Adjusting your plan for a new race

Having a race date change on us has become all too common. While recently it’s due to a common worldwide issue, ideally in the future it is due to a change of plans. Heck, at this point, we’ll even take it if it’s due to an injury or illness. I am, of course, talking about having to change the date of your goal race. 

Over the last nearly two years, I have gotten more emails and seen more Facebook posts with the same tagline, “Help! What do I do?” and it has all been due to a changing race date or scrambling to find another race close to the same date. A lot of times, the athlete simply wants to add weeks to their plan or take weeks off of their plan. Sometimes it can be that simple, but I have some concerns. 

My two big concerns with simply adding weeks:

When adding weeks to a plan, there are two, possibly three issues I see. The first one is you really need to look at how long the overall length of the segment is going to be. If you are already running on a plan that is going to be the most intense or most volume that you have ever done, then it might not make sense to push that out 2,4, or 6 plus weeks. What would be manageable at, say 18 weeks, might be complete overkill at 20 or more weeks. We really increase our risk of just completely overcooking ourselves. 

The second part of that is what you would be doing during the additional weeks. If you decide to just repeat where you are currently at and you are already doing the biggest race-specific workouts of the segment, then adding more weeks at your highest weekly and workout volume might be taking it too far as well. A race-specific block shouldn’t be much more than 8 weeks, so if we stretch it out to 10, or more, then we can get into some issues. 

The third part of this would be the taper. If you have to stretch the segment out to over 20 weeks, then a shorter taper might not be the answer, either. Whereas a shorter taper would be fine for most, once we stretch that segment out, it might not match the segment length. You might need to add your taper by days to weeks. 

What to do:

Some assumptions I am making here are that you are healthy and the change is due to a race cancellation or postponement. With that said, here are some guidelines I would take in regards to stretching a segment out to a new date. This is going to get technical and there are quite a few scenarios, so please bear with me. Obviously, the sooner you find out, the easier it is to adjust, but I fully understand that many times this is out of your control. 

Moving 1-2 weeks further out: 

If you find out early, then this is great. By early, I mean before you have really gotten into your race-specific work. So, if you are following the classic HMM plans, this would be when you are still either doing base work or still in the speed portion of the plan. If you are in either of these, I would “stay where you are at.” What I mean by this is to just do 1-2 weeks of base mileage again and then pick up where you left off. Or, do one week of volume and another week of one workout plus a longer run. The point is, halt the schedule where you are at and then move on when the dates are back in alignment. 

If you are already into the heart of the plan, then we need to be careful. Here’s where people tend to just want to repeat a couple of weeks and this can be just enough to push us over the edge. Whether it’s one or two weeks, the key is to space things out a little longer. So, if it’s just one week, I may do the strength workout on Tuesday and a long run on Saturday. If it’s two weeks, I may follow the first week and then do my tempo on Tuesday, then strength or a long run on Saturday. The two big things here are that I am not abandoning workouts, but I am spacing them out a lot more to reinforce recovery. I’ll still progress my fitness, but I’ll also pull the reigns back a little bit and this can keep me in the cumulative fatigue state instead of a downward spiral into overtraining. I would keep my taper as is on this because I did pull back on the reigns before we got to the taper. 

Moving 4-6 weeks out:

In this case, we are talking about either really making a training segment long or you are going to make your race specific segment really long. Neither of these are great scenarios. Again, if you find out early, it makes life a lot easier. In this case, I’d do one of two things. If I were already doing speed, I might just take a few weeks and taper right then. If I could find a short race (5k or 10k) I’d hit it up and then take about week of a few days off and then a few days easy. Then I would start up a new marathon plan. Even if it’s only 14 weeks, that’s fine because you just did a whole speed segment. 

If you are already starting the race specific portion of the training, then we need to scale back. We don’t want to be in a position where we are doing 12+ marathon tempos over 8 miles. Yikes! What I envision is something like this:

Week 1: 

Scale back volume by 25%. This should be in both workouts and easy, long volume. Instead of a strength workout, do a speed workout that you like. Instead of an 8,9,10 mile tempo to a 6-mile tempo ir 2×3 mile marathon pace workout. It doesn’t particularly matter. I wouldn’t even mind if you only did a speed workout and then something on the weekend. 

Week 2: Go back up to 85% of your weekly volume. Follow same guidelines as above but at the new percentage. Do a strength workout this week though. 

Week 3: Be back to 90-100% volume. Do a strength workout that you like. Do your tempo, but make it a 2×4 miles, 4×2 miles, whatever you like, and then a long run. Pick back up your schedule from here. 

For 4 week adjustments, add a week of taper in. Do 85-90% peak volume three weeks out and keep the intensity. 

If a fifth and sixth week is needed, then do two weeks of Week 1 and two weeks of week 2, then follow the rest of the guidelines. I would possibly taper a little harder that third week til the race and the second week out. Instead of 85-90% peak, I might go down to 75-80% of peak on week 3 and then 65-70% at two weeks out. The week of the race would be about 50% volume in the days leading up to the race. 

8 or more weeks. 

In either case, whether you find out early or a few weeks before, I say you shut it down and start over. If it’s early on, I’d just focus on base building for a few weeks and then restarting a marathon plan. Again, if you were doing an 18-week plan, especially for the beginner, you don’t need the full 18 weeks again. 14-16 would be plenty. 

If you are finding out with only a few weeks to go, I’d still recommend shutting it down. This doesn’t have to mean two weeks off, but can be a few days down and then start a rebuilding phase. One of our base plans might be a great fit for you. If you are feeling fit and want to race something, taper and race! Then recover and rebuild. The key here would be mileage at say 60-70% of your peak and build to 85% of your peak before picking up a new plan. Do workouts of variety and just keep your baseline fitness high. This will make it much easier to jump back into a plan when you need to. Again, keep in mind, even if you shut it down for a week, then you have 10 weeks to your new race date, then you are fine. An 8-10 week focused plan is all you need to resharpen your fitness and be ready to race. I would say you could even do this for 3-4 weeks of just reduced volume and workout variety. You at the very least, have maintained your new higher level of fitness from completing most of the training. The few weeks you spend just enjoying running allows you to absorb that new fitness without detraining. The next 8-10 weeks can be a launchpad to a new, even higher, level of fitness. Take a look at all of our plans on Final Surge

Ok, I was going to cover moving up a race date, but this seems to be pretty long. I will have to save that for another day. This scenario seems to be the more common issue, so this should help a large number of you in this predicament. Hopefully, these strategies can keep you on the right track and avoid burnout by extending your segments past the original dates. Best of luck to everyone! 

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