I have been contemplating as an athlete and coach a question that might surprise my readers. Why do we run, and what do we run for? At this stage in the year traditionally my athletes and I would have had objective measures of performance. These measures of performance often come in the form of race achievements with many having run in half marathons, marathons and even ultras. The measure of performance often lies beyond our training and fitness status but often in the way we perform at our goal event.
The reason why this is so important to me as an athlete and coach is not solely due the enjoyment of racing, my progression in the last training block but rather in the additional questions we ponder as an athlete. Did I learn anything from previous marathon failures or successes? Did my nutrition strategy have a positive effect or not? Was I able to be patient in race day strategy execution?
All these factors run through our mind as athletes and ultimately come to fruition on race day. It is a culmination of months of training with a very definitive answer come race day.
With COVID-19 coming into our existence early February in South Africa with a hard lockdown occurring at the end of February, a realization of race cancellations both locally and internationally occurred. These cancellation threats for many runners was met with anxiety and then despair when large events such as Boston Marathon, London Marathon and Comrades Marathon were officially cancelled.
The despair in essence I believe was created due to both a real sense that all the training up until then was null and void (which it isn’t) and the fact that our objective measure of performance wouldn’t actually occur. The numerous friends that are in personal best (PB) shape is countless. This PB “shape” is a value assigned to fitness level and not necessarily to race day execution and the factors mentioned above. This is what makes marathon running exciting and nerve wrecking at the same time. Our running experience is fulfilled on race day by the sense of belonging to a community with group training and racing being a large part of our running/sport experience which has ultimately been lost.
So where does this leave us as athletes and coaches for the current year and season/s to come?
I believe it is in the interest of athletes and the duty of coaches at this stage to really focus in on this question and find real meaning in how we train, develop and stress test our athletes. My current focus for my athletes is twofold.
Firstly, I believe it is essential that we develop strong structures between an athlete, his/her community and developing enjoyment through interactions in the current climate. This means we need to listen to our athletes and from a programming point of view include aspects of training that they feel is necessary and enjoyable. Let us create a network of athletes that want to train together (social distancing guidelines intact) with a set physiological goal that is similarly aligned without needing our athletes to go in different training directions unlike in peak season conditioning. This training may require athletes to perform strength sessions or aerobic sessions that are atypical to what they would normally do however with a purpose of developing athleticism and overall health prior to athletic performance. My personal preference to this period of training is to encourage the enjoyment of nature and experience terrain or modalities that are out of their regular wheelhouse. Mother nature right now is well and truly calling!!
Secondly, this period is prime to developing consistency and exercise adherence. As coaches there is very seldom a period in an annual cycle where we can work on accessory work this frequently and develop mileage this safely and efficiently. I encourage athletes to use this time to develop these aspects of training correctly and for coaches to encourage stress tests that put a performance objective in front of athletes. It is my objective to develop and implement multiple stress tests for each of my athletes at regular intervals for most of the next training cycle. These tests should be focused on objective measures of performance and programmed systematically so athletes need to “get up” mentally and physically for these events. These objective performance measures can range and not limited to repetition max tests, aerobic/anaerobic function tests and bio-mechanical analysis. All these tests require an athlete to be motivated, structured in lifestyle and training demands as well as be intrinsically aware that a set training cycle has a predetermined goal.
As a positive for my athletes it is essential that we view our current COVID-19 situation with the lack of goal races as a tool for development and health importance. One thing that we know considering the current health crisis is that “health is wealth”. This is both literal and figurative. This is becoming truer by the day as the current death rate escalates in populations with other diseases. The ability to be healthy and maintain autoimmune strength, respiratory health at this period in our life could not be more critical. Movement, nutrition, and sleep should be at the forefront of everyone we interact with and being an athlete were these measures are considerably more advanced than the average person is a great place to be.
In terms of athletic development, we are also incredibly fortunate to have a period with limited racing where athletic fitness has already been gained. As an athlete I know I have never been in as good a physical shape as entering this next macrocycle with a sense of limited external stresses created by any upcoming events. We have the perfect setting to structure, design and implement a program with outcomes far exceeding the normative performance goals. It should come as no surprise that I feel athletic success globally in elite and sub-elite athletes will progress swiftly comparative to normative annual progression.
As much as this current COVID-19 pandemic has been predominately negative globally, we can be sure that significant positives will shine out.. Where there is struggle, we will find opportunity to grow.
Let’s keep breathing, searching for answers and Activ8 Endurance together.