18 October 2010

On Maintenance

Having run several ultra-marathons, I often get asked “How many miles per week do you run?” A reasonable question. People are always surprised when I respond quite unreasonably: “Maybe 3 miles.”

Now this 3 miles, more or less (often less), is really all I need anymore. With playing soccer on weekends periodically, running sprints every few weeks, and even standing up at work, I have reached a maintenance stage in terms of running ultras. For minimal investment, once (sometimes twice) a month this year I have gone and run 30-50 miles of trails without issue. Have I ever won an ultra? No. I’ve always been about just finishing them and, a bit later, to finish them feeling good. Also, I have never fully adapted to certain terrain in my Vibram Treks. Mountains with lots of rocks = pain for us barefoot runners. But I digress.

I see at least 3 main phases in taking up a sport, hobby, or obtaining a certain ability: Training, Maintenance, and Mastering. Once you’ve trained long enough, you will reach a point where you can, like ultra-running for me, be able to do little work to generally maintain your competence. You can also continue training to try to master said sport/hobby/ability, but that usually involves further sacrifices. For me, training to a point where minimal investment will preserve my ability or skill is all I want. It allows me to go try something else, or focus on other parts of my life I put aside when I took up serious training.

This idea also works well with dog obedience. After significant time investment in training my dogs, I can then maybe once a week or month test them. This also involves finding the ideal time between ‘tests’ to see if the proficiency is still there. If I wait a month and one of the dogs seems to have forgotten a command I will shorten the time between ‘tests’ and/or start training again. Similar with running, I found running a long run (typically in the form of a race) a month was more than enough to stay proficient at long distance running.
I am all for trying new things, meeting new people, and not damaging my social life, so when I train, I train hard. I train knowing that eventually I will hit a point where everything is easier; I can devote time elsewhere and ultimately have accomplished something impressive. Life is too short to spend it training.