A training schedule is a great way to structure your training so that you are able to realize the greatest gains in your race performances. If you have a schedule, you are more likely to be ready for your race on race day rather than a couple weeks before or a couple weeks after. You are also more likely to put in the work you need because you will know what is expected of you every day.
Do not assume, however, that you need to have a training schedule that is set in stone. Sometimes you will have to swap workouts around, or skip a workout entirely and make it up a different week. Sometimes you might even skip a workout entirely and not bother making it up. Work, family, and your health are three things that can throw a wrench into the best plans, and being able to maneuver your training around obstacles will make it that much easier and less stressful to train. Here is a real-world example of changing up the training:
I am running the New York City Marathon in a little over a month. I have wanted some fast shorter distance runs in the meantime, but the goal is to run another easy 3 hours to pace a friend through his first marathon. My long runs that I had scheduled in preparation were a 15 miler a couple weeks ago at race pace, an 18 miler last weekend, and a 20 miler this weekend. I got my 15 miler and my 18 milers in without any trouble, but I am going to hold off on the 20 miler until next week. Because my training is fairly flexible, I can move things around and still be able to plan my workouts accordingly. Having my 20 mile run next weekend means that I will have a little less than a month until the target marathon afterwards, so I will probably not have anything longer than 12 miles or so after that.
There are two main reasons why I decided to move my 20 miler to next week. The first was due to sheer exhaustion. After getting hurt over the summer, I have been steadily building my mileage back up and have not had a cut back week for a while. I also have not been sleeping well for most of the week, so the Eliot 5k road race yesterday left me very tired after running in the mid-high 16s. The afternoon was then spent man-handling heavy furniture and a treadmill around my wife’s grandparents house, and bringing the treadmill back to our house. Both of us were so tired that we skipped our original plan of going out dancing last night. I actually managed to sleep in until 8 o’clock this morning, which is unheard of. So, the first reason I skipped the 20 miler and only ran 10½ miles was because I have been tired and was ready for a cut back week.
The second reason was that about 2 miles into my run this morning, my right leg decided to stop supporting me. I stretched it out and kept going, and after about a half mile it stopped giving out on me, but it left me a little worried. There was no pain; I’d just take a step and stumble a bit. At this point I had decided to continue with the original plan of running 10 miles, stopping at the house to get water and food and use the bathroom, and then run another 10 miles. Less than a mile from home, however, the same thing began happening again. I decided that it was in my best interest to cut the run at half way and to get the long run in next week. Injuring myself now is not the recommended way of preparing for a race.
The next two weeks will be the last higher mileage weeks before I taper, so hopefully I will be a little more rested for having rested a bit this week. Next weekend will be a 20 miler, and I will probably work in a couple of 12 milers the week after with one of them incorporating some sort of speed work. After that, I will have three weeks to bring my mileage down a bit and concentrate on speed work and rest before the marathon.