A Mysterious Kind of Marathon Training Plan

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These days I like the odds of not knowing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

In my line of work of family therapy, one of the first things taught is to focus on the process versus the content of an interaction. For instance, when a family is in session and the mom angrily proclaims that her daughter refuses to pick up after herself or won’t clean her room, it’s easy to get caught up in those pesky details. Instead, the therapist might turn to the daughter and ask, “What’s it like to hear mom say that?” The shift away from such details and a focus towards the interaction itself is what leads to eventual change.

Now you ask, what does any of this have to do with running? And Ginger, where have you been? Well, as of late, I’ve been shifting the focus of my running to the process itself, rather than the content of weekly miles to hit or paces at which to run. Last summer, I attempted a similar approach but when everyone else around you speaks in miles, it becomes a challenge. Unintentionally, I’ve been away from the site and some of my running friends as of late. As much as I miss those days, the little break has helped me to understand more of why I run.

For the last several weeks, I have run only for the time spent on my feet and at no prescribed pace. I have never felt stronger or more in tune with my body. At the same though, it often feels like I’m in questionable shape. James and I started a random challenge on one of our night runs each week in which we run a 400 at an almost all-out pace, just for fun. We joked that it’s similar to playing a game of pool or going out to bowl on a Saturday night, like, “Hey, let’s go run a 400!” Have we finally defined the true definition a hobbyjogger? Anyway, this is about the only speed work I have done in the last month. Suffice to say, it’s easy to feel out of shape at times when I think about going back to join my runner friends at the track.

But I am not training for the track. In fact, I like to think that my current style of training will bode well for the Akron Marathon, which I am registered to run on September 28th. All along, I have had no intentions of setting a time goal as it has been 9 years since I last completed a marathon. I also don’t want to put any pressure on myself to run a certain time. Rather, I want to enjoy the experience on a course that runs through many of the neighborhoods I visit for work and at the parks in which I often run.

I've always enjoyed the Akron experience. Here I was in 2009 running the half. I had just started running again and negative split my first half marathon all because I started off by feel, probably close to 10:00 pace and finished in 1:48:16.
I've always enjoyed the Akron experience. Here I (13468) was in 2009 running the half. I had just started running again and negative split my first half marathon all because I started off by feel, probably close to 10:00 pace and finished in 1:48:16.

 

Making the decision to train entirely by feel was a process in itself. It felt as if it happened over night, where one day I woke up and decided it wasn’t as scary as it seemed. However, looking back at my training log, it was actually a gradual process in which all of my easy runs were for time. I was still approximating the amount of miles run each time until life outside of running started to take precedence, with increased work loads and the death of my beloved grandpa. Miles didn’t seem to matter as much to me anymore and thoughts of whether I would be able to hold 50-60 miles over the summer slowly slipped away. Running sort of became all about how it made me feel. When I was hurting, it helped ease some pain. When I was tired, it woke me up. When I wanted to get away, it provided a path.

The good ol' days with my grandpa, who passed away on June 2nd. After that happened, running seemed irrelevant. But in the end it helped me to see what matters most in life and as a result, enjoy my running even more.
The good ol' days with my grandpa, who passed away on June 2nd. After that happened, running seemed irrelevant. But in the end it helped me to see what matters most in life and as a result, enjoy my running even more.

 

Oftentimes, the body doesn’t know the difference between miles logged and paces run. I wholeheartedly believe that to run just for the sake of running is what leads us to faster times. It may not be an instant result as we often expect. Such an expectation is what leads to let downs, not our actual abilities. I’ve only done yoga a handful of times but I like to think this method is very yogatic. Each day I lace up, my ego is checked at the door.

I’m currently running 5-7 days a week. Most days, my runs are 30-60 minutes. I’ve logged four long runs thus far, starting at 90 minutes for the first one and working up to 2.5 hours for the most recent. Every two weeks, I do a recovery long run of 90 minutes. So far, I’ve enjoyed my long runs the most during this training experience. I start off very easy and work into the run which is on an out and back bike path near my house. Each time, I’ve come back quicker and have not felt as sore as I have in the past during long runs.

Workout wise, I recently introduced tempos into the routine. This past week, I logged my very first tempo by feel, running a controlled effort for 30 minutes. I will admit that at about 15 minutes, I thought about starting my watch at a mile marker to see the pace. Luckily, I didn’t give in to the temptation. If I was to find out my pace and it was a lot slower than I expected, I know I would have instantly went from confident to defeated. By not knowing my pace, I finished the tempo with a new-found love for them. Prior to this method, tempos were always my weakest link.

A sample of one of my training weeks for the 2013 Akron Marathon.
A sample of one of my training weeks for the 2013 Akron Marathon.

 

I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I still wonder what my time will be at Akron. I know that endurance is my strength. And recent times in the last year indicate the ability to run a Boston qualifier. But when I begin each run, I let all those thoughts subside and just allow my feet to take me where and how fast or slow they want to go. This approach is not for everyone. But I do think that incorporating at least one run by feel into your weekly routine will reap both mental and physical benefits. In the meantime, I hope to continue to update you on the journey as the finished product will be a surprise for us all on September 28th.

I write about mindfulness, mental health, and the professional sport of running with the occasional poking fun at the sport. When I am not running, I'm either helping people as a counselor or trying to make them laugh as an amateur open mic comedian.

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5 comments

  1. This is exactly the type of training that I’ve been striving for lately! I’ve been running for nearly 20 years and have followed (or attempted to follow) too many training plans to count. I start out great, but inevitably the plan and I go our separate ways as I find that the plan doesn’t fit my life, or my abilities, or my sense of what my body needs on a particular day.

    I need to look forward to my runs again and see them as more than numbers on a piece of paper. I need to feel successful after a run, instead of feeling like a failure because I didn’t hit the right pace or complete the right number of intervals. I want to be ok with following my instincts about the intensity and length of my daily runs.

    Ginger, your post has given me permission to do all of these things. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  2. Hi Janet! So glad that this post could help you. It helps to hear from others that either run this way or want to. Good luck in the process, keep us updated!

  3. I ran the jcj without a watch. I had no time goal. My goal was to run as hard as I could and push o the end. I don’t think I could have done it with a watch. I would have seen the splits and given up in disappointment. But now I feel like I made a huge mental leap. How can I ever feel bad if I do my best? I think you will surprise yourself on race day!

    1. Great job at JCJ! I cannot wait to hear all about it. How exciting to leave the watch behind. Wasn’t it a few JCJs ago that Glenn was on the bike and yelled at you to stop looking at the watch? Or maybe that was Barb? Maybe Glenn has the perfect balance of training at certain paces but racing by instinct? Excited for your training! Hope to see you soon, too.

  4. Nice seeing you back here!

    I trained like this a few years ago when I ran the Columbus Marathon. I had just gone back to work full time after being a SAHM and my kids were still pretty little. I didn’t have the time or energy to do a structured training plan. So I put in some miles (5 days a week), but didn’t worry much about specific workouts or time. It was also the only marathon I went into without any time expectation at all and ran 100% by feel. Sure, I checked out my splits periodically, but I did not adjust by them. It was one of my most enjoyable races and I really did surprise myself with my time.

    I hope you have a great race!