"There's only one hard and fast rule in running: sometimes you have to run one hard and fast."

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Odds and Ends

I looked at the Afton Trail 50K record for 50 year-old men and decided it was soft. Using age-grading and switching 25K to 50K in one case (and changing gender in one), I came up with four predictions of what the record should be - 4:05, 4:05, 4:08, 4:08. The record currently stands at 4:27:27. The next question was: Just how hard would that be? The current record is about like running a marathon under 3:10 and 4:05 would be about a marathon in 2:50. I might be able to match the current record, but that would be about my limit.

De-romanticizing the past

But is that in any way realistic? I dug out my old records and in 2007, I was running 85 miles per week at 8 minutes per mile; I could run sub 4:30 at Afton then. The next year, I was doing just a little worse (and racing a lot) and could reasonably expect to do it... but ran 5:29. Two minutes per mile slower! It was a bad race, with a nasty fall, but even before that, the pace was wrong. I was not racing well after the win at Trail Mix in April. Something was up.

The idea of running as fast next year as I did then is barely in the realm of possibility.

How did I used to do it, anyway?

In the early 2000's, I had times when I didn't run much mileage, but I was still running 6.5 to 7.5 minutes per mile in training. When I increased mileage, it was dramatic and not systematic. I remember some slow years, when running 10 minutes per mile for a few miles was a challenge (about where I started this summer), but my records from then are spotty.

The build

I'm starting to run again. I'm stuck at a slow pace and low mileage and trying to remember how to make a comeback. There've been times when I could whip myself into shape in 6 weeks, but I can't do that any more. There've been attempts at a comeback before that have failed and I think I know the reason: what made me race well was the ability to endure much more suffering than others - but there are no awards for suffering. I'm good at going from 98% to 99%, but getting from 48% to 49% bothers me and I've tried to leapfrog over some steps in the past.

Recently, my "long" run was 7 miles and, as I headed out to run 8, I ran into an old friend who pointed out that I was running a 3 mile loop, so I might as well make it a 9 miler. It's what I would've done before - and I would've paid the price of not being able to run well (if at all) for a couple of days afterward.

Treating myself like someone else

The biggest challenge of being self-coached is second-guessing oneself.  What I need to do is make myself run like I would if I were someone else. Pull out the old rules:

1) Don't increase mileage more than 10% (and 5% is safer).
2) Don't make your long run too long (25% of previous week's mileage is the goal).
3) Take a day off each week, until running at least 60 miles per week.
4) Do just a little speedwork - nothing longer than 100 meters at a time, to break the monotony.
5) Don't push in any workout, but, if you feel good, run as fast as you feel like going.
6) Try to improve just a little, either in average pace or in total miles, every week.
7) When you can't manage #6, back off for a week or two.

It's maddeningly slow making a comeback this way, but it's working so far.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Very brief update

It may seem like I've not been blogging, but there were 88 new posts on my movie blog in July.

I've started running again and managed 92 miles in 903  minutes for the month, most in the last half of the month. The goal is three times as many miles and about 1.5 minutes per mile faster.

I'll try to get a real post up here in a couple of days.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

A thought on pacing

I've been thinking about the Afton Trail Race a lot lately. This year's winner, Mike Borst, ran an extremely fast first half and died in the second, still just three minutes off the course record (he claims a pit stop cost him the record, but the uneven pacing is more likely to be the cause). Not many people run anything close to even pace in that race, though it's generally accepted that even pacing is the most efficient way to race. The course starts before the heat of the day and heats up rapidly, so it's easy to run fast for the first hour or two - but is it better to run fast when you can do it easily and then slow, or to run evenly? I've gone back and forth on this, but cumulative heat stress effects tell me that even pacing is still best.

Not that I'm exactly an expert at even pacing... my official best mile had an insanely fast first 400 and a wicked kick, with a plodding 800 in the middle. My second-best marathon had a first half in 1:14:29, with a finish of 2:43:24.

There was a study that showed that 5K's might be best run with positive splits, but they're an unusual case (and not coincidentally my best distance). Top runners can run anaerobically, with increasing lactate levels, for about as long as they can hold their breath - about 3 minutes (not many average runners can do much more than a minute). 3 minutes is a sizable portion of a 13 minute 5K and slowing that last 3 minutes is reasonable. For a 1500m runner, 3 minutes is almost the whole race, so it doesn't alter first and second halves. At 10K, the effect is lessened and the problem of heat dissipation enters, so 10K runners vary from positive to even to negative splits, depending on the runner's strengths and the day. 100m sprinters spend the first part of the race getting to speed, so they almost always run negative splits. Everyone else: even splits.

I may just have to see if I can get in shape so I can try running even pace there next year. 50 weeks to go...

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Before the before bit

I know what I want to do and I know what I have to do to do it. [And I know how to write a confusing sentence.] Getting there is the tough part.

I love the little details of planning for a race far in the future, but each time I think I'm ready to start actually running - because the only workout that matters is the one you actually do - I find that there's yet another stage of preparation I'd overlooked.

Right now, the days that will be the easy days are the hard ones. I'm trying to build my mileage (from zero), but I know that just running slowly will become a problem eventually, so I have to add days of short fast stuff. "Sometimes you have to run one hard and fast," some clever guy once wrote. One day per week of 40-50m sprints will help keep me from ossifying. One day of form-work strides will help make those sprints improve over time.

What I want to do for a long run is just way too long at present and I have to be patient, so my training right now looks like it's good for a 10K (and I have a 10K race scheduled in October!):

Monday 45 minutes with 4-6x100m strides @ 1500m pace
Tuesday 90 minutes
Wednesday 45 minutes with 4-6 all-out sprints of 40-50m
Thursday 90 minutes
Friday (off)
Saturday 90 minutes
Sunday 120 minutes

That's a lot of unusually long runs for a 10K schedule, but I really need to work on my endurance. When that becomes easy to do, it's on to the next stage, which I of course, have all planned out. I just have to remember that this is preparation for a longer race next year and not turn it into a hard schedule for a 10K which I'll race so hard I'll spend the winter recovering.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Day 1 (Take #3000 or so)

I decided last night that, since I was feeling well, it was time to start training. I awoke sneezing, with my eyes swollen shut. The plan was to run long - eventually I need to get back to 20 milers, but I just wanted to see what I could do. I had a coughing attack that wouldn't stop; coughing almost to the point of retching, I was miserable. But undaunted.

I started off and immediately ran into the week's nuisance. Living on the only sizable lake in the city (with a perfect 5K course), I expect crowds for some event every Saturday and Sunday. Today was the start of the Dragon Boat races - which are fun, if you don't hear the drums inside your house all day when you're trying to do something else) - and bigger than usual crowds.

It was a miserable slog. Ideally, I wanted to run 15 miles, but my longest run so far this year is 7 [How can that be?!] so I was hoping for 9 or 12. I made it to 6, when my back and legs simultaneously gave out.

Day 1 is in the books. Again.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Where do we go from here?

As mysteriously as asthma came more than a year ago, it's suddenly gone and I've started running again - though very little and very slowly, as a year off is just slightly better than death to performance.

I'd done some thinking about what I'd do if I could start running again and here's how it went:

1) I really don't enjoy long races. You train forever and any little thing could ruin the day and then you're a mess for weeks or months. Otherwise, you're not really racing; you're just out there. The crowd that has the income to waste on frequent overpriced races (and then just showing up) is irritating me and I don't want to be part of it.

2) Track races are too infrequent and are the province of the supremely talented. I thought about Bill Fraser's over-55 mile of 4:55, which was once the world record and now is only the Minnesota record. Age-graded, that's like running a 4:09 when I was running 4:30. That's not going to happen for me and not breaking 5 is just a little sad (like knowing a sub-3 marathon is probably not in the cards again either).

3) I do well in bad conditions. Unfortunately, races have polarized into ridiculously hard trail races and perfectly smooth road races. No one competes against other runners any more on the roads, so it's all a matter of time - so the races have become flat and boring. Tactics, strategy and positional running mean nothing. The trail races are full of specialists. I'm not running under the worst possible conditions just to say I did it.

4) That leaves me with entering a ton of road races and waiting for bad weather, when the top runners either don't show or put in only a token effort. I can't do that either.

5) Finishing 188th of 13212 does not appeal to me.

That pretty much leaves me with continued retirement, with an occasional race when I wake up and feel good and can find something that still allows race day registration.

Friday, June 20, 2014

The future of women's marathoning is questionable parenting

After the Minnesota state high school track and field championships, I was involved in some interesting conversations about sophomores who won their races and their futures. I was always saying that the guys were going to go on to great things, but the girls were completely unpredictable; it wasn't meant to be sexist, it's just been my experience that few girls have consistent running careers in their teen years. Checking some records, that seems to be true, not just my imagination.

The most read post on this blog (Aug 1, 2008 - 13000 plus views) was my explanation of the difference between the sexes in running. Girls and boys compete at about the same level until puberty, when boys begin racing faster than girls. What's odd is that girls often get slower!

Local phenom Grace Ping set the world record for 10 year-old girls in the 5K (18:02) this year. http://www.postbulletin.com/sports/localsports/at-age-winona-girl-sets-world-record/article_bcaec806-7e7f-5e3b-ba3d-b9395fb74a9b.html Her family all runs and they do quite well in races and they're far from the only talented running family even in the area. For example, at the state high school meet, Joe Klecker had a shot at winning the 1600m before a fall at the finish; his parents are former world-class runners Barney Klecker and Janis (Horns) Klecker; Janis' parents and brothers are also runners (John won the Superior Sawtooth 100 Mile recently).

But early success means more for men than women. Sebastian Coe ran the world's fastest 800m for 13 year-olds a decade before setting the overall world record, but except for Mary Decker (Slaney), such early success doesn't seem to predict future success. For example, in 1973, 10 year-old Mary Etta Boitano (Blanchard) ran a marathon in 3:01:15, which would've been the world record just three years earlier; that was her lifetime PR as well - she ran well enough in high school to qualify for a Division III college track scholarship, but she quickly faded into obscurity. She said the marathon wasn't her distance, "it wasn't fun," and her family emphasized running as a positive experience, rather than having a win-at-all-costs mentality.

One of the more important factors in marathon running is heat dissipation, and for this reason, marathoners tend to be small (though there are a large number of exceptions), because of an efficient surface area/volume ratio. The epitome of this in women's marathoning was Tegla Loroupe, who was 4'7" and 74 pounds when she was running her best... about the size of a typical 10 year-old. Not only is there a size change in the teen years, but fat deposition also decreases heat dissipation in girls, so there's an advantage to being good at distance running when young.

The current world record holder in the marathon for women (2:15) is held by Paula Radcliffe, who weighed 118 pounds at 5' 8". She ran about 150 miles per week and Brad Hudson in his book states that no woman will run the marathon as fast on much less mileage than that. What he overlooked is that, after Derek Clayton set the world record for men on 150-180 miles per week, Steve Jones later broke it running 90. Talent and great speed can make up for high mileage in some cases.

150 miles per week is not going to happen any time soon for young girls running marathons, but if the same parenting that led to Tiger Woods in golf and Venus and Serena Williams in tennis is applied to young girls gifted at running, 90 miles per week may happen. With the right combination of talent, personality and drive (either internally or externally motivated), the future of women's marathoning may start to look like women's gymnastics: retirement at age 18, after a decade of very severe training.