Going Rogue: Why I’m Throwing Out the Training Plan

No more spreadsheets - I'm throwing the training plan away!
No more spreadsheets – I’m throwing the training plan away!

I’m notorious around these parts for creating training logs and then disregarding them completely.

But not in the normal way one would disregard a training plan.  No, not me.  The rest of the world skips runs completely, or re-arranges the days… or runs fewer miles than scheduled, ignores speedwork, etc.

I go rogue in a different way.  I run more mileage than the plan calls for, skip rest days and run on the cross training days.

And what’s wrong with that?


I’m an injury-prone runner who needs rests days.  Too much mileage, and my need for expensive sports massages skyrockets.  Worst of all, this leads to overtraining.  Overtraining killed my BQ attempt in May, and resulted in a three-month vacation from running that I’m still working off (if you know what I’m saying).

If I know this, why can’t I just stick to my training plans?  It’s complicated.  If you recall, I’ve lost a lot of weight. Part of the reason I can’t obey my training plan can be traced back to that. When I see “rest day” on the schedule, I read it as “gain 50 pounds day.” I have an ingrained fear that if I don’t exercise, I’ll gain all the weight I’ve lost back overnight.  That I’m going to have to deal with all on my own; no training plan or lack thereof can fix that mental block.

By changing your mind, you change everything.
Yeah, like the entire training plan, so why even have one? (Photo credit: deeplifequotes)

But the other reason is that I’m one fickle runner! Training plans often goes against my normal cycles.  They normally last seven days, and I’m more of a 10-day training micro-cycle gal.  They want me to run my long runs on Sunday, and I prefer Friday and Saturdays.  Most important, they tell me to do an easy five-miler on the day I’m pumped and want to do a speed workout.  Or, they tell me to do a speed workout and I really just want to do some pool running… or nothing.

This isn’t the fault of the training plan, or the coach, and it isn’t remedied by me creating my own training plan that puts long runs on Saturday and follows a 10-day cycle, because I still have a plan that tells me to do something that my body isn’t in the mood for.  I can’t anticipate my body’s moods three months in advance (although I’m learning) – so I push myself to run on days because my training plan tells me to, run more than my training plan calls for because I’m feeling good, and I don’t reap the adaptive benefits that come from alternating easy, hard, and medium runs.

That’s why, for my early-April 50-miler, I’m not creating a training plan at all.

Don’t panic yet.  I’m not throwing out all structure, just the day-to-day parameters.  I know from the ultramarathon training books that I’ve read that I need to do two cumulative “long runs” every week.  Every week, I’ll run my first long run on Friday (starting with 12 miles) and a shorter long run the next day (starting with 6 miles).  I’ll increase the mileage every week until I max my Friday long run at 31 miles and the Saturday long run at 16 miles (not on the same week).  I’ll take an easier week every month where my mileage drops on the long run days and I skip any speed workout and hill training. Oh, and I’ll follow a taper plan three weeks out no matter how I feel because I’m going rogue, but not that rogue.  I know tapering is important.  Finally, I’ll take at least one rest day a week, but I’ll let me body tell me when I need it.

Other than that, however, I’m going to run during the week whenever and however long I want to.  I’ll fit in a speed workout and hill workout for each 10-day micro-cycle.  I might take two rest days in a row or cross-train for three days one cycle.  Heck, I might even go crazy and do a hill workout following a speed workout day.  I might be feeling a little crazy like that.

I hope this helps me to both listen to my body and get to the start of the ultra as healthy as I can.   I’m not about the lose another summer to overtraining blues – I have to maximize the time I can run outside here in freezing North Dakota!

What do you think? Am I falling into dangerous territory without a training plan?

Ultrarunner, adventurer, academic, and feminist. Running Across the USA in 2021. I write about ultrarunning, adventuring, and the intersection of endurance athletics and life.

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  1. I think it is dangerous territory for you. You know you tend to overdo it and get injured by adding a little here and there to a plan. Imagine what you’ll do to yourself without one at all? (redflag: “Heck, I might even go crazy and do a hill workout following a speed workout day.” – not a good idea).

    I think a better approach is drawing up (or having a coach devise) a training plan that is going to be hard for you, but properly balanced. Having balance is as important as the long run and speed workouts. You want to get in good quality, but properly space it so you can get the most benefit from the harder efforts. If your plan is challenging enough, you are less likely to add more miles or run on rest days because you’ll be working too hard and you will feel that you need the rest. I think maybe you were adding miles not only due to your mental block, but also because your previous plans may have been too easy for you. Either too few miles or too few quality workouts during the week. If you set a plan so you hit your sweet spot in mileage (meaning max you can handle without injury), and are running 2-3 hard workouts a week, you’ll do a lot better. While some people can run without a plan, given your history, I think you might likely end up overtrained and/or injured again.

    Also, have you considered any type of cross-training? Maybe you’d mentally feel better if on your rest days you lifted weights, did yoga, or something else that would help make you stronger, but less likely to run into that overtraining/injured arena.

  2. Mint,

    I so totally understand and appreciate your concerns! If I had been me (and gone through the past 6 months), I’d have them too. Although I forget to out them in my training logs, I an doing yoga fairly regularly and taking two days off a week! Unheard of in my prior life. I feel really good about my mental health and ability to know when to drop (or take a day off).

    That being said, I can’t afford a professional training plan or even my old favorite, sports massages. I am using the Powell training plan as a guide, but listening to my body instead of blindly following it. I feel very confident that this is what is right for me right now.


  3. I ran my first 50 with a skeleton of a plan and ended up running more than what the plan had actually called for. I ended up finishing the race, two hours past my goal time and struggled through the whole race. And then that started the crappy cycle of burnout and injury and a DNF for the rest of 2012.
    Training for the 100 and this past 50 with a training plan, and then coach has worked out extremely well for me. I’ve usually been very anti-training plan, but having the structure, accountability and even flexibility I have under my coach has really made a huge difference.
    But the thing is, you don’t have to run as much as you think you do and you don’t have to do back-to-back long runs every single weekend. The most I did this time around was back-to-back 18’s and my longest run was 22 miles. Just make sure you keep a balance and don’t forget about yoga 🙂

    1. I was hoping you’d weigh in! The training plan I’m loosely following is similar to what you are mentioning here – and it’s good to have your concurrence. I don’t plan to run more than a 70 mile week (and that at the very peak of my training plan) and most of them will probably be in the 40 to 50’s.

      I would love to have a coach – and maybe someday when I’m rich (or even employed)! =) This is actually (I think) a good thing though. I can’t rely on sports massages or other moneyed things to “fix” everything. I know that I have to be super careful with recovery and knowing when enough is enough.

      1. I think my highest volume week was 58 miles. Just make sure you’re getting lots of rest!

        I am so lucky I was able to budget having a coach this year. I don’t make a ton of money, so I definitely have to sacrifice in other areas, like massages or things like that. If you don’t foam roll already, it’d be a great time to start. Also, not sure if you’re practicing yoga at home or at a studio, but on particularly high volume weeks, I’ll let the instructor know what I’m training for and what areas I’m having trouble with and they’ll usually work some poses in there for me.

        And don’t hesitate to reach out to me or Clove!! Sometimes the mental side of ultra training is harder than the actual running.

  4. Hey, we’ve all made training mistakes before. The key, I think, (and I write this as someone who has been a runner for only 3 years and has never attempted a full marathon) is to learn from our training mistakes.

    I am currently trying figure out how much speedwork or pacework my body can handle. I have a tendency to start a training season with ideas about doing lots of speedwork and/or running at goal race pace, but fearing injury and burnout, I recede back into the outer limits of long slow distance running.

    Some coaches, like Phil Maffetone, say that aerobic running (which to me seems identical to long slow distance running) is the way you build a bigger aerobic engine, so you can run at your race pace for the entire duration of the race without fading at the end. But can you really get faster doing all of those miles at lethargic paces? I currently think not. So, I’m trying to find the right balance between speed and LSD.

    Good luck in your efforts and keep us informed. I have enjoyed reading your posts/race reports.

  5. If you haven’t read it, you might want to take a look at “Run: The mind-body method to running by feel”. It very much follows this no-plan (or at least a very flexible-plan) approach, and takes a look at the ways some of the best runners learn to listen to their bodies rather than a specific training plan to get the most out of their training. I got a lot out of reading it. Though I still follow training plans, I am more comfortable with adapting them. If I see “8 miles at tempo pace” and laugh, ‘oh, that’s not happening!’, I feel OK now changing that up to say, 5 or 6 miles, and completing the workout successfully, rather than pressing through a workout I’m not ready for, failing, and coming out of the workout with less confidence.

  6. I’ve “trained” for races with and without training plans. I definitely race better when I’ve been following a plan- as I proved to myself yesterday (can you say 22 minute half marathon PR, anyone!?!?), but I understand what you’re saying about your body rebelling against what some abstract piece of paper says it must do. I enjoy “light” training plans – 3 days a week – that give me the freedom to do whatever the heck I feel like on the other days. Sometimes the plan just doesn’t fit the day, so you modify, adapt and overcome. I think it’s smart that you’re at least “loosely” following a plan, but I also think there’s a lot of wisdom in knowing what YOU will or wont do, not just what you should or shouldn’t do. Best of luck, and happy listening [to your body]!