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20km. Easy pace.
One day of each week of my distance-cycling training schedule last summer recommended this – a 20 km ride at an easy pace. These ‘easy pace’ days were to be balanced with 4 days/week at a normal pace and 1 day/week at a pace 3 kilometers per hour faster than normal pace. My training schedule defined ‘easy pace’ this way: “Like a ride through the park with small children.”
I did these 20 km rides on Sunday mornings at 6am. But with worship practice to get to at 8am and a sermon to preach, there was no way I was going to cycle 20 km as if I were dodging kids and training wheels on a park bike path. I treated those rides like time trials instead, speeding as fast as I could through town (while honoring stop signs and stop lights, of course!).
I don’t do ‘easy pace’.
Why go 20 km/hr when the wind is at your back and you have the energy to go 30 km/hr?!
Well, there is a very good reason for easy days in your workout schedule. A recent article by Alex Hutchinson in the Globe and Mail revealed The surprising science behind why ‘easy days’ and ‘hard days’ make a difference in your workout. Apparently, elite athletes apply the workout wisdom popularized by Matt Fitzgerald in his book, 80/20 Running. On 80 percent of their workout days, the elite go easy – real easy. On 20 percent of their workout days, they go hard – mind-numbingly hard. This pattern of ‘intensity discipline’ or ‘polarized training’ separates the elite athletes from the regular athletes.
If I am an athlete at all, I am a very regular athlete. We regular athletes have a difficult time disciplining our intensity. “The problem,” says Carl Foster, an exercise physiologist at University of Wisconsin – LaCrosse, “is that [regular] athletes have the misguided sense that the easy days are too easy – and as a result, on hard days, they’re simply too tired to push hard enough to get the biggest fitness gains.”
I found the article’s reference to the results of a recent study of collegiate female runners particularly telling:
On easy days, when the coaches wanted an effort level of 1.5, the athletes instead ran at an effort level of 3.4 on average. On hard days, conversely, the coaches asked for an effort of 8.2 but the athletes only delivered 6.2. Instead of polarized training, as the coaches intended, the athletes were letting most of the sessions drift into the middle.
Drifting into the middle. As a regular athlete, I am sure I do this drift. My physical workouts probably range between a 4.2 and a 5.3 on the intensity scale.
And I’m okay with that.
But, this article got me thinking about my spiritual workout and the pace of my life, generally.
Could it be that my steady, relatively frenetic pace is keeping me from the fruitfulness that God intends?
If I actually slowed down to a 1.5 on my Sabbath days instead of clipping along at a 4.2, might I have the energy to kick in an 8.2 day of kingdom work?
Hutchinson closed his article off with Foster’s observation that “most of us have internalized some vestigial remnant of the puritan work ethic, conflating hard work with virtue.” (You don’t say.) “But to truly push your limits, you sometimes need to take it easy.”
I am so grateful for the life Jesus gives me and I want to grow as a disciple of Jesus. Sometimes this means working hard (like, 8.2+) for the cause of the kingdom. But in order to have the energy for this, I must be slowed down by the Spirit.
Maybe I’ll start in the park. With small children.
“Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life.
I’ll show you how to take a real rest.
Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it.
Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.
I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.
Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Matthew 11:28-30, The Message