This week I have had athletes that have been ill, had busy work schedules, been rehabbing injuries, and have struggled with tiredness because their newly born baby is keeping them up all night. This is life and no matter how conscientious we are with our training there are always going to be bumps in the road - you can't plan for a rolled ankle, a stomach bug or a demanding boss.
A big part of my work with runners is navigating these bumps - helping to reframe and refocus. Unforeseen circumstances can often force us to take some days off from running and, for a lot of us, missing a day or two of training often feels like the end of the world. We get moody, we get frustrated and convince ourselves that we are going to lose all of our fitness.
In reality, things are never quite as bad as you think they are. The good news is that you don't lose any fitness in up to 7 days of no training. Keep in mind that you are not gaining any fitness either, as you haven't been able to train, so taking that time off is not something you want to do very often, but for those 'freak' illnesses or injuries this provides a bit of a mental buffer.
Let's look at things a bit more specifically, as obviously the amount of time you take off running directly correlates to how you adjust your training schedule. Here are some general strategies that I employ:
If you have missed 1 - 2 days of training because you got caught up with work or any other fairly unforeseen low-stress reasons,
then just forget about it, move past it and carry on with your training as normal. If those days have been missed because of high-stress reasons like you have been up all night, then continuing with the plan as normal but reducing the workload in the few days that follow would be my recommendation.
The caveat here is that if you are missing 1 - 2 days of training every week, or a couple of weeks, then there are deeper issues that need to be addressed and you are likely not training in a way that is suitable for your level of fitness or lifestyle. I will also add that it is important to consider what phase of a training cycle you are in. If your current focus is on interval training to increase Vo2 max then those workouts should be prioritised.
Missing longer periods of training gets a little more complicated - I will start at the easy end.
If you know that you are going to miss a period of training, say you have a work trip or family holiday, then it is possible to integrate that period into your long-range training plan as a period of rest and recovery. You could either have a hard week before you go away or have a hard week when you get back from the trip - this mostly depends on your personality. Me, I would feel better about taking some time off if I had worked really hard in the week leading up to it.
If it is a last-minute, low-stress reason for taking up to 7 days off training then trying to add 50 - 70% of the missed volume into the following 4 - 6 weeks of training is recommended. Do this in small chunks, adding 10 - 15min at the end of workouts. Prioritise specific workouts relevant to your current training block and play the long game, don't rush to squeeze all of your missed workouts into the first week back training.
If it was an unplanned break from running, either injury or illness then you need to tread carefully. What you don't want to do is just copy and past your missed workouts and start again from where you left off. It is hard to give general advice here as it depends on the individual's circumstances, but it is wise to be conservative with your reintroduction into training - it is easy to get re-injured or for illness to linger.
Finally, my general advice is to be kind to yourself. Don't get too bogged down in the negative feelings that missing a day of training here or there can bring. Be patient, get good advice from professionals if needed and don't dwell too much on the reasons for having missed some training days - it's in the past so let it go.
I hope that is helpful and, as always, feel free to reach out if you have any questions.
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