Training for a marathon (or half marathon) seldom goes exactly according to plan. Setbacks occur—work or family obligations take precedence; illness or injury derails workouts. Generally speaking, if you miss a week of training, you can jump back into your plan as long as you were consistent and diligent with your workouts for at least 4 to 6 weeks before the break. But if your downtime stretches from 10 days to 2 weeks (or more), you have to re-evaluate your comeback strategy.
The first move? Try not to panic. "Take a deep breath," says Matt Forsman, a San Francisco—based running coach. "Whatever you do, don't try to cram in the runs you've missed. This may increase your risk of injury and may hurt your efforts." Instead, consider what caused your layoff and how close you are to race day when you're able to resume training. Those answers will help determine the best plan to get you back on track.
Life Interrupted Training and You Resume Running...
Six weeks out from race day: The goal here is to restore momentum and endurance without pushing it. For the first two weeks back, reduce each weekday run by a mile and slow your pace by 15 to 30 seconds per mile, says Forsman. Stick to your scheduled long run; if the distance seems daunting, break it into two runs spaced at least four hours apart. After that, resume training at the point you'd be at if you hadn't gotten sidetracked.
Four weeks out: Your primary goal is to get in that last long run. For the first week back, follow the mileage and pacing strategy above. Run your final monster-miler three weeks out, but at 10 to 20 seconds per mile slower than normal, then start your taper. The slower pace helps compensate for the fitness you may have lost during the break, Forsman says.
Two weeks out: At this point, chances are good that you missed your last long run. Let it go, or risk going into your big day not fully recovered, says Forsman. Resume your plan at the point where you'd be if you'd never taken a break, and follow through with your scheduled taper. If you're set on squeezing in one last super-long effort, break it into two: 10 miles in the morning, 10 in the evening, with self-massage, an ice bath, refueling and rest in between. Complete both of these runs 15 to 30 seconds per mile slower than normal.