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When I was working in the advising office at NYU, I once asked a student his opinion of a class. “The professor is good,” the student replied, “but there’s no final, and when you don’t have a final it takes all the energy out of the class.”
In the past few weeks, world events have effectively removed all finals from our sport for the foreseeable future—and it felt like it drained all of the energy. Like the college student deciding not to spend precious time and energy on material that won’t be tested, many of us are having a hard time getting up early and training in a new world where we don’t know the next time we’ll get to show the results of that training.
But every college student eventually graduates and enters a world of adult and ongoing education, a world where studying is about learning instead of grades, and topics aren’t confined to what you can cover in a single semester. Instead of seeing our current situation as putting our running on hold, perhaps we can see it as graduating to a new phase.
Instead of training “for” a race, with the pressures and constraints of the specific requirements of that race and a looming end date, we now have a chance to train to be better runners, wherever that may take us. In truth, we always have this opportunity, but it’s hard to seize it with our short attention spans and need for affirmation. Having the possibility of racing removed for an indefinite span of time may be just what we need, a mandatory off-season where we raise our game and become the runners we dream of becoming.
What might that look like? The majority of runners I know—including me—could benefit from these strategies:
- Increasing our “normal” miles. Building endurance and durability takes time. Time we rarely have. Coaches often advise that we shouldn’t increase volume and intensity simultaneously. In the real world, who are we kidding? Most of us sign up for a race, then “ramp up” our miles while adding specific speedwork, ending up with our hardest workouts the same week as we hit our highest volume for the year—and we wonder why we’re beat up or injured. We may not change this pattern completely—few of us have the time and energy to run 70, 80 or more miles per week year-round like an elite—but we can raise our comfortable, “default” level by adding a few more runs, increasing every run by a mile or two, going 15–20 minutes longer on the weekend. Looking through old logs, it is very clear that I need around 50 mpw for a strong 10-miler to half marathon, and over 60 mpw for a successful marathon. My default when I’m not “training” is a fairly consistent 30–35 miles/week. My goal is raise that to 40–45 during the rest of this month, and hold it throughout April to make it the new norm. When I’m ready to look at another race, I’ll only be a couple of weeks at a safe increase rate from hitting my sweet spot, and will be able to focus on running well at that mileage, not feeling stressed there before trying to add quality work.
- Improve our stride mechanics. Becoming more efficient, more resilient runners takes time. The popular perception (or at least wish) is that running form is something you can change instantly by thinking about it, focusing on cues or changing shoes. The truth is that our running form will mold to maximize our current mechanics.If we have inefficiencies like overstriding, they stem from deficiencies in mobility and strength imbalances. We have to improve how we move before our strides can improve, making us more efficient and able to do those additional miles without risking injury. It’s worth taking time that you might have spent on specific race training to focus on these tasks:
- Heal up. Injury recovery takes time. If you’ve been nursing a sore Achilles, hamstring, PF, ITB… for weeks, months, even years, this could be your chance to give it the break it needs to heal. This time, along with the work to correct underlying problems, could be what you need to come back to running pain free and running more effectively.
- Focus on things outside of running. Relationships take time. Finally, the enforced off-season might be a chance to righten the balance toward parts of our lives that take time we don’t normally give them when we’re focused on running. Those with care-giver responsibilities will likely have less time now rather than more; hopefully the lack of a looming race can remove the pressure and guilt of training less. Regardless of other time commitments, with no chance of racing, maybe we can do something really radical like spending time with our significant others, asking questions and listening for as long as it takes. In the long run, that is more important—for our happiness, health, even our long-term running goals—than any other use of our time. Some of us need to be hit over the head to be reminded of that; maybe a global pandemic will be enough of a change to help us get better at listening, seeing, caring—and managing our passions.
—Jonathan Beverly, Editor