Friday, January 24, 2014

The 10% Rule

I’ve just been sitting here planning my training for running a marathon. I find doing this overwhelmingly boring, so instead I’m going to procrastinate and talk about what I’ve already done.

I currently run 3.1 miles a day, six days a week. That’s a 5k a day, and it totals 18.6 miles a week. I’m proud of myself for this. This was my original goal when, last spring, I struggled to run half a mile, and since then I’ve been able to steadily increase my distance until I hit 3.1 at the end of November. I say I’m proud while writing this, but the fact is that at the end of a run, I usually don’t feel any better after 3.1 miles than I did after half a mile. I’m still spluttering and coughing and sore. The difference now, I suppose, is that I know improvement is possible, while last May I was sure that I was just a failure.

Will Smith once said that you have to approach any big job like you’re building a wall. You don’t try to build the wall all at once; you take it one brick at a time. I’m paraphrasing, but the gist was that you lay one brick perfectly, focus everything on that, and eventually you’ll have a kick-ass wall. Now he was also in Wild Wild West and made his son an actor, so his judgment isn’t exactly bulletproof, but I agree with him in that quote.

If I think about running a marathon all at once, I feel like the character in a movie that tries to pick a fight with a seated bully who seems a reasonable size, but then the bully stands up and is really huge and intimidating, so the first character gulps and tries to smooth things over but still usually gets punched in the face. What I’m saying is that a marathon is a little too big and scary to approach just now. Let’s back off and instead pick a fight with its smaller buddies.

This upcoming spring, I want to run 6.2 miles per day, six days a week. That’s a 10k a day, and it totals 37.2 miles a week. This is a LOT more than I’m doing right now. You math whizzes have probably already figured out that it is double what I’m doing now. So even though this isn’t a big marathon-wall, it’s still a huge brick. So let’s focus on the mini-bricks that form the larger 10k-brick’s foundation. Or…would it be the cement that is poured to form the 10k-brick? I’ve completely lost this metaphor. Sorry, Will. What I’m getting at is THE 10% RULE.

THE 10% RULE, so capitalized because every running blog or website on earth has something to say about it, states that you should not increase your total distance by more than 10% from one week to the next. This is so straightforward and lovely, isn’t it? But like any general rule, it must be translated for certain types of people.

Some runners are great. I love watching them. Their bodies are full of tight springs and straight metal rulers that result in hard lines and precisely calculated movement. Their form is fluid and beautiful, and in spandex you might mistake them for a costumed superhero. They can increase their runs by 10% or more every week, no problem.

Some runners, and by “some” I mean “me,” are full of soft cheese and wet paper. They’ll rumble down a trail, squeaking and flopping, until everything has become too difficult and they have to lie down. In spandex clothing, they resemble a tightly wrapped burrito both visually and olfactorily.* Any increase in distance risks upsetting the delicate peace their fragile bodies have made with physical exertion.

As I mentioned before, I fall into the second group. When I was increasing my distance the first time, I cut the 10% rule in half and increased by about 5% a week, which in the beginning was just running a couple of steps farther before collapsing. I quickly understood that increasing distance was like building a house of cards in a windstorm; add things carefully, because it’s all likely to collapse soon. I made it through by remembering two things: first, increasing even by two steps is a success; and second, as I mentioned last time, running any distance makes you a runner and you should be proud. Even if you smell like a burrito.

But for me, I want to be a springs and rulers runner. I want to end 5k’s, 10k’s, and even marathons with only a light sheen of sweat on my forehead and a spring still in my step. So when winter ends and I begin increasing my distance again, I’m going to increase it by 10% every week. I’m no math whiz, but I did the calculations, and this means that I will double my 5k to a 10k in 8 weeks. Damn.

It’s okay, though. A 10k is just a brick in a wall. It’s a normal-sized bully seated at a table. Totally manageable.

…The more I think about it, though, the more I suspect that the bully is actually huge, and when he gets up he’s going to smash me in the face with a brick. I’ll keep you guys updated!

* I don’t care if this isn’t a word. If it isn’t then it totally should be.

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