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Slow My Workout on Tired Legs or Just Change It?

WE’VE ALL HAD days where we plan to log some serious Ks but our legs simply won’t do as their told. When this happens, is it better to push through your planned Ks at a slower pace, or pull back to an easier distance?

When your legs don’t respond to a workout, and you are not experiencing aches or pains indicative of an oncoming injury or illness, it’s a pretty good sign you are in the midst of a training cycle and have not completely recovered or adapted to this new workload. This type of fatigue doesn’t always mean you need to take time off.

While in training mode, runners are progressively overloading the body with more mileage, more speed, or both. Experiencing training fatigue can slow you down while in the midst of a training cycle until the body adapts.

The important thing is to keep the progressive overload within healthy limits so you become stronger, fitter, and faster while minimising the risk of injury or burn out.

The appropriate training recipe challenges and stresses our system, which stimulates a chain of physiological adaptations, and we come out fitter once we complete the cycle. As long as you are not experiencing signs of injury, illness, or excessive fatigue, you can proceed with training.

Progressive overload workouts are designed to be hard in order to tax your system sufficiently so you can improve your fitness level. In a sense, you are breaking down your existing system in order to build a fitter one. However, the workload must be appropriate for your level of conditioning and followed by an adequate rest period.

Only then can runners gain fitness, but adaptation doesn’t happen right away. Adaptations can take a few days to a few weeks, so for a short time, you may be slower than you were before you began the training cycle. Progress is not always measured by a nice, continuous incline. More often than not, it is one step forward and two steps backward, three steps forward and one step backward. This is when we need to trust the training process and stay the course.

If you are following a program with specific paces, I suggest you continue as long as you are not experiencing any aches, pains, or injuries. Use perceived exertion as your guide rather than the paces that were specified.

If you’re following a particularly hard program, run the workout at what you perceive to be a hard effort, regardless of the actual numbers. Record these times or paces for comparison later on. It will be interesting data for you to have as you work your way through the training cycle and progress to a higher fitness level.

That said, rest and recovery days are also an essential component of any training cycle and something that too many runners overlook. Some red flags are excessive fatigue, poor sleep, a high resting heart rate, persistent aches or pains, or lack of motivation. When these signs are present, you do need to take some time off. Make sure that your training plan contains adequate rest and recovery time so you can progress.

When selecting a training plan, consider the following:

  1. It establishes an adequate endurance base before progressing to speed workouts. Speed workouts should comprise no more than 20 percent of your weekly mileage, typically one workout a week.
  2. It increases in mileage, duration, or intensity between 10 and 20 percent each week.
  3. It alternates hard workouts with easy runs.
  4. It allows at least one day completely off for rest. Rest means no training, with one exception: a gentle stretch class.
  5. It plans a recovery week every third or fourth week, which includes a cut back in mileage of about 30 percent and no speed work.

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