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

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Limiters and Performance Curves

I'm working through another idea in training. To understand it, I have to give a little background to my thoughts.

What keeps you from being a great sprinter is different from what keeps you from being a great marathoner (the proof is that no one's world class at both). There are a collection of things that limit running performance and we don't even know what they are. People talk about maximal oxygen uptake, but that's just something that can be measured and is dependent upon dozens of variables, some untrainable and that means little far from about 10-15 minutes of racing.

When you hit your first limiter, the others don't matter. Change that factor and your race times change. However, we don't know but what these limiters are connected, that raising a bar that isn't the lowest might raise the lowest bar too.

At any rate, if you plot out the logarithm of your race times versus the logarithm of your race distances, many will fall on a straight line, generally the range of races you frequently do. For me, that range is unusually broad - almost from 1 mile to 50K. You'll probably get a steep line over the sprints and then a turn and a flatter line over longer distances and then a steeper line again when you hit ultramarathons - or what looks like a scatter plot, if you haven't raced a lot at a lot of distances.

The log/log plot slope divides people into categories. People who excel at the marathon, the slope is about 1.06-1.065 and this is about the slope of the chart you'll find in Jack Daniels' book comparing performances. Those who do about as well at all distances are at 1.08-1.085 and these correspond well to the old Gardner/Purdy charts, or if you're using age-grading, with those comparisons. I come in at 1.10, which partly explains why all the things I read about distance running don't seem to apply. If you look at top milers, they come in at about 1.12, but they rarely race beyond 5K.

Now, marathoners might do better at the long distances because of the slope of this line and their own personal limiters, or it might be that a great performance at the marathon just makes the slope change favorably to that distance. I haven't figured that out yet. I'm working on it.

The questions that come to me are: Would changing training change the slope of this line for me? Would training specifically for a good marathon make me better at shorter distances as well, or would it come at the expense of running well at shorter distances? Should one train differently depending upon which category one fits in and what changes should be considered?

I wrenched my back shoveling snow. I have time to think about these things now.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Steve's Evil Kitchen Presents: Lumps of Coal Brownies

For National Brownie Day (today), here's my recipe for the absolute best brownies. It's my Christmas gift to you. If I can find photos, I'll add them later.

Line a 8x8" pan with aluminum foil and grease the foil with butter. Then lightly dust the surface with flour. These brownies will be difficult to remove otherwise. The edge brownies will have a white flour coating; if you want to avoid this, you can try dusting with cocoa powder instead, or skipping the dusting altogether and taking the risk that the foil will stick.

Melt 2 Tbsp. butter with 1 oz. baking chocolate. Add 1 Tbsp. corn syrup, 1/4 cup neutral vegetable (corn) oil, 3 Tbsp. cocoa powder, 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract and 1 cup sugar. Cream the sugar in the liquid. Add 2 large (room-temperature) eggs and mix gently. Add 1/2 cup flour, a pinch of salt, 1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder (optional) and 1/2 tsp. baking soda. Gently fold in the flour, then pour the mixture into the prepared baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes, until the center is just barely set. Remove from the oven and set on a wire rack to cool.

Because these brownies will not form the papery skin that people expect from brownies, I suggest gilding the lily with a ganache:

Toast 1/2 cup chopped pecans in a cast-iron (or other heavy) skillet on the stovetop on medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until they begin to color, about 5-10 minutes. Melt 1/2 bag (6 ounces) semi-sweet chocolate chips (I do it in the microwave, using the instructions on the bag), add the pecans and spread on top of the cooled brownies.

Cut brownies into squares after cool and keep covered, at room temperature, for no more than a day.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Missteps and False Starts

There's not much to report and there won't be for a while. I've been trying to get healthy and training's been hit-and-miss since having surgery a month ago. I got to where I was running 3 miles in 22-24 minutes, but not consistently. Then the weather got ridiculous. Now I'm running 8 miles in 76-79 minutes four or five times per week. If and when I can get that down to sub 9 min./mile, I'll start thinking about speed again.

So, base training for the foreseeable future.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Day One... Yet Again

For those who haven't followed my illness saga this year, I was diagnosed with "severe persistent asthma with exacerbation" and then developed nasal polyps that completely blocked breathing through my nose and had to be surgically removed - but I also had to have a deviated septum repaired in order to get to the polyps.

I ran what I could when I could.

I was given the go-ahead for "light exercise" this past weekend, so Sunday I ran my first run in two weeks: 2.5 miles in 20:14. I had to stop because of wheezing, so I don't have the medications nailed down yet - and won't for a while, as I have steroid implants in my sinuses for the next 5-6 weeks, then go through a protocol to determine what meds I need.

But, here's my running plan:

5 days running per week, aiming at 7-8.5 miles at 8-8:15/mile each time, with one (or two) hard run(s) each week of hill repeats. I'm running as many times up a short steep hill as possible (say 12-16 times the Ramsey Hill, which is 0.2156 miles long and 117 feet high). Then I'll switch to long hill repeats (Ohio Street, 0.4345 miles and 174 feet of climb, 6-8 repeats). Then I'll switch back to the shorter hill, but try to run the uphills at 1 mile race equivalent effort. Then I'll switch back to the long hill, working the uphills as 5K (or faster) efforts. At this point, I should be in racing condition and am aiming for an indoor mile under 5:30 and an outdoor 5K under 19, both of which would put me in the top 10 for my age class in Minnesota. These age-grade to 81.75% and 82.26%, which would match my bests in the 1980's.

Monday, September 30, 2019

The Long Road Home - Individual Lessons

I think I'll bring this series to a close (before I start talking about new plans) with a few things I learned along the way, usually painfully.

Because everyone asks a runner about marathons, I've trained for quite a few and never run a good one. I've spent decades finding ever better ways for a 5K specialist such as myself to run them, but the fact remains that I'll never be good at them. And 100 milers are much worse. Typically, people who can run a marathon in 3:00 can run a mile in 5:30; for me, three hours is more equivalent to breaking 5:00 in the mile, which is much, much harder. Currently, most people who break 3 in the marathon can also break 5 in the mile, but that's because they could run a 2:45 marathon, but don't train or race hard enough. And that seems to be a generational thing - I get it: you don't get anything extra for running 2:45 that you don't get for running 3:00 (or 4:00... or 6:00), so what's the point of killing yourself?

On the other hand, training for 1500/5000m, which is probably where I'm best, I always get hurt, take a long time off, start over, get hurt again. All the years of training have shown me something: I do best with few hard runs, though I LOVE to run fast. Coming off an injury, I don't know what shape I'm in, so I run what feels good, surprise myself, and repeat that for another 4 days. It turns out that I can run hard 5 days in a row; but then I get hurt. Long-term, I can only run hard twice per week (and a long run, for me, counts as a hard run). Earlier this year, when I thought of running short track races, I was running hard all the time and it didn't work. It's standard to run hard on Tuesday and Saturday, but then try to squeeze in a "moderate" day on Thursday and an "easy" long run on Sunday, but for me, that's 4 hard runs.

My best mile races came off 3-4 weeks of specific training, mostly time trials, trying to figure out what kind of shape I was in. If I'd had racing opportunities, that'd be enough.

What I need to do is run what feels easy most days, with a couple of hard runs each week (which, at my age, are mostly hill repeats) and race 1500-5000m frequently when I feel I'm in shape to race.

That, obvious as it is, only took 100000 miles and 40 years to figure out.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

The Long Road Home - Record Keeping

It's a good idea to keep detailed records of one's running, because one's memories may not match the facts. I kept sketchy records for long periods and I really wish I had what I needed, but I have to make do with what I have.

I would say that in my best years of running, my best race was always my first of the year. Spring comes suddenly in Minnesota and, not running on snow and ice and wearing two or three fewer layers, it was hard to know just what shape I was in when I'd start that first race, so I'd go with the leaders and hang on as long as I could. One year, I memorably beat a world record holder, a 2:09 marathoner, an Olympian and several college All-Americans in a 5 mile in March, setting a personal record, even though I wasn't in the top 50 finishers! Then, discovering I was in better shape than I thought, I'd ramp up my training and would quickly fall apart, just as allergies and hot weather set in.

The records show something entirely different.

The year of that fast 5 mile, I set a PR at 10K three months later and had several good races through the summer and into the fall. I did no formal speedwork, as I was trying to get ready for a marathon and all I cared about was running high mileage (not the 85-110 of a few years later, but in a six week cycle of about 70, 85, 85, 70, 55, 45 miles, with races in the last two weeks) and getting in long runs of 21-24 miles. All of it's written on one sheet of paper! Except for races, I only ran fast a few times, usually before races and always marked "6 miles fast" which would've been under 6 minutes per mile, but not 5 1/2 per.

The high mileage, the hard speed sessions, none of that actually happened in my two best years. It was early enough (age 19-21) that I was improving, no matter how I trained and I felt "well, I know better now" a few years later when I had changed how I trained. But... I didn't run as well.

This has me re-thinking what I'm doing now.

Monday, August 26, 2019

The Long Road Home - Experiment

Imagine you've been running the same distance at the same pace every day and you decide to train for a marathon. You know one of the challenges is running the distance, so once per week you run longer, adding a mile per week. If you run at the same pace, you're going to have a problem going further, so you run slow enough to get your long run done. If you do these slowly enough, with bathroom breaks and/or walking stretches, you might actually lose fitness by your weekly average getting worse. [I've done this, training to run 100 miles.] If your fitness is actually improving, you should find that you're running faster on the other six days, or at least running the same pace more easily.

Now imagine that you've heard about doing short hill sprints and you want to know if that will improve your marathoning. You need something measurable, not just "run short hill sprints," so you use the same hill, with landmarks for the start and finish and measure the time it takes you to finish, say, 10 repeats, including the time spent going downhill. Assuming nothing goes wrong (bad weather, injury), you'll probably improve the second and third time you do them, just from learning how to do them.

These hill sprints have reportedly been very beneficial for some marathoners. Let's consider why they might help. 50% of cases could be coincidence or placebo effect, but that still means that it works for some. Brad Hudson has said that a 1% improvement in 100m sprint time means a 1% improvement in marathon time (all other things being equal). This is not true. As in all things, a few runners will improve greatly, most will see a very small improvement and some will see no improvement or even get worse. There are mechanisms that might apply, however. High mileage runners after a number of years tend to develop a slower step cadence, lessened knee lift and less flexion of the ankle at push-off, all of which have to be corrected to sprint well uphill. Less seasoned runners don't seem to respond as well.

But will it work for you? If after doing the first few sessions of hill sprints your improvement stalls, it probably won't. But maybe you keep improving, maybe dramatically; even then, there's a problem. Consider this: there are multiple barriers that keep you from being a world-class marathoner, but it's the one you hit first that keeps you from improving and it's probably not the same one that keeps you from being a world-class sprinter; you know this intuitively, as there's no overlap between world-class marathoners and world-class sprinters. So, maybe improving your hill sprints just makes you a better sprinter. The way you know is the same as what I said about the long run - if your other runs get faster too, this was your barrier. If they get worse, it's probably because you're improving at this one thing at the expense of your other runs, either by inadvertently taking it easy the day before and "keying yourself up" for the sprints, and/or running slower the next day or two, trying to recover.

When you find what works for you, stick with it until it stops working. Then experiment with something else.