4 Ways to Approach Training in 2021
On ZAP Endurance Pro
2021 sets to start off much like 2020 ended, at least in terms of running and the availability of racing. The announcement of Pfizer and Moderna's vaccines should inject some much-needed excitement into the runners of all levels. I think it is reasonable to be hopeful that by mid to late next year we will see SOME racing opportunities for the masses return, if not an even greater return to normalcy.
In the meantime, individuals like Josh Cox and Ben Rosario, who put on the, incredibly
successful, Marathon Project, Keith and Kevin Hanson, organizers of the Michigan Pro Half, and Larry Kimball, Mortgage Network Inc., and Grounded running who hosted the Mortgage Network Half, have provided racing opportunities for pros, such as myself. However, though these races have provided excitement for avid running fans, spectating them from afar certainly cannot compare to the thrill of competing alongside, or watching, 60,000 runners make their way through the Bronx.
The obvious question for runners is how to approach training during a period of uncertainty in what competitive opportunities will be present. After all, we TRAIN to RACE! Below, I will present 4 differing strategies, each of which has been discussed between, not only my coach and I, but also the athletes I coach and myself.
Option 1 - Balancing Your Stresses (take a step back)
The first, and probably most simple, option is to simply step back from running. Maybe that means only running easily 3 days a week, maybe it means hiking or swimming in place of running, maybe it means doing nothing at all, this approach should be very tailored to your individual needs in order to make this rest period beneficial toward your overall training goals as opposed to simply a place holder in time. Understand that you will be losing some fitness, but over the long term, an extended rest opportunity can revitalize many runners who have been training and competing for months and years on end. I recommend this approach for many who have found that their day-to-day stress, coupled with their running stress has simply become too much and also runners who see themselves as "stuck in a rut". I have found for myself that having a break can serve wonderfully as a very visceral separation between the past and the future.
I believe that the key to this training approach is to frame your extended break, or pull back, not as a lack of training or loss of fitness, but as an addition to your training, like any easy run, tempo, or interval session. Rest and recovery are often ignored by athletes; however, it is when your body recovers from a hard session or training block that fitness adaption actually takes place. This is why many runners find that after a small cold or illness forces them to rest for 3-4 days, they come back and actually are running workouts faster than before!
Option 2: All about the base (an Aerobic development block)
Also, a very simple training approach is to focus purely on aerobic development. For many runners, this will mean simply adding 5, 10, or 15 miles a week to their overall training load while simultaneously removing intense running from the schedule. This period, without racing, allows runners ample time to safely increase their overall training volume while not concerning themselves the need to be "race sharp" or in "peak fitness" on a given date. I recommend this approach for athletes who have, one, tended to be injury prone, especially when attempting higher volumes, two, newer runners looking to add an easy fitness boost, and three athletes looking to venture into the realm of longer distance racing, i.e., from 5k to half marathon.
The key to this training approach is taking your time in adding the volume to your schedule. the 10% rule, only increasing your mileage 10% from week to week, is a good rule of thumb for runners looking to undertake this method on their own. My own structure, if I were to be instituting this plan for one of my runners would be to first take a week to 10-day break
followed by a period of 6 day running weeks (or similar depending on how many days a week they typically train) where we try to work the athlete up to their previous mileage totals with an extra off day. For example, if that athlete is usually running 25 miles per week in 5 days, I would slowly bring that athlete to a spot where they were running 25 miles per week, but in only 4 days, bringing their daily runs all up in volume. The next step would be to add back in that lost day while not increasing the runs any further in volume. So, continuing with the previous example, originally that athlete was averaging 5 miles on their running days. During the 4-day weeks, that average was brought up to 6.25 miles per day. by adding on an addition 4-6 mile run, this athlete is now running 29-31 miles in 5 days.
This approach is all about listening to your body, the build in volume will never be as smooth as adding 1 or 2 miles per week every week. You will have weeks where you feel great and might jump up 12% from the previous week. You will have weeks where it is important to simply maintain the volume from the previous week and you will have week where you need to take a step back, take an extra rest day, lower your volume in that 7-day window and let yourself recover. It is important to understand the increased volume will take time to get used to, but this current period allows you to take that time.
Option 3: Switch it up (Train for something different)
Next, a period without opportunities allows you to train for something completely new to you maybe you typically run 5ks, well, there are no 5ks right now! So, you can take the opportunity to train for a 10k or half marathon. I recommend this training approach for athletes who have found staleness in their current training and are looking for a fun opportunity to challenge themselves and explore different types of training.
This is probably my personal favorite approach for two reasons. First, selfishly, as a coach it is fun to get to switch up the type of training and challenge myself to adapt an athlete’s training to their new goals! When I'm coaching an athlete, who loves running marathons and all we t
rain for is marathons, the training blocks tend to look very similar. We find what works for that athlete and we run with it (pun definitely intended) with a few minor tweaks (increased volume or duration of intensity sessions). Drastically switching the goal race provides the athlete and I with a fun opportunity to challenge ourselves with new training. Second, I believe that working drastically opposite ends of the running spectrum, for example, a marathon runner training for a fast 5k, will actually benefit that runners preferred distance. Let me explain, a runner who has been training for marathons constantly over long stretches of time is missing out on training the incredibly important Anaerobic (w/o oxygen) system, the system that provides energy for short and fast sprints and shorter distance races like the mile or 5k. Conversely, an athlete who has only ever trained for 5ks is missing out on an opportunity to train the most important energy system in running. (Even a 5k is something like 70-80 percent powered by the aerobic system). Having an opportunity to make yourself a more well-rounded athlete can only be beneficial!
Option 4: Make your own race (Time Trial!)
My final option is short and sweet, if there are no racing opportunities, make some! Now, I'm not saying you need to approach this like the individuals I listed in the opening paragraphs, but each and every one of us has the opportunity on any day to step out our
door and say "I'm going to see how fast I can go today!". Time trials, obviously aren't the most glamorous things, you’re alone, there is not race bib, no expo, no crowds, but as I have seen time and time again with my own athletes this past year, if you have put in the work and are ready to run fast, you can run fast! I have one athlete this year who has pr'd
at the mile, 5k, and half marathon! For her, we took a combination of options 3 and 4 and it has been incredibly successful for her. I recommend this approach for athletes who have been putting in a lot of work at a given distance. Maybe you were training for a marathon that was canceled or maybe you have been holding on to hope that the next 10k you sign up for will go off, don't let your fitness just sit there, use it!
One recommendation I have is to add your time trial to the schedule like you would any other race, train for it like you would any other race, taper for it like you would any other race. Allow yourself to be nervous, give your body that sense of normalcy that it may have forgotten about at this point. Of course, this is just a recommendation, I had one athlete this year who texted my one morning and said "Hey, I just time trialed a half marathon." completely out of nowhere. When I inquired as to how it went, he simply replied. "Pr'd by 4 minutes."!
In closing, I hope this article is of some use to you all. Certainly, experiment around and see what approach you see to mesh with best. Give yourself a small rest opportunity, followed by a longer than usual aerobic base phase before you attack a new distance and finally bring it all together by seeing how far you have come with a time trial. Most importantly, be safe, be together and remember race will come back, the running community is still there, even if it is currently in quarantine!