How Marathon Runners Can Stay Focused And Feeling Good During COVID-19 Lockdown

There are still great ways to get ready for your delayed 2020 marathon
16:00, 30 Mar 2020

There are many of us who should have been making our final preparations for a marathon right now. With the Boston and London marathons being staples of the April sporting calendar, this is the time of year when all of that training through the winter and spring months comes to a crescendo before that day pounding the streets in front of thousands of fans.

But while more than a million of us ran marathons across the globe last year, the vast majority will be left frustrated in 2020, with the big dates in Boston and London being among those to be shelved  due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

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Thousands of us have been training in preparation but suddenly we have no end goal in sight. So what now?

We spoke to Kieran Alger, a 43-time marathon runner from manvmiles.co.uk, and Stephen Skinner, a running expert with Adidas, to find out what we can do to keep our spirits high and our physical health at the peak of its powers.

With so many marathons cancelled, what do runners need to do to keep motivated and stay on track?

KA: When you’ve been putting in the hard work towards a specific goal with a hard deadline and that suddenly gets moved, it can feel like a big blow. Pre-lockdown, to turn that negative into a positive, my advice would have been to go out and run a marathon distance on your own anyway.

In terms of training, I’d recommend keeping in a training rhythm of effort and recovery. We’re all going to be forced to shorten our runs to do the responsible thing during social distancing, so long runs will naturally be recused from the 18, 19 and 20 milers. Make sure you run regularly and mix up the intensity of your runs as you would have done in training, and take the opportunity over the coming months to run for fun just as much as your marathon goals. When you get to 16 weeks out from your rescheduled race, you’ll be in great shape mentally and physically to start the dedicated marathon training schedule again.

SS: I would recommend easing back from your training but run more for fun, to get fresh air and relax/de-stress. 

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Unfortunately due to the race postponements marathon runners will be going through another training cycle but you should see this as a great opportunity to build on the fitness you have gained over the last three or four months.

 

Runners have been training and gearing up to race before this sudden stoppage. How will that have an affect, both physically and mentally?

KA: Mentally, I think it depends a lot on whether you’re a first timer, have trained with real dedication for a time goal or you’ve done lots of marathons and were just going to run for fun. It’s a blow for everyone but first-time marathoners have arguably been through a steeper learning curve and might feel less able to find the motivation to go through all the hard graft again.

Similarly if you were in prime condition to run a PB, it’s tough to have that opportunity taken away. It would be very easy to focus on the disappointment and switch off, but no matter what your starting point you’ve already come a long way and you could look at the postponement as an opportunity to be even better prepared when you finally line up at the start. 

No doubt we all missed sessions due to work and family and got close to the races wishing we had a little more time. Well this is your opportunity to work on those things you may have missed and build yourself into an even stronger runner.

SS: Building up for a marathon is a lengthy process and takes a large toll on you both physically and mentally. It can be incredibly frustrating when your race gets cancelled or postponed but I think it is really important to look at the bigger picture and long-term goals. 

The sudden stop in training will feel strange, especially without having raced, but the key over the next few weeks will be to get into a new routine and aim to maintain fitness before starting training again. Without the focus on distance and pace why not explore local routes/trails.

During the current lockdown in the UK, how can people maintain their preparations? Can they do it at home or is it all about getting out once a day?

KA: There’s loads you can do at home. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m guilty of neglecting some of the basics that really help you become a better runner. Core strength, mobility, flexibility, these things can all be done on a yoga mat with loads of apps, videos and resources on the internet to help you improve. It’s a great chance to work on some of those things without feeling pressure to run. That said, getting out for some varied miles to keep your base fitness in good shape is smart too.

SS: In these circumstances the key thing is to not stress about losing fitness. Try to build a new routine that you can stick to which helps you maintain fitness as best as possible. If you’re lucky enough to have a treadmill then come up with some interval sessions and/or challenge yourself to a time trial for fun. I would recommend looking on Google Maps or potentially Strava heat maps to see what routes could be best for you if you can get outside in quiet areas to do a few runs/sessions/drills.

What are your top fitness and running tips during this testing time?

KA: Don’t overthink it. When I see people running marathons on their seven-metre balconies or miles round their living rooms there’s a part of me that feels inspired and a part that thinks maybe that’s not that healthy. Now is a time to run for vitality, for body and mind and free from goals, times and pressure. So my top tip would be to go out and enjoy yourself. Take off the watch, run to feel good, get your head up and enjoy the world around outside. Because you might only be seeing it for an hour a day. 

SS: My top tip is to shift the focus. Don’t try to continue marathon training for the next few months as you will probably end up over-training with too many long runs. Maybe focus on doing more core/strength work, some home HIIT workouts or some shorter, sharper sessions to work on your speed. Everything you do now can help you get into better shape for when training and racing resumes.