COVID-19 has really done a number on our race season. In mid-March, just as many of us are starting to peak in our training, this outbreak has prompted cities and race directors to cancel or postpone “large gatherings” which include almost all of the spring races we’ve been training for.
Right away, we lose out on the money already spent on race registrations, training, coaching, gear, travel and other costs which may not be refundable. Secondly, many of us will lose out on the opportunity to run a PR, qualifying or bucket-list race (at least for the time being). Even if the race is postponed to later this year, that may not work out for people who have other plans (or races) booked. For example, if you were planning to run both a spring and fall marathon, they’ll now be within a month or so of each other. Thirdly, we’re peaking in our training and are left wondering what to do with the fitness we’ve built up over the winter months.
Though this situation is fluid and mostly out of our control, we still want to be smart, patient and focused. Focused on what, you say?
1. Set a new goal for the same time period as your canceled race.
You may be tempted to “keep training” and continue to build mileage, strength and speed. But doing this indefinitely will eventually lead to burnout and possibly injury. As with many things in life, our fitness is cyclical, and there’s only so long your body can handle being in peak shape before it needs to “reset”. And your body resets either when you let it or when it forces you to through injury. So, you can stick to your current plan and commit to doing a virtual race, racing with your local running friends or just hammering out the distance on your own. Once you’ve done this, take the time to rest and recover as you would after an actual race. After recovery, you’ll be in good shape to start training for summer and fall races.
2. Find a smaller race
Smaller, local races have a better chance of continuing than larger races that attract hundreds or thousands or runners. So, why not channel all that training and pinned up energy to running a strong 5K or 10K? In addition to gaining a sense of accomplishment by lining up and finishing a race, training and racing a little bit faster than you would have for a longer distance will improve your overall strength and fitness.
3. Run free!
If you’re not quite feeling racing on your own or doing a shorter distance, then you may consider scaling back the mileage and intensity and just run for the fun of it. There’s something freeing and exciting about not being beholden to a calendar or training plan. You can just lace up and go out to run whenever you want for as long as you want, as long as your body can handle it. Personally, I look forward to this euphoric period each year (between November and mid-January) once all the training and racing is done.
4. Recover from niggles and injuries.
With no race on the horizon, there’s really no reason to push yourself to train while hurt. If you have a bum foot that aches after 8 miles, then don’t run more than that. If your ailing foot is begging your for extra time off, then listen to it. There’s nothing to lose by doing so. What you don’t want is for niggles to become injuries or for injuries to become chronic and linger all year.
5. Get back to building strength and flexibility
During the winter months, the gym is packed with runners doing strength and cross training. One reason is that we may have no choice: the weather is awful and there’s no way we’re running on that treadmill! Another reason, apart from injury, is that we want to correct muscle imbalances, improve flexibility and get stronger so that we’re prepared for the upcoming training season. With races now canceled, we don’t need to train as often or as hard (though many of us are going to do it anyway), and this gives more opportunity to focus on strength work. Take advantage of this so that when summer training begins, you’re in prime shape. Running is a privilege, and we need to earn it by keeping our bodies strong and flexible as much as possible.
Whatever you decide to do during this challenging time, it’s important to decide as soon as possible so that you’re not in limbo for too long. You’ll train better (and safer) if you have direction and plan in place than if you’re just “winging it”.
Also, just keep in mind that in the grand scheme of things, a postponed or canceled race isn’t that big of a deal–it happens to many of us anyway when we’re injured or otherwise can’t make it to a race we’ve signed up for. Be thankful for your health and wellness and that you’re even able to run (it’s a privilege many people don’t have). Through all of this, our perseverance and patience will be rewarded with one big, epic fall season of racing!
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