I’m a big fan of efficiency and getting the biggest bang for the buck. A fancier way to phrase this is I like to apply the Pareto principal to my life. In general, the smartest 20% of the effort results in 80% of the gains. If you apply this to all areas of your life you get more results from less effort. You free up time and resources to do things that would otherwise not be possible.
If you have been reading the blog for a while you know I like to experiment. I have done many interesting and successful experiments with diet, exercise, meditation, alcohol, etc. My most recent experiment was to see if I would successfully run a half marathon without actually doing any running beforehand. I wanted to see how far I could push this principal of efficiency. My hypothesis was that if I did enough walking and core strength training I would still be able to run a respectable (for me) half marathon. I would do the vast majority of my ‘training’ in between short episodes of playing video games as I described in this post. You should probably go read it if you have not already done so. I actually have another natural experiment coming up over the next several months that I can’t wait to tell you about, but that will be another post.
Well the results are in and this experiment was a…
Utterly and completely a failure…
But I learned a thing or two…
And I want you to learn from my mistakes…
So many mistakes…
Things started off well. I started doing strength exercises every day. The core of these consisted of push-ups, two handed kettle bell swings, squats, and deadlifts (again using kettle bells). I even kept a journal for the first few days. I actually had to limit my video game play a few times because I was so damn sore from the working out! I continued my routine of walking, but I did no running.
I did get stronger without gaining any significant weight. I felt good. But…
I started to get a little lazy. Sometimes I would play a couple of games and ‘forget’ to do strength work every time. I was not 100% committed which is important.
Lesson 1: It is easy to slip back. Mental commitment is key to changing a habit.
I was progressing though. Things were looking good until…
Cross country travel.
I don’t mind actually being other places, but I really hate actually getting to other places, especially if it involves the increasingly uncomfortable and maddening experience of domestic air travel in the United States. Drive to airport. Fly on uncomfortable cramped flight with layover. Get crappy rental car. Drive to hotel. Sleep in unfamiliar bed.
This sequence of events caused me to wake up with excruciating back pain which lasted about a week or two. I’ve dealt with back pain before, and to be honest this was not nearly as bad as my last episode. But it set my training back a bit. Even when I recovered the habit I had created for myself was destroyed. I did halfhearted attempts at strength training, but never really got into the groove. Race day was approaching and I knew I was under-prepared. I was still confident though. Mental toughness and pride would see me through.
Lesson 2: Traveling sucks.
I was not running alone. Mrs. Happy Philosopher was running the race as well, and she is a mean, lean running machine. I knew she would beat me, but I thought maybe we could run together for a few miles.
I was wrong.
After a half mile or so she was lost in the crown ahead of me, and by a mile she was long gone. Oh well, all I had to do was run my race. Not too fast, keep form and stay strong. I’ve done this dance many times.
Almost from the very start I knew this wasn’t going to be an easy run. My legs felt a little flat and didn’t have the spring that I was used to. Anyone who runs often knows what I’m talking about. I attributed this to lack of running over the last few months. It was not that horrible though, and by mile four I actually felt pretty good. I think I was at just over an 8 minute per mile pace which is pretty darn good for me on the trails. I was breathing fairly easy and I could tell my heart rate was at a nice easy rate.
The good times were not going to last though, because at right around mile 6 is where my old nemesis came to meet me and reintroduce me to humility.
Mr. Philosopher, meet pissed off iliotibial band (ITB). The ITB is a tough band of connective tissue attaching your lateral pelvis to you knee. It and its associated muscles are involved in flexion/extension and abduction of the hip. In addition, the ITB contributes to lateral knee stabilization, and is thought to absorb and store much of the energy generated from the impact of running. It is a major player in the whole running and walking thing.
Now the iliotibial band (ITB) may sound like a rather boring structure to you. I can assure you it is not boring when it is angry. When mine is fired up it feels like someone is stabbing my anterior lateral knee with a serrated dagger with each agonizing step. As I try and compensate and stabilize my knee by recruiting other structures, sometimes the pain moves up to my hip or even down into my calf and ankle.
I felt the twinge right around 6 miles. Shit. I knew my day was over and I still had 7 miles to go. Some things I can run through, but ITB syndrome is not one of them. I can gut it out for a mile or so, but after that my mental toughness just wears down and I have to stop. My ITB is what blew up my one and only marathon and made it my worst racing day ever. This was déjà vu all over again.
Lesson 3: You can’t battle an angry iliotibial band.
Over the next 6 miles I did a combination of light running, stretching and walking. I was not discouraged though. I just kept pushing on.
By about mile 10 or 11 it was apparent the types of people I was running with had changed. There were fewer hard core runners back here. I was firmly in the ‘cotton tee-shirt and backpacks full of water crowd’. This is not usually where I find myself in a race. In case you were wondering, you should never run a race that long in cotton (really you just shouldn’t wear cotton period when running). It is a terrible racing fabric. It has very poor temperature control when it gets wet and it chaffs like nobody’s business. You also do not need one of these in a fully supported race with water stations every mile or so in temperatures below 50 degrees. It will only weigh you down and tempt you to over-hydrate, consequently increasing your risk for hyponatremia (too little sodium).
In any event,I actually had a good time chatting with people a bit. I had more time and breath to encourage people. The race had a much mellower vibe back there and it was quite enjoyable. Incidentally I have never heard the phrase ‘on your left’ more times than this race, as a steady stream of runners politely passed me.
Lesson 4: You can still enjoy life when it doesn’t go as planned. Detaching from outcomes leads to greater satisfaction.
I had a couple of chances near the end of the race to bail out the last mile or two, but I forced myself to continue. I’m not sure why. I fully realize at this point that there was no real purpose to my decision. It was not rational. Any ego I had was long since demolished since IF I finished I would still be about 30 minutes behind my goal time. The last two miles were particularly nasty with hills and my risk of injury running on tired, painful legs was high, but I kept pushing. The pain was horrible on the steeper downhill stretches but I wanted to see where I could take my mind and body. I wanted to feel the extreme discomfort. I think we can learn something about ourselves in these moments.
Lesson 5: Pain is an excellent teacher.
I limped across the finish line to a mildly concerned Mrs. Happy Philosopher.
“IT band”, I muttered.
She nodded and instantly knew in three syllables the last 2 hours of my life.
“Well it’s not raining and they have beer!”, she said with a smile.
And there you go. I may not have the best training plans, but at least I married the right woman.