The Art of Sprinting (#668)

People sometimes ask me how it is I get so much done and seem to take so much time off. My answer is that I have learned “the art of sprinting” – that is, how to give my all to a project and then rest, recover, relax and renew.

Here’s a recent example:

At 11:45pm last Wednesday evening, I pushed the “send” button on a writing project that accomplished in 5 intense weeks what most writers would spend anywhere from 5 months to 2 years to accomplish.

I say this not to show off (well, maybe a little, but not mostly to show off 🙂 – I say it to show what’s possible if you make use of one simple distinction in how you manage your energy and your time – the difference between a marathon and a sprint.

Here’s how sports psychologist James Loehr puts it:

To visualize the difference between a 100-meter sprinter and a marathoner, think about their energy before and after a race. At the end, the marathoner looks like a train wreck, while the sprinter looks excited and energized.

The reason sprinters are so excited and full of energy is that they can see the goal line right in front of them. I could give 100% of my energy to reach that clear a goal. But the marathoner can’t see twenty-six miles.

And our work lives aren’t twenty-six miles, but thirty or forty years. So it’s no surprise that most people are not fully engaged in their jobs or home lives. They are afraid to give too much because they will run out of steam. And once you run out, you are dead.

When you see your life (or work or marriage or pretty much anything) as a marathon, you tend to conserve your energy. You never give your all, because you always want to make sure you’ve got something in the tank for later. One milestone begins to blend into the next, and while you might find yourself in “the zone” from time to time, you’re more likely to find yourself zoned out and daydreaming about getting out of “the rat race” and spending your days pretty much anywhere else than wherever it is you happen to be.

When you see your life as a series of sprints, you make the time to be able to give your all for short bursts. You train for it, focus on it, give themselves over to it, and “leave it all on the track”. But when you’re done, you’re done. And the key to your success is your ability and commitment to building plenty of “Quality Recovery Time” that they build into their schedule.

If you’re going to sprint, you’re going to rest, because you know that you need that rest to recharge your batteries. When you live your life like a marathon, you’re running as fast as you can for as long as you can on disposable batteries. And when those batteries start to run down, something is going to need to get disposed of – your health, your relationships, or your job being the top three candidates.

Funnily enough, even marathoners (at least the top marathoners) practice primarily through interval training – bursts of intense activity followed up by periods of slower activity and/or complete rest. And these periods of oscillation – from high activity to low activity/recovery time to high activity to low activity/recovery time – not only allow you to sustain high performance, they enhance and enlarge your capacity so you can perform better and better over time.

Stu Mittleman, the long time world’s record holder in the 1000 mile race, applied a sprinter’s mentality to competing in his ultra-distance races. Here’s how he described his strategy for a six day race where the winner is measured by the maximum distance covered in a six day period of time in his own words:

“I will walk for the entire first hour of each five hour segment. The next hour, I will run, followed by another one hour walk, another one hour run, and finishing with a third and final one hour walk.”

Mittleman repeated these five hour segments four times a day, sleeping for the final four hours of each day. The result?

At the end of the first day, bottom third.
At the end of the second day, bottom third.
At the end of the third day, middle of the field.
At the end of the fourth day, third place.
At the end of the fifth day, second place.
At the end of the race, he and the ultimate winner crossed the finish line together.

The point is this:

You can do a lot more than you think you can in a much shorter period of time – if you’re willing to build a routine designed around periods of intense activity followed by periods of quality recovery time.

My time since Wednesday evening has been spent largely as I planned it – hanging out with my family, going for walks and sleeping as much as I want. The “sprint” of this month’s Creating the Impossible program will be followed by a month’s sabbatical in August.

And at the end of the sprint of today’s tip?

Sleep, glorious sleep!

Today’s Experiment:

1. Choose an activity that you would like to be able to give your all to but you are concerned of the toll it might take on your health, relationships or life.

2. Now, design a “sprinting” routine that will be sustainable for a fixed period of time. Make sure the project has a finish line, and that each unit of activity is balanced out by an equal and opposite period of rest and recovery.

3. Go for it! Know that you will probably have to adjust your routine as you go, but never increase the intensity or duration of your activity without also increasing the quality and duration of your recovery time.

With Love,


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