Learning to Love Not Running by the Rules

No flowers to stop and smell, but if I had long--or blue--hair, it would be flowing free, too

It’s been nearly a month to the day since my last race, and I’m loving not being on a training schedule. No prescribed distances to run, no paces to hit, no track workouts. Just heading out the door and running here, there, and everywhere depending on my mood. Sometimes the maps of my runs on Garmin Connect resemble a kindergartner’s Etch-a-Sketch doodle. I’m not saying there’s no structure to my workout-week: I just signed up for a butt-kicking boot camp that meets every Wednesday, and I’m on week 4 of a Friday morning kettlebell class.  And I’m sticking to Monday as a rest day, leaving four footloose-and-fancy-free days of running.

As I set my alarm the nights before a morning run, I contemplate where I’ll go and how long I’ll run, an unnecessary debate when I’m following a plan. This weekend I complicated matters for myself by waffling on how long I’d run on Sunday—I was due to run 10 miles with my good friend Ellison, who lives about two miles from us. It seemed almost shameful to drive to her house, yet I wasn’t sure I was up for a 14’er. So on Friday evening I was left pondering if I should run an hour on Saturday, which would mean I’d do 10 the next day, or if I should keep Saturday’s run a bit shorter in prep for 14 miles. I ended up running for about 47 minutes, sealing my Sunday run as the longer option.

Except then this thing called real life intruded. After a 1:31 a.m. pee, it took me nearly an hour to fall back asleep. In between a toss and a turn, I reset my alarm for 20 minutes later, meaning I’d be pressed for time pre-run. Then, when the clock radio cackled Sunday morning, my two little friends—John and Daphne—were up and at ’em. Usually I get clear of my back door without any family interactions. Making them breakie and giving multiple kisses and hugs had me hustling for my car instead of beating feet to Ellison’s. Oh, well, with no set program, it wasn’t like I was shirking my running duties. It felt liberating to let myself off the hook, especially for someone like me who, um, you might have noticed, follows a training plan to the l.e.t.t.e.r.  

I really should hop on a schedule as I’m signed up to run the Race for the Roses on April 3. It’s a super-popular race here in Portland with three distances to choose from--I’m committed to the 10K. I know I’ll get my rear in gear eventually, but for now I’m relishing my freedom. If you’re a rule-follower like me, give it a try.

27 responses to “Learning to Love Not Running by the Rules

  1. Thanks for sharing! Ever since Couch to 5K a year ago, I have been training for a bigger race. I ran my first marathon on Sunday, and I gotta say I have REALLY been looking forward to running just for the fun of it! I broke down and printed up a half-marathon training plan yesterday, but I think it’s just going to be a rough guide if I need a kick in the butt.

  2. I am probably going to get yelled at for what I am about to say, but- this sounds a lot like the way I run all the time, inluding my marathon thraining (marathon is this Saturday!). I have TRIED to follow a training plan, but I CANNOT do it! Real life gets in the way, I get in the way, so I fake the short runs with various distances, do a LOT of hill work and try to follow a plan for the long runs.

  3. It is so wonderful to just let go and, well, be… then we run because we WANT to, not because we HAVE to. Easier said than done, though! I work much better with a plan/schedule. Possibly because if my husband sees it “in writing” he can’t back out of watching the kids while I run!

  4. My typical workout is at 5:15, 5:30, or 5:45AM, depending on the day. The workouts range from Boot Camp Class, TRX, Medicine Ball Class, and 5-7 mile runs. This week my kids are off from school and most of my running partners are away. I’ve adjusted/changed it up this week and I’m liking it! Getting to sleep in a little, ran solo with my i-pod today, and tomorrow I’m taking 2 classes that I haven’t taken since December! For sure I’ll feel it on Thursday! Schedules are great, but it’s nice to change it up sometimes!

  5. Love this post and have found myself feeling the same way lately. Nice to just run to run. However, if my treadmill runs looked like etch-a-sketch drawings, I might have a problem 🙂 Counting down the days until marathon training starts! (why do I get anxious EVERY time I think about that??)

  6. I too have been pretty schedule free with my running since Seattle Marathon in the end of November. It has been so wonderful just running as long as I feel like running. And I have noticed that once I took the pressure off myself, I have been feeling way more positive about my running. I am running more frequently but for shorter times. My body and mind are feeling strong and relaxed. I even ran a half-marathon last weekend without looking at my Garmin until the very last minute!! It was so liberating. Interestingly I had a “back-of-mind” goal of sub-2 hours, and finished at 2:00:11.

  7. I’m a ‘rules-would-be-nice-here’ kinda gal, because they give me a foundation, but so rarely do they happen that I cannot even commit to races because life still gets in the way so much. Working on being less of a waffler…because I totally get that it’s me and my inability to put my needs before others.

  8. It is nice to hear I’m not the only one! I too usually follow a strict training plan, but like you I’ve been a little loose with the structure lately. Although, with the Eugene Marathon only about 11 weeks a way, it is time to get back in gear and run with a little more focus. The time off has been fun though!

  9. Sarah, Thanks for sharing. For all my races so far that I trained for I too followed plans to….in your words….to the l.e.t.t.e.r. But oddly, for my biggest hurdle yet, Boston, real life has takes priority. And it has honestly been ok. It put priorities into perspective and goals shifted from time-based to finish, enjoy run, enjoy life without injury (to me or to life!).

    But, yes, I get your relaxed organization. Now, can you organize the weather to melt some of this snow and ice around the country?

  10. I don’t do well without a training plan. But I’m also a bit burned out right now and need to just rest and run free. I think if SBS can do it… so can I. Thanks for the inspiration!

  11. I’m not following a set plan right now either, but I’m looking forward to getting back to a more structured plan soon! I find I spend a lot of time figuring out what to do and sometimes talking myself out workouts that I’m just not “feeling.” It’s probably time to sign up for a race. 🙂

  12. I know what you are going through. Up until last Friday I was in full marathon training mode. And then on Friday I decided to put aside all my running travel plans for the year and instead take my 9 year old to Disneyland on spring break. I suddenly have nothing to train for since our local marathon isn’t until October. I waffled all over the place on Sat/Sun about what my Sunday run would be. Instead of the original planned 15, I decided I still wanted longish so I did 10.

  13. I’ve been in free from training mode since October’s marathon. Took some getting used to. It is very freeing to be able to go and try new classes or meet up with a friend to just go for a walk.

  14. Enjoy that FREE RUN time. After my 3rd stress fracture I began barefoot running and was forced to learn just how to run without any time, race, nothing.. It did wonders for me!! I’m now back up and training for my 4th marathon and I am so thankful for those 8-9 months I spent. I’ve learned a lot!!

  15. I’m so jealous! Training for my first marathon starts this week and I’m having a mental block about getting on a plan. Although, I must say that being on a training plan is probably good for me. My running really took a hit for December/January when I wasn’t looking at a calendar and on a running schedule.

    1. I am training for my first as well, and just started week one of the FIRST marathon training program that was in Runner’s World. I’m not sure of your goals, but mine is just to finish alive and smiling. Check it out if you’re still looking for a plan!

  16. Sarah, I wish I had your carefree attitiude. If I am not training I find it very hard to run more than 5-6 miles! I find myself lacking motivation when I don’t have a goal. My instinctive negative thoughts take over and I am easily swayed to take the easy path. I am fighting that now as I train for half marathon #2. I try to push myself through workouts and use positive thoughts to keep going when I get tired. I am trying to appreciate running for the joy of it! I remain a work in progress!

  17. I really enjoy reading the Run Like a Mother blog and I’m also enjoying the book as well. Their is so much humor and wit that it has me laughing out loud often. It’s as they say, the truer it is the funnier it is.

    1. Thanks, Cheryl. Yes, truth *is* funnier…and stranger. I trust you’ve found us on Facebook as well? (Run Like a Mother: The Book. Look for book cover to know you’re in right place.) A great tribe of women, and lots of stuff to make you laugh.

  18. Reading this makes me feel better about running where my feet take me AND for sleeping in this morning. Sleep seems to be winning the battle on Tuesday mornings so while I won’t be able to run I will be able to do Jillian Michaels’ “Boost Your Metabolism” at naptime. Something is better than nothing.

    1. I have yet to do any Jillian DVDs, but I hear they are bootie-kickers! Having a solid Plan B on days you opt to sleep in are key. Enjoy the workout!

  19. I’m such a “Type-A” person that I even map out my “free/fun” time – terrible, I know! I have a dry-erase board of a weekly schedule on the fridge and I write everything on there. Study time, rest days, lunch dates, call this, do that. Then i have a separate dry erase board for my to-do list and grocery list as well as a note about what to eat pre & post runs. I can’t help it BUT i do love to run without my garmin and just “wing-it” for runs. I am currently on a training schedule and will be for most of the year as I am gearing up for many FIRSTS in running. Right now, I am still recovering from my 1st running injury so my training is mostly strength training in the gym.

    reading this reminded though of the days before I knew what training was, or a garmin, or really anything much about running. I would just lace up and get out the door! Sometimes I miss not knowing – but – you don’t know what you don’t know! lol!

  20. My Garmin always looks like a Kindergarten sketch! Lately I have been in a “where the wind takes me” mode of running. Your “non-training” schedule sounds a lot more organized than you think!

    1. You nailed me, Stacy. Last evening I got to thinking same thing…my workout schedule is organized in terms of activity I do on a certain day, but compared to my usual running schedule, I’m living a bohemian life!

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