April 14, 2009

The Results

Funny, I just came across this after all these years. I think I ought to at least update the first entry, which described where I was as a runner.

In spring I decided to give the marathon one more go. Needing plenty of time, I set the October, 2006 Twin Cities Marathon as my goal. Despite being tall (6-6), heavy (185), and a short-distance runner (400-1500 in college), I thought I had hit on a method to turn into a long-distance runner: Lots of easy running and long, steady tempo runs.

After the Human Race, described below, I remember running an 18:40-something 5K in April, an over-40 PR, and one where I caught and out-kicked a guy I had never before beaten.

For the next three months I kept to the same routine: roughly 50 miles a week, at least one long steady tempo run of 8 to 12 miles, an easy long run of up to 2 hours (or a long run with a tempo in the middle) and maybe one speed workout. In late June I totally swtiched gears. My miles went up to 70, my long runs went into a four-week rotation of 1:45, 2 hours, 2:15, 2:30. I got completely away from speed work. I was retraining myself for the long endurance needed for a marathon. The kind of runner I am, one who adapts very quickly to speed work, required losing my ability to run fast.

I tested it out in August at a 5K. I bombed. I had no ability or desire to run hard. My coach thought that was perfect. I wasn't so sure. My fnal 'tune-up' was four weeks out, a mile easy, three miles at 7-minute to 7:15 pace, a mile easy, and then a 25K race where I did essentially the same pattern. It was exhausting.

When I stood at the line for the marathon in early October I was full of doubts. I even told myself that if my heart rate was too high after one mile, I would step off the course and save myself the humiliation. But the first mile went well, maybe a little too slow (which is just fine in a marathon), and the heart rate was perfect. I got a little excited then and ran the second mile under 7 minutes, including the single biggest hill on the course, and saw my HR cross over the threshold where it should average for the entire race. I calmed down and settled back in. Somewhere around three miles the 3:10 pace group (my goal) caught me. I latched on to the back and we began clicking off miles right around 7:05 to 7 minutes. (3:10 pace is 7:15.) Sensing the pace leader was banking too much time, an absolute disasterous strategy in a 26-mile race, I let them go. Now, TCM is a course where it is difficult, if not impossible, to run even halfs. The first 20 miles are quite nice with the exception of a few hills. But miles 20-23 are killer, almost unrelenting uphill, though gradual. Still, banking several minutes is asking for trouble.

I came through halfway in a little over 1:33, or a 3:06+ pace. The pace group was nowhere in sight. It wasn't long after this that I began to pass people. It is so hard to temper the enthusiasm in the early miles of a marathon, but if you are already losing pace at 14 miles, it is going to be a very, very long day.

Up the River Road, the lovely miles 16-19, I managed to pick it up slightly and suddenly found myself in with the 3:10 pace group once again. I thought to hang with them and recover for a little while, but immediately found myself pushing ahead. They were now going well slower than 7:15 pace. This happened over and over. I'd move up on a group, thinking I'd stick with them, and then find myself pulling away. As we crossed the bridge at about 19, I heard someone counting places - I was 386, I recall.

Shortly after I saw my family. I gave them fives and a cheer and suddenly realized how tired I was. The hills were going to be very hard. But here is where the crash and burn runners really helped me. Every time I looked up I was passing another guy walking. I hate to see others in agony, but it really felt good to know I had paced myself better, for once. I backed off intentionally at the hills, logging a 7:40 and a 7:45 mile. I made myself focus on the back of someone going by, a guy I had passed a few miles back, and hung on, as if pulled by a rope. Cresting the hill I knew it was now time to decide if I was going to break 3:10. I pressed the gas a little, went by the guy I had been shadowing, and eased down a small downgrade, getting back into a nice, steady rhythm. That mile clicked off under 7:15. Yes! Two miles to go!.I was going to do it.

Those last miles are not especially clear to me any longer, but I know I was repeatedly targeting runners ahead, catching them, wating, and going by. With a mile to go I felt my legs threatening to cramp all over, but my excitement was too great to back off. I pressed on, going as hard as I daed with every step, and ran mile 26 in 6:53, my fastest of the day. Sprinting down the last long hill, seeing the clock just clicking over to 3:07, I was all smiles. I finished under 3:08, in 252nd, having passed 130-plus people the last 7 miles.

The system had worked: 70-80 MPW for three weeks with one week back at 60. Long runs of no longer than 2:30 (only one more than 20 miles) and 10-12 mile tempo runs slower than marathon pace. And virtually no speed work. I ran five miles faster than marathon pace in the three months leading up to the race. I am a firm believer in this method for people with more natural speed than endurance.

March 29, 2006

Heart rate training

I use a heart rate monitor several days a week.

Why? Because it helps slow me down and stay in the proper training effort. For every run, I try to think "what is the purpose of this run?" Using the HRM I can then execute a run that corresponds to that purpose.

Purpose: Recovery/easy mileage/long run
HR zone: 70 to 75 percent.
I have an observed HR Max of 193. Seventy-five percent is about 145. I try to stay under this number at all times on easy and long runs.

Purpose: Lactate threshold development
HR zone: 80-90 percent for 45 to 75 minutes, can take 60-90 second jog breaks if building length or upping intensity. i find it helpful to ivbe myself a 5 beats-per-minute "zone" and to work my way up into the zone over the first mile or two, then to stay in the lower end of the zone early and use the top of the zone as the warning sign to back off. As a fast-twitch runner, I have never been able to really nail the idea of having a rock-steady heart-rate at a certain pace, so a 5 BPM zone is as good as it gets for me.

Purpose: Speedwork/Vo2Max development
HR Zone: Mostly irrelevant. The HRM cannot guide this kind of workout as repetitions are too short and intense. by the time your HR is really moving, it will likely be time to stop. And since you are exceeding your lactate threshold, by a little or a lot, your heart will have to work hearder to keep up. That's OK. Base work developes the capallaries and mitochondria in the muscles to use the oxygenand fuel; speedwork developes the heart/lung ability to deliver that oxygen and fuel. Now I did say mostly irrelevvant. It can be helpful to wear the HRM in these workouts just to observe what is happening, especially on the recovery jogs. When fit, your HR should get back down to 70-75 percent during an easy jog interval. If it doesn't, the session may be too intense and perhaps should be abandoned.

Abandon a workout? Yes, as master's runners, we must always err on the side of caution. Injuries and burnout are much more common in our age group from the same training that you used to breeze through as a 20-year-old. Do not be afraid to skip a workout or end it early. Often, this is the wisest course. patience and persistence is what training as an old guy is all about.

A couple of other notes:
- Do not trust tables that say your HR Max is 220-minus your age. This is wildly inaccurate. Find your own max, either the highest number you hit near the end of a 5K, or do a good long warm up then hit some long hills as hard as possible. Or do a couple of all out 800s with a short break. Somewhere in there you ought to hit a number within inches of your HR max.
- The HRM is not fool-prrof. On very hot days, your HR can soar. It's OK to exceed your easy run max by a little, but also note that the heat is adding stress and don't go nuts. The HR can also be artificially low on days when you have not refueled well from your last workout. THis is a warning: If you are running at your easy pace, but if feels sluggish and hard and your HR is low, you need to eat more. I think I'll post up a bit about diet later.
- The ultimate goal is to get a runner to understand how to run by feel. Eventually the HRM won't be necessary on easy days. You'll know that feeling of going for a good steady eight miles and coming back refreshed instead of run-down. Top runners will learn what other various levels of effort ought to feel like, and when very fit some can predict with great certainty what their heart-rate actually is in the middle of a run.

Continue reading "Heart rate training" »

Our Problem

How does a fast-twitch runner, someone who once was a passable 400-, 800- and 1500-meter runner, turn into a decent long-distance runner?

I ran in high school and a few years in college, and even managed to get just under 33 minutes for a road 10K as a 20-year-old, and then bombed to a 2:54 marathon a few months later. I gave up running not long after that, but took it up again about eight years ago. As I'm sure you know, track opportunities for so-so old runners are few and far between, so I stuck to the roads. I slowly upped my mileage from 20s to 40s, suffered a few injuries here and there, and did typical training - a long run, a couple of hard runs, a track workout. This did not lead to significant results. At 38 I ran a 18:52 5K, a 39:10 10K, a 1:28 half-marathon, and a 3:17 marathon on a blazing hot day. These are all nearly a minute/mile slower than I ran as a 20-year-old. I also now work full time and have four (4!) kids, ages 11 to 3. I am a busy guy.

I'm also now 45 years old. I did not get faster over the next several years. But a few years ago I became persuaded that more miles, slower running, and very specific careful workouts were the key to improvement. I struggled a bit with upping the miles, but by following some advice from an online coach named John Hadd, I did manage to nip a few seconds off my 5K, 10K and half-m times at age 43 and 44. My one shot at a marathon was horrible, however, a crash-and-burn affair and a big fat DNF.

So here's where I am. For the first three months of 2006, I have been making myself run more than 50MPW, with an easy long run of 1:45 to 2 hours, and starting six weeks ago, one or two long tempo runs at 5K pace plus 60 to 75 seconds per mile (7:00 to 7:15). I use a heart-rate monitor regularly to gauge effort. More on that in a separate post. Once I did a session of 200 on-offs, once doing 10K at about 45/60 with a 90 second jog break at halfway. The idea behind these is to run at 5K pace to begin building a tiny amount of lactate, then to slow down to a steady run (not a jog!) to promote clearing the lactate. It's a good way to get a tiny amount of VO2Max work in without undue stress. The second time I tried this session, I upped the pace a few seconds on the fast 200s, and this was a mistake. I quit the workout at 8K, overwhelmed and unable to keep up the 60 second recovery 200s. Again, this is all Hadd-style training. The idea is to push up the lactate threshold, the pace you can run and not build systemic lactate (approximately marathon pace). You do this by running slower than marathon pace for extended controlled tempo runs. Using this system, Hadd has pushed many runners to be able to run a marathon at 88-90 percent of their maximum heart rate, a level that some coaches will tell you is impossible.

On March 19 I ran the Human Race 8K in 31:25, about 6:20 pace. I was shocked to come past the first mile at 6:34. My lack of speedwork was obvious. On a better note, I did manage to run 6:13 for the fourth mile and 5:48 for the last .98, or the equivalent of just under 6-minute mile pace.

So here we are. I have a decent level of base and threshold training, but cannot race very fast. I do need more speedwork and Hadd would agree. As a fast-twitch runner, I end up improving rapidly under this training, but also lose my aerobic base quickly as well. I know there are complicated physiological terms for all this, but all I care about is how it works for me. So, knowing this, I must do careful speedwork, maintain enough miles, and continue to work my aerobic threshold (as defined above) by alternating weeks with an easy long run and with a longish run with 60 minutes at marathon pace plus 20 to 30 seconds per mile. How do I know what to base my speedwork on? Both Hadd and Jack Daniels agree that you should not guess at your current fitness (you'll usually overestimate), but should run a race and prove it. I'll be running a 5K on April 1 and basing a three-month careful speed-work phase off this pace.