When races were canceled this spring due to COVID-19, I advised my runners to finish up their race plans with a time trial or solo race. At that time, many of the big races, like the Boston Marathon, were rescheduled for the fall so it made sense to get a performance result, even though we knew it may not be as good as a race. The time trial/solo race finished off the training cycle, so we’d be in sync with the usual summer build toward a big fall race.
But here we are, a few months later and all the fall races are getting canceled too. What’s a runner to do?
Here’s my current thinking:
After the spring time trial to finish off the previous training cycle, I had my runners begin the preparatory plans that I like them to do before their next race plan. This plan worked well because it was what we normally do.
However, now that they have completed the preparatory plans, we must make some decisions. We can either keep doing preparatory plans till we know when the next race(s) will be. Or, we can train for a race that doesn’t exist.
For some athletes, staying in the preparatory plans, cycling through them, makes sense. But for most runners, I’m finding that they need to move to a race plan, even if they don’t have an actual race at the end of it.
While the preparatory plans include a nice variety of workouts (from the Base plans to the Hill, Stamina and Speed plans), runners are getting bored. There is just nothing like training for a race. They need to get back to race-specific training as much for their minds as for their bodies. They also need the motivation that race training provides.
And from my coaching perspective, the unusual training cycle offers a great chance for runners to learn more about themselves without the pressure of an actual race. They can take more chances, try something new and really explore the different aspects of their fitness.
As a result, I’m suggesting that they choose a race plan. Maybe you should too?
With the idea that we’ll move to a race plan this fall, we’re doing it in a few different ways.
For many, I suggest they choose a different race distance. Try something you haven’t been able to do before. A good example is Shaun. Shaun is a marathoner and regularly runs two marathons per year as he works toward this goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon. With no marathon this fall (and the thought of running a solo one not sitting well with him), we’re going to do 10K race plan.
I’ve been wanting to get him faster at shorter distances but with his love of the marathon (and additional goal of running a marathon in all 50 states), there never really was a time to step back and work on his shorter race speed. Now, we can and I’m really excited to see how he does. (And I’m confident that it will help his next marathon training cycle.)
For others, I’m suggesting a new type of event. Beth is a good example. Like Shaun, she’s a marathoner but has always wanted to try an ultra. I said, “Now’s our chance!” She found a trail 50K near her house that may actually take place. But even if it doesn’t, she’ll run the course at the end of the training plan as a time trial. Since she’s a little type A (sound familiar), this is really the only opportunity I’d have for her to do a “race” without worrying about time or place. She can explore ultra training and see if her dream of running a 100-mile race is bolstered or not.
As you look ahead, think about something fun to do. Something that will keep you motivated and maybe take you out of your running comfort zone. Or, something that will work on something you have been missing. This could be more strength work. It could be better form. Or, it could be as simple as choosing a race distance that is different than your normal race distance. Running a fast mile is a good example that many of my runners are choosing.
The next point is that we are approaching this training cycle as a big learning experiment. They know they will be challenged in new ways and that the likelihood of “failure” in workouts will be greater. But, we’re focused on what we can learn when we push our boundaries and as such, there are no failures in workouts. There is only new information and there’s a freedom to explore your potential with that mindset.
I know what you may be saying, “I can’t do time trials and hate the idea of a virtual race.” I heard that a lot this spring when I suggested runners finish off their training cycle with a time trial. But guess what? They are now used to time trials and I know the experience from time trials is going to help them in the future. They can now run really, really well just by themselves. Imagine how this new skill will help in races! They will be able to get even more from themselves when they have competition or are stuck in no man’s land in a race.
In addition to the exploration of a no race race plan, now is a great time to work on a new you. Many of my runners now have the time to devote to doing their prehab – core, strength, mobility, balance and form – since they aren’t commuting to the office five days per week.
Some are really training just like the pros! They eat better. They sleep better. And they train better. The extra recovery and care of their bodies is leading to big break throughs in training and racing.
If this article makes sense to you, its’ time to get on a race plan. Choose something that excites (and maybe scares) you. Pick something that will be motivating and provide a chance to explore new aspects of your running. If you’re like my runners, you’ll learn a lot, have more fun, stay motivated and set yourself up for something really special once races return.
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