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

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.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

This will be fun...

I'm entered in the Superior 100 Mile.

UltraSignup has me ranked #253 of 259 entrants. This longshot has something to prove.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

DOMS and Hills

I remember being shocked that my exceptional downhill running on the roads did not translate at all to trail running. On trails, I was terrible and only slowly got to mediocre in shorter races and stayed terrible at long ones. I'd quickly develop delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) which hobbled me on hills. What was the problem - the length of the hills, the steepness, the number or having to run them after having run for several hours?

A quick glance around the starting line would show that I did not look like most trail runners, who tended to be short and muscular (I have the typical build of a 1500/5000m specialist - which I was). The idea seemed to be that the more muscle you had, the less the damage of hills - specifically downhills - had an effect. Squats, lunges and a ton of downhill running seemed to be the answer.

Then, a few years later, a new subtype of trail runner started to appear, the small light marathoner type, which, while few in number, were starting to fill the upper ranks. And they were not doing the muscular work of the others. They were still running hills, but emphasizing the uphill (because one spends more time going uphill in a race than down, making that a priority) and running easily downhill. Because of the sheer volume of hills run, plenty of downhill work was being done, but done easily.

Kaci Lickteig, reportedly 5'3" and 90 lbs.
 The idea is that the faster one runs downhill, the greater the impact force and the more muscular damage. Moreover, it's not the pitch or length of the hills that was my (sometimes literal) downfall, so the theory goes, but the terrain. Because one cannot plant one's foot just anywhere, but must shift from side to side, landing with the foot turned at times rather than flat, a lot of muscle fibers not commonly used come into play; also one necessarily has to take some longer or shorter strides, also changing how the muscles are used. There is also an unconscious tensing of muscles one does when running on uneven (and even shifting, like loose rock) terrain that leads to fatigue.

The answer seems to be, then, according to the new idea, to run a lot of very technical hills, but to run hard uphill only. Being able to run technical downhill when tired from the uphill is key. I'm now seeking out hills where one can run long and gradual uphill, but steep and technical downhill (for locals, running Afton's gravel road up to the campground and down the now rutted steep campground hill seems best at 1.6 miles per loop and 300 feet of climb).

Oddly, the rehab work I've been doing on my Achilles tendons which has strengthened the small peroneal and foot flexor muscles may be more important than strengthening the large quadriceps and hip flexors; because these muscles are small, they tire easily.

It's a strange new world, if this is correct. If it turns out to be wrong, the alternative is box jumps. In the scientific literature, the way DOMS is generated in studies is doing 100 jumps off a one meter box. Logically, if one could slowly build up to tht, DOMS would not occur. This would be a small amount of time and efoort, but the amount of recovery time might be prohibitive.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Dreaded Yearly Fashion Post 2016

If the metallic trend continues one more year, I'm stopping these posts, because it's become pointless. It's been overdone and it was everywhere at the Golden Globes; if you can't come up with a new way to do it, try something else.

Okay. Now on to the show. Andrew Garfield and Ryan Reynolds seemed to enjoy each other.
Emma Stone did something to her lips before the show:
I'm a fan of big eyes and lips, but even I have to draw a line somewhere.
but ended up being the most talked-about for her dress:
This dress hit all of the typical notes of the night. It was in a near-nude shade (a dusty pink that went well with her coloring), had an extreme plunging neckline and had metallic embellishments. It might have been a stand-out, had not everyone worn something similar.

For example, Nicole Kidman wore this:
This dress had another trend: the cold shoulder with covered arms. The Alexander McQueen "shipwreck" dress on a model:
It actually looks better on Kidman! I'm not a fan of the detail at the top of the sleeve, but it's necessary to connect visually to the fabric at the ankle. The sleeve covering the hand seems unwieldy.

Michelle Williams in Vuitton:
Golden Globes hair tends to be a little more easy-going than at the Oscars, but a few had every hair meticulously in place. Williams, who can rock platinum pixie like no one else, led the way, with the Jessicas (Biel and Chastain) following. This is the one dress where the cold shoulder worked; without the added arm detail, it would've been insufficient. The choker is perfect and shows that $1 ribbon can work as well as $1M in Harry Winston diamonds, if done right.

I want to discuss a terrific idea done poorly, Carrie Underwood's dress:
Yes, biologists, it DOES look like Golgi apparatus:
The dress-as-origami is genius and the roses, individually, look great, though they're hard to see in the photo. It's just too busy. One or two roses in front of a shoulder and one in front of the opposing hip would have pulled this into the dress of the night.

I love the simple old-Hollywood elegance of Brie Larson's dress:
The sweetheart neckline does everything the other plunging necklines do, without looking ehxibitionistic or needing an entire roll of dress tape. The beading detail enhances without being distracting. This could've been a Jessica Rabbit-y disaster, but it works beautifully. Though it's very simple, I'm giving her my best-dressed title.

Years ago, I said that if someone wanted to stand out at the Golden Globes, they should wear a powder blue satin sheath dress. I also said it was a color I'd like to see Jessica Chastain in. This is what she wore:

Close enough! The off-shoulder neckline is almost a bateau and might have been better if it had been definitively one or the other. Then along came Isabelle Huppert, who could've told her "This is what you'll look like in 30 years... if you're lucky."

The dress looked bluer than the photo shows.
Sofia Vergara finally broke from wearing mermaid dresses. I have some issues with the dress, but she's rapidly approaching an age where she can't wear something like this, so I say "go for it." It certainly fit all the trends of the night.

Kelly Preston's dress keeps growing on me. The scallops are interesting, the belt is a needed break in the pattern and - something rarely discussed - it goes well with her husband's suit.
And now, seven more worth noting.

 Catriona Balfe went a different direction from everyone else and, except the waist, it works.
Claire Foy. I want to like this, but everything is slightly wrong.
Hailee Steinfeld in Vera Wang. The color is lovely, but nothing about this is right.
Kristin Cavallari in the most California-casual version of the night's trends.
 Lily Collins stood out from far away. The color suits her and the bright lipstick sets off the rest of the look.
 Olivia Culpo in a messy print and uncomfortable cross top that somehow isn't horrible.
 Theresa Palmer in black velvet. There were a few such dresses, like Biel's and this is attractive, if not spectacular.