Packing on (running) Meat

Photo by Mathew Schwartz on Unsplash

For my last three big races I have written out a full running regimen and with resounding consistency I have failed to stick to it. Life didn’t cause me to come unstuck from my plans…I just didn’t really like them.

I am currently training for a trail half in July, and am planning to pick up a few 10ks on the way. Initially I was set for an 18 mile trail race, but I had managed to double book myself and since race organisers Maverick and Let’s Do This made the process of race transfer easy enough I decided to shift gears. I had plotted my route to this 18 miler the traditional way, working backwards from race day, generating a smoothly ascending curve of mileage and incrementally challenging workouts. But, after returning from holiday, feeling in decent shape after some humid concrete thumping, I fell ill. Whatever the bug was, it knocked me back quite a bit. Even when the illness passed after a week, I was feeling demotivated and uninterested. I was still running, but that was just routine kicking in. What I didn’t have was the urge to pull up the spreadsheet and get back on plan to chase my fitness down.

Then I realised, I never have that urge.

After “enjoying” the Staveley 18k in the Lake District I decided to run to feel for a week. I even ran in that forbidden grey zone we’re all warned about: not hard, not easy. Maybe that isn’t the best way to get your #gains in, but I figured my life didn’t depend on it. Running 7 minute miles pace is neither tempo, nor is it easy, but it is quite fun.

After this little revelation I began to think broadly about my running, and was struck by how odd it was for me to be so detail orientated about this one aspect of my life, and almost nothing else.

Seriously, what else do I do that with?

“Oh in 6 weeks time I need to be reading these exact chapters of this exact book so I can be prepared to read this other chapter 3 weeks later.”

For sure, some people do get a kick out of minutia; out of spreadsheets, data, and tracking – but I don’t. I like Strava because it does that work for me, and then let’s me look at a cool little map when I’m done running.

Which begs the question: if all this detailed scheduling isn’t really working for me, why am I bothering at all?

The honest answer is: because a lot of successful runners do it. Or their coaches do. If something works for 90% of people it will be advertised as essential, even to those it isn’t going to work for.

On a podcast I listen to regularly – Freetrail – the host Dylan Bowman, after directing the Gorge Waterfall 50/100k, interviewed the 4 winners across the 2 distances. Each winner trained in a completely different way. They had different mileage, different workout emphasis, and different levels of experience. Their connective tissue was hard work, and a love of the sport. They had each walked a different path to arrive at the same destination. I love the community, the carnival, which is growing around running: the podcasts, the videos, the books and magazines. I indulge in a lot of it. In a small way I suppose I am part of it. But none of them have answers. They only have evidence, journeys, diary entries, and from that we have to create our own answers. We cannot simply take what they have done, apply it to our own lives, and expect the journey to be the same.

All this to say: I am done with the spreadsheets.

This is not to say I am completely done with structure. Improvisation requires structure. Nothing can be created out of a void. But instead of planning some workout eight weeks from now, where I couldn’t possibly say how I will feel, what the weather is, or what celebrity death has me reeling, I just have a skeleton of a week upon which I can continually pack more meat.

My current skeleton looks something like this: 

Monday – Run to feel

Tuesday – Something speedy 

Wednesday – Recovery shuffle

Thursday – Run to feel / Hill Strides

Friday – Cross Train 

Saturday – Tempo (race dependent)

Sunday – Long (race dependent)

In theory I will increase the amount of meat on this skeleton week by week. But it will not be as linear as that. I will take unscheduled rest days when necessary, although my cross training day is very light anyway. Racing, which I intend to do a reasonable amount of over the summer months, will control what my weekends look like. And always, always, always, always, I will listen to my body. That was where I messed up when I was ill. I always told myself that I would do that but I didn’t. My schedule was there, telling me what I needed to be doing whilst my body was telling my something else entirely. I ended up somewhere in the middle; losing grip of the joy of running whilst also failing to live up to the false expectations of my past self.

I feel that if I hold myself to that, to those principles, then I will be able to pack just as much running meat onto my skeleton as if I had planned it all out in advance.

And if I’m wrong, well, at least I’ll be having fun.

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