Recently, I did something I’ve never done before.
As I set off at the starting line of a 5K in Sacramento, I made the personal commitment to run the entire race without walking or stopping. Now for someone who has completed a marathon before, this might not seem like a big deal. 3.1 miles. No sweat, right?!
While I once logged over 600 miles in the six months during my marathon training back in 2007, I never ran over two miles continuously before taking a walk break. Our training program had split us into “pace groups” where we would run for two minutes and then walk for 30 seconds to recover before starting the cycle again.
This particular training method worked wonders for being able to sustain a steady pace as a novice runner attempting my first marathon. As I started this 5K I was ready to take on a whole new level of personal challenge!
Starting out, everyone seemed to be passing me. Not exactly motivating! But instead of running as fast as these other racers, I had to intentionally choose to pace myself based on what I knew I could sustain. I had to save some of my energy and strength for later in the race.
And when I saw that last 0.1-mile marker, I picked up my pace and soared across the finish line! Even when I felt l was moving too slowly at times, committing to running continuously helped me set a new benchmark for my fitness capacity.
Train to Sustain
Similar to setting the pace for a race, managing your physical energy requires making intentional choices. It’s all about what will keep you going and sustain you throughout your day.
In my previous post, I introduced the science behind Energy Management and how this new approach can dramatically increase your focus, motivation, and drive. Now, we’re going to dive deeper into understanding one of the four areas of Energy Management.
Maybe you took on my personal challenge of tracking your energy throughout each day and discovered what makes you come alive or feel drained. You may have even gone a step further and considered the specific circumstances that position you to be at your best. Remember, it’s about who you’re with, what you’re doing, where you are, and when it’s occurring in your day.
Or maybe your starting line is right here, and you’re ready to learn how to pace yourself better moving forward. Wherever you’re at, one thing is central to helping you manage your energy better:
Authors and Energy Management researchers, Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, call this process oscillation. They share that in order to build capacity and expand your threshold, you must systemically expose yourself to more stress, followed by adequate recovery.
(More stress? Really?! Keep reading…it gets even better!)
It’s All Greek To Me!
This concept of maximizing performance by alternating periods of activity with periods of rest was first articulated by Flavius Philostratus (A.D. 170-245) who wrote training manuals for Greek athletes. He found that the most talented athletes strategically used their energy so they didn’t burn out too quickly and could surpass their opponents.
Even if you’re not training for the Olympics or even running a 5K, you can benefit from this dynamic balance of managing your energy.
Consider these core principles around your physical energy:
- Use It or Lose It: Too much recovery without sufficient stress leads to atrophy and weakness. If we take too frequent of breaks or stop training, we never push our capacity to be better, faster, and stronger.
- Over-Use It and Lose It: Too much energy expenditure without sufficient recovery eventually leads to burnout or breakdown. If you run a marathon like a spirit, you’ll burn out before you make it past the first mile.
- You are Hard-Wired to Pulse: You naturally oscillate between expending energy and intermittently renewing energy so you’re alert during the day and can sleep at night.
Break Time…or Burnout
Surprisingly, It’s not intensity that produces burnout, but the duration of energy expenditure without adequate recovery.
Energy Management research has shown that working at a feverish pace without breaks can actually become physically addictive. Our bodies produce specific stress hormones like adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol that fuel arousal and create a seductive rush (we sometimes call this an “adrenaline high”).
While this can help us power through a project and feel successful, if it becomes a pattern and we operate at a high enough intensity for long enough, we progressively lose the capacity to return to neutral. This short-term payoff turns into a long-term epidemic.
Imagine your stress threshold as a rubber band that has flexibility and capacity to stretch based on the situational demands. This elasticity serves you well as long as you don’t over-stretch and then break your rubber band. Similarly, being in a state of constant overload kills your ability to stretch to meet the demand because you’re already at full capacity.
Crossing Your Finish Line
Now let’s go back to the two race strategies I previously shared and compare them to these Energy Management facts.
If you’re working on a short-term project, you need to intentionally set a pace that is sustainable and steady. Rather than going to too fast and burning out before you cross the finish line. Take breaks that are energy-renewing, but be careful not to stop out or procrastinate.
On the other hand, in order to work toward a longer-term goal, you need to adopt my marathon method. Take occasional “walk breaks” to recover, renew, and sustain your energy. This will allow you to set a pace that helps you advance your objectives while avoiding early burnout.
Consider what kind of race you’re running and choose a strategy that works to extend and replenish your energy!
Physical Energy Takeaways
Cool Science Fact: Your activity and rest patterns are tied to circadian rhythms in your body. Each of us has a 90 – to 120-minute attention span before our bodies begin to crave rest and recovery.
Easy Energy Tip: To renew your energy, try intentionally scheduling a short break after every hour or two of work. You can walk to another building, turn off your computer monitor and stretch, or eat lunch away from your desk. What’s your favorite way to take a from work?
Be the Revolution,