A retrospective on my most intense period of endurance training (thus far).

Why I dedicated so much time to training: I was opportunistic. In August 2021, Auckland went into the most severe form of lockdown. Facing weeks (ended up being months, but I didn’t know that at the time) of being prohibited to go out I decided to double-down on training. What else was I going to do? Seemed better than spending more time on the internet.

  • This training block began mid-August 2021 & finished at the end of January, 2022.

The goal of this training block: I have a 15 year goal for myself in endurance sports beginning from November, 2020. I know that my goal for the first five years or so is base-building. So that was my intent during this training block, spend as much time on feet or on bike. Crucially this mean’t:

  • Running & biking strictly to heart rate, keeping in my Zone 2, as much as I could.

Highlight fitness achievements from the six months: I beat a lot of personal bests during this period, especially around my aerobic fitness & total running volume. Some of the highlight achievements I can recall include:

  • 75km over two days 33km on day one & 42km on day two.
  • 85km over three days 33km on day one, 25km on day two, and 27km on day three.
  • 5:09 per km @ 141 bpm over a 90 minute run.
  • 5:20 per km @ 142 bpm over a 180 minute run.

Typical training week: Weekdays passed like clockwork with either a run or bike in the morning paired with a bodyweight strength session after work. Weekends, on the other hand, were all about getting in as much time on feet (or on bike) as possible while still being able to live the rest of my life.

  • Mondays: rest day.
  • Tuesdays: 90 minute run + 30 minute bodyweight strength circuit.
    • Cumulative weekly total = 2 hours.
  • Wednesdays: 90 minute run + 30 minute bodyweight strength circuit.
    • Cumulative weekly total = 4 hours.
  • Thursdays: 90 minute run + 30 minute bodyweight strength circuit.
    • Cumulative weekly total = 6 hours.
  • Fridays: 90 minute run or bike + 30 minute bodyweight strength circuit.
    • Cumulative weekly total = 8 hours.
  • Saturdays: 180 minute run + 60 minute bike + 30 minute bodyweight strength circuit.
    • Cumulative weekly total = 12.5 hours.
  • Sundays: 150 minute run + 90 minute bike + 30 minute bodyweight strength circuit.
    • Cumulative weekly total = 17 hours.

Incredible gains in aerobic fitness: This was probably an expected outcome of an intense training period. That said, it felt out-of-this-world satisfying seeing the heart rate & pace drop week-by-week and served as awesome motivation to keep going.

  • 90 minute run on September 9, 2021 90 minute run: 5:55 per km @ 136 bpm avg.
  • 90 minute run on January 27, 2022 — 5:12 per km @ 142 bpm avg.

Scarcely believable improvements in muscular endurance: At the start of this period, when I was building up the mileage, long runs longer than 2.5 hours resulted in soreness in the following days. By January, I don’t ever recall my legs undergoing any aftereffects of running often 60km & biking 60km over the two day weekend period. I could keep going forever or so that’s how I felt, so much so that I skipped rest days more and more just to see how much mileage I could run in a week (I think I hit 150km three times).

  • Circa August 2021 first 3 hour run = days of soreness thereafter.
  • Circa January 2022 85km over a three day span = legs felt normal & were it not the mental toll of running so much over such a short period, I’d have been willing to run a marathon the next day.

Second-order effects of training 17hrs a week: Putting my body under that amount stress resulted in some perhaps unexpected effects on the rest of my day.

  • Sleep’s never come easier. Usually I’d scroll on my phone, but I’d usually sleep within minutes.
  • Mid-afternoon naps became the norm, especially on Saturday & Sunday.
  • Eating became a bit of a chore. I love eating as much as the next person, but over this period, my relationship with food became more transactional i.e., where can I get good calories?
  • Once you’ve developed a habit, it’s incredibly sticky. I thought it would be more a struggle to run & bike for 4 hours on both Saturday and Sunday. But after a couple months, it just became something I did, like how I brush my teeth twice a day.
  • Given the amount of training that I did, I let myself invest in better gear (e.g., multiple shoes, multiple shorts with pockets, etc.) and I found this so satisfying.
  • 11+ hours of week of running mean’t a minimum of 11+ hours a week of listening to podcasts & an opportunity to hit two birds with one stone. It every run honestly felt like the most productive use of time e.g., exercising & learning.

How I felt after this six month block: In a word exhausted. Not physically, but mentally. I felt like my body was as resilient as it’s ever been, and the practices I fell into with regards to rest when I wasn’t training & eating were perfect in terms of being able to sustain the the training. What I didn’t count on was the mental toll. I started to notice an unhealthy attitude I had around “if I don’t do at least 4 hours on Saturday & Sunday, it will be a failure of a day”. Thankfully, I was forced into time off at the start of February after feeling some ill-effects from the Covid-19 booster. It couldn’t come at a better time and has led to 4 months of unstructured training which has been much needed.

Would I do this again? Probably not. The stars aligned for me to try this as an experiment with respect to strict Covid lockdowns. But now that is unlikely to occur again, I’d probably cap my training at more around 12 to 14 hours a week, and focus a lot more on doing polarised training to make up in intensity what I’d give up in volume.

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