First things first – there are no bonus points for following your training plan to a T. It isn’t something that has been programmed into your system that needs to be followed with absolute precision or else you won’t improve. Rather, it’s a guide; a template; an informed and educated prediction of how things might take place.
When your coach is planning your training, there’s a lot of ‘predicting’ involved. Predicting how you might handle the pace of a workout, predicting how tough it might be and most importantly, predicting how your body will most likely recover and adapt afterwards. No matter how good they are though, there’s an inherent level of unpredictability and variation that will exist. This will exist in both our physical and mental performance during training, as well as in our more general lives (things such as stress, work, sleep and other things that will affect our performance).
So then – when and for what reasons should we deviate from our planning? Probably one’s best bet is to try and develop and understanding of the WHY behind each run in the week. Was this run meant to be a super hard effort? Was the purpose rather to enhance our recovery? Am I trying to get in mileage on tired legs at the moment? The more we understand the ‘why’, the more we can make appropriate adjustments when our body just isn’t feeling as it should be and try to still maintain the correct purpose of the planned schedule.
Let’s look at an example to help illustrate how one can apply this: Let’s say one has a 10km tempo run planned; so this would be an effort that’s pretty challenging but at the same time, it definitely shouldn’t be getting too close to an all-out-effort. Now imagine a scenario where you head into this workout feeling really tired from a lack of sleep the night before (due to work, kids or whatever it may be), and you know the effort level is going to be really high if you want to still hit your target pace. Does it make sense to go out an do the workout exactly as planned? Not at all. If this was to happen, you’d most certainly not be doing a ‘tempo’ effort but something closer to a 10km time trial.
So then how do we still do the workout while keeping within it’s intended purpose? An idea could be to shorten it to 7-8km at the original pace, or otherwise sticking to 10km but slowing it down by 5-10sec/km. Both of these options would most likely require the same effort level as the original workout, and you’re only having to make a minor compromise without missing out on the main benefits from your workout.
This sort of thinking is fairly simple and logical, but yet it often gets neglected as we become far too fixated on looking for perfection – with the irony being that the ‘perfect’ schedule may be the one that we’ve made some adjustments to.
The take-home message here is that we should aim to stick to the plan, but within reason. Always give yourself a 5-10% leeway to make sensible and logical adjustments along the way. Always listen to your body as your greatest guide, and use it to keep track of whether you’re putting in the right sort of efforts that your planning dictates.