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.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Time Is The Final Currency, 2.0

(NOTE:  This is an update to a topic I originally wrote almost three years ago.)

Mother Nature appears to have bet "all-in" on her hand this weekend.  We were lulled into complacency by the past three weeks of very humid running.  Today she flipped the switches; turned off the humidity and turned up the thermostat. Our intrepid little group of running enthusiasts had to change tack; no longer were we working to develop our "gill slits," now it was time to make a classic Hobson's choice:  Choose to run (up to) three percent farther on the long run by staying in the shaded areas of our course, or risk thermal annihilation by traveling the shortest possible distance between two points.

Angela, our recent import from Maryland, was just starting to get used to the humid, but in her rush to get everything else in her life (mother, spouse, community advocate, etc.) under control forgot to bring along her "shoulder-fired hydration system."  Six miles without water is not going to kill you. Six miles in the mid-eighties might make you feel miserable, but it is not going to kill you.  On the other hand, it might make you want to commit seppuku, or dive off the bridge into the bayou. Fortunately for us the country club driving range - the mid point of our run - had three large jugs of cool water.  Bless you, boys.  I take back every evil thing I ever said about golf.

Almost every evil thing.

We chatted about the conditions and obstacles to the present training - long, easy runs on the weekend, easy runs during the week as often as possible between now and when marathon training begins in earnest for us in July.  Angela's challenge has become that of time management.  How does a person with so many irons in the fire make enough time for quality training?

In fact, how does the average American?

I bet the data hasn't changed much since 2010, when the US Bureau of Labor Statistics found 22 percent of American men and 16 percent of American women over the age of 15 engaged in sports, recreation or exercise activity.  When the amount of activity was divided up equally it averaged to a little under 20 minutes a day for the entire population of America.  Wasn't that "twenty-minute-a-day" threshold (more or less) recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine in 2008 the lower end?  The floor?  The least of an unacceptable standard?

The government survey data reinforces something my wife often reminds me when I become frustrated at a runner's absence from workout sessions:  We invest our time, finances, and resources into the things we consider the most important.

An athlete, pressed for time, needs to realize the training is not necessarily a zero-sum game: 'I have a sixty-minute run on the schedule today, but I don't have an hour to spare; I'm wasting my time if I do less.'  Sometimes, especially for people whose lives revolve around the suddenly-changing needs/wants/desires of others, it's impossible to set a consistent block of time aside to dedicate to a workout.  Without a "typical," "normal" sleep schedule.

If the athlete is focused on shorter race distances, two-or-three high-quality workout sessions of 30 minutes (with at least 20 minutes of the workout at the desired intensity for the training period) might do the trick.  While some physiologists have opined that anything less than 20 minutes of aerobic activity is probably not going to provide a benefit, I don't think there's enough data to support the claim.  From personal experience I can say my strength training workouts are not much longer than 35 minutes; unlike the bodybuilders I'm a "get in, get my three sets of each exercise, get out" kind of guy.  No lollygagging in the gym.

There are benefits to splitting a workout, especially if your life is one where stuff often pops up at the last possible moment.  A little bit is always better than nothing. A 30-minute run before I go to work, or during my lunch break is three-and-a-half-miles I got done. I haven't beat myself up too much; there's that calorie burn as my body is winding down from the effort, and I'm stimulated as much as if I sucked down a cup of coffee. Even better, if something suddenly comes up in the evening which requires my non-running presence I'm less likely to feel guilty.  Also, there's a fatigue factor which comes during the second workout; unless the effort is dead-easy I end up going into the second run already fatigued.

Are there down sides to splitting runs?

The first drawback may be when it comes to endurance. Running two 30-minute pieces a day may work well for a runner focused on races up to 10,000 meters, but for longer events some of the training still need to be anywhere from 8-to-16 miles.  The physiologist recommended top-end of two-and-a-half hours for long run is a fine splitting point for runners using training plans with scheduled long runs which are longer than 16.  Two-and-a-half hours of running on Saturday morning (or afternoon), followed by (up to) 60-to-90 minutes on Sunday, is more likely to keep my wife and family members happy as marathon training grinds into the later weeks of the plan. 

In our household, the dirty clothes already multiply at an astounding clip. Two runs a day means dirty running attire accumulate at twice the rate, unless you are the kind of person who can tolerate running in funky attire...with training partners who can also tolerate the same...or you run all your workouts solo.  Add the sweaty shoes which need to dry or need time to dry; you'll either spend time shoving newsprint inside the shoe, money to maintain a running shoe arsenal, ingenuity in learning how to make wet shoes less wet in as little as eight hours.  Or you develop a tolerance for damp running shoes.

Lastly, splitting runs in two means more attention to the (brief) recovery period available. When running twice a day run efforts ideally vary between hard and easy, or all of the efforts are relatively easy. A good diet, portable self-massage devices, regular hydration and even sports supplementation also become more important during the period between runs.

"Time," David Crosby wrote, "is the final currency." We can only spend what we have available at a particular moment. It doesn't necessarily mean the time we have during a day for running is absolutely limited to one unbroken 60-minute period (and bless those of you who have more!). With a little discipline and the desire to do what is absolutely necessary, even the time-constrained runner can achieve the goals they've set for themselves. It all boils down to will.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Is There Something Missing In My Easy Day?

It's not often when the lessons learned from the social sciences transfers (almost) directly into the world of sport. So when National Public Radio's social sciences correspondent Shankar Vedantam showed a correlation between frequent (surgical) activity and the positive or negative outcomes of those procedures i could not help but pay closer attention.

Vedantam reported on the analysis of hospital and discharge records of over 56-thousand coronary bypass surgery patients by two researchers at George Mason University. It appears that surgeons who had performed a surgery the day prior to the studied case were less as sharp as a surgeon who had a day away from the operating room between procedures. The least desirable outcomes came when surgeons came back from a long weekend or a couple of vacation days.

The chances of dying before discharge, if you undergo coronary bypass surgery, is 2.7 percent. Each day away from the operating room adds another .07 percent. So if your heart surgeon just returned from a two-week cruise you would have one percent-less chance of making it out of the hospital alive. Perhaps the surgeon was mentally refreshed but when it came to the neuromuscular skills and dexterity involved in performing the procedure they might have a little rust.

Vedantam mentioned a variety of other possible factors to include inattention to postoperative complications or reacquainting one's self with the dynamic of the surgical support team.

"Faster, funnier," you say; how does this perhaps correlate to run training?

When it comes to run training, especially as the number of races decrease, I've often relaxed the pace of summer training workouts. Sure, there's a big gap between May Day and Independence Day, when the next local race is here, and then nothing for another month or two before the autumn race schedule begins...and so many folks don't want to run during the 90's (days, degrees, percent humidity...or all of the above) so that even the easiest aerobic efforts can place an athlete at an advantage.

Or, if you've gone from training for 5Ks and 10Ks to focus on a marathon, you likely found at the end of the cycle you resembled an ox; strong, yes, but also slow. It's not going to hurt a runner to do a few brief efforts at 5K or 10K race pace as part of their long run training, either as a couple of short one-to-two-minute pieces during the middle of a run, or a few 50-meter striders as part of the cool-down, just to make certain the slow-twitch muscle fibers don't have all of the fun.

Long-distance training doesn't mean it's going to be all slow.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Five-Percent Solution

When a runner has what they consider a fantastic performance, a topic often comes up during the well-deserved moments of self-congratulations for all the hard work, great training and favorable conditions all coming together at the same time...or if the event has multiple distances. If it doesn't come up while the endorphins - and the beer - are flowing it does during the next morning's long (easy!) run.

Back in the days of the old Emerald Coast Racing Team, the "what if" or "what now" conversation was common on the day after a race. At least during the first miles. One of the guys, Gary, would say, "the day after a bad race I run easy; the day after a good race I run easy." Can't say the runs were all that easy back then. It was a historical inevitability the ECRT crew would run relaxed for perhaps a mile, at which point the hammer-fest would begin. Former CU cross-country runner-turned-running coach Jay Johnson (immortalized in one of the recent classics of running literature, Chris Lear's Running With The Buffaloes) would most likely have a sense of deja vu were he to see that group. 

The other question which comes up during that time when euphoria and (oral) anesthesia are at its peak, or,during the "what's the next target" conversation as we climb a bridge or rise in the road is "could I qualify for the Boston Marathon at this particular state of fitness?" There's much speculation: Properly training to race a marathon without injuring one's self is more difficult than executing the race on the day. Please note the use of the term "race;" I have friends who have completed a half-dozen or more marathons in a single year, on training even they would say resembled something, er, "pulled from their body." 

(I've had these conversations via e-mail in the past. They're not pretty. Usually they involve me screaming at my computer terminal in disbelief.) 

It doesn't mean it wasn't physically challenging for them. But the terms they used to describe their experience were closer to "participation" and "completion" than to out-and-out racing to beat as many persons as humanly possible. 

The most-modern method of answering this question involves the use of one of many on-line training and racing calculators, one of my favorites is on coach Greg McMillan's web site.  Plug in the best or most recent race performance, as well as the target event, and the calculator will provide performance predictions for intermediate distances from one mile up to the marathon distance. Another link will show the ideal pace ranges to enhance running endurance, strength and speed. 

On the other hand, if you are "old school" and desire a chart or two to guide your planning, there's nothing better than Dr. Jack Daniels VDOT tables (published in several on-line coaches' education web sites, developed as macros within training spreadsheets and published in multiple editions of his Running Formula, and the book written with Jimmy Gilbert, Oxygen Power).

Two things I like about Daniels' VDOT tables: The recent/best performance data provide a strong ballpark figure of a runner's VO2max score...which quantifies the amount of oxygen a runner can utilize in terms of liters per kilogram of body weight at near-maximal effort. For citizen-athletes it's a way to measure raw improvement in ability. Of course, a high VDOT score and $2.25 will get you a cup of coffee at Denny's in my hometown. 

In the same manner as McMillan's on-line calculator, the Daniels' VDOT tables provide training paces you ought to be running at to improve running economy, VO2max, and endurance based on a recent or recent best performance. Earlier versions of the tables provided hard and fast target paces for every type of training, whereas the latest (fourth?) edition of the book provides more flexible pace ranges. The fourth edition of Running Formula also provides three different training plans for the marathon based on performance experience, as well as half marathon, 15, 10, 5-kilometer and 1,500 meter racing plans. 

N.B. I tend to ballpark paces for my athletes because they're training more on the roads and tracks but push for a narrow pace for myself.since I use a treadmill more often than not. 

Every so often an athlete has a performance at a distance which isn't in the calculators, or their performance falls somewhere in the middle ground between VDOT points. What is a runner to do then? 

In these situations a runner can take a known time and extrapolate to "what if" a longer or shorter distance by either adding (for longer distances) or taking away (for shorter distances) a factor of five percent. The McMillan tables can do all that good stuff for you, but if you want to play with your pocket calculator one more time to see if you still remember high school algebra...go right ahead.

In the case of a runner who just recently ran a 10-kilometer on the roads and wants to know their projected marathon time, Marathon Time = (10K time x 4.2175) x 1.05.  

If the 10K was 53 minutes, 33 seconds... 
Marathon Time = (53.55 min x 4.2175) x 1.05 
Marathon Time = (225.85 minutes x 1.05) 
Marathon Time = 237.14 minutes 
Marathon Time = 3hr 57min 09sec 

With the identical conditions and proper training, a person who runs a 53:33 10K would probably be able to finish a marathon in the 3:57-4:10 range, most likely closer to the faster end, since that 4:10 was based off the Daniels' VDOT tables for the slower VDOT calculation. I like to think the athlete will work hard enough to improve between now and the date of the marathon.

Monday, May 5, 2014

"That Might Be A Little Fast:" Descending Or Even Splits For Racing?

There are several schools of thought when it comes to race performance and pacing: 

Some running enthusiasts and coaches consider it desirable to run a race with evenly paced splits.  This school of thought most likely originated in the world of track and field, where feedback may exist every 400 meters (or more frequently, depending on whether the track is indoors or out) of the race distance.  Races with "rabbits" hired or invited to set the goal pace for the leading runners can serve as a benefit or a drawback, depending on the racing conditions...or the condition of the athletes.  But the goal more often than not is to bring the lead runners through an intermediate point of the race at a consistent and fast pace, conserving enough energy to finish in the desired time.

The tactical (slow!) nature of the first laps of most championship-level races (N.B. In the last forty Olympic Summer Games athletics distance event finals the world or Olympic record has been broken in the 800, 5,000 or 10,000 meters eight times; three times in the women's events.  A single runner has broken an Olympic record at two different Games!) is evidence of a second school of thought when it comes to pacing, that of racing with descending splits. 

Watch the first laps of a college championship 5,000-meter track race and the pace appears pedestrian, even to the casual jogger.  Some of that mis-perception may have much to do with camera angles - unless it's one of those rail-mounted ones which roll at speed it is impossible to tell how fast the runners are truly moving, but when you do the math, the difference in splits between the first 800-to-1,200 meters and the last are the difference between citizen-athletes pushing the envelope at the start and greyhounds letting it all hang out for the tape.

The runners at "the pointy end of the spear" going for the overall win at a race engage in pace tactics which by nature need to be flexible: How fast are you and your fellow competitors going out?  Who's making a move at what point?  Is there enough real estate (and heart, lungs, leg strength, energy, etc.) between where you are now and the finish line to catch anyone who might be ahead, or (as in the case of Meb Keflezighi at the Boston Marathon) to stay ahead of anyone who might be coming from behind?

For the majority of citizen-athletes I believe the race distance serves to determine the pacing tactic which ought to be used.  Shorter distances, such as the 5,000 meters, are served well by either strategy.  When it comes to the marathon I strongly recommend the negative split focus; a citizen who decides to push the pace too hard (even as little as five seconds per mile too quickly) at the front end of a marathon may be in for a very uncomfortable - and very long - last fifteen kilometers.

There are few substitutes to running many miles worth of workouts at varying paces to learn how a particular pace feels.  After ten-plus years of track workouts a six-minute-mile pace feels a particular way; a seven-minute-mile pace feels a different way.  Treadmill running, for all of its perceived disadvantages, encourages (enforces?) pace discipline.  A runner who is not neuromuscularly prepared to run a particular pace on a treadmill runs the risk of being ejected off the back of the treadmill deck (a source of comedy entertainment on the Internet), injuring themselves (a source of income for emergency room physicians), or both. 

There are less painful ways to encourage pace discipline, however.

Eighteen months after the initial achilles' tendon issues, I run on the average two out of every three training miles on a treadmill.  Another benefit of treadmills (especially for brittle coaches/runners) is the ability to control variables. If something feels wrong on a run the runner can choose to end the workout rather than try to push through pain (after almost 20 years one tends to know when it's discomfort) and shut everything down.

A quarter mile into last weekend's Fiesta of Five Flags 5K, it was pretty cute to hear a young lady say to her companion, 'oh, my, our pace is 6:18...this could be trouble...'  When I decided to return to short distance racing, I retained the "control the variables" concept.  Could I go out the first mile at 6:18 and watch the wheels fall off at mile two?  Yep.  Did that the previous weekend. Not pretty in the slightest.

Many citizen-athletes swear by - and as I have said on many occasions, often trust too much without knowing the technology - the consumer-grade GPS receiver.  The last two receivers I've used (Garmin) have a "virtual pacer" function; the user sets a desired pace and can receive feedback whether they are ahead or behind, both in terms of time and distance.  I first tried it last year, with satisfactory results, when Suzanne and I ran together (for most of the) Rock n' Roll Virginia Beach Half Marathon. 

The virtual pacer is a more-gradual form of feedback when compared to the near-real-time "stopwatch and pace" output most runners tend to use.  The GPS receiver will pick up the signals every two-to-three seconds, and even the most consistent of runners will receive inaccurate information - radio frequency interference, buildings, cloud cover and the U.S. government - a ballpark figure of how fast you moved since the last receipt.  You might see a 6:18 at one point, and a 7:15 at another.

This is a case where all I wanted to know was how close I was to 7:00 pace, and the Garmin pretty much did its job.  Once I got to the third mile split and saw I was five seconds faster than my desired time I knew all I had to do was push the last 187 yards to the finish.  Personal best?  Not at all...I have a solid minute per mile to go before I even approach that...and it might never happen.  But it was the first time I've run three consistent one-mile splits for a 5,000 meter race on the roads.

Data is good when you race.  Make certain you're receiving the right kind of data.