Every Remembrance Day we do the workout Murph at Alchemy. And it is something that EVERY single athlete must learn to pace
With November right around the corner I figured it was a good time to dive into pacing in greater detail and with some Murph-specific examples. (To refresh your memory Murph consists of a 1-mile run, 100 pullups, 200 pushups, 300 squats, and a final 1-mile run….yikes!)
If you have been with us for more than a few workouts you have definitely felt it — the feeling that you’re unable to do one more push up, your muscles feel alright but your brain just says no. Or you try to run a little faster but your legs feel like lead and you just keep slowing down. Hopefully, it happens at the end of your set or workout, but sometimes it shows up smack-dab in the middle.
The primary reason you feel this way is muscle fatigue, and there are two different kinds, or rather two different explanations for the fatigue. The first is caused by the Central Nervous System (CNS), the second by a build-up of metabolites (the junk leftover from the process of contracting a muscle).
1. CNS Fatigue
When you decide to do a pushup a signal from your brain comes down through your chest, arms and everything other muscle you are using to perform the movement. This signal relies on lots of tiny reactions. For the reaction to happen there needs to be a specific set up to trigger the sequence, kind of like setting up dominos. As you repeat the same action over and over, and using the same muscles, it becomes more challenging for the body to reset the stage, so to speak. The further you get into your set, eventually the signal from your brain does not create enough force to overcome your body weight and you get to lie on the floor for an extended period of time.
How does this help me in Murph?
Do smaller sets! Break the 100 pull ups and 200 push ups into mini-sets of anywhere from 1 to 5, depending on where you’re at. Ideally, you want to do a manageable amount, take a short rest and repeat until your workload is complete. In my experience breaking 200 pushups down into small sets of 2-3 pushups (2 push ups every 10 seconds is 12 per minute) seems to work well. By not pushing to complete fatigue, and allowing my body the 5 or 6 seconds to rest after each set, my muscles recover and are ready to fire.
2. Metabolic Fatigue
Your body uses several ways to create energy to allow you to keep going all day long. There are aerobic systems (using oxygen) and anaerobic (in the absence of oxygen). When your heart rate is low and you are breathing comfortably your body is using the aerobic system primarily. However, as the duration and intensity of your effort increases so does the demand for energy, and the slower aerobic systems cannot keep up, so your anaerobic systems need to pick up the slack. When we rely on this process for energy our body uses up fuel and in the process leaves behind metabolic junk (think lactic acid). Our body then requires even more oxygen for the junk to be burned or turned into useable fuel. When your body moves more blood flow to your muscles to try and keep up with increased oxygen demands that light-headed or sick-to-your-stomach feeling may start to kick in. Welcome to the red line! The point at which your breath can no longer keep pace with your workload and everything starts heading south.
How does this help me in Murph?
Learn where your red line is and stay just below it for as long as possible, only jumping past it as you near the completion of your task. The longer you can rely on aerobic systems for energy the better you will feel in longer workouts. This will take some experience and your fair share of mistakes, but as you learn more about your body you will learn how to identify the correct pace and stay in a happy place.
We have done many smaller practice runs already to get ready for the mile run portions so hopefully you have got some experience under your belt and started to learn your pacing.
November 11 will be the real deal and we are excited to see you all there!
Duncan McNeill is a coach and co-owner of Alchemy CrossFit.