I’m a classic rule follower, straight-A student, and spreadsheet queen. So when someone gives me a plan to stick to, I usually dive in 100% – instincts be damned.
Almost three years ago, I decided to register for my first marathon. I asked around for a training plan, and my friend mentioned she was using the Maffetone method. After a days-long “research” spiral, I was in. I read the books, listened to the podcasts, and was convinced that this was the beginning of my lifelong injury-free, illness-free journey to fast, long-distance running. I kept an eagle eye on my heart rate on every run, making sure I kept it at 180-[my age] no matter the conditions of the run. Pass the Kool-Aid.
At first, I felt great. I could run for miles and miles without ever feeling wiped out. I crushed my training plan and finished my first marathon* with a massive smile on my face. Five months later, COVID arrived on the scene, and I took the opportunity to focus on endurance and aim for longer races whenever they were allowed again.
But I kept getting slower. And slower. My “easy” pace started to feel more and more like a struggle, and the joy of running was increasingly replaced with frustration. But the promise of the Maffetone method is that eventually, over time, you’re able to pick up speed while still keeping your heart rate low. So I kept chipping away with blind optimism.
But then I stumbled upon David and Megan Roche, the real-life human embodiments of Ted Lasso’s spirit, who host a delightful podcast incorporating science, empathy, optimism, inclusion, and most of all – doing whatever works for you. Their compilation of podcasts and articles helped me reach the obvious conclusion that:
- What works for a man in his 50s who spent his life as a professional athlete probably (okay, definitely) isn’t going to work for me.
- There will always be genetic outliers for whom extreme measures work well. But, unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that their methods will work for you.
- You have to spend some time going fast for mere mortals to get faster.
- If anything isn’t working for you, stop doing it and try something else, no matter what the rule books say. You’re you, and that’s great!
All of that led me to switch up my routine and try my hand at a Fast 5K program this fall. I picked a program that focused on a healthy mix of easy runs and diverse workouts that worked well with my schedule. And I got faster, I didn’t injure myself, and I had fun!
Kilian Jornet wrote a thoughtful piece about motivation, referencing amateur’s French translation, “lover of.” The definition made me totally reframe my thinking around my hobbies. Amateur doesn’t mean you’re a beginner; it means you’re doing something simply because you love it. By doing something wildly different, I regained some love for running that I lost by sticking to a plan that wasn’t serving me. The key to longevity and success doesn’t lie in some miracle training plan; you have to learn how to incorporate how you’re feeling (mentally and physically) into your routine. Sometimes running will suck, but if it stops bringing you happiness overall, you have permission from both me and all the running gods to change it up immediately.
With my fast(ish) 5K behind me, I’m excited to head back to the trails with a routine that works just for me – incorporating a mix of practices (including the occasional airplane arms) and, most of all, focusing on how I feel.
*If you have ever wanted to run a marathon abroad, do yourself the biggest favor of all time and sign up for the Ecomaratona del Chianti.
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