There is a limit to how hard we can work, there is only 24 hours per day and we cannot create time.
If we want to achieve more, which is often necessary as we push our goals and ambitions higher and higher then we need to find way to work smarter.
Often the smarter ways of working are not always obvious, and they are sometime counter intuitive.
Let me give you an example.
As I have mentioned previously, I have recently run my first marathon, and like many people who take up running I worked on running longer and faster in order to improve my performance.
For a while this worked, and indeed it allowed me to improve, but as I was a beginner this is hardly surprising.
But after 6 months, the improvements started to reduce and I reached a plateau and things started to level off. I tried to ‘work harder’ by trying to run faster for longer, but as I did this over the longer distances I found I was out of energy towards the end and struggled to finish.
A friend of mine, Kristen, suggest that I try the Galloway method, this is an approach where you run for a pre-defined period then walk for 1 minute.
To say I was sceptical would be an understatement, how could we run faster, by walking; this seems impossible, surely by walking we would reduce our overall speed. What we needed to do to run faster, was to increase our speed, not reduce it.
To cut a long story myself and my fellow runners decided to try the approach, at first it seemed strange especially given that our training runs were only 5k and 10k and we were more than capable of running them fully without stopping. But this wasn’t the point, we were looking to run 21k and 42k, so we persisted and eventually we got used to the approach.
What we noticed was that although our 5 and 10k times were sightly slower than when we ran 100% of the distance, at the end we were significantly less tired.
Last weekend we put the new approach to the test in a competitive Half Marathon race, our plan was to run for 3 minutes and then walk for 1 minute, i.e. we would walk 25% of the time during the race.
It felt strange after 3 minutes of the race to start walking, people looked as as if we were mad, and then as we approached the end of the race each time we stopped for our 1 minute walk, many people looked to encourage us to keep running as there was only 1-2km left. But we persisted.
The results was we completed the race in 2hr 11 minutes, which was our fastest official time for a half marathon. In fact many of the people who were looking to help us continue when we were walking at the end, we actually passed them as we finished the race strongly and achieved our best time.
This was unbelievable to me, we had improved our running time by walking for 25% of the time. True our average pace had increased, but this was because we were able to run faster during the 3 minutes and then recover during the one minute walk, which also allowed us to retain the faster pace for longer.
It seems counter intuitive, but we were preserving our energy and taking rests throughout which allowed us to extend the time we could performance this level.
Not only had we run our fastest half marathon, but we also finished it feeling in better shape than we had, when we had run 100% of the time, and had achieved slower times.
Unbelievable, but true.
Here we had improved, by working smarter not harder, and we had done it by taking an approach that intuitively seemed completely wrong with our overall goal.
Have you ever improved by taking a counter intuitive approach, if so let me know I would be happy to hear about it.