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Following Thursday’s muscle lengthening yoga flow at Sangha House, I was really looking forward to starting my “training” regimen on Friday in anticipation of the Philly Half Marathon. I had taken the preceding days to rest, run short and slow, and generally enjoy the freedom of sleeping in, being productive and eating nutritious foods like bim-bim-bulgar to do my body good.

So you can imagine that, by the time my alarm went off on Friday, I was eager to get out there, hopping out of bed with the rising sun and slipping into something a little more run-fortable without effort or dread. As fate would have it, apparently, scaling back the week before training day may have actually helped to pump me up after all.

Friday’s run was a bit two-faced, and for a majority of it, I vacillated between feeling strong and light, and then, feeling tired and out of shape. For a moment, I even convinced myself that not running more than 3 miles for a solid week had actually affected my cardiovascular strength. Then I came to my senses and realized that less than 12 hours before, I was intensely stretching my body. “It must be the yoga,” I thought to myself, as I contentedly took in all that the lower loop of Central Park — my bread and butter — had to offer.

While warm, the morning was perfect. While somewhat tired and ready to call it quits by mile 4, the run was still nevertheless solid. Note: This is one of the main reasons I prefer outdoor runs to treadmills. Whereas you can always turn off a machine, if you’re still 2 miles from home, you can’t exactly just stop. Outdoor running really forces you to suck it up and finish what you’ve started, requiring total commitment until the moment you walk back through the door.

Although I knew that I wasn’t “out of shape” or anything absurd like that (I mean, Noah and I had completed a 9-mile run through Golden Gate Park only a week or so before — not exactly the sign of a couch potato), I can’t say that Friday’s 4-mile burn out didn’t scare me at least a little. The less than ideal feeling of the last mile-and-a-half, as I plugged my way toward the 5 1/2 mile mark, was exhausting even after the fact, instilling me with the desire to “make it up” to myself come Saturday.

Despite drinking on a Brooklyn rooftop until 2am on Friday night, I was up and ready for Saturday’s run by 9-something, and was more than determine to blow Friday morning’s experience out of the water. The goal: between 5 and 7 miles — without hitting any walls.

Instead, the run turned into an epic 11 miler around the tip of Manhattan.

So this is the part where I tell you why I’m so not a fan of rigorous training plans. For many, what I’m about to propose would never work, and I get that. A lot of individuals — perhaps the majority of runners and athletes — require far more discipline than a loosely laid out road map to the finish line. And maybe, mine is only a recipe for failure. Who knows?

Lists and training plans just aren’t me.

I seek discipline in aiming to run or break a sweat at least 6 days a week. The way I find enjoyment amidst this discipline is by listening to my body and mind, and simply going with what I think is best during any given moment.

Like I said, I was shooting for 5 to 7 miles on Saturday, but from the moment I walked out the door and began moving, I felt surprisingly — to my relief — great.

Saturday’s was a comfortable kind of run — the type where you’re not exactly out of breath or pushing yourself to your limits, but you’re able to maintain consistency with every step, with every inhale and exhale, so that you never want to stop.

The views didn’t hurt either.

The breakdown:

Mile 1: Immediately, it felt awesome to simply get my blood flowing. I wasn’t hung over, but a margarita, glass of wine and a beer (mixing alcohol, I know, what is this amateur hour?) left me bloated and sluggish. 

Mile 2: The bane of my every run, mile 2 is usually when I struggle to settle into an acceptable pace for the day. Given how good and not at all unsettled I felt, I began to question whether I was still drunk or whether I was in for an awesome ride. Only time would tell.

Mile 3: Yep, I just felt plain awesome. Conclusion: I was not drunk on alcohol, just running.

Mile 4: We were supposed to turn around about 5 minutes before this point, but both myself and Noah, in spite of his epic sore throat, were considering extending the run significantly here.

The East River recently welcomed a new addition to the pathway, beginning just beyond the Williamsburg Bridge, and I really wanted to check it out. If you haven’t been yet, this little outlet along the water is amazing, offering really unique views of lower Manhattan — including the Manhattan Bride, Brooklyn Bridge and Statue of Liberty — that you wouldn’t think possible from anywhere on the East Side.

Mile 5: I was still feeling confident that I could bang out 10 or so miles, but we began to hit the South Street Seaport’s touristy commotion around mile 5, which made me question everything. Is 10 miles really a good idea with piriformis syndrome?

That’s about the time Noah and I got stuck in a narrowed pathway sandwiched by a gang of cyclists — and not the athletic type where you’d be all oh yea, we’re all awesome, running and biking and being strong, go us. No. These were tourist bikers. I literally contemplated hopping the barrier and running on the FDR alongside traffic.

Mile 6: Just past the tip of Manhattan and the Governors Island Ferry that carried me to the 10k just weeks ago, Noah and I began to get thirsty. Like, really desperately thirsty. Rather than simply running around the tip and hitting the West Side Highway immediately, we veered into the streets and began searching for a store in which to buy water. We found one, ran in, grabbed two water bottles, and headed to the cashier, who proceeded to point out that I was still peddling my feet as though I were on a treadmill.

Mile 7: Battery Park is so pretty. I wish there were more bars and less babies down there so I could move into a highrise on the water. Will I ever own a sailboat?

I should probably mention here that I was running without music. I know. 11 miles. With no music. That can’t be right, can it?

When running with Noah lately, however, I’ve been finding it nice to leave my headphones behind. The first time I did it during a run with any weight was on our 9-miler in San Francisco. Then Monday and Tuesday, I carelessly forgot my headphones at home, and so my runs back to my apartment at night from work were also tuneless.

Saturday, I figured I could easily complete 7 miles — maximum — without any artificial beat. That quickly turned into 11 miles of unadulterated New York City noise.

It’s not that there weren’t moments when I might have used a few upbeat tunes to push me along, but I have to say, silence — at least, when running with a partner — offers you a whole new way to space out and think about what you would do if you could afford a penthouse with a view of the Statue of Liberty. I don’t really know if it’s something I’ll keep up, but it’s at least fun to toy with the idea of running without music. If nothing else, it is always important to rethink your runs — whether swapping music for silence, treadmills for the outdoors, or anything else.

Mile 8: I don’t nearly check out the West Side Highway often enough, but I probably could have been happy ending my run here. Fortunately, I was still 3 miles from home — so I had no choice but to finish what I started. I was committed to the distance, and I was going to cover it whether I wanted to or not.

Miles 9, 10 and 11: Time to get back to reality. After 8 miles on the water, Noah and I were ready to add some street running to the route. We crossed over the highway around 14th St. to check out the Meatpacking District, and zig-zagged our way to about 28th and Madison from there, where we conveniently stopping into Dunkin Donuts for a deliciously cheap large iced tea.

I know this isn’t breaking news, but it’s mornings like Saturday that really drive home the fact that running is very much a mental sport. No matter who you are, beginner or pro, it can be really easy to overlook the fact that a lot of the barriers, setbacks and obstacles begin in your brain.

Had I planned to run 11 miles (which, might I add, was far more than needed — my half marathon isn’t until mid-September!), I might have dreaded heading out the door in the first place. It was in make the decision to worker harder than I had anticipated that I was able to surpass my goals and exceed my expectations; a feeling that can often be equally as satisfying as setting a goal and reaching it with ease.

I’m a bit of a rogue runner in this way; and in truth, I’ve never made a list or schedule of how far, long or fast I wanted to run in preparation for a race. If you have the discipline to simply run for the sake of running — and to decide how far, long and fast to do it when you get out there — I truly think you’ll find that your innate drive as an athlete will enable you to balance your training by natural means.

The more I think about this concept, the more I’m wondering what factors are necessary when running with a loose, unofficial program (besides, perhaps, a slap in the face). But more on that tomorrow. I’ll have to keep thinking about this one for now.

Because I’m a bit unconventional with my own training, I’d love to know from you:

  • Do you always create training programs?
  • Do you always stick to them?
  • What happens if you skip a day or don’t meet the expectations you set for a run?