2016 was not a great year emotionally for me in the sport of triathlon. Physically, I felt totally fine. I stayed injury free all year and was running and cycling at paces just as strong as I’ve ever been. My mind, though, was over it.
I was in my first full year of being a busy stay at home mom to three young kids, dragging myself, exhausted onto the trainer or treadmill to sneak in intense workouts. Difficult when all I wanted to do was sit…for a moment. Be still. I grew to resent my workouts. I felt chronically emotionally and physically run down.
During the same time, I happened upon an article that a teammate posted after a former professional triathlete who collapsed and died during a normal swim workout. Another teammate responded that a cardiologist she works with routinely warns her against the excesses of chronic, intense cardio. I dug into it further and found many new articles and research coming out in support of this.
Research was telling me that my chronic endurance training and intervals were actually harming my physical body and, at the time, I also was feeling like my emotional self was struggling as a result of it as well. I can tell you, this led to some soul searching.
A friend introduced me to the book, Primal Endurance by Mark Sisson. In it, he outlines the dangers of chronic cardio. Which, he defines as too many moderate to difficult intensity workouts. Consequences of which being, among other things, burn out, reduced performance and inflammation and hardening of the arteries.
My mind and my body were telling me I needed to find another way. Research and this book were confirming it and giving me even more information to consider.
Sisson promotes countering this culture of chronic cardio with refocusing your efforts and building an efficient aerobic machine. What that mainly consists of is starting your season with a long base season of strictly aerobic work. The main focus is to take a relaxed approach to training, throw away your fixed workout schedule, letting your body that day be your guide for what your workout is and, most importantly, not allowing your heart rate to rise above 180 minus your age in beats per minute (bpm). This base season is to last a minimum of 8 weeks, but really should last as long as necessary to start seeing aerobic improvement in your performance. So, the goal is to see running paces, for example, become faster at the same (low) aerobic heart rate as the weeks go by. Then, and only then, is your body ready to add speed work.
So, it’s with this new knowledge and focus that my goals for 2017 started to emerge. It’s time for me to try something new. Anyone who knows me will appreciate how difficult it is for me to slow down and stick to a low heart rate regiment during this base period. It is counter to everything in my being. However, I am committed to making myself a guinea pig for this new athletic endeavor.
On January 1 I ended a 2 month rest hiatus and began my 8 weeks of strict cardio, or 180-my age bpm. I’ve fielded a lot of questions since then from teammates and friends who’ve seen me out “running” ridiculously slow miles or who’ve asked me what my 2017 race calendar is. I want to use this blog as a way to track my progress with this new slow adventure. I am offering myself to you as a human experiment. Slowing down for this length of time seems so counter-intuitive to the way most of us have trained. I would be lying if I told you that I didn’t doubt it. The way I see it, though, is that I have nothing to lose. If my results are poor, what have I lost? Really, nothing. One season. But, if I am successful, I have gained a huge amount. A healthier cardiovascular system and a more balanced approach to training.
I want to be clear. I am not a doctor. I am not a nutrition expert. Hell, I haven’t even finished the book. The point is that I want to take you on my journey so you can use my experience to make informed decisions for yourself. I will post here with regular updates on how training is progressing as well as the real scoop on how performance is impacted.
I am going to start tracking progress on Instagram and twitter at ThislifeIrun. You can also find me on strava if you’d like to see my daily data.
I encourage questions! You can either post them as comments on this blog or message me on facebook. I am a complete open book on this. I will give you the good, the bad and the ugly.
If you are looking for more information I would encourage you to check out the following resources:
- The TEDx talk, Run for your life! At a comfortable pace, and not too far by James O’Keefe, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y6U728AZnV0
- The blog, A Case Against Cardio (from a Former Mileage King) By Mark Sisson http://www.marksdailyapple.com/case-against-cardio/
- Primal Endurace: Escape chronic cardio and carbohydrate dependency and become a fat burning beast! by Mark Sisson
- The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing by Phil Maffetone