Coronavirus for Runners: What To Do If Your Race Is Postponed

Recently, the global news has been dominated by the outbreak of the Coronavirus, or COVID-19.

As public bans and lockdowns come into place, the virus is beginning to affect how we live our lives. Whether it’s heightened hygiene practices, or avoiding large gatherings (the Tokyo Marathon was recently canceled for general entrants), or even the inability to leave the house – right now we’re adapting our lifestyles around the virus.

In this post, I’ll look at some of the facts of the virus, and how it is affecting the world of running.

What Is The Coronavirus (COVID-19)?

The name Coronavirus is a bit of a misnomer – there are actually seven types of Coronavirus identified in the world, according to the CDC. These viruses typically originate in animals like camels and bats, and don’t transmit to humans. However, three of the most recent strains have been transmitted to humans – including the 2019-nCoV Coronavirus.

COVID-19 is currently thought to have originated from snakes according to the Journal of Medical Virology, and the virus’ initial spread in December 2019 is widely thought to originate from a ‘wet market’ selling meat and animal products in Wuhan, China.

Coronavirus for Runners – The Symptoms

According to the World Health Organisation, the main symptoms of Coronavirus are respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.

In more severe cases this can develop, and infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death. 

Runners will display the same symptoms of Coronavirus as anyone else, but it’s worth remembering that moderate exercise can provide you with a short-term immune system boost. So keep working out, just don’t burn yourself out!

When compared to the other prominent Coronavirus breakout, SARS-CoV in 2004, it is thought that COVID-19 is less severe but more infectious, says CNN.

How Coronavirus Is Cancelling Races Worldwide

The Tokyo Marathon was effectively canceled due to Coronavirus fears – all general entrants were canceled just one week prior to the event, and only the Elite category event was held, to serve as Olympic trials. Held on 1st March 2020, this was the first major running affected by COVID-19.

So instead of 38,000 runners getting together and running those 26.2 miles, a group of only 200 runners raced round the empty Tokyo streets.

The L.A. Marathon on 8th March 2020 went ahead, with organizers closely monitoring the situation and making the last-minute call to proceed. With over 25,000 runners in attendance, the race when ahead – but with many precautions in place.

Other upcoming races have already been canceled, or are actively monitoring the situation.

The Rome Marathon, scheduled for the 29th of March 2020, was canceled on the 5th March. This is no doubt in reaction to the already-high infection rate seen in Italy, one of the worst-affected countries at the time of writing.

Likewise, the Great Wall Marathon in China has canceled their 2020 edition.

The Paris Marathon, originally planned for 5th April 2020, has been postponed until Autumn.

The Virgin London Marathon, originally planned for the 26th April 2020, has just been rescheduled for Sunday 4th October 2020.

With over 41,000 runners signed up – descending on the city from all over the world – the event is a true festival of running, often drawing out spectators and crowds which swell the number of people to be significantly greater than just the participants.

Similarly, the Boston Marathon – originally scheduled for 20th April 2020 – has now been postponed to September 14th 2020.

In other words, there’s not a major running event that hasn’t been affected.

Check out this full list of cancelled sports events.

We’ll continue to monitor and update.

coronavirus for runners

Avoiding Coronavirus – Tips For Runners

1. Wash Your Hands

The CDC has advised that washing your hands thoroughly for 20 seconds with water and soap is good practice to minimize the risk of contamination.

2. Avoid Touching Your Face

Likewise, the CDC note that you should avoid touching your face with unwashed hands, especially in public. The virus can spread via tiny droplets in public – door handles, chairs, tables – and is frequently transmitted via self-inoculation (when you touch something then touch your face, inhaling the virus).

3. Running Group Precautions

If you run as part of a group, you should think about minimizing physical contact with other group members – in these times, it’s fine to skip a hug or handshake if you have any concerns about spreading viruses. You may wish to simply join the group for the ‘run’ part of the event, and avoid any group gatherings before or after the run.

4. Consider Cross-Training At Home (Skip The Gym)

One of the best ways to avoid unnecessary exposure to any airborne virus is to stay at home when possible, and skip any unnecessary trips or public occasions.

Although it sounds anti-social, skipping the gym in favor of exercising at home might be a prudent idea.

After all, the gym is an essentially a place where strangers are on close physical proximity – if someone sneezes in the gym, the minuscule droplets from that sneeze can still be active on a surface – such as a workout bench – for long after they’ve gone.

If in doubt, skip the gym and do some cross-training at home.

5. Continue To Run (But Not Too Hard)

It’s accepted that exercise can give your immune system a boost, so don’t stop running. In fact, running is the type of exercise you should be doing more of when there’s a Coronavirus scare happening. You can do it alone, do it outside, you can absorb some vitamin D and it’s a great form of cardiovascular exercise to keep your body in shape – and your immune system strong.

The only caveat is to not go too hard – strenuous effort in exercise can suppress the immune system.

So don’t go crazy with your runs, and if in doubt skip that long hard run on your training plan.

6. Keep Things Clean

Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe – especially if you have guests round.

7. Don’t Bother With a Facemask (Unless You Get Sick)

The CDC recommends that healthy people do not wear facemasks to avoid Coronavirus. Only those infected should wear a mask in order to prevent spreading the virus. Here’s why.

Coronavirus running

What To Do If Your Race Is Canceled Due To Coronavirus

1. If Your Race Is Imminent, Consider Running It Solo

Already this year, tens of thousands of runner have had their impending race canceled due to Coronavirus.

This can be incredibly frustrating for the athletes but is clearly done to minimize the potential spreading of the virus.

The question is, what should you do if your race is canceled at the last minute?

You’ve invested months of training, and you’re perfectly healthy.

My advice is to have a back-up plan to run a personal marathon (or other running distance).

This means that on the day of your canceled event, you still go out and run the planned miles – you just do it on your own, or with a small group of friends.

You will have to plan out hydration and fueling stops (aid stations) and identify toilet opportunities (public restrooms, or homes of friends and family).

You may have to run in a loop for a few laps – this can be boring, but can give the advantage of using your home as the aid station, for example. Instead of running 26.2 miles in one route, do four laps of 6.5 miles – each lap finishing at your house.

Although the Coronavirus may force public events to be canceled, don’t let it cancel your goals.

Plan in advance for your back-up race, and have fun!

And remember that after a distance running event such as a marathon, your immune system is suppressed – so you may wish to lie low for a few days and avoid public contact.

2. Postponed Marathon? Stay In Shape, But Ditch The Long Runs

If your postponed marathon wasn’t imminent (i.e. it’s more than a month away), then you should look to wind down the intensity of your training – but maintain a base fitness so you can pick things back up again in a few months.

Unless you’re planning to run a solo marathon, you should reduce the volume and intensity of your training – don’t be so rigid about following a programme, and enjoy the downtime, but keep yourself in shape with 2-3 runs per week and the occasional long run. It can be a great time to do more cross-training, before you resume marathon training.

3. Relax About Your Training

When following a marathon training plan, it can be easy to get into a very rigid mindset and continually push your limits.

Now that some downtime has been enforced on you, it’s time to accept it – and take the foot off the pedal now, knowing you’ll be back to the grind in a few months.

Spend less time looking at your GPS and more time enjoying your surroundings, finding pleasure in your workouts.

4. Try New Things

With an enforced break from run training, it’s an opportunity to try new pursuits.

I recommend trying something that’s altogether different, yet complimentary to run training.

Buy a slackline, get into bodyweight exercises, do some online Yoga classes – whatever appeals.

Just give yourself something new and engaging to focus on, knowing that your run training will resume in a few months.

5. Take Care!

Remember that in these strange new times, it can be easy to feel, as a runner, that you’re less likely to be affected. After all, you have a strong immune system and a fit body.

But remember that self-care is important, not just for you but for anyone you could potentially spread the virus to.

Rest up a little more, practice good personal hygiene, and don’t train too hard.

This article covers an ongoing event and will be updated as necessary.

Thomas Watson

Thomas Watson

Thomas Watson is an ultra-runner, UESCA-certified running coach, and the founder of MarathonHandbook.com. His work has been featured in Runner's World, Livestrong.com, MapMyRun, and many other running publications. He likes running interesting races and good beer. More at his bio.

4 thoughts on “Coronavirus for Runners: What To Do If Your Race Is Postponed”

  1. Thanks Thomas, this is all really helpful. I was booked for Paris and after cancellation was lucky enough to snag a place at Brighton when they reopened registrations for those resident in the UK with proof of entry to Paris or Rome. But it is 2 weeks later (if it isn’t cancelled too…). Do you recommend resetting the training plan back two weeks? Or an extra long taper? It’s a first marathon for me, aged 48, with a half marathon pb of 1:52:58 I’m aiming for a (just) sub 4 hour finish. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Daniel,

      I’d recommend ‘stalling’ the training plan by two weeks – have two weeks more running before you peak then begin your taper.

      Keep your taper at the 3-4 week length.

      What to do in these 2 weeks?

      If you’re feeling strong, repeat the previous two weeks as you suggested.

      Otherwise you can reduce the weekly mileage by about 10%, have a couple of slightly lighter weeks – as long as you follow it up with one proper training week before you being the taper.

      Have you done your longest run yet? I’d recommend delaying that by 2 weeks, assuming you haven’t.

      Thanks,

      Thomas

      Reply
  2. My running club has a Sunday Long Run program to help people prep for Boston.
    We have water, sport drink and gels and candy at water stops.
    This week we started having water stop attendants pour candy into runners hands. When we use a water stop more than once we used to put names on cups to cut down on trash. Now we use cups once and you take what ever you touch!
    Had about 30 people show up this Sunday. About our normal crowd.

    Reply

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