When A Bad Workout Is Due To Fatigue
Marathon training is a delicate balance of putting in the most amount of mileage you can handle with the rest and recovery you need to continually make gains. In essence, you’re walking a tight rope each day, just hoping to maintain that optimal ratio and be recovered in time for your next session.
As a consequence, you’ll often build up what is called “accumulated fatigue”, which is really just a simple way of expressing the fact that your body doesn’t recover overnight in preparation for your next run. You’ll always carry some fatigue from one training session to the next, more so after hard days than easy days.
Marathon training capitalizes on the concept of accumulated fatigue because most marathon-specific workouts are considered “moderate” intensity rather than all-out, lung busting affairs like a set of 400-meter repeats on the track. For example, running 8 miles at marathon pace isn’t difficult when you’re fully rested and amped to run hard, but combine that 8 miles with the fatigue from your previous long run and you can begin to simulate running on tired legs and with low glycogen stores — two critical components of a marathon race.
Therefore, if you’re in the midst of hard marathon training, you’re bound to have two or three workouts during a 12-16 week cycle where you carry too much fatigue from one workout to the next and really struggle — it happens to almost everyone.
The easiest way to identify when a terrible workout is the result of accumulated fatigue is to look back at your training log and count the number of hard workouts or long runs you’ve had in the last 14 days. If that number is 6 or more, or you’ve performed at an intensity or volume that you’ve never done before, the cause of your poor workout is most likely the cause of accumulated fatigue.
What to do:
When this happens, your best bet is to add a little extra recovery before your next hard workout or long run. Most of the time, simply adding in an extra recovery day or two (which can include a day off) before your next hard workout will allow your body to get back in balance without sacrificing your long-term progress. In fact, the extra rest will probably allow you to nail your next big workout and reboot your confidence.