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Best-laid plans

Bear with me here as we explore some linguistic history that may tie very loosely to your running journey... Scottish poet Robert Burns is probably responsible for birthing the phrase 'best-laid plans' during his poem dedicated to a homeless mouse. Legend tells of Burns plowing in the fields and discovering a mouse's nest in ruins which was to be home for the harsh winter. Burns would tell you the mouse's nest was destroyed by a strong wind, others may say Burns himself was responsible for the destruction. Regardless, the mouse took off at the very sight of Burns. I'll save you the bulk of the reading and leave you with a short piece of the poem;

"But Mouse, you are not alone, In proving foresight may be vain: The best laid schemes of mice and men Go often askew, And leave us nothing but grief and pain, For promised joy!" Perhaps, Burns disliked the mouse. Perhaps his plowing technique needed some adjusting. Perhaps he had plans to develop the site into multiple apartment blocks sold off the plan. Whatever the case, his declaration that plans 'go often askew' leaving us with grief and pain in place of promised joy is a lesson we can all learn from. The plan is only the plan.

Let's get that bit straight first. The plan is what you or your coach has carefully crafted while being fully aware that things aren't set in stone. There's a reason TrainingPeaks has an edit function. There's a reason we are able to cross things out, turn 8's into 0's, 1's into 7's and put lines through things on paper. It's important to understand that no matter how amazingly well the plan goes, the outcome is not guaranteed. Training isn't only about tailwinds, perfect splits and cool mornings, it's also about how you respond when the cards aren't in your favour, the wind swings the other way and the heat gives you a mouth full of high-class cotton. It's also important to remember that there's a time to grind and a time to back away from the fire.

The gospel according to Des

Does your body know the plan? Or is it just your brain?

Scenario: You're waking up sore with pain in the calf after some heavier running load over the last few days. The plan says hill reps. What do you do? Listen to your body. Your body (usually) communicates clearly. Your brain, on the other hand, knows about the session and will commence the cycle of doubt, guilt and what if's that stem from emotion. Remember, your body doesn't know the plan, it only responds to the stress placed upon it. Your legs can't read - it's that simple. It's ok to feel lazy or soft in the short term if you change the plan because there's a 100% chance you're going to feel that way for much longer when you injure yourself.

Keep it simple: listen to your body

Training is also how you respond to the world around you! Work stress, family stress, that person who sits next to you on the bus and then doesn't cover their mouth when they cough. These are all stresses that require some response. The response may mean swapping a session for an easy run, it may mean getting to bed earlier with the plan of sleeping more and freshening up for the next day, or it may mean removing yourself from the bus altogether and opting to walk instead.

Unless you live in Rupert Murdoch's basement you would be aware of the air quality problems across much of Eastern Australia. If available, the treadmill is an easy fix for what is hopefully a short term issue. This is time to prioritise what is important. You're not lazy or unmotivated for taking a rest day because other people decided it was ok for them to run. Prepare to be adaptable. The lessons you learn in training are the same ones you can apply to your racing if and when the time comes. You're an individual with individual circumstances, which leads to the next point.

You're an individual.

Dr. Seuss said "today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you". It turns out Dr. Seuss was actually not a real doctor, so do what you will with his advice. The fact is that today you are exactly where you are. Perhaps you had plans to be further along in your training, perhaps you had envisaged being faster, running more vertical over the last month, or recovering better from sessions. Decision making and training that aligns where you are now with where you want to be in the future will always trump training where you think you should be. This links back to that bit about the mouse again. Burns finishes his field freestyle exclaiming that the mouse is blessed, compared with him, as the mouse is only concerned with the present and has no feel for the past or the future.

This man is not a doctor

Can you sum it all up for me?


1. Make a plan.

2. Prepare to be adaptable in your training.

3. Be present. Focus less on the 'could haves' and the 'what ifs' and more on the 'nows'.

4. You are you.

5. The mouse is still running and that may be the best lesson of all.

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