Three months ago, if you told me to run or ride a bike for an hour I'd have told you to f* off. Then I'd go back to lifting weights, or lifting them faster, and calling that "cardio." Perhaps I was a little bit right, and had a lot to learn. So I went to school.
I recently finished Nonprophet's 12 Week Endurance Program (Newbie Edition). If you're interested in the technical details, review my Endurance Instagram Stories or Part 2 (coming soon) of this article.
Much more to the point of the program as I understand it, I want to illustrate what I've learned as a "non-runner" amassing more Zone 2 and Zone 3 hours in the last 12 weeks than I have in the previous 12 years.
In case you're not familiar with Mark or Michael's work, I linked the program itself (above) as well as one of Mark's recent essays. These, and my response (below) to the above essay set the stage nicely, so pardon me for skipping around.
"We don't see the world as it is, we see it as we are." ~ Anais Nin
"People will do anything, no matter how absurd, to avoid facing their own souls." ~ Carl Jung
Why continue? Because you wanted it right? You're telling yourself you wanted (and still want) it, right? Were you faking it more then, or now? Maybe the hardest part is that you, or what you wanted changed? Maybe it's that you don't even know what you want?
Rhetorically, I'm kicking myself with all these same questions and tentatively I'd have to answer: "Because it never was about 'them'; it was about the defiant presence I wanted to have define me."
What I Learned:
The raw / complete notes to myself – right from my whiteboard – are at the bottom of this page. But I'll summarize what stands out to me when I look at the program in it's totality:
- This is the first "running" program I've ever completed in my life.
- I still hate "cardio."
- I have more appreciation and respect for "endurance people."
- Nothing hurt at the end of the program (other than "normal" grappling hurts).
- I've had to redefine and (re)consider a lot of things.
Let's start with the obvious:
I still hate "cardio."
I'm more comfortable in the weight room, no surprises there. However, that makes this program all the more significant in that I could suck it up for 3 months; requiring much more investment than a typical 30-day challenge.
This is the first "running" program I've ever completed.
In graduate school, I tried a "couch to 5k" program for similar reasons; because I hated running and I wanted to challenge myself. I made it two or three weeks before the shin splints and low back strain forced me back to the couch.
What I loved most about the Nonprophet program is that it utilized more than "monolithic" training session to develop aerobic ability and awareness with multiple tools and movements.
With the typical (misplaced) focus on "how fast"; there isn't room to develop the requisite technique (hence the proclivity for injury). However, here, only when I ignored a proper warm up did my shins explode, and never to the point that it derailed the program.
I have more appreciation for "endurance people."
It's not that I didn't understand or respect other disciplines prior, it's that I didn't have a proper reference point to draw context from. I'm not saying I run fast – I'm lucky to hold a 10 min / mile pace – but I'm saying "go for an hour" sounds less shitty than before.
That changes things, both internally and externally. It's worth noting that I had no idea what these "Zone" terms meant prior either. Conditioning is conditioning right? I was aware of aerobic vs. anaerobic-lactic vs. alactic energy systems, but I hadn't thought out (let alone experienced) the continuum that they exist on in a way that would do each justice.
I've had to redefine and (re)consider a lot of things.
Often "Zone 2" is referred to as a "conversational" pace. For me, finding a cadence of breath was a helpful reference point (3 sniffs in, out through a straw). If I needed to breathe through my teeth or could only get sniff-sniff-puff, I knew I was well in to Zone 3 (or closer to Z4). So, I'd simply walk until I could regain control of my breath before proceeding to trot.
I also had to re-introduce carbohydrates in the form of honey somewhere around Week 3 or 4. I'll have an entire post on this, but suffice to say that (data on my FitBit backs this up, see Part 2) I was burning a lot more sugar fuel than previously, which put me in a pickle on a carnivore diet and trying to train two hours of jiujitsu then run for an hour, and do it again tomorrow.
I've already written that I've had to reconsider my Strength & Conditioning Standards as well as the concept of "standards" in general. "Fitness" ostensibly means you are "fit" for a given task. So, while I felt my lungs and heart were generally "fit", they (and the infrastructure of my feet, ankles, and shins) were very underdeveloped for the purposes of running – again, the context of how long or how far are paramount.
Odds and Ends
I am still not an efficient runner. Depending on the calculation used, my Zone 2 heart rate is 130 - 140 bpm. Obviously the main skill to be developed was to learn how to maintain that pace through a variety of movements (running, riding, jump rope, burpees, kettlebell swings, etc.).
As evidence of my own learning, typically this range was held, but there were a few occasions the average bumped to the 150s or even 160s. Zooming out for a second though, I'd hardly call that a failure.
If we're talking about enduring – one's ability to keep going – the fact that I sustained an average heart rate of 163 bpm for 60 minutes (Session 12.2) paints quite a different picture from the gasping exhaustion a couple months prior of 172 bpm for 28 minutes (Session 1.3) – which I thought was a "long" duration at the time.
Truthfully, I wasn't sure what was going to happen on this program. I was, and still am not, "a runner." I am, however, someone who wants to challenge themselves to do difficult things; particularly by questioning the narratives I tell myself.
So, I didn't expect to be "converted", and I'll not be doing any marathons (ever). But I will appreciate the mental fortitude required to endure.
The proverbial "dark side of the moon" for any given effort is somewhere between the 1/3 and 3/4 mark. About 1/3 of the way in to something you start to realize the scope of what you bit off.
The third quarter is too deep to turn back (as it would be further than finishing), but you cannot yet see the "light at the end of the tunnel" as in the fourth and final quarter.
However, I also feel like the second third of said fourth quarter also brings a mental challenge. You get a little hope rounding third base and headed home, but realize you're not close enough completely empty the tank and cash out. The real mental f* starts when part of your brain tells you "quit and call it good (enough), you did enough to post a sweaty post-workout pic on Instagram and garner a few likes."
That is the hallmark of what it means to endure; to continue when you want to quit, when it makes sense to quit, when you've already done "enough." Therein lies the problem. "Good enough" will never be great. The great ones (at anything) always endure longer than the unmemorable ones who impressed just enough to get recognized – for a while.
Complete Training Notes Log
- 1.2: Daily dog walks as recovery
- 1.3: Pace your breathing, no hurry
- 2.1: Too aggressive with lifts yesterday
- 2.3: Overuse / elbows with bike and press
- 3.1: HRV tanked to 30, still too aggressive with lifts
- 3.2: Tight achilies, but more stable HR
- 4.1: HR peaks and vallies, but good overall average
- 5.3: Still learning rep / time efficiency for exercises
- 6.2: Emphasize randomizing track, focus on breathing cadence, not arbitrary rest points
- 6.3: Not efficent at burpees or step overs (long reps)
- 7.2: shin splints on concrete, eased after 40 min
- 7.3: Shin splints on concrete, substitute with exercise
- 9.1: Good intuition (fatiuge) vs. HRV (moderate) to take a rest day
- 11.1: 55 min, could go longer; did I finally "learn" Zone 2?
- 11.1: Outdoor trails make a huge mental difference, and I need more time in nature anyway (so does the dog)
- 12.1: Last mono session, this hurt, worse early, tough grind all the way, darkest quarter of every quarter