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:
- How the situation affected the running scene and running coaches
- How to adapt training to the current situation
- Do runners have a responsibility to keep their immune systems strong by avoiding too intensive/extensive training at the moment?
- How do change our goals?
What we couldn’t cover but I think is important in relation to the current situation is:
- The BENEFITS of running in a health crisis
- The specific tactics for boosting your immune system with running
- Are there any proven immune-boosters out there?
- What are the best training formats in a 2 km radius?
- 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.