There is evidence that hard training and high training load influence immune function and decrease immunity as shown in this study in the European Journal of Sports Science. This is obviously something that we want to avoid at the moment:
- "Numerous studies over the last 35 years report an increase in upper respiratory infection (URI) symptoms in athletes during periods of heavy training and competition."
- "Recent studies have identified prominent risk factors, including: intensified training in the winter; long-haul travel; low energy availability; high levels of psychological stress and anxiety; and depression."
Together with the lack of races because of cancellations it is clear that adjusting training to maintain immunity is vital. Many coaches have provided advice in the last week that give you guidance on how to make these adjustments and how to think about your training in this time of uncertainty.
Greg McMillan presents some options for how to adjust your training when your race has been cancelled. He explains that "never-ending training cycles lead to mental burnout and a fitness plateau. Without the goal race, it may be difficult to feel like you never really finished off your season". These options are definitely not possible for everyone, some areas have all races cancelled and it may not make sense to run hard because of the immune system impact, however these options are still useful for some depending on where they are:
- find another race in the near future
- find another race of any distance within a few weeks
- organize a time trial or virtual race
Reid Coolsaet recommends "back[ing]-off full marathon volume/intensity (which isn’t usually sustainable for longer than 16 weeks) and shift[ing] training to a level that will reduce risk to injury and leave room to peak for a new date". His article on iRun is very interesting and he offers some good perspective. Reid's goal of qualifying for his last Olympics is not something that can be easily shifted to next year like most other race goals.
Jason Koop explains that "so called ‘make up’ races are a classic trap". I've fallen into this trap before and I know that trying to prepare and then run well at a race that I'm not motivated for is a recipe for poor performance. His first point about adjusting after a race cancellation resonated with me: "first, do you still WANT to do it?". I encourage you to read the article and follow the guidance he provides:
- it does not have to be perfect
- don't cram
- prioritize the process
- your fitness won't evaporate
My strategy is to move a couple steps down the pyramid. Drop the anaerobic cap training (fresh fruit). Make intervals more extensive and less intensive. Emphasize primary resources like strength and speed, but cut down on specific race pace work that can lead to a "false peak".
This is not the time to crush your normal easy run because you’ve got a bit of fear and anxiety, fear and anxiety you likely wouldn’t have at the end of a hard run. Consistency with exercise is key, but at least in my case, as a man in his mid-40s, I’m better off with low heart rate work and some strength work every day.
Robbie Britton provides some perspective about motivation in answering an athlete's question about whether or not to do a long run when faced with race cancellations: "Why wouldn’t you want to spend a few hours enjoying the pleasures of the long distance run?". While the advice below can be applied at any time of the training cycle, it is particularly relevant at this time:
Slow the pace of that long run by 10-15 seconds a mile and add in some decent, race practice fuelling in and it’s a whole different story. Finish the long run feeling like you could go on and you’re full of a feeling of competence.
This second article from Robbie asking "Does running hard suppress your immune system" looks into the current information and studies available on the topic. Contrary to some of the other insights provided on these pages, he suggests that:
Rather than avoiding hard exercise, which could actually boost our immune system, we should be focusing on the other potential factors such as sleep, nutrition and exposure to potential infection.
Asker Jeukendrup shared an article with a variety of different actions to take to limit infection risk. I recommend taking the time to read the whole article. Some key advice that I took away from the article was:
- If you participate in regular exercise, avoid very prolonged training sessions (longer than two hours) and excessive periods of intensified training as this can depress your immunity.
- Get adequate sleep (at least seven hours per night is recommended).
- Vitamin D plays an important role in promoting immunity, and this is a concern as vitamin D insufficiency is common in people especially in situations where exposure to natural sunlight is limited (e.g., during the winter months or when living or working mostly indoors).
- Avoid crash dieting and rapid weight loss.
- If you plan to do a prolonged (90 minutes or more) moderate to high intensity exercise session, ensure adequate carbohydrate intake before and during exercise in order to limit the extent and severity of exercise-induced immune depression.
- The consumption of beverages during exercise not only helps prevent dehydration (which is associated with an increased stress hormone response) but also helps to maintain saliva flow rate during exercise. Saliva contains several proteins with antimicrobial properties including immunoglobulin A, lysozyme, a-amylase, and defensins. Saliva secretion usually falls during exercise, but regular fluid intake (water is fine) during exercise can prevent this.
Raúl Celdrán and Javier Sola put together a webinar about how to adjust your training during the corona virus [in Spanish]. I haven't watched this yet, but it's lined up for my next trainer session on the bike!
In this post for The Growth Equation, Steve Magness explains that "you can't boost your immune system, but you sure can suppress it!". This is a nuanced and useful perspective on how to think about and consider your training right now:
Rather than defining hard/moderate/easy for your training, think of it as drastic changes which alter your risk of infection. If ‘normal’ for you is running 10 miles per day and you continue doing that, you’re likely fine. If normal for you is running 2 miles per day and you try to run 6 miles per day, your risk of infection likely goes up.
From what I’ve seen so far it appears that the rescheduled races are 12 weeks or more in the future. If that’s the case for yours then the best option is to immediately return to base fitness training as described in my Training Bibles. This involves four training abilities: aerobic endurance, muscular force, speed skills, and muscular endurance.
Robbie Britton and Tom Craggs shared some advice on the Fast Runner website to answer the question "My marathon has moved, what should I do?". The various options they suggest include detailed explanations of:
- recover and rebuild
- shifting long runs to every 3-4 weeks
- a 5/10k focus
- testing where you're at
- workouts from home
Christie Aschwanden posted this article on "the Exercise Your Body Needs During the Coronavirus Outbreak". There are recommendations for athletes of all levels and a measured and smart set of recommendations for what exercise to do now:
A good rule of thumb is to limit sustained exercise (greater than 60% effort, which means 60% of your max heart rate) to no more than 60 minutes at a time. One way to do this while still getting in some harder exercise is with intermittent intensity, where you mix some high-intensity efforts with rest or low-intensity exercise.
Elite athletes’ eccentric force and sport specific power can fall significantly during periods of inactivity shorter than two weeks. The negative effects of complete inactivity can be countered by reduced training strategies, cross-training and the cross-transfer effect.