Troubled Training Run: To Push
Or Pull Back?

It’s a dreaded training run question we all face when our planned workout suddenly seems impossible: a.) keep going, b.) change the workout, or c.) call it a day?

Pushing hard to finish can be worthwhile, but it can also lead to injury or the compromise of the entire rest of your week’s workouts. What are the readable signals to be on the lookout for to guide you in making the right decision?

Signs Before The Workout

Skip the workout if:

You are starting to feel sick or sense an injury coming on. The benefit of any one workout is not as great as the downside of missing multiple days of training.

You're dealing with long hours at work or a consistent lack of sleep. A good rule of thumb is, if you don't feel like you're ready to do about 90% of the workout as planned, skip it.

Consider skipping the workout if:

You feel too tired to do a workout on the day it's scheduled. Waiting a day or two allows you to get more benefit than you would by running at a slower pace on the assigned day.

It’s ok to work out if:

A stressful day coincides with it, but you're well rested. In this situation, the workout itself often makes you feel better—in part because you have accomplished it, but in part because exercise is the great stress reducer.

Signs During the Workout

Some days you may set out feeling ok, but soon struggle to meet split times you would normally achieve.

Stop the workout if:

You experience full-on fatigue instead of just discomfort. That burning sensation in your quads or glutes is normal during the last few miles of a tempo run. But an extremely heavy leg sensation, during which you feel you are dragging your feet with every step, is not normal and can be a sign of overtraining.

You experience sharp pain or any pain sufficient to alter your form. Altered form is another quick path to injury, and not just in the area that is causing you pain in the first place. As you rely on lesser-used muscles, tendons and joints not ordinarily involved in shouldering the burden handled by your normal stride, you are cooking up a recipe for injury that could put you off your training for weeks.

You start to have trouble breathing or become lightheaded. In addition to dropping the current workout, if this occurs more than once during training, you should consult your physician as to its underlying cause.

Consider stopping the workout if:

A pace adjustment helps you continue. On days when you're struggling, modifying your pace so that you are pushing, but comfortably, is an effective way to still come away with a more or less successful training day.

Shorter reps help you continue. If you’re interval training, consider cutting the reps into pieces rather than slowing down the pace. For example, you might switch a series of 400s to 2 x 200s instead to better get through them. This way, you’ll still achieve your planned total time or distance.

It’s ok to continue if:

You’re within 5% of your planned pace. If, for example, you are only losing 15 seconds per mile with a goal pace of 5:00 miles, continue. Remember that prevailing in, rather than aborting, a workout helps you realize that you can perform at a high level in a race, even when you feel bad.

Signs After The Workout

Cut down your training volume if:

You repeatedly struggle to complete your workouts. You should aim to feel as though you could have done two more reps, one more mile, etc. If this feeling seems consistently out of reach, your body may not be ready for the kind of mileage you’re asking of it, or you may need to permanently schedule in an extra rest day. And always make sure intense workouts are followed by easy ones to help you go into the next session fully recovered.

Keep your week’s training as-is if:

A workout that hit rough patches wound up with a strong finish after you modified it. You may have allowed yourself to recover from a rough day in time to stay on your training schedule going forward. However, you shouldn't be trying to make up workouts. After a modified workout, be patient and wait until the next tough speedwork or long run when it appears on your schedule.

Runner’s World, Dec. 2014, http://www.runnersworld.com/race-training/adjusting-workouts-wimpy-or-wise

This Runner’s Recipes, April 2, 2015, http://www.thisrunnersrecipes.com/when-to-push-and-when-to-stop/

(return to front page)