7 Ways Professional Runners Are Coping With Training Limitations

Molly Hurford
by Molly Hurford
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7 Ways Professional Runners Are Coping With Training Limitations

With many races canceled or postponed, the postponement of the 2020 Olympics, shelter-in-place mandates and social distancing guidelines of late, professional runners around the world are readjusting to a new normal like the rest of us. Their workouts — and expectations for the 2020 season. There’s a lot we can learn from how these pro athletes are coping with the current situation — mentally, emotionally and physically. As you look at your training, their advice may help you find ways to get re-inspired and motivated for the return of the racing season.

Here’s how these professional runners are doing it:

ADJUSTING TRAINING AND GOALS

“I don’t believe it’s sustainable or healthy to try and operate at 100% with all the external stresses life is bringing right now.”

Stephen Scullion, an Irish distance runner and Olympic marathon qualifier:
“My training has been adjusted to fit around Northern Ireland’s lockdown rules of one exercise per day,” says Scullion, who headed back to Ireland after training with his coach and running crew in Arizona in March before the travel lockdowns began. He’s not only adjusting his calendar, he’s also adjusting his outlook on racing in general. “As most races have moved to the fall, it’s been very important to adjust training goals to protect the longevity of the season and my mentality. I don’t believe it’s sustainable or healthy to try and operate at 100% with all the external stresses life is bringing right now.”

“I’m hoping to use this period of time with no racing to work on the little things and focus on the things I can control.”

Rachel Schneider, a top middle-distance runner and U.S. Olympic contender:
Now that the Olympics are postponed until next year, she’s had to shift her mentality to be less competition-driven, more process-focused and day-to-day oriented when it comes to goal-setting. “I absolutely love racing and would be lying if I said I wasn’t really bummed when events started being canceled,” she adds. “But at the same time, I feel incredibly fortunate for my good health, ability to continue to train and do what I love every day — and for the opportunity to get better on all sorts of levels. I’m hoping to use this period of time with no racing to work on the little things and focus on the things I can control.”

STICKING TO A ROUTINE

Morgan McDonald, Australian middle-distance runner and top 5K and 10K racer:
When life is turned upside down, finding some form of daily routine can help you stay healthy and relieve stress. “Luckily, almost all of my usual training can be carried out the same in isolation, so there is actually a quite minimal change to it,” explains McDonald. “I think that following my same schedule has been really important in maintaining my positive routines in the different setting of my home.”

Schneider: “I’ve been super fortunate to be able to stick to a fairly normal training schedule through everything,” says Schneider. For her, that looks like 90-mile weeks with a recovery day for a walk or hike around Flagstaff, Arizona. Training days incorporate some speed work and drills most days, plus two longer runs. Strength and mobility work, of course, is also included.

CONNECTING TO YOUR “WHY”

For runners who were contemplating their Olympic goals, the sudden lack of races on the calendar could be disheartening.

Scullion: “It’s a really difficult time mentally trying to focus on goals that seem so far away, and because [the Olympics] is an unprecedented event, there’s no certainty when the next goal race might be,” says Scullion. “But on a training run in Sedona less than four weeks ago, I said, ‘I would do this anyway, with or without the New York half-marathon or Boston marathon.’ Now, then I was talking about a hard training session that day on the track. I believe we use those races as excuses to be super motivated and super driven by our goals … But if we didn’t have a burning desire to push ourselves and better ourselves, we would never have left the house.”

“My goals may be pushed back, but it won’t stop me training every day for the sheer enjoyment of being healthy, active and pushing myself beyond my limits.”

Your finish line may have been a local 5K that was slated for May rather than the Olympics, but the principle remains the same: Remember why you started running, and why you kept running. “My goals may be pushed back, but it won’t stop me training every day for the sheer enjoyment of being healthy, active and pushing myself beyond my limits,” Scullion adds. “Some days will be harder than others, but I’ll make an effort to do what I can each day.”

KEEPING IN TOUCH WITH TEAMMATES

Michelle Howell, runner and coach with the District Track Club:
“We have a team group text and Snapchat, which we all post in fairly regularly,” says Howell. “I’m normally pretty bad at this kind of thing, but recently my teammate Maddie Kopp has instilled in me the importance of keeping our ‘Snap streak,’ so that’s been an incentive to make sure I’m responding back because I am usually the one who makes us lose it.”

Scullion: He agrees, adding that even if you’re not feeling isolated yet, start reaching out now. “Even if you think you don’t need it, it’s better to use those technologies now, even when you might not feel like it, so you never get to the point where you are struggling. Balance in everything we do is key, and at the moment our social balance has taken a big hit, so, be smart and don’t be afraid to use your imagination with how you could set up little e-dates, or meetings, or general catch-ups with family and friends.”

GETTING BACK TO BASICS

Howell: “With every track meet we planned for being canceled and the unknown factor of when the trials will be, we’ve hit a physical reset button. Instead of starting to ramp up our workouts with more race-specific and speed work, we’ve gone back to the basics of getting strong and building endurance, the cross-country-esque end of the spectrum. Mentally it’s just more time to get strong, stay healthy, stay focused and be ready for what’s to come.”

BUILDING MENTAL TOUGHNESS

Not training with your teammates can be tough for regular runners, and for professionals, it can be nearly impossible to push those solo runs to be as hard as team track workouts.

Alex Amankwah, Ghanaian middle-distance runner:
“Coping with group runs not happening as often involves me being patient and having the mental fortitude to get the workout done with or without a group,” says Amankwah. “It’s more difficult running as an individual, but the work still needs to be done.”

McDonald: This means a chance to be ready for tough spots in races. “I am looking at it as a good challenge to build some toughness!” says McDonald. “In a race, you are dealing with challenges and at the end of the day it is up to you to face these on your own, so I think that this is a great time to work on this.”

PRIORITIZING SAFETY

Schneider: Even if you’re not in the vulnerable group, you need to do your part to flatten the curve. “The necessary social distancing is tough for training because meeting up with others and working out together is such a joy and so helpful,” says Schneider. “But it’s important that each individual helps in the prevention of spreading COVID-19. When I think about what is going on in the world and how helpless I sometimes feel in being able to help others — I remind myself that I can help by doing my part by not spreading it to others by being diligent about social distancing. When this is all over, we can celebrate with lots of group runs and workouts, but right now the first priority is to help prevent the spread and eliminate this disease as soon as possible.”

About the Author

Molly Hurford
Molly Hurford

Molly is an outdoor adventurer and professional nomad obsessed with all things running, nutrition, cycling and movement-related. When not outside, she’s writing and podcasting about being outside, training and health. You can follow along with her adventures on Instagram at @mollyjhurford.

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