Photo Description: A photo of me after I completed the Wrightsville Beach Marathon. It was the second-hardest race I ever completed (even the IRONMAN I did, which did contain a marathon, was easier than this stand-alone marathon). I am sitting down with my head between my knees, utterly spent. My purple hair is in full-view, and my face isn’t visible. This race was an excellent example of how sometimes shorter events or workouts can be more taxing on the body than longer ones based on the circumstances in play on the day.
Another Tuesday, another Coach Tip!! Today’s coach tip is based on something that I see A LOT during the months of July and August for my Northern Hemisphere-based athletes, and particularly for those athletes who are preparing for longer endurance events, such as long-course triathlons or marathons.
Since it is August now, I’m sure that this has happened for each and every one of you out there (even those of you who I don’t work with as your coach). By now, at some point this year, you have had to cut a workout short.
When this (inevitably) occurs for the athletes who I work with, this question always comes up: “What should I do since I cut my workout short?? Should I add what I missed to tomorrow??”
My answer ALWAYS depends on WHY the workout was cut short. Was it cut short due to logistics (i.e. the athlete ran out of time to complete the workout)?? Was it because the athlete was feeling poorly during the workout?? Did the athlete encounter some adversity during the workout that they couldn’t overcome?? Was it weather-related?? Or perhaps worst of all: was it because the athlete sustained an injury during the workout??
Many times, athletes will NOT cut short workouts unless they HAVE to. Most endurance athletes I have worked with over the years are very “Type A” folks who like to do all the things and do not like to feel like they have “come up short.”
Most of the time, athletes cut workouts short because something about the workout was hard, fatiguing, or taxing. And when this is the case, the workout has to be treated as the full workout, even if it wasn’t the full workout. Taxing is taxing, and it’s possible to feel the impact of the “full” workout even if the workout isn’t fully completed.
A really good example of this is a workout completed in extreme temperatures – whether they be hot or cold. In either situation, the body has to adjust for the conditions, and the body does actually work harder than normal in those conditions. As such, it is possible to do a shorter workout (let’s say 15 miles out of a planned 20-mile long run) and have it have the same impact from a training and fatigue perspective that the 20-mile run would have had in “optimal” conditions.
But since most athletes are Type A and don’t like feeling like they are “coming up short,” they want to “make up” what they missed. The reality is that they probably didn’t miss much, if anything, at all. They probably made the right call to shorten the workout on the fly, and their body needs the time to recover from the effort they did put forth. So it’s for this reason that I rarely recommend that “missed” time be added to another workout in the week. Many, many times, I recommend that we leave the shortened workout as-is and move on.
“But Coach Laura!! I *need* those miles!! I *need* that workout!!” No, you don’t, my friends. You *need* to recover properly from taxing workouts so you can prepare your body to complete the other workouts on your schedule or that you have planned. Recovery is your best ally in all things endurance sports, and it’s important to acknowledge when it’s time to push (i.e. add “missed” time) and when it’s time to recover. You are best served by making sure that you’re ready for the NEXT workout that will be taxing.
So this week, I want to remind you that taxing is taxing. One day, a 60-mile ride might feel harder than a 100-mile ride feels on a different day. And some days, a six-mile run might feel the same as a ten-mile run. It’s important to accept this when it happens and resist the urge to “double up to make up.” Invest your energy in your recovery, move forward from where you are, and you will be set up for success. :)