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

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

Monday, November 20, 2017

Same Mistakes, but Faster

Just a short note so this blog looks active.

When I took up ultrarunning, it was a mental exercise, as all my rules for training broke down and there wasn't much written about how to train for long races (boy, has that changed). Recently, I looked at 800m training, because going the opposite direction in race length, my rules also break down. More than any other distance, 800m runners are divided between those moving up in race distance and those moving down and it's frequently suggested that there are completely different ways of training, depending on the group to which you belong. I wondered why there wasn't a specific plan and came up with one that looked perfect, then wondered why no one had ever trained that way.

Well, of course, looking deeper into it, there's a simple explanation. Most runners actually start from a position of combining short sprints and long distance and then, over a season, bringing those extremes closer to specific 800m training - which, when stated by itself, looks like nothing else and seems unreasonable. The problem is: these plans are aimed at 1:45 runners and not 2:30-3:00, for those who have a racing season rather than sporadic races and for those who have a team, a coach and a track where they're welcome. A guy in his 50's, running in winter, in Minnesota - there's no plan for him.

Except mine looks pretty good.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Lessons from Year 40 of Running

Friends have been forwarding this article: http://trainright.com/5-best-habits-athletes-over-40/ and, of course, I don't agree with it. Parts of it are correct for most people, which is true of just about everything. Athletes don't need more protein, older people don't need more protein; if you're getting 15% of your calories from protein (up to 20% if vegan), you're getting all you need and more just increases your cancer risk.

Here's some things I've learned about running when over 50:

1) Don't do the races your friends think you should want to do.

What you enjoy most, what you do best and what you do most should be the same thing. If you're running the Boston Marathon because every time a co-worker hears you're a runner they ask if you've run Boston - and you're a sprinter - something's wrong.

2) Rest better.

Rest more, sure, but rest better as well. You can still run hard workouts, but you'll need more days between them than you did in your 20's. I used to follow a day of 800m repeats in 2:25 with a 24 miler under 3 hours, because I couldn't run fast that second day - but it was, of course, a hard day, just "hard" in a different way. Take at least one day off per week, but be wary of masters programs that are only 3-4 days per week. The days you don't run can be devoted to:

3) Do all the preventative maintenance stuff you've neglected.

When I was in college, I had a coach that had us doing calisthenics that he was better at at age 70 than I was at 20. But I didn't need to do those things; I felt my time was better spent either running or doing nothing. Now, at 50, I have a million imbalances and weaknesses that could've been prevented and I do all the therapy exercises for rehabilitating old injuries every day; essentially, I'm doing the same exercises my 70 year-old coach was doing that he learned the same way I did.

4) Ignore the hype of the new.

Whether its Cordyceps, propioceptor neuromuscular facilitation or shoes with some "revolutionary" design, if you haven't needed it thus far, it probably isn't going to make much difference. "Runner's World" has survived for 50 years on finding new fads to promote because what you really need to know wouldn't fill one issue.

5) Know that no one will heed your advice.

Sure, you've had the same injury as your friend now has and you found a way to recover, but they're not going to listen. Yes, you've done the race they're training for, but it was a long time ago and that somehow negates it. That guy running faster than you, whose only been running for 6 months - now he must have the answer, because... he's faster than you.

You'll get used to it, once you remember that you were the same way once.