When you want to start a new sport, take your performance to the next level or work towards a specific goal, a solid training plan can be the difference between success and failure. I’m a person who thrives with rules and structure, so naturally I love training plans. I love running training plans, climbing training plans, weight-lifting training plans…all training plans!
Because I love rules (and I’m paranoid about breaking them), I’ve always followed training plans to a “T.” It’s never mattered how I felt or what I actually wanted to do. If the plan said to do something, I did it. In the words of the legendary ultra-runner Scott Jurek, “Sometimes you just do things.”
Ironman training has changed my perspective. The training plan Tyler and I chose is longer, harder, and more mentally taxing than anything we’ve ever done. We’ve had more early mornings, long days, and “dig deep” workouts than ever before. (Anyone who has trained for events like this before is probably thinking, “Uh, duh. What did you expect?” Remember: We’re still fresh meat when it comes to triathlons!)
Six months into Ironman training, we found ourselves in a mental rut. We’d say things like, “I just wish we could have fun,” and “I wish we could do whatever we want today.” For six months a few sheets of paper stapled together and stuck to our refrigerator had dictated what we did every day…and we were seriously resenting those pieces of paper.
This weekend we traveled to Vermont for the wedding of two rock climbing friends. (Side note: Climber weddings are amazingly fun. The food is healthy, the energy is electric, and the dancing is totally kooky.) Our biking and running routes were mapped out, aquatic centers and lakes were selected for our swims. The weekend was planned down to the hour: We knew when we would train, where, what we would eat before, during and after, what our pace would need to be in order to get to the wedding events on time, and exactly when we would do laundry so we’d have enough clothes for the next batch of workouts.
We woke up on Day 1 and said, “’F’ it. Let’s do whatever we want today, then we’ll get back to the plan tomorrow.” We had a leisurely breakfast, then spent the afternoon stand-up paddleboarding. It was awesome.
On Day 2 we woke up and said, “’F’ it. Let’s do whatever we want today, then we’ll get back to the plan tomorrow.” Instead of our planned workout, we did a 60-mile bike ride through rolling hills and charming Vermont towns (spending a big portion riding with a group of other wedding guests). Then we ate cupcakes and boogied on the dance floor at the wedding. It was awesome.
On Day 3, we woke up and said “’F’ it. Let’s do whatever we want today, then we’ll get back to the plan tomorrow.” Instead of our planned workout, we did a 20-mile run (more like a run/hike, if I’m being completely honest) on the Appalachian trail, running to the top of a ski mountain, through evergreen forests, and alongside freshwater creeks where we’d dunk our heads to cool off. We met a young woman who was hiking the entire Appalachian trail by herself. (My only regret is not stopping to ask her more questions about her journey. What inspired it? What was her trail name? What did she do when she felt lonely or sore, or tired or scared?) She expects to finish her journey in November. Needless to say, she was an inspiration!
In retrospect, I have zero regrets about scrapping the training plan for a few days. We had great adventures that we may not have had otherwise. We met inspiring people, we ventured across miles and miles and miles of a new and beautiful place, and we returned feeling re-energized. Only time will tell, but I’m pretty confident that our chances of crossing the Ironman finish line are the same as they would have been if we stuck to the plan.
So here’s my takeaway: Training plans are wonderful and helpful, but it’s also wonderful and helpful to be spontaneous and live your life. Listen to your heart and to your body. If you’re desperate to choose your own adventure for a day, do it. As the great Tom Haverford said, “Treat yo self!”