Seven Lessons for Adjusting Your Plan



One thing I’ve learned over the years is that even if you have the world’s greatest training program, you will have to change it. That’s the hard part for many runners. You buy or build this wonderful program and you want to stick to it. But, you can’t. Inevitably, something will come up. The weather will turn and you’ll need to alter the workout. Your child will be up all night with an illness ruining the good sleep you wanted before your important workout. Or, a work project will interfere and “squeezing” in the workout never seems to work. It’s just a fact of life and you must accept it. But, over the last two decades of coaching, I’ve learned a few lessons for when you have to adjust your training. Apply them and you’ll likely keep moving toward your goal – even though your ideal plan isn’t intact.


Lesson #1: Respect the “rhythm” of your schedule

By rhythm, I mean the flow of stress and rest across your week. When you have to adjust your program and move workouts around, remember Rule #1 and respect your stress/rest cycle. Let’s say you normally do a hard workout on Thursday (maybe it’s a tempo run) and your long run is normally on Saturday morning. But, due to work you have to move the tempo run to Friday. This will compress the stress and not allow the usual (and essential) recovery between the Thursday workout and the Saturday long run. So, you are risking failure and injury if you do back-to-back stressful days (tempo run Friday and long run Saturday). You’d be better off skipping one of the workouts to make sure you aren’t risking overtraining. Or, you could move the tempo run to Wednesday if you have enough advance notice but again, you have to look at the days prior to make sure your stress/rest rhythm isn’t compromised.

My bottom line is that you are better off erring on the side of more rest than you are compressing the stress. Sometimes, it’s just a good idea to skip a workout and just get an easy run in.


Lesson #2: Don’t sacrifice recovery after a race

I know you’re motivated to “hit it hard” after racing. After all, racing is so much fun and when it goes well, you really want to get out there and tear it up again. But, remember that a race is the most stressful training that you do. As a result, you’ll need to add EXTRA recovery after a race, not just the normal recovery you take after a hard workout. For example, if you normally do a workout on Tuesday but you raced on the prior Sunday, you are smart to move that Tuesday workout to Wednesday or Thursday. Again, you need to make sure you are recovered. An error runners commonly make is to perform a hard workout too quickly after a race. The mind is certainly ready but the musculoskeletal system is often still compromised and I just think that why risk an injury? An extra recovery day (or two) after a race is a smart adjustment to make.


Lesson #3: Maintain your long Run

Over the course of your running career, the one workout that I believe will help you the most is the long run. Endurance is the base of all running performance (See Rule #3) and the long run is the most important workout for developing endurance. As a result, I say that any time you have to adjust your training week, make sure you maintain your long run. I’d prefer to skip any other workout than to skip the long run, even if that means moving the long run to midweek and skipping a speed workout because your weekend will be full of other activities.


Lesson #4: Maintain your Frequency of Running

Another rule is that you will do best if you maintain your frequency (number of days running per week), even if you have to skip key workouts. The body likes routine so I try, even if I can’t (or shouldn’t) do my hard workout, to still get out for even a short jog just to keep my body in its routine.


Lesson #5: Err on the side of conservative & don’t squeeze in workouts

I am not a fan of squeezing in workouts. This strategy rarely results in a positive workout so I say err on the side of conservatism and skip the workout (and maintain your frequency – see Lesson #4).


Lesson #6: Sacrifice anything & everything to get to the line healthy

Being the fittest spectator stinks. So, when you are adjusting your plan, make sure none of your changes increase your risk of injury. Typically, this comes from compressing the stressful days (i.e., moving them close together). But, it may also mean reducing your volume or adding extra recovery days to make sure your musculoskeletal system is recovering. I frequently say, “One workout or race doesn’t make or break a training cycle” so be open to adjusting your plan to stay healthy.


Lesson #7: Never try to make up a botched workout

We’ve all been there. You go out to do your workout and it just isn’t happening. The body and possibly the mind just isn’t showing up today and you have to bag it. For many runners, they just can’t get past this and go out later in the day (or the next day) to repeat the workout. This CAN work but most often doesn’t. There usually was a reason for your bad workout and it typically has to do with needing more recovery. So, resist the urge to make up a workout and just move on. This may take a lot of mental fortitude but in the end, you’ll find you usually have an exceptional workout your next time out.


As with most things running, use common sense and don’t let your emotions lead you to do something ill- advised. Then you can easily (and frequently) modify your training plan just like I do for the runners I coach.


Written By Greg McMillan
Called “one of the best and smartest distance running coaches in America” by Runner’s World’s Amby Burfoot, Greg McMillan is renowned for his ability to combine the science of endurance performance with the art of real-world coaching. While getting his graduate degree in Exercise Science he created the ever-popular McMillan Running Calculator – called “The Best Running Calculator” by Outside Magazine. A National Champion runner himself, Greg coaches runners from beginners to Boston Qualifiers (15,000+ and counting!) to Olympians.

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