Lessons Learned with Stephanie: How to Ditch Your Plan

Type-A personalities beware. I’m about to give some unsettling advice. There are times when it’s ok to not follow your training plan. Yes, you read that correctly. Sometimes relentlessly following your training plan can cause more harm than good. So how do you know when to ditch your plan and instead let your body be your guide? After years of mistakes, injuries, and blunders endured from mindlessly following the “plan,” here is some of my advice:

  1. Plans are not one-size fits all –If you have a personal coach, friend, or trusted runner who helped you create your own personalized training plan, you should without a doubt follow that plan. Make sure to check in with the creator of your plan frequently to assess your progress and adjust your plan accordingly. For the rest of us, not fortunate enough to have a completely customized plan, remember that training plans found online, in books, or in magazines are made for the mass public. Therefore, they might not perfectly meet your needs. You should feel empowered to tweak your plan by moving workouts to different days of the week or adjusting total weekly mileage.
  2. It’s ok to take it easy – When I first started running, I assumed that the more fast runs I could complete, the better! Slow runs seemed like a waste of time. However, I have learned that slow runs are just as important as the faster, speed-specific workouts. Those slower runs enable your body to absorb all of the fitness you are building during key workouts. It’s also important to allow yourself to take additional “slow days” when you are feeling exhausted, tired, or on the verge of an injury.
  3. Above all, seek progress –A few bad runs here and there is not cause for alarm. Bad weather, not enough sleep, or improper nutrition, could all lead to a bad run. But if you are consistently not improving or repeatedly feeling off during your speed-specific runs, you should likely take a step back and reassess your plan. A lack of progress could be a sign that you are over-trained or heading for an injury, or that you are not pushing yourself to your full potential!
  4. Focus on the long term – If you suspect that you might be over-trained or heading towards an injury, it’s much better to take a few days (or even an entire week!) to rest and recover right away. Missing one day or one week is much better than injuring yourself and potentially not being able to complete your race! I always feel anxious when I think about taking time off, but when I ground myself in long term goals (i.e. I want to be running for the next 50 years!), taking one week off seems like a small price to pay to ensure that I reach my long term goal.
  5. Fine balancing act – While it’s ok to take some time off and listen to your body, it’s important not to take rest too far. If you take days off when experiencing the slightest pain or discomfort, you’d likely never run again. It might take a while to figure out your sweet spot in terms of mileage, days off, and cross-training, especially if you are new to running. Figuring out your own balance is one of the fun and challenging components of running.
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