I have known for a long time that I do my best running when I adhere to a schedule. There is something comforting about having each day's activity planned ahead of time, for weeks on end, culminating in a goal race. There is no guesswork. I do what I'm told and it works surprisingly well (Cleveland, New York).
When I do not use a schedule, the results are...debatable. I winged it for Boston last year, and while I finished the race in 4:11 without major difficulties (other than the predictable late-marathon "why the fuck am I doing this to myself again" thoughts), I still feel like I was undertrained. I attempted to train for Grand Rapids using a schedule, which fell by the wayside after I hurt myself in August, and I never really picked it back up. We all know how that turned out when I ran/death marched Thunder Road in December.
Even though I am not planning on doing a marathon this year (unless I succumb to temptation on February 1), I decided I needed to slide back into the embrace of a rigid training schedule. The goal: the Cleveland Half Marathon on May 15. The training plan: Hal Higdon's Intermediate Half Marathon, which I used 3 years ago when I wanted to run my first sub-2:00 half (which I did). It's a modest schedule compared to others I have put myself through. Having a 12-mile run as my longest run feels sinfully luxurious, almost epically lazy. However, it is exactly what I want-- nay, what I need-- right now. Low mileage, but running multiple days in a row. Strength training. Weekend runs that are primarily less than ten miles, meaning I won't lose half a day getting ready to run, running for two to three hours, and then recovering from running (i.e. sacking out for a nap, waking up at 5:00 and thinking, "oops...").
Thus, I sat down last night and put together one of my dearly beloved but long-neglected training spreadsheets. Oh, how I have missed those tidy black-lined boxes, each little square my taskmaster for the day, ordering me to get off my lazy butt, get out of bed, and GET OUT THERE.
Behold, THE SPREADSHEET (or part of it, anyway):
Yes, master! I shall obey your every command!
What did my schedule tell me I had to do today? Run 3 miles, and because The Almighty Schedule said I was to run 3 miles, I set my alarm for 5:50, got up, and did it. No grumbling, no pushing my wakeup time back to 7:00 and skipping it, no rationalizations about weather, lingering aches and pains, being too tired, having cats on me whom I did not want to disturb, any of the array of excuses I have deployed over the past far-too-many-months to avoid running. That shit is so over.
Not only do I believe that getting back on a schedule will improve my running and allow me to cruise through the half with ease (it is awful of me to think, "It's only a half marathon"), I hope it will reverse the creeping weight gain which has been plaguing me. I was perusing old pictures last night, circa first season of marathon training, and my god, people, I was so freaking skinny...I got angrier and angrier with myself for letting that awesomeness slip away. I suppose one could call it Last Straw Moment II, the first and most epic Last Straw Moment being my shock and horror at seeing the pictures of me from Hawaii in 2006 that kick started this whole thing. Cinderella (the hair metal band, not the fairy tale character) sagely said, "Don't know what you've got til it's gone," and that I did not, my friends.
Even before I found myself in a grumpy funk from looking at pictures of my vanished hotness, I went to the store and bought ingredients to make several of the menu items from my Athlete's Plate last week. I was eyeing my heap of groceries on the checkout belt and thought, "This is the food of a health nut. That, or someone with a boring diet." Flaxseed, whole wheat flour, Grape Nuts, bananas, apples, pears, onions, almonds, raisins, black beans, brown rice, chick peas...(and no beer, for once). Well, I am a health nut, or at least I am until I take delivery of this year's haul of Girl Scout cookies. And I don't think I have a boring diet. Yes, I need a shakeup in the breakfast realm (how does four straight years of plain yogurt with fresh blueberries and ground flax meal sound?), which is why my project tonight is homemade granola.
So. Three miles this morning. A quick check of my iPhone weather app (and, yes, I did so while lying in bed....I'm not renouncing all of my laziness at once) revealed that the current temperature was a near-heat-wave-worthy 23 degrees, an enormous improvement over the previous week of industrial-strength meat locker style weather. A meat locker in the Yukon Territory, at that. On the edge of the Arctic Sea. Not today! I was sweating before I finished my first mile. The road edges were free of snow, a rare treat at this time of year. The sidewalks, not as much...when I was forced to use them, it was hard going and I felt even slower and clumsier than ever. Nonetheless, I finished the run (3.18 miles) and, while hanging up my damp clothes, I realized I already felt better and more energetic than I have in far too long.
Running...it's a wonderful thing.