Last week we celebrated the energy that comes with running through longer days and warmer weather. We can store the headlamps and mittens, beanies and traction devices for another year. It is time to build the fitness we need for summer running goals.
Some of us take a systematic approach, while others are more impulsive. This time of year can be risky if summer plans contrast starkly with winter habits. The transition works best, in my experience, with a cool head and some careful planning. The following steps help me design a plan that prepares me for the goals I have set while limiting the risk of injury and the prospect of missing the season altogether.
What is my current level of health and fitness? Do I have any orthopedic “weak links” (muscles, tendons, bones) that have given me trouble in the recent past? How is my aerobic conditioning? Have my winter workouts featured the outdoors, the gym, or the couch? What are the implications?
What do I want to accomplish in the coming season? Do I want to race more often? Am I pursuing a longer distance? Am I chasing “states,” or otherwise featuring travel combined with running? Is this the year for trail running or triathlon? Am I returning from major injury, illness, surgery, childbirth, or time off for other important priorities? Is restoring baseline health and fitness my primary goal?
How many weeks remain before the first event I have planned? Is there time to build the strength and endurance I need to finish? If I have a time goal, can I fit speed workouts into my schedule?
Outline a schedule that begins with current mileage and that builds incrementally to goal distance. Incorporate recovery days and lower-mileage weeks. Acknowledge the impact of work and personal commitments on the time available to train. Consider starting with one the many training plans available in books or online. (I have been following Jeff Galloway’s training plans for more than 15 years, and recommend them for gradual improvement and injury prevention.)
Using your initial training plan as a framework, try it out. Run the days, distances, and pace you have projected for a few weeks.
Monitor and Adapt
Seek the appropriate balance between commitment and flexibility in following your plan. Let the body and its feedback guide your choices. Learn to distinguish between soreness as progress and pain as injury.
Monitor mental, emotional, and situational factors as well. Do morning, noon, or evening runs work best for you? Do you prefer running alone or with others? Do you enjoy frequent races, would you rather train for a few goal events, or are you ready to skip the “competitive” scene altogether this year?
I am a big fan of planning. I love setting goals, designing actions, and following the script of a structured program. Over the arc of my adult life, I have developed the ability to aim high and work hard. I have cultivated persistence and perseverance and the ability to power through discomfort.
As I age, however, I am an even bigger fan of flexibility. I am learning in all aspects of life-at-70 that resilient adaptation is a skill worth cultivating. The variety of physical and situational setbacks is growing, and so is the need for turning on the proverbial dime. A goal can be re-negotiated and a plan can be re-framed to fit the circumstances without losing heart, momentum, or the pride of achievement.
How About You?
Do you like to follow a plan, or would you rather follow your intuition from day to day? What are your goals? Are you leaning toward quantity or quality of experience this time around? Where do you anticipate the need to be flexible? Are you sketching out Plans B and C in case something changes?
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