When training, it is important to start slow and taper off

2014-11-29 00:00

I WAS first introduced to the slogan “Start slow and taper off” in 1994 through a good friend, Joe Oakes.

Joe is an ultra runner, distance swimmer and organiser of many events, including the “Escape from Alcatraz Swim” in San Francisco and the “Key to Shining Key 100 Miler” down the keys of Florida.

Comparing any training or racing proposal to the effects of the pendulum, Newton’s laws and simple logics is a great way to separate the wheat from the chaff in the myth-filled world of sports training.

For example, the sudden application of a load on any mechanism becomes considerably more destructive than a gradual increase in intensity.

If for instance, you attach a weight to an elastic band, and simply let the weight go, it will plummet under the force of gravity, frequently exceeding the strength of the elastic band.

On the other hand, if you lower the weight gradually, then there is every chance that the band will adapt to the gradual loading and the weight will remain suspended at the end of the band — the sole difference being the method of application of the weight.

Similarly, when finishing a hot and humid run, there is a temptation to jump into a cold shower to cool off. However, instead of leaving you cool and refreshed, you end up sweating profusely, as the body first closes down and then compensates for the sudden application of cold.

Commencing in a warm shower and gradually reducing the temperature allows your core temperature to follow suit, with minimal sweating once you have dressed. Extending the shower may actually cool the core to the point that you require additional clothing.

This is just one more example of pendulum principle — there are many examples, including the need and benefits of warming up and cooling down.

At rest or in the office, we almost stagnate — circulation, breathing, heart rate and other functions are minimised. It is, therefore, detrimental to expect the body to make a swift transition to a high-level activity, such as running, even if that is at a relatively slow pace.

A sudden start puts your body under stress, requiring a catch-up scenario from which it struggles to recover unless the pressure is reduced.

This is the typical situation when you arrive just after your training partners have started a group run and you have to play catch up for the first kilometre.

Compare this with the day that you start “overly easy” while talking to a slower member of the group.

With your heart rate taking five or 10 minutes to reach its normal long slow run levels, the body adapts to the exercise, and then you have available power and speed at the end of the run. Starting slow is the prerequisite to finishing strong in any form of exercise.

If it is important to commence easy to get the best from your body before training, then it’s logical also to ensure a gradual adaptation back to rest at end of exercise.

This was highlighted for me when catching up with friends this weekend. My friend had suffered his third heart attack and frankly, given the heart muscle damage, the medics were amazed that he was still able to run. A couple of biokineticists put him through a stress test and determined that the cause was not the exercise, but rather the abrupt stopping after the exercise that resulted in reactionary high blood pressure. This initiated the heart attack — the pendulum reaction at work again.

Of course, many runners run fast from the outset and stop immediately because they want the absolute maximum distance for their weekly logbook figure.

The bottom line is that you cannot expect to get the best out of your running if you ignore or don’t obey the basic engineering principles. Apply and remove loads gradually. Sudden actions bring sudden reactions. So take your time in getting into and out of all your training sessions or as Joe would say: “Start easy and taper off”. It became the slogan for his San Francisco running club.

You can follow the Old Mutual Coach on www.dogreatthings.co.za and follow daily training programmes for your Marathon in The Witness every day.

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