Marathon training – What should you do next? – Part 3

Over the years my running mantra has always been “Don’t let the setbacks set you back”.

Now it’s become a mantra for everyday life not just for running. But the big question is what should you do now?

As an experienced GB marathon runner and British Athletics coach here’s my thoughts on how to plan for the future when you have no idea what the future brings.

Sometimes looking backwards helps you look forwards

As a coach I asked you four questions. We talked about questions 1 and 2 previously. Now it’s time to think about questions 3 and 4.

3. What was your weekly mileage over the last 3-4 weeks?

4. What was the length of your longest run?

Marathon training is an incremental process. You build your training day on day, week on week, month on month, and year on year. It’s an incremental process but equally marathon training is not always a linear progression. So to really know what to do now, first you need to look back at what you’ve done before.

The answers to questions 3 and 4 aren’t just relevant now. They are relevant in the future too. They are questions that all good coaches should ask every week. A good coach will review, revise and refine the training plan on an ongoing basis. Even in the absence of fast-changing apocalyptic worldwide pandemics!

Don’t see it as going back to week one

Subject to which marathon you were running, you were probably around week 12-16 into your training programme. Most likely you were at the stage of high mileage weeks and your longest runs.

With no races on the calendar for the foreseeable future and the prospect of further restrictions on personal movements the next steps are less clear. However, you certainly don’t need to maintain the same high mileage and length of the longest runs you were doing over the previous 3 to 4 weeks. But equally, you don’t need to go back to week one either.

In a perfect world you might look to maintain around 50-75% of your current weekly volume and length of the longest run. That would provide a good base from which to incrementally build your next marathon cycle. But we are currently living in exceptional times when all the normal rules have been thrown out of the window. Running is no different.

Whatever running you do now will build important foundations for your next cycle of marathon training. You can choose to focus on your overall weekly mileage, the number of times you run each week or the length of your longest run. The most important thing is to just keep running.

Flexibility is the key to success

As soon as you mention flexibility in running circles everyone gets a bit sheepish. Before you start making excuses about why you don’t stretch as much as you ought, I should clarify. I don’t mean your ability to touch your toes.

I mean flexibility to respond and adapt to the wider context. Now is not the time to be sticking to a rigid training plan. In the space of less than two weeks we have had to adapt to huge changes. Changes to our running goals. Changes to our everyday lives.

Contrary to expectations, some of these might be positive. Working from home could mean you have extra time each day previously spent commuting. It could mean more flexibility to run during the day instead of before and after work.

Even school closures might not be as negative as they first seem. Subject to the age of your children you might be able to run together or have them cycle alongside you. Failing that, you can improvise with even a small area approx. half of a football pitch. Let them play with a ball while you run around the perimeter. As a running parent I would say don’t dismiss it until you’ve tried it.

Accept that now more than ever you have to be adaptable in what running you do. Don’t let the setbacks set you back. Be flexible and be positive.

If you are trying to run and supervise children like suggested above, then switch your steady runs to short intervals sessions. You can stop frequently to check on the children and it’s mentally less challenging. Not many of us can face running continuously round and round and round a small field!

If you only have small windows of time to run each day then do shorter but more regular runs. Alternatively if you can get out more then try to aim for at least one slightly longer run.

Right now, don’t try to force your life to fit into running. Find the best way to make your running fit into life instead. The key to success is flexibility.

Don’t let the setbacks set you back

To end let’s go back to where we started. With my running mantra.

As an experienced elite marathon runner I know from experience that the biggest challenge in the marathon is to keep running when it gets tough. And, it can get very tough in the marathon.

In these unprecedented times we all faces tough challenges. The difference will be between those who let the setbacks set them back. And those of us who don’t.