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

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

J8 Plan: 11 Miles Per Week

A week ago, my breathing problems got bad enough that I was hospitalized. I couldn't climb a flight of stairs, much less run. A couple of diagnoses and a handful of medicines and I'm back trying to run, but it's far too late in the season for me to be able to race any long distance this year. It's easier for me to run fast than it is to run for any length of time - at least right now - so I'm thinking of focusing on next winter's indoor track season.

I have had a plan for some time that I've never tried, that seems right for 800m training and it's only 11 miles per week.

At the absolute worst, I'm in about 7:00 Mile race shape. All the workouts are at about 80% effort, which is what I should be able to do comfortably every day.

Monday 4x400m hill @ 2:02/800 effort  [0.2156mile Ramsey Hill, 117 feet climb; multiplying the time by 1.33]

Tuesday 3x[ 3x300m in 92 - 1 min.] - 10 min.

Wednesday 4x200m in 57, 4x100m in 28.6 - 5 min.

Thursday 8x600m in 3:40 - 1.75 min.

Friday 20x100m in 30.5 - 1 min.

Saturday 800m in 4:05

Sunday 3x (1200 in 7:20, 400 in 115) - 5 min.

Once I can do these workouts comfortably every day, I'll go on to a three day cycle, where every third day, I cut the goal times by 20% (so, for example, 4 minutes becomes 3.2 minutes).

The main thing is: I think I can do this. I started from zero on Saturday. Saturday, I couldn't finish 800m, mostly because I went out way too fast. Sunday went about as planned, though I was weaving through the Brain Tumor 5K. Monday I did the hills faster than planned and had to stop and rest half-way on the last two. Tuesday I ran much faster than planned. Wednesday I ran much faster than planned. I don't know how much of it's the meds and I don't know how long the rapid improvement will last, but I'm going to take some weeks to see how things shake out.

The hardest thing is finding a track I can use. I can't wait for the high schools to let out!

Friday, May 3, 2019

2019 Mudball 4 Mile

I awoke race day, which I suppose is a good thing. My sinuses were killing me, so I blew my nose and blew it some more and then something horrible and yellow came out, but I could feel my sinuses still weren't clear.
Not much of an exaggeration, to be honest
I'd been sick for two weeks, after having been well for two, in turn after 12 weeks of illness. Running a race, any race, was iffy. I was back to 146 pounds from a low of 137, but still well below the 156 at the start of the year. My longest run had been 4 miles and that had taken me 42 minutes. I'd run a total of 77 miles all year.

It was 39 degrees when I headed out to Wirth Park. I was prepared to run in that, but it was quickly warming, so I removed a layer. Then I discovered that I got winded walking from where I parked to where I picked up my number. This was not a good sign. I tried to make the rounds, talking to people I know that I seem only to see at races and who don't overlap very much (I don't think I made any introductions). People were avoiding me, I think, because I probably looked infectious. John Cramer asked if I'd pace the kid's race and I had to decline because I really wasn't sure I could run at all and, if I could, I didn't need to run more before doing my longest run; there would be no warm-up. Fortunately, after a little indecision, Danielle Gordanier got convinced to do it. You can read her account on her new blog (which I recommend): Good Fast Cheap
Danielle, entering the one mud patch
One of the kids lost both of his shoes in the mud.

After finishing, he went back and got them.
I felt good for about 100 meters, going up the first hill. Then I couldn't breathe and dropped back. Here's some familiar faces: old nemesis Scott Purrington (Tartan Terrific shirt) and BJ and Hadley Knight (Miles/Smiles shirt, Eagan shirt, respectively). I'm behind Hadley.
Hadley's 11. She also had a shot at winning.
The course was 5 loops of what they said was 0.9 miles, but which my Suunto measured as a total of 4.02 miles. I spent the first loop with three people, a couple and their friend; the latter had shoe or foot issues and dropped back - she and I traded places the whole day, as I had to walk the uphills (oh, the indignity!) but could still charge the downhills.
Never caught her name. She finished ahead of me.
I apparently got under 6 minutes per mile at one point. You'd never know it from the pics:

Only after the race did I realize I wore a 50K shirt to a 4 Mile

Some of that hair loss is from illness, but it's not coming back

Kirt Goetzke. We're close in ability when I'm well.

Norm Purrington (Scott's father), who I raced as early as 1979. He beat me!
Rick Recker, who I raced as early as 1975. He's having a rough year after injury; I lapped him.

Julie Virkus, legend. Check out some of her over-60 records.
My ribbon says I finished 56th. I recorded my time, but forget what it was (42 minutes?)
I'm still sick and will be for a while, but I got a race done and that's better than 2012 already.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019


I'm hoping some photos from last week show up online, but I have no idea when or if that'll happen.

I'm still ill (16 of past 18 weeks) and waiting for something to change.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

The Road Back to the Road Back

I was out 12 weeks with one respiratory infection after another. I lost enough weight that I fit the medical standards of "underweight"and "anorectic!" I've really only been able to run this past week and have finally made it up to 3.5 (slow) miles. But that gives me a reason to explain how I build mileage.

The first day back, I do whatever I can. After that, every day I head out and, if I run the same distance as the day before in less time, I stop; if not, I run 10% further (to whatever seems like a good place to stop, usually the nearest 0.5 miles). This seems to work well for me for a few weeks, when I can start thinking about pacing and actual plans. It usually falls apart when there's a bad stretch of weather - and a blizzard is predicted for tomorrow.

This time, however, I've had to make another concession to getting older. I follow the plan above only every other day; alternate days, I run whatever feels comfortable. I have a 4 mile race scheduled in 19 days; I only plan to finish,not race.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Racing and Community 4

There are so many races in Minnesota now that, if you chose to run a 5K in Minneapolis on a given Saturday, it may not be the only one. The number of choices dilutes the racing population, so that you may not be racing against someone you ordinarily would race, unless you co-ordinate beforehand. Because of this, two methods have developed to get the same sub-populations racing each other: race series and teams/clubs.

In the early 1980's, most of the established races in the Twin Cities were in the western suburbs. There was a group of competitive runners near White Bear Lake, on the northeast side, and a series of races was developed that kept them running against each other. It still sort-of exists, but it fell apart, because there wasn't much to keep it going. Similarly, there was a series (and it too sort-of still exists) on the south side, in Lakeville and Farmington. The MDRA has its own statewide series - largely in the Twin Cities and it has the same general pattern as the others: one race per month, of varying distances; the MDRA series uses some of the largest races in the state, most of which have become rather expensive. There are enough people in each of these races that it's unlikely that one will interact with the same ones in several races.

In 2003, I entered a series of trail races held throughout Minnesota, of 5K to 1/2 marathon in length (and won my age class). Trail races were still small enough that one could meet all of one's competitors before or after the event. When the UMTR was being formed, I organized a series of races of 50K and 50 Miles in Minnesota and Wisconsin, as some of these were in need of entrants (a few decidedly were not) and it was a good chance for people with one particular favorite race get to meet others and try different events. Trail ultras exploded in popularity just after this and I left the management of the series when someone got involved whose only interest seemed to be marketing.

The trouble with these series is that they require one to race well at a variety of distances and over several months. Fortunately, there are now a few series of a few races over a few weeks (the Endless Summer series of trail races, for example, or the Lake Como Relays).

Teams are a second way of finding one's own people at races. Unfortunately, most teams are made of a few extremely talented runners who get free gear for wearing advertising of those who supply the gear. Clubs are much less formal and often have a much larger number of members; there are weekly runs in the Twin Cities by clubs that have hundreds running each week. These people can identify each other at races by wearing team clothes, but most frequently, they communicate after the event has been over for a day to a week; they rarely are "competing" against each other - it's more of a social support network.

What I've been trying to find a way to bring back is frequent short races, where one has an incentive to do one's best (rather than just participate) and where one sees the same people and it's possible to interact with them before or after the event. There are some efforts being made by a number of people to bring this about.

One good example of how to do things right is the NMTC fall and spring race series in the Duluth area. To get around liability insurance waivers, the races have no entry fees, but ask for a suggested donation to defray costs (I see they now have waivers for when you enter the series). The races are low-key, but competitive, and average 100-200 finishers. I'm hoping to create something similar here in the Twin Cities. If I add another post to this series, it will be of courses I'd like to see made into races.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Racing and Community 3: Population

This is going to make everyone's eyes glaze over, I'm afraid.

Race size

There are limits to the size of the field of entrants in a race, mostly determined by bottlenecks in the width of course. Trail races usually start in an open field or on a street, giving runners a chance to spread out before they hit single-track trail, where too many runners cause people to have to wait. It's easy to find track races where they let too many start; though the course is 8 lanes wide, the effective width is only 2, and only 1 on the turns; too many runners leads to bumping and often to falls.

Road races, when they grow unwieldy, have staggered starts. The NYC Marathon, for example, starts wheelers, then elite females, then elite males, then everyone else (from two different start points). This is to cut down on accidents from crowding and, to a lesser extent, to cut down the time people have to stand around waiting to be able to run. The problem with this is: if you didn't start at the same time and run the same course, you weren't in the same race; a great example of this was the Melpomene 5K held decades ago in Minneapolis, where one year the women ran, then the men ran separately, but it rained during one of the races.

If you combine the results of multiple heats, as is done with some races, like the Meet of the Miles, you still don't get a normal distribution, but people bunch together at specific goal times.

Race population

There is an ideal race population, which is rarely achieved. The number of finishers should form a normal curve of distribution when plotted against the logarithm of time. The math of that is horrible, but fortunately the middle 25% of finish places form a straight line plotted against the logarithm of finish time. Almost no races actually fit this profile (the Brian Kraft 5K is the only one in Minnesota that regularly does), for a number of reasons. First, you have to have a lot of runners, thousands, to form a smooth distribution. Second, there can be no "ringers" brought in. Then, everyone has to be competing to run as fast as they can; this, in fact, is the major reason it doesn't work in marathons, because the majority of runners don't care when they finish, just that they finish.

Finish frequency

Very long races have the problem that the first runners often run alone, with hours between finishers. If you can't see the runner ahead of you, you rarely are racing them. Generally, in track races, "losing contact" happens with a gap of 10 seconds. As I said in the first post in this series, several runners finishing per second can't be considered racing, either. So, ideally, you want 2-10 seconds between runners from start to finish, but this never happens. There's a "sweet spot" at about 100 runners per mile (+/- 50%), regardless of race length, where most runners will fit that criterion.

Field Size Stability

In 1999-2000, I did a survey of local races and found that those that had 500-1000 runners finishing were relatively stable. Those that had more than 2000 tended to grow until they became problematic, then suddenly fell apart (the largest races have continued adding races, often on other days - the Twin Cities Marathon now has a 10 Mile, a 10K, a 5K and shorter family events, plus lead-up races throughout the year). Races with fewer than 300 finishers tended to die out, unless they had motivated race directors.

"Popsicle Races"

Very small races, as they were done in the 1970's, ideally had three volunteers. One would stand at the finish reading out the times while another jotted the times down on paper. A third handed the runners their place, written on something that would stand up to weather; tongue depressors were commonly used, which are essentially large popsicle sticks. After everyone finished, the finishers would then hand their stick back to the person with the list of times, so that their name could be attached to their time. This works well for races of 50-70 runners and okay up to maybe 100.

Putting it together

With all the numbers above, one can see that races of only 0.5-2.0 miles would fit the criteria. These distances are almost never run, though it's been shown that 70% of runners' best distances for racing are under 5000 meters (which is why track races have so many sprints and few long races). These very short distances are also good entry points to road racing for beginners, particularly children.

No one will travel to go to a short race of odd mileage, so these races will be very local, with the same runners showing up repeatedly, which is what one wants for racing. Also, one can recover from these races quickly, so one can run a lot of them. The last challenge is in getting people motivated to run these and run them as fast as they can - that, I hope, I will cover in the next post.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Racing and Community, part 2

Chances are, if you didn't run on a team in high school, you've never raced anyone while running. You can tell the difference in a photo. These guys, John Van Danacker (leading, on right) and Pat Billig (trailing, left) both finished this 5K in 17:23; they were both vying for the Minnesota state championship for men 55-59, so they've been racing each other for a while.

This rarely happens any more, because we've had an entire generation of people who expect awards for participation. Consider the Twin Cities Marathon. In 1982, there were 3511 finishers, with 504 of them finishing under 3 hours and 429 Minnesotans finishing under 3. Last year, there were 7144 finishers, 184 of them under 3 hours, 108 of which were from Minnesota. Breaking 3:00 was 8 times more common then! I think the main reason for this is that there is no incentive to do better - you get exactly the same reward for finishing in 6 hours as you do in 3, so why bother to run hard?

There's actually disincentives to run faster in the age class system. In the mid-1990's, I ran the Excelsior Firecracker 10K (one of the oldest races in Minnesota) one year and watched the age class runners as they finished behind me. They'd finish, then head to where the awards were, sitting in order. After talking with them, I found that they knew who they'd be racing beforehand and what order they'd finish, barring accidents. In fact, there were exactly three competitive runners in each age class - the same number as awards - because other fast runners in their age classes chose to do other races where they could win an award, rather than to finish 4th to one of these. They'd all conferred. If you checked the results 10 years later, it's the same names, they just were in different age classes. As long as they're getting awards, they don't quit.

I'm not immune to this. Billig, pictured above, ran a 5K under 17 minutes last year. I haven't run that fast this millennium and we're the same age (though I look much older - the unfairness of it all!) So I tend to run races where I know I don't have to race him, because it's pointless.

In my race report for the Trail Mix 50K of 2008, I mention choosing to ensure that I'd win the men's race by not going with Eve Rembleski when she caught me, because we weren't in the same race. There's something very wrong with this.

So, one thing we need are new incentives to run faster. What we have isn't working.