Ditching Perfectionism in your Training

If you’re a runner (or just an athlete in general), you’re probably pretty Type A with perfectionist tendencies.

I was the PICTURE of Type A when I ran in college. Coach gave me a training plan, I executed said training plan to a T (and then some). I thought that in order to progress in my running, I had to do everything exactly as he said – to the point where if he told me to run for 12 miles, I wouldn’t stop until I hit 12.00 (I know lots of you out there are the same way 👀). I also had some issues with eating going on that caused me to feel like I had to exercise every day OR ELSE, which contributes to the perfectionism but will not be discussed much in this blog.

Girl running in grass wearing a Hofstra uniform.
Me during my first race after joining the cross country team.

Now, I’m not saying that following a training plan exactly is a bad thing. It works for many people, my college self included. But as a college student, I honestly didn’t have much going on, comparatively speaking, and could devote large chunks of my days to running and recovery. I built my work and class schedule around practices. I only had a handful of classes per day (not a full 8 hour workday 5 days a week). Now that I’m in my 30s, this isn’t the case. And yet, sometimes I still feel like I need to follow a training plan exactly, as if I can shape my life around the plan instead of the other way around.

Here’s why you should break up with your perfectionism:

It isn’t serving you.

Perfectionism doesn’t come from a place of trust and abundance – it comes from a place of fear. Fear that if you don’t do everything exactly right, you won’t succeed, which is total BS. Approaching your training from a fearful lens doesn’t set you up for success in the long run. It sets you up for resentment and burn out.

Think about a time where you had a hefty training week planned and then shit hit the fan at work. If you pushed through and forced yourself to train at a high level anyway, how did you feel afterwards? Did you take longer to recover? Did other parts of your life suffer (like sleep, nutrition, relationships)? Did the benefit of completing that training outweigh the negative? In most cases, I believe the answer is no.

Perfectionism doesn’t know your body.

One of things that I try to instill in my athletes is that their most important tool is the ability to know and listen to their body. If you worry about being “perfect,” you aren’t listening to your body.

In the worst cases, not listening to your body can lead to injury. I’m not saying you should never push through a hard workout or run because you’re in pain. Sometimes running just hurts! I’m saying you shouldn’t push through because you’re worried about completing your training perfectly. Taking some days off at the first sign of a niggle can prevent something small turning into something that causes you to take weeks to months off.

Consistency matters more than specific runs.

Perfectionism tends to come with an all-or-nothing mindset, meaning that if you can’t do the entire run or workout on a given day, you’re more likely to not do anything at all. Sometimes there is a time and place to skip a run completely, but the time and place for that is not because of perfectionism.

Throughout your running career (or even in one training cycle), it will not matter if you cut a run or workout short. What matters is you get out for your runs consistently and build up your cumulative miles.

Take my recent 50k training. I cut a fair amount of my long runs short due to how stress in my life was affecting me (if you’re new here, while training for my 50k, I also bought a house, renovated half of said house, moved, worked 2 jobs and trained.). On the grand scheme of my training, I ran somewhere between 600-700 miles. Even if I cut off 50 miles total from all of my runs, that’s not that much overall. And I still completed my 50k!

Now I do want to mention that my goal was just to finish. If I had a time goal, I may have thought twice about cutting some runs short. But I knew that for my goal, the extra time on feet some weeks would have done more harm than good for me.

Mass plans aren’t custom to you.

I know not all of you want to work with a coach 1:1 and enjoy using free training plans from online. I used a free training plan for my first half marathons, so I get it. If you apply perfectionism to these plans, however, you may be setting yourself up for failure.

Many of these plans are great. They give you the framework you need in order to train for specific distances. The problem is that they’re created for the masses, not for you. This training plan was not created with the structure of your life in mind, so it’s on you to alter it to fit your needs. If you’re stuck in perfectionism, you’ll try to apply this plan to your life. You might succeed, but I’ve also seen many instances where the plan doesn’t work in your life, which causes the runner to think they are the problem. You are not the problem – this plan just isn’t for you (as is).

This is especially true for those who don’t work a typical M-F job. Most mass plans assume you’ll do your long runs on the weekend, but this isn’t possible for everyone.

If you use a generic plan, flexibility and adaptability will serve you better than your perfectionism will.

Long story short: Train hard, but give yourself grace, listen to your body, and remember: consistency > perfection.

Kelly Lutz is a UESCA certified running and ultrarunning coach and a certified strength & conditioning specialist. She enjoys helping women ditch perfectionism in their training so they can dream big and train sustainably. She’s successfully trained multiple women to complete their first 50k and is working on building a running program from beginners. Check out the Coaching Services page to see what she’s currently offering.

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