Since I started long distance running almost 8 years ago, just about all of my training has been completed using a more flowy approach. I like to call it "intuitive training" because it makes it feel a little more official which is ironic because the pure nature of intuition is less structure and more freedom. I am no coach or trainer so take it all with a grain of salt. This is just what I've been doing for a long time and I wanted to share some details behind it. Hope ya like it and let me know if you ever use any of these techniques or let me know others that really work for you!
What is intuitive training?
The next two requirements go hand in hand. With intuitive training I always set the intention to run each day. Some days it doesn't happen and there ya go, rest day. But just knowing how much happier and amazing and myself I feel when I run, I really try to get out each day. Once I've started running I give myself the first 2 miles to feel it out--never just 1 mile because that's always a transition. Depending on what my body is telling me I will work around that. Some days it feels strong and powerful and ready to do some speed work. Other days I'm recovering and just need slow, easy miles. If I know I am going to long run in the next two days I normally try to just take it easy on the pace and log steady state miles. Some days, if I've been inside all day I run twice because it makes me happy and I want the fresh air. It's all about just checking in with your body, mind, and heart and working from there.
Finally, in order for this method to be super awesome (at least for me) you need HILLS! lots and lots of hills. Hills build strength, improve form, test your cardiovascular endurance, and act as speed work in disguise. For pretty much all my runs I try to get a good amount of climbing in. Keep in mind that I live on the east coast so it's all relative:) Even if you're slowly slogging up a climb, you're still working your way up. Your body will hate it and then it will love it. If you start trying this, it will be really cool to watch how a certain route or a certain hill that used to crush you, you can now flow up with ease. It makes me feel powerful!
What is it not?
If you are practicing the four strategies listed above then your training should not be aimless, structured down to half mile splits, or boring. It should eventually become a really balanced version of all sorts of training approaches. Sometimes I read different runner's blogs or intagram posts where they are expressing how excited they are to be able to just run free once a training cycle is complete. Using intuitive training should ideally provide freedom for every run you log. It's not something that you get to look forward to every couple of months.
The great part about this training is that if you are craving something more structured and planned you can go ahead and build that into your goals for that week! Maybe you want to check in with some of your paces just to see where you're at. That's totally awesome! The difference is that those paces aren't ingrained in you.
There's a layer of mindfulness that comes into play with this sort of running. It requires you to just be for a few moments and let any messages from your body sway up to your mind. If you can work with this then your miles will be much more intentional.
Why would you train intuitively?
It probably depends on who you are and what you want. My personal reasons are:
I was practicing this method before I began struggling with exercise addiction and D.E. and I had some of my fastest times I've ever run. My recovery times were insanely short and I loved, loved the feeling of accomplishing new goals. I really believe the key to this was climbing a billion feet each run and taking it suuuuuuper easy on the days that my body told me I needed to. It's really cool because you can still measure success and improvement with this sort of training, but a lot of it is based off of body feel rather than watch time.
I also want to reemphasize that this works for me right now while I'm not training for a competitive time. If your goals revolve around a really specific time or PR than it probably makes more sense to have a few set goal time for mile repeats and such!