If you have trained, are training for or are planning to train for an endurance event you’ve probably heard the pearl of wisdom to just ‘trust the plan’ but should you? And what exactly does that mean? People throw it out there in group runs, at start lines, in instagram captions and well, anywhere athletes gather. We tell each other to ‘trust the plan’ or express our doubts and then shrug and say ‘trust the plan right’? I’m not sure we even stop to think about what that means, because it does mean something, before we repeat it. The first few times I worked a training plan I had no idea what it meant but it seemed like a good idea. So let’s dive into why we need a training plan, why we might need to trust it and when you maybe should deviate from the plan.
When you just need a plan
For most of us events of a certain length will require us to follow a training plan. We can’t just get up one day and do it. Let’s take running for example. Well you certainly can train for a 5k it’s also pretty easy to just up your milage a bit at a time until you get very close to 5k and then go run it. You can also pretty easily do one speed workout a week and one run longer than 5k if you want to get faster and it will probably be pretty easy and pretty manageable. For 10k that’s also true but mostly if you’re used to running longer distances already. For a half marathon or longer most of us who are seasoned runners will want to use a plan every single time. There are multiple runs a week, a long run, a speed workout, shake outs and recovery runs to manage every week. Those will all be getting longer but at different rates week after week as you get closer to race day. This starts to get into the territory of hard to mange on your own and you wonder if you’re doing enough but also if it’s too much too fast? At this point most runners will just pick a plan and do that to prepare for an event instead. Picking a plan and just doing what it says takes a lot of the mental work out of preparing for an event but it does more than that too.
If you’ve done a particular race a few times and you want to set a faster time than you ever have before many athletes will pick a plan with the expressed goal of getting faster. We tend to just default to what we did last time and if you do that you’ll just get the same result. So using a plan that is different (see more intense) than what we’d normally do helps you break through your previous performance and set a new personal record. The other scenario where seasoned athletes may use a plan for a simple or short race is multi-sport events. Triathlons for example can be pretty short and basic-ish for a super sprint distance. Of course you should be swimming, cycling and running most weeks but how do you decide how much of each to do every week? It’s way easier to just follow a plan and not have to think about it.
What does it mean to trust a plan
We all say it all the time, ‘trust the plan’ but what does it mean? No one really knows for certain, if you think about it, it is actually really vague. What I think it means is twofold. Firstly you have a plan, just do that and don’t stress about it. You don’t need to to sit up late googling or give what you’re going to do tomorrow a second thought. You’ve got a plan so you’re done with all that unpleasantness, you’re good and totally over it, move on with your life now. The second thing is even though you might doubt completely on day one that you’ll ever be able to run a half marathon or even the 16 km in week 9, you will be. Week by week your plan will deliver you to exactly where you need to be to complete the challenges of the next week. Even though a 100% length brick workout is looming next month and there is 0% chance that you could do it right now by the time it gets here you will be able to do it. Trust the plan for that too. In short do what it says just because it says so and you’ll make it trough to the end no stress required.
The first time in particular that you take on a challenge it’s very stressful wondering if you will really be ready on race day. You’ll doubt that you’ll ever be able to do it and wonder if you’re nuts for even trying. Here’s where trusting the plan comes in handy. Remind yourself that whoever wrote it designed it for the purpose of getting people across the line on race day. Lots of those people are first timers too. In other words virtually everybody that completes the plan goes on to complete the race. Relax into that idea, trust your plan and let go of of all those anxieties. Especially the first time out that’s easier said then done but trust me, you’ll be ready when the time comes!
When not to trust the plan
Most of us will have doubts about the plan along the way and for the most part they are to be ignored. If you’re thinking I don’t feel ready I should train more, that is wrong, you will be ready when you need to be. Doing more just sets you up to be more tiered and injured. If you are thinking this is hard, or I don’t feel like training today that is also wrong, get your butt out there! But there are certain things that may cause you doubts where it is reasonable to no longer trust your plan. If you start thinking these things it’s time to re-evaluate:
- That really hurts but I gotta stay with the plan. This very well could be the very first signs of injury and if you keep plowing through you might not get to race day because you’re laid up and fully injured. Take a few rest days and make a trip to the doctor before you start up again.
- This is literally taking over my life and my job and relationships are really suffering. This one is tricky and you might get here for a week or two at or nearing peak weeks but if it’s early on and your plan is sucking up your life entirely it may be time to reevaluate. Your plan may be too intense for your distance and goals or you might not be ready to tackle the distance quite yet. Go for something shorter for now, get a less intense plan or try again next year.
- Your motivation drops off and you’re skipping a lot of training. You can’t get to the end safely cutting corners. It’s totally okay not to do a race that you started planing for and then stopped training for. Let go of the goal for now, spend some time thinking about why that happened this time around and fix it for next time.
After completing quite a few plans and the races at the end I think I have a better understanding now of what it means to ‘trust the plan.’ Honestly I wish I would have realized that doing the whole plan was enough to virtually guarantee success on race day a lot sooner if not the first time around. I could have spent so much less time stressing out. What do you think it means to ‘trust the plan?’ Has that changed over time as you’ve worked more plans?