We often get asked, "how seriously and exactly do I need to follow my training plan?"
The reality of why we ride and want to get better is simple, enjoyment! If your training feels like a bit of a chore to complete every minute of every ride, don't let it be. If you need to cut your training a bit short due to time or motivation reasons, or you roll for an extra 20-30mins because there was a better café to stop at, or a good group to follow, that's great – think of the long haul.
If you can stand back and look at your long term commitment over the course of the season, a couple of seasons, even a decade, if in the long run your motivation to ride has meant you've committed to a lot more training than you otherwise would have, following your planned training "more or less", without it being too overbearing and disheartening, then you win.
Cycling is about enjoyment first and foremost. Fitness and health benefits come next for most. Pursuing goals and achieving. General improvement. Being committed to riding every day. Chasing race results and winning races. Everyone is driven by different things. Some will even be motivated to follow a training program to the letter of the law. Whatever floats your boat. The bottom line is, even for the very best rider in the world, there isn't one exact recipe that will bring the next world title or classics triumph and any coach that tries to tell you otherwise is dreaming. The name of the game is following a solid and achievable training plan, being more dedicated than not, and letting your personal feel for motivation, health, and reality have the final say. Combine that with top-level advice and direction, and it's inevitable your on-bike results and enjoyment will flourish.
Some days you might have a ride with efforts on your schedule. If the ride time is two hours, and your riding buddies ask you to go and ride, and that's what you really want to do, then go with them and enjoy the company. You might be able to squeeze the efforts into the ride on hills, in the wind, or by riding the front. You might be able to complete your efforts before you meet them, or after your group ride on the way home. If you can only fit in 50-80% of your scheduled efforts for the day because your preference was to spend the time riding with friends, and a bit of an extended café stop, that is fine! The end game is you will still benefit from the ride, you will have a great day, and it beats sitting on the couch and not exercising.
Another "trap" people worry about is if they have a longer ride prescribed for the day, but are pressed for time and likely can't fit the ride in. There is no need to stress and worry about that. The training program will offer an alternative session on some days. This is ideal. If not, then you can try to squeeze the bulk of the main part of the session into the time you have. On these days, the home trainer is your friend. You might be able to trim off a bunch of the warm up, zone two general riding, some of the efforts, duration of the efforts, or a set or two. This is OK. It is normal. Not everyone has the good fortune of running their life around their cycling training plan!
As a general rule, when you're in a rut and struggling for motivation think of things like this; if the day's training is hard, try to go hard. If you have an easy day set, try to go easy. If you have a long day, try to go longer, or get a similar amount of fatigue by going a bit harder. If you have an easy week, try and make it an easier week. Enjoy your riding, make it fun. Any day you get on the bike, is a great day!
Now, go and smash yourself!