Lockdown, cross-training and ultra-running: using this time as a runner

The current lockdown restrictions have got us all rethinking the way we live. As an ultra-runner and an ultra coach with XNRG, I’m keen to apply an ‘endurance mindset’ to life’s challenges, and this is no different. It’s got me mulling over how runners – of all levels, speeds and distances – can use this time.

Staying positive

I’m one of those annoyingly glass-half-full kinds of people, and I tend to look for the positives in whatever comes my way. Now, it’s important to say, before going any further, that I’m well aware that not everyone’s the same; lockdown and Coronavirus have caused huge pain and grief for a lot of people, from physical loss, to illness, social isolation, financial loss, and so on. I’m not trying to minimise any of that, if you’re reading this and don’t identify with ‘seeing the positives’.

Personally, I’ve felt challenged by working on Teams and Zoom, as someone who really values human connections and being around colleagues. I think many of us will come out of this crisis wanting to assess why and where we travel, and how we invest our precious time. For me, I think meeting agendas will be sharper, and we’ll hopefully all value each other’s time more.

For runners who are relatively free at the moment, it’s a good time to get back to basics without any races on the horizon. Is there an aspect of your form you’ve always wanted to work on? What can you learn from the last goal you went for, whether or not you achieved it? And is it worth experimenting in training with watch-less runs, for instance? The pressure is off; this time is yours.

Return to your ‘why’

I’ve talked about this a fair bit on this blog. To succeed over long distances, you need to get your head ready. If you haven’t got strong reasons to keep going 60 miles into a 100-miler when you’ve got blisters the size of ping pong balls, you won’t.

And when I talk about ‘why’, I don’t just mean why you started the run you’re on, or even why you started running in the first place. Think about your personal purpose: what gets you up in the morning, keeps you going in life, and gets you excited about being alive. A couple of years ago, I used the book Are you fully charged? by Tom Rath to define my purpose: to be the best possible version of myself, and to help those around me to do the same. Whenever I’m not enjoying something, I go back to that. In a running sense, if you’re feeling defeated, you’ve usually either lost your purpose for running, or running no longer supports your purpose.

If that sounds familiar, it’s time to phone a friend – a coach or someone who knows you well. Or, do the opposite of what you’re currently doing, which is a trick ultra coach Andy Mouncey taught me. It might look like taking a break from running and focusing on other sports, for instance. The trick is to then use that time to figure out how you can reconnect running with your purpose, while also keeping moving in some form to maintain your fitness for whenever you do decide to return.

OK, so you’ve spotted that lockdown is an opportunity to go back to basics, and you’ve ironed out your ‘why’. Now, let’s look at some things it’s worth giving a go (if you haven’t already):

  1. Back to backs (B2B)

Working from home for seven weeks (and counting!) has meant I’ve got more time to play around with scheduling in back to back runs, meaning I can run them when I want rather than just when I had space. It’s been a real eye-opener. Despite hurting my back getting out of bed in mid-April (the joys of getting older!), I’ve continued my run streak, albeit slower while I worked on strengthening my core for three weeks. Now recovered, I’m back to running at my regular intensity and back to backs are playing a key part in building endurance and shortening my recovery time. If you’re new to back to backs, make sure to build some easier recovery runs in and build up gradually to avoid injury.

  1. Kettlebells

I’d just restarted kettlebell training at my local gym when lockdown kicked in, and I’d already noticed some benefits from the extra training. I was working with 4kgs; nice and light yet more than enough to have me blowing out of my a**e by the end of each session. In 2015, I did kettlebell classes regularly as part of my efforts to finally complete the Ring of Fire. I went on to do it, and I’d attribute a good chunk of that to the extra strength I held. If you’ve got the kit, look online for some great coaching you can do from home.

  1. WaterRower

I’ve invested some serious time at home to getting back on my WaterRower, a brilliant bit of kit that’s stood me in good cross-training stead for over 20 years. I find that rowing really complements running, and I tend to use rowing as a recovery exercise for improving my core and upper body strength without too much strain on the legs. Core and upper body strength are very much the unsung heroes of any ultra – they come into their own (or otherwise!) during the final stages of a long race.

  1. Yoga

A colleague introduced me to yoga last summer, and I’ve been practicing it roughly three times a week since. Since lockdown, that’s gone up to around five times a week, mostly before a morning run. It’s left me feeling more flexible, as well as having an impact on strength.

However you choose to spend this time, if you’re thinking about experimenting with your training, stay consistent. Stick to whatever plan you’ve come up with. Only by sticking to the same routine for at least a few weeks will you discover its benefits and pitfalls. Over time, you should notice incremental improvements that eventually add up to a step change in your performance. And, by building a new routine, you’ll be creating your own ‘new normal’ and reduce the risk of crash and burn.

Take care during these strange times. If you’re still able to get out and run and you choose to add in any of the above, I’d love to know how you get on. Leave me a comment below.

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