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Athletes Adapt: How to Maintain Race Fitness

On ZAP Endurance team coach Ryan Warrenburg on how you can use this period of changing plans to change up your training for an even bigger advantage when racing returns.


With the race calendar for 2020 not looking like any of us envisaged at the start of the year, it’s difficult to know how to plan your training. Add in the necessary restrictions right now and we need to get creative. We spoke to On ZAP Endurance coach Ryan Warrenburg about how best to stay in shape for when racing is back on the agenda. 


Many runners were in the middle of a training plan for a particular race that has now been postponed, maybe indefinitely. What should they do now? 

Coach Ryan: “The best thing you can do in a situation where your race is no longer happening and there are no races on the calendar is revert back to base training. This is a great opportunity to focus on your aerobic foundation with a combination of easy miles and moderate workouts that are done at 75-85% effort. 


“Marathon-paced tempo runs and light fartlek (varying speed and/or terrain) are perfect examples of these types of workouts. You could include shorter hills as well to improve power and efficiency. 


“Aerobic training and muscular endurance in those slow-twitch muscle fibers tend to be the limiting factors for most distance runners so spending some time working on this neglected area is time well spent. 


Moderate, aerobic training can also be sustained for a relatively long period of time without risking overtraining or burnout so in a situation where the timetable is uncertain, this is the best place to spend most of your training time. 


“This is also a great time to work on weakness through strength training. Balancing running with strength training can be a difficult time management and energy balance so this makes for a perfect time to shore up some of those weaknesses. Building the aerobic foundation along with strength exercises will allow you to be at your best when it's time to train hard again and there are races to be run.”



Are there any workouts you’d advise runners against right now? 

“Generally speaking, you want to steer clear of maximum effort types of workouts - things like hard, intervals at 5k pace or faster or hard long runs. These efforts not only suppress our immune system (this is why so many people get sick after running a marathon), but they are time dependent workouts. In other words, these are race specific workouts that will help build your fitness toward a peak. However, without a goal race on the calendar your timing of these workouts will be off and you'll build up to a false peak. Continuing to push forward with them will eventually erode your aerobic abilities and/or dramatically increase your risk for performance decline and overtraining.”


Isn’t there a danger of losing speed if you dial back your training paces? 

“There are things you can do to maintain, or even improve, your leg speed even while dialing back your training paces. Include 6-10 strides (faster efforts building to a sprint ) of 15-30 seconds after an easy run once or twice a week. For these focus on running with good, relaxed form. They don't need to be top end, but you should build into them so you're running fairly quickly at the end. I would also encourage you to do them uphill once every 1-2 weeks. These strides will help maintain or enhance your ability to run quickly and efficiently.”



Are there different considerations for those who were training for a 5k or 10k vs. those who were preparing for a half or full marathon. 

“If you were training for shorter races, distances of 10k or under, you want to avoid those hard interval workouts at 5k pace or faster that you would do in specific training. Over time those workouts will erode your aerobic foundation and lead to a drop in performance. You can utilize longer strides of 30-45 seconds in length once a week to support your speed and have you ready to transition quickly back to that type of specific work once there are races on the calendar. 


“For people who are eyeing a half marathon or marathon in the summer after missing their spring goal race you'll want to dial back your training for 7-10 days, simply running short and easy every other day for that period of time. It's important to let your body recover from a hard training block, even without the race itself. Then you can add back in some moderate aerobic workouts such as marathon paced tempo runs or light fartleks. 


“You'll want to pull back on the distance of your long runs 10-20% and refrain from doing any specific work within them. That specific work in the long runs is time dependent in much the same way hard intervals are for 5k training. Too much of that will lead you to overtrain and your performance will drop. Keeping those maintenance long runs in place will boost your aerobic abilities and have you ready to jump right back into specific work once you know when your next race is.”



What are the risks if I keep training at the same race-plan intensity until summer or fall? 

“Regardless of the event you're preparing for, building recovery into your annual plan is critical to staying healthy and maximizing performance. That means if you stick with the same training intensity throughout the year you'll, at best, fail to see improvement, and at worst, find yourself hurt or burned out. This is particularly true if the intensity is high. More moderate intensity training can be sustained for longer periods of time than maximum intensity training can.”


For those that aren’t able to go outside to run right now, what kind of work can help maintain fitness ready for when running can resume?

“Many people around the world are confined to their homes right now, unable to run. If you have a treadmill then that is, for all intents and purposes, just as good as getting outside, aside from perhaps a mental standpoint. 


If you're unable to run, any type of aerobic exercise will help maintain your aerobic fitness.


"If you are unable to access any cardio equipment and are confined to the house the best thing you can do is work on running specific strength. There are any number of exercises you can do in your living room, without much weight even, that can make you a stronger, more efficient runner. This should be a priority for us all right now. Take the time to focus on building your best running body because the only way to see your best running is to stay healthy.”


Coach Ryan’s example of a weeks’ plan to maintain fitness and improve aerobic development: 


*Alternate the workout on Saturday and Tuesday each week to vary when you run hill strides and when you run strides on the flat. So if you run hill strides on Tuesday, you run flat strides on Saturday, and vice versa.

**Coach’s proposal: The Ladder.

The goal is to start at half marathon effort for the first 6-minute piece and pickup the pace a little bit as you move down the ladder)

Run 6 minutes (3-minute easy jog), 

Run 5 minutes (2.5-min easy jog)

Run 4 minutes (2-min easy jog), 

Run 3 minutes (1.5-min easy jog), 

Run 2 minutes (1-min easy jog), 

Run 1 minute.  


If you’re looking for inspiration for home training, check out our Athletes Adapt indoor workouts     

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