One hundred years ago they used to compare the human brain to a clock. It was one of the most sophisticated pieces of engineering that man had developed at the time so they naturally compared it to a brain.
Today we compare the human brain most often to a computer. Do you think that people one hundred years from now will look back at this comparison with the same understanding of how ridiculously inadequate it really is?
In the year 3006 they might look upon our understanding of the brain with amusement. “Can you really believe that they consider the PC to be as complex as the human brain,” they may say and shake their heads with astonishment?
So what is a good analogy and or comparison to describe the way our bodies work when we race? I’m going to take a stab at this and if you happen to be reading this in the year 3006 feel free to scratch your head and wonder how stupid they were “back-in-the-day.”
Over the years I’ve come to understand that there are three components that make-up a successful triathlete. I’ll dare to compare a successful triathlete to a high performance car. (Please chuckle away dear reader from circa 3006).
And just like a fast car the winning triathlete is made up of these three critical components. In order of importance they to you they are:
a) Your Endurance Engine
b) Your Chassis
c) Your Software
When I first started running I had this notion that I had to run as fast as possible every time I stepped out the front door. My runs would consist of about a half-hour of flogging myself up and down the local street or pushing the speed higher and higher on the treadmill.
Now don’t get any crazy notions. I wasn’t running 5-minute miles. It was more like 12-minute miles but to me it seemed very fast. It is after all just a matter of perspective.
I also believed that every time I ran, I should also run a bit further in that same half hour. After all my body should be getting fitter and stronger after each run. I didn’t realize that I was doing zero to build up my endurance engine. I was in fact developing my rather poor dragster (sprint) engine when I should have been using my neglected jet (endurance) engine.
A jet engine tends to run best at high speeds for long periods of time.
A dragster engine builds to a lightening fast top speed that takes a car from zero to two hundred in just seconds. However it cannot maintain or even sustain that speed for the time that it takes you to read this sentence. If you keep your foot on the pedal just a little too long…Kaboom!
So the obvious answer is that you want to be jet powered. You want your endurance engine to be like a powerful jet engine that just goes and goes and goes at the highest possible speed for the longest possible time.
That’s the answer, but what’s the question? It took me a while to learn the question because the question is really the key to getting fast in this sport.
I’ll tell you the question in a second, but first you may want to read your body’s owner’s manual. I took a look through mine a few years ago and it actually said to use only premium gas, (no fast food please) go in for regular check-ups (my doctor is now happy), and don’t over rev the engine if you want it to perform its peak.
It was then that I realized that the key to going fast for long periods of time was to just go slow. In other words, the best way to build up my endurance jet engine was to train slowly for longer and longer periods of time.
It seems pretty simple but it is damn hard to do. For me it meant keeping my heart rate below 140 when I ran. I have to confess that I want to push myself when I train. I want to feel spent, sore and tired after a workout. And running full out for a half-hour certainly made me feel that way. But unfortunately it didn’t make me much faster at the next race.
But something funny happened when I started running longer at a slower pace while keeping the heart rate below 140. Slowly and over a few months of time I notice that I was running faster and faster miles.
At first I was running 13-minute miles with my heart rate at 140. But over time I noticed that I was able to maintain 12-minute miles and 11 and even 10-minute miles all the while keeping my heart rate at 140.
I also noticed that I wasn’t as spent, sore, and tired after my long runs. This became a very good thing when I started to take the sport more seriously, and began having a few double workout days during the week.
It may be great to feel spent when you run just a half-hour a few times a week but it really stinks when you still have to bike or swim that same day. It is after all a triathlon, as my coach likes to say.
So what’s the question that I finally realized I should have been asking myself?
“How do I increase the power of my endurance engine to run at the highest possible speed for the longest possible time?”
That’s the $10,000 dollar question in the sport of triathlon.
Next time we’ll talk about tuning up your chassis for peak performance.