The end of group training
When we all locked down in March, many of us suffered because at the start we couldn’t even get out to run.
Even though we were allowed to exercise once per day, with the kids being off school and the total disruption, many of us didn’t do our running the way we normally would.
And probably the biggest change that had the biggest impact was not being able to run in a group – even if that group was one other person from a different household.
Running with other people is what gets us through when the rest of life sucks. The whole social side of running gives us such a confidence boost – keeping up with the group on our tired days and driving the group on our strong days.
But in March that all stopped for a few months, and it hit hard.
Now with Lockdown 2, there is a real fear of a return to a motivational crash, and a negative impact on mental health. Even if you run by yourself most of the time, just the thought of taking extra care and giving other people a wider berth than the last few months, can take the enjoyment out of the run.
Thankfully though, this lockdown does allow us to run with one other person from another household, so it’s not complete running buddy isolation.
In fact, I see this as a fantastic opportunity for you to actually get stronger and fitter both physically and mentally over the next few weeks.
Yes, there will be the challenge of the kids not being at their activities, so time may need to be warped a little to fit things in, but Lockdown 2 has presented an opportunity not to be missed. Let me explain…
Normally when you run with your group, whether an official group or not, you go out for a run with no specific purpose – it’s simply an enjoyable experience and a great chance to catch up.
Sure, you may go out to run a specific distance or a new route, but the run itself is very similar to the runs you always do. And while this might be convenient for a chat and to forget about the rest of the World for a bit, it isn’t doing much for your running fitness and may actually be bringing you closer to injury – more about that on a different day.
But now that you are going to be running with just one other person, or even perhaps by yourself, you can shake things up a bit and come out the other side of Lockdown faster and stronger than you went in.
You may have read or been told by other runners that every session should have a purpose. This is something I tell my athletes and workshop attendees all the time because I think it is so important.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that every run you do should be a super-focused session on getting the best out of your mind and body so you can trounce your PB at the next opportunity. I don’t mean that at all.
Setting a goal
What I do mean is that you think a bit more about what you want out of running and make every run you do count towards that. And the goals that you set can be anything from tweaking your running form to controlling your breathing to running a segment faster or more easily, or anything else you want to shoot for.
It may be that you simply want to enjoy your running more – but you are going to have to be a bit more specific about what it is you’re not enjoying at the moment – and make that your goal.
Once you have a goal, you can then have a think about how your weekly runs can bring you closer to that over the next few weeks of lockdown.
Having fun with it
The brilliant thing about having a goal to aim for, is that you can become creative about how you achieve it. You can use your imagination to invent fun sessions that you can either challenge yourself on, or perhaps even better, challenge your running buddy on.
You can use fartlek sessions to keep each other guessing and challenge each other to a bit of pace (see this post on Fartleks). You could do the complete opposite and challenge each other to go for a 5k but it must be an easy effort while focussing on a higher foot turnover and an upright posture.
You could visit your local park or football/rugby field and run more structured intervals by using the boundaries as distances – fast on the short sides, recover on the long sides, then change it up.
You could also time each other as you run around a football or rugby pitch, making sure you are keeping a constant pace for each lap. This is fabulous training for all types of running, and you can increase or decrease that pace per block of laps to vary the challenge.
All these are great ways to keep you positive and progressive in your running.
Putting it together - an example
Let’s say that you want to get a better handle on your breathing as you feel it stops you from running faster. So you set your goal to be in better control of your breathing by the time we come out of lockdown, and your running buddy agrees to the same goal (it’s always easier if you have the same goal).
The next step is to think about the situations where you feel you lose control of your breathing (I have a post that talks a bit more about that here).
Once you have some situations in mind, or better still – written down – think about how you can simulate those situations in a way where you can ease into them and also back off from them. For example…
If one of the situations where you feel you lose control is when you start to run faster, then you want to run a session where you are progressively getting faster, just up to the point of your breathing getting in the way but no harder. Hold it for a few minutes and then drop back down to a much easier pace for a twice as long, and then repeat.
Both fartleks and a more structured environment are excellent for this. So running from point A to Point B at the required intensity, then dropping back for double that time, then again picking points A & B and repeating. Continuing this for a 5k run would be excellent training. Just make sure you run at least half a mile (about 1km) or so as an easy continuous warm up before you start.
Equally, finding a football or rugby pitch where you can do continuous pacing at a level that’s just below your lack of control is amazing training. Aim to run the same pace for each lap, and as you start to get tired this will become harder. Challenge yourself to keep control of your breathing as you fatigue, and when you start to lose control then take it down and have a decent recovery to fully get your breath back. Repeat the same steps to create a challenging but fun and hugely beneficial session.
And it’s also fine to do those runs where you just go out and run. But importantly, still make sure they have a purpose. The purpose of these runs could be noticing how you are breathing as your pace or the terrain changes. They become mindful runs, and these are fantastic for helping you get in touch with your brain and body’s feedback loop.
Just by setting a goal and having purpose to your runs, you will spend the next few weeks becoming a stronger, faster and better runner.
But there is more you can do – and I would encourage you to take this opportunity to progress even more by taking a brain-first approach and adding some simple but effective strength work in.
There will be a follow-up post to this one shortly that will deal with these, but for now it’s enough for you to work through the goal sheet, get in touch with your running buddy, plan the next four weeks of running and get sdtarted.
I’m getting really excited for you and I want to hear how you’ve been getting on!
Until next time,
Be confident and be happy!