At the beginning of this year I alluded to the fact that I had a big goal for my marathon. But, true to form, I am already starting to waffle on it. Not because I don’t want to go after it, but because I’m now thinking of using this training cycle to experiment with a new method of training instead. It’s still way too early to decide on a training plan, but I’ve been flirting lately with the idea of doing something that’s more akin to the FIRST/RLRF plans (for those of you not fluent in Runcroynms, that’s “Run Less Run Faster”, the plan that’s gotten notoriety for the fact that you only run 3 days per week. Most people, FWIW, leave out the fact that you do rigorous cross-training on the other days, so you’re still working out 5-6 days per week).
There are a lot of reasons I feel like I need to shake things up and go in a different direction. As I’ve changed and grown in my priorities over the past year, I’ve become really turned off to the high-volume running lifestyle I used to employ. Sure, I achieved my goals by running 5-6 days a week…but at what cost? I ended up so burnt out on running that I could only train for one race a year and ended up having to take nearly an entire season completely off.
I’ve also started to become more interested in overall fitness than I was before. Fitness was never really the reason I ran – it was just to chase goals. And I still like to work toward goals. But the more I learn about health and fitness, the more I realize that my current approach isn’t necessarily the most healthy and I might be doing myself a disservice with my “run all the miles” approach. I mean, sure, I ran marathon-level mileage in my hey day and that ain’t for the faint of heart…but I also spent the vast majority of the rest of those days just sitting on my butt. How fit and healthy is that, really? What potential could I unlock if I actually committed to my overall fitness – if I biked, and swam, and stretched, and got strong? That thought makes me excited the way breaking new time goals used to make me excited (it still does, to an extent, but not as much as before).
I have also learned that I just enjoy running more when it’s balanced with other things. Running is not “my sanity” or “my release” or anything like that. I love to run, but frankly, I don’t want to do it every day. There, I said it. For me, it is like many other things in life, in that it is simply more enjoyable in moderation.
This may sound like big talk from someone who barely has the discipline to do 10 minutes of strength work in a day. But my realization that I enjoy a little bit less running makes me wonder if I’d actually perform better that way, too. If I did a plan like this it could either be a breakthrough…or a flop. I have no way of knowing and that’s why I will need to hold on loosely to any possible time goals. I always did well on higher mileage and thus wrote off plans like RLRF. The idea of running a marathon on a training plan that has little-to-no aerobic miles scares the crap out of me. But I also know a quite a few people – most of them similar athletes to me – who have used this plan and absolutely crushed their race goals. Most of them will point out that the lynchpin to success with this method is that you cannot slack on the cross-training. That is not lost on me. That said, I still can’t stomach the idea of running a marathon without an aerobic base, so I would likely make some modifications such as doing more of the long runs at an easier pace than recommended and subbing out 1 XT day with a longer easy run each week. I do think that if my 6 months of aerobic base building goes well, it will give me a good foundation to do well on this plan.
Again, this is all premature. It’s still way too early to plan my marathon training, and 4 months is a lot of time to change my mind for someone like me who changes her mind about things practically every damn week. But the reason I’m bringing this up now isn’t so much to talk training strategy as to illustrate a big shift that has occurred in my mindset over the past year. I really believe that both the highs AND lows of my running journey are what have led me to this place of taking more of an interest in my body and my overall health. Having running in my life has showed me how important it is to make better food choices, for example. It’s also opened my eyes to how strong and mighty my body is and the amazing things it can do. But it has also led me to see how much the quest for marathon success leads me to neglect other areas of my body (my first time doing yoga this past summer was particularly eye-opening!) and what consequences this may have, now or later. I’m changing. As a runner, and a person. And right now the main thing those changes are telling me is: I need more. It’s no longer enough to just aim for faster race times and pile on more mileage. I think that the massive plateau I hit last year was trying to tell me something. I am not on the right path anymore. I need to go in a different direction. And if getting slower is the sacrifice I have to make to actually get fitter and healthier overall, well, maybe that’s a sacrifice I’ll just need to learn to be comfortable with.