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A year in the life

You can't truly succeed without making some mistakes along the way.

The late George Sheehan wrote that we are each an experiment of one. Considering how much experimenting I did in my 20s and 30s, I must have agreed. I doubt, though, that what I was experimenting with would have pleased Dr. Sheehan.

Still, I know my running has been experimental. Most of the time, I've acted like Dr. Frankenstein in his basement laboratory. I've tried new shoes, a new training program or a new diet, and then have stood back and hoped the results wouldn't blow up in my face.

My grandest experiment so far was to go for a year without a training plan. I was feeling burned out, so I decided for an entire year I would run when I wanted, as fast as I wanted, as far as I wanted. No logbook, no notes, no mapped-out schedule. I tried to remember my weekly mileage in my head, but I never wrote anything down. I just ran.

During that year, I raced every distance from 5-Ks to marathons. In fact, I ran several marathons and enjoyed every one of them. Overall, I was healthier, and I missed fewer days of running than ever before.

However, in the final analysis, the experiment was a dismal failure. I missed training.

I enjoy running, but I enjoy training even more. I like having a plan, thinking it through, calculating workout distances and times. I delight in searching for that balance between doing enough training to improve and doing more than my body can handle.

During my year without a plan, I missed making training mistakes. I missed thinking those few extra miles wouldn't hurt me, and being wrong. I missed thinking I could ignore the little aches and pains, and being wrong. I missed wondering how I ever could have been so stupid as to think I was so smart.

Maybe I'm just a slow learner, but it's actually the mistakes that have taught me the greatest lessons. When I wasn't training, I wasn't making mistakes. And I wasn't learning. I was running well, but it always felt as if something was missing. And therein lies the paradox.

It's not that I like being wrong. It's just that if I'm never wrong, then, in fact, I'm never right, either. Nothing compares to the satisfaction that comes from having a good training program and a good race strategy, and the ability and willingness to follow them. While I never failed during that year without a plan, I never really succeeded, either.

So next year I've decided I'm going to train more, even if that means running less. I'm going to compose elaborate training schedules several months in advance of my races. I'm going to record each workout in my logbook with laborious accuracy. I'm going to know how much I'm running and why I'm running every time I put on my shoes.

More important, I'm going to make some mistakes. I'm going to overestimate my ability and underestimate my ignorance. I'm going to dream fantastic dreams and then have to settle for reality. I'm going to imagine the runner I want to become and then have to accept the runner I am.

No doubt, I'll experience some failures along the way. There will be races for which my plan will be wrong or my training inadequate. There will be runs when my body will not forgive me for my mistakes and my spirit will not pull me through.

But I'll have some success as well. There will be times when I exceed my own expectations. There will be races when the preparation will be perfect, the plan faultless, the execution impeccable, and I'll be touched by race-day magic. There will be days when I'm better than I ever hoped I could be.

I think Dr. Sheehan - and Dr. Frankenstein - would understand.

Waddle on, friends.

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