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How to Save a Bad Training Cycle (Running Coaches Corner)

Is it possible to save a bad training cycle? How do you do it? Today on Running Coaches Corner, I am discussing how to get to the finish line when the months before the race don’t go exactly as planned!

It doesn’t take someone a lifetime of running to have a bad training cycle, and bad training cycles don’t just happen to beginner runners, either. Even the most experienced runners can have a rough go of it, for various reasons.

Is it possible to save a bad training cycle? How do you do it? Today on Running Coaches Corner, I am discussing how to get to the finish line when the months before the race don't go exactly as planned! @suzlyfe

What are the reasons for a bad training cycle?

  • Number 1: POOR PLANNING
  • Doing Too Much Too Soon
  • Poor Recovery
  • Lack of Mental Engagement or Burnout
  • Delusions of Grandeur (aka setting the wrong goals)
  • Over-Committing Yourself Outside of Training
  • Bad Luck

Did I mention poor planning? Because if you look at all of these reasons, almost all of them can be explained by poor planning (bad luck doesn’t care about your planning). 

What constitutes a bad training cycle?

  • Injury
  • Mental burnout
  • Physical burnout
  • Getting to the race and never wanting to race again
  • Not getting to the starting line

Now, notice that I didn’t include “not meeting goals” as something that constitutes a bad training cycle. That isn’t to say that not meeting one’s goals isn’t disheartening and might cast a shadow over a training cycle. In my mind, however, a bad training cycle is one that gets you to the starting line in a negative fashion or not at all. If you make it to the starting line injury free and you make smart decisions during your race to get to the finish line in one piece, then I consider you to have had a successful training cycle ie one taken to completion. Qualitative goals first, people!

Can You Save a Bad Training Cycle?

So, I (admittedly belatedly) must give credit for the idea for this post to Marcia, who wrote yesterday about whether or not she could salvage her training cycle for the Berlin Marathon. In my response to her, I wrote that YES, she absolutely can save her training cycle based on what she has done so far, but that she should reassess her goals and strategy for the race.

This leads us to the How of today’s post.

How to Save a Bad Training Cycle

  • Forgive yourself your transgressions.

The past is in the past, now it is time to look forward and come up with a plan of attack.

  • Be honest with yourself about where you are RIGHT NOW

Get reallllll honest and take a look at your cardiovascular and muscular/skeletal fitness. Look at what is required of you in x number of weeks.

Say, for example, that you have a half marathon in a week and a half, but you haven’t run further than 6 miles during your training (cough cough). That said, you have had several days of logging sufficient numbers of steps that would carry you through a half marathon, you get about 20-25 miles a week of running on average. That said, at the ends of your runs (of 4-5 miles), you feel pretty spent and ready to call it. Other considerations? Varied terrain from what I am used to, more poundage than what I am used to, and oh yeah, I am pregnant.

Can you run the half marathon? Most likely, yes.

How should you approach it? 

  • Do not try to make up for lost time

If you haven’t already figured it out, I am talking about myself and the upcoming Empower Race Weekend, which will feature a 5k (which I know I can do) and a half marathon (which I am considering). I have a week and a half before my race, and the qualifiers from the previous point. 

The worst thing that I can do would be to go out and try to do a 10 miler this weekend–that will give me confidence (unless it bombs), but it also might injure me or make me so exhausted that I cannot finish my target race. 

Rather, I should…

  • Adjust my goals and restrategize the race itself

Considering I didn’t have any goals going into it to begin with (I only started running again about 4 weeks ago), adjusting my goals is moot, but let’s say that I am used to a 1:45-2:00 half marathon (which I am). The facts are that I am currently running 9-9:30 miles over 5 miles and feeling pretty well and done by the end of those. I am not going to be running a sub 2:00 race weekend after this. I must accept that. My goal instead is to finish happy and healthy.

My strategy? I have a few options:

  • Slow down and try to run the entire race
  • Run/walk the entire with my runs at my usual speed and walks at a power walk. 
  • Or run as far as I can and then crawl home.

These are all strategies for finishing the race. It goes without saying that there are many strategies for how to crash and burn, but I am not really wanting those as options. What I also don’t want? To finish just for the sake of finishing–particularly right now, if I get out there and things don’t feel right, I will pull myself from the race. This isn’t about pride! But I know that I am physically capable of running 5 miles and then walking another 8 miles on foot–I do that every Saturday, just about. 

Want another example of a salvaged training cycle? Check out my recap of my first marathon!

The answer is yes, you can save a bad training cycle. The key is to check your pride at the door and adjust your goals and plans accordingly (and ask for help if you need it!).

Yes, you CAN salvage a bad training cycle! Coach @suzlyfe explains how #runchat #marathontraining Click To Tweet

Also, remember–recovery afterwards will be key! You likely will be over-exerting your body on race day, so treat your body like a palace with these tips. Nutrition is also key!

Have you ever had a training cycle that went awry? How did you deal?

Join the link up and Running Coaches Corner for more great running advice and content!

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I am linking up with myself, RachelLora, and Debbie for Running Coaches CornerPattyErika, and Marcia for Tuesdays on the Run, NicoleAnnmarieMichelle, and Jen for Wild Workout Wednesday.

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  • Reply Deborah @ Confessions of a mother runner

    Doing too much too soon and over committing mentally and physically and often my problem. As you say, I do think you can re evaluate your race goals and make it barring injury.Thanks for the link up

    July 26, 2017 at 6:59 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      You should be constantly reevaluating anyway!

      August 1, 2017 at 3:38 pm
  • Reply Beth

    Thanks so much for these great tips! I know I’ve definitely set goals for a race before that are too lofty. This post will help a lot of runners who are in the same situation!

    July 26, 2017 at 7:06 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I hope so! We’ve all been there

      August 1, 2017 at 3:38 pm
  • Reply Montana @ Pretty Lil Mudder

    Great advice here! I don’t think I’ve had a bad training cycle but I have trained for a half in only 5 weeks before. I got up to 10 miles without issue. I prefer going to 12 though.

    July 26, 2017 at 7:16 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I do as well. I love a good dress rehearsal

      August 1, 2017 at 3:37 pm
  • Reply Laura @ This Runner's Recipes

    Great tips! I am too much of a planner to skip on that part, but I have had mental burnout in training cycles before and it’s not fun!

    July 26, 2017 at 7:29 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      It really does suck!

      August 1, 2017 at 3:37 pm
  • Reply Debbie

    My worst training cycles have been due to weather. Sometimes it’s just impossible to keep up the intensity when you live in a desert. And even though I find that when the weather cools down the training really is there, I really just stopped training for early fall races.

    July 26, 2017 at 7:36 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I was about to say, you guys have a serious disadvantage with the desert weather. You always impress me!

      August 1, 2017 at 3:36 pm
  • Reply Julie @ Running in a Skirt

    Great tips! My bad training sessions usually involves injury or illness.

    July 26, 2017 at 8:06 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      There are some things that you just can’t plan for!

      August 1, 2017 at 3:33 pm
  • Reply Annmarie

    The first time I trained for a half marathon, I went balls to the walls and overdid it. Definitely a lot of lessons learned there. Great advice, as always! <3

    July 26, 2017 at 8:15 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I kind of did that with my first marathon. I just needed more of a base than I though I had.

      August 1, 2017 at 3:34 pm
  • Reply Marcia

    Knock wood, the Berlin Marathon is going to go fine for me as all I ever wanted was to finish with a smile on my face. That’s going to happen. Self-fulfilling prophecy in full effect here. : )

    July 26, 2017 at 8:41 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Positive attitude wins the day!

      August 1, 2017 at 3:33 pm
  • Reply Katie

    I definitely find getting honest about where I am right now to not only be SO important, but also SO incredibly difficult. When I know that I have run multiple half marathons in years past and now struggle to run further than a 5k, it can be very challenging to not just want to throw in the towel, grab a pint of ice cream, and call it a day….but I’m working on it.

    July 26, 2017 at 8:56 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I think you have just created a mental barrier–like I said in the other comment, just try to add in a 4 miler here and there. Just to prove to yourself that you can do it!

      August 1, 2017 at 3:35 pm
  • Reply Suzy

    You so smaaaaart! I’ve never actually completed a training cycle. I usually just jump in and race stuff when it comes up.

    July 26, 2017 at 9:08 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      hahah I’ve noticed!

      August 1, 2017 at 3:32 pm
  • Reply Kim G

    Great tips as always! I totally think it’s possible to save a bad training cycle. I think that so much of it is mental too.

    July 26, 2017 at 9:13 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Most definitely. And PLANNING

      August 1, 2017 at 3:32 pm
  • Reply Emily

    Being honest with where I am and being willing to step back and just think about what I can actually handle is so humbling but it’s always so good. I did start doing a half marathon training cycle earlier this year, but I was definitely doing too much. I’m thankful that God providentially used my dietitian to tell me to cut back on running. Now I’m building up slowly, and it’s been so much better!

    July 26, 2017 at 9:18 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      That is awesome! Nutrition is such a huge part–and you have to have that solid base!

      August 1, 2017 at 3:32 pm
  • Reply Elle

    I think you have made some great points and appreciate your advice. I also think you have to have a positive attitude and like Marcia says, plan to finish with a smile on your face!

    July 26, 2017 at 9:30 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Most definitely! A great point.

      August 1, 2017 at 3:31 pm
  • Reply San

    I ended up having to skip to many training sessions of my training plan. In the end, it wasn’t a big deal, I still did well, but I realized that I didn’t meet my goals because of some life stuff that was thrown my way… that’s ok, you get up and go back at it 🙂

    July 26, 2017 at 9:49 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Exactly. And life takes precedence!

      August 1, 2017 at 3:31 pm
  • Reply Kelli @ Hungry Hobby

    I think this is why I might need a run coach next time I get serious about a race…

    July 26, 2017 at 10:52 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Hey, we are a pretty good bunch!

      August 1, 2017 at 3:30 pm
  • Reply Adjusted Reality

    I’ve had some really bad cycles due to burnout or injury. If it’s a distance I know I can do without injuring myself, I’ll just go out to take it slow as needed and enjoy the day. My goal will go from time/pace to how many hi 5s I can give out before the finish.

    July 26, 2017 at 12:19 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Which is TOTALLY winning!

      August 1, 2017 at 3:30 pm
  • Reply Kathryn @ Dancing to Running

    All great tips, thanks for sharing them Suz. Its so important to constantly reevaluate our goals and make changes as needed, especially when things aren’t going “right.” If you acknowledge that something isn’t going well, but don’t do anything about it, then you’re essentially ignoring the problem. Making changes isn’t a sign of failure, its a sign of your strength and willingness to keep moving forward.

    July 26, 2017 at 12:25 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      yes yes yes! Perfectly said!

      August 1, 2017 at 3:29 pm
  • Reply Kimberly Hatting

    I had a train wreck of a training cycle for Grandma’s in 2015….and, no doubt, the poor planning was the biggest factor. I was over-committed on numerous spring activities (even more so than usual because our son was graduating and I took on another committee obligation with a late spring deadline). Oh…and then my MIL unexpectedly passed AND her kids decided to throw in a surprise birthday party (two weekends later) for one of the siblings. Then PF knocked on my door for the first time….alas, I ran ZERO miles when I should have been tapering (to save the foot), and toed the start line with the openest of minds and no expectations (I also had a 6-hour ultra looming in four weeks), so Grandma’s was a mere “training” run in prep for the bigger race. Amazingly, all went well (except for a few GI issues due to my lack of fuel strategizing). Thankfully, like you, I had my endurance base to take the lead and make up for the lost miles from lack of proper long-distance training in the final 8 weeks….Good luck!!

    July 26, 2017 at 1:42 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Freaking PF. Such a nightmare! I’m so glad that Gma’s worked out!

      August 1, 2017 at 3:29 pm
  • Reply Janelle @ Run With No Regrets

    Great advice as always! I think it’s important to adjust your goals if your training plan doesn’t go as planned. Beating yourself up about the past isn’t productive.

    I’m so happy to hear about your pregnancy! You have a great strategy for your upcoming race 🙂

    July 26, 2017 at 3:30 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Thank you so much, Janelle! I really appreciate it!

      August 1, 2017 at 3:28 pm
  • Reply Rachel

    Have a great half if you decide to do it!

    July 26, 2017 at 6:52 pm
  • Reply Jenn

    It can be really demoralizing when a training cycle goes wonky. I have had it happen once or twice, and I just have to remind myself that there will be other races and other goals. I usually complete the distances to which I have committed, but at a much slower pace. I’m ok with it.

    This is some great advice. I hope you have a great race, no matter how you decide to attack it.

    July 26, 2017 at 7:07 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Thank you, Jenn! I agree, at that point, happy, healthy completion is the victory!

      August 1, 2017 at 3:27 pm
  • Reply Marina @ Happy Healing

    Love this post – these are some great tips. Makes me excited to get back into running after my injury!

    Glad I found your blog 🙂

    July 27, 2017 at 10:11 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      So glad that you found my blog as well! Glad to have you back!

      August 1, 2017 at 3:24 pm
  • Reply Megan @ Skinny Fitalicious

    Sometimes I just stop working out for a few days. That always does the trick!

    July 27, 2017 at 12:36 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      For burnout, that can definitely help

      August 1, 2017 at 3:24 pm
  • Reply Toni

    Great post! I do believe a training cycle can be saved too. I think you hit on all the points why…

    July 27, 2017 at 7:22 pm
  • Reply Mary Beth Jackson

    So far so good on my training cycles, thank goodness but you made some really good points. Have a great race no matter which route you take!

    July 28, 2017 at 8:54 am
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