2015 is a bit of an unusual year for me – running wise at least. I don’t have any big races booked, I don’t have a marathon, I haven’t got a full year of events lined up and planned out, I don’t even have a training plan…
This is very unlike me and actually takes me out of my comfort zone somewhat. I am a slave to lists. I make a list every Sunday of what meals I will be making, from which I generate a thorough shopping list. I have lists for work (separated into colourful columns for employer work, freelance work and personal projects – honestly, it’s a work of art). I have a weekly housework schedule. I have two calendars (one upstairs, one down) and a diary, which are filled in painstakingly by hand, even though I actually only ever look at the calendar on my phone, which is synced to all my devices and with my husband. And everything has little checkboxes next to each task. I own more notebooks than running kit (and that is saying something).
I appreciate that all makes me sound a bit crazy and OCD (I’m not though; honestly, they checked me for OCD once… though it’s still possible I’m crazy). So it’s no wonder that I like to sit down and sort out what races I am doing for the year. The races get split into main events and training races, and then the right training plans can be found so I have a schedule to stick to.
The problem is that life doesn’t actually like being scheduled. You can’t plan a child’s illness, an injury, a surprise trip away (if only…). And working freelance from home around mothering duties and a part-time job makes it even more difficult to stick to an exact run plan. Inevitably, that means I miss runs, I have to swap them around – and that doesn’t sit well with my schedule-centric brain.
Last year, I’ll admit, it got a bit too much. I had two marathons so I was straight from one training plan into another. There were days when I looked at my calendar and saw ’15 miles easy’ and what I really wanted was 3 miles fast. Over time, I had somehow lost all the fun and spontaneity from my running. I still enjoyed it, but there were runs that I just hated. the ones where I forced myself to go because the ‘schedule’ told me too. And then there was the guilt when I missed a run, even if I was feeling rotten and rundown.
2015 is the year of change for me – in lots of different areas of my life, such as putting some of my personal project ideas onto paper and getting them out into the world, and trying not to care if they don’t work out. I knew I would have a lot on and I didn’t want a marathon in the middle of that. I had started to resent the training and the time it took away from me and my family.
The more I thought about it, the more I realised how much I had let the idea of ‘training’ take over my running life and that made me sad. I didn’t often run with other people, as I wanted to meet my target time and pace. Friends would come back from fun, chatty runs full of joy, and I would just be on my own, slugging it out to get a tick on my list. My routes became predictable and boring.
So, at the start of the year, and in honour of my New Year’s pledge to be ‘relentlessly positive’ I changed tack completely. This year I want to ‘run’. Not train, just run. That doesn’t mean that I won’t be racing, as I enjoy it (and I’ve already done a half marathon and a 10K, plus plenty of parkruns). I’m signing up for events as and when I feel like it. I know that my running keeps me in roughly half-marathon shape, so anything up to that I can enter last minute and just enjoy it. It also doesn’t mean that I have stopped caring about pace; I want to challenge myself to do better, but varying my running to what I feel like doing has actually made me a better runner. I am running a lot more on trails, as it’s much more fun, and that has made me stronger. I am also running more runs with others at a slower pace, so I am actually recovering between harder runs. I’m also doing the interval sessions at running club and challenging myself to go out on the longer tempo runs that always filled me with fear. The result? A parkrun PB of 22:49, which I would have thought impossible this time last year.
Me being me, I still need to have some kind of structure to my running. But it is much simpler. I want to run four times a week, but it doesn’t matter what days (although I have fallen into a kind of routine with that). One run should be faster; one run should be longer. At least one should be off-road. Other than that I want to have fun. I have entered races with friends, just to have a laugh and forget about times, but I have also entered races where I am gunning for a PB because I like the challenge. If I don’t feel like running, I don’t, but I do try and do something else instead (a walk, a swim, a strength workout). Unless I am being lazy, then I force myself to run, but I pick a pretty, uplifting route and take it nice and easy.
And the result? I am loving my running right now. I have made some fabulous new friends that ‘get’ my running life, I am trying new things and I am still improving – more than I have ever done on a structured training plan. Maybe I will follow one again when I am ready for a ‘big’ event, but for now, I’m happy with being (just a little bit) flexible.