When people first pick up running they are encouraged to find a training plan to follow. Plans are great for so many different reasons: you don’t have to think too hard about what to do next, especially as a “newbie” runner; they provide short term goals on a daily and weekly basis and they offer a gradual build up of endurance and speed, grooming you for a bigger goal at the end of the plan, a race.
As you progress as a runner, so do your goals and your training plans. Most runners start with a 5k goal race, eventually progress to a half marathon, and then, perhaps, even a marathon at some point. Regardless of whether you follow a strict plan on paper or make it up as you go, there must be some structure to your training to get you to the starting line or there will be some serious bonking going on.
Sometimes, runners can get so wrapped up in their training plans and the data gathered from their GPS watches that they forget the basics of running: to have fun. They become more and more convinced that the fun is in the numbers, and while I am not arguing that number crunching isn’t fun, there will come a time when they forget what it was like to go out for a run for the sake of running, and not to run a certain distance or hit a certain time, pace, or heart rate reading.
Letting go can be one of the hardest hurdles a runner must jump over. Deciding that data collection is not that important for a recovery run and going watch-less can be intimidating at first, but with a little practice anyone can learn to enjoy it. After all, running is such a natural activity for us humans, it shouldn’t be so hard to go out and enjoy this thing we love so much.
There is a certain rhythm to training and when you let go of all that data you can really tap into what your body is telling you instead of what your watch is telling you. You learn to listen to your breathing, feel your heartbeat and trust your own judgment about when to make those legs move faster and when to reel them in. You learn your own rhythm which can be adapted to a more personal training experience.
As you gain more trust in yourself you’ll start to experiment with the more important runs such as your workouts. Instead of hitting a specific pace in an interval session, you run according to your breathing or your heart rate. It’s all a matter of trust and reintroducing the basics back into your running.
Remember when we were kids and we ran for the pure joy of running? We ran to be first in line, out of excitement to get to the playground, or in a game of tag. Later, when we played sports in high school, we ran because the coach told us to. We didn’t think too hard about it or over analyze things.
Probably one of the most liberating types of training is base training – that interim period between training cycles when you run to maintain or add endurance. This is a perfect time to practice raw running, that is running for the pure joy of running. Leave the watch at home and head out for an hour or two with no plan other than to have fun running. Remember why you began this crazy endeavor in the first place: because running is fun.
Jill Forsythe is a lifelong athlete having participated in both competitive and recreational sports. Health and fitness is a trait she has worked hard to instill in her children, as well as the community-at-large. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for a local non-profit, Lehigh Valley Road Runners, and has directed both trail and road races within the community. lvrr.org