When someone sets their sights on an event goal like a triathlon, a fondo, a marathon, even an ultra-marathon or an Ironman, preparing for those big goals can take up a lot of your time, effort, energy and focus. When you add family, friends and work into the mix, sometimes you can find yourself falling short somewhere. As athletes, when we miss a few workouts because of extra work commitments or family matters, it seems pretty common to feel like we need to make excuses. Maybe we need to stop doing that. Rather than feel guilty or like we’re failing before we even start, maybe what we need to do is find a different way of looking at things, a more balanced perspective that gives us permission to be Ok with missing a training session.
Missing a few workouts when other life commitments get in the way is going to happen to all of us at some point. Time commitments and other stresses in other areas of our lives can result in a missed workout here and there or missing a big chunk of training time. When you can jump back in or get back on track, do it. Don’t let a missed workout or training break become an excuse to quit before you get a chance to start. Remember that every day is a new start because everyday is also an opportunity to quit. If you don’t re-start, you’ll never know what you can do. You’ll never finish a race you don’t start. Just look at any set of race results and check to see how many people have “DNS” beside their names with no results beside. There are lots of really good reasons to “DNS” (‘do not start’) but there are lots of poor ones too. If you re-start your training when you have the chance, you are one step closer to the start line, one step closer to achieving your goal.
Sometimes, training and fitness is just plain hard work that we’d rather not do. Sometimes, we just don’t feel like we have the energy to do the work. I'll never forget a swim workout I went to about 15 years ago when I was training for an Ironman. I'd done a few days of long hard workouts and I thought a nice easy swim would be perfect. Swim coach had other ideas. He knew what I'd been doing and he knew Ironman was just over a month away. He gave me what I thought was a really tough set given my energy level at the time, something like 10X400. I just scowled at him and said "but you have no idea how tired I am!". He said he probably did know but that it didn't matter, this is what your workout is. I griped a few more times; I tried to bargain with him for alternatives; I tried to promise to do the work another day. He wouldn’t budge. So, I did the work and I didn’t love it but it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. Sometimes, you just have to do the work because it needs to be done and it won't be fun. Sometimes, you just need to start the work and the rhythm comes to you. It’s not always easy but if it were,more people would do it, right?
But don’t get me wrong - there are days when you commit to a workout or training session and your body just doesn’t respond. There are days when you need to be able to read your body’s signals and call it a day. If you are using technical feedback like heart rate data, swim or run pace or power data on a bike ride, check those metrics with more subjective feedback like energy levels, perceived exertion, dizziness, temperature response.
What Training Mode Are You In? Does It Fit Your Schedule Right Now?
Life and work can get in the way of training and be distracting, for sure. But don't forget that you don't have to set aside big chunks of time to keep working towards a fitness goal. There are different reasons we train and workout how we restart training after a break can be different as a result of those different goals:
We may have an event we want to do where we have specific performance goals. If we have a detailed and periodized training program with specific performance designed to help us achieve those goals, the longer the training break, the more training sessions that we miss, the more we risk compromising that goal. Sometimes, it happens and the best way to deal with it might be to assess and amend your goals. For example, I might sign up for an Ironman event with the goal of being on the podium in my age group. (Anyone can have a dream, right? Stretch goals can be very motivating.)
Had I had a goal like that in 2019, I would have had my training hijacked by a 6 week break in the spring after I came down with shingles. I did absolutely no training for over a month. I didn’t even have the energy to go for a walk after work, just for even light exercise. Nothing, nada, zilch. Had I been planning on racing that summer, I would have had to alter my goals to something more realistic like “getting to the start line healthy.” That 6 week period that spring was the longest break from serious and focused training that I have had in over 25 years and it really did open my eyes to the importance of such a simple goal as just being able to start. I now believe that, for me, “Getting to the start line healthy” will always be at least one of my goals for any event I plan to do. If something more comes of it, maybe that’s just the bonus.
Think of this kind of training as hard work for an interrmined and, likely, extended period of time. There will be a lot of hard training sessions and maybe even some specific challenges added in to add an element of accountability or challenge of some measured level. To be honest, this is where I usually live when I don’t have a race or event goal. This type of training for me is now more a habit or lifestyle. I do enjoy it since I generally like training just for training’s sake but it can be a grind. Hard work with no end in sight can become difficult to sustain in terms of motivation. When it becomes a habit, it can be hard to let it go so, when life and work can gets in the way, even without specific event goals, missed workouts can leave you feeling guilty, like you need to make excuses.
The duration and intensity of training that you need to do in order to have a general level of health and fitness is doesn't require a lot of time. 4 or 5 30-minute sessions a week with some focus and purpose is enough. A short ride or run, some intensity if you feel like it after you get warmed up is all you need. Even if you are generally a performance oriented athlete, when other commitments get in the way of your performance and goal oriented training, even little chunks of time that you might be able to carve out can be helpful for just general health and wellbeing. If you have 30 minutes to spare, don’t ignore the opportunity just because it’s not enough, take the opportunity for what it is and allow yourself to accomplish something positive, even if it is only maintenance or even for stress relief. Rather than stress about not training enough to reach higher level performance goals, celebrate the fact that you’ve found some time to do something positive for yourself.
This is a tough one for me to identify with other than my short struggle with shingles but I know many people who have more experience with this, either by choice or circumstance. All I can say is that every week I was too out-of-it to train, I was consciously watching for signals that I could start training. I knew I wasn’t able to do anything but I knew that phase would end and I just had to wait until my body was ready. Other than by observation, I can’t speak to anyone else’s experience but I can understand how challenging it is to make the conscious decision to move on from this phase. I wanted this phase to end and looked for the end date every week. I know others might be more content to stay here longer which, to me, begs the question: what is your motivation to move on? I can’t answer that, only you can. I just know that I feel better in every other phase than this one and I can only assume you will too.
What kind of training phase are you in right now? Athletes generally don’t stay in one phase all the time. A longer view of our training, over a year or even longer, can be fluid and can have us spending time in any or all of those phases as a mindset. So, when you aim to be in your high performance training phase but life throws you a curveball and pushes you into a different training mode, recognize it, understand that it’s temporary, allow your annual plan to adapt. If the unprecedented nature of 2020 taught us anything, it is that we can roll with it when we have to. Another time will present itself with another set of circumstances and we’ll continue in whatever way we can.
Where Are You Now?
Will we race in 2021? It is possible even if the likelihood is still uncertain. So, what is the appropriate training response right now? For me, I have signed up for an event and I’m training on the assumption that the event will take place. With the exception of swimming, my 2021 triathlon training is underway and on track. My goal race is still 8 months away so there is still lots of time to get there but there isn't a lot of time to waste. Let’s just hope that swim training can start up soon.
Ferris Bueller wasn’t the first to say it and he won’t be the last but life moves pretty fast sometimes and if you don’t stop and look around sometimes, you might miss it.
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