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

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.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Racing and Community - part 1

When I started road racing in the 1970's, it was a seasonal sport, held between track in the spring and cross-country in the fall (winter was for indoor track or cross-country skiing). There were few races, so you ran all you heard about; generally you found out about a race a week or two in advance, usually by word-of-mouth at the races you did. By the end of the decade, it was possible to race nearly every weekend, if you were willing to travel and racing oneself into shape became commonplace, as entry fees (day of race only) were $1-3.

Races varied between 2 and 10 miles, with little attempt in some cases to accurately measure courses, though larger races tended to 5 miles (later 8K) and 10K and were accurate to better than 0.1 miles, once the first running boom hit in 1976.

This cavalier attitude toward race distance seems odd today, when races are certified as to distance, then registered as to record quality (not being too different from start to finish), then sanctioned (the race director stating that the proper course was run and that there were no advantages such as a strong tailwind). There's still a vestige of this in trail running, where courses are so tough that accurate measurement becomings meaningless.

Races had 30-100 entrants and, because of the low cost, few frills. Water stops were rare. There was no award for second place, no age classes and no separate awards for women; women were less than 10% of runners in 1975, but everyone knew who they were and despite teasing about "getting chicked," they were arguably more equals then than now.

The system worked because you'd see many of the same people at every race. You don't have a feel for what pace you should run a hilly 7.3 mile race, but you know who you were behind and who you were in front of in the last race, so you knew where you belonged. When you finished near someone repeatedly, friendly rivalries would develop and you'd push each other to faster times.

This all fell apart with the second running boom of 1983. In a race of 5000, the twenty you knew disappeared in the crowd, you crossed the finish line 5 abreast - so place was immaterial and racing evaporated - and you rushed to your car afterward, to beat the traffic caused by the thousands behind you, rather than hang around and chat with those you raced with.

The larger running populace came at the cost of community. I'm hoping to discuss in the following posts what was lost and how I think it can be regained.

Friday, February 8, 2019

The Retirement Plan

I haven't run for five weeks due to illness, so there hasn't been much to report on this blog.

I've spent more than a decade on this blog explaining how to train for specific events, but I've never covered the question of: What would you do if you just wanted to be in really good shape, but never race? That's sort of a beginner plan and also a retirement plan and not a bad jack-of-all-trades plan.

The more you run, the better shape you can get in, but also the greater the odds of getting injured. The sweet spot seems to be an average of an hour per day, so that's where I'm going to start. From there, I'm going to use the "Eternal Season" plan, which I can no longer find online, but for the record, I didn't invent it. Then I'm going to add ideas from Joe Friel's triathlon training bible, without actually cross-training.

At the moment, I'm in about 6:30 mile or 22:30 5K shape, which gives me training paces to add.

Monday: 6 miles of hills (7x my Ohio Street hill and 14x my Ramsey hill are exactly 6 miles), done slowly, alternating long hills one week and shorter hills the next.

Tuesday: 6 miles, with intervals. If I do long hills, I'll do short intervals; if I do short hills, I'll do long ones. Either 12x400m under 1:48 with 200m jog recoveries or 4x1200m in 5:25-5:49 with 400m jog recoveries.

Wednesday: 4 miles with speed skills. 6x100m in 21-24 seconds, each working on improving some aspect of running form.

Thursday: 7 miles with the last 4.5 at 8:24-8:34 per mile

Friday: 4 miles on difficult trail, to work on balance and agility. Included would be 4x50m uphill sprints, all-out.

Saturday: 6 miles with a 5K time trial, or with 3 miles at 7:40-8:30/mile.

Sunday: 11 miles at 10 min./mile, planned as a social run

This gives a total of 44 miles done in a bit over 7 hours for the week. It manages to cover every type of running except those specific to very long distances and has them all in appropriate amounts.

Now if I could just run a step...

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Pulling Back from the Brink

I'd done a series of posts leading up to what I called the Madcap Marathon Plan, which was just two marathon-length runs per week. For 3:00 marathoners, it looked like:

Tuesday (PM) 26.25 miles @ 7.5 min/mile
Saturday (AM) 15.75 miles @ 8, 10.5 @ 6.85

Like the popular 5-2 Diet, it depletes all the glycogen reserves and creates a huge caloric deficit twice per week and the rest of the week is used for recovery. Of course, the workouts are ridiculously tough and, if you have a bad day, it's half the week that gets lost.

3 Days

There are a number of three-runs per week schedules and I thought about how to turn my ludicrous idea into something more workable. Here's what that led to:

T 8@8, 7@6.85
Th 15@7.5
Sa 1 15@8
Sa 2 26.25@7.5
Sa 3 15.75@8, 10.5@6.85

This three week cycle gives one an "easy" week, makes some of the workouts more reasonable and keeps the mileage the same.

That looked familiar.

4 Day, high mileage

T1 15@8
Th 1 15 w/ 10.5@6.85
 Sa 1 15
S1 26.25
T2 15 w/ 7@6.85
Th2 15
Sa2 15 w/ 10.5@6.85
S2 26.25

This, adding another 15 miles per week, allows one to do more long hard runs and looks similar to what some elite marathoners do (excepting all the easy workouts to fill in the week).

4 Day, moderate mileage

This had me thinking about cutting the mileage from that plan back to the level used previously. That gives:
T1 13@8
Th1 13 w/7@6.85
Sa1 13
S1 13
T2 13 w/7@6.85
Th2 13
Sa2 13 w/7@6.85
S2 13

[The hard 7 miles of Sa2 could be moved to S2.]

This is what I would actually do if starting a marathon plan. Consistent runs of half-marathon length, frequent miles at race pace and at a duration that's challenging but not overly fatiguing.

This plan looks similar to what I call "The Standard Plan" for marathon training, which is higher mileage, more days per week and a bit more formal in structure:

M 6@8
T 13 w/ 6x1 mile hard
W 6
Th 13@8
F 0
Sa 13 w/ 8@6.85
S 20

This plan can be altered  on the weekend to:

Sa 20 w/ 8@6.85
S 13
So, here's the take-away message.

I would try the 4 day moderate mileage plan and, if I stopped improving, switch either to a higher mileage plan or to fewer days with longer runs, depending upon what worked best for me in the past.

Monday, January 7, 2019

The Dreaded Yearly Fashion Post 2019

I've done a recap of fashion from the Golden Globes every year since 2012. They've been some of my most popular posts, though I'm not sure why. Last night, I didn't care for the job the hosts did and disagreed with who won most of the awards, but there were some lovely dresses.

Lady Gaga wore at least 8 of them at once.
It's a great dress and I like that she tinted her hair to match, but it's too much for the room. Literally. You expect her to go too far, so it's somewhat forgivable, but the Golden Globes are not formal enough for this dress. Versailles may not be.

I think Emma Chang did it better in blue and I really like the comfortable-looking shorts hidden underneath.

There were a surprising number of blue dresses, of every shade, and most of them were terrific.
Camilla Belle. Not a fan of the eye shadow, but it kind of works

Allison Janney. This is a really flattering choice for her and the necklace, if a bit chunky, helps.
It's Kelleth Cuthbert with the Fiji Water that had the most seen blue dress, though.

What happened to the Pantone color of the year "Living Coral?" Well, some tried. The problem with it is that the dye looks different - pink or orange - depending upon how deeply it penetrates into fabric, making matching impossible. There were some interesting ways around that, however.

Patricia Clarkson went with orange AND pink. The result was not good, but better than expected.
Danai Gurira's dress was one-shoulder red metallic on orange. That being insufficient, a huge bow and train was added to the shoulder; it's not terrible, but it's not well thought-out.

There was a lot of blush/pink.
Emmy Rossum in bubblegum
Emma Stone looked washed out.

Kiki Layne. Understated and elegant, yet interesting. And best hair of the night!
Kristen bell went almost minimalist. The shoulder detail and bracelets work together well.

Lucy Liu. There's a lot going on here, yet the dress looks like a shrimp summer roll.
I really wish there were some way to make that last comment without sounding racist.

Lili Reinhart went a little more red.
Holly Taylor went even redder. I like this, but it looks like two dresses forced together.

Halle Berry also went dark red with a dress that looked sexy from the front, but a little trashy at times.

Lupita Nyong'o, right, also had a rare off night.
There were, as always, metallic dresses, this year mostly in champagne as a color. Emily Blunt's dress looks like it's being shredded from the bottom.

Felicity Huffman wasn't even recognizable at first. The dress is blah.

Irina Shayk looke good, mostly because she's Irina Shayk, and that arm candy helps, too.
I really like the butterfly print on Leslie Bibb's dress - the dress is nothing without it - but I think it would've been better on someone else. She needed more color.

There was some black and white color blocking going on last night as well.Amber Heard channeled a Disney princess.
Charlize Theron was picked by some as best dressed. Her black top required dress tape for when she sat down, and I deduct points for lack of functionality.
Kaley Cuoco altered this pattern by using dark blue and white, with a black belt. She also had the most comfortable shoes of the evening.
There were a ton of green dresses, too. I'm omitting them for space. they were all okay, but not great.

When there was a crowd shot, I asked myself who that was in yellow. It was Rachel Brosnahan. I wouldn't have considered this shade for her, but it really brought out her skin tones and the color of her eyes. There are small things about the dress I didn't care for (e.g. the detail at her tailbone), but the overall effect was stunning at a distance.
Sofia Carson's dress has made some worst-dressed lists, but I liked it. I don't think she knows how to pose in these dresses properly yet, though.
Taylor Swift wore a more structured and architectural dress than usual for her and I think it was a good choice.
It did cause some to ask "when did she get boobs?" This profile looks more like Christina Hendricks!
Co-host Sandra Oh wore three outfits during the evening, all by female designers. It was her fourth outfit of the night, at the after party, that I like best.
I'm not going to mention the dresses I didn't like, because I try to put myself in their position.
"I hear Steve's watching this while wearing vintage couture."

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Steve's Evil Kitchen Presents Krampus Brownies

No picture of the brownies. You know what brownies look like.

My Xmas present to you is my secret recipe for perfect brownies. The base is excellent by itself, but doesn't form the paper skin some demand, so I cover them with ganache and nuts.


1 oz chopped unsweetened chocolate
3 Tbsp. cocoa powder
2 Tbsp. butter
1/4 c neutral vegetable oil (corn)
1 c sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
1/2 c all-purpose flour, sifted
1 Tbsp. corn syrup
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt

Line an 8x8" baking pan with aluminum foil, grease the foil and dust with flour.

Melt the butter and chocolate (microwave). Cream with the sugar. Add corn syrup, oil, vanilla, salt and cocoa and mix. Add eggs and mix. Stir flour into mixture until just incorporated. Scrape into prepared pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, until just barely set in the middle. Cool on a wire rack. Cut into 16 squares and remove from pan.


4 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 c heavy whipping cream
1/2 tsp instant espresso powder (optional)

Heat in a double boiler until chips melt, mix until smooth. Spread over the tops of the brownie base.

Pecan topping

16 whole pecan "halves"
1 Tbsp butter
salt, to taste - preferably kosher

Melt butter in skillet on medium-low heat. Add the nuts and saute, stirring, until lightly brown and fragrant (10 minutes). Sprinkle nuts with salt, let cool and top each brownie with one.

Because these are labor-intense, it's tempting to double the recipe, using a 9x13 pan and baking 30-35 minutes, but I have not had success with that.