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LIFE, UNEDITED: My Intuitive Running Experiment

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Our fitness editor describes what it feels like to train for a big race without a training plan.

I love running. Three words, a simple declaration about one of my many fitness interests, that often elicit one of two responses:

  • A bug-eyed stare accompanied by overtures about how “crazy” I am.
  • An enthusiastic invitation to discuss routes, split times, PRs, race-day nutrition, graphic digestive mishaps, and more.

As a result of these interactions, it seems that most people fall into one of two camps:

  • Those who truly dislike running. They either refuse to run altogether unless chased or grudgingly run for fitness because they feel like they “should.”
  • Those who truly love to run — capital L.O.V.E. — and build their training (and sometimes lives) around this passion.

The thing is, I don’t fall into either camp.

I love to run, yes. I also love to walk, hike, lift weights, cycle, paddleboard in the summer, snow-shoe in the winter, jump-rope, hula-hoop, dance, trapeze, and yoga. I also love to just lounge around. My “fit life” revolves very heavily around what I enjoy: variety, novelty, mental as well as physical challenges, discomfort, recovery, and lots of sweat.

Moreover, I have no patience for pain or for slogging through much of anything just because I feel like I’m “supposed to” do it.

The result, particularly with regard to running, is a very haphazard “non-program.” I’ll go months without lacing up my sneakers, then suddenly get the urge to run — sometimes solo, sometimes with a friend or group of strangers, sometimes for an impromptu race. I’ll go through phases of wanting to run multiple times a week, smiling like a lunatic despite how hard it feels after all the time off, then go for extended periods of time without giving running a second thought.

I can’t really describe what makes running feel good some of the time and not always, but I’ve learned to heed this desire when it strikes.

Overall, this approach works for me. Dabbling in various activities consistently and often has provided a good base to help me avoid dying as I jump in and out of different sports. Additionally, a strict training plan becomes less important when you don’t have a goal, which I haven’t since competing in my first powerlifting meet in February.

Until now.

You see, I’m registered for the TC 10-Mile — a 10-mile race that occurs concurrently with the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon each October. Ten miles is no joke, and there’s added pressure because I’m running it to raise funds for my charity of choice, Girls on the Run.

When I signed up, I worried if I’d be able to train for the race without compromising my physical health by pushing too hard and also without losing sight of the enjoyment factor. I wanted to avoid the nightmare situation of having to run 10 miles with an injury or a bad attitude.

So, I weighed my options: Hire a coach (or find a pre-fab training program) to tell me exactly what to do. Or, follow my intuition and make it up as I go along, listening to my body and my heart along the way.

I chose the latter.

Admitting this feels like sacrilege, particularly given my role as the fitness editor of Experience Life, where we tout the value of smart programming and measurable markers as you work toward a goal, as well as my access to some incredible coaches and training plans, “winging it” seemed potentially rife with problems, especially given how ambitious this race is for me.

And yet, I wanted to see what I could accomplish if I made it my goal to work hard while still feeling good throughout my training and before/during/after the race. I’m not all that interested in PRs, but I’d love to cross the finish line smiling and then go about my day without missing a beat.

You might be wondering what this unregimented training “plan” looks like. Well, about two months before Race Day (early August, with the race taking place Sunday, Oct. 10), I fell into a doable routine of running intervals twice a week.

At first I was averaging about two miles of running each time I went out; a month in, I’m averaging about five miles during each session. I use the timing cues from an old “Couch to 5K” app I rediscovered on my phone. Sometimes I’ll skip the walking breaks; and other times I give myself more time to walk or jog between running intervals. Sometimes I forgo the intervals altogether and just run.

I don’t use a heart-rate monitor or GPS tracker. I spend a lot of the time checking in with my body, noting what’s tensing, what’s releasing, how I’m breathing, how I’m holding myself, what somatic and emotional feelings I’m experiencing.

Tracking tension in the body and changes in range of motion is one intuitive fitness tool that I’ve had great success with so far. I’ve also started measuring my Heart Rate Variability (HRV) using a new app called HRV4Training to further inform my training and recovery. (To learn more about intuitive fitness and biofeedback, check out “Intuitive Training for Fitness.”)

Over time, I’ve gotten better — and continue to improve — at reading my body’s signals, and differentiating between whether something is “good-hard” or “too much.” By avoiding my personal “too much,” which varies from day to day depending on a variety of factors, I’ve been able to steer clear of pushing myself in a way that detracts from my pleasure and improved fitness.

What does all this mean for the 10-miler in October? Hopefully a rewarding training cycle and a fun event that makes me feel amazing. But, we’ll see. As with so many things I do, this is yet another experiment. I’ll report back in a few weeks.

Tell me: What are you training for right now? What does your plan look like?

Maggie Fazeli Fard is the senior fitness editor at Experience Life.

Get more tips on finding your stride in “So, You Want to Be a Runner.”

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