In these unprecedented times, with runners in partial lockdown for what looks likely to be a couple of months, no races to compete in and uncertainty about what races there will be in the future, a lot of runners are wondering what type of training they should be doing. I thought I would share my thoughts on what you should be focusing on during the COVID-19 lockdown and explain my reasoning as to why.
Most runners I have been coaching had their main targeted event scheduled for the spring. All had trained very hard and were in good shape leading up to the final phase of training prior to putting themselves on that start line ready to clock a PB. They had a good aerobic base, were strong and well-conditioned, and had improved their strength endurance from the hill and interval sessions they had done over the winter in some lousy conditions. How frustrating with no end results on paper, so what to do next?
Rather than just continuing to train as you have done through the winter I would lower the overall volume, cut out those big anaerobic sessions, marathon paced runs and long runs and turn your focus elsewhere. Give your body chance to recover and rejuvenate and with COVID-19 about there are good reasons to cut down on volume which I will cover later.
Convert Strength to Speed – At the end of the winter you should be strong, but what to do with this strength and endurance. Turn it into speed. Do this by incorporating interval sessions of 400m, 300m or 200m with long recoveries into your schedule. Make sure you are well warmed up before these sessions and don’t sprint but run fast and relaxed.
Improve Running Economy – I always include 3 or 4 strides at the end of a few easy runs throughout the year to help improve running economy. However, now is the time to double up on that by including a session purely focused on strides. For example, a set of 2 or 3x10x100m strides with 100m jog recovery will enable you to run fast, relaxed, focused on good running form and with the bonus that the session won’t take too much out of you.
Tempo Runs – Rather than doing longer tempo runs I would split these down into short tempo runs with a good recovery in between. The longer tempo runs are harder on your immune system, so if you split them up and recover well between sets your body recovers quicker.
Easy Running – Always have a good aerobic base and do this by running easy. The day after any of the sessions you may have done above, it is always good to run easy. Use your HR zone on your Garmin watch to ensure you stay in HR zone 2. That way you will recover well and your muscles will make the adaption the training was intended for.
Running Drills to Improve Running Form – Ideally, you will have had a coach instruct you on how to do drills previously. Start including them more frequently in your training sessions once you have warmed up. If you have little experience with drills then start with the easy ones such as Butt Kicks and Walking High Knees. The isolation of a particular movement will allow our body to focus on this motion and adapt physically and neurologically, so it is important they are done correctly.
Post Exercise Routine – With less weekly volume you may find yourself with some extra time at the end of your run. Time to do those post-run static exercises or yoga stretches that you always miss!
Strength and Conditioning – Start by incorporating 1 or 2 light strength or conditioning routines into your weekly program. Go easy to begin with and concentrate on technique rather than weight or volume. Most good running coaches will have a knowledge of strength and/or conditioning exercises that are ideal for runners. A good S&C program will help you avoid those running-related injuries.
COVID-19 and the Immune System.
As a coach, my first concern is always about the physical and mental wellbeing of the runners under my tutelage. I always aim to get them on the start line for their main targeted event in the best shape they can be, taking care not to over-train anyone and make them susceptible to injury and/or illness. For their mental wellbeing I organise the training based around the other activities that are happening in their work/social life, this alleviates the stress of trying to fit in a key training session into an already busy diary.
During this period with such a deadly disease being within touching distance for everyone, physical and mental wellbeing are even more important. Intense exercise such as running a marathon can lead to a lowered immune system, as stated in a research paper by Dr. David Niemen, Director of the Human Performance Lab at Appalachian State University. That’s a good reason to cut down on overall training volume, sustained training intensity and those long marathon paced runs. Add other factors such as sleep deprivation, anxiety due to lockdown, job stresses and nutritional deficits etc, and your immune system can be further suppressed and you may be at increased risk of infection. On the good side, Niemen also states that regular bouts of moderate exercise can improve the immune system so you definitely should not stop exercise altogether.
As athletes, we all know that you are most likely to catch a cold, flu or some bug or another during your heaviest training period. Now, more than ever it is important to stay healthy. Therefore my advice to all my athletes is to not train too hard at this time but to train smart.