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Boston just got postponed until September: What should I do with my training? I can’t train at my current intensity for another six months. Should I pick another race and “spend” my current fitness? —Carl
Coach Greg McMillan Answers:
Excellent question! You are correct that simply extending your plan for such a long period of time would probably lead to burn out or injury.
The main point is that you want a performance result to mark the end of your current training cycle (see options below). Never-ending training cycles lead to mental burnout and a fitness plateau. Without the goal race, it may be difficult to feel like you never really finished off your season, but it is important that you have an end point in your current cycle. Then, you can reboot for your next training cycle.
In your case, you’d do a different race or time trial around the same time as the original planned Boston date. Then, begin your new training cycle toward the September Boston or another race scheduled in the fall. Start with a short recovery week or two. Even if you don’t do a race or time trial, take a week or two of reduced training (25-50% reduction in volume) to represent the end of your last cycle. Then move to your training cycle, starting with base and preparatory plans (hills, stamina or speed) before your marathon plan begins.
On a positive note, you can then start your next training cycle at a higher volume level than if you had raced the marathon because you aren’t taking a lot of time off to recover and losing the consistent habit and fitness. This allows you to build an even bigger foundation of aerobic fitness before your next race plan.
While you are in the base plan, during the time between your canceled race and the start of your next race plan, I recommend not just easy running but also including a few leg speed workouts (stride workouts like 10 x 15–20 seconds at slightly faster than 5K pace using excellent running form) and steady state runs (30- to 60-minute runs at slower than threshold pace—see the McMillan Calculator for your exact steady state pace range). These workouts (perform one workout of each type every week or two) easily maintain your base fitness from your previous training cycle and provide the perfect preparatory training you need before beginning your next race plan.
Your training will not be wasted; it will provide a springboard to an even better training cycle later in the year. In the meantime, here are some options to use that race-ready fitness now, and the training implications for each.
Option 1: Find another race of the same distance in the near future.
This option is increasingly unrealistic given escalating cancelations, and, unless a tiny race, not encouraged due to social-distancing priorities.
Training adjustment: None required except for a possible changed end date for your plan. If the race is within 4–6 weeks of your original race date, then you can usually get by with repeating your last few weeks of training before you started to taper seriously. Just don’t push too hard in the weeks you are repeating as your body is close to peaking.
Option 2: Find another race of any distance within a few weeks.
It’s tough to waste great fitness so jumping in any race is a good option. Ideally find one close to your goal distance. For example, if you were training for a marathon, find a 25K or half marathon. But you can also run a 5K or 10K even if you were training for a marathon.
Training adjustment: If the new race is within a few weeks of your original race date, keep the same plan and race the new race distance off of that other race training. If you have a few more weeks, scrap your current training plan and add a new race plan for the new race. Just be careful to not suddenly jump into workouts that you are not ready for.
You will want to do two to four race-pace workouts for the new race distance, just so race day isn’t a big shock to the body/mind. You may be surprised at just how fast marathon training will make you. It’s not uncommon for marathoners to run very fast off of marathon training—even at the 5K.
Option 3: Organize a time trial or virtual race with training partners or your local running club. Or a pursue a personal challenge.
With just one or two others (even having someone time you is often enough), you can easily get the most from yourself in a time trial. Ideally your time trial covers your original race distance, but if that isn’t reasonable, then any length of time trial can help you finish off the training and give you a performance result. Although perhaps harder to feel like a race and inspire your best effort, you can stage a virtual race with friends running the same distance or even the same course whenever they are able and comparing recorded times. Even easier, but still motivating and satisfying, is to chase a PR on an FKT route or a Strava Segment.
Training adjustment: None except for a possible changed end date for your plan.
Greg McMillan, M.S., has been called “one for the best and smartest distance running coaches in America.” You can try his training system (the McMillan Run Team) for free at www.mcmillanrunning.com.