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How Ditching My Running Training Plan Helped Me Rein In My Type-A Personality

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The first thing I do after I sign up for a race is find a training plan, print out the appropriate number of blank calendar months from iCal, then write in each day's workout until race day. Yes, I actually handwrite everything—and as the days pass, I cross off each finished workout with a permanent marker.

That's assuming I finish the workouts. When I trained for my first marathon, I was fanatical about doing every speed, interval, tempo, and long run as instructed. I had downloaded a beginner marathon training plan, and I figured following it to the letter would be how I got myself across that finish line. When life got in the way, I freaked out a little—not only did I have to white out the missed workout and move it to another day on my calendar to make up the mileage, but the guilt and anxiety I felt about messing up my plan hung around until I felt I was back on track.

I guess I shouldn't have been too surprised by this. One of the major reasons I started running races was because I loved the structure of it. If you want to get stronger and faster, you can't just run aimlessly; you need a plan. And I love plans. I still use a paper planner (plus a Google calendar), and I currently have three running to-do lists on various pieces of paper around my desk. I like the order they provide.

But all that planning and organization comes with a downside: I'm not the most flexible person in the world. I hate it when plans change last-minute. And don't even get me started on people flaking. When something messes with my schedule, I can have legit anxiety responses, like edginess, lashing out, and even depression—and marathon training definitely messed with my schedule.

Everything changed when I signed up for my second marathon.

When I was training for it, I had just started a new job—my days were so crazy that getting a run in after work (the morning was out of the question), let alone hitting the right number of weekly miles, seemed impossible. Since going off-plan became the norm, I had to find ways to deal and readjust that wouldn't torpedo my relationships or physically eff me up. I still worked out, but my schedule looked nothing like a carefully planned out training regimen, and I had to actively practice letting go of the anxiety of missing a workout. "You survived one marathon, you'll be able to finish another," I constantly told myself. I secretly thought there was no way I'd finish due to my shitty training—but I did. (Related: How Mindful Running Can Help You Get Past Mental Roadblocks)

It took crossing that finish line for me to realize that fanatical planning isn't always the path to success. That's not to say training isn't important—of course it is, especially for something like a marathon! But internet training plans are generated for mass appeal, and obsessing over hitting every mile and workout suggested is just setting yourself up for failure.

Now, I'm way more low-key about my training plans. If I can't hit a certain mileage or I miss that week's strength-training class, I try to make it up later if I can—but I can generally shrug it off and keep moving forward. Part of that comes from the confidence of simply having more races under my belt. But part of it comes from listening to my gut a little more versus doing what I think I'm supposed to do. Instead of blindly following a plan, I listen to what my body (or my brain) needs. (Related: Why Every Runner Needs a Mindful Training Plan)

By the time I crossed the finish line of marathon number three, I understood that I had successfully gotten there by looking at my training plan as more of a guideline than a rule.

This flexible attitude has translated into the rest of my life, too. I don't freak out when people cancel plans, I stress less about responding to work emails ASAP, and there are actually whole weeks in my planner with no to-dos jotted down. And you know what? Not only am I generally happier, but I run faster. Letting go of the "shoulds," or all the things someone else told me I should be doing to reach a goal, actually helped me get there on my own terms—and enjoy the process a hell of a lot more.

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