Tom Bishop running advice: What to focus on during the winter and spring

Elite Tom Bishop explains what to focus on during the winter and spring if you want big run gains come race season. It's finally time to leave base-phase and start to build up to the coming season...

Tom Bishop running advice- What to focus on during winter

There is a glimmer of racing ahead. We may have a season after all, and it is looking like I’ll begin my own racing season in May. This past weekend should have been my opening race of the 2021 calendar and this coming weekend marks a year since I last stood on a triathlon start line continuing my Olympic journey.

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Yet instead, I was running aerobic intervals along the canal with my training partner, up and coming Bermudan triathlete Tyler Smith. Training can feel repetitive especially throughout winter, not to mention we’ve been given an extra couple of months of off-season this year!

Right now is a critical moment of preparation for the season. We’re leaving the base-phase, where the aim is just accumulating a decent volume of training hours and getting through sessions without worrying too much about pace, splits or speed; just small doses of high intensity, as speed work is enough to keep ticking over. Now the focus is heading towards race splits and running economy fresh at pace and off the bike. This usually takes between 6-12 weeks to develop and so that’s where we’re heading.

To set the scene, I will rewind slightly and take you through a few things we’ve been working on over winter:

Volume: the big focus of winter is to establish a large base of aerobic conditioning. This means lots of easy accumulated miles slowly and safely built until you reach your goal for the winter.

  • Once your goal is reached, hover around that volume, taking easy weeks to ensure recovery from the training.
  • Mileage increases should be taken with care and advice from a coach and there are many ways to do it. One simple method is to go out for longer runs, increasing from 20 minutes to 30 minutes, to 40 minutes over a period of time. For these base runs, I wouldn’t go much beyond 1 hr as they become pretty challenging on the body. Find out more about how to safely increase your run volume here
  • Increase the length of your long run, again with caution and advice, this will be a very individual distance and depends on what length of event you’re competing at.
  • Increase the length of your interval sessions, including rep amount and length as well as warmups and cool-downs.
  • Add in additional recovery runs if you feel you need to, listening to your body is key.

Form and technique: there’s always an injury risk with running so that’s why it’s important to spend time working on the correct form for yourself, this includes drills and strides during your winter mileage.

  • Pick some nice simple drills that you can progress from. Many of these can be found on YouTube, don’t try and do every one out there, you’re better off focussing on 2-3 and nailing them.
  • Begin with short strides up a hill, not too steep and be conservative with your effort at first, 4-5 strides about 5-8 seconds in length. Take at least 60-90 seconds recovery between each stride. Begin at around 75% effort then slowly increase throughout the set. After a while, you can begin to do these strides on the flat and extend the length of them.
  • Take your now improved form into your running; think of cues from your drills and strides and think about this when running. This could be something like keeping your eyes on the horizon, thinking of fast feet, or my favourite ‘through the pockets’ to relax your shoulders and arms.

Intensity: this is where a lot of your gains will be made, though again approach this with caution and pick the right level of session for your fitness level. A coach will be able to prescribe you the correct volume and intensities for your needs.

  • Take your form from strides into a session, technique is important, and it’s ok to run slightly slower with better form, compared with an inefficient style that won’t get you to the finish line.
  • Fartlek sessions are nice to begin with, and give you a chance to find your fitness level. Something like 60 seconds on 60 seconds off for 10-20 mins would be a good intro to intensity.
  • Hill reps can be another introduction to intensity, and it takes the pressure off hitting pace splits; simply find a hill and run hard up it, and repeat. Start with 5-8 minutes of work and build slowly from there.
  • Remember to ease into fast running, it’s a high-impact and high-risk part of your training and should be treated with care and caution, so make sure you include adequate warm-up and cool-down time in your session to reduce the risk of injury.

Equipment: ensure you have the right kit for your different training sessions.

  • A decent pair of mileage shoes is key to running consistently and injury-free, two pairs if you can afford it so you can keep rotating each day. I am currently testing out On’s Cloudstratus and Cloudflyer. I’m confident these shoes will offer enough support to achieve my weekly mileage.
  • Session shoes are an option, though this is very individual. Some athletes like to feel fast during their sessions and so invest in a lightweight, responsive shoe to run intervals in. Others prefer just to use their mileage shoe and save the fast feeling for race day, doing this will provide extra cushioning and protection for your legs.
  • A gait analysis can be really useful in providing a bit more information on what type of shoes suit your form. You can get a gait analysis from most running shops, so when lockdown eases go out there, support your local business and get booked in.
  • Getting the right apparel is also important for running. For session days, I’d always say to wrap up in layers and start warm. You can always remove layers when you warm up.

Looking forward to where I’ll now take my running heading into the season, the plan will quite simply be to build on the foundations set in winter. Mileage will drop slightly as intensity increases, not drastically though, as it is important to keep the aerobic conditioning throughout the season. Sessions will become more focussed on spending time at specific speeds related to racing, such as ‘get-out’ speed from T2 and race pace for both super sprint and 10km. Easy running will be very easy so I’m recovered enough for the quality sessions. Finally, running off the bike, both easy and hard reps will be introduced, just to get hardened to the demands of triathlon.

Follow Tom on Instagram as he heads into the season: @tomwbish

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Top image by Chris Sansom @csansomphoto