Type A personalities beware. I’m about to give some unsettling advice. There are times when it’s ok to not follow your training plan. Yes, you read that correctly. Sometimes relentlessly following your training plan can cause more harm than good. So how do you know when to ditch your plan and instead let your body be the guide? After years of mistakes, injuries and blunders endured from mindlessly following the “plan,” here are some things I have learned:
Plans Are Not One Size Fits All
If you have a personal coach, friend or trusted runner who helped you create your own personalized training plan, you should, without a doubt, follow that plan. Make sure to check in with its creator frequently to assess your progress and adjust your plan accordingly. For the rest of us who are not fortunate enough to have a completely customized plan, remember that training plans found online, in books or in magazines are made for the mass public. Therefore, they might not perfectly meet your needs. You should feel empowered to tweak your plan by moving workouts to different days of the week or adjusting total weekly mileage.
It’s Okay To Take It Easy
When I first started running, I assumed that the more fast runs I could complete, the better! Slow runs seemed like a waste of time. However, I have learned that slow runs are just as important as the faster, speed-specific workouts. Those slower runs enable your body to absorb all of the fitness you are building during key workouts. It’s also important to allow yourself to take additional “slow days” when you are feeling exhausted or on the verge of an injury.
Above All: Seek Progress
A few bad runs here and there is no cause for alarm. Bad weather, not enough sleep or improper nutrition can all result in a bad run. But if you are consistently not improving during your speed-specific runs, you should likely take a step back and reassess your plan. A lack of progress could be a sign that you are over-trained or heading for an injury, or that you are not pushing yourself to your full potential!
Focus On The Long-Term
If you suspect that you might be over-trained or heading toward an injury, it’s much better to take a few days (or even an entire week!) to rest and recover right away. Missing one day or one week is much better than injuring yourself and potentially not being able to complete your next race! I always feel anxious when I think about taking time off, but when I ground myself in long-term goals (i.e. I want to be running for the next 50 years!), taking one week off seems like a small price to pay to ensure that I reach my long-term goals.
It’s A Fine Balancing Act
While it’s smart to take some time off, it’s important not to take rest too far. If you take days off when experiencing even the slightest pain or discomfort, you’ll likely never run again! It might take a while to figure out your sweet spot in terms of mileage, days off and cross-training, especially if you are new to running. Remember that even professional runners must work to find the perfect balance with running, so take your time, experiment and, above all, have fun with the process.