Sorry, I had to step away to stop laughing. If you think you are getting through 18 weeks or so without a single illness, major project, adverse weather condition, or family emergency interfering with your plans, I admire your optimism but question your sanity. Over even a single month, barriers are bound to arise. In my most recent training season, I had to adjust due to business travel, my wife’s travel plans and work schedule, storms, and a food poisoning incident – yet the result turned out satisfactory (to say the least). So how can you face down such challenges with confidence?
The first step is to change your mindset about the situation, and start thinking about how you can turn it to your advantage instead of moping. When you think about opportunities instead of problems, some potentially creative solutions may emerge – boosting instead of limiting your training.
Note that your mindset should not be “to catch up” for time you missed – trying to completely compensate for the shortfall could lead to overtraining and injury. In addition, this advice is not intended when you are faced with a major injury that may cause you to miss two or more weeks of training. In such a situation, it is wiser to first decide what type of rest or therapy may be needed (preferably determined via professional help), and then adjust your goals based on the new realities. Since overtraining is a frequent cause of injuries, you should definitely reconsider your overall approach for the season, as opposed to making up for lost ground.
Where possible, it is best to be proactive about making adjustments, anticipating challenging schedule situations and changing your plans accordingly. Have a cold going around the family, a big project due the next week, a trip by you or a family member, or an impending storm front staring you in the face? Start thinking how you can incorporate one or more of the changes below to make the most of your opportunity.
Back-to-back long runs
One of the best training tools you can employ is to run long on tired legs, and there are few more rationale ways to do this then to run long again (or, at least “medium-long”, in Pfitzinger’s lexicon) the next day. At least one of these runs, and potentially both, should be very easy, with a rest or very light recovery day afterwards. Steve Spiers of Run Bulldog Run swears that running back-to-back 20’s gave him the best gains of any type of workout in his marathon results. I did this a few times last season, most specifically pegging 18 and 14 miles back-to-back.
Shift the “week”
We tend to conform to the definition of a week as being Monday through Sunday or maybe Sunday through Saturday. There is no reason that this need always be the case – if you can string together a 7-day period as suits your temporarily-impaired schedule, you may achieve a valuable weekly mileage PR – helpful both physically and mentally. Last season I had such a period delivering 92 miles over 7 days, far above the “official” weekly PR of 78 miles.
To overcome a barrier that lasts a day or two, you can compress 3-4 runs, each of which should be easy, into 2 days, or maybe 36 hours. This is similar to the first approach, driving you to run decent mileage on tired legs, though the individual workouts may be shorter. I’ve done 40 miles over 36 hours in recovering from a bout of laziness (fatigue) and a storm.
If you are pressed for time on a given day but have at least 45 minutes available, you can squeeze in a mini-workout. To make up for missing a few key workouts, you can consider combining them into one workout, providing some specific training value that you might miss in a more traditional approach. For example, if you need some marathon pace work and missed some intervals, try doing a shorter interval workout and putting some marathon pace miles in during your normal cool-down period. Or force a tougher (but shorter) tempo run by doing some hill sprints first.
Train through your “B” race
If you have a tune-up race planned for which you may normally include a mini-taper, it may be appropriate to (further) lower your goals for the race, treat it as a good workout at a specific pace (like marathon pace) and train through it, not cutting your mileage. Last year, I set a PR in the half-marathon during my highest mileage week (by traditional definition) ever, but I know that, fully rested, I could have bested that result by another minute or two.
Invest in cross-training or ancillary work
And, if situations like weather or travel keep you from hitting the roads, you can still take advantage of what you do have at your disposal – such as cross-training equipment or even just your own body. These ancillary activities are the types of exercises that can keep us healthy, but we often don’t get enough time to do them well in the heat of a training cycle.
Obviously, before making these adjustments, make sure you are being realistic about your capabilities – if you don’t have a solid base and preferably a few training cycles under your belt, back-to-back long runs may be a bit much. But with a little creativity, you’ll learn to crave the variety and intensity you can get from having to adjust your schedule occasionally.