Unexpected Training Down Time

2014-10-18 17.22.37I have been thinking quite a bit about recurring themes as a coach and athlete. There are a few items that repeatedly come up and I thought I would write about them. The topic of this post is probably the top theme but I have enjoyed seeing how beginners and elite athletes approach unraveling the mysteries of their own performances. I also plan on writing about beginner’s misconceptions about the role of heart rate in training. The cost of doing business as a coach and why coaches charge the prices they do. When will I win a race? Why the almighty Functional Threshold Power number isn’t that mighty. I may cover a few more in upcoming articles but these are themes that come up in my coaching often.

The one theme I see unfold every season is one or more athletes will need to take some time down for a myriad of reasons: work, family, health, and injury. I find it interesting the approaches that beginning and elite athletes take to handling downtime. The usual question I get from beginner athletes will range from:

  • How much fitness am I going to loose?
  • Will I need to go backward in my training?
  • Why is this happening to me?
  • How can I limit training interruptions?
  • How long before I can train and compete again?

The elite athletes I have been coaching for a while know that downtime is a given. However all elite athletes I have coached or have known personally strive for the perfect season. Having the perfect season means no injury, illness and hitting all targeted performance metrics. This level of perfection will require some very serious discipline, consistency, the right balance of volume and intensity and accurate planning and strict nutrition. But inevitably I find that even the best planning will have some unforeseen issue(s) derail the perfect plan. When there is down time at the elite levels they will have many of the same questions as the beginner. However the questions are phrased differently, such as:

  • How can I regain a loss of fitness and how quickly?
  • What could I have done to better mitigate my exposure to illness and injury?
  • How can I train more without increasing training loads more than X%?
  • When I get back to racing what can I expect from my performance?
  • Are my desired performance metrics still trending up?
  • How will this schedule change impact my next priority race/event?
  • How do I best prepare for potential impact to my next priority race/event?

So as you can see the questions between the beginner and the elite athletes are similar in scope but not in experience or attitude.

I find that a beginner’s inexperience often leads to an attitude of performance gains as mystical events and that elite’s look at performance gains as calculated and planned endeavors. Funny thing is I find that both are correct.

Beginners are correct that there is an almost magic or art to gaining performance early on. The time a Cat 5 is able to raise his arms first at a Crit or the runner who destroys her 5K PR by minutes, not seconds after hiring a coach will find magic in the process.  Then we have the elites that have been training and racing for years that partner with a coach for the first time or are hiring a new coach due to shifts in goals or philosophies and need a new partner. Then hopefully this athlete finds that the partnership brings new motivation and insights into performance and outcomes.

So in the end, we can think of down time as a simple loss of fitness or a lost opportunity. Of course the amount of time down really dictates how much fitness is lost or how much opportunity is lost by losing out on x number of days or weeks of training.

Until Next Time,

Train Smarter Not Harder,

Coach Rob





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