15 ways to train well and stay healthy during lockdown

Tom Craggs
·5-min read
Photo credit: Patrik Giardino - Getty Images
Photo credit: Patrik Giardino - Getty Images

From Runner's World

In these unsettling times, many runners would be forgiven for feeling a bit lost about how to continue training. Races and parkruns have been cancelled and running with others is restricted. Many of you may have built your fitness through the autumn and early winter and be wondering, ‘What now?’ Here are my top tips to help you run well and stay healthy during the next few weeks.

Put your health first

Health is crucial to performance. Now, more than ever, is the time to respect this. The coronavirus affects the cardiorespiratory system, so you will put yourself and others at risk if you continue to exercise with symptoms. Rest and self-isolate for at least 10 days if you have symptoms, and keep up to date with the latest government and NHS guidance.

Sleep well

Try to get at least seven hours a night for health and energy. Get into a good routine around bedtime – lower the lights, create a calm environment, avoid alcohol and caffeine later at night and put the smartphone away around an hour before you turn in.

Go easy on yourself

Be aware that the heightened stress levels caused by the present situation can have an impact on your mind and body. Remind yourself that it’s okay to not be always striving. If you feel that a few weeks of unstructured training and more rest will help you, take it. Make sure you mentally recharge – structured sessions and training can wait. Explore general ways you can to reduce your stress levels. For some, that could be meditation; for others, chatting to loved ones, reading or listening to relaxing music.

Descend the peak

Climbers talk about the danger zone at high altitude. This is the zone they train for, but which also brings the most risk. Runners also have a peak. Those of you who may have been getting there just as your race was cancelled or postponed, you need to take yourself out of that zone. While you want to preserve some of the fitness you have built, you don't want to extend that peak without risking tiredness or injury. A period of four to eight weeks of lighter, less structured ‘foundation’ training is a good option right now.

Scale back

Descending the peak is different for all of us. For some, it might mean cutting back to only easy running; for others, it’s about reducing some of the intensity. Reduce your training load, drop your mileage, consider cutting your long run back to 75-90 mins (or less) and reduce the volume of your hard sessions.

Keep a fitness baseline

If you have been focusing on marathon training, it can feel like a big challenge to have to cut back from those 15+ mile runs. So if you are scared of going back to square one, consider including a slightly longer long run of 1:45 to two hours every three weeks or so, just to stay in touch with your marathon fitness.

Be flexible with speedwork

If you feel that you want to keep your quality sessions, it's a good idea to take a more relaxed approach to your speedwork, lightening the load and making everything a bit less measurable. Fartlek sessions can work well here. Include some unstructured efforts of between 30 seconds and five minutes, working to harder effort offroad or over undulating terrain. If you prefer a bit more structure, sessions such as 15-20 x 30-60 seconds ‘on’ + 60-90 seconds ‘steady’ will do the job nicely.

Run to feel

As well as taking a more relaxed approach to session structure, you can manage the amount of quantifiable ‘feedback’ you get. Try running with your watch’s GPS function switched off, so you are working simply to time and effort, not distance and pace.

Cross-train

While gyms are closed, some runners will be lucky enough to have other cross-training options at home, such as a stationary bike, elliptical, rowing machine etc. Use these wisely. Be aware that your body will take time to adapt to new forms of exercise. Start with small sessions of between 20 and 40 minutes and be patient if your running fitness doesn’t translate to cross-training straight away.

Moving on

After you have had a period of easier running, relaxed sessions and lower volumes, what then? How do you bridge back into structured training? Six to 10 weeks focusing on getting quicker could be a sensible way to go, developing speed to extend into your 10K-to-marathon training later in the year. In this phase, more structured sessions such as 6-8 x 3 minutes at 5K effort, with 90-120 seconds rest will serve you well.

Work on your foundation

It might feel a little clichéd as we are all hammered with Instagram home-workout videos, but now is a great time to refocus on strength training and building those strong foundations for your running. Create a circuit session mixing core exercises with squats, lunges, pushing and pulling exercises to cover 20-30 minutes of work. Aim to complete it a couple of times a week.

Fire it up

Missing that running-specific fix? Sure, you could video yourself running a marathon on your balcony. You might, however, find that spending 6-8 weeks working on your running drills and technique is more productive. Simple drills such as straight-leg kick-outs, high knees and heel flicks don’t require much space and can be progressed to more technical drills as you improve.

Reframe your goals

Most of us respond well to structure, clarity and having a target to aim for. One of the hardest aspects of this ‘transition phase’ is that the goal of choice for most runners (races) will not be available in the short term. Consider completing a self-timed 3-5km time trial every three or four weeks. Set yourself challenges and goals to progress your conditioning and flexibility, and, perhaps, share them with family or club members. Most importantly at this time, stay safe, run with respect for others and stay positive.

Vary your diet

Plenty of mixed, brightly coloured fruit and veg will help, and staying well hydrated encourages saliva production to support your oral immune system.

Supplement with vitamin D

Many of us don’t get enough in the winter and now are getting less, so consider taking a supplement.

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