Turning the Corona

David Lowes, British Milers’ Club Secretary and
Academy Chair

PRESENTLY, we are in the middle (hopefully), of one of the most unique and catastrophic periods in our lifetimes. The Covid-19 virus has not only changed our day-to-day routines, it has changed the way we live, think and in the case of runners, the whole approach to training and where their focus should be aimed at.

Right now, why are we training? Well, it’s certainly not the usual mantra of “training to race.” You can argue that we are simply training to keep fit and in many cases, sane! However, what should we be doing and is there a point in doing as near normal training as would be the case at this point of the year?

I’ve read many articles about what we should and what we shouldn’t do and it’s hard to argue with any of them, even though they have tended to over-think the whole process. Firstly though, there is one very important aspect to understand. No-one should feel hard done by or sorry for themselves because of the current pandemic. It is basically the same for everyone no matter where you live, although I fully understand that living in a big city does pose more problems than in a rural area. Frustrated yes, but hey, life must go on and we all must make the best of what we’ve got.

For younger athletes in particular, this is a period where development must continue. For older athletes it is also a great time to work on those weaknesses that maybe don’t get the attention they deserve. I do realise here that there will be runners who will still be working and also many who will be under great stress in particular if working for the fantastic NHS. Hats off, to each and every one of you, you are unbelievable people.

The important things to consider when training currently are not overloading the body to the point where the immune system gets run down and also where you do your runs. Unfortunately there are some jobsworths out there who seem intent on making anyone who does meaningful exercise scapegoats for abuse. Believe me, these are the people who probably haven’t even run for a bus, ever!

Although we are in the fifth week of lockdown, it does seem much longer. As a coach I have given the whole training and mental aspects of the athletes in my team much deliberation and to be honest, I’m tweaking things constantly. As there is no sign of any competition soon, the main criteria I came up with for my athletes was keeping them fit with a mixture of meaningful sessions with plenty of variety and most importantly keeping them motivated.

Forget about periodisation and all the mumbo-jumbo that goes with it, this is the time for proper coaching and what I term, “reality coaching.” We are neither winter training, nor summer training. The reality is that some unique and “outside-of-the-box” measures are needed to ensure the athletes are nurtured well with meaningful workouts, both outside and vital bonus sessions indoors.

The younger ones I coach are certainly not used to running solo on most of the days that they train. All have taken to the tasks set with gusto and as I keep telling them, when this is all over, they will be much mentally stronger runners. Before going into the type of sessions, what got me thinking mostly was how could I keep them motivated?

It wasn’t that difficult to be honest and what I devised well before any of these virtual runs (which are all great by the way), was my own interpretation of virtual challenges in the form of 10min, 5min, 2min and 1min runs. These replicate 3000m, 1500m, 800m and 400m efforts. These had to be the major focus for the runners and therefore we do one every Saturday, which is now virtual race day. The big difference comes when everyone has done a challenge and the GPS results are filtered back to me to enter onto a spreadsheet. This is where a league table is formed and I devised a handicap system where the slowest can easily top the table. Of course, everyone is running on a different route and we all know Garmin data can be awry, especially on the shorter faster efforts. Nevertheless, it does instil some competitiveness as well as producing a training benefit for runners who specialise in all events. It also means that all the athletes have to do is get their two weekly sessions done and then focus solely on the set challenge.

Training aside, this is the main focus of the week and currently I have athletes doing these Challenges in four different countries. It was never intended to do one every week, but my thought process was that many would lose focus very quickly, especially with the postponement of the track season. How long I keep this going is currently in my planning and it may be that a 45sec and 30sec Challenge is added as well, after all, you cannot neglect speed for long periods without losing it completely.

So, back to training, and the plan is very simple. We work on a 2-week cycle (this has evolved lately from more winter-based sessions into a mixture of winter and spring sessions) with recovery days being slightly laissez-faire. I tend to give two main sessions in a week with the Saturday Challenge being solo competitive, but this also works as a training impetus.

Week one
Monday 30-40min tempo (usually broken into three segments with a 5% increase in each phase). 10min wu &cd
Wednesday 4-5x(90sec off 60sec, 75sec off 60sec, 60sec off 60sec, 45sec off 45sec, 30sec off 30sec). All at approx. 1500-3000m pace depending upon fitness and age. 2min30sec between sets
Saturday 10min Challenge +3-5ml run afterwards

Week two
Monday 10x30sec off 30sec @3000m pace, 8x30sec off 30sec @ 1500m pace, 6x30sec off 45sec @ 800m pace, 4x30sec off 60sec @ 400/600m pace (basically 80%, 85%, 90%, 95% effort ratios). At least 2 reps less for the younger athletes
Wednesday 20-25 x short steep hill concentrating on good form throughout
Saturday 5min Challenge +3-5ml run afterwards

That’s it, simple! Most do a longish Sunday run and Tuesday and Thursday are recovery runs and are left to the discretion of the athlete (within reason) as to how far and easy these are. Most of them rest on a Friday, but not all. It is encouraged that if they feel very tired, they rest or run short and very easy. Not all do exactly the same sessions and many are swapped around or even dropped if a niggle occurs. All are encouraged to do a simple circuit in their own homes on their easy day(s) and most copy a recent article I published in Athletics Weekly. Simple and not complicated!

There are no medals won on the training ground, the competition track is the major goal and if that is next year, then so be it, although we are all living in hope that something might evolve this summer. It is encouraged to run off road as much as possible if indeed the opportunity arises and even find new or rarely used routes, fairly easy up in sunny Durham!

When it comes down to coaching in this pandemic, I can truthfully say that it is much more onerous than face-to-face coaching. Four of the athletes I coach are done so remotely in any case and what used to be a short text to say how things had gone is now an essay! Of course, everyone is coached remotely right now and the workload of the coach has turned into a full-time job, but who is complaining?

Although social media is generally a pain in the butt with so many having their own views about everything that they don’t honestly have a clue about, it is nonetheless the perfect medium to communicate with athletes. I very rarely post anything on Facebook as it is so egotistical, but what I do have is my Closed Page for my group #teamlowesrun and this has now turned into a magazine with daily motivational stuff, articles and since this lockdown, kind parents sending videos or photos of their kids bounding up a hill or across a field. I also have a Photo Flashback section which reminds them of the good times. All motivational.

When this is all over, I sincerely hope that my athletes are stronger mentally and more appreciative to everyone and all I can say is they will be ready when the green light eventually shines brightly, they are ready now, but the traffic light is currently stuck on red. When will it change?

Tim Brennan

Tim Brennan

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