Monday, February 25, 2013

How To Get Faster.

A grey blanket covered the sky and a thin misty rain kept everything soggy. It was one of those days on which it seemed an umbrella would be useless. It felt like the raindrops were just suspended in the air blowing around in every direction. Despite the conditions, I had a goal in mind. 20:00 or less for a 5K. In my first year of running I went from a 26:47 to a 20:30 PR. Today I wanted to do even better. I had 6 months more experience since my last PR, but I had some things working against me too.

Over the winter I had stopped focusing on 5K speed and was adding distance to train for a half marathon trail race. Over that training cycle I had injured myself and was set back a little bit. The half marathon (report here) was an awesome experience but there was only one month between it and this 5K. I took 2 weeks to recuperate, not running for one week, then taking it easy for another week leaving little time for speed training.

At the halfway mark I talked to another runner we both were trying to break our 20:30 PRs so I stuck with her for quite some time. We did a little leap frog for about a mile. Then on the hills in the last mile she left me in the dust. My final time was 20:32.

Here it is one year later and I still haven't beaten that 20:30 PR much less gotten under 20:00.

So on to the question so many runners are asking.

How do I get faster?

There is a system, there are steps you can follow. Which step you start on today really depends on what you've already done.

1. Get more efficient. 
If you are new to running, stop thinking about getting fast, instead get more efficient. Your tendons, ligaments, and muscles need to adapt to the stress of running. So do your heart and lungs. So for now, ban the word faster from your thinking. Gradually increase the duration of your runs, add minutes or miles a little at a time, week after week. Your body will start adapting down to the cellular level. You could spend as much as a year in this phase. Don't worry, you have the rest of your life to run.

Part of getting more efficient is improving your technique. Learn to run correctly, research running form, have someone look at your running form to see if you are doing something that will slow you down or injure you, then fix the problems.

2. Get stronger. 
Don't neglect strength training. Running is the best exercise for running, but doing the same motions over and over works the same muscles in the same movements. Give the other muscles some love so you don't develop imbalances in the body.

3. Don't get hurt.
Don't say footstrike any more. Say landing. Why would you want to strike the ground with your foot? Striking the ground sends energy downward into the ground. Leave foot striking to martial arts training. Run soft and easy, land your foot on the ground and propel yourself forward. Follow the advice I was once given. "If it hurts, don't do it." Believe me, pushing to hard and getting injured will slow you down a lot more than taking it too easy.

4. To learn to run fast, you must run fast.
Once your body is now a runner's body (remember, it could be a year or even more) start running fast.
Once a week, work on intervals, do a warm up, then run hard for three minutes then jog for three, run three, jog three. Gradually build up the number of intervals you do. Look for other interval workouts, this is just a super basic way to get started.

Other than getting a personal trainer and a running coach, that's really the way to go. If any of you were hoping for a magic solution to cut your 5K time by five minutes in four weeks I don't have that for you. If you find out how to do that, let me know.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Dogs, Grief, and Running

I miss my dog.

I had him for 12 and a half years. My house mate had an unspayed dog, and my neighborhood had a sneaky dog that was good at digging under fences. At the time this combination really ticked me off, but I did wind up with the best dog ever. His name was Grendel and he could be terrifying when strangers came around, but at the same time incredibly gentle and loyal with those he knew. He always instinctively looked to me for leadership on walks. When I started dating my wife, he had to come meet the new group. He really wanted to eat her cat, but looked to me for a cue. Once he understood that the cat was not for eating he never harassed the cat again. He and my wife's dog worked out an understanding, in the house her dog was the boss, in the yard he was the boss. He loved to sit out on top of his dog house. I would often sit out there with him.

He had a tumor in his mouth. It was becoming torturous for him to eat. I had to have him put down.

I buried him beneath a forsythia bush, my daughter says we will still be able to see him, only he will be flowers.

After I buried him I sat on his dog house and cried my eyes out.

Then I went in and got my wife's new dog and we went for a run.

There is something about running, I'm sure they have measured the effects of endorphins and other things on mood. I'm not really interested in the studies and the numbers, what is important to me is that I know, for me, running is great therapy.

We ran a nice easy run down the road. I thought about how much over the last 2 and a half years as I became a runner I wished I had been a runner when Grendel was younger. By the time I started running, Grendel's hips were bad. He would have loved to be a runner, he was a pit bull, greyhound mix. He would have run me into the ground. It would have been great.

The run sort of cleaned me out. It felt as if some of the grief was being expelled from my lungs and through my sweat. When I was done I felt a better.

I still miss my dog. Right now, I don't want a new dog, I want my old dog back. I know that sooner or later though, I'll be going to the Humane Society to look for a new running partner.

Monday, February 18, 2013

MAF Math

So with all the talk of the MAF system I've been seeing lately, I decided to do some tests on myself comparing various heart rate estimation formulas with an actual submaximal talk test.

What I like about the MAF idea is the simplicity of the math. The formula I had seen the most before hearing about MAF was to estimate your maximum heart rate with 220-your age. Then to get your aerobic zone you multiply that number by .7 and by .8. Between those two numbers is your aerobic training zone. That is sort of hard to calculate in mid run. MAF makes it easier by just using 180-age to be your maximum number for your aerobic zone. Much simpler calculation.

To make it worse, the formulas considered to be more accurate are more complicated.

Here are the formulas I played with this morning and the results rounded to whole numbers.


MAF 180-age


The one considered most accurate: (205.8-.685*age).8

Then I got on the treadmill for a submaximal talk test.
My final result (one test only not an average of 2 or more tests)

So, while the MAF calculation was the  least accurate  for me, it is close enough that I could use it for an indication of my aerobic training zone. Keep  in mind that this is only one test on only one person.

Something more important that I learned doing this that makes it even simpler for me. I can tell when I've gone past the aerobic zone just going by feel. So I will continue doing what I've been doing and not worry about checking my heart rate repeatedly.

My recommendation based on my extremely limited science today is to use a heart rate estimation if it helps you figure out your pace, then start learning what it feels like on either side of the aerobic line. If you can learn to go by feel, you can keep your mind off your heart rate monitor and just enjoy the run.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

My Top 5 Cues for Running Form

These are my five favorite personal running form cues. When I say personal I mean they work for me, and have worked for the few people I've shared them with. Maybe you will find them helpful as well.

5. Easy, light, smooth.
Straight out of "Born to Run". I always try to keep my footsteps easy, light, and smooth. No pounding allowed. this one is also known as "run like a ninja".

4. Unicycle wheel.
An extension of number five. When I am really in the zone, my feet feel like they are attached to the wheel (not the pedals) of a unicycle. Ground contact, moving through the stance and lift off are all one smooth cycle.

3. No Frankenstein, but no zombie either.

If I feel like Frankenstein's monster I'm doing something wrong. I don't want to shrug my shoulders upwards while I runk, I don't want to much tension in body parts that don't need tension. This cue also helps me not clench my jaw. I also don't want to get too loose and have body parts like my arms flopping around when they shouldn't be.

2. Six shooters.
I want my arms to swing as if I am shooting at the bad cowboys with my six shooters, past the hip, then in a straight line in front of me. Not across the body, that would be shooting like a stormtrooper.

And Finally. . .
What really gets me in good posture is this. When I'm near the end of a hard run, and I'm tired, and achy, and ready to be done. Out on the road or on a trail all alone in my own head, then off in the distance I see another runner. That posture my body certainly adopts at the instructions of my ego, that is good posture.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Running Vs. The Real World

My workout schedule definitely did not include spending two days in bed sick. I ended up missing my long run just a month and a half away from my goal race. The real world can really get in the way of a good run.

It was very tempting to make plans to get up early in the morning on Monday and "make up" that long run before my wife had to leave the house.

Fortunately I wised up and talked myself out of it.

I reminded myself that the day I was able to hold down food I felt like I had just finished a half marathon. It wouldn't be wise for me to do a long run the day after a half marathon, so it wouldn't be wise for me to do a long run this morning either.

So I got up, leashed the dog, put on my layers and went for an easy three miles. The vital part is that I did not once look at my watch.

I needed a recovery run. I ran easy, my only measures of my pace were how hard I was breathing and whether or not I could talk easily. The reason I'll never get into MAF training is that I really don't care to keep checking my heart rate all the time. I'd rather use the submaximal talk test to determine what sort of training zone I am in. If I can say the pledge of allegiance I'm running easy.

For the first 3/4 of a mile I was glad I had decided not to run a long run. I just couldn't get into the groove, but shortly after the first mile that smooth feeling hit and I felt like I could go for hours. I stuck to my commitment to only run 3 though.

I was very glad to have done it, the run felt great, and I had a moment of beauty while out there.

The sun had not risen yet, but its light was shining over the horizon causing the frosty grass to turn to silver glitter. As I came up the last large hill on the way home, two horses stood grazing at the top of the hill with the sunlight behind them. Backlit they were dark silhouettes at the top of a dark hill with the first orange rays of sunlight streaming around them. As I watched them, everything else disappeared and I ran up the hill with no awareness that I was running. The running had faded into the background and this scene before me was the only thing in my mind.

What a way to get back on my feet. The real world can really transform a good run into a magical moment.