Last Updated on March 29, 2022 by Heather Hart, ACSM EP, CSCS
When my oldest son was a finicky toddler, I remember panicking about the food he was eating…or in most cases, not eating.
It’s a new mother’s job, of course, to worry about every little thing their child does or does not do, but the fact that my kid was seemingly existing solely on a diet of chicken nuggets and Gerber toddler cereal puffs had me convinced that I was already a failure as a parent, a mere 14 months into the job.
At a wellness checkup, I sheepishly fessed up to the pediatrician that I had no idea what I was doing when it came to feeding my picky toddler. Being the incredible doctor that he was, he assured me that most toddlers are worse than ornery restaurant critics when it comes to their food likes and dislikes.
And what was most important was not that my toddler willingly ate a complete, healthy meal at every meal, but more so that over the course of the entire week, his diet was well rounded. If that meant three meals consisted solely of macaroni and cheese and the fourth entirely made up of bananas and broccoli, so be it.
When it comes to “real world training” for those of us full time working, parenting, insert-responsibility-here, non-elite athletes, I like to sometimes take the same general approach.
Now, I will be the first to tell you that training plans are built with purpose. Hard effort, easy effort, and recovery effort workouts. Build weeks, peak weeks, taper weeks, race weeks. Nothing is haphazardly thrown together, each day is carefully calculated to be cohesive with the rest of the training week, month, and entire training cycle.
But as with most things in life: rarely does anything go exactly according to plan. At least not in my life. And not in my of my client’s lives either. I can confirm this by the number of times I have recieved – and given as an athlete myself- excuses as to why a workout was not completed. Kid got sick. Babysitter bailed. Work project didn’t get finished so you had to stay late. Car got a flat tire. The dog literally ate your middle schooler’s science project.
Believe me, I get it.
As a coach, I don’t get frustraed with my clients when “life happens”, because it does. It happens to all of us, every single day. What upsets me is instead when clients get so frustraetd because “life” gets in the way of training, that they just give up entirely.
Here are three “real world training truths” I like to share with my clients…and myself…when things aren’t going as planned.
1. Your Running Doesn’t Matter.
That sounds awful, doesn’t it? But hear me out. Do you pay the bills with your running accomplishments? Are you currently trying to qualify for the Olympics? Are sponsors breathing down your neck, expecting podium placings or they will pull the plug on your paycheck? Will your entire world actually crumble if you miss a training run? I’m guessing that 98.5% of you answered no to all of those questions. You (and I, we’re in good company) are not elite athletes, and probably never will be. (I’m holding out that 1.5% in hopes that maybe someone like Shalane Flanagan or Rob Krarr stumble across this blog one day, ha).
At this point you’re probably thinking “Heather’s kind of a jerk, what’s with the negative blog post?” but continue to hear me out.
Listen, I’m not totally heartless: your running DOES matter, and it means different things to different people. Believe me, I get it, running is a huge part of my life, part of my identity, I would not be who I am today without this sport. I am a runner, damnit! But simply and very bluntly put: the world will not stop spinning if you or I miss a training run. It may feel like it sometimes (I’ve had the “mommy, you seem cranky, you should probably go for a run” speech given to me more than once), but the world won’t actually end.
For me, sometimes stopping to look a the BIG picture can take away the temporary frustration of missing a training day/week/or even a month. Deep breath in – deep breath out – the world continues on.
2. Chicken Nuggets and Bananas: Looking at the Big Picture.
When I was training for my first 100 miler, I made myself a giant, 6 month excel spreadsheet with a training outline. Each day I would fill in the corresponding square with either green, yellow, or red. Green meant I hit the workout as prescribed, yellow meant I did something but not the entire workout, and red was a skipped workout.
Like my son’s pediatrician suggested, I did not let one or two red or yellow workouts get me down. Instead, I choose to look a the week as a whole. Sure there were bad days, but were there just as many (or more) good days? Did the green blocks outnumber the red? If so, I was headed in the right direction. High five to me!
And what if the red DID outnumber the green? Then I looked at the month as a whole. I truly believe that you are not going to “make” an entire training cycle with one good workout, just as you are not going to “break” an entire training cycle with one bad or missed workout.
Consistency is a huge key to success, in my humble opinion. Strive to be your best, as often as possible, but realize that real life happens, and that’s OK. Make sure the training curve is swinging in the positive direction, and everything will workout in the end.
But what if everything is consistently red or yellow? Well, then perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate goals, and try for this particular goal at a later date when consistent training IS achievable. Again, the world will not stop turning.
3. Deposits in your Training Bank
Have you ever suddenly found yourself in the throes of real world “stuff”? Maybe your flight was delayed and got home four hours later than anticipated. Maybe your 7 year old flooded the entire apartment with his bathroom sink (true story). Maybe your boss said you absolutely had to work this weekend, no exceptions. You look at your training schedule and realize there is absolutely no way at all you can get in your long run in the time you do have available…so you do nothing at all.
If so, you aren’t alone. Frustration can often make us think “what’s the point?” But here’s the thing: something is always better than nothing. Instead of thinking about how missing that 20 miler is going to totally ruin your marathon (hint: it’s not), instead turn your thought process around, and think about how 5 miles will only contribute towards your marathon goal.
Someone once told me to think of training as a bank account. Say you want to put $50 a week into a savings account, but suddenly your hours were cut from work and all you can afford is to put away $10 a week. Sure, $10 isn’t nearly as much as $50, but at the end of the year you still have $520 more than you started with in your savings account. And $520 pays for a lot more race entry fees than $0, am I right?
Something is always better than nothing. Two minutes of core work is better than none. 30 minutes of running is better than none (unless it’s a rest day). The point is: turn your thought process around. Instead of focusing on what you CAN’T do that day, focus on what you CAN do, and know that it is making a difference in your overall abilities as an athlete, no matter how small.
The point of this rambling post is essentially to give you a giant internet hug and say “I get it”.
Bad runs happen.
Missed runs happen.
Missed weeks and even missed months? THEY HAPPEN.
As a coach, of course I am going to encourage my athletes to complete as many of their workouts as possible. Doing so will give them the absolute best advantage to reaching their goals come race day. And helping them reach their goals is what they hired me to do in the first place.
In a world full of “beast mode” and “never miss a Monday” social media posts and peer pressure, it’s no wonder so many of us feel like failures if we feel we aren’t doing “enough”. But you don’t need to apologize for those missed workouts. All you need to do is promise yourself you’ll keep your head up and get it the next time the time is right for training. This is your goal. YOUR journey. No one elses.
Running, in my opinion, is a lifetime sport. And the best way to succeed at a lifetime sport is to allow it to blend in with your real world, no bullshit, sleeves rolled up because sometimes it’s dirty, LIFE. Realize there will be highs. Realize there will be lows. Realize things are rarely perfect. But most of all, realize if you keep going forward throughout all of it…you WILL come out on top.
Heather Hart is an ACSM certified Exercise Physiologist, NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), UESCA certified Ultrarunning Coach, RRCA certified Running Coach, co-founder of Hart Strength and Endurance Coaching, and creator of this site, Relentless Forward Commotion. She is a mom of two teen boys, and has been running and racing distances of 5K to 100+ miles for over a decade. Heather has been writing and encouraging others to find a love for fitness and movement since 2009.