What To Do With The Time?

The key to keeping your track season alive may lay in cross country. Read on.

All across the nation, spring sports are shut down. There isn't anybody running track meets right now.

And, it's impossible to say at this point when track meets will resume. Optimistically, it could be in a month. Pessimistically, the season is gone. 

If the season does end up gone but things are winding down by early May, there could be a huge rush for meets like Great Southwest to make up for a few lost opportunities. If the current situation extends into summer, well, that's too far off for any worthwhile speculation. We'll cross that bridge when/if it comes.

So, what do you do with the time? Most track and field athletes suddenly have a lot of it on their hands. 

I won't try to suggest here with throwers, jumpers, hurdlers, or sprinters might be doing productively with their time. I think, however, that I can provide some worthwhile words of encouragement to distance types.

First, nothing I'll suggest here requires group workouts. As a rule, schools are forbidding coaches to even suggest group workouts, and they're wise to do so. If you do them, you should realize you're doing them on your own initiative and not because (we hope) your coach told you to or you read it on MileSplit. You didn't read it on MileSplit.

What I will suggest here, however, requires a solid measure of self-discipline. But then, most distance runners are accustomed to that. So, we should be on good footing here.

What I'm going to suggest here assumes that we get some piece of the track season in later April and May, or that you decide to make up what you missed of your track season with some summer racing. If you're ditched the idea of track season and are looking toward the fall, you really don't need to do much right now except build base and stay in touch with your speed. 

If, however, you still dream of 800s, 1600s, and 3200s this spring or summer, your agenda will be a little different.

Simplifying just a little, you can think of track and field as it leads up to the championship season meets as having three elements: 1) distance specific work, 2) aerobic base building, and 3) racing.

All three are important to being ready to go when the championship season arrives. Distance specific work includes a lot of reps at race pace, a little faster than race pace, and longer reps at a little slower than race pace. Different coaches stir the recipe a little differently and alter the ingredients a little, but this is basically what quality days in track season are all about.

If you don't have access to a track during the coronavirus take-cover period, this aspect of training will be hard to get done. Theoretically, you could go to the streets for a hard surface to do those kind of workouts, but there are hazards out there on streets. There's a reason track teams don't practice on streets. 

If you do have access to a track, by all means, take advantage of it and do a session or two of track-specific workouts. Your coach may be able to help you with what those look like, or you may be able to figure it out pretty well on your own based on what the workouts looked like in practices you've already had this year or workouts you did last year. 

If you don't have track access, do not despair. Keep reading.

The second element, aerobic base building, typically gets short shrift during track season. We do a lot of it in cross country season, but quite a bit less in track season. Time is usually a constraining factor.

Well, guess what? Time isn't such a constraining factor for most of us right now. Whether or not you have track access for distance-specific work, get out and spend some time building base. Be careful, though, don't start jump mileage like crazy (increases of 10% per week for two weeks, followed by one week of holding steady is a nice progression). Get the rest and fuel (food, good food) you need to support that kind of effort.

Don't forget to touch some speed with your aerobic workouts. Even if you don't have access to a track, you can do fartleks, tempo runs, and even intervals as you would in track. And, you should always be doing strides at the end of recovery days. 

Even if you have no track access, if you're faithful about doing cross country kind of workouts from now until your track team is allowed to meet again, you will be in a very good position to start racing soon once that happens. Distance coaches can do wonders, even in a relatively short period of time, with a solid aerobic base.

For now, there isn't anybody getting any racing in. Make your peace with it. Don't dwell on it. It doesn't help anything to dwell on it. Just be mentally and physically ready, as best as you can, for when the time does come.

Yes, racing is part of getting better at racing. It typically takes athletes a few races to figure things out and for the body to adjust to the type of effort involved in an 800, 1600, or 3200. But, there's nothing we can do to get that right now. Be patient.

So, here's the executive summary: If you can get to a track and do distance-specific workouts, go and do those one or two days per week. Hold yourself accountable. Go to a cross country kind of model for the rest of the week. If you can't get to a track, go full cross country mode. You won't be very far at all behind those who do have track access once the racing begins. You can close the gap of that difference in two or three weeks of racing and doing distance-specific workouts when that time comes.

All the best to you! We're all in this together.