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?