Jackson Browne’s “Running on Empty’ has been popping up on my playlist shuffle a lot lately, and that line particularly resonates with me right now because that is one way I have been switching up my running these days. I did a half-marathon every 3 months or so in 2012, so for most of the year I was (at least loosely) following a training program that specified certain runs on certain days. After finishing the Diva Half in October, though, the remainder of 2012 held only 5k’s for me – no more long races. My legs have been more than fine with that, BUT somewhere along the way I really fell in love with the longer runs. Since I plan to do more half’s next year and also sign up for a marathon (gulp), I want to keep up with the longer runs, but I also want to make sure I don’t blow out my knees (or hamstrings, or Achilles) by overtraining, especially since I am not even training for anything at the moment. It would be really sad to aggravate an IT band in the off-season, don’t you think?
One way I have kept my runs challenging and fresh is to start out with a loose mileage and route goal, but change it as I go along, based on how my body feels that day. Unlike my formal training runs, where I stuck to a set mileage and pre-established route for each run, I’m much looser now. On a day that I have lots of time, I may head out for a 7-mile run and then completely change my route midstream to make it longer, hillier, or just different. It’s refreshing to be able to switch up a run even after I have started it, and I try to incorporate at least one challenge into each run. For shorter runs, it is usually speedwork. For mid-runs, it is usually running hills. For my weekly long run, it is adding distance. The kicker is that since I have been less structured in my runs, they have actually gotten longer and more challenging. Last week I went out for a 12 mile run and kept going (and going and going) and ended up running 15.5 miles.
This more organic approach has been a lot of fun. I feel like I am more in tune with my body and what it can accomplish on each outing. More often than not, it exceeds my expectations and goals for the day. I also feel like it keeps my head in the game – instead of running a set route on autopilot, I have to think. Hmmm..if I go left, how’s the traffic? What’s the best way to get home? Do I take the long way or short way? Hilly or flat? I’ve even run a few regular routes backwards and was surprised each time at how different they felt coming from the other direction. I’m way more alert and my mind is more active in the run because I have to pay attention.
I am such a regimented person, and the training schedules really appealed to that side of me. So satisfying to complete the task and check it off the list. This is a whole new world for me – run without a plan? Not even know the distance until I get home and log onto www.mapmyrun.com ? if you told me a year ago I would be running wild, I would have laughed. But here I am. And loving it.