Written by Anna Kelly – 3 x Australian Representative and Private Practice Physiotherapist – Article –Originally posted on https://physiorunner.wordpress.com/ and reposted on RT with permission from the author. 

A close friend recently said to me “you’re a runner, you need structure!” Had he said this to me 12 months ago I would have agreed whole heartedly. However, after my experiences both as a consistent trainer and racer, as well as a runner in a never-ending injury cycle, I have come to acknowledge that although programming is important, at times it can be detrimental to the comitted athlete.

For many devoted runners, once a program is set, put to paper and confirmed it becomes our bible. Ticking off each session, recovery jog or long run becomes as robotic and routine as brushing your teeth every morning. I am the first to admit, I love the methodical way of life, the sense of accomplishment knowing you’ve completed what was planned for that day; and I believe every other slightly OCD, slightly obsessive runner would be lying if they tried to deny the same.

As a preface, I am not trying to say that there is anything wrong with this or that we should all scrunch up our training programs and throw them in trash. I’m sure Kipchoge or Farah didn’t get to where they are from ‘just doing what they felt like’ on any given day. However, sometimes such structure can blur the lines between being devoted and being ignorant.

Myself, I am 100% guilty of this. I was cruising, knocking off each run, competing in each race outlined on the calendar, things were going good. Heading out for a long run on a Sunday as per usual (most likely at 12:00pm, definitely not for that getting up early rubbish). I started to feel a tad sore in the hamstring, progressively getting worse, but 90min run was planned so 90mins is done! Come Tuesday, sore, in pain, still rock up to the track because that’s what happens on Tuesdays! First kilometre rep in and I’m hobbling, getting lapped by rec runners, struggling to muster a 4.45 pace. But I complete all six, cause in my mind at the time, not doing them at all was worse than getting through in pain, no matter how slow. After all, it was on my program. My hamstring blew up like a balloon, walking was a struggle, but luckily I had the next few days easy as it was race week. I’d taper down and should be fine by race day. D day comes. I was nervous, but this time not my usual pre- race this is going to be tough feelings, more an “am I going to get through this” fear. I started, the hamstring went 2km in and I shuffled through the rest of the 8km course; because I am stubborn and pig-headed and refuse not to finish a race. Fast forward and I end up in an MRI machine, Grade 3 tear of the hamstring and will now be sitting on the side line for the rest of the season. What could have been a low grade soft tissue injury needing a couple of weeks de-load I ignored and ended up regretting my decision for months after. I wish I could say this was the only time this has happened, but it isn’t. As two-time Olympian Pete Pftizinger said “some lessons have to be learned over and over again. The mistakes have been plentiful, and the greatest ones have occurred when I’ve forced my body to do more than it could handle” So now, I am on a mission to learn to listen to my body.

Knowing my regimented ways, I have spent this year not on any sort of program. Yes, I have planned things I will do in my head when I wake up in the morning, but if I head out the door, I’m sore or I’m tired or just not feeling it, I won’t do that session, that tempo or whatever was in store, until I feel right. Through this, I’m trying to teach myself to read the signals my body is sending, to be flexible, to not feel guilty if I don’t hit exactly what was set out that day. This is with the aim that when a program is reintroduced I will have more confidence and feel more comfortable in going off plan when required. I, as many other runners do, have to become more diligent in drawing the line between being dedicated and being a slave to structure. As a good friend, physio and runner once said to me, “it’s not lazy training, it’s smart training!”