Culture

Inside Lane: How the Pros are Shaking Up Their Training

Olympic hopefuls share some of their recent workouts and training experiments during lockdown.

Instead of an Olympic year, 2020 has turned out to be the year of quarantine as the coronavirus pandemic shut down nearly all sporting competitions for the foreseeable future. While the Tokyo Olympic Games have been postponed to 2021, if conditions are safe enough to hold them at all, the sport’s international governing body, World Athletics, is optimistic enough about the prognosis to have announced a provisional slate of Diamond League competitions this fall.

In the meantime, Olympic hopefuls are dealing with the year-long postponement of Tokyo 2020 in different ways: some are using the time to ease off on training in preparation for a big push in 2021; others are putting workouts aside altogether to rehab lingering injuries; and a few are using the opportunity to experiment and push their training in new ways. 

PodiumRunner spoke with several professional runners to see what their workouts look like these days.

Kyle Merber is logging the highest mileage of his life

Ever since he underwent a sports hernia surgery in the fall of 2018, middle-distance runner Kyle Merber has been wary of high mileage. But the cancellation of the outdoor track season suddenly gave him permission to chase mileage goals. After logging 100 miles in a week for the first time in his career, he’s kept it up for the past eight weeks and hit an all-time high of 105, after starting the year averaging 75 to 80. In addition to increasing his weekly long run to 20 miles, he now runs about 10 miles in a strength workout session as opposed to a typical 10K in his previous training.

“I wasn’t running well indoors, and so I felt like suddenly I had nothing to lose,” he says. “I might as well change it up and do something different that would excite me, that’s where the [high mileage] idea came from.”

The mileage experiment has Merber, 29, feeling ready to move on from the 1500 meters, which has been his specialty event for the entirety of his career.  

“I was mentally fatigued and bored and in a little bit of a rut pre-quarantine,” he told PodiumRunner, “and during quarantine, I feel like I’ve been given a second life and I’m really excited.”

Key workouts:

10 x 1 mile @ 4:51 (average) with one minute rest

20 x 300m (or 60 seconds) on 5-6% grade hill with recovery jog downhill

Longest run: 21 miles

Ajee’ Wilson is doing tempo runs

In Philadelphia, reigning national champion and 800-meter American record holder Ajee’ Wilson, 26, has been sheltering in place and easing back into solo workouts. Coach Derek Thompson is preparing his group of half-milers for the possibility of a fall racing season, though Wilson says they are not committed to anything specific just yet. 

Right now, workouts are mostly longer, strength-based efforts. She typically doesn’t run with a GPS watch and training is based more on “feel” than trying to hit certain times or distances. That is, unless she’s doing her regular three-mile tempo run—in which case, she says she needs to be no slower than six-minute mile pace.

“I’m curious [about paces],” she says, “but then it’s less stressful and I’m able to be more patient. What I have today is what I have today.”

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Key workouts:

4 x 5 minutes on, 3-4 minutes walk/jog recovery

3 mile tempo at 18:00 or faster

Longest run: 70 minutes

Sara Hall is transitioning to 5K/10K training—with some help from her kids

At 37, marathoner Sara Hall is still at the top of her game. Though the Olympic Marathon Trials in Atlanta did not go her way and she ultimately dropped out of the race, she ran her personal best of 2:22:16—the sixth-fastest time in American history—less than a year ago at the Berlin Marathon. Hall is now using the quarantine period to transition into 5K and 10K training in preparation for the 2021 Olympic Trials on the track.

The shift to speed work comes with an added bonus: Hall can do workouts with her two high school age daughters, Hana and Mia, who are training to break five minutes in the mile. That’s about 10K pace for Sara.

They will often hop in and out of my workout and it pushes them, which is fun to be able to be more actively involved in their training and goals,” she told PodiumRunner.

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Key workouts:

6 x Mile with 90 seconds rest

20 x 400m with 60 seconds rest

Dana Giordano is time trialing—without a watch

Middle-distance specialist Dana Giordano is fortunate to have speedy roommates in Lianne Farber and Heather MacLean, so she can train while still complying with social distancing guidelines in Boston. Giordano, 26, says she’s doing a lot of hill workouts that she wouldn’t normally do during this time of year to maintain general, non-specific fitness, and recently took off her watch to do a low-key time trial effort. Her mom cheered her on as it started hailing—this is Boston in springtime, after all.

“I went as hard as I could but literally have no idea what the times were,” she says. “It was a good way to push myself when everything was so up in the air without having the added stress of not hitting my mark.”

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Key workouts:

1600/1200/800/400 @ max effort with 2-3 minutes rest (time trial effort workout)