If your last few months of running have been smooth sailing without injury, illness, weather interruption, or work or personal conflict, you can skip this post and file it for later. If one or more of the aforementioned have taken their toll on what was once a grand plan for a great spring racing season, then the following advice is for you.
If your training has been hit & miss…
If your training has been a little more hit and miss than you would like, there are some good things to keep in mind. Your head will decondition much faster than your body. The most common occurrence of this phenomenon is when you go from a great workout or race to one just a few days later that is disappointing. It seems all is lost but really we know you never gain or lose fitness that fast. Keep in mind a great performance proves you are in great shape. A bad day simply proves you had a bad day.
When you have not been able to check off every mile and every workout, do not underestimate the value of lifetime base and toughness. Of course, being talented also really helps smooth over spots of missed training.
But if you think you are beyond mental deconditioning and it’s going to take more than zippy mental tricks to get you back in racing mode, then it is time for a reality check. Pulling a workout staple with a long history or a short race will put your current state of disrepair into perspective. Maybe you’ve been doing a mile repeat workout, or threshold run for a number of years. Controlling the variables such as conditions, course, rest intervals, etc will give you a look at how you stack up historically. Then you can see how you’ve done after similar workouts. A short race will help you predict race performance from race performance which tends to be more reliable. If the news is good and you are not that far off course, pick up the plan with a few needed adjustments and resume your season. If the news confirms your fears of lost fitness, it’s time to reset.
Reevaluate & Reset
The first step is to reevaluate your goals for the next few months. You might need to adjust, reset or drop them. We do know that trying to make up for lost training in a compressed time frame is a sure bet to set yourself back even further with injury. The lesson I’ve had to learn more than once that is very valuable when rebuilding fitness is to just run the workouts at the appropriate effort level and let pace take care of itself. I’ve been amazed at how much faster fitness builds when overrunning the workout is avoided. Just run the workout and let your body work it’s magic.
How to Rebuild
If you do have significant rebuilding to do, following these steps should help you get there asap without undue injury risk. One, reestablish consistent running. Two, pick a day or two each week to push your aerobic limits. Ease into the run and then increase to high end aerobic running and stay there a little longer each week. At first you will find rapid improvement, but when this begins to plateau much of your basic fitness has returned. Along the way with steps one and two you can reestablish your long run without hurry to get to a big number. Just go long enough you are tired at the end. Step three is to add some aerobic intervals like 30 seconds fast and 60 seconds jog. Just get used to running faster than you can maintain. When this feels coordinated and comfortable, you have put together the pieces you need to resume full intensity training. This general approach is important because legs, lungs, and nervous system adapt at different speeds. Getting these back in balance is an important safeguard to keep you healthy and improving.
Silver Lining Skill
Let’s look at the silver lining of a training buildup gone wrong. Fitness gets so much focus, the skills of racing are often overlooked. Racing skills are what help you maximize your training. If the initial goals are now gone, you can still make this season count by learning an incredibly valuable skill. Rarely do a string of months go 100% according to plan. Learning to race up to your actual fitness through running peaks and valleys may end up yielding more in the long run than a beautiful training log.