“Big or too many changes fail a lot of the time. Really small changes consistently produce big results.”Tim Ferriss
A few days ago I completed my 3rd half marathon in the last 10 years. I outran my best time of (1:35) by about 4 minutes. In the linear world that we all live in because [sarcasm] linear worlds actually exist and work [/sarcasm] — that is 24 seconds that I’ve shaved off per year. Pretty cool right? I’d say so, but that was done without any real training structure and any objective planning or proper goal setting. I want to change that moving forward for the next 10 years and hopefully beyond.
But I’ve got a problem; Fast is fun then I get injured a lot. It happens every time I start to run faster. It never happened when I was training slower and within Maffetone low heart rate holistic training approach. Only when I go fast. Again; fast is fun. No one wants to run slow. But what if I could obtain steady and consistent gains in my running while using the “minimum effective dose” to see marginally better returns?
Consistency. It’s one thing I’ve found to be the commonality between most successful people.
“The day in and day out.”
“Showing up is half the battle.”
“Doing it when you don’t want to do it are the most important days.”
I’ve read it all but one thing I know is that most if not all successful people that stay at the top are consistent AF. Like constantly putting quality content to the masses or just always showing up. It’s amazing to watch it actually happen in real time. Tim Ferriss is one of those people if you subscribe to his email list. LeBron James too if you are into basketball. And even Jiro the sushi master if you take a look at his documentary on Netflix.
Back when I was a young sprinter/mid distance runner (400m/800m) I had this fascination with running faster and farther. Jumping into endurance events a few years later (half marathon, duathlons, and triathlons). And like most people that jump into distance running I made the “Marathon” my bullseye target. It was romantic while being cool and mysterious. Based on a race time predictor calculator algorithm and the few distance races I’d done in the past, I set “sub 3 hour marathon” in my sights and I became obsessed with it only to realize after training and doing it twice that it just wasn’t for me. I like to try most things once and sometimes even twice to say I did it, but I just think with my focus being on sustainable training it doesn’t make sense to keep reaching for the elusive sub 3 hour marathon. While I didn’t reach my objective completing a marathon in sub 3 hours, I have been learning what I like and will place the sub 3 hour marathon or even “Marathon with Minimum Effective Dose Training” in the “Not Yet” folder of my life experiment drawer. While I wouldn’t rule out doing a marathon in the mid/far future, right now I don’t need to do one to justify that I’m a legit runner. No one cares if I do a sub-3 hour marathon. No, like literally not too many people care if I do it or not and it’s just not that serious to me. I don’t want to take away from someone that does a bunch of marathons a year and loves it. That’s cool… DO YOU.
Do whatever makes you happy. Training to the point of breaking my body down to do some arbitrary distance that humans made up is a bit ridiculous. Like really… 26.2 miles/42.2km isn’t logical. Why is it not 40km? Funny enough the Marathon story actually had the original marathon in the late 1800’s at almost 40km/25 miles and historians think the actual route might have been 35km/22 miles. We as humans had the chance to round it to a nice 40km/25 miles and someone… somewhere messed it all up 100 + years ago. We would have easily broken the 2 hour mark and just maybe a few people would finish the marathon a bit easier. Ah well. Seems like I’m projecting.
I realized that my amazing learning lesson (or failure or “Not Yet”) with experiment #2 aka DIY pop up marathon back in December was that like everything I want to be successful in, I needed to have consistency. I was not consistent therefore I aggravated an injury (IT Band Syndrome) halfway point of said marathon — and funny enough that same injury was due to not being consistent and increasing my running too much, too fast from the few short months leading up to the marathon; Irony at it’s best.
For me the Half Marathon distance (21.1km/13.1 miles) ticks all boxes for me. It allows sustainability and longevity. I’m able to create balance in my life with training and have time to be social, read, or do nothing while seeing measurable gains to push myself each day/week/month/year, etc.
“If you haven’t heard about the minimum effective dose, a concept coined by Nautilus fitness creator Arthur Jones and popularized by lifestyle hacker Tim Ferriss in his book The Four Hour Body, here’s the simplest definition: the smallest dose that will produce the desired effect or outcome. For Jones, this was the minimum effective load, the point after which any additional resistance added to the bar would be redundant or even counterproductive to one’s strength and fitness goals. For Ferriss, the MED is about getting the most bang for your exercise and dietary buck.
A popular example is boiling water. If you want to boil a pot of water at standard air pressure, the MED is 212° F (100° C). Adding more heat is redundant and won’t make it “boil even more.”
The Breakdown | aka “Preface to the How”
I’ve found through reading, my personal experience and random professional smart folks in my inner circle that having a non quantifiable objective is setting yourself up for failure and misery. If I just want to do something to do it (example: To just finish a half marathon regardless of time even though I’ve done one before) is most likely going to be hard to train for on the days I don’t want to do it.
Now I have a clear and new objective;
Over the next 10 years, each year run a half marathon at least 1 min faster than the previous year while maintaining balance in my life that makes training sustainable and avoiding injury, sickness, and general burnout.
Sounds easy right? Unfortunately if it were that easy everyone would do it.
If I break down that objective sentence into 3 parts you can see where things start to become a bit more complex.
- “Over the next 10 years, each year run a half marathon at least 1 min faster than the previous year” — This means that I need to break it down into 1 year incremental gains (and from there quarterly, monthly, and weekly gains). I need to test them periodically (every 6–8 weeks) with either a time trial or a race. 1 Min shaved off my half marathon time each year sounds much more doable than 5 mins each year or my fav “I hope that I get a personal record/best this year”. This shit isn’t luck. Most things in life aren’t luck. And just like most things in life, with some calculated planning I can have quantifiable goals. The strategy of “Hope” is a terrible one. It’s much easier to periodically assess where I am with testing and awareness. If I break it down a bit more I can shave off 30 seconds per year from my 10k race best time(39mins 30seconds) and 15 seconds per year off of my 5k race best time (17mins 45seconds).
- “While maintaining balance in my life that makes training sustainable” — This is a huge one. This means that I’m going to apply the 80.20 principle to everything and always look at this from a circular angle rather than linear Point-Of-View. I want to always prioritize everything I’m doing. While I have introverted tendencies — Hanging out with friends, reading/watching things for inspiration and generally doing other shit besides training keep me balanced which then keeps me happy #LifeGoal. While running sub 80 mins is a very important objective, just like a circle there is no one point that is more important than the other. Everything needs to support everything else and be in harmony. I’ve fallen (and still do fall) into the trap of having unbalanced focus and wasting my time on something that I probably shouldn’t. I’ve learned that’s how I roll but if I periodize it there is no reason why I can’t have ebbs and flows of focus on certain things while getting to others in the near future with a laser focus to do them well.
- “And avoiding injury, sickness, and general burnout.” — This means that I need to apply the minimal effective dose to running which means that I actually won’t be running as much. I’ve found from the past 4 years of endurance training whenever I go fast I get hurt or get sick. I have used and like Phil Maffetone’s low heart rate holistic approach to training. The gains while slow and somewhat linear seem to be sustainable over the course of a lifetime rather than just a few years of racing in my 30s, quitting and becoming unfit. I’m not a pro, there is no $100k pot at the end of the race so why risk months/years of injury, sickness and agony to do a slightly above average time, and not to mention all of the time off from running. Why not put in the “semi-moderate” work over the course of many years . Ironically I’ve found going at moderate pace over long periods much more difficult than going faster over short distances. This also means taking a holistic approach to all things; Low Heart Rate Training, sLOW Carb Higher Fat/Protein diet, Stress/Sleep management, and taking care of my feet. I’ve also found I felt better and was generally more “fresh” when I did less intense running. On the hard training days I’ll be looking to supplement higher intensity running with higher intensity cycling and swimming (see part 2).
This won’t be easy but working towards sustainable habits seems much easier than just haphazardly doing random shit and wishing for the best. I have a few outran events coming up where I can test this experiment so I’m excited to document my trial and errors with whoever is willing to read, watch, listen and even experiment on their own.
More detailed info about all of that in part 2 (the actual “how”) of this post. Until then… be more with less!