Alex Hutchinson, well known writer, researcher and athlete, in a recent article, likened this pandemic to running a marathon with no finish line. As the second wave grips us and leaves many with COVID-19 fatigue, it’s easy to give up and throw in the towel in many areas of our lives.
This has left many of us to ponder why even bother to train, in the absence of races and defined goals. Earlier this year, I wrote in iRun about the challenges of running/training in an unstructured manner during this pandemic (See Goals Delayed are not Goals Denied)
As we approach 2021, still with many unknowns, including when races may safely return, I’m here to make an argument that for those runners who are goal driven, it is in your best interest to adhere to a structured training cycle.
Why, you may ask? Firstly, you are in the driver’s seat. It is one aspect of your life where you do have control. Secondly, most runners are inherently goal driven individuals, who function and train best when they follow a structured, goal-oriented routine. Winter running at best of times is challenging. When you have goals to strive for, you have purpose. Goals help you answer that proverbial question “why am I out here training during those tough weather days!
With no absolute timelines for races to resume, it may be prudent to stay in the moment and focus on short term outcomes. Be grateful that you are healthy and fit enough to train. In Guelph, we recently completed a successful series of seven time trials over six months. The distances varied from 5km to half marathon. Runners had to sign up in advance and generally we limited numbers to 20. The series provided runners with focus to keep up their training and many had personal bests, even in this low-key environment. We have seen and heard of similar outcomes across the country with runners getting creative to maintain fitness and goals dreaming of better days ahead.
That’s why I’m advocating to follow a tangible training cycle. The 12-16 week winter training cycle has always been the crucible for runners to build a solid base. It’s a time when nature forces us to train a bit more conservatively. This is a good thing. Your running can be augmented by strength training at home, even if gyms are not fully accessible.
Even during normal winter times, you can easily build in progressive time trials to test your fitness in the absence of races in the first 6 months of 2021. My one recommendation is that unlike other years you may want to keep your training mode to about 80-85% of the normal workload. The time trials can mirror the distances you might usually utilize established races to test your growing fitness over the winter. Many of the runners I coach in Southern Ontario, a staple build -up for a spring marathon might look like the following: a 5km time trial in early January to set a baseline of fitness, following downtime from end of November to Christmas holidays. This would be followed by the Robbie Burns 8km at the end of January. Based on feedback from these two events, February would be a continuation of base building and working on any uncovered weaker areas. Next on the race calendar would be a half marathon in late February/early March like the Chilly half marathon. This will provide essential feedback as to your readiness for your spring marathon. You will now be adding more hill work and tempo runs and early speed into your training as you prepare for the next spring challenge, that being the Around the Bay (ATB) 30 km at the end of March. The ATB provides you with a dress rehearsal for your spring marathon and provides concrete affirmation on your readiness for your marathon goal.
For others, the ATB can also signal the end of your strength build-up. After a short recovery, you may start to increase the quality of your training and decrease mileage and descend, to run shorter races 15km, 10m km, 5km and possibly even a track event. I am still optimistic that many races will return by next summer and Fall. By following the suggested winter-early spring build-up, you will be much better poised to take on those race goals that have been delayed but not denied.
Coach Tim can be reached here