Journal Entry 5 – Easy Endurance
How do you become excellent at something?
In some cases, like Mozart, it must have been so obvious because of the sheer volume of ability. For the rest of us, those with more mediocre abilities, the answer lies in one thing and one thing only – practice.
By now you’ve all seen the equation – 10,000 hours of practice to become world class. I’m sure since that became popular knowledge there have been other studies to delineate where the next rung on the ladder is, maybe national competitor status, and then so on down to state, local, and even just good in your own backyard.
The problem for many is they look at the champions to decide what to do. I’ve been lucky enough to be exposed to so many elite level athletes and ask questions about training and what they are able to accomplish compared to the rest of us is phenomenal. Take Rob de Castella for instance, former marathon world champion and world record holder. In his peak weeks he ran up to 200km a week. How many of you think you could sustain that?
And this is where my problems started last week. I’ve written previously about turning gym strength into sport strength for endurance athletes. And as I’ve started down this road to Ironman Melbourne I have been riding plenty of hills. I’d avoided running them just yet because I didn’t feel ready.
Last week I wrote about how I had done some hill repeats and my calf started to feel a bit funny so I avoided running for the rest of the week. Well, the day after I wrote that last piece I tried to go for a run. I made it about halfway from home on my planned 8km loop and realised my calf was no good. Let me tell you, slowly walking 4km home was not fun. By the time I got back I knew it was torn. A quick trip that afternoon to my favourite physiotherapist, Mary Kinch at Olympic Park confirmed it – grade one tear, three to four weeks no running.
What does this have to do with Rob de Castella and the magic 10,000 hours?
Well, for starters I am officially a running statistic. With eighty percent of recreational runners suffering an injury that takes them out for four weeks each year I am sadly part of the majority now.
It’s not all bad as I have devoted myself to an extra ride each day I am supposed to run, meaning I will be super bike strong when I do go back to running. The problem with that is cycling and running really don’t have much in common.
And this is where Rob de Castella comes in. To ever be able to build up to the point where you expect to be able to run 200km in a week you’re going to need to be patient. As they say, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.” And if you’re a beginner runner, as I am, those first steps, maybe even as much as the first six months, of running should be easy.
It makes my head hurt when I see coaches recommend their charges head out the door and perform hill sprints as their introduction to running, because apparently distance running is so bad, so evil, that we should avoid it at all costs. But sprinting requires the body to deal with more force than easy running. And adding hills compounds that further.
Now, I wasn’t sprinting, just running (my distinction is that running is a long distance movement while sprinting is short term and maximal speed). These efforts were over about 200m on a gentle slope. I ran them slightly faster than I would hope to run a 1000m-time trial. So, way lower force than sprinting and not on a ridiculous hill and still I suffered. I had been determined to experiment with adding in faster and more intense forms of running, as hills are something I would generally avoid for at least six months.
So here’s the first lesson that I‘ve rediscovered on my crash test dummy ironman training: Easy endurance training brings results.
It does this by keeping the intensity low. It’s often not volume that will hurt you. It’s intensity. Running hills early in your training is similar to entering the gym after only a few months of training and trying a double bodyweight deadlift. It’s just going to cause trouble. Mary has really been around when it comes to performance and she quite bluntly said to me that hills were for elite runners only and even then to be used sparingly.
The stupid part about all this is that I know better. I’m a huge advocate of Mark Allen’s advice on heart rate related training (and through him Phil Maffetone). The last time I tried it that way, back when my job involved moving over large amounts of distance as economically as possible, it paid huge dividends – a minute per kilometre over ten kilometres at the same heart rate.
So here’s this week’s lesson brought to you by the words “calf tear” and by the letter A for anti-inflammatories:
Easy endurance work is the key to building up to your 10,000 hours. It fatigues you less, meaning you can train more often, and helps slowly build up your specific strength to withstand harder and more intense training later.
Funny how something I’ve been writing about for years I completely forgot.