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What To Do When Your Training Plan Isn’t Working

Use these three tips to get your training back on track.

Former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson once said that everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth. This quote might resonate with those of us who have been proverbially “punched in the mouth” by a training plan that just isn’t working out. This result could be a feeling of burnout out or, conversely, not feeling like the plan is challenging enough.

So, what should you do? Bail on the plan or keep at it? Here are three suggestions from some two top coaches and an elite athlete:

1. Don’t give up on it immediately.

Jeff Gaudette, head coach of RunnersConnect, says that runners can’t expect to realize the results of a training plan until at least eight weeks into it. “It’s important to stick with the plan through these eight weeks, because you need to give your body time to adjust,” he says. “If you’re changing the stimulus, there is going to be resistance and you need to work through it.” Let’s face it: no training plan is ever going to be easy, and when the going gets tough or your body begins to break down, we immediately want to blame it for our problems. “If after eight weeks you’re still really struggling or not seeing results, you can consider pulling the plug,” advises Gaudette.

2. Listen to your body and embrace flexibility.

Most stock training plans don’t understand your injury history, what motivates you, or how you respond to increased mileage and pace. Dennis Barker, head coach of Team USA Minnesota urges, runners to be adaptable when it comes to training. “The goal is to improve and run faster, so a plan should be adjusted if improvement isn’t occurring,” he suggests. “There was a reason the plan was chosen in the first place, so I wouldn’t just dump it altogether. Even slight adjustments to paces, volume and/or recovery can make a big difference.”

Gaudette agrees and further explains that it’s likely two people of exactly the same age and similar running backgrounds can follow the same training plan and end up with vastly different results. Given that, understand that you are well within your rights to adapt a plan to suit your needs. Apply common sense and remember that training plans aren’t exact recipes. Stay the course, find the elements of the plan that you aren’t responding well to and make slight adjustments.

3. Learn from your experience.

If you decide to bail on a particular training plan, resist the knee-jerk urge to immediately blame the plan. Take a time out to evaluate what’s causing you to doubt it in the first place. For this exercise, Barker says you should ask yourself the following questions:

— Did you bite off more than you could chew?

— Do you prepare properly (training to train) prior to starting the plan?

— Was your goal always clear in your mind?

— Were you flexible enough to make adjustments on days when the pace or volume was too difficult to achieve?

— Were you recovered enough for the next workout?

With these answers in mind, reevaluate your situation and begin the process of getting back on track. Jeffrey Eggleston, a 2:10 marathoner, admits that he’s abandoned training plans during his career—but that quitting a plan doesn’t equate to admitting to failure. Rather, it’s chalking it up as a valuable learning experience. “Demonstrate that you’ve learned by going back to the basics and draw from what has previously helped you get to a successful point,” he advises. “Recognize that you need to balance your strengths and weaknesses, and find ways to incorporate both into your running routine. Simplify your training and only map out a few weeks at a time. Set small goals for each phase that you can continue to build on.”

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