Want an easy way to reset your training? Set a new race goal and register for an event.
Deciding whether to pull the plug on a race is never easy, and not just for elite runners whose livelihood depends on good results. No runner likes giving up entry fees, fitness, and the chance to chase a goal. But forging ahead is not always smart. When training hasn’t gone as planned, here’s how to decide what to do based on the warning signs you encounter.
Adjust Your Goals
If you miss a few weeks with a minor injury or illness, and then fully recover, you can still run your planned race with a revised time goal. You can afford to miss two weeks completely, or train at a reduced level for up to four weeks. Similar rules apply if you have to miss training because of work or family commitments. As a rough guideline, slow your goal pace by five to 10 per cent for at least the first half of the race. If you feel good at that point, you can pick it up.
If you’ve set a big goal and your training just isn’t going as well as you’d hoped – you’re missing your paces in workouts or having to cut long runs short, say – and you’ve ruled out possible medical issues like anaemia, then it’s a good idea to race. Resist the urge to bail on competing just because you’re afraid you’ll fall short.
Postpone Your Peak
By finding a later event, you can miss a week or two of training without scaling back your goals. Give yourself time to catch up to the training you missed. For every week of training you miss completely, postpone your goal race by three weeks. For every week of subpar training (with a cold, for example), postpone by one week.
The trickiest situation is when you’re feeling excessively fatigued. There’s a fine line between overreaching and full-blown overtraining. If your training times have been getting worse for several weeks and you’re constantly tired, try reducing your training volume by 30 to 50 per cent for up to two weeks and stick to easy running. If you start feeling better, aim to race, but later than planned. If you don’t, see below.
Abort and Refresh
Sometimes you just have to stop. Major injuries like stress fractures don’t allow any bargaining, but even less-severe injuries like shin splints or plantar fasciitis can be season-ending. If an injury lingers for longer than four weeks, cancel upcoming races and shift your focus to getting healthy.
Warning signs of overtraining are easier to miss. Watch for slower training times, difficulty sleeping, persistent fatigue, and irritability. If two weeks of reduced training don’t start to reverse the symptoms, try a week off. If that doesn’t help, cancel upcoming races and resume training only when you feel ready. It may be physically possible to push through overtraining, but you’ll never perform your best if you don’t get to the starting line with a healthy body, clear mind, and fresh legs.