Race cancelled or postponed? 5 ways to adjust your training
It’s been a big 18months for athletes with many races being cancelled or postponed. With an ever-evolving situation surrounding COVID-19, there is no certainty for postponement dates. As a result of the many major race disruptions, athletes have found themselves feeling a bit lost or unmotivated. It is no doubt a sudden loss to the main purpose that has fuelled the training for many, & now the question is what does that mean for training?
This answer is first and foremost ‘It depends’. It depends on when your race is being postponed to. It depends on your goals and what you want to achieve, as well as whether or not you have a coach to adjust your training for you.
Depending on the above, there are 5 options to go from here:
Sulk & eat junk food on the couch
Do a race sim/time trial in place of your race
Have a short break from training
Return back to base-training
Take one step back in the training pyramid
1. Sulk & eat junk food on the couch
This is not an option. Yes, it's unfair & disappointing, but choosing this unhealthy strategy will only put you further away from your training & performance goals.
2. Do a race simulation or time trial
This is dependent on what type of race you were building up for, and your plan for training in the coming months. This is likely to work if your race was a relatively short one, and less so if your race was a big one Eg 100km ultra-marathon. The other consideration is that race simulations will never be as good or specific as actual race day: The advantages of adrenaline and ‘racing’ others will not be there. But if you’ve been working hard and are already in peak condition, you might want to do a time trial to put the work to show and see where you are at.
3. Have a short break from training
A short break from training is like an ‘Off-season’, where after a prolonged period of consistent and hard training, you take a well-deserved break after your race so you can physically AND mentally recover. This way, when returning to training again you are fresh and ready to go.
In this case, you may not have had the race to complete (Or instead, a simulated race/time-trial), but you still are likely at the end of a 4-6 month consistent training block, and maybe ready for a bit of a break. The need for a break can also depend on your state of mind. You may notice you are craving a break when sessions start to become a chore and you haven’t been seen by your family for the last few months, or on the other hand, you may feel ok to keep going.
4. Return back to base-training
This option is for those whose races have been cancelled and won’t be looking at racing anytime soon. When leading up to a race, you will likely be programmed a lot of race-pace training, extended threshold runs because these types of training sessions are specific to peaking for a race. In the absence of a race, continuing to do these sessions can be ineffective and take up unnecessary energy, potentially leading to overtraining if extended for too long.
Returning to base training means switching the focus back to strength and volume to build the base aerobic capacity and endurance. Intensity sessions are still programmed but are likely lower in volume so that the training is more sustainable and endurance-specific. This is the training in an ‘Off-Season’ that will lead to long-term improvements as an athlete.
5. Take one step back in the training pyramid
This is for athletes whose races are meant to be postponed in the next month or two, and need to maintain their top-end fitness and race-readiness. This means adjusting the training so it is not completely back in the ‘Base-Training’ phase, but extending the preparation for a race and keeping in some decent intensity sessions. The idea is to be on standby in the case that the postponed races go ahead at short notice in the next few months so you can be ready to race. This option is a challenging one to take, because as mentioned, race postponement dates may not be confirmed for a long time so you will have to play it by ear over the weeks and months.
There’s a lot of planning that goes behind training programs. It’s not always just about coming up with cool and fun sessions, but planning months in advance to ensure a timely build-up and peak, paired with adequate recovery. My heart breaks for the Olympians, who aren’t just planning in months… But in 4-year blocks that can determine their entire career. A change in date for the Olympics would SIGNIFICANTLY disrupt this meticulously planned programming and athlete conditioning.
At the end of the day, this is a good time to remind yourself WHY you train and why you love it. How does training add value to your day to day life, to your identity and values/beliefs, not just how it may add value on race-day. Races are the cherry on top, but training is here forever. Embrace the process.