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

Monday, March 13, 2017

A Bit of a Whine

It's a miracle that I can run at all, so it doesn't make sense to complain when things get a bit tough. It's also Lent, and you're not supposed to brag about how difficult what you're doing is, nor complain about how hard it is.

But you couldn't do it. And right now, it sucks.

I got into heavy training a couple of weeks ago and now the weather's gone bad just at the worst possible time. Saturday, I did hill repeats for two hours in sub-zero wind chill [and whoever of you it was who honked at me from your white truck: you have tinted windows. No one can tell who you are. But thanks, anyway; I was at a particularly low point]. Sunday was a long run - with speed work - and it was still below zero and I quit early because my arms went numb (and daylight saving didn't help matters). Last night it snowed, so I had to shovel before I ran and I ended up running in snow, still below zero wind chill. Tomorrow's the last tough day, for a few days at least, and it will STILL be below zero and I have to run hills, probably in the dark and probably on glare ice. We'll see.

I don't know how I'm going to get through tomorrow.

I'm doing the Great Lent, 48 consecutive days of minor fasting, and coinciding with heavy training, I've lost a lot of weight. My clothes don't fit. I'm always tired and a little grumpy.

My heels hurt even while I sleep.

I also gave up social media, so I don't have a lot of places to bitch and moan. Okay, so I've done that. [By the way, I had to do a 80 minute software update on my Suunto watch and it erased all my data. I hate that watch so much.]

On to tomorrow.

The $15000 baton relay

Update: The Return of Cool Hand

I did Tuesday's workout as if I were born to it.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

"Greyhounds" Workout

The next time I post what I've been doing, this workout will be in there, so I thought an explanation was in order.

The first time I encountered this workout was in examining the training of some world-class 800m runners. I thought it was a typo. Years later, whenever I see it online, there's inevitably a comment from someone saying that "This must be a mistake. It doesn't sound reasonable." Here's a typical Greyhound workout:

10x100m with 5 meter recoveries

See? You immediately wonder if I meant 50 meters or maybe 5 minutes. 5 meters looks wrong.

Think of a dog (a greyhound) running along the fence of an enclosed yard. It runs as fast as it can, suddenly encounters a fence and has to slam on the brakes. Then it turns around and runs the other direction as fast as it can. It does this until it's exhausted or gets distracted. That's what the workout is like.

It's usually done on a track where the 100m race is marked. One runs a sprint in lane 1, turns into lane 2 and sprints back, turns into lane 3 and so on. The beauty of the workout is in the stopping and turning. Having to rapidly decelerate stresses the same muscles you use in sprinting, but in a completely different way, switching from concentric loading to eccentric loading. Runners tend to slow gradually in training; about the only time one runs like this is in a cross-country race where there's a hairpin turn at the bottom of a hill [I have a great story that involves doing that; if we ever meet, ask me about it]. The pivots at the end of each sprint require some agility and work the smaller "balance" muscles, which are also under-used by most runners. It is a completely different workout than running 100m hard/ 100m easy.

Energetically, short sprints use the creatine phosphate/ ATP shuttle. You can regenerate creatine phosphate in less than 5 minutes (usually) and your normal muscle stores are enough for about 45 seconds. Thus the first 2-4 sprints in this workout are mostly depleting the creatine phosphate stores; after this, one goes into lactic acid training - the sprints become more difficult to do and are generally slower as one fatigues. Eventually, after 10-12 "greyhounds," one is slowing enough that the ability to run anaerobically is ending and one should stop before turning it into something else.

It's a tough workout. Invariably, after 5 sprints I find myself thinking that there's no way I can do more than 6. I still end up doing 8-10. It's a workout you don't want to do often enough to get good at it (!) - doing it frequently tends to teach one the "bang" start used by some sprinters (which is good if you're a football player, not for most runners) and then one slows over a much longer distance more gradually; it's the short stop that's important.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Training Log: January, February

At the start of the year, I had some lung issues, so I was unable to run much. Other things worth noting: "strides" are 45 strides (90 steps) in 30 seconds, about 100-120 meters, done once or twice per mile;" "sprints" are done up a very steep hill on a trail (when possible) and are roughly 8-10 seconds; "Mounds Hill" is 0.25 miles up, with 89 feet of climb (6.5% gradient), "Ramsey Hill" is 0.215 miles up with 117 feet of climb (9.5% gradient) and "Snake Hill" is 0.43 miles up with 174 feet of climb (8% gradient).

There's a LOT of niggling injury stuff here, which is expected when going from no running to heavy training at my age and with my injury history.

1 3.5 miles in 36:45 with 12x30 seconds (max pace 6:37) at Mounds Hill. Max heart rate = 171
2 6 miles in 60:19
9 1.06 miles in 10:42. Multiple issues.
10 1 in 10:40
14 2 in 21:26 with 4xMounds Hill. Wheezing, chest tightness.
16 5 in 59:03 Max HR=173. Breathing problems. Redness under nails of big toes.
17 8 in 87:58. Icy (Mounds Hill was un-runnable)
18 6 in 61:59 Breathing is improving.
19 8 in 89:31 with 15xMounds Hill. Long icy patch.
20 6 in 60:33 Some puddles, ice. Breathing improving at night.
21 11 in 118:28 w/ 21xMounds Hill. Some light rain. Minor pain in right heel.
22 14 in 2:29:42 (plus 4 miles hiked). Chafing trouble early. Right heel hurt from 12-16. Hands froze during hike. Fell apart at about 10 miles.
23 5.5 in 57:46 Tightness in right hip, soreness in left big toe.
24 8.5 in 87:02 with 16xMounds Hill.
25 5.5 in 57:38 Snow. Variable footing.
26 8.5 in 89:23 with 16xMounds Hill. Slight soreness from right hip to heel.
27 6 in 60:36. Slept poorly.
28 11 in 117:48 with 21xMounds Hill. Heel pain in right foot last mile. Tough at the end. Some stiffness in right hip. Some residual soreness in peroneal attachments afterward.
29 14 in 2:28:51 (plus 6 hiked). Gusty winds. very cold hands. Sciatic "warm spot" on left leg. Stiff in right hip. Soreness in right heel lingered all day.
30 4 in 42:22. Snow. Slept badly.
31 5.5 in 62:47 with 10xMounds Hill. Soreness in peroneals at start.


1 4 in 39:42. Didn't sleep well, some icy patches. Wind chill -4.
2 5.5 in 56:21 with 10xMounds Hill Horrible wind. Wind chill -6.
3 4 in 35:59 Slept poorly. Right ankle stiff at start. Wind chill -4.
4 8 in 79:44 with 15xMounds Hill.
5 10.5 run in 1:39:41 (plus 4.5 hiked). Sore right heel when walking, partly self-corrected. Hands froze. Residual soreness in heels all day.
6 6 in 56:40 with strides.
7 [Too icy to run outdoors]
8 [-15 windchill. Back ache.]
9 [-13 windchill. Could've run later in day.]
10 6 in 57:47 with strides.
11 11.5 in 120:38 with 22xMounds Hill Difficult toward end. Aches in both medial ankle malleoli. Soreness in hamstring attachments at left knee.
12 15 in 154:28 with last 0.5 miles hard (uphill and against wind). 40 mph wind gusts. Very icy.
13 6 in 61:44 with strides and sprints. Dead-legged.
14 5 in 56:14 with 12xRamsey Hill HRmax=171. Surprisingly grueling starting the 9th hill. Very sore piriformis (both) after [this took three days of deep massage to mitigate].
15 6 in 58:03. Icy patches.
16 7.6 in 92:05 with 18xRamsey Hill. Left achilles sore starting on #12.
17 6 in 53:52 with strides. Overdressed. Twinge in right hip at start. Lateral soreness in both ankles at start, left at the end.
18 10.61 in 114:30 with 25xRamsey Hill. HRmax=167. Bathroom break half-way through.
19 15 in 2:32:11 with last 1 in 9:00. Break at 6 miles to remove clothes. Left knee (medial) ached from 4.5-6 miles. Sore right heel last few miles. Sore hip adductor attachments at groin.
20 4 in 37:31 with strides, sprints. Soreness in left peroneals, tightness in hip adductors.
21 5.5 in 58:34 with 13xRamsey Hill. Dense fog. Sharp sciatic pain and leg weakness in uphill #10. Groin soreness when taking long strides downhill.
22 4 in 36:41 with strides and sprints.
23 5.02 in 54:25 with 12xRamsey Hill, last 3 hills at 9:40/mile (max=7:27).
24 4 in 38:07 with strides
25 7.5 in 78:15 with 17xRamsey Hill. Started a bit fast. 0 windchill at start, overdressed by end.
26 11 in 102:19, last 2 in 16:14 (plus 5 hiked). Frozen hands again. Sore right plantar fascia.
27 6 in 55:24 with strides, sprints.
28 7.75 in 83:27 with 9xSnake Hill (4 hard uphills - 3;58, 4:03, 4:07, 4:10) HRmax=165  Slept badly. Dead-legged. Several aches.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Is Training a Markov Process?

This is one of the most esoteric of questions, but one I've been mulling over for a while: Is training and racing a Markov process? A Markov process is one in which the conditions at any moment determine what happens in the next moment, but the overall history of how you got to that moment is unimportant. It's actually a bit of a free will vs. determinism question; if every moment decides the next moment, then you have no choice in what happens.

The immediate response of most people would be that, if you run a certain time at a race, it doesn't matter how you got there. The time you run is the time you run and that's that. Of course, if you used performance-enhancing drugs, then all of a sudden everyone thinks it's very important how you got to where you are. So - it's not important unless it is?

I think what's important is where you are in your training. Training responses tend to form a logistic curve:

If you're early in your training, at point "A," then if you race, you probably are going to run about as expected (not all that well, but better than in training). Similarly, if you're late in the training, at point "C," then you can be fairly confident that you're going to race well and within a narrow range of possible times. It's when you're in the middle, at point "B," that things get tricky; you're rapidly improving, so it's possible that you might have a surprisingly good race. I think most runners don't have any idea where they are, because they don't train consistently, but if they did, they'd know whether they're improving rapidly or starting to reach a peak.

This is why, if you see me running, you shouldn't ask me what I'm thinking about.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Planned Recovery

This is the last in the series of a somewhat new approach to ultramarathoning.

I've always run too hard on my easy days. Fitness being a function of the average training load, it's easier to make the easy days harder than to make the hard days harder. The only way I could keep myself from doing that was to make easy days complete days off from running. If I took Friday off, I'd often find myself thinking on Thursday "I can get through this. Tomorrow I don't have to do anything" and on Saturday "I should be able to crush this workout; I've had a day off." Along with the psychological boost, there's a real benefit in terms I've been using earlier: if you run, say, 10 miles six days per week, then a day off increases the variation as much as running a 20 miler - and variance per mile run increases, as the average mileage decreases.

What I've been especially bad at is having easy weeks, except when tapering for a major race or when injured. My best year of running - 35 years ago! - I'd have a moderate mileage week, two high mileage weeks (and I still recall how hard they were), a moderate week, then an easy week with speed work and then an easy week tapering to a race. That six week cycle worked well for me, but I abandoned it and I don't remember why.

Looking at the ultramarathon schedules that are commonly used, for example the Ultraladies, the Relentless Forward Progress,  and to a lesser extent Hal Koerner's Field Guide, they include weeks of decreased mileage. I think the idea is that the very long runs, usually back-to-back, are so stressful that one needs entire weeks of recovery. Many marathon plans also include an easy week every third or fourth week.

What I'm thinking is that, after two high mileage weeks, a low mileage week will become much faster paced (given my propensity to run too hard on easy days) and perhaps the increased speed may lead to the next high mileage week being run at a faster pace as well.

It's too early to tell so far. I've only been through a bit more than three weeks of training, but the "easy" week has been fast. I'm running about a minute per mile faster than I was three weeks ago, but part of that is weather related. From what I can see, I'm about 30% of the way to where I want to be in training in just a few weeks. Of course, the biggest gains come early and it's very early in the season.

It's a promising start, as long as I don't fall apart and get injured.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Reasonable Goals for an Unreasonable Man

After a 5 year (5 YEAR!) lay-off of being unable to run, I'm about 2 minutes per mile slower than I was 10 years ago and, unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be changing much. I have to face the fact that I am not the same person, much less the same runner, I was. Setting goals has been tricky.

UltraSignup has me ranked almost last (essentially unranked, from lack of races) for the Superior 100 and people have been asking me what I expect to do there. The old records there set me at 66+/-3%, which gives Superior in 32:00 +/- 1:30. From RealEndurnce, 32 at Superior suggests Afton in 5:00+/-0:30. Afton in 5 for me requires a marathon in 3:33. Using my old check of Superior= marathonx9, we have 3:33x9= 32:00.

Seems reasonable.

If one age grades my best marathon (2:42:41 at age 20), differing sites give 3:04-3:10 at age 54/55. Plugging in that number, I get Afton in about the over-50 course record of 4:27:27. That time, in turn, gives Superior in 28:30.

So that's probably the upper limit.

Currently, I could run a marathon a little under 4 hours, or Afton in 5:30 and Superior in 36:00.

So that's probably the bottom limit.


Then there's the Larry Ochsendorf records. Larry, at age 50/51 ran the Twin Cities Marathon in 2:50, Afton in 3:55 and Superior in 20:40. Those trail records aren't official anymore because the courses have changed (become harder), but current course times would be about 4:05 and 22:00.

Not so reasonable.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Back-to-Backs, Average Load and Variance

The one thing seemingly agreed upon among ultramarathoners are back-to-back long runs; almost everyone does them, almost everyone says they're important. Admittedly, the rationale behind them has largely escaped me because there are so many different explanations that have been given. If I don't understand something, I tend to dismiss it and I have been far better at planning back-to-backs than actually doing them. I generally run the first too hard, making the second a necessarily shorter run; if I consciously hold back during the first one, I end up running so slowly that the sheer length of time on my feet makes the second one necessarily shorter. I need to know very specifically what I'm doing and why.

The most common rationale given is that one needs to learn to run when already tired. But if you run a 6 hour run, aren't you running on more-tired legs for longer than if you did back-to-back runs of three hours? It seemed to me that those doing two three hour runs back-to-back were doing them because of the schedule of the rest of their week: they run long Saturday and Sunday because those are the days available and it is possible to get up very early and run for three hours and still be able to do normal family activities at normal times. If you ask runners if they'd rather get in some six hour runs, they always say they would, but don't have the time. The eternal question is: how can you prepare for running 24 hours if you've only run 4 hours in training? This is where lead-up races of 50K, 50M and 100K get included - but wouldn't longer training runs still be better than back-to-backs? I was starting to think that the main advantage to back-to-backs was that runners were invariably doing them before sunrise and were thus better prepared for the night running that's almost always required in a trail 100.

It was a rather misguided alternative rationale that started me seeing the situation in a new light. This source said that the reason for back-to-backs was that one could shoehorn in a few extra long runs into a schedule that way, thus increasing the average load over the training season. I don't think that that is true in most cases (this is admittedly mostly a gut feeling based on experience). The "average load" did lead me to an idea:

A general model and framework for training

Most biological systems can be described by a series of bell curves, so one's trianing can be expected to fit such a curve if one had an appropriate measure of effort - most common measures, like mileage, do not adequately measure effort and attmpts to measure efforts (including my own) are only slightly better. That said, moving the center of the curve, the average, means improving fitness.

Races, however, are attempts to move as far as possible away from one's average. If all of one's training runs are about the same, it's difficult to do something far from that average. If you do a training run too far from your average, it becomes so stressful that one needs several easy days to recover and this can bring down the average. This is the problem with the six hour run - even at the easiest of paces, it is too far from the average for any typical runner, whereas two three hour runs may not be. Of course, if one ran six hours every day, a six hour run would be average, but this is too much work to be useful.

I think the ideal typical week for training for a trail 100 would look something like:

M 1 hour
T 1.5
W 1
Th 1.5
F 1
Sa 2
S 4-4.5

It's common practice to put the longer of the back-to-backs first, as it is the more important. What I'm finding top runners doing, however, is running a hard and fast run on Saturday, followed by a very long  very easy trail run on Sunday. The faster running makes the Saturday workout a hard one and the increased pace balances the slower pace on Sunday, so that the average pace run during the week does not drop. Because one has to run the longest run slowly - or it becomes too stressful - it tends to drag the average pace down just because it is such a large proportion (about a third) of the week's mileage. If one tries to run 4 hours on Saturday, running a fast 2 hours on Sunday will be impossible; one needs the easier runs before it. If one tries to place two hours of hard running in the 4 hour run, whether one does it on Saturday or Sunday, it becomes too stressful and affects the next week negatively.

Again, how can one expect to run, say, 24 hours, if one never runs more than 4 hours? From the week given above, the race is about 20 standard deviations from the mean - an anomaly bordering on impossible. I found that to make a 100 mile run not be too far from the average, one needs to run 100 miles per week: 12-13 on Sundays through Fridays, with 25-26 on Saturday, a 50 mile Saturday race in the 7th week and a 100 mile race in the 14th week. This would be a great mainenance program for a sub-2:30 marathoner, but too much for the less gifted. Additionally, the weekly variation is too small until the 50 miler - this could be adjusted by some runs being done faster than others - so a different method would be needed to reach the first 100.

To run 100 miles more often and make the weekly variability better, one would have to run even more, about 160 miles per week to have a monthly 100, and this without breaking into two-a-days. This too is best left to the most talented of runners.

This is why it's so hard to wrap my head around the numbers. No one ever said "the logical thing to do is to run 100 miles."

What hasn't been determined is: if one manages the appropriate average effort in training, with the proper amount of variation, does the back-to-back still matter? I think not.

I'm still going to do them, however.