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How to adapt your plan when your race is postponed

Lots of Lonely Goats have had their running plans disrupted by the news that races are being postponed until later in the year, or cancelled completely, to help deal with the Covid-19 coronavirus situation.

Even though these postponements and cancellations are clearly the right thing to do, it is understandable to be frustrated when the focus of your winter training is no longer happening.

What now?

What are you to do? How can you adapt your training plan to roll your fitness on to an autumn race? Read on for some advice on how to approach the next few months.

Of course, the following all assumes you are not ill and able to run wherever you live. If restrictions are in place that limit running outdoors or going to gyms, then the situation will be slightly different as home-based cross training will have to replace running.

All is not lost

First, please understand that your training up to this point has not been in vain. If you were only a matter of weeks from your goal event, the chances are you are currently feeling fit – possibly the fittest you have ever been.

Yes, if you were to stop training completely, you would lose some of this fitness, but by carrying on with some running, you can hold on to most of it.

Keep building

Running fitness is cumulative. It’s not about the last long run, or the last fast session you did, but about all the runs you have done to this point.

Consider the first time you ran a certain distance. It was probably very hard. Then the second time it would have felt easier. The more times you do it, the easier it gets.

Even if you don’t get the chance to run your race, you have still trained for it. Your body will be conditioned to the distance, your cardiovascular system will be strong enough, and mentally you have done the hard work of getting out in the cold, dark, wet winter.

The only bit you’re missing is the hard, tiring bit at the end that might have left you feeling completely battered – and possibly even injured – afterwards.

Hopefully it won’t be too long before we’re all able to take part in events again. Here’s Lonely Goat, Steph Davies, after the Cleethorpes 10K.

Stop, evaluate, proceed

Take this moment to consider how your body feels right now.

Are you carrying some niggles or injuries that you were trying to nurse through the training ahead of your race?

If so, now is the perfect opportunity to address those niggles. Ease back, or stop running completely if necessary. Do yoga, stretch, foam-roll, do strength exercises, or whatever your body needs to get back to feeling fresh and ready to go.

Are you feeling physically fine, but mentally tired?

Again, don’t be afraid of easing back on the running, or shifting your focus and introducing some variety to your runs to keep things interesting. Cross train if you want. Or take some time off and tend to any other hobbies you might have neglected over the last few months of training. You’ll know when you’re ready to commit to training again.

Are you feeling fit, fast and loving your running?

This is a great position to be in, as you are well placed to maintain your fitness. You just need to work out how to adapt your plan to your new situation.

Adapt and thrive

Adapting a training plan is fairly straightforward.

The first step is to understand the training plan you have been following to this point.

Most plans follow a ‘periodisation’ approach, whereby the overall plan can be broken up into different periods – sometimes called phases, blocks, or cycles – that focus on different things.

The approach varies depending on the event, the amount of time to train, your level of experience, and the training philosophy of whomever wrote the plan, but variations on the following are typical – they just might have different names to those used here.

Base

The first part of the plan will be a ‘base building’ phase.

The focus tends to be on gradually building up your mileage to prepare your body for the rest of the plan to follow. There may be some shorter, quicker runs too, to help develop your speed. In a 16 week plan, this might be 4-6 weeks long, if not longer.

Bulk

The middle phase will see a transition to runs that prepare you for the demands of the event. If marathon training, the long runs will get really long. If your plan is more 5-10K focused, then it is typical for your faster runs to get harder at this stage. This phase could be 6-8 weeks long in a 16 week plan.

Peak

The last phase is when you get ready to peak for your goal event. Typically, this might involve a couple of harder weeks when you’re absolutely at your limit. This would then be followed by 2-3 weeks to taper, where you ease the training back so you can get to the start line feeling fresh and ready to run.

Identifying the phases

These phases might not be immediately obvious when looking at your plan, as they can merge into one another, but breaking the plan into thirds can be a reasonable approach.

To summarise the above, the first third of the plan is likely to be at a level you can maintain without too much difficulty. The middle third will be when you’re training consistently and developing your fitness. The final third will be the icing on the cake, where you pull everything together ready for the big day.

Until normality returns, we’ll miss our weekly parkrun fix. Here’s Lonely Goats Brian Emms, Gill Robson, Julie Canning and Kim Giles at parkrun

So how do you use this information?

Consider stopping your current training plan now, so that you don’t get too deep into the hard final, ‘peak’ phase and put your body through more stress than you need to.

While moderate training can help your immune system, hard training can suppress it – so it’s probably best to ease off right now.

If your race has been postponed to the autumn, or you have another race in the calendar, work out when you would need to restart your training plan.

If your target event is in 6 months’ time, and you’re following a 16 week plan, it is likely you have around 10 weeks from now before you have to restart your training plan.

Cut and paste

The easiest way to adapt your plan to suit this extended time-frame is to take the first 10 weeks of the plan and do those again now, before re-starting the plan ahead of your race.

This means the next six months might look like this:

  • 4 weeks Base + 6 weeks Bulk (over the next 10 weeks, followed by…);
  • 4 weeks Base + 8 weeks Bulk + 4 weeks Peak (for the final 16 weeks).

This will involve repeating runs you’ve already done, and you’ll repeat them again when you re-start your final 16 weeks, but as mentioned above, this doesn’t matter too much as training is cumulative.

The reason for dropping back to the Base phase again at the start of the final 16 weeks is to help prevent over-training and break the plan up to keep things interesting. It also provides an opportunity for you to reassess your fitness and training so far, and consider whether there are any changes you need to make.

Don’t worry that you’ll just be doing the ‘easier’ first part of your plan again. After all, if you now find that the distances are easier than they were before, you can probably do them a little bit quicker than previously, so you’re still getting a strong training benefit.

That’s the great thing about running: If you find a particular distance is getting too easy, you can just do it quicker if you want to make it harder.

Unexpected benefits

You may even find your fitness increases over the next 10 weeks and you are able to start reassessing your goals for your target race. Perhaps you’ll be able to aim for a faster time? If so, you may yet end up adopting a different plan for those final 16 weeks.

Either way, provided you don’t get injured or over-train, you are only going to benefit from the extra training time you have between now and your new target event. Just remember to listen to your body – you’ve got loads of time to get race-fit, so don’t push too hard, too soon.

As frustrating as the current situation is, it could prove to be a blessing in disguise and may be a great opportunity for you to get a strong block of training completed and smash your goals in the autumn.

Go virtual

Bear in mind that even though conventional races and events are being cancelled or postponed, there are virtual alternatives.

Virtual races

There are a number of virtual races available online that will award you a medal or t-shirt for completing a certain distance – which can really help if your motivation is lagging. Some of these are being offered by the organisers of ‘real world’ events that have had to change their plans.

Zwift

Another option is Zwift. This is a virtual, communal running experience where you run with others via an app on your phone or tablet. You’ll need access to a treadmill, but we think it is a game-changer and a great way to train indoors. Pop ‘LGRC’ after your name to make it easier for other Goats to find you – and keep your eyes peeled for our Lonely Goat Running Club events that we’re hosting on Zwift.

Running in the Zwift virtual world

Share your tips with the Herd

How are you planning on adapting to this situation?

Got any good ideas on how to keep training fresh over the next few months?

Let your fellow Goats know in our Facebook Chat Group, our Strava club area, or on Instagram using the hashtags #lonelygoatrc or #lonelygoatrunningclub.

Lastly, stay safe, everyone.