Adjusting your racing and running plans in the coronavirus pandemic of 2020.

by Steve Palladino

coach and consultant, Palladino Power Project

Original version March 13, 2020

Updated March 20, 2020

Updated April 8, 2020

Updated April 10, 2020

If you are a runner, and if you had plans to race an important race in the Spring of 2020, you likely have had those plans completely undermined by the emergence of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.   The public health precautions applied to sporting events - amateur and professional, running and other sports - have been both necessary and disappointing.  Necessary to help deter more widespread and aggressive transmission of the virus.  Disappointing because major marathons, other major road races, indoor track/athletics championships, important outdoor track/athletics events, and entire collegiate outdoor track/athletics seasons have been cancelled or postponed.  Runners diligently training for these various events for months already have suddenly been left wondering what to do next.  This article will provide some thoughts regarding re-thinking your racing and running plans, until, hopefully, the pandemic subsides and events are once again open for competition.

Foremost, the health and wellbeing of you and your loved ones are to be prioritized.  There are already many recommendations in place in this regard:

For runners, here are few more:

These recommendations aside, realize that regular moderate exercise actually makes for a stronger immune system, and possibly superior resistance to the covid-19 virus versus age-matched sedentary cohorts.  (Figure 1)  This is a benefit of being fit.  However, the worst thing that you can do is to assume that because you are fit, you cannot become infected with this virus.  Enjoy the benefit, but do not become over-confident because of it. Still further, if you have at-risk loved ones at home (sedentary elderly family), you have to consider them in your preventive measures.  Be smart.

Figure 1.  Conceptual relationship between exercise and illness risk.  (From Nieman and Wentz,2019)

Maintaining exercise, or more specifically, running, is a reasonable goal during this pandemic - if it can be done safely (recommendations above).  However, also realize that training errors of excessive training, whether it be a) an acute single exertional bout of training or racing in excess of chronic training load (a marathon race could be one example), or b) a chronic excess in training load leading to non-functional overreaching, can lead to some degree of either temporary or prolonged impairment of immune status and increased illness risk.  In other words, too much of a good thing can turn into a bad thing.

To avoid training errors that can lead to suppressed immune status and higher illness risk, it may be wise to follow your training load metrics closely.   Keep TSB or RSB from going too negative for too long (see appendix).  Keep chronic training load (CTL) ramp rate to no more than 3 (higher ramp rates might be tolerable, but why risk it?).  If you use HRV and it gives you reliable information, heed it.  Beware of single training runs or races that will yield a TSS or RSS well above 150-200% of CTL (another way to think about this is to avoid runs that can significantly deplete muscle glycogen).

In essence, with no races on the horizon, it might be wise to elect a much more modest training program than had your Spring “A” race not been cancelled.  

While there is evidence to suggest that some HIIT does not impair immune status, a) too much of a good thing can eventually turn into a bad thing, and b) with no races on the horizon, you might be best to consider using HIIT at maintenance levels.

What to do with my outstanding fitness now that my “A” race was cancelled?

* time trial suggestions:

Take care, be well!

Appendix

1) For Stryd Powercenter users that follow RSB, Stryd classifies -10 to +5 as "maintenance". That is quite safe in these times, and will likely avoid non-functional overreaching. Short excursions (in terms of # of consecutive days) into the -10 to -25 range (Stryd "productive") is also likely OK. I would suggest avoiding RSB in the Stryd "cautionary" (-25 to -40) and overreaching (below -40) ranges.

2) Using Running Power on the Treadmill

3) Stryd Podcast accompanying this article.

4) home program for runners without use of special equipment - from Nick Palladino of PalladinoOnlineFitness

References

CDC Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) - Steps to Prevent Illness

Nieman and Wentz, The compelling link between physical activity and the body’s defense system.  Journal of Sport and Health Science 8 (2019)

Peake, Neubauer, Walsh, and Simpson, Recovery of the immune system after exercise.  Journal of Applied Physiology (2017), 122:1077-1087

Romeo, Warnberg, Pozo, and Marcos, Session 6: Role of physical activity on immune function Physical activity, immunity and infection. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society (2010), 69, 390–399

Zickl, What Runners Need to Know About Coronavirus. Runner's World, March 2020