How to Adjust Your Workouts for an Off-Day

By Greg McMillan, M.S.

As featured in the JulAug 2011 issue of Running Times Magazine

Learn to make appropriate changes to workouts as needed

 

Every runner goes into every workout hoping for the best. We all want to feel great and hit or even surpass our planned paces. The reality, however, is that you're likely to have a few workouts where you just don't feel good. Or you may show up to the track for your workout and find that the wind is howling. Or maybe the heat index is so high that your body can't cope with both the external heat load from the environment and the heat load you develop when running fast. What's a runner to do?

One difference between pro runners and us amateurs is that pro runners are able to manage their workouts in these situations. They're comfortable with adjusting their expectations for the workout. This openness to adjusting a workout when things aren't going well allows pro runners to make the otherwise compromised workout a positive training session. Where many recreational runners will throw in the towel and begin a slippery slope of frustration because they "failed" in the workout, pro runners have the ability to turn a lemon workout into lemonade.

HOW TO ADAPT YOUR WORKOUTS

For example, let's say you have a workout of six 1-mile repeats at 10K pace with a 3-minute recovery jog. Let's also say that you find you're just "off" that day or that the weather isn't cooperating. The best option, if available, is to delay the workout to another day, one where you hopefully feel better or the weather is more cooperative. Let's say, however, that you can't move the workout or the weather pattern won't change. If you're following the example of pro runners, you'll adjust the workout in one of three ways.

First, and the best option for 10K runners to marathoners, is to slow the goal time for each repeat. If your ideal training pace for this workout is 6:30 per mile, shoot instead for around 6:40 per mile (a 2.5 percent adjustment using the chart below). Then you can settle in and complete the workout, feeling good that you salvaged what could have been a disastrous day. In such a situation, pro runners see no need to push so hard to hit the prescribed times that they overtrain. They would rather adjust the workout and get the work in.

A second option is to adjust the number of repeats. So instead of doing six repeats, which would require too much effort in tough circumstances, run three to four repeats and call it a day. This is the best option if you're concentrating on shorter distances, from 800m to 5K, because practicing race pace is of critical importance.

The third option can help with both of the first two options: Increase the recovery time between repeats. Instead of taking 3 minutes between each repeat, take 4 or 5 minutes. 

Again, pro runners are comfortable making these adjustments to ensure a positive workout. We amateurs should get more comfortable making these "compromises" as well. Doing so leads to more positive training results, which always builds our confidence for racing.


McMillan's Guide to Perceived Fatigue and Compromising Conditions

I put this chart together as a guideline for when you aren't feeling well or the weather won't cooperate. There are four levels listed and you can adjust your workout or race by these levels depending on how you're feeling or the weather conditions. This is just a guide; with a little experimentation, you'll find how best to adjust your expectations.

LEVEL 1

You feel a little off but not too bad; there's a slight headwind; or the heat index is above 80. Adjustment: 2.5 percent reduction in performance.
LEVEL 2

Your legs are heavy and lack the snap you wish they had; there's a moderate headwind; or the heat index is above 90. Adjustment: 4 percent reduction in performance.
LEVEL 3

You can run but your body (and mind) aren't cooperating; you feel slow and tired and your legs are dead; there's a strong headwind; or the heat index is above 100. Adjustment: 6 percent reduction in performance.
LEVEL 4

You're sick or on the verge of injury; your body and mind are elsewhere and you have no energy to run hard; the wind is so strong that you have to lean into it just to make forward progress; the heat index is above 105. Adjustment: Don't bother. Take the day off or jog easy. Nothing positive will come from the day.

 

 

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© 1999-2014 Greg McMillan

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