Not too long ago we asked our readers about the topics they would like to read more about on The RunDown. We compiled the list then asked RunVermont staff and members of our running community to assist with the writing. Thanks to Sam Davis, accomplished racer, RunVermont Hall of Fame Member and Marathon and Half-Marathon 201 instructor for this advice:
How to get back on track when your marathon training takes a detour and you’ve missed a few weeks?
So, you have a marathon training plan (or you should) and you have been following it loyally and are excited about getting to the starting line of the big race fit and healthy. With one fell swoop, you become sick or injured and require time off from training to rest and rehab. Now, without getting into the particulars of your illness or injury, let’s suppose you are feeling well enough to begin training, or your physical therapist has given you the green light to start running again. Where to begin? Do you pick up in your training where you left off? Do you build back up to the point before you were forced to stop? The answers to these questions has a lot to do how much time you needed to take off, your conditioning level before stopping and how many weeks remain before the marathon.
Despite what many runners believe, de-conditioning is a process that takes several weeks to occur, so being forced to take a few days off (one week or less) may actually be of benefit to you as it will allow for your body to rest without any negative effects on your conditioning. It is when the down time gets beyond two weeks that your conditioning will begin to decay and will require an additional week or two (or more) of recovery training to get back to the point before you originally stopped.
In his book, Advanced Marathoning, Olympic marathoner and exercise physiologist, Pete Pfitzinger, discusses the variables that go into deciding how to pick up where you left off. If the number of days missed is less than 10, then you can resume your running schedule regardless of when you left and how close the marathon is. If you missed more than 10 day, then you can resume your schedule if you have 8 weeks or more remaining, but will need to revise your goal if there are 8 weeks or less until race day. If you had to be out for 3 weeks or more, then you will need to revise your racing goal regardless of how much time is remaining. It is important to realize that it takes approximately 4 weeks for a training effect to occur, which means 4 weeks of consistent running in order to begin to receive the benefits of those runs.
As a general rule, if you were out for 1 week or less, it is usually recommended that you begin running again at about 75% of the volume indicated by your training schedule, then resume normal mileage after. If you were out for up to 2 weeks, begin at about 50% of current volume for 1 week, then 75% for the second week, and then resume normal training. Any time off that requires more than three week will require more modifications regardless of how many weeks are left until the marathon.
It is important to note than when you do get back to running, it is critical not to incorporate mileage, frequency and intensity all at once as this can lead to reinjuring yourself. Simply work on building your mileage back up before incorporating more intense workouts.
One final thought, if you are forced to change your marathon goal due to unexpected time off, try to look at the bigger picture and realize that this one race won’t be your last (it shouldn’t be, at least) and try to enjoy the fact that you are getting to the starting line healthy, albeit slightly less fit than you had hoped, but healthy none the less!