Scottish running coach Sophie Dunnett talks about the challenges on configuring training load during lockdown, as well as the opportunity to grow without racing. 

Fast running’s Fast10 Ollie Lockley took a look at training load in an article at the start of lockdown and I was keen to reflect on how training load played out as we went through the first months of lock down.

The article mentioned the important issue of quality over quantity; one that can raise many eyebrows as athletes scrutinise other athlete’s strava feeds and change their own training programmes depending on the mileage of those they aspire to be like. 

Heavens some even lift sessions off strava as being right for them and then wonder why they get injured.  As Ollie clearly points out training is not a one size fits all.  The athletes I coach, all have bespoke training programmes, tailored to the performance goals which we have agreed as an athlete-coach partnership.  

The individuality of training

Some athletes can reach their racing goals off 25miles per week with one quality session, whereas others are on 120 miles top end with up to two quality sessions per week. 

I have in the past used the term ‘the moron approach’ which is used to describe the process by which an athlete who is not performing at the level they wish, just adds more on ‘moron’ to their training programme, and yep they tend to break down. 

Find what works for you and be patient

The quality versus quantity sweet spot as Ollie refers to it, or tipping point as I like to refer to it, is all about trial and error and there is no scientific formula to help you. 

Having considered your perfect training mileage, you then must factor in which training phase you are in and the impact that should have on your total mileage (and quality and quantity percentages) as well as where you put those miles in each training block and how best to package them together.  

Taking everything into account

An effective training programme is about the totality of all sessions over a week or a training block and not a single session. 

Often with athletes they will tell me that they can run their easy/recovery runs much faster; I know they can but that is not the purpose of these sessions.  They are there to assist the body to recover from the higher volume or quality sessions so that the athlete is ready for the next key session.  Oh yes rest days are a session of equal importance as are easy weeks.  

The current lockdown and lack of races has challenged many athletes to see the need for easy weeks, which under normal circumstances would be put into a training programme post-race and therefore are easier for runners to justify in their heads. 

To assist with this, I have planned virtual time trials for all of the athletes I coach, at the end of their easy week.  This takes place after every 6 or 8-week training phase which allows us to monitor an athletes progress and the response to their training programme. 

With the extension of this general preparation phase due to no racing, this has become crucial to get an indication of overloading or training fatigue.  

Thinking beyond the training miles

If an athlete presents as fatigued, it could be due to training load but as Ollie also indicated, there are many other factors to be considered such as work-life balance and for many now, it is dealing with the emotional stress of lockdown, additional demands of home schooling, home working and caring responsibilities as well as financial pressures around work security. 

Being in the best place to train well is not just a physical thing; as an athlete, you are a whole person and every aspect of your life must be factored in when considering a suitable training load.  

In doing this, getting buy in from your loved ones is so important. 

The time that you invest in your training, must be understood and supported by your significant others if you are to achieve Maslow’s self-actualisation; the point at which you achieve your full personal potential.

This is not a journey you can walk (or run) on your own.  This also rings true for training and racing goals; they are not the sole possession of either the athlete or the coach but must be shared and any revision to them, clearly articulated and owned by everyone involved.  

Not as simple as some want you to believe

This training malarkey is not as simple as many off the shelf training programmes either online or in books make it out to be, with a one size fits all approach and often limited regard for pacing.

Training is not a flawless single dimensional process and the current lockdown has given us a perfect opportunity to focus on areas for development, which will give us the biggest gains when we get back racing.  Examples of this might be relative speed for an ultra runner, downhill running efficiency for a mountain runner, consistent pacing for a road runner or getting back to enjoying the process of training without the pressure to perform for everyone.  

Continue to work towards yourself as a more rounded athlete and use the time to prepare for race season; it will be back and you want to have made best use of the time you currently have.

RELATED: Sophie Dunnett on the importance of the coach-athlete relationship 

More information about Sophie Dunnett’s coaching can be found here.

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