Develop a routine that delivers you at race-ready fitness when races finally do open up

From graduations to concerts to sports, COVID-19 has turned the world upside down, and running has felt a major impact too. One of the first casualties was the beloved Boston Marathon, which was postponed from its mid-April date to September 14. Even the September date feels optimistic now. Though we all know eventually we’ll get past this, there really is not a clear end in sight. Other favorites, like Grandma’s Marathon, which had been set for June 20 was outright canceled.

Race organizers regretfully stated the following on their website: “The decision comes after careful deliberation by the Grandma’s Marathon staff and board of directors along with medical and public agency leaders in an effort to keep participants, volunteers, partners, spectators and the community as a whole safe during the pandemic and not detract valuable resources away from local health systems. Race Weekend would have marked the 44th annual Grandma’s Marathon. This year will be the first time in the history of the organization that race weekend is cancelled.”

So, what are we goal-oriented runners to do? Competition is so much a part of our sport that it’s hard to be motivated when you don’t have a clear-cut goal to work towards. Well, first the good news. Unlike many team sports, running does not require group participation in order for you to stay in top shape. Medical experts have determined that it’s safe to run outside as long as you are not on crowded sidewalks or trails. So that problem is solved.

But training for target races is so specific that it may be difficult to develop a routine that delivers you at race-ready fitness when races finally do open up.

So, here’s one solution. Create a training plan that allows you to be close to race-ready at any given time—kind of a holding pattern. The great New Zealand middle-distance runner John Walker, who was the first man to run sub-3:50 for the mile and ended his career with 135 sub-miles, once remarked, “all runners are only three weeks out from being in race shape.” Walker was of course, referring to runners who are already training consistently, not beginners.

One accomplishes that by creating a program that’s sustainable and allows for a ramp-up at any given time. For example, if you typically train for races from 5K to the half marathon, and would now be aiming for the fall, here’s a scenario. You would normally run 50-60 miles a week, with several high-intensity workouts thrown in. But with no clear race dates, that no longer makes sense, because you’ll eventually get stale or injured if you maintain your high-level training indefinitely.

Rather, as Walker suggested, develop a plan which puts you “three weeks out” from being race-ready. In this scenario, you’d scale back your miles to 30 or 40 a week. And instead of multiple hard workouts during the week, substitute an all-round tempo run and maybe a longish run of 10-12 miles. A bit of a holding pattern, sure, but well worth it in the long run.

That way, when you see the green light that races are beginning to hit the calendar again, you’ll be ready to ramp up.

Note: As our journey into uncharted territory continues regarding COVID-19, Ready to Run has temporarily closed its doors to ensure compliance with the order to cease any activity that is not defined as “essential” and to shelter-in-place. While our doors may be closed, a staff member will be available to take your phone orders during the hours of 10:00 AM – 2:00 PM, Monday through Friday for the immediate future. We will happily ship your order free of charge with any purchase. Our phone number is (512) 241-0323.