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

Friday, February 16, 2018

A Very Rough Start

I took essentially the entire winter off from running, for the first time in decades, trying to get old injuries under control. Every now and then, I'd go for a 2-3 mile jog and come back saying, "Now my (choose one: plantar fascia, gluteus medius, tensor fascia latae, peroneals, hip adductors) hurt" and I'd start working on a new issue.

I said that once the weather improved - and we never get two consecutive days below zero after Valentine's Day here, regardless of what people say - I'd start training again. It's been a brutal February.

On Tuesday, I did repeats of the Ohio Street "snake" hill, which I intend to use for MVO2 repeats when in shape (at 0.4345 miles and 174 feet of climb, it approximates well to 1000m on a track). I ran as easily as I could and had difficulty managing 7 repeats at any pace - last year, I did as many as 20 nearly 3 minutes per mile faster.

Thursday, I went to the Ramsey Street hill, which I also intend to use for lactic acid tolerance repeats later (0.2156 miles, 117 feet climb - very close to 1/3 mile on a track). There was a large patch of ice, so I went carefully, and quit when I saw this:

I thought my maximal heart rate was 180 (it was 184 in 2008), so this was a true maximal effort, though it was a slow jog. Seven repeats, a bit over 3 miles, in more than 37 minutes. Last year, also in February, I did 25 repeats, a minute per mile faster and at a heart rate 20 beats per minute slower.

That's not starting from zero. That's starting from negative ten. With luck, I'll improve quickly, but it will take a long time before I can race. On the plus side, nothing hurts - and I haven't been able to say that in longer than I can remember.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Masters Running - VO2max

One of the things that seems to happen as one ages is that maximal oxygen uptake decreases, though I suspect that, as a trainable factor, the reason for this is that masters runners aren't doing the correct workouts. Top elderly athletes like Ed Whitlock have had unusually high VO2max recordings; Whitlock also had an unusually high maximal heart rate for his age - whether he had an unusually high rate when he was young or his maximum decreased unusually slowly (probably both) is unknown. His training appears to have consisted of "slow" 2-3 hour runs and frequent races, without what most would consider typical VO2max training.

But let's take a look at the matter.

VO2max is measured by running on an inclined treadmill for about 12 minutes. It's a good measure of one's ability to run 12 minutes, so it's best for 5K comparisons. Jack Daniels, considered the foremost authority on the subject, says training for it is done at (or very near) maximal heart rate, ideally in 5 minute bursts. I can only manage my maximal heart rate under unusual circumstances and for at most 2 seconds, as other factors impede me before I get there. I think that this may be common; if something keeps a master runner from being able to run at a pace that would correspond to their actual maximal VO2max, they will have a lower measured VO2max, because that's all that can be measured. I'm going to say that VO2max training is done at the average heart rate one can manage for a 5K, which may be considerably lower than one's maximum heart rate. That leads to some possible explanation of how masters runners should train in order to increase their VO2max.


This is probably the most straightforward method. If you can mimic the effort without the pounding effects on the body, you should be able to do a lot of VO2max training, so you could train at the (assumed) VO2max heart rate while doing some other activity; cross-country skiing is probably best (the highest VO2max recordings have been measured in cross-country skiers), cycling probably the most convenient.

Progression Runs

When you run long, either you slow or your heart rate increases over time (cardiac drift), or both. If you run long enough at a pace above an ultramarathon pace, your heart rate should eventually hit your VO2max range. Unfortunately, running this long seems to lead to overuse injuries and running a fast-ish pace for a long time is close enough to racing that it requires a very long recovery, cutting down the amount of useful training you can do. A way around that is to do a progression run, where you intentionally run the last few miles faster (necessarily running less distance); cardiac drift means that you start the harder section with an already increased heart rate, so it doesn't take much extra effort to push to VO2max. I personally find this next to impossible to do, but there is another option. If you have a long hill at the end of a long run, one's heart rate has to climb as one climbs the hill (often even when slowing down), allowing VO2max training at a relatively slow pace.

Intervals vs Hills

There are two different ways to use interval training to improve VO2max. One is to use short intense repeats with very short recoveries, e.g. the Billat protocol of running for 30 seconds at the pace one could manage for 6 minutes, followed by 30 seconds at half that pace, repeated as long as possible (24 repeats seems to have been the most done in the study). Because one's heart rate doesn't fall enough during the recovery, one's heart rate during the hard parts climbs quickly and one even eventually hits the VO2max heart rate during the recoveries. This is problematic for older runners such as myself, because the very fast pace, particularly on curves, leads to injury.

The other method is the standard. 3 to 7 repeats of 800 to 2000 meters at 3K to 5K pace  (about 4-6 minutes) are done, with approximately half as long a recovery as the time spent running hard. As Daniels points out, the first two minutes of each repeat may be spent in reaching the appropriate heart rate, so one doesn't run the entire workout at VO2max. As one ages, it may become difficult to run much more than two minutes at this pace, so the workout falls apart.

The alternative is to switch the workout to a hill of 4-6% incline. This causes one's heart rate to climb much faster, so you can run slower and get the same results, plus there's less of a lag time building up to the desired heart rate. The challenges here are that running downhill is stressful and can lead to injury and taking too long going down the hill could let one's heart rate drop too much. This could be obviated by doing the workout on an inclined treadmill.

Race more

It's quite possible that Whitlock was running at his VO2max during his races and that this was enough to keep him in shape. To duplicate this, one would have to race frequently and be careful to both not over-race and to not run so hard during the races that a long recovery is needed. Very competitive-minded runners such as myself find running races as low-key time trials rather than all-out races a challenge. It's probably easier when, like Whitlock, you could jog almost any race and win an age class award.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Grand Unified Theory of Training

This can be used to prove I've gone insane. A couple of scientists will hate the imprecision and everyone else will stop reading once they hit the word "kurtosis."
[Pause, waiting for people to click away]

My definition for training: 1/24 x fourth partial derivative (w/ respect to time) of kurtosis minus 1/6 third partial of skewness plus 1/2 second partial of variance minus first partial of mean is positive.

Here's how it works in laymen's terms. Imagine your training as a set of data points that form a curve not too different from a normal distribution. Your races are outliers in performance, far removed from your average days, but you want to increase the possibility of a performance better than your personal record.

There are several ways to do this. First, you could simply increase the number of data points. This means running a lot more and, keeping the same percentage of races, racing a lot more. This is probably how you improved when you first started running. The likelihood of an unusually good race came from not knowing what "good" actually is. This is also the high volume approach to training, which is what was popularized in the 1960's and 1970's.

Second, you can increase the mean (average). This is what people commonly try to do, to nudge all their workouts just a bit, so the average improves and, theoretically, their best performances move as well. The problem with this is that it's far easier to improve your easy days than your hard days, so you end up having no truly easy days and, after a brief improvement, you fall apart.

Third, you can increase the variance (the square of the standard deviation, if you prefer). This can be done by removing the average runs, doing just easy and hard runs, creating a bimodal distribution.

This method is akin to the current idea of polarized training.

Fourth, you can increase the skew [bear with me on this]. A properly skewed distribution would look like this:

This can be done in a number of ways. You could eliminate the easiest runs. You could make the easiest runs harder and make the average runs easier. You could increase the number of hard runs. You could combine any or all of these approaches.

This is similar to the approach commonly advocated for masters runners, to do mostly high-quality workouts, even if it means doing far fewer workouts. It is also what is seen in the peaking/tapering phase of many workout schedules.

The fifth way is to increase the kurtosis, which is a measure of how many outliers there are, which would seem to be exactly what we want. This can be done by racing more, by having a few extremely easy runs (the Long Slow Distance method) or by pushing almost all workouts to close to the average, making anything else an outlier. A properly leptokurtotic (yes, that's the word) distribution looks like this:

So what am I proposing?

All of these approaches should be used, in sequence. Have a period in which you do a lot of average runs, then a period when you don't. Have a period when you drop your easy runs and have one when you introduce one very long extremely easy run. Have a period when you try to improve each element at the same time and a period when you focus on one specific element. And, when in doubt, race more.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Training for Masters Runners - Tissue Elasticity

It's common for masters runners who've been running for 2-3 years to beat those who've been running 20-30 years and who used to be extremely fast. It would appear that, after a point, running makes people worse at running. The reason usually attached to this is "tissue elasticity" - which is never defined and may be meaningless.

What I think happens is that, while exercised muscle fibers become stronger after slight tears in the tissues from effort, the tendons attached at either end of them, when torn, develop scar tissue cross-linking; this makes them stronger but less pliable and makes one's range of motion decrease. There's a strong correlation with top running speed and hamstring inflexibility, though inflexibility does not lead to speed.

The standard "solution" to this problem is stretching, which is itself problematic.  Runners who stretch are more likely to get injured, rather than less likely; for a long time, I thought that this was because runners tend not to stretch if they think they don't need to, but once they get injured, start a stretching routine. It turns out, however, that competitive athletes also tend to stretch competitively, over-doing it and hurting themselves. After a year of classes where instructors told me I'd become more flexible if I went at it slowly and consistently - and didn't - I've come up with a process that's worked for me.

Trigger points

"Tendons shouldn't hurt if you press on them." That's one of the most important lessons I've learned in treating running injuries. If you press on a tendon and it hurts, continued pressure for 20-40 seconds (or deep tissue massage) often causes it to stop hurting; if it hurts so much that you cannot press on it for more than a second or two, you've got an injury. A month ago, I had more than a dozen spots like that, but have worked them out. Foam rolling is a decent way to deal with very minor issues, but I found I need much more pressure (accidentally bruised myself once) to make real change.

Once the tendons have been freed up, the muscles are easier to stretch. The procedure I used was to look up which muscles were connected to the tendons that hurt and then look up stretches recommended specifically for those muscles. The exercises tend to fall into groups, where you could change from one to another in a single motion; I'd move from one to the other and back slowly, which increases range of motion as well as anything I've found.

Does it work? Well, I can touch my toes now and couldn't before and I find that I'd been changing the way I move to compensate for tightness and pain but now can move more freely. There's an odd trade-off: what one gains in mobility, one loses in stability, so it's important to work on balance. Also, fixing one problem often discloses another. I've gone through more than 60 issues in the past month.

Over the past decade, I'd lost my back-kick when running fast because I'd lost some range of motion and my running stride became more stereotyped - if you always run in a slow shuffle, you become efficient at that, but lose some ability to run fast.

Only time will tell if increased mobility will allow me to compete better against the neophyte master runners.

Monday, January 8, 2018

The Dreaded Yearly Fashion Post 2018

Or, "Steve man-splains how to wear a black dress."

If you watched the Golden Globes last night, you only saw one woman who didn't wear black; the president of the Hollywood Foreign Press wore a lovely red dress, as she had it before everyone decided on black, it's a cultural thing and her mother wouldn't like it - plus, I say, it's her party and she can wear what she wants. There were others, but the cameras carefully avoided them and, interestingly, though alcohol was served, I didn't see a single shot of anyone drinking.

Model/actress Barbara Meier
Man we needed Ricky Gervais this year instead of Seth Meyers.
I like covering the Golden Globes because, with television included, the nominees skew younger and the younger attendees take more fashion risks. Unfortunately, all we got this year was Millie Bobby Brown in a custom gown, looking far too grown up and serious, despite the blue shoes.
The challenge with black is to not look funereal or wear a little black cocktail dress you could wear anywhere. Black should be textured, preferably with more than one type of fabric for contrast and will accentuate skin tones (it's ideal for young women with creamy skin and black or red hair, the "Irish" look), make-up and hair, so everything else has to be done perfectly. On top of this, the awards show is formal, but also a dinner party atmosphere, so the proper balance is tricky. You don't want to look like Robert Palmer's video "Addicted to Love."

Zoe Kravitz. This is too simple.

Can you add colored gems? Can you have white or silver or gold detail? Yes, if you do it correctly. The dress should: flatter the wearer, be harmonious and have each piece have a purpose. There was enough black velvet there to make a million Elvis paintings and a ton of platinum and emerald.

Here, in random order are some dresses and what I thought:

 Margot Robbie's custom dress was an excellent choice, with 3-dimensional floral work and her hair and make up were perfect (her eyebrows especially - in close-ups, I kept looking at them, which usually only happens when something's gone terribly wrong). The only flaw to this is that the plunging neckline requires a focal point, so a necklace would have been ideal.
Close up, you can see how the brows were filled in.

Jessica Biel probably was best-dressed, though this photo doesn't do the dress justice. I want to know what shade lipstick she wore, something I've never wondered before in my life, but it was exactly right.
 Claire Foy wore a suit. This was not a job interview, nor is this 1930's Berlin.
Tracee Ellis Ross wore a hat, which was a terrific idea and one I wish others had considered (and the texture is matched in the shoulder!) Hair adornments would've been great statement pieces.
Ugh. One of the not-to-be-named family looks like she's flashing the camera, perhaps foreshadowing her next career.
Though a bit severe and Middle Ages, I love the neckline of Natalie Portman's dress. Without the plunge, it wouldn't work; with it but without the square corners, it also wouldn't work.
Sarah Jessica Parker has a little too many textures going on here.
Catherine Zeta-Jones, though a tad nightgownish and perhaps a bit young for her, carried off this couture dress with aplomb.

Alicia Vikander prepares to play chess with the devil in a hearse in 1880.

Emma Stone's one-shoulder wasn't quite enough (I do like the shoes). Compare to Naomi Campbell below.
Penelope Cruz always wears black well, but this looks like two dresses, neither of which is right.
Sharon Stone HAS to be choosing dresses intentionally to make worst-dressed lists. I hate this. The cut-outs are unflattering and busy, as well as age-inappropriate...
...and remind me of Sybil Danning 30 years ago in a werewolf movie:

Alexis Bledel looks like she hasn't aged since "Gilmore Girls." The black leaf embellishment manages to have both clean lines and a sense of whimsy. It's the type of outfit I watch the Golden Globes for - it's way too informal for the Oscars.

It's hard to see here, but Issa Rae's necklace was a perfect adornment for her plunging neckline and the ring has a matching emerald (which seemed to big for her hand). The cape train is wasted material, as are the "poofs" on her shoulders.
Naomi Campbell looked great. I have no idea why she was there, though. Here's a case of the asymmetric one shoulder being carried in the asymmetry of the bands across her midsection.

Shailene Woodley as futuristic schoolmarm.
Rachel Brosnahan tries Greek goddess, but it doesn't come together. And someone needs to teach her how to walk and stand.
 I said black works for fair complexions and red hair, so it's no surprise it works for Christina Hendricks.
Michelle Pfeiffer's top made a good contrast with the bottom (only the lighting here makes it look blue), but the cut isn't fitted as well as it should be - compare Gal Gadot below.
Nicole Kidman's dress was stunning from the back, but not the front, where it looked like she layered a ragged sack over the top.
That is spectacular. Just keep facing the other way, Nicole.

I liked Diane Kruger's dress a lot, having some of the same fabric notes as Jessica Biel's dress, but the clutch shouldn't be the focal point and the more I look at it, the less I see.

Dakota Fanning had a party-in-the-back dress that was a nice balance and suited her well.
 Kate Hudson in Valentino couture looked terrific...
 ...if you hadn't seen the dress on a tall model, when you see that the dress shouldn't drag on the ground (and the underwear shouldn't be the focus).
 Alison Brie managed both an Audrey Hepburn look and a princess ballgown. Lovely.
Jessica Chastain shows her colors to great effect.
 Saoirse Ronan's look was too severe and she looked washed out. Though I like her as a blonde, I would've dyed her hair (reddish as in "Lady Bird") for this.
 Kelly Clarkson wore a falconry gauntlet, apparently. This makes no sense.
Gal Gadot in a custom fitted tuxedo top that, with the textured dress, manages to be elegant, yet comfortable (for an awards show dress).

Okay, now another year to restake my manhood.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Training for Has-Beens

Let's take a look at masters champions like Ed Whitlock who ran a sub-3 marathon after the age of 70 on "plodding for 2-3 hours" or the new over-70 mile record holder who ran only once every three days. Their training is completely opposite each other and neither mean anything for most runners.

1) They are super-responders. With any given training stimulus, most people will have a modest and temporary improvement. A few people will have no discernible benefit and a couple will actually get worse. There is also a small number who get far more benefit than anyone would expect - the super-responders. They are the people who will tell you that you're training wrong, that you only have to do a small amount of one specific type of training, that they've discovered the "secret" to running faster. This has been evident since the time of Roger Bannister running a 4 minute mile done by a few (very fast) miles three days per week.

2) They are bio-mechanically sound. If you watch a marathon, you'll see that the first runners have almost identical strides, especially if you focus on their legs (Bill Rodgers was famed for swinging one arm wide to counteract one short leg). The longer you watch at one point of the race, the more variety you'll see in strides, because they have some structural inefficiencies for which they have to compensate.

3) They never get injured. Because of #1 and #2 above, barring accidents, they never get seriously hurt. Doing a lot of training, whether in the short term, or over decades, on an unbalanced body, will lead to overuse injuries. They also rarely take risks - if you could win a race easily, in say 17 minutes, and you could do it in 15 minutes in an all-out effort, you'd probably run just under 17 (if the record is 16, then you might run 15:50), conserving your effort for more races and more easy wins.

The more risks you take and the bigger the risks, the more you get injured. The harder you train, the more you train, the longer you train, the more you get injured.

4) They don't show the signs of wear and age. This, to me, is the most unfair cut of all. Besides being genetically gifted with the ability to get huge benefits on minimal training and being gifted (randomly, it appears) with no structural anomalies, they are also gifted with less age-related decline. Guys who are winning my age class look 10-15 years younger than I do; part of this is socio-economic, part lifestyle, but also partly genetic. They have won the genetic lottery three times, yet are competing on an equal footing.

5) They quit when it gets hard. Herb Elliott retired from racing at age 22, undefeated at the mile, creating a "no lands left to conquer" legacy. I think he quit when it looked like his supremacy was in jeopardy and, having never taken a risk, never found out what his real limit was.

People who knew Steve Prefontaine say he worked harder than anyone else because he did workouts no one else could do. He had a VO2max of 84.4 and a maximal heart rate of 214; he simply was physiologically capable of workouts others couldn't do, but I don't think he worked any harder. To see what I mean, look again at the finish of a marathon; the winner invariably looks fresh 5 minutes after the race, but those trying to break 3 hours and falling a couple of minutes short sometimes are staggering and collapsing. I say the guy who's staggering, who will be going down steps backward the next day because his legs don't work, worked harder than the winner.

Top runners quit when they have their first serious injury. They won't work harder for less success or risk making their injuries worse. Instead, they write books on how to train like they did. You are not like them. Chances are, you are not like me either, with 5 career-ending injuries (both Achilles, left knee, left hip, right lower back), with 40 years, 650 races and 100000 miles on your legs, 30 years past your last PR and competing against guys who don't have to fight hard just to finish in the middle of the pack. The difference is: you can't be like the champions unless you're born to it, but you could learn from my successes and many, many, many failures.

I'm going to write a series of posts on training for older runners. It will not be like what's already out there. I hope someone finds it useful.

And happy new year!

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Rebuilding Year (with added bit)

I'd planned to do the indoor track season this winter - it starts Saturday - but I can't whip myself into shape in 6 weeks like I used to. So now I'm looking at getting in shape before I attempt anything big.

Current training

[easy pace is 9 min./mile]
Monday AM 4 miles, with 4x50m hill sprints
               PM 3 miles
Tuesday 6 miles with 3x1200m in 5 (5K pace) - 400m in 2.5
Wednesday AM 4 miles with 6x100m strides
                    PM 3 miles
Thursday 7 miles, with last 4.5 at 1/2 marathon pace (7:45/mile)
Friday [off]
Saturday 6 miles with 6x400m hill (100 ft. climb) in 2:00
Sunday 11 miles

Every third week, I cut everything by a third.

When I stop improving, I'll focus more.

Added 12/15

A couple of people pointed out to me that there were few days without some speed work and wondered how I'd measure improvement, so here's what a final 19:00 5K plan would look like:

M 3 in 25
T 8.5 in 70 w/ 8x400 in 82.5, 3-4min. recovery
W 3
Th 8.5 w/ 13x400m hill in 2:25to 2:30
F 0
Sa 8.5 w/ last 5.5 in 40-45
S 11 in 90
M 3
T 8.5 w/ 4x1200 in 4:30, 2-2.5 min. recovery
W 3
Th 8.5 w/ 8x20 sec. hill sprint (50m @ 400 to 800m pace), 3-5 min. recovery
F 0
Sa 8.5 w/ 5K race or 3 in 20-22
S 11