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

Monday, November 30, 2015

A Mile Under the Microscope 2 - Base

After setting a race goal, the first questions runners ask are how many miles per week they should run and what pace they should be running them. There are complicated ways to determine these, but there are also some easy rough estimates. As I'm training for a mile race, the average training pace should be 1 1/2 times the race pace, with easy runs 30 seconds per mile slower than that. For marathoners running under 3:30, the average pace should be a minute per mile slower than race pace, again with easy runs 30 sec./mile slower.

The number of miles per week is trickier. I've compiled records for people who trained and raced without much outside influence (almost impossible today) and found that, regardless of finishing time, racers at any one distance tend to run about the same number of minutes per day: 40 min./day for milers, 60 for 10K runners, 75 for marathoners. Using total minutes and pace, one can determine mileage.

So, for me looking at 5:18 for a mile goal as an example, 1.5 x 5:18 = 7:57 (call it 8)/mile. Add 30 seconds and easy pace = 8:30. For comparison, Jack Daniels has an easy pace of 7:48 for a 5:16 mile. For mileage, 280 min./week  divided by 8 min/mile = 35 miles/week. [For a 3:50 miler, this would be only 50 miles/week, but at that level, I'd have two-a-day workouts, bringing the total to 100/week, about what is commonly done.]

The next question comes automatically. If you're supposed to run 35miles/week at 8:00/mile, should you run the miles and try to improve the pace, or should you do as many miles as possible at pace and build up mileage? My answer - though there are too many exceptions to list - is to focus on time run. So, if I were running 9.5 min/mile (which was the case recently), to get to 280 minutes/week, I'd be running 29-30 miles/week (far less than I was running at the time). As I improve, both the pace quickens and the mileage increases.

When a day off is like a long run

The next question to address is the distribution of mileage over the week. One of the most common mistakes is to run the same amount every day, both for convenience and to be able to constantly compare one run to the next. Running the same distance every day invariably leads to injury when, after weeks of training, one makes a change, such as doing a race. I have very complicated procedures for deciding how many miles to do on various days, but there is once again a simple guideline - you can run the same distance five days and take two non-consecutive days off each week, or take one day off and have a long run of about twice the typical day's run's mileage. This seems to be just enough variation to avoid "staleness."

Why long runs are problematic for milers

Just as the total minutes per week is fairly constant for each race distance regardless of pace, the longest run for each is also a fairly constant amount of time. Faster marathoners typically have long runs of 2 1/2 hours, with a longest run of 2:45; beyond three hours, these runs become counter-productive, as they begin to use muscles and energy systems in ways not used in the race and require too long of recovery to maximize utilization of training time. 10K runners typically have long runs of 2 hours, which is about the limit of what they can sustain at a reasonable training pace and remain completely aerobic.

Milers face a conundrum when planning long runs: their long runs are not much greater than their average. Since the 1960's, the typical long run for a 4:00 miler has been 10 miles in 60 minutes (note that the pace is 1.5x race pace), partly because of the nice round numbers, but also because 60 minutes is about the limit of what one can run at "anaerobic threshold" pace. Some miler's workouts, however, take more than an hour to do, which necessitates standing rests (rather than jogging recoveries) or the very careful mixture of paces that does not do too much at any one pace - and which still amounts to under 80 minutes. Anything beyond 75 minutes is counter-productive for a "pure" miler.

So, if a miler is running an average of 40 min/day for the week, with two days off, this becomes 5 runs of about 56 minutes each: in other words, making every single run a long run! In the earliest phase of training, when training just for (short-distance) endurance, this is not a terrible idea.

Base training progress measurement

In this preliminary phase, improvement is tracked by mileage and pace. When these no longer improve, one is ready to move on to the next phase. There is one flaw to this procedure, when one has an athlete that is highly motivated and competitive - improvement in mileage and pace at the cost of much greater effort. I've made this mistake - repeatedly - in my career, as it is sometimes possible to keep pushing in "easy" training runs until one becomes exhausted, over-trained and one crashes.

A way to prevent this is to track effort levels for each run, either by perceived effort (e.g. the 20 point Borg scale), or with a heart rate monitor. With a monitor, one's heart rate should stay roughly the same as one improves and should be lower for any one given run as one improves. It is not necessary to force oneself to run below a certain heart  rate (such as in systems like Maffetone's), just to note trends so one doesn't develop what's called "wind-up," the drive to make every run harder than the previous one. When one's mileage and pace at a constant effort plateaus, it's time to move to the next phase. Here one should check to see current race ability, taking the weekly minutes, dividing by weekly miles and then dividing by 1.5 to get a mile time one could run at that point.

Friday, November 27, 2015

A Mile under the Microscope #1

According to age-graded calculators, the best I could hope to run a mile is 5:18. Here's the plan I would use to accomplish that - of no interest whatsoever to anyone else, I know - but the following posts, which will explain it in detail, should teach a great deal about how training schedules are developed and that I hope will be of interest.

Phase 1

M: off
T: 55 minutes
W: 55 min.
Th: 55 min.
F: off
Sa: 55 min.
S: 55 min.

Phase 2

M: 0
T: 6.5@8.5min./mile
W: 6.5@8.5
Th: 6.5@8.5
F: 0
Sa: 6.5@8.5
S: 6.5@ 8.5

Phase 3

M: 0
T: 7.5 in 55 with 3.5@6.25-6.5
 W: 6.5
Th: 6.5 w/ 3-4x7-10 seconds, steep uphill
F: 0
Sa: 7.5 w/ 7x[4x200 in 40 - 200 run] - 200 walk
S: 6.5

Phase 4

M: 2.5 in 20
T: 7.5 in 55 w/ 4x1200 in 4:27 - 400m
W: 2.5
Th: 7.5 w/ 8x400 in 79 - 400
F: 0
Sa: 7.5 w/ 100 in 18.5 - 700
S: 9 in 75 w/ 1.5 in 9:23

Phase 5

M: 8x50 in 8, minimal recovery
T: 3x1600 (1200 in 4:27, 400 in 85) - 400
W: 4x100 downhill in 17
Th: 5x400 hill (with 100 ft. of climb) in 1:51
F: 0
Sa: 1200 in 3:40-4:00 (400 all-out, 800 as close to mile pace as possible); 10 min.; 400m in 65-70
S: 9-10 miles, last 2000m in 7:25.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

This Thanksgiving, I'm Thankful For...

...women with ridiculously long red hair, in trees.

You have to click on this one for full effect.                                                                                                              

[Everyone needs a hobby. Happy Thanksgiving!]

Monday, November 23, 2015

A Post-Doc in Run Training Theory

I've decided it's time to do a new series of posts, which will explain the ideas behind a bunch of workouts I plan on doing. I've done some series before that I called a graduate-level course on training and this is one step beyond that.

I recall a friend reading the last series and saying, "What am I supposed to do with this information? Just tell me what to do!" That's a common idea - people are forever looking up the latest marathon training schedule, trying to follow it as best they can and, if failing, looking for another and, if succeeding, telling everyone that that's THE way to train. Another said, "I don't bother with any of that. I just run."

On the opposite end of the spectrum, there's this story of a coach: An athlete comes to him saying "I can run eight 800's in 2:35, but I can never seem to do nine. Am I running them too fast? Should I try something else?" The coach, flustered, says, "Well, what are you trying to do? Why are you doing that workout? What's the goal? How does it feel when you're doing that workout? You need to know what each workout is supposed to be doing for you."

To understand each other, the coach and the athlete have to agree about what they're talking about. To do that, they have to know what they mean. There are countless people out there that call themselves "coaches" who have just had success and tell others to do what they did.

This series will be for those few who want to understand the "why" behind workouts.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Steve's Evil Kitchen Turns Blue

"Why don't you ever make something that other people might actually try?" I was asked, so here's Blueberry Muffins. If you're eating muffins straight from the oven, light and unfancy is the way to go, but I can't eat 12 muffins at once (well, okay, I CAN, but I'd rather not), so these are rich and will last a day.

Not my photo. I bake, I don't do food styling.
Mix three cups of all-purpose flour, 1 tablespoon of baking powder (preferably Rumford brand), 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and one teaspoon of cinnamon.

Melt (or soften) one stick of butter, add 2 tablespoons of neutral vegetable oil, 1 tablespoon of maple syrup and 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract. Add one cup of sugar and cream the sugar in the fat until fluffy.

Separate two large eggs and reserve the whites for a later step. Add the yolks to the creamed sugar and incorporate. Zest a lemon and add 1/2 tsp grated lemon zest to the mixture. Beat in, in 2-3 stages, 1 1/2 cups of low-fat plain yogurt and the dry ingredients from the first step.

Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of flour over 1 1/2 cups of frozen (or fresh) blueberries and fold into the mix; do not let the berries thaw. Beat the egg whites to stiff but not dry peaks and gently fold into the mix.

Grease 12 1-cup muffin tins (paper liners are optional) and fill with the muffin batter to about 2/3rds full. Sprinkle the tops with a total of 2 tablespoons coarse sugar (raw, demerara, turbinado - regular will do, but won't have the same effect) and 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon.

Bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes, until the tops are golden and a toothpick inserted into them comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Remove the muffins from the tins, turn upside-down and place on a lint-free towel to cool (the towel will get stained).

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Eagle and Muskie, Ass-Backwards, as Usual.

I've been looking at the rather lofty goal I've set myself and how others have attained it. There are about 40 American men over 50 who run a 5 minute mile each year (or the metric equivalent), but only about 5 over the age of 55.

Not that that's my goal!

There are two approaches to running goals and you can either attack it from below like a muskie, or from above like an eagle. All the fast old milers managed to run sub-5 in their 40's on low mileage, starting by running as much as possible at pace and building up to maybe a whopping 30 miles per week. I'm coming at it from the other side and keep getting distracted by such things as "400m race times are the best predictor of mile times."

I love running fast and I've been doing too much of it lately. Having spent most of the past year mired at 10-11 minute/mile training runs, I'm now averaging 8-9... but that's because I'm running some at very fast speeds (I hit a 25 year personal best for 100 meters recently).

Running slow trains me to run slow, so I've been trying to run fast. Running fast gets me overtrained quickly. What I need to do is to run appropriately for where I am. That's always a challenge. What I need to do is run about an hour, five times per week, with two days a bit faster to keep from getting in a rut. When I stop improving doing just that, then I can start adding all the frills to which my mind naturally gravitates. I don't need to be doing anything very fast just yet.

Someone keep reminding me about that, please.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Rocky's Run and "Run Free"

I decided that I needed to get a race in this year, it being November already, so I did the Rocky's Run 6K which benefits the U of MN's women's cross-country team. The race is named for Rocky Racette, who ran for the U, made the US Olympic team at 5000m for 1980 (the year the US didn't compete) and died in 1981 in a car crash. I ran with Rocky twice and am probably one of the last people who remember her.

The plan was to go out conservatively - that's always the plan, never realized - because I felt I was only in shape to race about a mile. About 1000 meters in, I was passed by Kirt Goetzke and knew I'd gone out faster than planned. I hit the mile in 7:00, exactly as I had in 2012, when I finished the race in 29:08. I intentionally hung back from there, trying to use the wind (which was strong) and the hills when I could and was relatively comfortable. Perhaps too comfortable, I thought, as Andriette Wickstrom passed me. When there was 1000m to go, I tried to go into final drive mode, but there just wasn't anything in the tank; I haven't trained or raced enough. I saw BJ Knight, Bonnie Sons, Matt Lutz, Scott Purrington, Mike Bjornberg and Andriette ahead and felt I could take them all, if I just pushed hard enough. I kept telling myself to kick, but the gradual uphill and headwind held me back. I picked up the pace with 400m to go and, at 200m, finally hit that next gear. I passed 6 people like they were standing still, including Danielle Gordanier (who told me later that some young guy named Mark with a cheering squad tore by her at the end - Marc Cabrera actually finished a step behind her - I think I was the "young" guy!), Dan Sparkman and in the last step, Dale Heinen. I was 57th overall, in 27:58.

I was doubled over, trying to catch my breath for 2 minutes after the race, while everyone else chatted. If your body doesn't scream "YOU'RE SUFFOCATING! STOP!!!!" at the end, it doesn't feel like a race to me. But I guess that's just me.

Run Free

Monday, I went to see the film "Run Free" which came out of the book "Born to Run" and purported to tell the true story of Micah True. It did justice to the facts, but it just re-framed the mythology for its own uses, which is what people do with myths and what keeps them alive. The truth, as I see it, is that, in a group of spoiled children, the one that occasionally recognizes that he's a spoiled child looks like a prophet to the others. Am I saying that ultrarunners are spoiled children, or Americans are? Both.

The documentary owes a lot to Werner Herzog's "The Great Ecstasy of the Sculptor Steiner," which is about a ski jumper and the narrative style borrows from Errol Morris. That's a compliment, actually.

There's supposedly a Hollywood film in the works on the same subject, which will create a whole new mythos. I'll probably watch that, too.