In the medical world, a buffer is:
“A mixture of an acid and its conjugate base (salt), such as H2CO3 or HCO3−; H2PO4−/HPO42−, that, when present in a solution, reduces any changes in pH that would otherwise occur in the solution when acid or alkali is added to it; thus, the pH of the blood and body fluids is kept relatively constant (pH 7.45) although acid metabolites are continually being formed in the tissues and CO2 is lost in the lungs.” (MediLexicon 2013)
Oooookaaay – so in plain English that means that a buffer is something that protects the integrity of the initial product when added. Years in the pharma world taught me that most pills have some sort of buffer coating to ensure that the medication was as effective as possible, and not reduced in efficacy by any unwanted external forces.
What on earth has that got to do with running???
When I was first umming and ahhhing about whether to train for The Tan Ultra, I sought the advice of an experienced ultra runner. One of the many sage gems I took away was to plan for, and utilise, a ‘buffer week’ in my training schedule.
A buffer week is a week of lower intensity running. The idea is to insert the planned buffer week in place of any other scheduled week of running in my training if I need to. Why would I need to? The sorts of triggers for me to insert a buffer week include: fatigue, the body is a little tired or I am a little unwell, or I can’t fit all my runs in (or almost any of them).
The purpose of the buffer week is to keep the legs ticking over, even if at a reduced rate, at a time when you might otherwise mentally just want to stop running for a bit. Having a buffer week prepared as a Plan B ensures I do not have the guilt complex of running a few kms less than originally planned for the week, and provides me with an opportunity to partially refresh. It also means that I feel in control of the situation as I planned for it, as opposed to feeling sidelined or knocked down mentally by fatigue.
Week 15 saw me use my buffer week for the first time. It is in my training schedule (scroll all the way to the bottom of the spreadsheet and you will see it), so I just substituted it in for the originally scheduled runs. Leading up to the week, I was feeling daunted by all that I needed to personally try to achieve between uni, work, personal engagements and training, so decided to allow myself the mental and physical refresher of the buffer.
When I went out for the first of the short runs of my buffer week I was a little reticent. However I found that I moved into the run very easily, and looked forward to them for the rest of the week – it had reinvigorated me mentally in only one day. By the end of the week, I was feeling great, and looking forward to kicking into some long runs again.
I also happened to have the Mothers Day Classic as my last run in my buffer week. The race results for that will be in a separate post, but let’s just say that it was the fastest paced race I have ever run.
It is amazing what allowing yourself to reframe a problem and apply a simple solution will do. I am also now completely comfortable with dropping in buffer weeks again in the future if I feel they are needed, just not too often! As they say, ‘fresh is best’!