As the world has mostly come to a halt around us, runners everywhere are confused and anxious about what direction to take their training. With all of this uncertainty, operating without a plan is a recipe for anxiety and loss of motivation. Without a goal on the horizon, it may seem difficult for many to put the shoes on and train with a purpose.

But life will go on, things will stabilize, and we will be able to toe the start line again. We may not know exactly when that will be, but stopping your training routine completely is only going to make those feelings worse. What we do now does matter and can help us be ready to get back to full racing fitness when this plague settles down.

Like many coaches, I am trying to keep my fit athletes ready for when the times comes, while also balancing an extended season and maintaining a healthy immune system by not digging too deep. I have athletes preparing for spring and summer track and road seasons and we are still optimistic those will happen.

Back to Basics

Understanding that the situation is fluid means that we will stay close to basics. That means we are pulling back on too much of our really intense interval sessions because we don’t want to peak in May and June with no races on the schedule. Instead we will focus on maintaining the strength we have built over the fall and winter and continuing to develop basic speed and coordination. This way, when the fog lifts and events resume, we will be able to move back into the intense intervals when we have a firm date for racing.

This won’t be very difficult for us because we always rely on some workouts year around which allow us to touch each of those systems and be ready for racing season on a few weeks notice. Here are three of my favorite workouts I have learned from coaches over the years and use with my runners throughout the year.

Double-Ladder Fartlek

• 1/2/3/2/1/2/3/2/1

Go hard for 1 minute, 2 minutes, 3 minutes, 2 minutes, 1 minute, 2 minutes, 3 minutes, 2 minutes, 1 minute. The recovery is the same as the rep that preceded it. So one minute hard, one minute recovery, two minutes hard, two minutes recovery, three minutes hard, three minutes recovery, etc. You can make this workout more of a steady aerobic session by keeping the recovery at a moderate pace, or, if you really want to focus on speed, you can jog the recovery easier, allowing yourself to run each “on” section a little faster.

This is my “go-to” fartlek. I have been doing this workout myself since my first year as a pro runner and it finds its way into my runners’ training plans usually every 3–4 weeks. It’s 34 minutes long and it is a good aerobic stimulus, but allows you to turn the legs over faster at times than a tradition steady tempo run.

Dathan Ritzenhein coaching 200m hills
photo: @atozrunning

200m Repeats + 200m Hills

• 6–10 x 200m at approximately 5k pace with 200m easy recovery jog.

• Jog easy for 5–10 minutes to a hill.

• 6–10 x 200m hills, jogging easy back down for recovery.

Adjust the number of reps for your ability and fitness level; I suggest starting at 5–6 reps of each first and seeing how you feel before moving up in volume.

If I want to work on speed, this is a simple, but not overly taxing, workout that will get the wheels turning. I used this workout for almost a decade starting in the summer of 2009 when I broke the American Record for 5000m. It is an effective way to build basic speed, but the repetitions are not too long and the recovery is short enough that it shouldn’t be too difficult of a workout.

The hill repeats should be about 5–6 seconds slower at the same effort, and try not to make the incline too steep. We do this workout because doing 20 x 200m is a pretty intense speed session, but by splitting it and running half the reps on a hill you slow the pace and reduce contact forces enough to not tear up the body. It reinforces good stride mechanic and builds power you might struggle to reach on a flat surface. If you are worried about being at the track with too many runners to come into contact with, or you don’t have a hill close to the track, there is no reason the 200’s have to be done on the track. Just go by time and use a nice flat road.

hill repeats coached by Dathan Ritzenhein
photo: @atozrunning

Kilometer’s + Minute Hills

• 4–6 x 1K at between 10K and half marathon effort with approximately 2 minutes recovery between repeats.

• A 5-10 minute jog.

• 4–6 x 1-minute hill repeats at the same effort with an easy jog back down.

If you keep the rest at two minutes or more, and keep at the prescribed effort levels, most athletes should be able to walk away feeling like they put in good work but didn’t “go-to-the-well.” If you’re a beginning runner, three sets might be plenty. My athletes usually find 4–6 is enough to feel like they worked out well but are ready to go three days later to workout or five days later for a race.

This workout I often prescribe as the last full effort before a race, or as a good moderate session that allows the body to adapt to faster paces but with ample rest so the athletes don’t overdo the workout.

These workouts are staples that I like to use year-round, but they make even more sense right now as we wait for the racing schedule to reopen. If you are sitting in a holding pattern and want to be ready when the time comes, try adding these workouts into your training over these next weeks and months instead of hitting really hard intervals that leave you laying on the track.

Training gives you the structure and focus you need to keep anxiety away and it helps you to maintain motivation for the long haul. Remember to keep the effort and volume from being too difficult so you don’t train yourself into the ground—but there is no reason you have to completely stop training.