Pulling the Pin on Training

No athlete wants to quit. That’s fair enough quitting is not the route to better performance. On Monday I suggested you should be willing to train less when it benefits long-term consistency. Easy to state, but how do you judge this in the moment? It’s not always clear cut.

There are obvious reason to drop workouts: sickness, injury or scheduling clashes. But what if you’re tired? At what point does fatigue become a problem that should make you stop? There’s no hard rule. Know your body. Log training and identify the signs when tiredness is becoming too much. Only you can judge if fatigue has reached a critical point.

Never bail on a workout. At least make that your aim. It’s easy to talk yourself out of a challenging session before you’ve even put your kit on. Assuming health and time aren’t constraining you try. You won’t know if an interval workout is too hard until you’ve attempted at least one rep. Not hitting the targets? Then you can consider the options.

Falling short of the goals doesn’t mean there’s no benefit. There’s something to be said for just training. I describe session using heart rate, power or pace; but also how hard the effort should feel. Perceived exertion is useful: it shouldn’t be ignored. Your watch can record heart rate, but some days riding at 220 Watts feels a lot easier than others. My threshold intervals will feel like threshold even if the numbers fall short.

The physiological impact may not be exactly what was hoped for; the stimulus lower than the target zones or levels. But following the intentions of a session ensures some stimulus is present. Skip it and there’s none. As long as you aren’t reenforcing a downward spiral of fatigue there’s something to be gained from training.

Give it a go. Follow the intent of the plan; see how you perform. You may build into it and do better than expected, but you’ll only find out if you try. During a heavy run week in Lanzarote I distinctly remember a ride requiring an hour’s effort to finish. Exhausted I couldn’t imagine completing it. I didn’t say a word to my training partner and when the final hour arrived went for it. By the time I reached La Santa it had been worth it: I’d performed well beyond my expectations.

If I hadn’t picked up. If I was unable to raise my effort after fifteen minutes of trying I’d have pulled the pin. There’s no point when you’re that far from the point. It’s worth attempting to complete the intent of a session, but when you’re not even close it’s a signal for recovery. You’ll likely be better served by easing up (or stopping) and if it’s a key workout attempting it at a later date.

How you pull the pin is another matter. On a longer ride when I can’t hit my targets I’ll ride for time. Complete the duration if not the intensity. When I’ve hit the wall during a threshold session I’ve got off my bike, showered and had something to eat. I couldn’t do anything of benefit in the latter case, my legs were shot. Far better to speed up recovery and revisit a few days down the line.

The first question an athlete asks when they’ve missed a session or under-performed is when they can next fit it in? The first question they should be asking is why they missed it? Is there an underlying reason and if so what can be done to address it? If you’re fit and healthy then it may be a sign that your program is pushing you too hard. Fatigue should build up, easier days should allow you to recover and you should rarely outright fail.

The temptation to catch-up is huge, but squeezing more into a week when you’re struggling isn’t sensible. It’s potentially self-destructive. Don’t add to your immediate workload; consider the importance of the individual session (and remember in isolation it’s unlikely to make or break your race). If it ranks highly reschedule. Replace another session: something of less important to the current focus.

Training plans are adjustable, but I’m wary of encouraging rescheduling. Workouts are placed for a reason, timed to give the best results and help you hit your targets. Hard sessions separated to enable recovery and better performance. Often it’s better just to accept what’s gone is gone. Get back on the plan and keep training well.

What one athlete trains through keeps another out of action. There’s no single rule to guide you. What I can stress is the importance of learning how you respond. Identify the feelings of fatigue or illness that rule out training. Whilst you respect the importance of long-term consistency and progression don’t let doubt stop you from trying. Something is better than nothing.

Ironman Training Library

From nutrition to pacing - a collection of CoachCox blog posts focused specifically on Ironman training and racing.