Last week I wrote with my usual passion and eloquence about the difference that 2 seconds can make. Misery and despair or joy and elation rest on the most marginal of gaps. I was discussing this while running round and round the track with some friends and the conversation moved from marginal gaps to marginal gains. As I was trying to explain the theory behind small incremental improvements aggregating into large performance gains the subject was justifiably changed. To put it bluntly I was getting boring and it’s always better to be told these things before geeking off into a whole world of tedium for others. To cut it short I tried to think of a way to explain marginal gains by analogy and that is what this weeks blog is all about…..
Are we sitting comfortably?
Then I’ll begin!
Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess who was due to meet a client to discuss some business affairs. She was warned by her private secretary that the chap in question was ‘a bit of a knob’.
‘Fair enough’ the princess thought ‘that’s not too bad I’ve met worse.’
For the purposes of my analogy we can pretend that the client is our runner, and him being a bit of a nob is a PB of 4:10 for a marathon.
On the way to the meeting the princess bumped into a friend who had come across this client. The princess was told that not only was he by all accounts a bit of a knob, but that he was also overweight and wheezed when he walked.
‘OK’ the princess said to herself ‘ a knob, and unhealthy to boot, not a very attractive proposition but I can deal with that.’
To continue drawing the analogy suppose our runner looses a bit of weight, inevitably he will go a little quicker. Less weight to carry, faster running, lets say the weight loss gains him 5 seconds a mile in pace. Over 26 miles that is 2 mins 10 seconds bringing our marathon time down to 4:07:50.
Back to our princess. As she arrived at the office block the concierge asked her who she was there to see. When she gave the name his nose wrinkled.
“Wicked halitosis” he said and the princess thought ‘A bit of a knob, unfit and bad breath, this is starting to look unpleasant.
Back to running, posture can effect your pace so imagine our runner works on core strength and improves his running style. Another 5 secs a mile shaved off. Now we are down to 4:05:40. Those small gains are starting to add up a bit.
As she arrived at the office the princess spoke to the receptionist. The receptionist looked up at her and paused meaningfully. “I must warn you he is a very busy man, to busy to wash regularly please don’t be to upset if he is a little unkempt”
At this point the princess was starting to get really worried. “A knob, unhealthy, with bad breath and poor personal hygiene” She was just about ready to run, but braced herself and opened the door.
Meanwhile our runner is quite keen to be a bit better and so has done some proper training before his next race. Just enough training to take 10 secs a mile off his time and he is now down to 4:01:20
So our princess enters the office and there is the chap she was there to see. Unkempt clothes and the remains of lunch in a scraggly beard are the first things she notices. As he struggled wheezing to his feet the sheer size of him made her draw breath, and as he waddled towards her panting out a greeting she wished she hadn’t. The stench of his breath made her gag and she found it difficult to hide. At this point a huge meaty hand reached out with corpulent sausage like fingers and reached for her buttocks.
Well that was enough! A bit of a knob with a weight problem and halitosis was bad enough, even the lack of washing she could have dealt with, but a toucher too. All the little unpleasantries added up to one gigantic gut wrenching loathing.
“Fuck you shit wipe” she said and stormed out never to see him again.
Our runner in the meantime has been very careful in the week leading up to his next marathon, tapering properly and sleeping and eating well the night before has taken another 3.5 seconds off his pace. All the small gains made have added up and our 4:10 marathon runner comes in at 3:59:49. Joy elation and happiness follow.
That I hope explains what marginal gains are. A bit of a knob can turn into a princess’s worst nightmare by failing to stay fit, wash and have decent manners and a 4:10 marathon PB can be turned into a sub 4 by shaving a second off the mile pace here and there.