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Runners look for a new normal in their training plans

Normally, Melina Buck Terranova would be planning a group-run route for the weekend. As the coach and owner of Next Level Running, her runners regularly get together for strength workouts at the fitness center and long runs through downtown Buffalo.

All that has changed with the coronavirus outbreak.

Now, she’s pulling up maps of her clients’ neighborhoods and helping them create routes from the convenience of their front door. The gym is closed. Group runs are canceled. Races are postponed And the regular life of a runner has been turned upside down.

“It’s such an unusual situation,” said Terranova, the owner at coach of Next Level Running, as she and others in the running community adapt to the new reality brought on by COVID-19. “As a coach, I’m just trying to be as supportive as possible. Different people are in different situations with different needs and I just try to help them through whatever their particular predicament is. I’m rewriting a lot of training schedules and frequently emailing to check in. You try to keep everyone feeling connected and on the same page.

"When I think of Next Level Running, it’s more than just a group that trains together. It’s a community. Now, we really need that feeling of community to get us through this time.”

As races are canceled or postponed, runners have been thrown off their plans. That’s not easy for someone who had been training for a spring marathon that's been postponed, canceled or remains in limbo. Distance running requires a commitment of time, money and energy – much of which already has been invested.

“I think it’s OK to be upset about it,” Terranova said. “It’s hard to have an opportunity taken away from you. To have to let go of it can be hard mentally and emotionally, and it’s OK to be disappointed. It’s good to let yourself deal with that.

"But on the other side, you move on from it. Reassess your goals, take a step back and ask yourself, ‘What am I motivated for right now?’ ”

The disappointment is real. The feeling of having an opportunity taken away from you is painful, whether you’re collegiate student-athletes who had their NCAA season pulled out from them, a runner trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon or a new runner preparing to finish a first 5K.

Vicki Mitchell, the head cross-country coach at the University at Buffalo and an active member in the local running community, said this is a good time to take a look at the bigger picture and remember what drew you to running in the first place.

“When you look at the full global picture of this, you understand where running fits into the grand scheme of overall life,” Mitchell said. “Yes, it’s something you’re passionate about. Yes, it’s something that you’ve invested in. But there’s going to be more races. There are always more opportunities down the road.

“The bottom line is I can still go out and run. I can still go out and enjoy the beauty of the motion of running. I can still feel the joy of running.”

Just be sure you enjoy that joy of running by yourself for now. Some runners are still going out in groups of two or three, but Mitchell has told her student-athletes if they go out to run together, to run single file and keep 6 feet between them. And even that can be dicey as “runners notoriously are bad at judging distance,” Mitchell joked.

So what are runners to do, especially as races through the end of April are postponed? Here’s some advice from Terranova and Mitchell.

What if my marathon or half marathon is in limbo?

Mitchell suggests to keep your training schedule for the next few weeks as race organizers will have to make decisions sooner rather than later. The next half marathon listed on the Buffalo Runners schedule is the Happy Half in Ellicottville on May 9.

What should I do with my training if my race is canceled?

Take a few weeks of recovery and then go into base training, Mitchell said. “You’ll reap all the benefits of your training when the world starts to settle down and races begin happening again,” she said. “Use that great base work you’ve already built and apply it to a fall race.”

Mitchell said that after one or two weeks of recovery, runners can go into a base-building plan. That would mean for a fall marathon, a runner could use a shorter training plan. For instance, instead of an 18-week training plan use a 12-week, or even an eight-week plan. “You’re not starting from ground zero,” Mitchell said. “All the training you did was not wasted. You gained fitness. Fitness doesn’t go away unless you completely do nothing for weeks.”

If you’ve put in a lot of time and effort to a marathon training plan and aren’t sure what to do next, running coaches are still taking clients online. Terranova communicates via phone and email. So hiring a coach might seem like an unusual move, but consulting for a few weeks can help a runner transition if they’re stuck.

My gym closed and I’ve only run on the treadmill. How do I start running outside?

Some people love the comfort and control of the treadmill. Others dread it. But if you’re missing the security of your usual gym treadmill, there are ways to adjust to running outside.

“It helps sometimes to plan a route, not just aimless run out your front door,” Terranova said. “On the treadmill, you count down your distance, so planning a route ahead of time or doing a certain route can get you out of your head and allow you to enjoy it.”

There are free apps, like Map My Run or Strava, that you can download to your phone. Don’t run with your phone? You can plan your route online pulling up mapmyrun.com or mapometer.com.

Mitchell recommends a conservative approach if you’re a gym rat taking to the outdoors for the first time.

“If you’ve been going to the gym for some time and have been doing the elliptical or spinning class, things like that, you already have some base cardiovascular fitness," she said. "The biggest mistake is to go out and say you’re going to run for an hour. Instead, start with 40 minutes. Walk briskly for 10, jog for 20, then walk briskly for 10 and build from that standpoint. You have to get away from the all-or-nothing principle.

“If you’ve been doing mostly weightlifting or working with a personal trainer, your aim to start might be to go out for 25 minutes, walk five minutes then alternate one minute of jogging with two minutes of walking and gradually build up from there.

“I always recommend starting every other day. The biggest thing with running when it’s new is the impact. You could be in good cardiovascular shape, but you may not have incorporated the impact that running has yet and that’s huge.”

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