Bending the Rules of Training

Sometimes bending the rules can get a little messy.

Despite being the youngest of three children, I follow the rules like a firstborn. I use my turn signal even when no other car is anywhere in sight. I follow recipes down to the last 1/4-teaspoon of this, 1/2-cup of that. If I have 16 items in my grocery cart, I steer clear of the Express checkout. And when a training plan says run five miles, I will trot back and forth an extra block rather than stop my Garmin at 4.96 miles.

On a macro level, this means when I was training for, say, the Portland or Big Sur marathons last year, I did the precise workout I was supposed to do on the exact day the plan spelled it out for me. I remember Tuesday of Week 10 of training when I was supposed to run 4 x 1 mile at faster-than-tempo pace with 5 minutes of recovery between each. So, by gum, I did it--even though I was in Vancouver, B.C., promoting Run Like a Mother. (It made for a stunningly scenic run in Stanley Park, hugging the water.) The following day, the plan dictated 80 minutes with hills, going stronger at the top, so I had a friendly fan map out a hilly route for me, and there I ran, up and down, up and down, for one hour and 20 minutes (and not a second less) before hopping in my Honda Odyssey to head back to the States. Honestly, while in Canada, the thought never crossed my mind to substitute a different workout, or switch up the days of my plan, say opting instead for one of two of the week's 35-minute runs with six strides at the end. Nope, never once contemplated that change-up. (See my post about my commitment to wearing bifocals as a child if you need further proof of my ingrained rule-following nature.)

Yet that was back in the day when I ran six days a week, eschewing all other forms of exercise for our beloved pavement-pounding. Now I'm committed to two boot camp classes per week--one on Wednesday morning and another on Friday--which means running is not an option those days. When I finally jumped on a training plan (one of the two half-marathon plans in Train Like a Mother!) for Rock 'N' Roll Las Vegas, my mind--and stickler sense--starting fritzing like a short-circuiting wire. My brain couldn't compute how to work in hard-and-fast exercise obligations with the requisite running workouts.

Ah, the irony.

Then, like satellite transmissions crackling in the air around me, I heard the advice Dimity has imparted time and time again to mother runners on this site, on our Facebook page, and in person at race expos: Juggle your training schedule so it fits your life. Significant other on a fishing trip for the weekend? Do your long run on Friday morning. Visiting your relatives without a track within a 20-mile radius? Do your intervals before you head out of town. Missing a day because of dental surgery? Plan in advance to have it be your rest day. It seems so simple when Dimity says or types it, yet shuffling workouts was a big step for me. It helped me to follow a bit of advice Dim spells out in TLAM, which is keep the pattern of a hard workout being followed by an easy one, rather than doing, say, hill repeats the day after a long run.

With that blueprint in mind, my workout week goes something like this: Rest on Monday; do intervals or hill repeats on Tuesday; boot camp on Hump Day; run easy on Thursday; boot camp on Friday; then run long on Saturday or Sunday, with the other day either running, swimming, or biking. Hey, hey, look at me: Ms. Rigid getting all crazy with my weekend workouts! It's taken me 40-something years, but I'm finally acting like the youngest child I am...well, at least in my running life. I'm still a stickler for turn signals.

How 'bout you: Do you follow your training plan to. the. letter, or do you take a more relaxed approach to it?

31 responses to “Bending the Rules of Training

  1. I definitely have a little bit of both! My trainer is super flexible but I like routine – BUT – life happens and we have had to juggle her schedule changes and mine more than once. In the end we do just like Dimity suggests and never change things so that my muscles end up broken down b.c of it. I still want to have the ability to do my runs as planned and fit in strength training too! You just have to mentally prepare for things to shift occasionally – and then you just do it!

  2. I give my self permission to do what I gotta do. Running is always a priority, but I’m always prepared with options. My workout bag is always in the car (I can run at the gym at lunch or on the way home if I actually leave on time). I check the weather, but yeah I do my best to run 4x (2 easy, 1 interval/tempo, 1 long) and get the total mileage in somehow, without killing myself with the 4.96s of life. Don’t know if that helps at all…

  3. I try to follow week by week but definitely change up the order…life dictates….my intensity is way more this time around in preparing for the Louisiana marathon so at this point it’s pretty much all running…I still hit the weights & abs regularly…I have found that I am embracing the idea “rest is part of training” :))))

  4. For my 1st marathon, I strictly followed my program. Since then, I’m not a stickler w/ my running but I do hit all of my long runs. It’s a good thing since I’ve had to bike most of my runs bc of an injury for this next race.

  5. I’ve learned to be flexible because the husbands work routine is constantly rotating. I am trying hard to stick to a stricter routine now and I’m finding it boring and lacking spontaneity. I’m giving it till I finish Vegas than I’m going back to doing whatever I’m in the mood for and being less strict with my days.

  6. I am the eldest so, I am the rule follower!!
    Yes, I follow all training plans by the letter and get very annoyed when things go wrong or get in the way!! Currently training for Austin in Feb

  7. I work four 10-hr days, so I’m off most Fridays. The hubby and I just started running this year and the training program we did for beginning runners was Monday-Wednesday-Friday. When it started getting darker earlier, my self-employed, makes his own schedule, husband suggested we run Wednesday-Friday-Sunday so we only have to run after dark on Wednesdays. I know it’s crazy, but it really bothers me!! It throws me all off!

  8. When I started to take running seriously, I realized that if I didn’t impart some flexibility in my schedule that I was not going to rid myself of the stress that I was trying to run from in the first place.

  9. My running buddy bought me a tee shirt to celebrate knocking 41 minutes off my Marine Corps Marathon time.

    It reads, “If you see me collapse, pause my Garmin.” He knows me well.

    While I learned to be more flexible in my training this year (which apparently, worked out quite well!), I am still a stickler for recording my runs precisely.

  10. I just finished my first half marathon. I didn’t use much of a plan because I have been running that distance without racing for a long time. But I want to do my first whole marathon in the spring and will be following a plan religiously because the last time I tried to up my miles to a marathon I got injured and missed my goal race.

  11. While I hate HATE ending a run at 4.96 miles, I try to be flexible with my runs. I want it to be something I enjoy, not a chore. But still, I (pretty much) stick to my plan. But I also only run 3x a week (just can’t fit another day in with both my husband & I working out), but I also do a Jillian DVD 4x a week.

  12. I pretty much follow my plan to the T! My personality seems a lot like yours, SBS. But also, I am still new to running, or at least I feel like I am still new to it. I have been running for almost 2 years, and I’m afraid I will fail miserably if I don’t follow the plan exactly. Right now I am training for a half marathon. I did tweak the plan just a little to better fit my life (for example – long runs in the original plan were on Saturdays, but I need them to be on Mondays to have the best shot at getting the run in due to my husband’s work schedule), but all the running days are still in the exact order as the original plan. 🙂 I

  13. I am a bender — have to be with a full time job, three crazy kids, and a hubs who travels some with work. I use Higdon, but also teach (and do) two hard core pilates classes so I drop one run a week, I cannot do 5 days, just can’t. If I am going out of town, or have a conflict, I will flip my workouts around, within the week, or flip one week for another. I wish I could hit the plan as expected and not vary – but life for me does not work that way.

  14. I’m very flexible with my schedule, but I’ve also only trained by adding mileage, no speed work or fancy stuff here. I have to be flexible with twin 5 year old boys, working away from home full time, enrolled in graduate school full time and still trying to run. I might also be crazy.

  15. For my first 3 half marathons, I followed the training plan to the letter and they went really well. I got more relaxed this past summer and got injured… so for the next one I will be back on strict training plan!

  16. I have 3-4 training plans on my fridge. I write my mileage down in red sharpie on the calendar next to said plans. Pretty much I shoot for the long day to be accurate. I run to work every Tuesday morning because that’s the only day that works. It’s 8 miles so I shoot off through a park to get it up to 12 and keep it there for when a half comes up. When I train for a marathon again, the 8 mile run will be a shorter run and I’ll carve time out of a weekend to do the up to 24 mile run…. For now, though, this works. Then I get in 3-4 shorter runs scattered. At least one 3-4 miler on Thursday with my kids which will be slow. 2-3 with my husband at about 4 miles a pop which are great because it’s the only thing I beat him at. (As in, I wipe the freaking pavement with him!! But that’s another comment altogether!) I do strength training in my living room. I’m very relaxed on paper but I do actually get the mileage correct for each week. I just don’t stress at all on how it’s done. Running in a highly structured environment makes me anxious and running is what I do to relieve tension so that didn’t work for me. I want to love to run!

  17. I take (or carve) time out of each day for me to workout. If that means grabbing the dog, dropping kids at school, running on their cross country trails a few minutes with the dog, grabbing groceries then dropping groceries and dog at home THEN going for another “little run”, then I still get to add up all the miles, right?

  18. Hmmm I see the plan as more of a general direction instead of an exact formula… yeah, I’m more inclined to run by feel than by the letter of the law. If I feel bad, I rest. When I feel good, I run! This generally doesn’t lead me astray.

  19. I’m a Type A person, all the way, although I have mellowed out (blame it on my very Type B husband). I stick to the plan, but I have learned to take care of myself first. If I’m sick, I’ll skip a run now. I do so much better in all areas of my life when I have routine.

  20. For my mental and physical health, I aim to do something almost every day, running, biking, pilates, eliptical, walking… just something. When I’m training for a half marathon, I commit to running 3 times per week. Two short (3-5 miles) and one long (7-11 miles). As a single mom, working full time with a long commute, it’s working for me, but I truly run for the love of it and have never been very competitive….. Possibly a downside as a child, but I think that helps a lot now!

  21. My hubby/training partner has always been in charge of the training plan. For this next half-marathon in January I’m on my own (he’s injured) and its been tough to get out the door let alone follow an exact plan. My goal is to just get the total weekly mileage in every week like Dimity says. It has been tough to be motivated.

  22. The more races I do the more I’m learning to go with the flow and to change up my training plan to fit my life. This time around training for the Philly half has been my most flexible…it has made me uncomfortable at times (I’m a first born rule follower!) but in two weeks I’ll see whether it’s paid off or not!

  23. I need to have a plan or else I flounder and things start to slide. My husband is into biking, so we are constantly trying to mesh our schedules so that we each get done what we need to get done. While I may shift days a little, I really try to stick to the distances at least. Like SBS, I will jog down the block a few extra houses to make sure I hit 5.00 miles rather than 4.96.

  24. I start with one or more training plans – Sage Rountree and SmartCoach were my two for my upcoming race. I juggle and change things up in response due to work/school/family obligations and eventually to how I feel. But I always wind up feeling like “if I’d just followed the training plan perfectly”……or maybe that’s just that I have trained really long for my race this weekend (is it possible to train too long?) and am in a taper that’s making me nuts – tired, cranky, odd pains. I am already thinking how to “do better” next training cycle, planning when I’m going to start planning my training, and I’ve concluded I need more hours in the day!

  25. As a mom if five that is a teacher of fifth grade by day and “single parent” at night I have to juggle. My single parent status is in quotes because my husband works nights. He is sleeping when we leave in the morning and gone when we arrive home in the afternoon. I also coach Girls on the Run 2 days a week after school. It is not an easy life but running keeps me sane and my kids know it. They help out snd help each other(not always willingly!) so mom can have a run! Happy mommy = happy family. Therefore when life gets in the way I juggle. My goal is to get the miles ALL in by the end if the week….no matter how that happens or in what order!

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