Showing up

Pretty much the moment we set foot in school, we’re conditioned for leaning towards the upper bound of the 0 to 100% scale. I initially subscribed to and complied with this mentality too, almost always in the 90%+ ballpark, until grade 8. At that point I realised there wasn’t much free time for another passion – reverse engineering how things worked.

Naturally, I invested less time and could get to the 75 to 80% ballpark by working an order of magnitude less. This was my first introduction to the Pareto principle and also what Tim Ferriss later covered as Minimum Effective Dose (MED)

Pareto and Principle of least effort


The Pareto principle states that “roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes”. This translates very much to what we know society as today: 20% of the population has 80% of money, 20% of your customers or clients yield 80% of your turnover etc. Most important however relates to investment of time:

It takes 80% of the time total usually to finish the last 20% of whatever you’re busy with.

That’s exactly why so many projects fail (read: never complete), it’s so difficult to change course with some things and also where “overtime” sneaks into modern life 🙂

The principle of least effort states that “animals, people, even well designed machines will naturally choose the path of least resistance or ‘effort'”. Effective laziness. There’s only two options here: change your environment to be more suitable or change yourself to be more suitable to your environment

Consistent 100% efforts are bullsh*t


Performance is never linear. It’s always going up and down. My best, your best etc. is determined by so many factors on a given day. A 100% effort is actually a very very rare occurrence. We can for example apply this to percentage of time spent at maximum heart rate – you’d spend very little time (no more than a few minutes) in even the most intense build cycles. Most individuals can’t even reach real max HR due to the level of pain required to get there.

There’s a better way …

Endurance training and Pareto

So what school initially and having a coach now guiding me towards 4 primarily annual goals, taught me, is that consistency matters. The basic math here is quite simple :

5 efforts at 90% objective / goal intensity is MUCH better than 1 x 100% effort and 2 x 95% efforts that leave you broken (“de rastos” as we say in Portuguese).

Your goal with endurance training is to stimulate the cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, energy and other subsystems for adaption. Let’s say our objectives for a given week are :

* Monday – 1 hour recovery intensity (to cleanup the long run from Sunday)
* Tuesday – 1 hour tempo run
* Wednesday – 1 hour recovery
* Thursday – 1.5 hours at race intensity
* Friday – 30 mins anaerobic intervals
* Saturday – 1 hour recovery
* Sunday – 4 hour long run, race intensity

Let’s also assume the chosen intensities are achievable – nothing crazy that leaves you gasping for breath, other than the intervals 🙂

For this build cycle the following training days are the most important:

  • tempo run – lactate tolerance and running economy
  • intervals – lactate threshold, running economy, stroke volume etc.

However the ultimate objective is:

  • nursing the long run, the climax of the week’s work

Pareto principle at work:

  • Notice how 20% of the really hard effort is spread across 2 workouts – the tempo on Tuesday and the intervals on Friday.
  • The other 80% is spread out around it, but crucial to getting the maximum benefit from the week’s output – recovery and diverging towards race intensity.
  • Thus 20% of the total work time yields us the most adaptions.
  • BUT the 80% is crucial for reaching the level of required intensity of the 20% work allotment

Principle of least effort:

  • A clear path of least resistance – only 2 really intense workouts during the week.

Lifestyle and habits

I can’t stress enough the importance of turning good habits into a lifestyle – something that becomes an integral part of you, but that still must not define you.

Feeling rundown? Reduce intensity. Focus on the 20% that matters, but show up 100% of the time.


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