11 February 2015

“when nothing is sure, everything is possible.”

a little while ago my attention was piqued by the premise of a book called Antifragile.  steve magness had alluded to this book in one of his blogposts that i'd read from late last year and immediately i was intrigued by the notion that organisms and entities can benefit by deliberately exposing themselves to uncertainty, risk, adversity and change.

in many ways this is a mantra by which i tend to live.

however, it's not something that i'd thought to put into practice with regard to my race training regimen.

don't get me wrong - there's variety in my schedule.  for one, i don't run on the treadmill, so stepping out the door each and every day (regardless of lighting, ambient air and/or windchill temperature, traction conditions, and accumulated amount of precipitation) provides me with multiple route options.  still i will admit that i have 6 or 7 'favourite' paths to cover depending on the targeted workout (e.g. tempo run, interval training, hills).  i suppose that everyone has some tried and true standbys that they go to when tackling a particular type of run, partly because we are by nature creatures of habit.

and yet, if we do consider the thesis that athletes who race in variable conditions (e.g. weather, course undulation, fatigue level, susceptibility to injury, nutritional demands/processing, adherence to race strategy) benefit more by training in non-linear/predictable environments then we'd do well to seek out curveballs in our workouts.

i know that that this may seem like an unsound training approach.  my former running coach would have cringed at the thought of mixing up workouts in this way - his view was that improvement was best measured in an apples-to-apples kind of situation, so all interval workouts should be conducted on a standard 400m multi-lane track.  without those kinds of standardized metrics his opinion would have been that i'd/we'd have no idea where my fitness and speed levels really resided.

and yet there's something to be said for each person knowing their own needs and design best.  i'm certainly not adverse to change (what nassim nicholas taleb would deem 'fragile'), and i'm not even someone who just built to withstand the rigours of change and adversity (taleb's definition of 'robust') - but i'd consider myself a person who seeks out new challenges, new experiences and new expressions - quite potentially an 'antifragile' personality.  as such, i'd be more inclined and perhaps adept at actively engaging diversification across workouts - even those covering the same distances and intensities.

believing that this type of tactic jives with me, what has that looked like?
  • tempo runs that are not on the flats, but that have taken me out into the countryside on routes that had previously been reserved for long and/or easy runs 
  • long and/or easy runs that do not follow a loop course but that rather meander down city streets, exploring neighbourhoods that i've never wandered through before
  • hill work that varies from 10s steep (12%) hill sprints to 6% grade 30s hill repeats
  • pre-dawn runs that are sometimes preceded by a snack, sometimes by nothing
  • some runs gauged by pace, some by heartrate, others simply by feel.
i realize that this is not earth-shattering to most of you, but for me it is reflective of my attempt to become more and more #antifragile.

how do you mix it up - if you choose to do so at all?



  1. Honestly it depends on the weather. I like to mix up my routes and my training but it's not always an option in the winter. Snow plowing of trails and sidewalks are not a priority in my city so that puts a damper on my runs and I don't have a treadmill.

    1. thanks for your comment crystal! i get that - i'll run all winter long and some days i'll be dealing with up to 30cm of unplowed snow. i guess that we have all to take what comes our way!

  2. "One extends ones limits only by exceeding them" M. Scott Peck. It's good to stretch the boundaries of the usual workout. It's interesting, motivating, and can lead to really good results. The usual habits good for getting me out the door, but balancing habits with new experiences is a very good thing too.

    1. great quote! thanks for commenting - i find that some days it's great motivation to step out into the moonlit mornings in eager anticipation of trying something/somewhere new. that being said, i also realize that
      "What has been will be again,
      what has been done will be done again;
      there is nothing new under the sun." (Eccl. 1:9).

  3. I try to vary the route taken, though I don't always have a choice in winter. I did a few long sunday runs last year repeating the same loop 10+ times. It's hard not to start talking to yourself those times.

    1. thanks for reading and commenting, peter! loops drive me absolutely bananas ... although i have a couple of trail races coming up this year that are looped courses, and of course it's recommended to practice the way that you will race!

  4. Excellent post as always Patrick. I think I will mark this down as my next book to read. I've been stuck in a rut lately and have started trying new things out this year in terms of mixing up my hard workouts. I am hoping for a new marathon PB in the Fall.