Going forward in 2020

Health, June 05, 2020

In the last few weeks a lot of people have been asking me online or in Laufwerk what my thoughts are about the adjust racing calendar, training in Corona, and whether we will be racing in 2020. It has taken me a while to get my thoughts on paper, but here are some of them.

                                                                                                                                                     Photo: Chris PC

This is probably the one article that has taken me the longest to write ever.  Not because of writer’s block, not because it is the longest I have written (although it may end up that way), not because I am unsure on what advice to give,  but because the reality and the honest answer in regards to racing in 2020 affects me greatly.  Firstly I love racing, I love watching races, and  participating in them.  Secondly I love preparing people for their events.  I love helping them feel better, faster, and stronger.  It is not rocket science what I do it is just a case of knowing what needs to be done and judging what will work for each given person.  The mix of feel and science is one which when you get right makes a huge difference and gives the athlete and the coach a great feeling of accomplishment.  To be honest it is also one that helps provide a lot of my income.  With no races in the immediate future it means I have not  been writing many new plans, and do not expect that to change for a while unfortunately.

I have been a trainer for 15 years now, and I have always tried to pride myself on being honest, and with that in mind here are my thoughts on what athletes should do with the rest of 2020.

The crisis for a lot of people is just rubbish, but it is what it is and we can't change it.   We are all affected in some way some more than others.  I am not going to focus on the big picture instead I am going to focus on my side of things.  Training and Training people.  What should athletes be doing?

In the last month I have been having a lot of conversations with people about their training, this year, this crisis, and what is going to happen.  Slowly more and more events are getting cancelled.   For those athletes planning to do big events it is a nightmare, but for those coming back or having injury issues it is not such a bad thing, as it gives us something we don't always have a lot of; time.

Lets focus on the first group, the racers.  Let’s be honest there are a lot of us that like pushing ourselves and comparing ourselves directly with competition.  I am sorry to say this, but if we are being realistic there is only a very very very very small chance that any events are going to happen, and that is ok.  If there is no immunisation there is too high a risk that the virus will just be continually spread.  In the end it is a small sacrifice if we can contain things, not stress the health system, and not put more people at risk.

Where does that leave you then? Firstly wait until your event gets cancelled, and then cry :  )

I would still recommend those training for events in Autumn or where the event has been moved to Autumn to train to a 12-14 week plan.  I do not think that without being able to immunise that big events will take place, as the potential stress on the health system is massive, and also with many big events drawing an international mix of athletes there is the potential of many countries being hit again.

Train for the event, aim to be fit on the day, but do not get depressed if the event does not happen.  There are a lot worse things that have happened over the last months.  You will still be super healthy and because you are doing something you love doing (training) then you will be happy during this time also.  If you are not loving your training then now is a good time to re-evaluate the way you train, what you are training for, and more importantly who you are training for.  There is more than one way to hit certain goals.  I have trained athletes for a sub 3 hour marathon where one never ran over 26km and 65km in the week and the other did many runs over 30km and around 100km per week.  If you are training under someone or a plan that says this is the only way to do it maybe you should have a look around.

Before the race is cancelled you can also develop a Plan B beforehand. Here are some options for you.

If your big goal is still a year away i.e. first Marathon, first Half Marathon, first Half Ironman, and first Ironman or if your aim is simply to keep improving then there is no reason to back off your training totally, as then you start losing fitness and strength that you are just going to have to build- up again.  It is much simpler to keep going, but maybe at a slightly lower intensity and volume and just build a solid base.  That way you will be fitter, not so stressed, and still have time for friends, family, or the other things that sometimes get pushed to the side in a build-up for a big event.

If you like training and being fit then you do not necessarily need a race to aim at.  However, aiming at nothing can make things just as difficult or pointless, as having no training plan.  We need to have a fixed date to work towards otherwise you cannot gauge your training stress over the period and risk overtraining or injury, as a workload that would have worked over 8-12 weeks could be too much when progressed for 14+ weeks.  Also if you just pick and choose sessions without you just did or what is coming up you are either going to smash yourself by forgetting to include easy days, or you are going to be out of balance because you will do the sessions you want to do and forget to do the things you need to do.

Let's admit it we all have our favourite or goto sessions and will always favour those over perhaps the work that needs to be done.

This brings me to the first option we have going forward.  

  1. Work on your weaknesses!

It is very hard to adjust movement patterns, recruit more muscle activity, or do some strength and stability work when you are hammering yourself with volume or running too fast too often.

That is why I don't recommend trying to change running technique that much while in the middle of a Marathon Build-Up.  You want your body to have an element of freshness in your body to help perform new movement patterns and allow your body to absorb the new work.

Most of us never have time to do our strengthening exercises because we are too busy training.  The truth to the matter is these strength exercises are your training.  If you can maintain form through long sessions or heavy training weeks you are more likely to to recover better and also not be putting your body in a position to develop an overuse injury that has resulted from poor form.  Make the strength exercises your goal and do maintenance aerobic sessions with the remaining time.

If you want to get faster now is also the time, as you do not need to do too much volume, as you are not training for a long event, so you can do your speed work work.on fresher legs.

Do not forget that you always are going to get the same result when you put the same work in.  If you want to change something you are going to have to change how you train.  

This can be a time to work on particular weaknesses whether it is technique, a skill, bike position, strength, stability, or speed. If you are not sure how to improve a certain area you can do some one on one sessions with a trainer.

  1. Train for your Event.

You have a set date and can work towards this goal. If you get to start great. You will be prepared.  If your event is cancelled you are still fit and can use that fitness to test yourself anyway.

You can either push yourself over the race distance or a similar distance to show how fit you have become.  You can also use this fitness to do an “adventure” ride or run and cover a course that you always wanted to do, but it never fitted in because you were worried about overdoing it before a key event.  Now that there could be no event then there is no risk.

I often talk about the process being so important, as the aim is to build you into a better athlete and the correct process will do that, not a result.  Having structure will help you become fitter, stronger, and reduce the risk of overdoing it.

  1. Plan ahead

If you have a big goal for 2021 either because your event moved from 2020 or because you had a long term plan then you can still build towards that.  Work out what you need to be able to do for this event, establish what you can do now, and what skills or ability you need to develop before the big day.  Now you know what to do before then.  You can then concentrate on building these small steps along the way, as usual.  However, this time because there are no races to cloud your perception of your overall build-up it may be easier to achieve exactly what you want from each block.

  1. Race yourself

If you are a racer and you are missing out on racing then listen to your heart and race. Obviously you are not going to be able to find any races, but that does not mean that you cannot test yourself, get your competitive juices flowing, and race virtually or race the clock.

With the development in technology in the last years it is now  possible to race against people worldwide from the comfort of your home either on a treadmill or cycle trainer.  This is naturally different to what it is like to race against others outside, but it is an alternative.

I’ve taken to good old races against the clock.  Time Trials have been around for a very long time, and are often referred to as the “Race of Truth”, as you cannot hide your performance.  You are either faster enough or not.  In cycling they are often used as races, but in running more in training.  However, they are always something that produces a bit of stress, or anxiety like we have before a race.

I have often built time trials in training plans, as they are a good measure of how your training progressing is, and now it is no different.  I often recommend using the same course, as it means you can have a direct comparison. With Platforms like Strava, Garmin Connect and Polar Flow it is possible to also measure yourself compare your performance directly, as well as being able to compare yourself against others through Segments or creating a Segment for this course.

I have been racing against myself over the same course every month or so. It is the first stage of the Heideschnuckenweg. 26km with almost 500 vertical meters of climbing.  It is long enough that you cannot fake it and get an improvement, a fun course to run, challenging, and it is a constant.  As long as the path is not blocked I can run it again and again.  The last time I ran it I improved by 8 minutes, and I would like to drop that down another 8 minutes. It is not an easy task, but we all need challenges right?

Also I have been using short segments to keep a check on my basic speed.  If I can improve in my times or set some new marks that are solid then I know I am not turning into a one speed runner.

  1. Listen to your instincts

If you do not have any specific goals think about what you enjoy doing, what training you like, and what makes you feel good afterwards (they are not always one and the same ).  

If running long bores you to tears don't do it.  If you know you still have to do some long runs you can do them every second or third week.  Your body does not lose endurance as fast as it loses it's ability to tolerate very high intensity training.

If doing lots of intervals does not interest you with no races on the calendar, or you just want to place your body under too much stress do some speed maintenance work instead e.g. 6 x 400m, 6 x 2 minutes, or 10 stride outs.  This will allow you to move more dynamically and stop your stride and running form from getting rusty and bogged down.

If you just want to focus on being fit develop a standard training week with 3-5 sessions including strength training, endurance training, flexibility and mobility work, and a bit of speedwork.  You can decide what you do when depending on what your mood is like.

  1. Experiment

Have you always trained in a certain way?

Now you can experiment with different types of training sessions without panicking about ruining your rhythm or build.

You may uncover a few new sessions that really work well for you.

You can also try combining sessions. I like to double up by doing strength work after a hard session. I would do the interval Session and then the strength and stability work straight afterwards.  Strength training afterwards is always good for increasing Testosterone, which helps recovery.  We should all do more strength training, and for a woman it is even more important.  

  1. Look at your Diet

It is never a good time to start playing around with your Diet in the middle of a big build-up, as the additional stress you can be putting your body under as you try to metabolise more fat could push you over the edge and leave you flat or sick.

However, now that the races aren't happening you can try reducing your sugar intake or doing aerobic sessions on an empty stomach without any great risk.

You can also assess how you feel and how your body is performing. This is important considering REDS.  Are you starving yourself and robbing your body of important nutrients in the hope of being lean and fast?

As you can see there are many options open to athletes during this difficult period, and hopefully I have given you some helpful tips to get through this time positively.  Stay healthy, keep your distance, wash your hands, and keep training!