Sunday is my long run day. Tuesdays? My heavy lifting day. On Saturday, I rest my body in preparation for the week ahead.
I have a schedule for running and exercise, and I’ve had no trouble sticking to it in the past. I run 5 days a week, splitting it 2:3, and lift on 3 days. Name a day, and I can tell you the miles I have planned, and when I am planning on fitting my workout in. This is how I have trained through two marathon training cycles, trained through two exam terms at Cambridge, and learned more than I could say about sports and exercise science.
But some of my family and friends, my sister and mum especially, have expressed worry at how rigid I have been with my schedule, and how there have been times when I have fitted my life around my running, instead of the other way around. In exam terms, the exercise and strict schedule have helped me to fit in my learning and revision, but also at the expense of some social activities and stress caused by fitting it all in.
My mum and my sister may have been correct in the past, but I think I was right in sticking to my schedule for so long. This is because of a maxim through which I try and live my life:
“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”
This is a quote attributed (variously) to Pablo Picasso, to the Dalai Lama, to a whole range of different historical figures. But whoever said it, the basis is the same: you can only bend or break the structures around you, if you know how and why they stand in the first place.
In art, Picasso first studied all the Grand Masters, all the traditional techniques, before branching out into his own ground-breaking paintings. He needed to work out how “painting” worked, before bing able to apply his style to it.
In cooking, you can’t construct your own recipes without first studying how all of the ingredients fit together, what spices and seasonings add to the mixture, how much is too much for balance. For baking, you need to learn the purpose of each ingredient – the fat, the leavener, the sweetener, before being able to make substitutes and variations.
Making a training plan is just like following a recipe – you have to study a whole range of different possibilities, learning them inside-out, before being able to construct whatever works best for yourself.
By following a strict schedule, I have learnt what works best for my body and for my improvement. I’ve learnt what I can handle in intensity, and how to improve my resistance and my strength. I’ve learnt the importance of rest, of sleep, of continuing to push beyond what feels comfortable.
When I used a rigid plan, I was able to run a marathon, to start lifting, and to reclaim ownership over my own body and my own strength. I learnt the rules of exercise and training schedules, of how to construct a good training plan and ensure that I would maintain my progress.
Nonetheless, sometimes it felt like the running and the lifting came to rule my life, that I was controlled instead of being the one in control. The rules came to dictate the game I was playing, and on occasions it seemed like the fun exercise wasn’t as much of a game anymore.
Recently, although I have continued my training, I have been flexing my schedule around my family and friends, around the social occasions that this summer have demanded. I have continued my weekly long runs, my weekly tempo runs, the rest days and the strength sessions, but according to my own social schedule.
For example, I have had parties and visits on most recent Sundays, leaving it impossible to complete a long run and still be lively enough to socialise and help with food etc. So, I have moved my long runs to Tuesday or Monday, I have played around with my rest days, I have made my workouts into social activities I can share with family and friends.
If you have seen my latest workout round-up, you’ll see that this last week was the epitome of flexible. Six days of exercise, plenty of strength sessions, some climbing, plenty of miles underfoot. But not in the structured way I would have needed in the past.
I broke the rules by fitting in two long runs, returning back to my normal Sunday long runs. I broke the rules by using my free “rest day” to hike with my dad for 10 miles. And I broke the rules by not actually caring about when and how I fitted in my miles, as long as they continued to be comfortable on my own body.
However, I would not have been able to do this without first having learnt the rules of the game. I suffered under the strictures, but not without learning how and why they were so important for my own health and my own development.
How do you construct your own training? Are you a planner, or do you just go by gut feeling and instinct? How do you fit training around family events or social occasions?
Let me know either in the comments or directly through a private email on here or on Instagram (@primallyimperfect). Hope you are all having a great week 😊