Lockdown – a new way of coping for coaches & runners

Lockdown – a new way of coping for coaches & runners

The lockdown has forced coaches like myself, and runners, to adapt or vegetate in the confines of our homes.

In 45 years of running and 21 years of coaching, I never dreamed a time would come where not only would there be no races, but runners would be unable to get out and do what they love … run.

The biggest change in my mindset as a coach has been to accept that few runners will be able to do optimal training in these circumstances. I do have runners in lockdown in New Zealand, Australia, England, Namibia, America and the Netherlands, who are allowed out to exercise, but those in South Africa are confined to their homes and gardens. Getting outdoors and exercising is extremely important for our mental well-being.

My focus in this time has been on keeping my runners active, try retain as much fitness as possible, and help them to stay sane.

I have used three main tools to keep my runners active. The first is a virtual Comrades Challenge, using the My Virtual Mission app, on which I mapped the 2020 down Comrades route. My runners can  use their garden runs and treadmill runs to clock mileage on this challenge.  This is working well for those who do short runs of less than 8km daily.

Some of my runners have been clocking amazing distances in their gardens, such as Peter Purchase, who ran 212km around his garden over the Easter weekend, Dewald Van Niekerk who ran 45km around his garden and Debbie’O Mahoney, who is averaging 100km /week in her garden and has run a marathon in her garden.  But these are what I call the “outliers” and are not your normal runner.  For these runners I am planning a longer virtual challenge that will really test them.

Seen below is Peter Purchase doing his 212km run around his garden …

My second tool has been to use Zoom for group sessions and group talks.  As someone who comes from before the days of the fax, this has been an eye-opener for me, and this is a tool that I will continue to use after the lockdown.

On Mondays, Wednesdays and Friday, my group does Zoom sessions with Debbie’O Mahoney, one of my elite runners, who is also a personal trainer.  This lockdown is a great opportunity for us to work on our core and our strength.

It is also a chance for those in my group to see each other and say Hi. Debbie has also made YouTube videos of each session for my runners who are unable to use Zoom. It has been great seeing this used by entire families, with the kids joining in.

Thirdly, I have also used Zoom for talks on various subjects and these are also very popular. Last Saturday we listened to an informative talk by one of my trail runners, Hugh Sundelson, who is a life coach and a business coach.  His talk was aimed at helping us cope with the stress of lockdown, and our financial concerns, and it was a mental boost for us all.

Tomorrow (April 18), one of my runners Peter Purchase, will give a talk on the mental aspects of coping with extreme events. Peter ran 212km around his garden over the Easter weekend, ran 207km in the Run to Rhodes, just three weeks before that, and last year successfully completed the 400km Munga trail race.  I always joke and say that when I give up, Peter is just getting started! There has been huge interest in this talk and it will be fun.

Where to after lockdown?

In South Africa we all await May 1, as the day when we can get out and run. This will help hugely for our mental well-being.  While many of my runners have gardens, some live in apartments with just a balcony. And one of my runner lives in a flat with no balcony. These runners, in particular, are struggling to cope with the lockdown.

It will be a huge help being able to get out and run.  But I don’t expect races to be held until possibly late in the year. My feeling is that at the very earliest, races in October or November may be held. This means that runners need to find ways of staying motivated through the winter months, although it will be a lot better than under lockdown. I may well continue to use virtual challenges, as well as Zoom sessions.

But a coach can only do so much, and the desire and will to keep on running is something that lies within each of us. We must rediscover why we run, the joy of floating along free and enjoying the outdoors, and returning home feeling as though a load has been lifted off our shoulders. And this will be more important as we struggle to cope with the uncertainties of the Covid-19 virus.

Comrades Marathon 

The CMA  has been indecisive, with the sad result that runners are unable to plan, with some trying to do big mileages around their gardens and others making alternative plans.  The CMA should be decisive and simply announce that the race is off for 2020.

Expecting runners to train through the winter months on their own, for an ultra race that may or may not happen, is asking too much. Of the 48 runners I coach, who entered the Comrades, only a few have said they would still run it if it is held later this year.

Doing high mileages in the winter puts the immune system at risk, at a time when we all want strong immune systems. And running the Comrades later in the year will have a knock-on effect on the 2021 Comrades, as it means there is little time for proper recovery, physically and mentally.

Instead my runners will use the winter months to work on their speed, which has the advantage that sessions are much shorter. And then they will run a fast marathon later in the year, such as the Cape Town marathon in October, or the Kaapsehoop marathon in November. This would pay off for the 2020 racing season.

One day at a time … one step at a time!

Coach Neville

For the past 22 years I have helped hundreds of runners achieve their dreams, using the Recovery Based Training System I have developed. 

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