The Surprising Benefits of Running Unscripted

I’m a planner by nature, you see.  A scheduler.  A write everything down in lists and calendars and always arrive 10 minutes early kind of gal.

I don’t generally do well with unstructured time, parts of a day carved out to just ‘relax’ (whatever that means), or scheduled plans that are changed at the last minute.

A short bridge on one of my running routes

A short bridge on one of my running routes

This is true in pretty much all parts of my life and up until recently I thought it was absolutely true in regards to my running self, as well. I’d always pretty much been running with a plan.  There was, of course, the four months of marathon training that I planned out and followed without fail.  Even prior to that very specific training, I would plan out my runs pretty precisely.  Google Maps was a big help in this, allowing me to draw out where I would run to achieve just the right amount of distance.  I’d map it, commit it to memory and head out, not deviating from my route or schedule.

All of that planning was great.  It helped me become a strong runner and got me successfully through a marathon.  But in the two months since that achievement, I’ve been a little less structured in my training – and I’ve been amazed at how well it’s going.

Of course, I still have some structure (I AM still me, after all).  I still go long every Saturday, hit intense strength training on Sundays, and fill my evenings after work with a variety of runs and bits of cross training.  I still commit to 4-6 days per week of running, plus cross-training on at least 4 days, always with one full day off of training (generally Fridays).

I love rounding this curve.

I love rounding this curve.

But, all in all, it’s a bit more free form.  I’ve been running long enough in my neighborhood by now to know it intimately.  I know the streets and the turns, which sidewalks are smooth enough to go fast on, and which ones feel like a little obstacle course with their broken cement and tree roots taking over.  I know where the hills are and which stretches always seem to create some sort of wind tunnel that I can’t understand from a meteorological standpoint.  I know which streets to take on a hot day if I want more shade and I know where to find drinking fountains if needed.

I love that I have become more familiar with distance now, knowing it by experience and feel. I don’t need to map my routes, because I know where to go for 5 miles or 6 miles or 8 miles.  I know if I want to hit 10, I just turn and add on a 2 mile stretch at a specific point along my way and when I’m going long, I know how to create loops to get me to 15, 16, 17 and so on with enough diversity of environment and elevation changes to keep it interesting.  It’s all become so natural.

My base mileage is getting strong.

This pleases me.

Reed Field and Path

A path at Reed College in my ‘hood.

My long runs are consistently longer – but they don’t necessarily feel like it.  They just feel fun and good.  Hard when I decide to make them hard and refreshing when that’s what I need, too.  My shorter runs have inched their way along also, growing in subtle increments and making my consistent weekly mileage creep upwards.

My slow, easy pace has dropped and my recovery time is shortened.

It’s all just fantastic.

There’s something quite satisfying about just building that base to be a bit more than it used to be and in feeling the positive impacts of that in my body and mind.  It’s certainly increasing my confidence as a runner.  I find myself having a bit more insight into what I can do, should do, and shouldn’t do.  If I feel the tell-tale signs that a rest day is needed, I take it.  And then I get back out there the next day and see the benefits it provided.  Maybe before too long, I’ll get up the nerve to tackle some track workouts (still something I’ve never done).

I’ve honestly never felt more like a true runner then I do right now.  I see how much there is for me to do to improve, but I also accept how much I already have.  And this time for me, a little more relaxed and a little less rigid, has been remarkably valuable to all of that.  I can foresee my lessons being learned right now only benefiting me when I do lay out a new specific training plan for that next big race.  I wonder what race that will be?

36 comments on “The Surprising Benefits of Running Unscripted

  1. Great post, and neat pictures! Thanks for sharing.

  2. lauramdudley says:

    We are very alike!

  3. Dan says:

    I know what you mean. I’m the kind of person that never leaves without a Garmin, doesn’t think a run really ‘counts’ unless I have splits to record, and tend to know how many miles I’ll run every week. While I can’t quite abandon my Garmin, I have found myself just leaving the house and running at whatever pace I want, in whatever direction, and not once looking at the stopwatch until I’m done.

    It can be quite liberating indeed, even if I’m only half-assing it. That said, I went into a marathon once and forgot to charge my watch. So I started and finished not knowing my splits, running strictly on feel, going for what just felt right. I PR’d by 14 minutes. There was definitely a lesson learned that day, even if I still start marathons with a fully-charged watch.

    Maybe one day I’ll be set free. But hey, I like my system so far. We’ll see how long it lasts.

    • I can understand that. I still ALWAYS wear my Garmin, but there are plenty of runs, like you, where I don’t look at during my runs at all. It’s more there to just track what I do so I can log it later. I can’t imagine not having it on my wrist when I head out anymore.

  4. I love to run “unscripted” having the ability to be surprised with what may or may not be around the next bend in the road. When I travel to NYC, I head out the door of the hotel knowing that while I am in the midst of the chaos that is NYC, I am also not in the midst of it. I have the ability to take in the sights, sounds and smells that are around me.

  5. Kathleen says:

    I can’t wait to get to that point some day 🙂 Good luck with your next “big thing”!

  6. Angela says:

    Awesome post! 🙂 I found myself cheering you on at the end with a “You Go Girl!”

  7. Jim Brennan says:

    I am the complete opposite, structure and schedules make me jittery, nevertheless it is reassuring to know oneself, and to accept others. I loved the honesty of this post, and yes, you are a true runner.

  8. Will Musto says:

    One thing that helped me a lot to be able to be both rigidly scheduled and “flexible” was to structure my training based on time. There was a period when I was running–probably–80 miles a week, every week, consistently. There weren’t many people I knew training harder than I was. But I couldn’t tell a single soul my mileage. “Uhh…I don’t know. Probably 80 miles a week?” 🙂

    It was helpful because 1) I never freaked out about mileage. I didn’t even think about it. Some days I’d be extra tired and I’d add up the amount of time I spent running and divide it by a (probably slower than I normally ran) average, and be like, “Whoa. Really?” 2) it allowed me to run based how I felt. Feeling really sluggish today? 40 minutes is still 40 minutes, I didn’t have to slog through that last half mile wishing I had a smaller number on my plan. Alternatively, feeling chipper? I still had to run 40 minutes, so it didn’t let me rush through a run or run something too fast “because I’m feeling good anyway and it’ll let me move on to the rest of life quickly.” It was still a 40 minute easy run day, no matter how hard I ran. Finally, it keeps you from having to worry about routes and courses very much, you get to just run. Run where you please, glance at the watch and see you’re 32 minutes into your run on a 60 min day, turn around and run back.

    I still ran my workouts as assigned distance. 8×800 in 2:20 with 90 sec rest, or whatever. 6 mile tempo run at 5:50 pace. Stuff like that. But then my warmups and cooldowns would be, say, 15 minutes. My long run was two hours…run the last 3 miles hard. I still had that knowledge of various distances from back when I trained based on miles, so I could mix-and-match, but overall, I worked based off of time, and I thought it was a more “relaxing” way to approach things.

  9. PaulSmuts says:

    Great story and love the pics. You seem to be doing very well with your running and enjoying it, which is the most important thing.

  10. plainmama says:

    Base mileage is SO important. It’s the base, lol. Without it you can’t do the other in order to improve. At least not safely and as efficiently. Running is such an amazing thing that builds confidence in a way that is unexplainable. At least for me. I can’t pinpoint where that new found confidence came from, but I know running got me there. You have it. I can hear it in your words. You are a life long runner now, there is no turning back.

    PS Give the track a try. It HURTS. But it is cleansing to the mind, body and soul.

  11. sandra says:

    I am the same – a planner, at a loss with extra time on my hands. I am not, however, a runner, although I used to hike and would hike the same trail over and over so that I knew every crevice and turn. It feels good.

  12. I still remember the first time I forgot my watch on a run. I almost decided not to run at all because running without knowing all of my stats seemed entirely unfathomable, but I went for it anyway. I hated it at first, but soon realized this was the first time I had ever really tuned into my body while running. Although I still use my watch for most of my runs, I make sure to leave it at home once in awhile both to develop my ability to listen to my body’s subtle cues and because, well, it really is so much fun!

  13. I am just getting past the intimidation of running on the track. Odd that I can go out and run 25-30 miles, but am self-consious about that 1/2 mile or so circle. With a little tutelage from friends, I’m learning how to get comfortable with it.

  14. Joanne says:

    I love training and having a plan but after a long stretch of doing thing, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as running just to run! So glad to hear you’re feeling similarly!

  15. Love this post! So true – some things are best left unscripted.

  16. Mimi says:

    Stumbled upon your blog and let me say that this post is so me. Just yesterday I went out for 10 miles in my neighborhood. I live in a very hilly neighborhood and up to this point, whenever I need to run 9+ miles I head down to the marina for a nice flat out and back of any distance up to 12 miles (maybe more). Yesterday I decided to hit my streets and see if I could take 10 on. I did not pre-plan my route, I just went. I know most of the “loops” in my ‘hood by heart and I just decided to string together a 4 mile and 5 mile run I usually do, then added and extra lap around a local lake on my route for the other mile. It was pretty awesome – just running where ever my feet took me.

  17. Lovely post!! 🙂 And thank you for reading and liking my latest post! Your blog is excellent!

  18. pauldburton says:

    Once you are on a track you will feel even more like a runner. It is amazing how different it feels running on a track with stadium seating and hurdles scattered about the place; it’s open, vulnerable. I feel like I need to run really fast…

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