Being A Cafeteria Runner, Self-Programing Vs Following A Program

I’m a cafeteria everything.

In case someone isn’t familiar with the prefix, cafeteria refers to someone who browses a lot of stuff and picks what they like. It should actually be buffet. I first heard it in the term cafeteria christian; someone who seemed to be all denominations or none at their convenience.

And last night I read the advice, it was 6 on a list of 10 I believe, to not be a cafeteria runner. Don’t peruse a bunch of different programs and take the things you like.

Timely since I’d been feeling worried about the run and somewhat envying the security my program-following friends seem to have. Maybe I’d missed something, maybe I’m under or overtraining, blah blah blah…

But confidence does not a good runner make. Deriving confidence from a running plan I think is just so it’s not your fault if the run doesn’t go well. After all, you did everything you were supposed to do, you were just following orders.

I agree that running season is like baking; you control what you put in to – as best you can and with a little hope – control what you get out. You don’t get better muffins by doubling the flour because you feel like it.

Running is a martial art though and who am I to disagree with the great Bruce Lee who told us to be water, to bend and flow, to draw from everywhere and put it all together.

Have one master and you’ll always be their student. Study under all the masters you can and you’ll eventually be a master.

I think the spirit of the Don’t Be A Cafeteria Runner advice is to not reject the things you don’t like, don’t be a totally unstructured, whimsical, pleasure-guided runner. Eat your vegetables, sprint the stairs.


Programing for yourself still means programing, being uncoached means you gotta coach yourself. Look at a bunch of programs and tips and guidance and experiment. Experimentation will lead to diversity and put miles on your legs, even if you hate everything you try in a week you still did a week of running.

And you can back off when you need to with less anxiety. Following a program to the letter can cause you to override injury signals.

Furthermore on that idea I think following one program can take some of the joy out of running because you’re checking off boxes instead of checking in with how you feel.

Maybe though you’re someone who wouldn’t run without the push of a program, maybe you don’t like any of the hard stuff… In which case why are you running? There’s other sports. Experiment with some cross-training and maybe you’ll find something you do love.

In the meantime though all that experimenting with cross training will still be adding to your fitness and the world of running isn’t going to die if you don’t water it, come back when and how you feel like it.

I think there’s a danger in buying one book, running it’s program, hating it, and thinking that you then hate running. No, you just hate that book. Get 5 books, watch tons of youtube, make-up your own intervals, and it all adds up to a love of running.


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