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Training Plans: Unsurprisingly, They're Important

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Run data doubly distilled. Vintage 2007-2011.
Run data doubly distilled. Vintage 2007-2011.

A man without a plan is not a man. - Frederich Nietzsche

The graph above shows my combined monthly mileage for every month since January 2007 – five whole years of training (and non-training).[1] Over the course of five years I've averaged 76 miles per month, in a magnificently bipolar fashion. The green lines underneath the x-axis denote periods in which I was on a training plan; the red is periods when I wasn't preparing for a race.

My first lapse (also known as the entirety of 2008) was largely due to the sort of postpartum depression that many first-time runners experience. In training for a first long race the build-up, while difficult, is wonderfully exciting – after all, almost every long run is a new record distance. Life is regimented and, being new to the life of training, most first-time runners are afraid to stray from the training plan in any even minor way. Without a schedule to dictate my life the next run was always coming tomorrow, perpetually a day away.

The later lapses were a combination of discouragement after falling short of a goal (2010), graduate school responsibilities (especially mid-2011 while I was writing my dissertation), and general malaise (late 2011). More pronounced during all of these periods, however, is the lack of a real goal.

While it's impossible to parse all of the variables involved (maybe I wasn't picking a race because I was feeling lazy) and there's certainly the possibility of a chicken/egg situation, it's quite apparent that a training plan is tantamount to successful training.

So now, ten months after my most recent marathon, I've got my training plan hand-written in my notebook (and also entered into iCal). I'm hoping to avoid any large lapses in training from here on out – it's quite clear that without a training plan I get lazy. I don't know if my laziness is normal or if it's just me. How have you all managed to handle your post-training plan months?

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1. It's incredibly depressing to see five whole years distilled into once graph – especially when so many of the months shown are months in which I've severely undertrained.