I have had set training plans at several points in my time as a runner. In high school, it wasn’t really a plan that I got to see charted out on paper; it was more like my coach told us how far to run each day and what level of effort that workout should be at. In college, I was able to see further in advance the workouts that I was expected to do. I could see the training program progress on a typed-out table over the course of the season. I knew my weekly mileage and my mileage for the week before that, and before that, and before that. I could see what my teammates were doing, too.

For the rest of the time, I have been a wandering runner. I haven’t been completely aimless. I train appropriately, just not precisely. I almost never carry a watch; I look at the clock when I leave home and when I get back and account for whatever stoplights I may have encountered. If I feel like turning down a certain road or trail, I do, and my run might be longer. If I feel like pushing myself, I do, and I go a little faster. It took me a decent amount of time to figure out what my weekly mileage was at, because I don’t track my miles. Or my pace. I’ve been running by feel for a very long time because that’s the way I enjoy running the most. And here’s why:

Training plans, to me, have always felt like setting the metaphorical bar at a certain height. I mentally attach the goals set in the plan to what I presume to be the expectations of my coaches, and assume that if I fail to reach those goals, I will consequently fail those people. And myself. And I hate, hate, hate failure. Especially when it means letting people down.

I know a lot of people that love to have everything worked out and set up and organized so that they can push themselves and keep track of themselves and know exact numbers and paces and look at their training from what I think is a very mathematical perspective. And don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with that! In fact, I wish I could be a planning kind of gal when it comes to running. It looks so neat and understandable and solid. But it just rubs me the wrong way. I have a deep competitive drive and that’s great, when I need it. But it brings with it a ton of internal pressure. My greatest competitor by far is myself, and it seems like we are always in the middle of a competition... especially when there are numbers.

No matter what the reason is for not hitting the marks on my training plan--injury, exhaustion, schedule conflict, just not feeling right--if I don’t, I feel as if I have failed, even though I know logically that this is not true. Plans turn my running into a test, a pass/fail examination that somehow, as soon as it is written or typed, feels innately connected to my self-worth as a runner. I don’t know exactly why it works this way for me, but I know that it does.

It isn’t just running, actually. As a child, I would stubbornly wait until I was no longer expected to do something so that I could make the decision to do it all by myself. Case in point: potty training, which I achieved momentarily because I was told I couldn’t go to kindergarten otherwise, then proceeded to purposely unlearn this skill because people made such a big deal about it. I waited until they no longer cared. The same happened in the elementary school cafeteria. One lunchtime, I lacked an appetite at 11:30am and was pestered to finish my Lunchable until the lunch period had ended. Until my teachers ceased to pester me, nearly a year later, I would bring my lunch home and consume it comfortably at my home dining room table. Because that was my choice.

Now, I could really delve into the psychology of this weird tendency of mine, get all Freudian and find the method behind my madness. But this is a running blog, not a self-help blog. So I’m here to talk about how I work around my intense hatred for training plans.

This past week, I began to feel some pain in the base joint of my big toe. It got progressively worse until I could not put on my running shoes and take a step without wincing. This called for an unplanned rest day which landed on what was supposed to be a longer tempo run. No problem, I could just move that run to the following day. Except that on that day, I woke up with my head feeling like it was a 16-pound bowling ball and my sinuses so stuffed my breathing sounded like I needed a lung transplant. Cue the common cold. Easy runs ensued. I was now officially way off my training plan.

One day’s screw-up is manageable. Two, negotiable. But half of my week was thrown off because of a stupid injury and then recovering from a stupid injury and then a stupid viral infectious disease (that sounds so dramatic, but that’s what a cold is). The marathon flashed before my eyes. 10 more weeks, give or take. What if this week was the week that ruined my preparation? What if it had a ripple effect that set off the remainder of my training and left me completely unprepared to run 26.2?!!

And here is where I would usually write about a profound realization that all of that won’t happen, a sing-songy “I’ll be just fine” type of resolution. Unfortunately, I don’t have one of those. Preparing myself for this race is not something that will come easily. Marathon training is serious business. I do need some sort of guide, and weeks that go like this past one did have to be few and far between. So I’m trying this thing where I give myself a safety net. I have a great and very exact plan set up, but I know that forcing myself to meet exactly that plan stresses me out and makes me a sad runner. So I’m going to use it kind of like I’m cooking dinner and don’t have all the ingredients. I’ll follow the basic structure and make sure all of the fundamental components are there (long runs, tempo, speed work, recovery) and make sure that, as a whole, the final product is the way that it should be. But what exactly is in there, well, that’s not totally set in stone.

In the meantime, I have some brand-new HOKA ONE ONE shoes to break in (thanks, RunVermont!), some thankfully warmer weather and my long, whatever mileage it turns out to be around two hours, run to use them on!

Hoping everyone is training well, planners and wanderers alike!


Until next time!