Training Through Uncertainty

Runners and coaches explain how to train when you don’t know if your race will happen.

Your race has long been on the calendar. You’ve spent months training for it, and maybe even years looking forward to it. And now, you're not sure if the race will even happen. Welcome to the uncertainty of racing during COVID-19.

"The pandemic throws up so many questions marks," says Liz Yelling, a double Olympian and Commonwealth medalist in the Marathon. As a running coach, she has seen many of her clients' spring and summer races postponed or cancelled, and their fall races now in question. "We're left asking, 'Well, now how do we train?'"

Here are four ways to tap into where you are, adjust your motivation and find the best running path for you as you're racing during the pandemic.

1. Tap into Intrinsic Motivation

"Many runners struggle to focus on their health and well-being before the race plan," Yelling says. However, being squarely focused on performance can suck the joy out of running while also pushing athletes toward burnout and injury.

"I hope the pandemic enables people to make the shift toward more internal reasons to run and find that they can be more intrinsically motivated rather than purely goal oriented," she says. For her, staying intrinsically motivated means prioritizing the benefits she gains from training, including physical health and the ability to be the best mother, wife, coach and version of herself.

"Running is part of the fabric of who I am – and so race or not, I'm going to be out there running," adds Mike Sheehy, an Abbott employee, former U.S. Army Ranger and runner who, in 2017, completed all of the Abbott World Marathon Majors in one year.

2. Consider Solo or Virtual Events

Some runners still crave competition, and others who have been training for a long time may want to run their race even if there isn't a medal at the end.

For these people, the right move might be to keep training for their goal race, with the understanding being, if the race is cancelled, they can complete the 5K, 10K, marathon or ultra on their own or as part of one of the many virtual races that are being held online.

Yelling emphasizes that it's much harder to race on your own than it is to run a race with others, meaning your pace will likely be slower than it would if you ran with others and had a full cheering section. Be kind to yourself.

3. Keep a Base

The fatigue and general wear and tear of continuing to train for a hard event or marathon that may or may not happen isn't always worth it. So, for some runners, it can be best to pull back so that they have the requisite energy when they absolutely know they will race, Yelling explains.

For Sheehy, who is tentatively training for fall marathons, that has meant capping his running at 40 to 45 miles per week. He explains that pulling back from his scheduled 18- and 20-mile runs allows him to prevent accumulated fatigue while still allowing him to get in some speed work and long runs in case marathons end up happening.

4. Make Some Short-Term Goals

With the future bringing so much uncertainty, it can also be helpful to keep one eye on the short term. "With my runners, we're really working to focus on one month at a time, and training for small landmarks," Yelling explains.

Maybe there's a short event or time trial you can shoot for, she suggests, explaining that targeting goals in the imminent future can help keep you motivated to train.

Abbott is the title sponsor of the Abbott World Marathon Majors, a series of six of the largest and most renowned marathons in the world: Tokyo Marathon, Boston Marathon, Virgin Money London Marathon, BMW BERLIN-MARATHON, Bank of America Chicago Marathon and TCS New York City Marathon. Click here to learn more.