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Training in the real world: when you don’t have the time or energy to stick with the plan

Training in the real world: What to do when you don't have the time or energy to stick with a plan

There are few things as thrilling as starting to train for a race. If you’re like us, you settle on a program that calls for 16 weeks or so of training runs, pull out your calendar, and pencil in runs each week. Then you start your training filled to the brim with excitement and motivation.

The thing is that 16 weeks is a really long time. And even if you have the best of intentions in the beginning, you may learn a few weeks – or months – into training that you’re in over your head. If you’ve ever realized halfway through half or full marathon training program that you just don’t have the time or energy to stick with your plan, you’re in good company.

We’ve been there, and we’re willing to bet that most runners have had this happen at least once, too. Here’s what you can do about it:

  • Modify your race goals. If you’re dreaming of a sub-4:00 hour marathon, but you’re having trouble getting in your long runs, then this may not be the race where you achieve that goal. Instead, shoot for a slower finish time – maybe 4:15 or 4:30 – or don’t worry about the time on the clock at all and race “for fun”. The great thing about running is that there will always be more races, and just because you won’t get your sub-4:00 this season doesn’t mean that you won’t ever earn it.
  • Dial down the speedwork. If you don’t have the energy to keep up with your training program, the intense speedwork could be to blame. If you find yourself especially fatigued, take a closer look at your tempo runs and repeats. Cutting speed workouts short, slowing down the pace by 10 seconds or so, or doing fewer speed sessions per week may give you the boost in energy that you need to complete your training plan. (Note that doing so may mean you’ll miss your race time goal.)
  • Skip junk miles. If you’re running five days per week, chances are that two or three of those workouts call for “easy” days where you keep it slow. While running easy is crucial for recovery, these are the runs to skip if you’re short on training time.
  • Take a week off from running. Ignore your training plan for a full week and don’t run. Experts say you can take six days off from running without losing significant fitness. This mid-training cycle break may be just what you need to get your energy – and motivation – back.
  • Drop down to a shorter distance. If you’re registered for the full marathon, check if the race offers a half marathon the same weekend. Some races let you drop down in distances – there may be a 10k or 5k option, too – for a nominal fee.
  • Check the race’s deferment and transfer policy. If you know the race just isn’t going to happen, that’s OK. It’s better to sit it out than agonize over missed training runs for weeks. Visit the race’s website and check their deferment policy. You may be able to defer your entry until the following year. Some races even allow you to legally transfer your race bib to another participant.

Written by Jen Matz.