In the early chapters of the Training Bibles I stress how important training consistently is to fitness and performance. In fact, the biggest mistake most self-coached athletes make is not training consistently. It’s not that they don’t want to; it’s just that they frequently violate an even more basic tenet of smart training which is at the heart of consistency — moderation. When you moderately increase the training stress (workout duration and intensity) in conservatively measured amounts you wind up training consistently week after week. But if you pile on huge doses of stress with overly long or hard workouts, or skip a rest week, you greatly increase your risk of injury, burnout, illness and overtraining. Any one of these will interrupt your consistency. When there is a break in training for a few days fitness is lost and you have to step back in training and begin over again. Many athletes experience this once or twice each season and as a result never realize their full potential.
I fully expect, however, that something will happen to interfere with your training even if you do everything right. This could even happen several times in a season. So it’s quite likely that you will have to vary your training to accommodate an interruption. Here’s a quick guide to modifying your training plan when workouts are missed.
Three or Fewer Days Missed
Return to training as if nothing happened. Don’t try to make up the missed workouts. Cramming more workouts into a few days creates the potential for a breakdown and another loss of time. It’s simply not a big deal to miss a couple workouts if it happens rarely.
Four to Seven Days Missed
This may be the hardest scenario to deal with. If the lost time was due to illness, as is quite often the case, you probably really won’t be ready to return to normal training right away even if the symptoms are gone. Your body’s chemistry has probably changed which will affect your capacity for exercise. This will show up as a high heart rate and perceived exertion at common paces and power outputs. In this case you will need to treat it as more than seven days missed even though you are starting back into training again.
If the missed training was not due to illness and you are ready to get started right away you will need to make some adjustments to the plan. The first change is to consider the lost training time a rest week. This is necessary but will throw off the scheduling of training for your A race. Your training blocks will no longer be synchronized to bring you to a peak of form on the day of the race. There are a couple of ways to resolve this dilemma. The first option, if you are in the Base or Build periods, is to reduce the length of the current block by one week. If you still aren’t synchronized do the same for the following block. The second option is to reduce the Peak period from two weeks to one. Neither of these is perfect. Both are going to result in less fitness being developed. But that’s the reality of missing a week of training. You can’t have it both ways – miss several workouts and have the same fitness as if no training was missed.
Once you are ready to train again you will need to step back and make up probably two or three key workouts. Decide which were the most important ones missed given your limiters and reschedule them. This may well mean pushing other workouts farther ahead into the plan. Eventually something will have to give. You’ll either have to miss one of the culminating workouts or decide you are progressing well enough to skip or modify one of the sessions remaining in the plan. There are simply too many variables here for me to be able to tell you exactly how to handle your situation. Give it a lot of thought.
One or Two Weeks Missed
If this was due to illness and you were in the Build period, start back into training with a Base 3 training block. If you were in the Base period go back to Base 1 or even Prep period training. Stay with that until you feel normal when working out. You will know because heart rate and perceived exertion will match pace and power as they did before you got sick. If in doubt, give it another day or two.
When your training vigor returns repeat the last week of hard training you did before the interruption. If that week goes well then begin moving forward with your training from that point. If it doesn’t go well repeat that week again. At some point you will need to leave out one to three weeks, or even more, of planned training. That could mean omitting Build 2 and/or the first week of the Peak period.
More Than Two Weeks Missed
If you were in the Build period when this training pause happened then return to Base 3 and start over again from there. If you already were in the Base period then back up one block from where you left off. As with the previous scenarios you will have to leave out some significant portion of your plan. The priority for omissions is the first week of Peak, Build 2 and Build 1 in that order.
If any of your training time was lost in the last week of Build 2 or the Peak period continue on with your training as if nothing happened. But as with all of these scenarios if the lost time was due to illness be conservative with intensity as you start back opting to train primarily in zones 1 and 2 until you are back to normal.