How to prepare for a race that might be cancelled

When runners started planning in the autumn for their big city spring marathon, the last thing they expected to scupper their plans was the spread of a virus. But currently every runner who is in training for a marathon this spring is wondering if it will go ahead or not.

NOTE: This was written in March 2020 before all races for the spring/summer were cancelled

What can I do?

This uncertainly is frustrating, annoying, disappointing and indeed stressful for many runners who have put their lives on hold to train for a race of a life time. It is hard to know how to adapt to this stumbling block and how to approach our training. But one thing is certain, it is best to place our energy into what we can control rather than spend time worrying about decisions that are not ours to be made.

Find alternatives

I would encourage every runner to keep on training assuming their event is going ahead, but also to have a Plan B and maybe even a Plan C just in case you do get the news that your event is no more. These alternative plans are no different to the alternative race day plans I have often suggested you have in place in case you get sick or injured close to your marathon day. Having another event marked in the calendar to fall back on gives you one less thing to worry about.

Your Plan B event

There are lots of smaller events around the country that are less likely to be impacted by a cancellation. A marathon with 200 people will indeed have less of an atmosphere than the spectator-lined streets at the final stages of a big city marathon, but you will still have a wonderful if different experience. You may indeed meet many other runners who are in the same boat as yourself. Choose an event which takes place shortly after your main event, and book in now so you have it as a reserve. You now have something else to look forward to instead of an empty race diary should your big day be cancelled.

Create your day out

Like many others, I also have booked in for an event that might not happen. I have my Plan B but I also have created a Plan C, a race which doesn’t rely on anyone but myself. If my main event doesn’t go ahead, I will create my own day out. I will map my own route and run it like it is race day. I will arrange for a friend or two to join me for a few miles along the way and maybe even a few supporters to guide me into my seaside finish line. I’ll dip my legs in the sea and have a nice celebration lunch. It might not be the big ticket day out, but it will be a day to remember, something to look forward to and a celebration of my winter and spring training. It might also be the only race I’ll ever win.

Pick yourself up

If you are feeling in limbo and are struggling to focus on training, absolutely spend a few days wallowing in your disappointment but then pick yourself up and try to move on. Try to remind that we get so much more out of long distance training than just a race day fanfare. Long distance training is a vehicle to help us plan efficiently, challenge our mind and our body, help us make time for ourselves, improve our fitness, our mental health and our energy. All the training you have done already has not gone to waste. It has made you a better runner.

Pat on the back

Think of the memories, the lessons learned and the mental endurance you have created from the winter miles you have already travelled. The miles in the bank are not in vain. This winter has not been kind to runners, unless you are a big fan of cold strong wind in your face. But you have trained through that. These miles have made you stronger, more resilient, fitter and more confident as a runner. Without your original goal, your motivation to keep running through these tough months of January and February may not have been as strong.

Put in perspective

There are more memories yet to come and it’s up to us to approach this spring with a positive attitude albeit with a little disappointment in the background. Spare a thought for all the race organisers, volunteers and local hotels and businesses who are currently living in limbo too. I feel for them as they have put in such effort, work and dedication to their event. They don’t have the luxury that we have of just moving to another race day. This is their one and only and they have to also deal with the questions and frustrations of disappointed runners on top of their own challenges.

Time to move on

You will move on from this and in the future look back at this time as a period where you had to adapt your training and develop resilience, flexibility and perspective. But this can be hard when we have invested so much energy, money and indeed miles into one big day out. None of us know what our “finish lines” will look like right now. Who knows where the next few months may take us with our running. The situation changes daily and by the time this piece goes to print next week some more races might be added to the cancellation list. Regardless of what news comes next, the challenge is to choose to be enthusiastic about what might be around the corner for you, rather than focus only on what door might be closing.

This article was first published in The Irish Times on 9th March 2020.