Make Training Work For You – Be Flexible

Aren’t training plans for running great? We can create them in almost any way – cut them out of magazines, print them from the internet, download them to our GPS watches or even have something bespoke written. Almost every runner I know loves nothing better than a brand new training plan, whether it’s scribbled on paper, inscribed carefully on a calendar or, joy of joys, colour-coded. We love the routine, the consistency and the belief that if we stick to the plan like glue, we’ll reach our target race in top form, ready to glide effortlessly round the course and smash our PB. But sometimes that dogged determination to complete every workout regardless is our downfall. Sometimes what we should really give greater thought to is our flexibility.

Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting we should be trying to wrap our legs around our own necks (although what a party piece that would be!), I mean that we should approach our training plan for running with flexibility: move workouts around when we’re busy, cross train when necessary, rest if we’re tired or injured. In short, we should make sure that our training plans fit around our lives and our needs, rather than trying to shoehorn ourselves into a plan that just doesn’t quite work.

We’ve all done it, headed out for a run because the plan said we had X miles to do, when in reality we were nursing a niggle which, unsurprisingly, morphed into a full-blown injury before we got home and led to an extended period where we couldn’t run at all. Or we’ve headed out to run at a ridiculous time of day because it was the only way to fit in 10k around work/family commitments. We might even have run (or contemplated running) through illness simply because we “had to”. The guilt creeps in because we’re supposed to be running, but we’re not; we get grumpy and irritable without our hit of endorphins and we convince ourselves that our hard-won fitness is steadily ebbing away while we’re in meetings/having family time/icing our injuries. The reality is that we’ll benefit much more in the long term by being flexible, listening to our bodies and re-organising our training plans.

Of course we all know that flexibility is the sensible approach and would be the first to advise others to ease off for a few days when life gets in the way, but when it comes to our own training, somehow we manage to ignore the sensible voice in our heads and plough on regardless, imagining that somehow everything will be ok if we can just complete that run. But eventually, we have to learn to recognise that the sensible voice, inevitably, is right.

This is something that I’ve learned the hard way. Take last year for example: I set myself a big challenge, training began well and I seemed to breeze through my marathon preparations but got my post-race recovery all wrong and got injured. Suddenly, all my plans were up in the air and everything I set out to do became impossible. Like most runners in this situation, I went through various stages of denial, anger and general sulking before deciding to do something constructive with my time while I couldn’t run. So I saw a physiotherapist and took positive steps to rehabilitate the injury; I got a bike and discovered that cycling can be quite good fun as well as a great way to maintain fitness; I finally got a couple of swimming lessons to begin learning the front crawl. It may not have been running, but I was keeping fit, exercising outdoors and making sure I was doing everything I could to prepare my body for a return to running. When I was able to start running again, I was uncharacteristically sensible and took it slowly. Not only do I feel stronger now, but I’m also running better and faster than ever before.

So the moral of the story is that flexibility in your training plan for running is key. Lacking energy for a run? Cut back the pace/mileage, consider cross training or simply have an extra day off. Feeling ill? Rest, your body will thank you for it. Injured? Stop running, seek professional advice and cross train only if you can do so without pain. A little bit of flexibility in the short term will likely lead to more time spent running and less time on the sidelines. I know which one I’d prefer, so now make sure I’m as flexible as I can be. Do you?

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