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Turf the running shoes to train for race day

'Running is great and I absolutely love it, but it can be hard on your body,' says Doneen Swart, who trains by swimming and cycling.

LAURA LEYSHON/laura leyshon The Globe and Mail

Doneen Swart trains for marathons by not running. She may lace up her shoes a few days a week, but the rest of the time she jumps on her bike or dives into the pool. The 37-year-old from Vancouver took up cross-training last year as a way to mix things up and minimize the physical toll of running.

"Running is great and I absolutely love it, but it can be hard on your body," she says.

Preparing for a marathon can be a long, hard process, both mentally and physically. Doing nothing but running every day may be manna to some, but for others it can be pure monotony. And the more people run, the more likely they are to suffer injury. By cross-training, runners can minimize their chances of injury and also better enjoy getting into race day shape, which improves their chances of having a longer running career.

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"The evidence certainly shows that people who mix it up more are more likely to stick with running," says Nandini Sathi, a Toronto-based sports medicine physician. "Running is still fun for them. Running is not a chore."

Samantha Joseph took up long distance running seven years ago but is only now preparing for her first marathon, which she will run in September. To get ready for the race, the 41-year-old systems business analyst from Ajax, Ont., just joined a triathlete group. "Training on a road bike is still really new to me," she says. "It's great, except my bum hurts."

But a sore backside is well worth the sacrifice if it means avoiding stress fractures, shin splints or other running injuries that can sometimes sideline people who are gearing up to run 42 kilometres, she says.

When it comes to marathon training, injury prevention should be top of mind, says Richard Hughson, a professor of kinesiology at the University of Waterloo in Ontario.

"The ultimate goal of all of the training, really, is to keep yourself as healthy as possible. And you really do run a risk of overuse injury by doing the same type of activity," he says. "That continuous pounding of running really does lead to injury, and so the best way to avoid that is by including some variation in the way that you exercise. You're still getting a good cardiovascular and specific muscle workouts, you're just using the muscles differently."

By getting in to the pool, jumping on a bike, taking a yoga class, doing strength training or any other form of cross-training, people can continue to boost their fitness while giving the muscles used in running a much needed break, Prof. Hughson says.

"Most people tend to overdo it and never allow recovery. Doing something else tends to provide that break," he says.

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Of course, cross-training may not appeal to every type of runner.

"I'm sure that some people just get tired of the same thing very easily, whereas other people, their routine is just to go out for a run, and that's what they enjoy," Prof. Hughson says. "The key is knowing your limits, knowing what works and where the system starts to break down. If you're doing too much of one thing, then you have a much greater risk of injuring yourself."

Monika Kriedemann, who has completed five marathons and more than a dozen half-marathons, is now training four days a week to prepare for the Portland, Ore., marathon in October.

"I do a lot of cross-training," says the 47-year-old certified financial planner from Vancouver. "I do a lot of biking and swimming, and I also do Pilates. You need to challenge other muscle groups in order to stay strong for running."

Last year, after suffering from plantar fasciitis, a common foot injury among runners that prevented her from running for about two months, Ms. Kriedemann has increased her cross-training.

"I find I'm much less injured now that I do more cycling and swimming," she says.

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As well, some runs simply aren't productive, says Dennis Barrett, head coach of cross-country and track and field at Montreal's McGill University.

"I always tell my athletes, if they want to pad their miles, get on a bike rather than putting in what I call useless mileage," he says. "With a lot of excess running, they're not running at a pace that's very economical." Long, slow runs may leave you fatigued, but too many won't do much to help your race day performance, Mr. Barrett says.

He suggests running two or three days each week and doing cross-training in between. Doing so will keep you mentally fresh and boost your fitness, he says.

Facing a day in the pool or on her bike helps Ms. Swart from looking at her running shoes with a sense of dread.

"It is really nice to know that tomorrow I don't have to run. I can just do a swim or a bike ride. It definitely gives you something new to focus on and keep your interest going," she says.

To register for the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon go to

Why I Run: Pete Laporte

Pete Laporte ran his first marathon in 2002. This year's Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon on Sept. 26 will be his tenth. While the 37-year-old from Chelsea, Quebec, began running marathons as a way to lose weight, he's now hooked on racing as a way to stay fit.

What was your first marathon like?

I really didn't like any part of it. It was really tough and hard to do. But I decided to do a marathon every year because it's the only thing that keeps me running all year around.

How much weight have you lost since you started running marathons?

When I started I weighted just over 200 pounds. It didn't take long to come off at all. At one point I was down to 148. Today I'm in the 160-pound range.

How do you train?

My training used to be pretty intense, and then I found that I wasn't progressing. So I talked to some friends who run and they said I should probably limit my training to three days a week. I was running every day, trying to get up to 100 kilometres a week. My friends told me I wasn't giving myself a chance to recover and get faster. So now I try to do one long run a week and two shorter runs.

Do you do any cross training?

No, but I'm thinking about it. I like to bicycle still, but it's tough to work in to my schedule.

Does just running make training monotonous?

I do take my daughter running with me. She's two years old. She's been running with me since she was one month old. I put her in a jogging stroller. She loves it. It motivates me to see her excited by what I do. I wish I could take her in the races, but I don't think that's allowed.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

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About the Author

Dave McGinn writes about fitness trends for the Life section and also reports for Globe Arts. Prior to joining the Globe, he was a freelance journalist, covering topics from trying to eat Michael Phelps' diet to why the Joker is the best villain in comics history. He's working on improving his 10k time. More

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