What I Learned When I Stopped Training, Renegade Endurance Radio Episode 39

What I learned when I adopted the “non-training” method of training, how it worked out for me, and what others can learn from my experience.

In this episode I chat all about how I used the "non-training" training approach for my most recent triathlon and marathon and how that worked out for me. I also talk about the inspiration behind adopting this method and what other athletes can learn from it.

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my non-Training Training Approach

Over the past 6 months I’ve come across several badass endurance athletes who say that they “don’t really train.” Which got me thinking about my own training and shifted the way I structure (or don’t structure it). 

Some background on my training is that I tend struggle with consistency. I don’t tolerate most training schedules. This sounds like I’m making it up, but I truly do better with a LOT of rest and a not very rigorous training schedule. I tend to do better when I can adjust my workouts to the way that I feel. I once asked my coach at the time if she thought I could train for a race with nothing but rest days. 

It sounds ridiculous but every time I’ve ever tried to stick to a training plan, I end up doing far fewer of the workouts than one might consider the minimum. So the idea of “not really training” was intriguing to me. 

When I say not really training, I don’t mean not doing anything and just sitting on the couch instead of training (though that is definitely what I meant when I asked if I could just train with rest days). What I mean is not having a structured workout plan that involves specific workouts on specific days. I mean shifting to something where the intention is to move your body in some what, but rarely with a specific time, distance, or pace goal.

The two athletes who I idolize who take this approach are Rory Bosio who is an incredibly talented and accomplished ultra runner, and Kilian Jornet who is an endurance athlete who holds the fastest known time for ascending Mt. Everest, but even more impressively he did it twice in five days...among other impressive and fast endurance feats.

Both of these athletes take the “just go out and do stuff” approach to training rather than having a formal training plan. So after I had a really hard time motivating myself to do any sort of formal training for the triathlon I did in Hawaii in March, I adopted the “just go out and do stuff” training plan for myself. I did spend some time on the bike trainer because there was still snow on the ground and conditions were not always great for snow biking. I was also swimming once a week with a swim group. I did some running but not really all that much. And I did some walking and hiking. 

When we got to Hawaii we did a little bit of biking before the race, the most notable ride was a 20 mile ride with almost 2000 feet of climbing less than a week before the race. We also did some short runs to acclimatize us to the heat. 

Another thing that was different for this race was my attitude. I truly felt under trained so my attitude was very much one of “I’ll just do the race and try to have fun” more than anything. I said that to almost everyone because people wanted to know if I was ready or whatever people ask you about races. 

What it created was less pressure for me to feel like I wanted to perform well. It also created an attitude of I truly don’t care how I do, which I have a hard time doing because I’m pretty competitive, mostly with myself. So I went into this race with almost no expectations other than that I would finish. This is a race that I’ve done before so I’m familiar with the course and the event. I don’t know that I would have been quite this casual about the whole thing if this was my first time.

Now I’m definitely not in it to win it anyway, but when I relaxed about feeling the need to compete with myself (and didn’t give into all the hype others were creating) I was actually able to enjoy the experience more. 

The Results of My non-Training Experiment

What happened? Well, I was faster overall DESPITE not doing specific training for this event.

  • My run was 4 minutes slower than both previous years. In the two other times I’ve done this race I’ve had almost the EXACT same run time (I guess I’m consistent). And I really didn’t do much running, so 4 minutes slower was completely fine with me. 

    • Especially since I actually walked less than I had in previous years. The run course is HOT and there’s a solid 2 mile section that has no shade and both of the other times I’ve done this race I walked a significant portion of that section. This year I walked less than 50% of what I had walked in previous years. 

  • I had my fastest swim time on this course, which is a little mind blowing to me because I was literally just out for a casual swimming during the race. It’s a crowded start and I always get frustrated so my plan was to just swim at a pace that was comfortable but not TOO easy. I think my swimming has obviously gotten better which is why I was faster with what felt like less effort. It wasn’t until I hit the last buoy on the way in (which I knew was about 250 yards from the finish) that I realized how fast I was going. 

  • My bike time was faster by 10 minutes overall than last year. THIS is big for me because I truly did not spend much time on the bike and this is my weakest event. Part of the reason is that the conditions were truly perfect. There was not even a hint of a breeze and if you’ve ever ridden your bike on the Queen K on the big island of Hawaii you know that the wind can make or break the race. There was not a whiff of wind in either direction so it was truly an amazing day, but it’s also very hard to compare how my overall fitness stacks up to other years because of the perfect conditions. I do think I would have been faster no matter what just based on where I was in the crowd of people on the bike. 

  • My overall time this year was faster by about 10 minutes compared to last year (I definitely could have been faster on transitions, but in T1 I helped the girl next to me spray sunscreen on her back and she did the same for me, the extra minute was worth it for the karma points for sure).

  • The other HUGE thing about this year that is different from years past is that I actually FELT AMAZING when I was done. Sure I was hot and tired, but once I changed my clothes and ate, I felt pretty darn good (I even had two people who are good friends say “gosh, you really look like you feel good” after the race). 

Now a huge fan of the non-training method of training for an event.

I tried the same approach for the marathon I ran in June of 2019. It was a last minute decision to race so I only trained for about eight weeks and my longest run was 12 miles. I did have a few 20+ mile weekends of hiking and running on back to back days. I find this to be a good way to stay injury free while getting lots of volume in. I don’t recommend doing off the couch to 20 mile weekends, but if you have any sort of base this is something you can work up to.

What I’ve really taken away and learned from this experience is that while some people thrive on a regimented training plan, it’s definitely not for everyone. And I’ve actually heard from several people (one of whom is a former Olympian) that they feel like they are in better shape when they “just go out and do things.” 

My goal has never been to win anything. Or even really go faster (though it is nice to see improvement). What I really want is the ability to go do fun stuff with my friends when they ask me if I can be ready to run a marathon in 8 weeks or do some insane trail race. 

And while that’s just me, I do think that everyone can learn something from this experience. First of all I think the “just go out and do stuff” training plan makes a lot of these events more accessible to more people. Not everyone has the time to train for 10 or 20 hours a week. But you can go for a short run or walk and then a hike and then maybe a bike ride and a swim and gain a shocking amount of fitness from just moving your body. 

Yes there is a need to do some specific training for the event you’re doing. For example, one of the issues that I had with the marathon I ran last year (same one I’m doing this weekend) is that I had massive hip pain early on from running on the pavement since I had been doing mostly trail running. So this year I spent less time running overall I think, but more time running on the pavement. 

I also think that this approach makes training more fun. Instead of feeling like you HAVE to go for a 20 mile run, go for a 5 mile hike, then a 10 mile run, then a 5 mile hike over the weekend (I did this over 3 days two weekends in a row). By the time you’re done with your second 5 mile hike, you’ll feel like you ran 20 miles (or more). 

Again, if you’re looking to be an elite athlete, this is not necessarily a great approach, but for the average person who just wants to participate in some fun events, I actually think the decrease in the stress you might feel around training gives you more benefit than if you stuck to a more regimented training plan. 

So really the whole point of me sharing this is that we all need to cut ourselves some slack as athletes. I realize that this was just an n=1 experiment, but if not training works for athletes like Rory Bosio and Killian Jornet, then why shouldn’t it work for the rest of us? 

Podcast theme music: MILLENNIALS by Analog By Nature (c) copyright 2018 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/cdk/57150