Educated Runner Audio Blog #3: Running in COVID-19 times part 2

The final follow-on on my segment with Eoin Flynn on the Trail Running Ireland podcast is done. Listen below or check the resources and the transcript here.

Two questions where left on the table:

The first question was ‘what are the best training formats in a 2 km radius’ and ‘how to find substitutes for the training you cannot do in your 2 km radius’.

Listen to podcast (Soundcloud)

Listen to podcast (Podomatic)

Podcast will be available shortly on Spotify, Castbox, Stitcher, and Deezer.



Out & Back, Circuit Run, Fartlek



Functional Patterns

Anatomy in Motion by Gary Ward



Even with your shoes on by Helen Hall

Running Rewired by Jay Dicharry


What are the best training formats in a 2 km radius?

There are only two types of sessions: consistent-paced or varied pace.

When you run at varied pace it is usually in order to be able to run more at faster / more intense paces than if you kept that pace up consistently

When you operate within a small area the first step is to survey what you have to work with:

  • Easy runs: let’s start with the obvious – most of your volume will be easy running no matter what you do. So the first thing you need to do is explore your local area like you have never explored it before and be creative with the different ways you can combine all the streets and trails within the radius. I’ve run the trails on my local mountain in all sorts of ways I never did before: loops, figures of 8, and combinations of loops and out and back segments
    • This is proving to be enormously beneficial because I used to always think I should drive somewhere to keep my training varied and avoid boredom. Now I know I can do so much more from the door than I thought.
    • You might discover new little hills and streets for your work you were never aware of – and they are there to be used on the busy days you’ll have when things return to normal and you don’t want to drive
  • Out and back: 2 km out and 2 km back stretches from your address is a great route choice if you’re looking to keep your effort consistent – especially if the 2 km stretch is relatively flat. A great workout – called an Out and Back is done at steady pace (marathon pace for faster runners). It’s a pace judgement workout where the main goal is to ensure you can return to your house in roughly the same time that it took you to run to the turn-point without upping your effort very much. If you can do this you’re in the tzone of ‘training, not straining’.
  • Circuit runs: usually you can construct a good circuit somewhere within your 2 km radius whether it’s a 400m or 1 km loop of a park or a residential block, a field or a car park. These routes are great for any type of workout where your harder effort and your recovery are of equal duration.
    • A classic Kiwi workout I learned from Keith Livingstone consists of running one lap at a ‘steady’ or ‘moderate’ pace (by feel) which is usually marathon to 10 mile pace for most runners and then running one lap easy.
    • Such workouts are very easy to progress because you can simply increase the speed of the easy run. If you want to increase the speed of the faster lap, you normally hav eto make the part of the circuit you run at fast pace shorter
      • For instance, if you have a nice 600m loop around your house with a clear marker about 300m through (let’s say ‘Woodies’) you can decide to run ‘hard’ to that point an then ‘cruise’ easy until you get back to the start of the loop again (this would give a session with 300m hard, 300m easy
  • Fartleks: Fartleks are great in most parts of training because they are self-directed lowering the risk of overtraining. They are great way to remind your body of whatever paces you feel like running at without going overboard. In our current situation the big advantage of Fartlek is the flexibility: you can literally just use the ‘lap’ button on your watch to change pace whenever you feel like it.
  • Use your watch: with modern watches you can program nearly any workout you want. You can even add in a virtual partner set at a certain speed to compete with you as a quiet replacement for your regular training partner. If you do this, you can run anywhere and get an interesting workout. Simple workouts are good to start with if you are new to this. The typical introductory workout for learning hard repetitions is called ‘30/30’ and was invented by a French researcher called Veronique Billat. The basic idea is to run 30 seconds a bit faster than your 3k race pace (or just very hard if you don’t know what that is) and then ‘float’ gently through 30 seconds of recovery. You do this until you cannot keep the effort consistent anymore (usually 10 minutes to start with). The beauty of this workout is that your heart rate will usually be high for most of the 10 minutes – but your legs will only work hard for 5 minutes! More experienced runners can extend up to 20 or 30 minutes or do several sets of 10 minutes with 5-minute jogs in between each. They can also eventually extend – as Billat recommended – to 60/60s and eventually 3 minutes ON, 3 minutes OFF (usually repeated 4-6 times).

How do you substitute training you cannot do within your 2 km radius?

Since nothing beats the original, the absolute best thing to do is to use the situation to your advantage. So, if you have only hills around you, do a hill block now – use the situation instead of trying to counter it. If you only have flat around you, then this is the time to focus n your flat speed even if that was not your original plan

Still some easy substitutions:

  • Flat speed work:
    • ‘hills are speedwork’ in disguise. Do your planned sessions on the hills instead. If the focus is intensity, then do it up a hill for roughly the same duration that your reps would have been. If you run 400m repetitions in 70 seconds, then do 70 second hill repeats.
    • Downhill is a fantastic tool for leg speed development, so if you had planned flat strides or sprint training, do it on the shallowest downhill you can find and you will benefit from the downhill which will allow you to run faster than you normally can – stimulating your nervous system and preparing it for faster running on the flat later.
  • Hills: treadmill with incline (but different muscle groups!)
    • Plyometrics (explosive jumping with little ground contact time) and skpping (with a rope) if you know if it. Traditional ABC and SAC drills and any type of strength and conditioning that has some relation to running
    • Weighted training (run with your race pack for instance for more resistance)
    • Sprint parachute
    • Staircase: a great replacement for hill sprints especially and if you happen to have access to a stadium for longer climbs.
  • Trails:
    • If you are training for trails and only have pavements and road to run on, you are short on options. The best you can do is look for a few grassy areas to run on. If there are no options, you are better off just working with what you’ve got – the training will transfer to a large degree to trails. Just ensure you get on the trails as soon as we are set free.
  • Strength and conditioning circuits:
    • If you’re stuck in your flat as some runners in some countries are, this is a great time to invest in some online training that can be done in the house but that is specifically targeted at improving gait. Some good systems are Functional Patterns and Anatomy in Motion and MovNat – all of which offer online courses so you can follow along. There are also several books you can buy which will give you a program to follow such as Helen Hall’s ‘Even with your shoes on’ and Jay Dicharry’s ‘Running rewired’
    • A quick search on YouTube will reveal many more. I generally recommend trying out whatever is free from the source and see what motivates you the most to get started on. The key is doing the exercises consistently. So often it’s better to get a really good consistent routine doing the second best exercise in the world rather than never getting started on the best exercise in the world.

Educated Runner audio blog #1

For all the harm this crisis has done, the cancellation of various races and holidays I was due to organise has allowed me to catch up on work a bit even as I work half-time (looking after the kids the other half of the day).

This means moving forward so long-overdue projects including audio/video content for The Educated Runner. I jumped on the new Trail Running Ireland Podcast with Eoin Flynn over the weekend and it was natural to dedicate a follow-up audio-blog to the topic we skimmed during my 10-15 minute segment on that show.

You can find that follow-on above – future instalments will branch out significantly and won’t be limited to expanding on topics discussed on the Trail Running Ireland podcast.

The references mentioned in the audio blog are below:


The Open Window theory

Study on Wim Hof Method and the immune system:

 (note: Wim Hof Method and many other online course providers are handing out COVID-19 discounts right now)

vitamin C and immune function

Vitamin D

Vitamin D deficiency and immune function (Scottish government recommends it before lockdown)

Vitamin D synthesis from sunshine

Vitamin D and sunscreen

Optimal exercise window for Vitamin D synthesis

Vitamin D3/K2 dynamic

Trail Running Ireland podcast – episode 1

Yesterday, I was glad to appear on the first episode of the new Trail Running Ireland podcast hosted by Eoin Flynn. I will be supporting the show with a training-specific 10-15 minute segment every episode. Generally, we will discuss trail running and mountain running training. I look forward to this as you can hear all about training from the world’s greatest experts already – just go on Google and it’s all there for you. But trail and mountain running training is much less discussed and talked about and I look forward to diving into that with Eoin who is a great man to facilitate getting information out there and summarising it neatly for the listener. We hope to make this practical by using a build-up to the EcoTrail Wicklow races in September as an example.


We began this week by discussing how to deal with the current situation, however, so a bit of a deviation from the main concept. I hope to provide some cliff-notes and resources for each segment for those who felt that 10-15 minutes only whetted their appetite for more information.



This week we discussed:


  1. How the situation affected the running scene and running coaches
  2. How to adapt training to the current situation
  3. Do runners have a responsibility to keep their immune systems strong by avoiding too intensive/extensive training at the moment?
  4. How do change our goals?


What we couldn’t cover but I think is important in relation to the current situation is:


  1. The BENEFITS of running in a health crisis
  2. The specific tactics for boosting your immune system with running
  3. Are there any proven immune-boosters out there?
  4. What are the best training formats in a 2 km radius?
  5. How do you substitute training you cannot do within your 2 km radius?




So let’s recap the points we did cover first here in ‘part 1’ and I’ll go through the last five questions tomorrow in ‘part 2’ in an audio entry on my Patreon page so you can listen to it instead of read.


How the situation affected the running scene and running coaches


We all ‘lost’ our short and medium-term race goals and our long-term race goals are shrouded in uncertainty. For coaches it means we need to come up other goals for our runners to focus on during this period both to maintain fitness and motivation. Motivation is the main thing that drives running and losing a race goal is particularly bad for those of us who are quite extrinsically motivated and who train best when we can ‘see the carrot’ in front of us.


How to adapt training to the current situation


In the podcast, we mainly talked about the high-level change in strategy for training. I mentioned the basic principle of training that ‘the further you are away from a race the more general your training needs to be’. Traditionally, this meant doing ‘base training’, ‘general conditioning’ or whichever name our training system attaches to it and that generally meant lots of slow training. This is actually a good idea (more below) but there is more to it than that. General training really must focus on addressing the weaknesses that hold us back and the things that take the longest to develop. One reason the focus is on aerobic development (general endurance) early in training is that most of the adaptations related to those abilities take 6-12 weeks to take effect – so it’s no good beginning this work 8 weeks before your race – you’re only going to be ‘half-baked’ come race day. Race-specific training tends to be something you can do much closer to the race and the effects of this training tend to manifest much sooner.


Because all races have moved further away, it is nearly pointless to do race-specific training now (most of the effects of this will be gone by the time you need it) but it’s a golden opportunity to work on those weaknesses and to build that general base of endurance to new levels. You may always have had to rush your general preparation because there’s ‘always another race on the horizon’ – now at least you can commit a block of training to this work that you may not normally have had time to set aside.


Replacing races with time trials or virtual races has become the main ‘go to’ strategy for most coaches and runners and you can find a selection of races online and several coaches chipping in with ideas for time trials. Personally, with my won athletes – whom I know better than the general public (we should hope) – I do specific time trials aimed at finding out where in their physiology the ‘kinks’ are so we can then target a block of 4-6 weeks on improving it (any less and you won’t see any results). For, instance by comparing the results of a 6-min time trial and a 30-min time trial, I can learn whether we need to focus the next block on threshold development (mainly steady extensive work) or VO2max building (mainly hard shorter work) and then tailor 1-2 key workouts per week on that area. We can then do the time trial again at the end of the block to confirm. That nicely wraps a bow around the training and provides a short-term target to focus on and a sense of achievement when it’s done. I sell a standardised version of this type of programme in the TrainingPeaks shop if you are interested in taking yourself through the process.


Apart from time trials just reaching certain workout goals can substitute – for instance you may have been working towards doing a certain training run in a certain time for a while or attacking a Strava segment. If it’s concrete and has useful role to play in achieving your longer-term goals. Even if it doesn’t it can be worth it if it brings you’re a sense of enjoyment – which is the main reason we run after all.

I am currently in discussions with an international company on bringing the world’s leading technology in this type of analysis to Ireland. The current situation has paused this project – but I hope to report back on it in the months ahead.


Do runners have a responsibility to keep their immune systems strong by avoiding too intensive/extensive training now?


I thought that was an interesting question. Running can seem trivial during times where the news is full of serious topics. But I don’t believe running is trivial at all because of the power it can have in people’s lives. Before I get to that: in the show my general response was that if I was in the position to advise a runner, I’d tell them to do only the necessary training to stay healthy and strong and to stay clear of something that makes them feel run-down.


To make that a bit more precise: training can suppress our immune systems. Today there is talk of a ‘5-hour window’. Interest in this began long before the current situation arose because infection has been a problem for athletes for a long time. Elite athletes simply cannot afford lying in bed for two weeks with a bad flu and then not returning to full strength for another 1-2 months. So elite athletes and their teams have become specialists in how to avoid infection. So, there’s a lot we can learn from their experiences which is useful for life in general but specifically for now.


I’ll cover the book’s broad strokes suggestions in part 2: the message of our podcast was essentially ‘stay away from situations where you can be infected in the 5-hour window’. As Eoin rightly said, though, perhaps we should stay away from lowering our immune system altogether? So how do we do this? I’ll cover that in the sections in part 2.


How do change our goals?


Before jumping on the podcast Eoin was telling me how he was lucky that his current goal was in Autumn, so he didn’t really have to change much at all – he just had one long build-up. This is a rare luxury today when the calendar is so packed. If you’re an ardent racer and disappointed with the lack of your regular ‘racing fix’ that’s obviously no comfort – but it’s the only positive you can really take from the situation – look to your long-term goals in the months where it looks likely races will go ahead. And then put your full focus on training for those races instead.


This approach doesn’t always work if you are one of those personalities (no judgment btw!) that need regular carrots to keep ‘on trail’. Some runners I work with simply perform better if they can feel the gravitational pull of a race. A ‘distant moon’ just won’t do it for them! In those cases, using intermediate goals and time trials such as I mention above, is necessary to keep things on track.