Marathon training is an intense commitment—both of a runner’s body and mind. So for those who have been training on the track and on the roads for a big race, a cancellation can be devastating. But it doesn’t have to be.
Runners throughout the world, who have been anticipating and training for a half marathon, marathon, or even that first 5K, are suddenly finding that the race they’ve been working toward—in some cases for many weeks, months, or years—may no longer be happening. That has left many runners wondering what to do.
For example, the popular Mercy Health Glass City Marathon, which was originally scheduled for Saturday, April 25, has been suspended until next April. According to physical therapists Dayna Pirrwitz and Jeff Swartz of Mercy Health – Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, runners can take advantage of the downtime a race cancellation produces in a variety of healthy and productive ways.
In the case of runners who were training for the Mercy Health Glass City Marathon, one alternative is to go ahead and run the race—just not in the usual format. A virtual option has been developed for runners who don’t want to defer until next year. Runners participating virtually will complete the marathon on their own and on the same day as originally planned using a GPS-enabled watch. Information about the virtual race can be found at glasscitymarathon.org.
Swartz notes that runners can certainly use this downtime to continue training, whether in a local park or on a treadmill. However, absent a race to focus on, he recommends that they scale back the intensity of their training or even take some time off and give their body a chance to recover. “This downtime is a great opportunity to rest, refocus, let your legs recover, and seek medical care if you need it. Once you know when the next race will be, you can start to build back up again without all the aches and pains. If you keep pushing and experiencing more and more soreness, your body won’t be where you need it to be when it’s time to race again,” he says.
Pirrwitz and Swartz often work with runners or other athletes who have injured themselves in the course of training or competition. One common reason these injuries occur is failure to build up an adequate base of strength and endurance before taking on a major race.
Pirrwitz points out that it takes a long time for someone new to the sport of running to get prepared for that first half marathon or marathon. In fact, elite runners typically don’t hit their peak until age 30 to 35. Scaling back now and then building up gradually can pay huge dividends in terms of race preparedness in the future. “Think of it like financial investing,” Swartz says. “If you set aside a small amount of money each month for 40 years, you’ll end up with a much bigger nest egg than if you wait to start saving until you’re about to retire.”
Another factor that commonly causes pain or injury while running is improper form. “We often treat people who have injured themselves on a training program or experience pain with every training cycle due to poor mechanics. It’s great that they seek medical help for the pain or injury, but what they really need to address is the underlying issue with mechanics that is causing the problem in the first place. This downtime provides the perfect opportunity to do that,” Pirrwitz states.
Swartz advises anyone who is having issues with pain to take a week off with no running whatsoever. “You may still be able to get some exercise and enjoy the outdoors, for example by going to your local Metropark for a walk or bike ride, as long as you don’t overdo it and the activity is in keeping with the latest guidelines with respect to social distancing,” he adds.
Above all, Pirrwitz and Swartz encourage runners with no major race on the horizon to stay positive. “Remember, racing is just a validation of the training we do. We also run to improve our fitness, mental health, and overall wellbeing. We can still do all that with or without a race,” says Pirrwitz. ❦