Marathon training can be long and tough. Every so often, that scheduled run just does not happen. But what about when you have to take a week—or two or three—off during a training cycle?
Any time that you have a layoff from running of more than two weeks, you’ll begin to lose fitness. This becomes a problem when you are building up for a marathon and need to be gaining fitness, not losing it. Fortunately, you still have plenty of time to get back on track, as long as you keep several principles in mind.
Don’t try to get it all back at once.
It might be tempting to jump up to long miles as soon as possible to catch up to where your training plan says you should be, but you should fight that urge. Rest and recovery time are as important to training as the actual run. If you overload the body with more training than it can adapt to, you may find yourself sidelined with an injury.
The key to getting back on track is to close the gap slowly, week by week, until you are right where you should be. The rule of thumb is to increase the long run and the total weekly mileage by no more than 10 percent week to week. This ensures that your body has only a manageable amount of stress to deal with. During this catch-up phase, you should be able to safely raise that increase by an additional 5 to 10 percent. This game of catch-up could take a month or so, but be patient. It will be worth it in the end.
Cross-train to speed things up.
I like to look at non-impact cross-training as stealing fitness—you can increase your cardiovascular capacity without putting all the stress on your body that you would get from running.
Cycling is a great option because it also works muscles that are not primarily targeted by running, such as the quadriceps muscles of the front of the leg. By strengthening these muscles, you actually reduce the risk of injury even further.
Don’t rush your readiness.
Looking back over the years, I can easily see a pattern to my injuries and failed races. Whenever I focused on my race date to guide my training rather than how my body felt, I ran into problems. The lesson is to keep my race date and training plan in mind. However I began to give more importance to what I am feeling. If my body tells me that it’s not ready, then I need to scale things back. If this puts competing in the race in jeopardy, so be it. No race is worth getting hurt.
Good enough is good enough.
Sometimes we aren’t able to do everything we would have hoped to do in our race preparation. That doesn’t mean that you have to give up on having a good race. Sticking to a training plan will put the odds in your favor that race day goes well for you. The truth is that you can deviate safely from the straight and narrow and still do well. Did you manage to only run 19 instead of 21 for your last long run? Don’t panic; you’ll probably still be fine.
Keep in mind, though, that the more you deviate from your plan, the more the odds start stacking up against you. Again, this doesn’t mean that there is no way that you can do the race. It’s just that you have a greater risk of running into problems. Adjust your race plan and expectations accordingly and do the best that you can.