For starters: Stop the thoughts that your training was wasted.
Even with everything else happening in the world right now, the ever-growing list of race cancellations and postponements comes with a certain sting. Not only because it’s unprecedented—for example, this is the first time in 124 years there won’t be a marathon run on Marathon Monday in Boston—but also because the (literal and figurative) finish lines runners have been training toward for months are being pushed even further into the future.
Of course, the health and safety of all is of the utmost importance here, so race postponements are the right course of action. But when a race is postponed, the news comes with a huge question mark: What the heck happens to all your training? With spring races being pushed to fall, you can’t exactly extend your half-marathon or marathon training plans another 20-plus weeks. But you can smartly adjust your training so that you can easily pick it back up a few months down the line. Here’s how two coaches recommend moving forward in the wake of this week’s—and any future—postponements.
Scale Down Your Volume
There are two main variables in marathon training: intensity and volume. Over the course of a training program, volume—both weekly mileage and long run mileage—steadily increases to prepare the body for the half marathon or marathon distances. That time on your feet is crucial for building your aerobic capabilities.
But “you can’t continue that same upward progression indefinitely—you’ll just destroy yourself,” says Paul Kinney, an IRONMAN- and USA Triathlon-certified coach in San Francisco with runners who planned to toe the line at the now-postponed Boston Marathon this April. Pulling back your weekly mileage and the duration of your long run will help reset your training plan to maintain your base fitness.
“Base fitness is about 60 percent of your peak,” says Matthew Meyer, an RRCA-certified trainer and running coach at Mile High Run Club in New York City who was planning to race Boston himself this spring among other shorter tune-up races along the way. If your peak km’s for this training cycle was 65 km’s a week, that means you can scale back to 60 percent of that, or around40 km’s a week, he explains.
A 50 percent reduction isn’t out of the question for newer marathoners, adds Kinney, while more experienced runners who normally log 40 to 50 km’s in a week may reduce their volume by just 20 to 25 percent.
Dial Back the Intensity
In the same way you don’t need to be logging 30 km long runs without a race closing in, you don’t need to be running Kipchoge-paced intervals, either. “Maintaining your base cardiovascular fitness is about prioritising easy runs,” says Meyer. During easy runs, you engage your slow-twitch muscle fibres, which increases the amount of mitochondria and capillaries in and the blood flow to those muscles so they’re better able to utilize oxygen; that’s going to make it easier for you to handle more intense runs down the road.
You can throw in some tempo work to keep things interesting, but “I would cut back on VO2 max or track-type runs,” says Kinney. You can actually sub in hill repeats instead, which can be done much more often than very short, high-intensity work and won’t beat the body up. They also help strengthen the posterior chain, which is important for preventing injury and will come in handy when you ramp your training back up closer to the new race day.
Once you have a rescheduled date, you can start progressively building that higher intensity work back in as you get closer to the race. Boston marathoners who are running in mid-September, for example, would start ramping their intensity back up in June, says Kinney.
Lose the Regimen
Part of the reason a date change is so hard is because marathon training has been planned super strategically so you can peak right when you need to. Forget the plan—at least for a little while. With well-established base fitness, you can get yourself back to race-specific shape in a much shorter time period than the typical 20-week marathon training plan, says Meyer.
For now, “build your week in the same manner you normally would—a couple runs during the week, a long run on the weekend—but don’t worry about workouts,” he says. Your mid-week runs could be under an hour, your long runs under two hours, adds Kinney.
And remember: This is a chance to have fun with it. “Put the technology away and run by perceived exertion,” says Kinney. For a few weeks or even a couple months, run by feel and run for fun. “Return to the fact that you should love running with or without the finish line,” says Meyer.
Just Keep Running
With all the extra time before race day, it can be tempting to throw in the towel, give yourself a break, and start training from scratch 20 weeks out from the new date. But “if you take off most of March, all of April, all of May, most of those hard-earned gains and fitness that you just spent the last however many weeks developing are going to fade away,” says Kinney.
Don’t think of that training as wasted. “By no means does your lack of a race diminish the work that you’ve already put in,” says Meyer. You still gained all that fitness—even if you didn’t get to put it to use on race day. “If your training is altered smartly, you can carry that fitness into the next build phase of your training and get even more fit for a marathon that’s been shifted to the fall,” says Kinney.
And when you do pick your training plan back up, he adds, “your target paces are likely to be even faster because you’ll be more fit than you were when you started training for the original race date.”