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

Monday, August 12, 2019

The Long Road Home - Empirical Evidence

I learned a lesson or two recently, after 40 years of running, but I think it will take a few posts to explain.

The first data available for what runners actually did came from the world record holders who were asked how they trained. Fred Wilt (who I was lucky enough to meet) compiled a lot of this into three books called "How They Train" - long out of print, but some reprinted in Tim Noakes' "Lore of Running." The first volume, covering up to about World War II, showed a wide variety of training methods; by the third volume, it all started to look the same. Some would say that, as times lowered to a theoretical limit, that training also edged toward a singular best method. I think that the spread of information just got people to do what had worked for others.

The next empirical data I got came when a survey was sent to finishers of the 1974 Portland Marathon. Instead of just the most talented runners, this gave a spread from 2:20 to about 5:00. They found that those who had finished a marathon previously ran 15-20 minutes faster than those who hadn't and posited that the experience caused them to run faster. Instead, I think that those who ran well at a marathon ran another, while those who had a terrible time (I mean that two ways) decided not to run another. For the record, my first 5 finishes were 3:20, 3:19, 3:05, 3:41, 2:42.

In the 1980's, I was beating 2:30 marathoners in short races, but couldn't break 2:40 (except once, on a short course). Allan Lawrence published three training manuals then - again, long out of print - the first one covering the marathon, with what athletes he coached did, with finishes spaced every 10 minutes from 2:20 to 4:00. I couldn't do any of the workouts in the 2:30 schedule, or the 2:40. I could only do the easy runs in the 2:50. I could do all the runs in the 3:00, but not as frequently as his runners; for example, in the first week of marathon-specific training, he had a sub-3 marathoner run the following week:

M 16x200in 38- 200
T 10 miles in 70
W 3x1600 in 6:00 - 800
Th 6
F  10 in 70
Sa 1/2 marathon race in 1:25:15
S 18

I could do the 200's in 31 or 32 and the miles in 5-5:10, but 10 miles at marathon pace meant at least four days of recovery for me. Running almost a half marathon at race pace every other day, PLUS a long run PLUS speedwork? No way.

I could do all of the 3:10 schedule. His runner had run 3:12 previously and finished in 3:06, which to me just means an easier course or better weather. Remember, I ran under 2:45 on this training. Was coaching just finding runners who underperformed by a minute per mile?

Now we have all kinds of data available online. Strava compiled data and found that the average runner using Strava that broke 3:00 in the marathon ran an average of 50-55 miles per week, almost all at 7:30 per mile. Lawrence, typical of coaches in the 1980's, would have them run 60-70 miles per week at 8 minutes per mile (for the longer runs and recovery runs).

I never ran what I considered a great marathon, because, simply, I'm not a marathoner, but a short distance runner. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses and my weakness is being unable to hold a moderately fast pace for a long time - in other words, marathoning. But I ran my best short races when training for a marathon and that's got me thinking...

Monday, July 15, 2019

Read, Then Ignore

It's impossible to keep up with all the scientific articles about training, but sometimes one experiment leads to a blog post, then a magazine article, then a training fad, then a book and then several years of trying to explain why it's mostly nonsense. Still, I go back and read the original work. Here's why it's usually pointless.

Experiments are generally done at universities, so the people available for the studies are 18-22 years old and generally fit. Decreasing the number of variables helps in getting publishable results, but while the general populace fits a normal bell curve, the studies are looking at only the exceptions at one end of the curve. But maybe you're in that small section because runners are self-selective; most sports require 100% effort for seconds or minutes, but those who are poor at those find themselves doing well in endurance sports.

Studies generally go for 6-12 weeks, because that's as long as you can get volunteers. No one addresses the fact that the results may not be constant, that runners tend to train for months and years. Almost anything that can be tried has been tried, repeatedly, by a large number of people, over the past century of running. If there were something revolutionary in training, everyone would've switched over eventually. How many elite runners do you find doing training significantly different from others (and, if you're going to say "Imagine how much better they'd be if they switched?" I can tell you that it's been at least looked at, and probably tried and quickly abandoned)?

Is it reproducible? Researchers can only get funding for original work, so studies don't get done twice, but that's an important factor - the original results might have been a fluke. Thus, a good study has the participants go through whatever routine they prescribe, then switch to something else, then go back, to see if the results are reproducible. This almost never happens.

A typical study will have one group of runners do one exercise and a second group do another, with their average results compared. Let's say group A improves an average of 5% in some measure and group B improves 8%. You'll see headlines that say that B is better than A. The truth is usually more individualistic. Submit any group of runners to a new exercise and you will have most making a minor improvement, but there will also be super-responders who do unusually well and non-responders who do unusually poorly. Super-responders are the people who tell you that they've "found the secret to training success" and write a book, become coaches and get paid to speak at conventions. Non-responders might simply be over-trained or injured, but also might be predisposed to do poorly at that task.

Sometimes what works at one point in your running career doesn't work in another. A classic example is the soccer midfielder who starts running to improve his endurance and then finds that he's (or she's) a talented runner. Having this person do sprint training will not improve their performance, because they've done so much sprinting in their other sport. Over time, however, that effect diminishes and, their training and racing stagnating, they might need to do sprint work.

Still, sometimes there's an interesting idea involved. That's why I read the articles. Most runners, though, just want to know what's the most efficient use of their training time - or "what's the absolute least I have to do to meet my goals?" which is the question coaches hate the most.

If you really want a simple answer to improved performance, I find most people run best when they've had adequate sleep. If you're only sleeping 4-5 hours per night, there's nothing you can do in training that will help more than sleeping more.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

The Experiment, What I Learned and Where We Go from Here

After months of illness, I had no ability to run any distance (a mile was a lot), but I felt I could maybe train to run short track races like I did in high school. I'd noticed that since starting running ultras, and especially after getting hurt, that I'd lost my top-end speed and I wanted to see if I could get it back. The idea was to run a variety of short sprint workouts and see just what I could do.

I could run 100s and 200s well, but anything beyond that was bad; eventually I got up to 300m, but that was about it. And these were good for a 6 minute miler in training, not racing good. I still didn't have the speed I used to: I recently hit 4:08 pace, downhill, but I was doing 3:35-3:38 a decade ago and 2:55 a decade before that. This doesn't seem like normal aging. It was something else.

One of the results of very slow ultrarunning (as opposed to trying to win a 50K) was that my stride rate had dropped to as bad as 145 steps per minute. I'm back to 158 or so, for short runs and it's about a minute per mile difference. There's still something else.

My first few runs back from illness on the track left me with odd muscle pains, particularly in my calves. What I think was happening was increasing "stride stiffness" - you can read up on that in Brad Hudson's book - instead of absorbing shock, I was doing more of a springing motion and that was getting me moving faster. This goes back as far as Lydiard having athletes doing "hill springing" rather than just hill running, where they exaggerate the push off from ankle flexion.

After that, I had quad issues, pain and eventually minor injury. Running at top speed requires more from the quads than usual - and downhill running does not seem to help much in developing specific quad strength for that. There's a stronger upward knee lift, greater impact from a longer stride and a stronger back kick, all of which are slightly damaging to quads not used to it. Over a few weeks, however, I discovered that my stride was starting to return to what it had been before long-and-slow were everything.

Big questions

What would make me happy? What would I need to do to get there? and hardest of all: How could I make what I do look like what others would have me do?

At my age, a sub-21 minute 5K would be good; I'd be happy with that, even though it takes 18:30 to win anything in my age group (for comparison, I ran 22:12 last year). Training for sub-21, I could probably also run a sub-6 mile and that'd be a nice thing to do again. Training for these means easy runs in the 8:30 range, 9 at the worst, when I'd been running much much slower than that the past couple of years.

So, the past two weeks, though I haven't run more than 4 miles at a time, I've been running 8-8:30 pace again. When I can do that comfortably, daily, for a few weeks, I'll move on to the next step.

But you know me. I'll get distracted and think "I should run a marathon!" sometime soon.

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.