Tips to keep up with your marathon training (or How to train if your event was cancelled)
Many runners are disappointed because marathons around the world have been postponed or cancelled. Training for this type of race requires not only physical effort, but also mental and psychological preparation and it is understandably frustrating not to be able to compete in the most awaited race of your calendar. Even if your race has been rescheduled months ahead from now, don’t let all the hard training be wasted by losing the motivation to train. You have already gone a long way. That is the reason you should look at the postponement as an opportunity to be even more prepared for the day you can finally perform at your best. Be careful though. Simply extending your training plan can lead to physical and mental burn out, injuries and a fitness plateau.
If you follow a structured training program, training adjustments will depend upon which cycle you are doing at the moment and how much time you have until the new date of the event.
You are in early stages of training
If you are still in the early stages or base (endurance) phase of your training, use this opportunity to extend this phase a bit. Continue working on some of the basics that will help you become a better runner. Strength training, mobility, flexibility and cross-training workouts are great to improve your fitness and minimize the risk of injuries. Strength training as part of your weekly routine during this phase will give you a strong lower body and core to support the following training stress of increased mileage. This training can be performed at home or in your garden even if you can not go outside.
Continue your endurance building. Easy runs that are gradually extended in duration allow your body to adapt to the increasing workload. Training paces should be easy and aerobic, essentially at your 70-75% of your maximum heart rate. Building endurance during this phase is crucial to maximize your aerobic system which is the foundation of a long-distance runner.
Extending this phase by several weeks is not a problem. This will prepare you even better for the tough workouts that await you in the build period.
You are in the final weeks before the event
If the event that has been cancelled was planned a few weeks or days from now and you are in the build (event specific), peak or tapering phase, your approach should be different.
During the build phase, you work on building strength and speed through more specific workouts, still maintaining mileage and strength training, so you can run more comfortably and efficiently at a faster pace, improving muscular endurance and connective tissue strength.
The peak phase is when you do workouts at your race pace, gradually increasing intensity and reducing overall volume by around 10%. The long runs are slightly shorter to maintain endurance and the speed sessions take place to allow your cardiovascular system to work at a higher level, improving strength and power you started to develop during the build phase.
If you have already completed your peak phase and begun to taper, take a week or two before the race day to reduce training load in order to minimize the physiological and psychological stress of daily training to optimize performance.
You have several good options to either substitute your cancelled race or to focus on future events. A good idea is to find a virtual race that will happen at the same period of your cancelled marathon or run your own personal marathon as planned on the race date. Virtual races are a great way to mimic the sense of community and running together even if you run on your own. You obviously need some imagination to feel the virtual presence of thousands of other runners competing in the same challenge around the world.
You can also run on your own without signing up to any virtual race. Remember to pace yourself well, because there will be no pacers to follow.
In any case, plan your event well, especially if it is going to be self-supported.
Another great option, if no limitations exist in your country, is to team up with a few running mates and run the race together. If your friends are at the same level or maybe even slightly faster they will help you achieve your best.
In all those cases, you can continue following your training program as previously defined.
If you decide to focus on a future event, plan your training accordingly. If you compete in a virtual race or your private time trial make sure you take a few days off and plan a week or two of easy recovery training. After that, depending on how far away the goal event is, plan your second peak of the year. You can repeat all phases: base, build, peak and taper with the difference that the base period is going to be much shorter than previously. You can now use your experience from recent months to tweak your training, making improvements to what did not work and repeating what worked well.
Remember that endurance training requires experience. The more of it you gain the better runner you become. Even if your event has been cancelled you can still use this to your advantage. Learn from your past mistakes, improve your training plans, work on your racing strategy and nutrition. All this is going to benefit you when you arrive on the start line of a real race.