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Bounce Back from Missed Runs


An all too common question for running coaches is what to do when you have to miss some training days? Or more common yet wonder how quickly do you lose fitness by spending time resting after a big race!

It’s important to know there is a difference between resting after a race, rest that’s planned during training cycles and being forced to miss a significant amount of time due to illness or injury.

How Quickly Do You Lose Fitness?

Depending upon your previous level of fitness and the reason you stopped exercising, I think you’ll be excited to hear that it’s not as quickly as we might imagine.

For those of us who love our workouts, even a few days without and we’re cranky, anxious and assuming the worst.How Quickly Do You Lose FitnessPictured – Lin

The largest decrease in aerobic fitness occurs in the first few weeks. The rate of aerobic decline slows quickly after those first two weeks.

  • You’ll most quickly notice a drop in speed
  • Next you’ll notice a decline in endurance
  • Finally you’ll notice a decline in overall strength
  • It will take longer to lose muscle strength than aerobic fitness
  • Muscle DOES NOT turn to fat when you stop exercising (that’s like changing water to oil)

Muscle memory is KEY.

Those who were in great shape prior to time off or those who were running a lot of miles, will find that they bounce back much quicker. Not only does your body remember what you are asking of it, but mentally you know what’s possible.

And we all know that running long distances or running a hard 5K is mental right?

In fact, part of the comeback is related to the idea of the Central Governor theory. Which is to say that your brain tries to protect you by sending out signals of fatigue before your body actually hits a breaking point. Training is our time to help prove to our brain that we can continue to handle just a little bit more.

Planned Time Off Vs Missed Training

I think it’s really important to address that REST is not the same as missed training.

Stress + Rest = Growth

Rest Days
Rest days or active recovery days are a required component of training. During this time your body is able to fully repair muscle damage to become stronger and help you continue moving towards your goals without breakdown, overtraining or injury.

Post Race
Post race time off is also a normal and necessary part of training. The long standing rule of thumb was 1 day off per mile raced.

And you may notice that many elite marathoners do indeed take off a minimum of 2-3 weeks after each race. Meanwhile, we normal runners try to jump right back in to it and then find ourselves injured a few months later.

  • Your muscles are more damaged than normal and require the time to rebuild
  • Mentally you may come back feeling fresher
  • Your runs might also feel better because your energy systems will be restored and you’ll have helped to level off your cortisol from the intense peaking and racing

Don’t fret about lost fitness in the weeks after a race. It’s not the same thing as being out in the middle of a training cycle.

Here’s what you can do during that post race time for fitness.Using a variety of races to improve your marathon PR

How to Adjust Training From Missed Runs?

Now let’s talk about losing fitness from missed workouts during a training cycle. You simply had life events occur that took you away from training, maybe even a mild illness like a runny nose.

In that case, here’s your guide for how to get back in to your running.

One to three missed runs
don’t sweat it. Move on with your training, don’t you dare try to cram it in somewhere else and overtax yourself.

A Week of missed training
Start back in gradually with a easy runs for at least the first 3-4 days and don’t skip the strength training. Then you should be able to resume your training plan, simply skipping the missed week.

Two Weeks of Missed Training
Start with a full week of easy runs and strength training before adding any planned speed work. You may need to reduce total training volume to ensure the return doesn’t create too much fatigue.

Beyond Two Weeks of Missed Training
You can’t just jump back in to your program. You absolutely need a full week of easy runs and a slow rebuild of your total mileage over a couple of weeks. Continue to add in the strength training and after two weeks of feeling good with easy runs, you can begin to add in speed work.

It’s unlikely you’ll be able to jump ahead that far in your training plan without potential issues. Ideally, you’d go back to where you dropped off and resume.

A couple Months of Missed Training
If the real truth of the matter is you haven’t been training consistently for months, then remember you need to treat this like you’re starting from scratch.

Checkout my tips on how to get running after years away and you’ll find a good plan.

How to adjust your training after missed workouts! #marathontraining #runcoach #fitness Click To Tweet

How to Adjust Your Race Goals with Missed Training?

If you had to miss a couple of weeks of training, but your marathon or half marathon is more than 8 weeks away. Don’t worry too much, just follow the plan above

If you had to miss a couple weeks of training and your race is less than 8 weeks, then there are things you need to consider.

  • Are you willing to walk if needed to do the race?
  • Do you have the option of deferring this entry and finding a new race that’s farther out?
  • Were you still active during the missing workouts or resting?
  • Do you have any lasting impacts of your time off that will require you to rebuild slowly? (A cough, pain from an injury)

What are you rebuilding after time off exercise?

As you gain fitness, it’s not just about your muscles. There are a lot of physical processes happening in the body:

  • Increased lung capacity
  • Increased heart function (pumping more blood with each beat)
  • Increased red blood cells (carrying more oxygen to muscles)
  • Increased mitochondria (energy production)

All of these play a role in your endurance and then your speed.

Remember that a slow and steady rebuild is worth the time to ensure you don’t end up injured. Injuries just mean more time not training….so in this case faster isn’t better.

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Infographic from Naturally Intense around what happens when you stop doing strength training. It provides a good reminder that it doesn’t happen overnight.

Lose Muscle Mass





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