Philadelphia Marathon Training: How to Deal with Race Training Setbacks

Setbacks are inevitable. Here's how to deal.

When you’re training for a race, setbacks are bound to happen. Obstacles like injury, sickness, travel, work or family responsibilities will disrupt your training. While this can be extremely frustrating, more often than not, these setbacks are completely unavoidable. Some setbacks may last a day or two, while others may derail your training for weeks. I usually tell my clients that if you can complete at least 90 percent of the training in a 16-week plan, that’s good.

It would be nice if we all could drop our other responsibilities to focus solely on training for the Philadelphia Marathon, but odds are that’s not possible. So with just under seven weeks until race day, if you find yourself behind on training, here are some tips to help get you back on track — or, at the least, help to deal with a setback.

1. Reduce (or eliminate) the taper 

The whole idea behind a marathon taper is that a reduction in training volume leading up to race day allows the body to recover from the prior weeks or months of high training volume and intensity. The goal during the taper isn’t really to advance fitness through harder/longer workouts, but rather to start to realize the past months’ worth of hard workouts and runs.

Most training plans will account for around a two-week reduction in training volume or taper with the longest run either three or four weeks prior to the race. This reduces what I call marathon specific training time, or the portion of your training where the goal is purely to advance fitness. So now with roughly seven weeks until race day, you have five weeks to get specific training done in order to advance your fitness, followed by a two-week taper. (Scary to hear that you only have five weeks of training left, right?) However, if you find yourself behind on your weekly long run due an extended setback, simply eliminate the longer taper and replace it with a three- to seven-day taper. This will give one or two more weekends to get in your long runs and hard workouts.

2. Set goals that don’t involve a finishing time

If your original goal finishing time seems like a stretch due to a setback, try setting a new goal that has nothing to do with finishing time. This will still give you something to work toward without the added stress of hitting an unrealistic time. One of my favorite non-time goals is picking a point in the course after which you won’t allow anyone (or more than a limited number of runners) to pass you until the finish. For example you might say, “After mile 20, I won’t let more than 10 runners pass me.” Another good goal is to make your last 5K or 10K your fastest. All these have nothing to do with your finishing time, but still require you to put effort toward goals that give you a sense of purpose while running. Naturally, these goals will favor a smart race and who knows? You may end up running a good time without planning on it.

3. Think big picture

This one isn’t easy to accept, especially if you’ve been hyper-focused on one race, but those who approach running with a long-term mindset will usually succeed. Think of each race or cycle as a steppingstone towards your goal. If you’re able to decouple your specific time goal from a particular race and view each race as a steppingstone and one of many opportunities to reach your goal, it’s easier to accept not hitting your goal in seven weeks. There will always be another marathon with a long-term mindset.

Remember, setbacks are mostly unavoidable and should be thought of as part of the process. They are frustrating and can make you feel like your running is doomed to failure, however, if you’re able to adopt these trategies, you may accept and more easily deal with them.


Cory Smith is the owner of Run Your Personal Best, an online running coaching business, and a two-time NCAA Division 1 National Qualifier and 4:03 miler while at Villanova University. He also serves as Running Editor for Gear Institute and has been a regular running contributor for Be Well Philly for the Broad Street Run and the Philadelphia Marathon.

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