This week I read about the Pareto Principle, an axiom that aligns well with the second significant change I made to my training that allowed me to qualify for the Boston Marathon. I had spent three years plateauing at 30-plus minutes away from my qualifying time, so when I turned myself in to a trainer/coach in the fall of 2015, I was finally desperate enough to throw away all my preconceived notions about how one runs a faster marathon. I had spent the last few training cycles relentlessly increasing my mileage; I mean, that’s what you do to improve in an endurance sport, right? Well, my now 48-year old body had other ideas and was becoming chronically injured. Change no. 2 was basically this: Run Less; All the Other Stuff More. In other words, instead of running-running-running with a few stretches and leg strengthening exercises when I had time, I was now going to implement a system comprised of mandatory practices that were not running…and my mileage would be whatever it was going to be. What?!? So here’s the “Other Stuff”.
“The Pareto Principle: The Pareto principle has been applied to training, where roughly 20% of the exercises and habits have 80% of the impact and the trainee should not focus so much on a varied training. This does not necessarily mean that having a healthy diet or going to the gym are not important, but they are not as significant as the key activities.”
It started with a mindset shift. To be honest, I was never a super high mileage person. I know there are you machines out there who will easily tally weekly miles in the 60s and 70s, but my highest weekly mileage was around 52 miles, with a high daily mileage count at 22. Now when I was a runner in my late 20s, I could easily get away with 80% running and 20% fill-in-theblank. Not only could my youngish body handle it, but remember this was back in the late 90s, and we didn’t have all the athletic performance knowledge and technology that we do today. However, now as a chronically injured aging runner, who could no longer rely on high mileage to get me faster, I had to re-prioritize what that 20% focus was. I had the running down; I had enough endurance to finish a marathon. What I needed was to gain the strength and speed to get faster, and to do that I needed to keep my body healthy to withstand the ramped-up intensity of my training. Below is the weekly regimen I added and adhered to — in addition to my rolling and stretching — that kept my body healthy and able to perform the training necessary to reach my goal:
1. Ice and Epsom salt baths. After my track/hill sprint workouts, long runs, or even intense body workouts followed by mid-distance runs where I knew I had a quick turnaround time until the next hard training session, I would jump into an ice bath. I followed Trainer’s instructions to the letter. Four ice bags total; put three in at first; add the fourth bag after five minutes; stay in a total of 20 minutes. Yup. This sucked balls. But I did it because the ice spurred on recovery, and the faster I could recover, the more training I could do. I bookended my morning ice bath with a much nicer feeling of a warm Epsom bath at night to relax my sore muscles.
2. Cupping and Massage. Previously I relied solely on intermittent rolling to keep my muscles malleable. With the increased intensity in my training, it was vital that my body stayed loose. So I added in a weekly massage and cupping session. This cupping is a moving dry type (i.e., no fire used), and my massage therapist would glide the cups along my legs. However in the case of when my legs were super jacked up (see photo), she would position them in one location until the muscle was soft enough that the cups could move smoothly over them. Cupping gets deep under the surface and actually separates the fascia as well as draws out the impurities — my legs felt so fresh after these sessions! I had this treatment done a day or two before my long run, generally after I had done a week of intense work with Trainer.
3. Prehab. I began to live by the adage “Prehab keeps you out of Rehab.” Prehab consisted of strength training that at times included weights, but mainly focused on bandwork and tons of single-leg exercises, including with the Bosu ball and TRX. My body completely transformed and was able to stay mostly healthy (there was some time taken off, but nothing serious); more importantly it was able to take on significantly intensified strength, power, and speed training.
So while I prioritized my body maintenance and prehab, I necessarily just didn’t have as much time to get my mileage in. Quite frankly, sometimes Trainer would tell me not to run and just let my body absorb the hard training we were doing (i.e., don’t burn it off with the cardio). Gone were the days of major junk miles. You guys, get this: the most miles I ran in one week for my BQ training cycle was 42 miles, and I only had one 20-miler. That’s it. I had a couple other weeks where I ran 39 miles, but otherwise, I ran in the mid-30s and high 20s for that cycle. However, while I ran less, I also ran more efficiently. My runs had a purpose — either speed, power, endurance, or recovery. At first, it completely freaked me out how little I was running, but after each PR lead-up race, I gained confidence that if I took care of my body and kept it strong, I would be able to stay healthy and do the training my previously beat-up body could not handle. As they say in sports, the best ability is avail-ability, and by prioritizing the Other Stuff, I had now positioned myself to do the type of intense training that would take me to the next level. In my case, running less got me running faster, and eventually to reaching that magic number.