Dear Dumb Runner,
Do I have to follow my training plan exactly as it's written? Or can I change it a little bit? Like, make runs shorter and stuff?—Leah, Goleta, California
A training plan is like a road map, with turn-by-turn directions to get you to a destination.
No, wait. It's more like a recipe. You take these ingredients, see, and you combine 'em and you get something tastier than the sum of its parts.
No! A training plan is like a set of assembly instructions for an IKEA bookshelf. It seems simple enough at first, but you soon get bogged down in cryptic directions including parts that seem to be missing, and by the time you're halfway through you curse and crumple the instructions up and just build the damn thing. Then you realize you have two very important-looking screws left over, and every time you look at the bookcase it bugs you.
Look, here's the important thing: The fact that you even have a training plan in the first place is huge. Assuming that you chose wisely—i.e. that your plan's mileage and intensity are a good match for you, your history, your goals—you'll be just fine. Even if you fudge the distances a little, or miss the occasional run, or whatever. Remember: You're training for a race here. Not building a nuclear reactor. You may use some discretion.
Of course, if you find yourself changing a lot of the plan, you might do better scrapping it and finding a new one. Really, there are so many options out there, you should be able to find something that suits you pretty well.
Because, see, a training plan is like an off-the-rack suit...
Good luck to you!
p.s. For more plain-English advice, check out our Training page.