Training Plans Don’t Have To Be Set In Stone

Life really gets in the way of training, doesn’t it?  I write hundreds of training plans each year.  With each one I write, I know full well that it will likely need to be adjusted at some point.  Injuries get in the way.  Work gets in the way.  Nothing ever really works out 100% as you planned or hoped it would.

One of the most common questions I get, even after a training plan consultation, is if days can be switched around when things get busy.  The answer is, of course!

Sure, there are certain runs that are best done at given times.  But if your plan needs to be moved around, it is better to do that and adhere to your runs and mileage over the course of the week.


From my last marathon training plan….

Here are a few rules I prefer my athletes stick to:

Aim to keep your long run for the weekend.  If this works with your schedule, it is helpful because you will likely have more time to fit it in and hopefully can give yourself a day of rest afterward.  If you occasionally need to throw one in the middle of the week to fit it in, that is fine.  Otherwise aim for closer to the end of the week or weekend.  However, if you have a work schedule that has your weekends falling on Monday and Tuesday, you obviously need to switch your plans around accordingly.

Keep your speed work near the middle of your week.  It is best not to do these workouts too soon after your long slow training run or too close to the next one.  Typically, a Tuesday or Wednesday speed work session works best with a plan that calls for your long run on the weekend.  These runs are spaced out to allow your body (and mind) to recover.

Balance out the rest of your plan with shorter, slow runs.  Most training plans will call for shorter runs placed throughout the week.  If your plan calls for a short run on Monday and Thursday, but you can’t fit it in then it is totally fine to do it on Wednesday or even Friday.  Just make sure you follow the easy pace your plan calls for to keep yourself strong and avoid overuse injuries.


If time is sparse one week, it is okay on a rare occasion to split up a long run.  If you know that you can only fit in 12 miles of a 16 miler on Saturday morning, but you know that you can get 4 more in later in the day, go ahead and do it.  While this isn’t ideal, I believe it is better to get those miles in on both a mental and physical level.  Physically, your body needs those miles and it can actually be great to get those last four in on tired legs.  Mentally, I always hate to have an athlete toe the line on race day and question if that short changed 16 miler is going to be the deal breaker.

Remember that life happens.  Training plans are a road map but not a set law.  Right now as a new mom, I am trying to figure out how to get all of my runs in and it isn’t easy.  I am coaching runners and a team and I have new priorities on top of all of this.  I originally tried to coach a group on Saturdays and then add the rest of my long run mileage on afterward.  I didn’t feel like I was truly getting my full training runs in and I decided to swap my long run for Friday and use the group run as my typical shorter Friday session.  Some athletes like having a shorter run following their LSD day.  I have never done this before but have actually found that it helps kick the lactic acid out faster.  I then have the rest of Saturday and Sunday to recover and by Monday, I feel fantastic.  It was a change that so far has actually benefitted my training!   Had I stuck to my original plan I would feel like I wasn’t getting strong long runs in and I wouldn’t be enjoying this new found lightness to my step on Mondays.

How do you balance out your training when life gets in the way?

16 thoughts on “Training Plans Don’t Have To Be Set In Stone

  1. It depends on what I’m training for, or if I’m even training for something in particular. If I don’t have an goal races in the foreseeable future, I may skip a planned workout and not make it up. If I am training for something particular, especially a longer distance, I will try to split up the mileage throughout the week, or see where I might be able to fit in 2 workouts a day (running + yoga, or running + strength training). If trying to stay injury free, I may swap out a shorter run for the elliptical or swimming.

    I run for fun, I’m not fast, and its certainly not my day job. Sometimes life happens and a training session gets missed!

    • That is excellent balance all around. Being able to choose what works and adapt when needed helps keep us on track. Being too stringent when not training for something can often be a recipe for hanging up the shoes.

  2. I’m currently in the middle of a 10 week half marathon training plan and I have definitely had to make a lot of adjustments, mostly because I’ve traveled a lot and haven’t been able to fit in my assigned workouts. I think it’s most important to fit the long run in and not stress too much about missing other workouts, as long as this doesn’t keep happening week after week

  3. In the past I have definitely split up runs when I needed to shuttle the kids around, and I think that your advice about flexibility is key.

    A couple of my run-blog/social media friends are training for their first marathon and each is experiencing a lot of anxiety at different points and in different ways, but ultimately they get back to the same thing – real life is messing with the ability to get it all done.

    What I also think that many starting out can find intimidating is how social media can make it SEEM like people training for races are ‘all in’ – whereas as Lauren says above “not my day job”. I think that people WANT it to seem like they are super-serious, like it is their core focus, but if you have a significant other, perhaps pets and/or kids, house and job and so on … you ALREADY have a busy life! I have seen people who have focused on other things and failed to maintain relationships (or even see it was needed), and also those who have used running or other activities to escape from a bad situation.

    Ultimately it is important to maintain perspective … if you are skipping your kids’ recital to get in a mid-week run for a race in 3 months that you are paying to enter .. perhaps you need to stop and sort out your priorities. 🙂

    • Excellent points. Priorities must be made. And the reality is, you can train for just about any race without making it your life. It is important to figure out how to make things work but not neglect what is most important. Always appreciate your insightful comments.

  4. Nice tips Sarah! I think the long run is pretty essential to build endurance but everything else can be moved as needed. I felt comforted training for my first half and full marathons knowing that I just had to follow a plan, but having more experience lets you be more flexible and not so panicky if things i.e. life gets in the way.

  5. Great advice as always Sarah…I really try to stick to the first three points that you make which are excellent and so important. It’s taken me a while to figure out – I’m just finishing my 7th marathon training cycle but those elements are just critical. But, life happens. I mentioned on my blog a couple weeks ago that I had to work all through the night one weekend on a system upgrade that wreaked havoc on my sleep and there was no way I was going to be able to complete my scheduled long run – at least not a quality run anyway. So, I ran 4 miles to keep my streak alive after I had got some sleep and reorganized my long run progression for the rest of the month. It wasn’t ideal but trying to push through and stick to every single detail of a documented plan when life presents bigger challenges usually doesn’t work out…at least not for me. Really enjoy your excellent blog.

    • Thank you so much for your kind words. I remember your post and it reminded me a bit of our little Mary and her all night system upgrades. Totally kidding, although she does feel like that at times. But being able to roll with the punches and fit things in as we can, makes life a little less crazy.

  6. This is a huge part of what I help my clients with–scheduling and finagling when life happens. Depending on the client, we have different strategies, but I totally agree with yours!

  7. Pingback: When a Recovery Ride Goes Wrong, That’s Amoré « Fit Recovery

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