Posted by: David Stewart | January 28, 2009

Adaptation is my Frenemy

Non-runners often shake their heads at me when I tell them that I run. How is it some people actually enjoy behavior that seems incredibly painful or unpleasant?

It’s all about adaptation.  But adaptation has become my frenemy[1].

Adaptation is the amazing ability that Homo Sapiens[2] has to to adjust to their environment and habitat. This is why you find humans spread from the poles to the equator, but most other species will die out with a small change to their temperature or humidity.

With constant work and practice, adaptation is my friend:

  • Running itself, even at a slow pace, can be painful and exhausting the first time and the second time. But with consistent practice, adaptation sets in, and the once exhausting pace becomes an easy run.
  • How else do you think someone could adjust themselves from a non-runner to a marathoner?  Will power alone is insufficient unless you are already a monster athlete like Lance Armstrong, who ran his first New York Marathon on “guts and goods”, as his ex-wife Kristin wrote.
  • The beneficial impact of adaptation is that cardiovascular capacity adapts to the greater load required of running. This not only makes running easier, it makes surviving heart blockages more likely.
  • Biomechanical efficiency improves as your body adapts to running. This means that your body teaches itself to become more efficient at running, the more running you do.  This is the secret behind why speed training works – if you occasionally run faster than you normally feel comfortable, it will improve your body’s efficiency and help you run faster at a comfortable pace.
  • If your body is adapted to good health or eating habits, you tend to continue them because of adaptation.

But I realized today that adaptation is my enemy too:

  • There are lots of beneficial tricks I can use to give my running a boost, like switching to fresh running shoes. But eventually, adaptation kicks in and the benefit goes away as well. This forces me into a mode of constantly looking for ways to get another boost from something new. But there is always a strong chance that something new like shoes or clothing can also backfire on running, so there is a danger.
  • I remember when I first switched to Accelerade as the sports drink I carry with me on longer runs. I did a 13 mile training run with it, and loved the boost that the mix of carbs and protein provided.  But now after years of using it, I no longer get that boost, because my body has adapted to it.
  • In 2007-2008, I had injured my hip flexor such that I couldn’t run more than about 6 miles before the pain became too great to continue. Adaptation had forced me into running patterns which were reinjuring me. I only got over once I stopped running and re-adapted.
  • If I stop doing beneficial things like running or stretching or eating well, I get punished by my body.  For example, if I stop running, I start getting body aches and restless limbs.  But resting is sometimes just as important as running!
  • As hard as it is to break good habits, it’s also hard to break bad ones because you become adapted to them.

The best strategy is to make adaptation my slave and not my master, in running as in life.

[1] I first heard this term from my daughter in reference to a former supervisor.  In an earlier post, I wrote about how food is my frenemy.

[2] The only other Earth species with as much adaptability is the common housefly.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: