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Week 3: Turning the dial (a little)
Lessons from Gretchen Reynolds and Keira D'Amato
So, we’re a couple of weeks into our training now. We ran 12 miles the first week, followed by 14 miles last week — and we have 15 miles coming up over the week ahead of us. That’s real progress! Each of us deserves a pat on the back, as we really are starting to get somewhere 🙌
These first couple of weeks, you’ve probably guessed, have been about easing in to our training cycle. We haven’t attempted anything extra-challenging just yet, especially if you’d been running regularly coming into January.
Instead, we’re establishing a habit of running 4 days a week, every week, and keeping our mileage low enough so that creating and sticking to that habit won’t be too much, too soon.
If we wanted to, we could stay at this mileage, at the times and distances we’re running, indefinitely. And it would be great for our health. As Gretchen Reynolds points out in The First Twenty Minutes, her excellent 2012 book on exercise, “the greatest benefit from exercise comes from getting up off the couch… everything after that is incremental.”
What she means is that most of the health benefits most people get from exercise come in the first twenty minutes. (Hence her book’s title.) If you’ve been sedentary and then begin exercising regularly, you experience a steep curve upward in those first few weeks that plateaus soon after.
But if we want to see improvements in our fitness level or athletic performance, we need to apply the overload principle — “the one overriding truth in exercise physiology,” Reynolds writes:
“Overload is not a complicated idea. The word encapsulates the concept. Overload simply means that … ‘improved athletic performance is the result of systematic and progressive training of sufficient frequency, intensity, and duration.’ You can’t keep doing the same old workout and improve athletically. The body gets used to a certain level of activity with impressive rapidity. So you have to ratchet things up.
You’ve no doubt experienced overload in action. Maybe you used to puff and struggle on the elliptical machine after twenty minutes and soon felt obliged to quit for the day. Then after a few weeks those same twenty minutes became easy. From then on, you could, should you so choose, repeat that same undemanding workout — with unchanged time, distance, and resistance level — for the rest of your life and continue to accrue health benefits.
But if you wanted to become fitter, faster, or in general tougher, you’d have to dial up the resistance or prolong the workout. You’d puff and struggle again, and slowly grow used to the new workload. You would have overloaded your cardiovascular and other systems, let them readjust, and from a fitness and athletic standpoint, improved.”
As she writes later in the book, we have three dials we can turn to achieve this: the number of times we work out — in our case, run — in a week, the length of time each workout lasts, and/or the intensity of any given workout.
The good news is, if you’ve been following our training plan these past couple of weeks, you’ve already begun this process. Slowly but surely, we’re ramping up the number of miles we run — we’ve already started the process of becoming fitter.
(For you, it might not quite feel like it yet; some days, it doesn’t to me either! But my body is already beginning to feel more comfortable with each run, I noticed yesterday. If you haven’t already, I hope you’ll soon experience a similar feeling.)
How did your running go over the past week? How is each run going for you? What’s the toughest/easiest part? I’d love to hear, either in the comments or in a reply back.
For the week ahead, here’s our training schedule:
Thursday, Jan. 20 — 4 miles
Saturday, Jan. 22 — 5 miles
Sunday, Jan. 23 — 3 miles
Tuesday, Jan. 25 — 4 miles
I hope this week goes well for you and, as always, keep in touch and let me know how your running is going, whether you’re following our plan or not.
This inspired me
If you haven’t already heard about it, something happened over this past weekend that shook up the running world — Keira D’Amato, a 37-year-old mother of two who quit distance running after college, broke the American record in the women’s marathon.
(You may have even seen her on The Today Show this week!)
What’s so amazing about D’Amato’s story is how she has juggled her passion for running with raising her two children and her career as a real estate agent in Richmond, Va. “If you would have told me I’d be here now, I wouldn’t have believed you,” she said in one interview, adding that she picked running back up in recent years as a way to “have a little space in a chaotic life.”
Lindsay Crouse, a New York Times journalist who writes often about running, tells her story much better than I can:
As Crouse notes in her tweets, in recent years D’Amato has competed in races like the Boston Marathon, always aiming to improve her times:
Can you ask for a more inspirational story than that? I don’t know about you, but when I hear stories like D’Amato’s, it makes me want to go out for a run so I can experience some of that energy too. Let’s all have a great run out there today — and, see you on Friday! 🏃♂️🏃♀️🏃