Why Your Training Might Not Be Built to Last (And How to Fix It)

Ultramarathon mindset coach Susan Donnelly on mental toughness training for running

Confession: I don’t have a training plan. 

At least not a conventional one.

Here’s three reasons why.

1. Training plans are typically aimed at a target race or specific outcome, like a PR. 

Those can be satisfying mini goals but to me, they’re small potatoes.

I see ultrarunning from a year-long and a lifetime perspective. What draws me to it even after all these years is the urge to get better at it - master it - and get better through it - see what’s possible for myself. I want to do that as long as I can.

I have an ultra life, not just ultra races. I simply tweak my ongoing training - longer long runs, more hills - where it’s needed for upcoming races.

I don’t need a formal training plan for my goals.

2. Training plans offer structure.

I have plenty of structure in my life. Bills to pay, a day job for another year and a half, groceries to buy, haircuts to get, errands to run, meetings to attend. That’s on top of things I enjoy more like relationship, family, coaching clients, house, cats, and travel. 

I train regularly enough to keep my body fit and happy.

I don’t need more structure in my life.

3. Training plans are a way to make sure you’re working hard enough.

I can work hard. To the point of exhaustion. And anybody who’s run with me knows that when I’m driven and determined to do something, it’s hard to shut that off.

I don’t need more hard work in my life.

What I do need more of is play.  When do I get to play?

Structure, hard work, accomplishments. That’s our default. Our culture links exhaustion to status and accomplishment to self worth. The first answer to everything is “work harder,” “work more,” and “get more done.” Don’t waste time playing or enjoying yourself until you’ve earned it.

I can literally feel my soul rebel at the thought of more of it. I’ve read that the opposite of play is depression, and I believe it. If I tried following a training plan, I’d either self-sabotage by avoiding long runs or burn out trying to make it happen, and never want to run again. I'd fail.

So instead, I make sure my training overall feels like play.

What I do may still look like work…

  • Daily 6-mile runs during the week

  • Long run or race on the weekends, enough to prep me for the upcoming races I want to run

  • Strength training a handful of days a week

  • Stretching as regularly all week as I can

…but it feels flexible and creative, like play to me. It feels like just enough structure, with plenty of room to change plans and work around the unexpected in life, like getting the flu. When it feels too rigid, I back off.

It feels just right, so I happily stick with it. I thrive on it.

I’ve watched plenty of people beat themselves up about not training hard enough or burn out by training too hard.

So whether you use a training plan or not, if you want to stick with training long-term, I encourage you to make sure your overall training feels - not just to your body but also to your soul - the way you want it to feel. 

Play? Fun? Freedom? Joy? Satisfying? Empowering?

Remember, this isn’t life or death. It’s something we do voluntarily.

Life is supposed to be fun, not just a series of accomplishments to check off before you die. 

Make sure you’re enjoying the process along the way.

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Until next week,

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Susan DonnellyBalance/Time