And so it begins – incremental gains

So, as I write this blog post it is 27 weeks until I will be lacing up my trainers and running the South Downs Way 100!

For those of who budding Carol Vorderman’s out there, you will quickly realise that this is just over half a year. This seems like a very long time. Despite this, my training plan has already begun.

As I blogged on my previous post “Why you should write your own training plan”, I have written my own training plan. Usually I would write a plan then ignore it, but this is not going to be the case this time.

The reason I know this to be the case, is that I have recently become very interested in the idea of “incremental gains”. Whilst the theory behind this is simple to understand, the ramifications are profound.

Image result for milo carrying calf
Milo and his bull

Imagine you are learning to do something, which you regularly practice, but you only get 1% better at that thing week on week. It would be logical to assume that over 27 weeks you would be 27% better at that thing, but this is not how it works. Now you are going to have to bear with me a bit here, this gets a bit mathematical, but if you read to the end I am sure it will be worth it 😉

Each 1% is compounded, meaning that rather than being 27% better, you are actually almost 30% better (trust me, the maths works out here). Where this starts to get interesting is if you improve faster than 1%. So a 2% week on week increase in fitness would mean an overall increase over 27 weeks of 67% on your overall fitness. 3% would equal a 115% increase in fitness.

So the £64,000 question is, can you realistically improve 3% on your fitness week after week after week? The answer to this is a definite no (as you will see below), but it is also not needed. 1% is good enough. If we were to break this down to something everybody could relate to, lets say your 5km time, it starts to makes sense.

If on week one I am capable of a 30 minute 5km (which in my case I am), then 1% week on week improvement would mean that at the end of 27 weeks I should be able to run 5km in 23 minutes and 10 seconds. This is a simply huge improvement, but is spread out over 27 weeks, so possibly achievable.

On the contrary, if I improved by 3% week on week, then I would be running a 13minute 55 second 5km after 27 weeks. Now I think we can all agree this is impossible. So 3% improvement not likely, but 1% possible? I am not sure, but lets carry on theorising regardless.

But I am not running 5km. I am running 100 miles, with a 30 hour cut off period. So lets look at the same numbers for a marathon

As things stand, my marathon PB is 5 hours. Improving 1% on my marathon pace week on week over 27 weeks would see me theoretically capable of a 3 hour 51 minute marathon at the end of that 27 week period. Now this is much more like it. Even a half of a percentage improvement week on week would see me cutting 40 minutes off of my marathon time over 27 weeks.

Now I would hope that the 1% improvement is achievable. Get the exercise right, stay injury free and eat clean and I should be OK. So that is my plan. Try to get 1% better week on week for the next 27 weeks. If I can hit this, I can finish 100 miles. I have no doubt.

I told you, it is all about incremental gains.