Spring Trail running 2

There’s a wave washing over the world of running. Especially trail and ultra running.

It’s nothing new, but seems to be idealized more today than ever before.

I’m talking about the draw towards becoming a dirtbag runner. It’s the shirtless, bearded, free spirited runner, and the idea that living out of the back of your car and parking at whatever trailhead catches your attention the night before, is how all real runners should live.

The idea is to run free. Free from restrictions and rules, and become one with the mountain and trail.

I have to admit, that sounds pretty appealing. In fact, I like to think I work towards that philosophy to some degree.

But what about the other end of the spectrum?

On the other end, we have runners doing the complete opposite. But still enjoying their runs just as much, and performing equally well.

Which Type of Runner are You?

In a general sense, runners fall in to one of two categories when it comes to their training philosophies:

1) The Free Spirit Runner

Ahh. Living the free runner’s dream.

You run because you feel like it, not because your training plan says so. Like the way a trail looks? Keep going! Feeling tired? Turn around!

Happy hour? Rough day? Netflix binge? No problem! There’s always tomorrow.

The Free Spirit Runner is more worried about having fun than getting faster, and tracking a training plan sounds like homework.

Pros: Running for the love of the sport is what it should be all about. It means no limits on what you should or shouldn’t do, and listening to the body is the only way to gauge when to push and when to hold back.

2) The Strict Plan Follower

You know you’re a Strict Plan Follower when you’ve memorized each of the week’s runs by Monday. When it comes to actually running, you make sure to dot every i and cross every t.

No mile goes untracked, and no splits unrecorded.

Pros: There’s major of value in knowing your data inside and out, and having a fully thought out plan of attack.

Following a strict plan will push you towards new mileage, and keep you on track when you don’t feel like completing a workout.

Where do you fall?

The Big Problem

Think you know where you fall?

Maybe you don’t identify with one 100%, but I bet one sounds a heck of a lot more appealing to you than the other. Here’s the thing:

There’s a big problem with both of these philosophies.

Neither are perfect.

Yet for some reason we tend to either idealize one or obsess over the other.

Let’s take a look back at those two training philosophies with through a different lens.

1) The Free Spirit Runner

Cons: Without the additional push or structure that comes from a regimented training plan, it’s hard to improve. Self motivation is rough when the weather turns bad or something else sounds like more fun.

Most of us don’t have access or the freedom to spend weeks at a time traveling to different trailheads, and the free-spirit attitude only inspires so many runs on our local trails.

2) The Strict Plan Follower

Cons: Tying yourself down to a plan makes you less likely to listen to your body or run by feel. That can result in injury or burnout, and lack of inspiration when the focus shifts to getting in the mileage instead of the adventure.

If you get behind or struggle to meet your goals for whatever reason, it is mentally tough to bounce back and pick back up.

Neither is perfect.

For most of us, they’re both too extreme.

3 Steps to Finding the Best of Both Training Philosophies

The good news is that you don’t have to be one or the other. Maybe your personality and style lead you towards a particular philosophy, but that doesn’t mean you can’t embrace aspects of the other.

Here’s 3 steps you should consider to form a melting pot of the 2:

1. Have a plan, and stick to it…mostly: If you’re training for a particular race or event, or even if you aren’t, having a training plan or schedule is key to reaching your max potential. Just like any big undertaking, creating a plan from the beginning helps you keep on schedule and hold yourself accountable.

But don’t lose yourself in it. Training plan tunnel vision is the quickest way to making major mistakes like burnout, injury, and over training.

Training plans should be considered fluid, and when something happens, positive or negative, adjustments should be made.

2. Let loose and get down with adventure, but also take your training serious: The free-for-all dirtbager in me wants to make every run fun. Those runs inspire and reinvigorate my training.

A future weekend adventure can keep me motivated for weeks at a time.

On the other hand, not all runs can be focused solely on fun. In order to get stronger and push, sometimes runs should hurt. Sometimes they need to get you out of your comfort zone or keep you doing speed work. Even if it’s the last thing you want to do.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with having fun on a run, in fact, it’s probably the most important thing you can do. But if the end goal is to do something serious, you need to take getting towards that end goal just as seriously.

3. Track your workouts, but there’s no need to obsess: If you track your runs already (and no, I’m not talking about just uploading GPS data), then you know the benefits can be great. It helps you understand your strengths and weaknesses, predict injuries and understand where they might have come from, and gives you a map for future training.

I recommend tracking your runs to everyone, even if you aren’t training for a particular race.

But obsessing over it can be detrimental.

When a runner gets too caught up in splits or weekly mileage, they lose touch with their free spirit and often end up pushing too hard or fast. Obsessing over progress often leads to obsessing over lack of progress or negative aspects of your training.

What Type of Runner Do You Want to Be?

Earlier I asked what type of runner you were. Now I want to shift that question.

What type of runner do you want to be?

The free spirit is idealized and the strict athlete respected. I’m here to say the melting pot combo is really the sweet spot.

Learn from both philosophies and find your perfect blend. Find the place that keeps you happy and having fun, but also pushing and fighting to get stronger.

That’s where you’ll meet your goals.

That’s where you’ll be your best self.

Last Call for Trail Runner’s System Discount and Bonuses!

logo-sign-2Quick reminder that the discounted price on the brand new Trail Runner’s System ends this coming Monday, March 30th.

If you want to transition from the roads to the trails, or trail running to trail marathons or ultramarathons, this system was designed for you. It’ll eliminate the fears that come with doing something new, and provide all the tools you need to reach your trail or ultra running goals.

Don’t miss out on this special limited time discounted rate and extra bonuses. Join dozens of others by signing up for the Trail Runner’s System today.


Author Doug Hay is the founder of Rock Creek Runner, host of the Trail Talk podcast, and fanatical about everything trail running -- beards, plaid shirts, bruised toenails, and all. He and his wife live and run in beautiful Black Mountain, NC.

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