So, How Many Hats Do You Wear?

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Pensacola, Florida, United States
Husband. *Dog Dad.* Instructional Systems Specialist. Runner. (Swim-challenged) Triathlete (on hiatus). USATF LDR Surveyor. USAT (Elite Rules) CRO/2, NTO/1. RRCA Rep., FL (North). Observer Of The Human Condition.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Keep It Simple, Part II

“It can scarcely be denied that the supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience.”  Albert Einstein (1879-1955), during a lecture, Oxford, June 1933
Einstein’s goal of achieving simplicity without loss of the necessary holds true, especially for runners.  Figure out the amount of data you absolutely need to track progress, after that it's simple to gradually acquire the stuff which works best, or to steer clear of the stuff which won't work at all.
First, let me explain that I’m not slamming brick-and-mortar running specialty stores.  If given the choice between a major retail sports store, a locally-owned/operated running specialist and an interlink-based provider I'd much rather deal with the guy who's paying local property taxes and hiring passionate young men and women from my town's high school or local college; someone who really has some skin in the game when it comes to the running community.  Usually that's a person who's going to do the right thing.  But you can tell when a shopkeeper has become too-mercenary when (new) runners toe the line at a local 5-kilometer race with a four-bottle hydration waist belt.
I have a love-hate relationship with the consumer grade GPS receiver.  As a course measurer I love to use the GPS to provide ballpark estimations of where my intermediate splits will fall on the race course, and to get latitude/longitude references in those rare instances when no permanent reference point exists.  The hatred comes when runners who have no understanding of the necessary technological limitations of the GPS try to tell me a course is "too long."  Upload a run to Google Earth and you'll see some places you never thought you could run.  Runners who do most or all of their workouts on a treadmill or a track most likely aren't going to need GPS devices; there are times I would dare to say that for most a GPS is little more than a very expensive running watch.  I've also played with running watches which used accelerometers those little pods attach to the running shoe and track how fast and how far you ran, without the need for all those satellites.  They're a little expensive and the batteries tend to die at the wrong time, but they're very reliable if all you need is distance and speed.  If all your courses are known distances, choose a running watch or a heart rate monitor. 

Good ballpark distance figures for runs on sidewalks, roadways, and now even trails can be mapped out on map programs like MapMyRun, GMaps Pedometer, the USA Track and Field "My Running Routes" program, and Google Earth (which requires a little more patience).  There are a few disadvantages to these programs:  When flat photographs are used to try and measure distance on a rounded surface (our world) there can be varying degrees of inaccuracy; a half-marathon course I measured last year proved this to be true.  As a plus, MapMyRun allows runners to track workouts they've run on a particular route, and even gives runners the ability to print out courses...if you purchase a membership.  Go on the cheap like me and you best be able to read what can best be called “gibberish.”  A race director sent me his MMR files last year and all the street names were “Asflkue Ib.”  And worse.
You'd rather not wear a heart rate monitor, you say?  My wife is one of the many who would agree with you.  Some folks don't like to have that fabric/plastic strap around their chest, especially guys who like to run shirtless (I like data, therefore I run with a shirt).  Those persons who still want to check their intensity every so often can purchase a watch which has finger contact plates; place the two fingers of the non-watch wearing hand (of course…) on the plates and the heart rate reading appears in seconds.  Runners who use fairly modern treadmills with heart rate equipment attached can most likely forego this and use the handrail plates, which are about as accurate as chest strap monitors. 

You Luddites can lay a couple of fingers along your carotid artery on the left side of the neck immediately after the run is completed, or gauge your effort on a scale of one to ten, where one aligns to ”am I awake?” and ten means ”if I take another step my chest will explode!”  Some of the really good heart rate monitors will not only break down your workout effort by average heart rate, but by amount of time spent at a particular intensity level.  Entire books have been written about training by heart rate, and quickly leaves the beaten path to go into the weeds of the “should I use the ‘220-minus-age’ formula to calculate my heart rate?” question, the “male-versus-female max-heart-rate” debate (which my wife and I have had on many occasions), and so on.  Surprisingly enough, physiology researchers found a strong correlation between perceived effort (that “one-to-ten-scale” thing) and percentage of maximum heart rate; a perceived effort of “five” was found to be right around the fifty-percent of maximum heart rate point, and so on.

So now we've talked about the simple "where," "how far," and "how hard" of running.  I'll talk in the next installment on what to do with that information.

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