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Life Happens – When the random Tuesday interrupts your training plan

Not all of us are slaves to our training plans. But most endurance athletes I’ve met over the years can get a bit… grumpy… when life gets in the way of training. It could be a bad weather event. It could be a family emergency. It could be that you got called into work to cover for someone who got in a wreck on the way in today. Fundamentally, life happens and sometimes there isn’t any way around it. The question we have to face is what do we do about it?

As a society we tend to really respect those folks who sacrifice everything to reach a particular goal. It could be 100 hour work weeks. It could be the stay at home mom who never sleeps. It could be the guy who literally works himself to death to provide for his family. This is why anytime someone really falls apart 200 meters from the finish line and then crawls in anyway it becomes a viral news story. And while I’m sure most of these folks are admirable, I’m not entirely sure that we should seek to emulate them. Sometimes we need to take a step back and remember that we probably need to keep the other plates spinning too. Working so much you never get to see your family isn’t exactly all that different from just never being there from your kids’ perspective. How many folks have gotten divorced because their all-in personality drove them to drinking, spending all their time exercising, or simply being 100% focused on one thing? How do we go about making sure we’re not going down the rabbit hole?

The day of the epic triple breakfast at Granny's in Stillwater, OK. I thought I ordered the omelette and a couple of sides, not three whole breakfasts. Needless to say, this required a change to the anticipated path of the day. I did successfully finish it all to the surprise of the waitress, but it's not what I'd normally call an ideal way to "fit it in".

The important thing to remember is that sometimes life happens. For the vast majority of us, training is a way of life. But it’s just one piece of that life. Sometimes some of the other pieces have to take precedence for a bit. Now that doesn’t mean we still can’t keep training as a part of our life. Remember, we’re trying to figure out how to balance all of these priorities so we cover all of our bases. Obviously, taking care of the workout right when we get up is the easiest way to ensure it gets done. If it’s the first thing we do, then it’s less likely that something else is going to show up unexpectedly and throw a wrench into our plans. But sometimes we wake up knowing that something else has to take priority that day. At this point, we’ve got a couple of options.

Option 1) Squeezing something in anyway

The first option is to attempt to squeeze something in. It probably won’t be the workout we had planned, but we can get a short/simple workout in to appease the calendar gods. And quite frankly this is normally what this option is about: not feeling guilty about skipping a workout. Needless to say, this isn’t the best purpose of a workout. I mean, how exactly is that going to help you get to the finish line faster? Now if it supposed to be a recovery day and you don’t have time to take the kids swimming and get your easy swim in, I’d be willing to bet that spending some time in the pool with the kiddos is probably going to meet the same physiological goal as the workout. You’re going to be flushing some nutrients into the muscles beat up from the last workout. It just might not add up nice at the end of the week. Doing some push ups body weight squats, and core work will probably suffice to say you got in some resistance training if you can’t get to the gym during open hours.

Option 2) Rearranging the week’s training schedule

Sometimes the day that stuff is hitting the fan is on a day when we have a “quality” workout scheduled. Maybe we were supposed to do a long run. Maybe it was supposed to be speed work at the track. But we probably won’t get the full training stimulus in that we’re looking for by squeezing in a short token workout. In this case it’s often better to shuffle the week around a bit. Most training plans have enough wiggle room that you can swap an easier day for a harder workout. You just have to be careful that you aren’t putting two quality efforts too close together by doing this. But if you know the purpose of the workouts, and how much time you’ll probably need to recover from each one, there normally isn’t a problem with shuffling the week around a bit. If you aren’t confident in your ability to shuffle stuff around without goofing the plan, that’s what a coach is for. Our whole job is to make sure you can get the best possible training in, given the time you have available, to get you as fit as possible while still being safe.

Option 3) Writing it off

Sometimes we have to accept that the calendar gods aren’t the only ones who have to be appeased. Sometimes we have to acknowledge that we aren’t going to get a chance to get a workout in today. And that it’s okay when life happens. If the workout we’re cutting is a recovery workout, it’s probably not that big of a deal if we’re going to be busy doing other stuff that’s going to be keeping us mobile anyway. If it’s a long/hard workout being cut, we can just push it a day and hit it tomorrow (that whole rearranging the schedule thing). If it’s an easy mileage kind of day where we’re just putting in the miles to continue developing as endurance athletes, it’s probably not that big of a deal to tack some of those miles onto a couple of other runs over the next week or so. At the end of the day, it’s just a workout.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m as prone to getting grumpy about missing a scheduled workout as anyone else. But I also try really hard to intentionally balance my training schedule with my family life, work, and social obligations. I’ve met some folks who are completely driven by their training plans, and I don’t think I’d want any of my clients to live that kind of life. It’s one thing to have a training block every few years when our entire support network is on board for reaching a particular goal, but it’s not a mentally healthy way to go through life. Who cares if you get a new PR, or even snag a course record or something, if you completely ignore your friends, loved ones, and social obligations. This may sound kind of funny coming from me, the coach whose business it is to ensure people get their workouts in, but it’s just a hobby. It does an amazing job keeping many of us sane and healthy as we go through life. But don’t let it consume you.

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