more your cadence and pace slows down and you start to lose the benefits geared towards road racing-specific training 
  • Make sure to warm up for at least a mile or two on flatter terrain before starting the hill session

Tempo Cutdowns 

Starting at marathon/half marathon effort and then cutting down to near 5k effort by the end, the intervals start longer and then get shorter. My favorite is 15 minutes, 10 minutes, 5 minutes – or 3-mile, 2-mile, 1-mile (regardless of your pace). The rest can be 2 minutes in between or up to 4 minutes for higher intensity sessions. 

This workout is great because you can use the first longer interval as a warm-up to help your body ease into it and get ready for the shorter, faster intervals. 

Landmark Fartleks

A great unstructured workout where you can run by feel and not worry about pace and splits. During any run, use a landmark you can see down the road or trail, like a stop sign or tree, to surge to. Once you hit that point, jog for recovery until you feel like picking up the pace again to another landmark. There are many benefits to regular fartlek work during base training when you’re otherwise just running a consistent pace or effort. You’ll be keeping your fast-twitch muscles sharp for the next period in your training of more specific workouts.