Matt Long troubleshoots four emerging issues for runners coping with the Covid-19 outbreak

“At least you can still run,” a friend of mine who is a hockey player messaged me the other day, in rebuking my groans that I and others may not be able to compete until the commencement of the new cross country season due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Many of us are indeed blessed that we can undertake the form of exercise which we so love at this time when others seem to be paying their sporting penance. This being said, does our precarious silver lining, which of course could be snatched away if total lockdown is imposed, come with a few dark clouds hanging over it?

Cloud 1:

Athletes with too much time on their hands have just one opportunity to undertake outdoor physical activity per day. Some evidence suggests they may be tempted to lengthen their runs more than usual to compensate for the lack of other activity. The danger is that this overload may cause injury.

Blue sky solution:

Follow the principles of progressive overload when logging your weekly mileage and increase only in small increments before reaching a plateau and then backing off for a week or so, before building up again. Remember there comes a point at which too much volume based work will have diminishing returns for your long-term development and the risks of injury may be enhanced.

Cloud 2:

We are rightly being told by Public Health England and the government not to stray far from home for our one bout of daily outdoor exercise. For those of us who live in urban areas this may mean we stick to roads and pavements far more than we would ordinarily do with parks largely being out of bounds. So the danger is that while our volume may be constant, the change to a more frequent use of harder surface may risk impact related injuries.

Blue sky solution:

Are you sure that you have explored all options to get off road within the proximity of your home? What about that little trail you always thought about checking out but never made the time to? If you have exhausted all possibilities and have to run on roads then don’t be a slave to mileage. Consider dropping the volume of your running down and continuing to maintain aerobic fitness through cross training. Solo cycling or house-based skipping are great examples.

Cloud 3:

If total lockdown occurs, aerobic activity has to be non-running or undertaken on a treadmill hence the apparent upsurge in online sales of the latter. While a treadmill belt may be seen to be more forgiving than pounding the pavements, caution has to be exercised in that running at the recommended incline in an attempt to simulate road running actually stretches the Achilles and soleus.

Blue sky solution:

The message is not to avoid treadmills but if you are relatively new to their use then integrate into your schedule gradually and listen to those lower limb niggles.

Cloud 4:

It’s inappropriate to generalise because some of you reading this may be facing real financial hardship and may be using a food bank. This being said, for those more fortunate there may be problems associated with over-eating. Binge eating has been reported in Italy by those who become depressed while indoors and athletes are as at risk of this as anyone else.

Blue sky solution:

A balanced diet is more important than ever to protect your immune system. So your diet will benefit from including copper, folate, iron, selenium, zinc and vitamins A, B6, B12, C and D. If you keep a training diary, consider making nutrition a part of it.

Questions for self-reflection:
  1. Why is it important for me to monitor the volume of my running at this time?
  2. When is it appropriate that I run on road and when should I avoid that surface?
  3. How can I integrate treadmill running progressively into my training if full lockdown occurs?
  4. What tools am I using to make sure I maintain as healthy a diet as possible during this crisis?

» Matt Long has served as an England Athletics coach education tutor since 2010. He is leading the governing body’s roll out of Youth Endurance Workshops

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