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Spring back! Your five-step plan to staying marathon-ready through lockdown and beyond

If you were the fittest you’d ever been when the world called in sick, it’s likely you were training for a spring marathon, perhaps the greatest spring marathon of them all. Then, as the realisation dawned that this pandemic was going to put paid to mass gatherings – any gatherings – for the foreseeable, London runners braced themselves for the inevitable. And sure enough, news came through that the 40th Virgin Money London Marathon, due to take place on the 26 April, had been postponed until 4 October (Covid 19 willing).

So, short of lapsing morosely into a 20-week taper and losing all that fitness, what can you do to keep motivated for your rescheduled marathon? Here are some suggestions to keep that marathon motor running:

1. Make with the spreadsheets

Most marathon runners love a training schedule. Here’s your opportunity to use this time to create yourself the mother of all training schedules. Chances are you were heading towards your maximum weekly mileage when it all went pear-shaped, so you need to keep your fitness ticking over while adapting to a new goal (an October marathon).

In a way, the strict exercise rules we are all living under makes it simple to dial back on your marathon readiness to fit it into your allotted daily exercise. You can develop what personal trainers call a periodised programme for the next 20 weeks or so.

You can even make graphs if you like, working out how to ‘flatten the curve’ of your peak mileage weeks to incorporate gentler weeks that focus on core and strength work and fewer miles. Not sure what I'm talking about? Get in touch with Secret London Runs to discuss our new online training schemes.

To monitor your fitness you can do a weekly or bi-weekly 5km time trial (that’s what parkrun used to be called, by the way) and aim to have nailed a 5km PB by the time your marathon comes round. The 5k is a perfect measure of aerobic and endurance fitness, and combined with a weekly tempo run that crushes as many miles into an hour as you can, and a long slow run that starts before everyone else has woken up so that physical distancing isn’t an issue, you have yourself a sensible menu of long-term ‘tickover’ training.


2. Keep on the grass

Rules on physical distancing have ruffled may feathers on various social media platforms, and runners have found themselves on the sharp end of public criticism for barging past strollers in public parks. Unless you’re lucky enough to live in a rural idyll, criss-crossed by public rights of way, parks are going to be your ‘run-to’ for exercise. Use them sensibly.

The majority of urban and suburban parks consist of a large acreage of greensward with tarmac or gravel paths. So gallop across the green instead of pattering along the path. You’ll be distant from other park users and you’ll be doing your running a favour. It’s well known that running on grass is harder than tarmac or concrete, but its better for your joints. It also helps with proprioception (keeping a mental handle on what your body is doing) because you need to place your feet with more care over potential divots and tuffets that could turn an ankle. That’s better for your core. So running on rough land and grass is far more of a workout than boring old road running. Try it. You’ve got the time.


3. Go back to school

It’s not just Joe Wicks doing online PE lessons. All those furloughed personal trainers and running coaches also find time hanging heavy on their hands. So they’ve all taken up their GoPros and made training movies from their sitting rooms. There’s a lot to be learned about running technique, core stability, head, arm, hip, knee and foot position and positive mental attitude for the marathon runners in mourning for their cancelled race…and it’s all there on your laptop.

So practise the drills, perfect the stretches, memorise the routines and brush up on your anatomy knowledge. Get out of your comfort zone: New York City Ballet workout, anyone? And while you’re on the laptop, there’s a lot to be learned in terms of marathon nutrition online, too. You can add to your repertoire of training and recovery meals and create your own perfect energy bar with judicious use of oatmeal, protein powders, cocoa, dates, nuts, agave and other goodies mushed together in the food processor. Give it a whirl. Essential bedtime reading when you’ve packed the laptop/phone away to ensure the sweet sleep of champions? What I Talk about When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami; Marathon Woman by Kathryn Switzer; Let Your Mind Run by Deena Kastor; The Runner’s Guide to the Meaning of Life by Amby Burfoot.


4. Watch some movies

Ah, movie night. Surely one of the best displacement activities there is, and there are some truly inspirational films out there. Of course, Run Fat Boy Run and Brittany Runs A Marathon have a certain appeal for any non-runners you’re locked down with, but it’s the hardcore running porn is what’s going to do you good (or at least help you realise that a simple 26-mile road race is small beer for some of the lunatics out there). May we suggest Where Dreams Go to Die – Gary Robbins and the Barkley Marathons; Last Women Standing – The Barkley Marathons 2019; Prefontaine; Desert Runners; Free to Run.


5. Share your intentions

If you are of the ‘if it ain’t on Strava it didn’t happen’ school of thought, you can keep your competitive edge and challenge your team mates as you work through your training schedule. Many UK athletics-affiliated clubs are now running virtual road relays and summer meetings for those serious athletes who miss the thrill of the race.

Many a marathon-runner-in-training likes to throw in a few parkruns, 10ks and half marathons to keep their workouts sharp and focused, but with the race diaries in meltdown and all big summer events cancelled, you’re going to have to organise your own. Maybe as the lockdown rules relax, we’ll be able to go out and run with our friends, but until then, we all have to compete and commiserate online, and if we’re really geeky, check out Run Britain rankings to keep motivated. Anything that helps you to keep focused on your goal…however far down the line that goal has been shifted in these bewildering times.


The most important point is that however cherished your goal is, you’ve had to learn to be flexible and enjoy the slow lane for a while. Yes, we’re all frustrated and disappointed that our Big Day has slipped away into the misty autumn distance – allegedly – but this is the time to be grateful for small pleasures. The parks in spring are still beautiful, we’re enjoying strength and fitness as we run through them and thanking our lucky stars that we’re healthy. Have fun running, because as the wise father of running Amby Burfoot writes:

‘Without fun, we’d give up way before the finish line. If there’s any way to make the road easier and enjoyable, I’m all for it.’

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