I’m currently training for my 41th – 44th races. What can I say- I love to race. My credit card hates me.
My next races include a 10K, two sprint triathlons, and a half marathon. I’m really enjoying the renewed focus on my training. Having a training plan reenergizes me. It’s a ‘deadline’ that encourages me to stick to my healthy habits.
However, a training plan is not a mandate – it’s just a general guideline to get your booty across the finish line. And training, of course, doesn’t occur in a vacuum. You train while living the rest of your life, which means things don’t always go according to plan.
Here are my answers to five common training questions:
What should you do if you miss a training day?
Training plans build in room for error. If you miss a few days, your training will not collapse. However, you should try to stick to your training plan because each week builds on the other. If you miss too many longer runs and suddenly get back on track, you’ll find yourself increasing distance too quickly.
All training plans include rest days. When I miss a run, I consider it a ‘unscheduled rest day,’ and try to make it up the run later in the week, on what would’ve been a rest day. However, you don’t want to screw with the rhythm of your plan, as rest days are often timed to maximize recovery (like, after the weekly long run or speedwork). Study the timing of your rest days and make up the mileage if possible – but if it interferes with rest too much, just skip the day.
What if you miss a long run? I always try to make up my long runs, as these are both physically and emotionally important. If I miss a long run and can’t do it on a rest day, I will often swap out a shorter run and do the long run. Again, just study your plan to ensure you aren’t creating a situation in which you, for example, run five days in a row.
And lastly, if you miss a ton of days and really start to fall behind, consider: 1) switching to a walk/run game plan for the race or 2) dropping down to a shorter distance. Most marathons also often a half marathon option, and you can typically switch for free.
Should you sign up for mid-training plan races?
My big race is the half marathon, but I’ve got three smaller races on my plan. I personally like doing mid-training races, as I find racing to be really fun and exciting. Mid-training races injects energy into me, just as I start to feel like training is a chore. If you’re considering a mid-training plan race, make sure you’ll be capable of that distance come race day. For example, if you’re training for a marathon and there’s a half in two weeks, but you’re only at 8 miles, it would be unwise to sign up.
I rarely go ‘balls to the wall’ during mid-training races. Increasing speed and distance at the same time is tricky and can set you up for injury. So do the race at your normal long run pace or walk/run it. Just have fun!
When should you sign up for the race?
A tricky question, indeed! If you sign up early, you’ll get an early bird discount. However, injuries do happen during training – even if you’re doing ‘everything right.’ I have signed up for many races early, gotten injured, and been out $75. Some races will refund a portion of your money or let you defer your entry, but most just say, “Tough cookies!” You also risk the race selling out (although most will update the website as sell-out gets closer).
For challenging races, I tend to sign up early and risk losing the money because it really helps me stay committed to training. It’s really a personal preference.
What if you can’t keep up?
I’ve been there – the weeks progress and training gets harder and harder. You just can’t keep up. The long runs feel impossible and progress too quickly. What should you do?!
There’s three things to consider:
- There are many causes of sluggish runs – weather, inadequate fueling, hydration problems. Study your habits to see if it’s really about something else.
- Don’t tackle two goals at once. Burnout is inevitable if you try to increase distance and speed at the same time. Both are really hard! Just pick one goal to work at a time, although I do think it’s helpful to do a comfortable speedwork day when you’re training for long distances, too.
- Consider the walk/run method. There is no shame in walking. If you’re struggling to keep up, try switching to walk/run intervals during your long runs.
- Take a few extra rest days. If you’re feeling burnout, not undertrained, take a few days off of your plan. You’ll do more good than harm.
Can you train entirely on the treadmill?
You can, but you don’t want to – treadmills are a lot softer than the road and, come race day, your body will be shocked by the impact distance. Part of training is getting your body used to the rigors of racing, including not only distance and speed, but surface, too. By only training on the treadmill, you’re setting yourself up for race day injuries. Plus, a treadmill doesn’t exactly recreate real-world conditions: it’s flat (unless you set it to constant adjust incline to simulate running hills) and it pushes you forward slightly. Oh, if only the ground would do that!
Get outside once or twice a week at a minimum. If you’re 100% treadmill and want to switch to outdoor running, do it slowly – start with one shorter run a week, then slowly increase distance and duration.
So – weigh in! When do you sign up for races? Do you train on a treadmill? And what do you do when you miss a training day?