Two of the most important steps to race training are picking an appropriate plan and then sticking with it. First you need to find a plan that works for you as an athlete and your goals. Then it is essential that you stay the course and follow that plan. I’m not suggesting that you have to follow the plan to the letter but it is important to follow it as closely as you possibly can.
Training plans are created in a way to help build you up as a runner. Mileage typically increases in a periodized manner that teaches your body to handle the increases in distance as well as recover when necessary. By following this schedule your body acclimates to the miles and also receives just enough recovery time to hopefully avoid injury. Most training plans also have a set maximum distance which will get you as close to the finish as needed to complete your given race.
This is not to say that you shouldn’t make adjustments in your plan to accommodate for injuries or other life stresses. Sometimes when our bodies are exhausted we need to change the plan a bit to allow for a bit more recovery time. Most of us also have busy lives and we shouldn’t completely change our schedules to follow a training plan. For example during my last training session I had very busy Thursdays which called for long runs between 10-12 miles. It would have been quite difficult to fit them in so I swapped them out for my Wednesday training which called for a short run or the option of an extra day off. Wednesdays became my long day and I used my busy Thursday as a day “off.” Training plans are not set in stone and you can alter them to fit your schedule.
Injuries also happen and we need to rest our bodies when needed. Taking a few days or a week off typically won’t hurt your training. In fact, if you are injured you need to take that time to heal. Rest your body and come back when you are ready. However, under normal circumstances it is best to stick to your training as much as possible. The schedule is set to prepare you for the big day. There is a reason why each run is prescribed in your plan.
It can be easy to wake up on a Saturday morning and think “To heck with this,” and roll back over. Perhaps you will get those miles in next week. But this can have a negative impact on race day. For one, all of those long miles are excellent preparation for the big event. As you run a marathon you can feel reassured as you come to 16, 18, 20 and even 22 miles because you have likely already covered that mileage numerous times before. Knowing what to expect and that you are capable of those miles can be extremely helpful.
Additionally, if you skipped a run during training it can really wreak havoc mentally. Nothing is worse than struggling through a race and beginning to question your preparedness. “If only I did that 17 miler, maybe I wouldn’t be struggling now.” Odds are you would still be struggling but it is always best to leave nothing there to question. The mind is a powerful tool. It can be your best friend or your worst enemy. By sticking to a plan you will know you have already done the bulk of the work and are race ready.
What makes you feel most prepared for a race?