Marathon to Couch: coping with your cancelled or postponed race

Best Christmas present ever.

Last Sunday, I was supposed to run 20 miles on the Boston Marathon course. I had it all planned out. I was going to start in Ashland at mile 4 and hit Heartbreak Hill at mile 17 and then finish somewhere along Commonwealth Avenue, saving those last couple of miles for race day in order to let the full magic of running my first Boston Marathon sink in, in real time.

That didn’t happen. I didn’t even run 20 miles at home on Cape Cod on Sunday. I think I ran 9? And even that felt like a slog.

Could it be that it was only a little over week ago that the BAA (Boston Athletic Association) announced that the Boston Marathon would now be held on September 14, 2020? Seems like forever ago. This week has been the longest year of my life.

For many of us runners and triathletes, our racing seasons have hit a major speed bump, and we all are crossing fingers that this obstacle doesn’t become a brick wall.

I feel like I’ve gone through the five stages of grief in the past week, from anger to acceptance, and I’ve come out the other side mostly okay. Here are some things I have discovered.

Allow yourself to be sad. I’ve spent the last week feeling guilty because I am bummed out that my marathon was postponed and my summer triathlon season might be affected as well. I mean, people all around me are suffering far greater losses- job layoffs, small business closures, delayed surgeries, even seeing people fall sick to this virus. Who am I to complain about a race? But then I realized that it’s okay to wallow in a little self-pity. Not letting yourself be sad because others have it worse is like not allowing yourself to be happy because others have it better. So take some time to be upset.

Back off your training. If you were pretty close to your race, you were probably either finishing up your last big weeks (like I was) or getting ready to taper. There’s no need to do that last big brick workout or run the 21 miler right now. You don’t want to peak too early, or be overtrained when it is time to put in the big miles. If you were just starting a build for a race that’s still on, then by all means, keep going. Business as usual. Otherwise, back off the miles and wait to build back up again.

Mix it up. I ran the trails near my house this week. No pacing. No negative splits. No need to throw a hill or two in at the end of the workout to mimic Boston. My advice would be to take the time right now to do what you couldn’t do while you were in the peak of your training. That could be spending more time strength training (Gym closed? You can still strength training without fancy equipment.). Or it might mean doing all those prehab and rehab exercises that you never have time for (I’m looking at you, glute activation routine). I’ve even seen dry land swim workouts that I never would have tried if the pools weren’t closed. Lots of companies are even giving out free trials and workouts online. Have some fun doing different workouts.

Focus on nutrition and sleep. If there is a silver lining in all of this, it might be that we all are eating out a bit less and some of us are sleeping a bit more. I will admit that I spent last weekend treating social distancing and my postponed race like an extended snow day, with a bit too much wine and ice cream (totally appropriate reaction, of course). But as we know, nutrition is one of the anchors of training; eat like crap, feel like crap. So I’m back in the game now, eating more vegetables and protein and drinking just a wee bit less wine. Also, since my alarm isn’t set for 5 AM right now, that extra hour of sleep is helping my muscle recovery, injury prevention, stress levels, and making me more of a delight to be around, in general (full disclosure: poll sampling size of zero for the delight comment).

Remember your why. If you are an athlete who needs a race on the calendar in order to keep you motivated (frankly, that’s most of us), approach this situation as a new challenge. Go back to the basics and remember your WHY. Do you really race for the medal? For the podium? For the social media accolades? Sure, they help motivate us. Who doesn’t love the feeling of crossing the finish line after months of hard work? But when it really comes down to it, those runs in the rain and the bike rides on the trainer and the laps in the pool are the WHY. The training makes us stronger- physically and mentally. The training gives us freedom from the burden of life, sometimes providing the only escape in jam packed day. The training is where we BECOME.

I’ve got a 14 miler on my calendar this Sunday, with half those miles at marathon pace. Just to see what I’ve got in my tank right now. To use my fitness while it’s there, before I take some recovery. It’s not 26.2, but my marathon is out there waiting for me. And soon, I’m going to be able to say I ran the only September Boston Marathon in its 124 year history.

Amy was a teacher for 22 years and now spends her time teaching fitness classes, training for marathons and triathlons, and trying to raise two teenagers.

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