How to Train in Uncertain Times

I started thinking about writing this after most of the spring marathons were cancelled and I was asked by my clients how they can keep going between now and when they would normally start to train for their events.

Don’t Overtrain!

I am usually in the ‘cautious’ corner when it comes to possibly overtraining (some of my clients find it very frustrating when I have to remind them that sometimes less is better) as I have been guilty of that myself with my own running in previous years and believe me, it is no fun at all. In the current climate of Covid-19, overtraining needs to be avoided at all costs (more about that later).

Therefore, this is a great time to re-evaluate your running goals. A 16 week marathon training plan for an October marathon, assuming that they will still go ahead, would start at some point in June. That means that we have at least April and May to do something different and still have loads of time to build back up the distances again.

The next couple of months will afford you the luxury of mixing up your running a bit. Whether you want to change your possible marathon finishing time, get faster, just enjoy running, or change your focus on to shorter distances, now is the best time to do this.

So, for most of my clients, we have dropped their longer runs from 16-20 miles, if they were marathon training, down to between 8-14 miles a week (less for some), depending on their targets.  I am asking them not to overdo the mileage and instead, enjoy some runs that they would not do during a marathon training cycle.   That could mean going for runs off-road, it could mean doing some shorter more creative sessions that will help to get back some speed into their legs (shorter faster intervals, mixture of fartleks and tempo sessions, etc)

Fatigue and Immune System

At this point it is important to remember that marathon training is tough, both mentally and physically and sometimes you need a bit of a break from the longer runs and hard, long tempo sessions. You also need to reduce the amount of fatigue that you put through your body, especially at a time like this where we might need our immune system to fight Covid-19 (or more generally cold and flu viruses).

There are some great articles about running too hard or far suppressing and reducing your immune system, but this article written by American coach Steve Magness (famous not only for his coaching but also because he was a main whistle-blower in the Nike Oregan Project/Alberto Salazar doping scandal) sums it up very concisely.

https://www.facebook.com/stephenmagness/posts/10101115712420191

We cannot boost or increase our immune system through exercising (I have been guilty of using those words in the past, I admit), but you can make it less easy to damage by being sensible with the amount of exercise you do. Too much and you can damage and suppress it.

This is a key part of the article:

-Regular exercise practiced over time is beneficial to the immune system. It will make it more robust.
– But like with performance, if you push into or near over-training, your risk of infection likely goes up. It’s not rocket science. It’s stress and adaptation.
– Rather than defining hard/moderate/easy for your training, think of it as drastic changes which alter your risk of infection. If ‘normal’ for you is running 10 miles per day and you continue doing that, you’re likely fine. If normal for you is running 2 miles per day and you try to run 6 miles per day, your risk of infection likely goes up.

My message on the back of this is don’t keep pushing for more and more miles or more and more speed each week. It is fine to do some hard workouts if you usually do and if you know that you are not at your physical limit (they may feel hard at the time, that is fine, but you should not feel destroyed afterwards). So, make sure that you keep your easy runs really easy. If you feel tired then take a day (or extra day) off from exercise, not just running.

You can improve slightly in this period but remember that if you do not currently have a plan in place, you reduce your mileage if you increase your intensity and don’t do anything to really trash yourself. Shorter speedwork is fine if you take your recovery seriously and don’t push yourself in to the red.  For those I have written plans for, I know their running history and can dial it down a few notches, but still allow them to try some runs that they wouldn’t normally do.

Here are a few concepts that will help maintain your immune system. *taken from the Steve Magness article again https://www.facebook.com/stephenmagness/posts/10101115712420191

-Sleep!
-Maintain exercise routines.
-Eat quality food as best you can.
-Don’t fall into a chronically slightly stressed state. Meaning don’t watch or scroll through coronavirus tweets all day.
-Give structure to your day and time spent working on things you enjoy.
-Don’t go to the well in training.
-For the most part, ignore all of the advice on supplements, magic pills, etc. that are “immune-boosting.”
-Manage psychological stress: Find activities you can do to give yourself a mental break: Yoga, reading, meditation, walks in nature, etc.
-Don’t train yourself (or diet yourself) into glycogen depletion.
-If you do decide to a slightly harder or longer workout, replenish with food and water soon after.
-Remember to exercise solo 

Looking Forwards – What Next?

I know that as I write this on Wednesday 25th March things have changed a lot in the last week, with further rumours that more measures in the UK will be forced upon us. That means that as runners we are pointing in a few different directions.

-panic, I want to run as much as possible while we can

-a complete lack of motivation as I don’t know what is going to happen and there is plenty of time before my next race

-carry on as normal and continuing to do what I can

At least with currently only being allowed to run once a day it takes away the urge to run twice a day to get in more and more runs. Double days are likely to suppress your immune system at a time we need it most (yes even you fit and healthy youngsters, this is not going to be nice if you do contract Covid-19).

I can understand those with a lack of motivation at the moment. They have got up to almost peak mileage in their marathon training, or were getting to a peak ready for spring league races and then had it all taken away from them. However, habits form. When we run regularly that becomes a habit. When we stop running, that will also become a habit.  If we stop for too long, then it is tough to then reform the motivation and habit to continue again. Also, and the thing I find hardest to watch from a coaching point of view, is the loss of fitness that had been built up in what has been horrible weather this winter.

This is where having access to a coach can help.  I have amended the training plans of all of my runners who were planning spring races, writing maintenance plans with a bit more speed work for most but less mileage and less distance in their longer runs so as not to fatigue them.  I have also had coaching calls with people I don’t write ongoing plans for. These have been focused on how to construct their own maintenance plan, tips on how to keep going, strength training to minimise injuries and how to keep your motivation when you don’t know what will happen next.

My biggest goal is to keep people active and running whenever we can.  

Want to know more about running or personal training?

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Call me on 07815 044521 or email me at martinhulbertpt@gmail.com

Martin Hulbert

Personal Trainer & Running Coach Leicestershire