Running Training During the Coronavirus Crisis
The coronavirus crisis certainly has caught all of us by surprise. Lockdowns to varying degrees are set in place by government order and races are being canceled. There’s a lot to complain about. And yet, it’s not all bleak. Running is an individual sport and therefore training can continue without too many interruptions. In this article, I will outline a few adjustments in training during this time.
“Those who don’t get sidetracked now will dominate the races in fall.”
What to Do Now?
Under normal circumstances, you would be preparing for a race right now (and perhaps have a whole season of races planned out). But due to the current corona crisis, all running events in the near future have been called off and it is not clear yet when we will be able to race again. Disappointing? Certainly. Hopeless? Far from it. In the big picture, this is just a drop in the ocean.
A hallmark of intelligent human behavior is adapting to changing circumstances. Now that doesn’t mean you will have to look for alternative activities to running training or even to take your focus off performance goals. What it does mean, however, is making long-term improvement your default mode for now rather than just thinking a few races ahead.
Consider a typical training plan of 8 – 16 weeks. There’s a base period of general abilities, followed by an emphasis on lactate threshold and VO2max training, and finally race-specific workouts with a gradual taper (depending on what race distance you are preparing for). Repeating those so-called ‘microcycles’ is a good strategy for several peak performances each year.
But there’s also merit in longer blocks of continuous polarized training. That means #1: A focus on overall training volume by gradually building easy mileage. And #2: A focus on maximal speed, or neuromuscular power in sports science jargon. Both are limiting factors of further improvements in VO2max and lactate threshold. I like to call it a ‘twin-base’ of speed and endurance.
How it Looks Like in Practice
With lactate threshold, VO2max, and race-specific training removed from the equation (or significantly reduced), your overall training intensity will be much lower than usual. So instead of running 70 – 80% of your mileage below lactate threshold, you could run 95% of your mileage at this lower intensity. Or put another way, replace LT and VO2max session with easy runs and increase their duration.
What I also consider useful workouts during the base period are steady-state runs. Those efforts are run at your marathon race-pace or slightly faster. This high-end aerobic workout is typically 30 – 60min in duration. You can either do it as a standalone workout or add a few miles at this pace to your easy runs/long runs. One or two of those sessions per week are sufficient.
At the other end of the intensity spectrum are repetitions at or faster than 1500m pace. These efforts form the foundation for effective VO2max training at later stages. I would argue that most runner’s VO2max is not limited by their capacity to extract and utilize oxygen, but by the limits of their neuromuscular power. Speed workouts also improve your running economy.
In practice, consider 400s at 1500m pace with 3min rest, 200s at 800m pace with 2min rest, and 100s at 400m pace with 1min rest. They can be run as a dedicated session or be attached to an easy run. In the latter case, you would want to perform them halfway through your easy run when you’re warm but not yet fatigued. Twice a week would be ideal to see significant progress.
In summary: Gradually increase your weekly mileage but omit (or at least reduce) VO2max and lactate threshold workouts. High-end aerobic runs at around marathon pace are also useful to establish an aerobic base. In addition, include speedwork twice a week. This twin-base of polarized training will allow you to run faster than ever once ‘middle-paces’ and race-specific intensities are introduced again.
Sandro Sket, CSCS