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“You’re a runner, aren’t you? Do you have any advice?”

OK, OK, I will write about how I trained for the Philly Marathon. I’m sorry, Kate, that it took me so long. I just don’t feel like I trained in an exemplary manner.

Did I stretch regularly? No

Did I do a good warm-up and cool down every time I ran? No

Did I follow Hal Higdon’s plan exactly? No

Did I do a recommended number of speed workouts or interval workouts recommended by anyone? No

So why was I successful? What advice can I give those who ask?

What I did while training for the marathon which maybe other people didn’t do was four things. 1) I biked to-and-from work/other places and walked places as much as possible. 2) I played a lot of Ultimate in the summer leading up to my training (while biking to-and-from the Ultimate field). 3) During the training I continued playing Ultimate and on some weeks did a half-hour stair workout lead (for free!) by a running club at the Art Museum steps. 4) I was flexible.

I didn’t do every long weekend runs. Some weekends were full of an Ultimate tournament. Some weekends I was traveling a lot, and I am super bad at fitting in exercise when I travel. I didn’t skip most of the longest runs (18, 20 miles), and I tried to only let myself not do long runs when it was a recovery week, but I did skip long runs.

I didn’t run the exact number of miles or the number of times per week that Hal’s schedule prescribed (and it only required four days a week!). I took two days off in a row when the plan recommends one day off and one day of cross training.

I don’t think I challenged myself in running as much as I could  have. But when I wasn’t running, I tried to be active in another way (by biking, walking, cleaning the house, or playing Ultimate).

So my advice is have a training plan, but be flexible if you need to be. Other activities can be substituted for a run. You can take off two days in a row instead of one on multiple weeks and still be fit enough to compete in the event you are training for. You can run a marathon without training perfectly. Life is full of other important things besides your training plan. If you aren’t flexible, you may feel so guilty about missing one workout that you think you need to give up your goal, but in reality other activities can maintain your fitness, and you are perfectly capable of finishing your race or event. Also, if you are so tired for two days in a row that you really don’t want to run, that may be a sign that you need extra time to recover from something, and resting for that second day may be more beneficial to your body than forcing yourself to run. Training plans are guides, and their advice is sound (if you find a good one), but no training plan can encompass all the challenges life will throw at you.

Do remember that events like a marathon require regular training. I am not running a marathon in March because I couldn’t commit to training enough in anything over the winter to maintain the fitness required to run a full marathon in March. But I will be running a half-marathon, and taking the time off is giving me the focus to decide to train for the 24 hour race in July.

And finally, being flexible in training when you are already a regular runner may mean you don’t get a PR in the next race you run. But you will still be able to challenge yourself and compete. Just try and have a reasonable goal. My goal to run under 4:30 was reasonable. At one point in the race, before I hit “the wall”, I thought I could get around a 4:15, but it turned out that my body wouldn’t let me finish that fast. My flexibility in training may have kept me from running a 4:15, but I was still able to run 4:26. What I have learned in the multiple Ultra-marathon books I’ve read is that when you compete, it’s good to have multiple goals. The first most important one is the most reasonable: Finish! If that goal is achievable, the next goal can be more specific, like running a PR, getting a specific time, or beating a certain competitor. But NEVER feel like a failure if only one of the multiple goals is achieved. In endurance races, finishing is the biggest accomplishment.

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