by Dante Zappala
Take it easy. Try less. Go slower. That’s my New Year’s resolution. On paper, it’s a complete cop out. We’re supposed to think and act like the stock market. Staying the same is not acceptable. We have to constantly do more to achieve more.
But, practically, taking it easy will lead to a healthier bottom line. My focus over the next 16 weeks is preparing for the Boston Marathon. Speed work is important to a degree. It promotes a certain type of neuromuscular development that is valuable. But the speed itself is irrelevant. How many miles per hour I can travel over 100 meters or even in a 5k will not be the predicting factor of my success of failure at Boston. I am ultimately training to build efficiency for a long distance.
Biologically, that efficiency is based on my body adapting to make the best use of oxygen, carbohydrates and fats to sustain a submaximal pace for 26.2 miles.
In training for this, however, the principle is: Get the maximum training benefit from the least amount of work. This may sound counterintuitive but it makes perfect sense. If, for example, I offered you the following training plans and each would lead to the exact same result, which would you take?
1. Run 30 miles a week, all at marathon pace.
2. Run 50 miles a week, all at marathon pace.
Clearly, a sane person would choose the first option because it requires less effort for the same end result. Why would give yourself more work for no payout? Better to save your altruism for something charitable.
The hook, of course, is that by doing the minimal amount to achieve a goal, you leave yourself the room to do other things to reach an even higher goal. If both options get you the same result, run 30 miles a week at marathon pace and use the rest of the effort on something that will improve your results.
Of course, what that is exactly is subjective. People respond differently to different stimuli. But I do know that for me, at least, more slow miles are a key to getting faster. What are commonly referred to as junk miles actually build what the famed marathon coach Renato Canova refers to as your aerobic house.
At slower speeds, you enhance your oxygen delivery system. You increase the number of mitochondria and expand your capillaries. You strengthen the muscles and tendons to carry you for the long haul.
This has always been a challenge for me. But this year is different. Partly because I’m a little gun shy as I rehab my knee, I have been taking my easy runs really easy, by which I mean one to two minutes slower than my target marathon pace.
The results so far have been great. I’m not as sore and tired as I remember being in the fall, but the fitness is still there. I feel like I can step on the gas whenever I want.
And, of course, any legitimate training program will ultimately include intensity. By the end of the program, I’ll be doing training runs where I put in 15 miles or more at marathon pace. I’ll do tempo runs under marathon pace. I’ll do intervals. But all of the warm ups and cool downs, all of the recovery runs, a bunch of the long runs and all of the filler runs make up an overwhelming majority of what I’ll do, and they’ll all be slower than what I’m used to. There’s still work to be done on the house, even as I’m moving in the furniture.
I’m doubling down and applying this on the other fronts as well. I’ve been trying too hard with my kids. I find myself asking them the same things over and over again—put on your PJ’s, brush your teeth. Maybe they go along on the fifth or tenth attempt. Besides being frustrating, this is inefficient. Is there a strategy short of yelling at them where I can get them to do what they have to by asking once? How about by not asking at all? What is the minimal amount of work I need to do to get the same benefit?
A little thinking on this and I developed a solution. They can earn the things they will get anyway – an episode of Power Rangers, a new game on the tablet – in return for doing what they must do anyway – get ready for bed, get ready for school – if they do it without being told.
The system works and, sure enough, it leaves us time to do more. What had taken forever to accomplish takes less than two minutes with an incentive attached. We might play a board game before bed now, or, God forbid, have a conversation over breakfast.
This is clearly nothing revolutionary in the world of parenting. Bribes are all we really have to control our children. I’m sure there are plenty of books written on this.
But it got me thinking. What does it take to make our own lives more efficient? Bribery just the same? I guess I have to slow down and think about it.