To heavily paraphrase British Prime Minister Harold Wilson, a week is a long time in running. The world in 2020 is now a different place and presents a new set of challenges.
Selfishly speaking for runners, racing is off the cards or uncertain, group training has shifted to solo sessions and for a lot of us running has become not about what we want to do, but what we can do.
So how do we navigate this new period? What are some options that we can explore over the next few months? Let's offer some framework for how training may look for you during the next period.
- Training has always been about adaptation. Adapting to your new environment can and will take time. Don't place pressure on yourself and try and remove the notion that training has to be perfect. The best athletes in the world are adaptable and some of the best performances have come as a result of being able to adapt to evolving situations. There's no right or wrong. You're an individual, with individual circumstances that require individual approaches. How the person next to you manages their training in this situation is not a model for how you should be managing your training. It's ok to be doing things differently. Remember your why. What got you running in the first place? What's keeping you running currently? Find your why and remind yourself of this constantly. For a lot of people, running was never about racing or piecing together big blocks of training.
For many people running represented a shift from one phase of life to another, a will to find fitness, a method of staying social, or a return to something that brought so much joy as a child.
Be realistic. Identify the differences between what you want to do, what you can do, and what you should be doing under the current circumstances. Your ideal training strategy should emphasise the latter two components of that sentence, for now. Training and immune function. There is still plenty of debate in the physiology world about the cost of hard training and how it impacts the immune system of an athlete. Previous studies have suggested that hard bouts of training significantly suppress immune function, while newer studies are suggesting that immune function is enhanced due to consistent bouts of exercise. The more important point of discussion lies in the fact that we need to ensure we're recovering from training.
Without recovery, we fail to adapt and failing to adapt is placing ourselves under nonfunctional stress during a period that may already be stressful for us. So if your plan is to continue to train as normal, ensure you're providing yourself adequate opportunity to recover between sessions. This means fuelling pre and post-workout and prioritising quality sleep. Training with a goal race in mind. If you're still focussed on a race towards the end of the year, a healthy strategy to employ is to slightly reduce your training load now so you're not doing too much, too early. This also allows you room to move when you do have a specific date in the calendar to target. Doing too much now may result in physical or mental burnout and may also drastically reduce the amount of training you're able to do when the opportunity presents itself.
On the other side of the coin, it's important to retain a consistent amount of running to ensure you're able to handle the structural and physiological stress required of you down the track when the opportunity presents itself. When in doubt, err on the side of caution. Training without a goal race. If you don't have a goal race or anything you want to specifically target in training, now is a great time to introduce new elements into your running. Things like short hill sprints, strides, fartleks and hills offer opportunities to really improve your running. Look at these things as the 'low hanging fruit' that will give you the biggest bang for buck in the next period of training.
Like anything new, introduce gradually and aim to progressively overload. Introducing new things may also mean running local streets you've never run before, turning left instead of right. Now is a great time to be creative with running routes. Taking an offseason. For some of us, training at the moment represents a paradigm shift from showing up every day to improve performance, to showing up every day to improve our mental health. For others, training is still very much about eliciting the best training response and training adaptations possible, and that's equally as valuable.
It's also ok to be taking time away from running. This period could be seen as an 'offseason' and a chance to step away from running, giving your body the time it needs to recover after a long period of breaking down. If you're keen to take an offseason, now is a good time to introduce or reintroduce the things that have fallen by the side as a result of an increase in training load. Things like strength training, mental training and developing mental strategies, and crosstraining are great tools to be working with throughout the next period. Stress is stress. It's ok to reduce the volume and intensity of the planned run to accommodate for some of the additional nonrunning stress you've accumulated.
Remember, the only training you benefit from is the training you recover from. Just because you may have more time to train, that doesn't mean you should fill it all with training. We want to maintain balance and that includes a balance of energy and a balance of stress. A rest day may be the difference between four weeks on the couch with a bone problem and whatever the other side of that is for you right now.
Running and your health is a privilege, and right now that may be the most important point.