For a long time, I’ve said that “one day” I might run a half marathon. This year, I decided that “one day” needed to get scheduled. I signed up for a half marathon on April 15, giving myself a full 20 weeks to train (most plans are between 10 and 16 weeks). I’m officially at the halfway point. My long runs are getting longer. My confidence is getting a little higher. And I’ve learned a ton over the last 10 weeks, including that not all training plans are created equal.
I’m an Aaptiv evangelist, so I was thrilled when I realized the app has a training program to run a 10k and then a half marathon. The app’s treadmill workouts had already made me a much stronger and faster runner, so I figured it would be be equally helpful in training for a half marathon.
If you’re not familiar with Aaptiv, it’s a fitness app on your phone that gives you a personal trainer in your ear. There are tons of different workouts for every level and all goals, all guided by professional trainers and a fantastic playlist.
Anyways. At this point, I was running around five miles a week. For me, this was the most consistent running I’d done in a while and I was in pretty good shape.
I took a look at the training schedule…and was a little worried. The schedule had me running five times a week. “Okay that’s a lot,” I thought. But they must just be a lot of shorter distance runs, right?
The first week, I had doubled my normal weekly miles by the third workout. I was supposed to run two more times that week and finish with at least 15 miles, which would have been triple my normal mileage. In case those numbers weren’t an obvious enough indicator that this was WAY too much, my body was screaming at me to stop.
My left knee hurt to the point I was limping around despite ibuprofen, KT tape, and icing. My muscles were killing me. I felt totally exhausted. And this was the *beginner* level training plan that I was definitely qualified for based on the program description.
I needed to regroup.
Since the Aaptiv program was 10 weeks and I had almost double that, I figured I could just space out the program a little bit more. Instead of running five times a week, I would run four. I’d mix in strength training. I’d add up the weekly miles and make my own spreadsheet to start tracking and make sure I didn’t overdo it.
Week three of training I swapped out a run to go skiing instead, and already noticed my legs were much stronger than last year. I was able to ski longer and do harder runs without running out of gas. That was pretty exciting. I was also starting to be able to modify the beginner treadmill workouts up. Yes!!
But I started noticing that I was SUPER grumpy for run number four of every week. Obviously, I’m not always going to be in a good mood. But usually running is the fix for that. I start out not wanting to do it, but then the endorphins kick in and my mood lifts. It’s why I love running.
But that wasn’t happening. I was forcing myself to finish runs and still crabby afterward. Since run number four was typically over the weekend, Billy had the joy of running with me during these grumpfests. He eventually asked, “Why are you running four times a week if you hate it?”
“BECAUSE THE PLAN!” I replied in exasperation.
Billy made the excellent point that if I was totally miserable running four times a week, I wasn’t going to keep up the training plan. The idea of running a half marathon was (and still is) kind of scary to me. I’m scared of failing, of not finishing, of not training enough to be prepared. But I realized I was much more likely to fall behind or quit if I was ending every week miserable.
As long as the weather permitted, I wasn’t going to get on the treadmill more than once a week.
I ditched the outdoor running Aaptiv workouts, taking the mileage goal from the workout description and just doing it on my own on trails I loved and enjoyed.
I stopped running more than three times a week.
It’s seven weeks later, and the other night I realized there hasn’t been a single time since then when I hated a run and stayed in a bad mood even after going home.
Sure, there was the day I procrastinated running and I wasn’t super thrilled about going out in the below-freezing darkness by the time I finally dragged myself out the door. But a mile in, I had a smile on my face and felt energized. Four miles later, I came home a happy human.
But I was still freaking out about whether I was running enough. So I started Googling to find out when my “peak week” with my longest run should be, and how long you taper for (cut down on mileage before race day).
I quickly got distracted by the fact that all of these race plans had you running five or six times a week, with weekly totals of 20 miles or more. At first, I panicked that I was doing something wrong and I wouldn’t be ready.
But then I realized that I would be miserable – and injured – on all of these plans. I was so glad I picked a race that was more than four months away (I picked an April race and started training after Thanksgiving) because it meant I could spread things out, stay sane, and not run my body into the ground.
I’m 10 weeks in. I have another 10 to go. I got here by deciding what worked for me. Not what the internet told me worked for me.
Running five or six times a week does not work for me. Running 20 miles per week does not work for me. Putting too much pressure on myself to follow a schedule for the sake of following the schedule does not work for me.
My legs are stronger (although I was hoping for bigger calves by now). I can ski better and get up more easily when I fall. I feel confident running faster and when things get hard (because I still do Aaptiv treadmill workouts religiously). I stay in the moment more. I can do things I never thought I’d be capable of.
I’m still nervous. The idea of running 13.1 miles still seems kind of crazy to me. It’s still kind of hard to believe I’ll do it. I worry I’m not doing enough hill work because of all the snow. I worry I’m road running too much in preparation for a trail race (again, because of snow). But I’ll keep hoping for dry trails, even if the first time I see them again is race day.
In the meantime, I have 7.5 miles to run. And a couch to sit on. Here’s to finding the right balance of both.