Life is like music; it must be composed by ear, feeling, and instinct, not by rule.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

180 stride rate test

So it was too cold to run outside, so I headed for the treadmill for an easy run and decided to calculate my stride rate (for the heck of it).  This wasn't a race pace workout so my fastest pace was 6:42:

Pace     Stride Rate (average)
10:00    156-158
9:00      164-166
8:00      172-174
7:00      176
6:42      178-180

You'll hear may folks say that 180 strides per minute so stay consistent regardless of pace.  This is largely a lie and inaccurate.  I'm sure a few runners do but many runners will increase stride rate (and length) as they increase pace.  As reported by Steve Magness, here's some date from top NCAA runners at UTEP:

Pace     Stride Rate
7:40      175.68
6:43      181.76
5:58      185.82
5:22      191.83
4:58      196.93

Given that, I'm quite satisfied with my 178-180 strides per minute at 6:42 pace.  My 5k race pace is slightly sub 6:00 pace so it's safe to say, I would be over the 180 threshold.  Even Steve Magness (very accomplished runner in his own right) reported the following after testing himself:

Pace     Stride Rate
7:30      166
5:00      192-198

So why is there such a focus on the "180 stride rate?"  Well, because many recreational runner over-stride and that causes many problems and ultimately injuries.  However, after you achieve a certain level of competence with respect to your stride, you can start to focus on strength length and becoming an even more efficient runner.  Remember, the "180" comes from analysis provided by legendary coach Jack Daniels but he was analyzing elite level runners at tempo pace.  Many elite Kenyan runners has been measured as low as the mid 160's while warming up but they are all largely over 180 "at tempo pace," and that's the key.

There's nothing wrong with forcing shorter and quicker strides while learning to run but you'll hit a level of competence where a baby steps not only feel wrong but are inefficient and instead of over-striding, you will under-stride and that can also causes issues.

Remember, keep it in perspective.


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

What a typical speed day looks like for me . . .

I've had a few inquires as to what a speed day workout looks like for me.  So, today, I did a 5k trial run with a few folks on dirt.  Here's what my workout looks like:

1.  Wake up at 5:45am and do 5-10 min. of foot exercises consisting of towel crunches and rolling over a golf ball, both feet.

2.  Massage my calves with a tennis ball and hard form roller over the IT band

3.  Walk around the house for 5-10 min.

4.  45 min. of barefoot running on the treadmill.  I break it up in phases which helps mentally with running on the treadmill.  First 20 minutes is the warm-up, then I start to steadily increase pace.

5.  1 mile warm-up outdoors, running to the location for the 5k run on the trails

6.  5k run checking my form, feel and pace every 400 meters.  Completed the 5k in 18:39.  My goal was sub 19:00 so mission accomplished.

7.  .5 mile easy run back to the house

8.  15 min. of barefoot running on the treadmill as the cool down.

9.  10 min. of light stretching, mostly the quads and hamstrings + balancing exercises.

That's about it.  A lot of stuff just to run a 5k, huh?   Well, speed and hard runs are not to be messed with.  If you approach them wrong, the only guarantee is a guaranteed injury.  I basically had to run easy for more than 1 hr. in order to prepare for a hard 5k run.  As a masters runner, I have to pay even closer attention to properly prepare my body for hard workouts.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The journey to be what I want to be . . .

My 7+ years of dedicated running has been an amazing journey and I look forward to where it will take me next.  However, I've had to veer off in different directions to learn what I like and what works for me.  Recently, for the 2nd time in 7 yrs., I significantly increased my weekly mileage from 40-45 miles per week ("mpw") to 60-70 mpw and I learned (yet again) a few things about myself.

1.  The heavier mileage is very time consuming (well, that's obvious :) and I tend to shed another 5-7 lbs. which sounds great but I'm already thin and it really is the threshold between to types of bodies for different purposes.  When I'm at the lower mileage range, I do a lot more race pace training and I tend to do a lot more upper, lower and core training . . . long story short, I'm stronger at the lower mileage range although I don't have the level of endurance I have at the higher mileage range.  At the high mileage range, my body looks like a marathoner as opposed to more of the 800 meter to 1 mile runners who tend to be slightly heavier with more muscle and definition.   Well,  I like the latter.  I don't like the feel of the marathon body, plus I like speed so I'm returning to what I call my "5k body" vs. the "marathon body."

2.  Running is an important "part" of my life but not my life.  The more you push toward 100 mile weeks, running become more than just a part, especially for us folks with spouses and kids.  I run to be more fit, happier and a better person but running is something I do and weave into my life and not the reverse where I weave life into running.  So, in my world, that's the difference between a 5-6 mile weekly day run vs. a 8-10 mile weekly day run.  The former allows me to see my kids in the morning and watch them head out the door.  The latter requires me to leave before they get up and return after they've left for school.  I choose the former.

3.  I'm ultra competitive which is just in my DNA from being a high school and collegiate athlete so I admit I need something I can excel at and I can do very well at the 5k and still have a normal life vs. the time and training required to excel at the marathon.

4.  I don't like being injured and less miles reduces my chances for injury as well as it eliminates having to constantly run in a fatigued state.  That isn't fun.  I've gone months where I run every day in a fatigued state and I don't like it.

5.  I like running every day and with this approach, I'm stronger and it allows me to absorb workouts on a 7 day a week basis without overloading my body to maintain a level of fitness for the longer distances.

I've been reminded that you clearly need to answer, for yourself, "why do you run and what makes you smile"  While I try different things with my running, my answer tends to be the same.


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Chugging out the mileage isn't the answer (at least for me)

Isn't the relationship between running and emotions amazing?  I realized as I increased my mileage from 40-45 mpw to 60-65 mpw my emotional state changed for the worse.  Although my body was able to absorb the mileage increase (which is a big positive), running started to become a chore and it wasn't nearly as fun.  It's a reminder how we are all wired differently and you have to find your personal zone and identify what makes it fun b/c if it's fun, then everything else takes care of itself.

I think any of us can get caught up in the sheer numbers, that is, the weekly and monthly mileage number which shouldn't be focus.  Just hitting "a number" may result in destroying the love and fun of running.  It's why I seldom run with a watch (other than my race pace runs which only occur once every 7-10 days).  Data can be very useful but it can also be very harmful.

I've gone back and forth in my training over the years but it's pretty clear that I'm a 5k/10k runner and that's what I am.  While I have run, and can run, half marathons and full marathons (even one 50k to my credit), it just doesn't map to my emotional make-up and I'm coming to terms with that.  In a runner's world where many define running by the longer distances, I realize that's about money and popularity.  As one race director told me, "the 5k, 5 mile and 10 mile races are absolutely wonderful but they take the same amount of work to setup and maintain as the half or full marathon in many respects and the money is in the longer distances as that's why folks want to run."

I'd further state that many marathon runners are not equipped to run the marathon because they haven't become efficient runners yet and if they learned how to master the 5k, then 10k, then half, they would do much better but that's not our society.  We think "big" and want immediate satisfaction and this may also correlate to the very high yearly injury rate of runners.  Many folks know my story.  After many years of solid running, I came across an elite runner who ran along side me and we started talking and, long story short, he said if I wanted to become a good runner, I needed to learn how to "run one block efficiently, then 2 blocks, then 1 mile, then 2 miles, etc."  Talk about a blow to my ego but I so appreciated the honestly as I marveled at how smooth a runner he was and he reminded me he had been running "shorter" distances as a kid (to school and back) and over time became efficient enough to tackle longer distances.  He went on to recommend that I spend 1 full year "only" running 5k's which I did and that was the beginning of me become not yet a runner, but a pretty efficient and talented runner (from a recreational perspective :) of course).  Then I started to lower by 5k time to sub 20:00, sub 19:00, and sub 18:00.

So what's the point of this post?  Great question as I jumped all over the place.  You decide if there's any value in what I've said :)


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Indoor vs. Outdoor running

I utilize the treadmill as does many of my other cold weather running friends but never mistake the treadmill for outdoor running and understand the pro's, con's, advantages and disadvantages with treadmill vs. outdoor running.  This is an excellent article with lays it out in simple terms.

Indoor vs. Outdoor Running: 3 Things to Know About Treadmill Training
By Caitlin Chock • For
The rain is pelting down, hail slices through the night air like bullets, and the cracks of thunder and flashes of lightening set the backdrop for any great horror movie. The sounds of your footfalls are lost in the chaos, but the miles ticked off aren't done on the slick pavement, but rather, in an indoor haven on the treadmill.
The treadmill can be an excellent training tool for runners when weather conditions are uninviting or downright dangerous, or when running outside isn't an option. Not to be scoffed at by "running purists," there are times and places when a treadmill is a better bet:
  • Safety: When it is too dark out to safely navigate your route, or when the weather has left the terrain iced over or slick enough to invite a fall and possible injury.
  • Workout Quality: If the conditions outside don't allow you to run safely at a faster pace, you can turn to the treadmill to make sure you're able to hit the proper level of exertion.
  • Hills and Incline Training: If you don't have access to a steep hill or an incline that is long enough, you can create your own using the grade on a treadmill.
  • Injury Prevention: The belt of the treadmill is more forgiving than the hard pavement; running on a treadmill reduces impact and is easier on the body. This can be especially important for those coming back from an injury.
  • Family: Leaving the kids unattended to go out for a run isn't exactly a glowing parent strategy. "I use a treadmill because I need to be close to my family, and we got our treadmill the day our second son Grant was born. I watch both our sons most mornings and I can still do my workouts and spend time with them," explains Michael Wardian, an elite ultrarunner who does much of his training on the treadmill.
Indoor Versus Outdoor Running: The Differences
While there are treadmill benefits to boast of, there are still key differences runners need to be aware of between indoor and outdoor running.

Hamstrings: Because a machine powers the treadmill belt, the mechanics of your running stride differ when you run outside. When running on the treadmill, you use your quads to push off. But, unlike outdoor running, where you would typically rely on your hamstrings to finish the stride cycle and lift your leg behind you, the propulsion of the belt does much of that work for you. This means your hamstrings aren't firing as much and don't get worked running inside as they would outside. The extra effort demanded of your quads is also a factor to keep in mind.

Terrain: Or more correctly, the lack thereof. "Something that I try and keep in mind is that the treadmill is really consistent and even, but outside things are constantly changing. Each change takes energy and thought, so I remind myself not to zone out while outside and especially on trails, where a bad footfall can mean stitches and a new tooth," says Wardian. 
Outside of a potential fall due to unsteady outdoor footing, landing wrong on your foot can cause strains and other injuries. If you've been doing much of your running on a treadmill, your body is used to a nearly even and constant stride. Should you run outside, your risk of an injury from even a minor misstep would be higher because the small muscles, tendons and ligaments of your ankle haven't been forced to get used to a variety of landings. (i.e.: sharp turns, curbs, uneven pavement, trails, etc.). 

Wind Resistance: Even in ideal outdoor conditions you run against air resistance; you don't get inside, so the paces you run on a treadmill are a bit easier than they would be outside. To negate this, you can put the treadmill incline up to 1.5 percent to account for lost wind resistance and make the paces comparable to those run outdoors.
With these key elements in mind, you can adapt your training as need be. If you're doing much of your running indoors, make sure to supplement with extra hamstring-strengthening exercises. 
To safeguard your ankles, work on balance and mobility drills such as balancing on one leg on a Bosu ball or pillow. After you can hold there, test your balance further by moving your arms or reaching down with your opposite arm towards the foot you are balancing on. This will build strength in the ankle area.

How to Transition Between Indoor and Outdoor Running 
If you have been doing nearly all of your training indoors, you need to be especially cautious as you begin to move back outside. You need to transition gradually in order to avoid a resulting injury. So start with one or two of your easy, shorter runs per week outside and build from there; you can also split runs up—some miles can be completed on the treadmill and the rest outside. 
Of course it works both ways: If you're moving from all outdoor running to more treadmill running, rely on the gradual transition method.
As we head into the winter months, if the wind is hollering, the snow has left your running route only navigable by snow-shoe, or you need a training partner who doesn't care if you're tired and would like to slow down, the treadmill can be your respite.

Hope you enjoyed it and I'd be interested in your feedback.


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Adaption rate, recovery and muscular stress cycles

Well, it's been interesting as I've increased my weekly mileage to the 60-70 miles per week ("mpw") range having exceed 70 mpw a few times.  To reach this threshold, I've also had to throw in 2-3 doubles per week.  My body has been able to absorb the increase, however, to no surprise, I've lost some leg punch given my legs are trashed at times.  It's been a great experience because it's forced me to reassess the recovery process as a masters runner.

Like it or not, I've over 40 years old and I have to recognize changes in my body, adaption capabilities, recovery and muscles stresses.  It's just life and you acknowledge and start to build a plan around it or you ignore and end up seriously injured and/or unhappy.  I just listened to a great interview on Masters Training by Coach Greg McMillan which you can pull up on iTunes in the podcast section (it's free).  Coach McMillan identifies 3 types of masters runners:

1.  the one that competed in high school and at the collegiate level, left the sport after college, and comes back
2.  the one that picks up runner later in life, generally in their mid to late 30's and realizes they are pretty good
3.  the one that competed in high school, college and never stops.

The #3 category is extremely rare as Coach McMillan points out.  #1 and #2 account for the vast majority of  masters runners and I'm clearly a #2.  Having played high school and college basketball, I picked up running around age 37 and realized as I was pretty good having regularly finished in the top 5-10% in races against my similar aged counterparts (and I've won a 5k outright against collegiate runners).  Coach McMillan had different advice for the #1 vs. #2 runner and I'll selfishly focus on the #2 runner because the #1 runner, as he pointed out, has a tremendous amount of experience and knowledge from their prior running life which has pro's and con's.  The #2 runner has no mental remembrance so it's all new.

The key that he points out is focusing on the "adaption" cycle.  Generally speaking it will take a masters runner 1-2x additional days to recovery from hard and long runs so the key is to spread the stresses.  He recommended the following approach:

1.  decrease the number of total workouts and mileage
2.  focus on recovery
3.  focus on "key" workouts (speed and long runs for example) and make sure you are recovery before and after such key workouts

The basic message is to match the training to the adaption capabilities.  Just running sheer miles for the sake of miles will significantly increase your chances for injury and burnout.  The other factor to support that which another coach highlighted is that it can take 3-5x longer for a masters runner to recovery from injury.  A injury that might take a few days for a 20 something to recover can take 2-4 weeks for a masters runner to recovery so the message is clear that the best way to avoid injury is to "not" get injured, hence the focus on recovery and smart running.

All of this has me re-assessing the increase mileage against the ultimate strategy and goal of "quality over quantity."  At the simplistic level, I'm comparing my 40-45 mpw and hitting key workouts vs. 60-70 mpw and continuing to run in a fatigued state and not being able to incorporate as many key workouts (i.e., having to do more easy and medium effort runs).


Monday, December 10, 2012

A good article for folks that focus on the 180 steps per minute. Be careful as it is often over simplified. Speed is a combo of stride rate and length and, what is often disregarded, is the pace at which the spm were counted. Jack Daniels measured the 180 which has become religion with elite runners at tempo pace.  I see runners out take these extremely short baby steps, however, you can only increase your cadence by 5-10% as there's a point where you can take as many steps as you like but you'll quickly max out.  You can't disregard stride length and, regardless of what you hear, both stride rate and length increase as you get faster and it's the same for the vast majority of elite runners.  

This issue is the point in time in which we analyze elite runners.  It's one thing to watch a runner at 5:30 min. pace increase to 5:00 pace as they were already flying at the 5:30 pace :).  It's another to take a runner at a 9:30 warm-up pace and compare that to a 9:00 pace or 5:00 pace.  The fact is many elite runners are in the 160-170 range at slower paces (8:00 - 9:00 pace).  I tested myself on the treadmill and at a 9:30 pace, I'm around 164.  At that pace, if I try to force a 180 stride rate, not only does it feel wrong, it's inefficient especially for my body type as a slightly taller runner.  I don't hit 180 strides per minute until I'm around the 6:45 pace range and I'm around 184-186 at the 6:15 pace range.  The 6:00 min. mile is basically my aerobic threshold (although I can hold 5:45 for a 5k) and at that pace, I'm around 186-188 strides per minute.  My point is to keep the 180 gospel in perspective.   

Remember, you can have too long a stride but you can also have too short a stride (both can be inefficient):

Friday, December 7, 2012

Base mileage, trying to find the sweetspot

As I posted last month, I increased my weekly mileage from 40-50 miles per week ("mpw") to 50-60 mpw. On the high end, that's a 20 mpw difference and I can definitely feel the impact after 4 weeks of averaging 60 mpw.  Now I'm asking myself "why" and what's the advantage of maintaining a 60 mpw base as that's a heavy base for a 40-something :).  To maintain the 60 mpw, I have to throw in 1-2 doubles per week and it can take a toll in terms of limiting recovery time which can be an issue as you get older and, of course, there's always some differences based on the individuals make-up, including genetics.

As such, I'm taking a very close look at the impacts and value of the increased mileage.  It makes sense when I'm training for a half or full marathon but since I'm not training for a longer distance race, is it worth the increased weekly mileage just to increase my base mileage?  It's a tough question and something I'm looking at for myself.  I've also run 57 consecutive days and I'll also re-visit the value of a rest day although I'm less concerned about a rest day and more focused on the impact of the increased mileage.

My body has always responded and recovered from speed workouts faster than too many long runs and that may be an individual thing.  The deep question will be the "why" for me . . . why run 60 mpw vs. 40 mpw and it's a deeper analysis than just saying "because I can."  I've proven I can but I need to go deeper and correlate the mpw to happiness and health.  I'm in the process of doing that right now :).


Thursday, December 6, 2012

New Vivobarefoot reviews forthcoming

As a early supporter and proponent of the original Vivobarefoot Evo running shoe and later becoming one that heavily critized the design of the Evo, I've been in discussions with Vivobarefoot and I'll be testing several of their new models, specifically:  The One, Stealth and Evo Lite.  I look forward to trying them out and I'm hoping that, at a minimum, the blister issue is resolved with the Evo lite as well as the One and Stealth.

I'll keep you posted once I have a good feel and have logged enough miles to provide some level of substantive feedback.

In the meantime, here's pics of the models:


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Treadmill Paradox

So this coming winter has forced me to pull out my winter playbook of running workouts.  One of my favorite is the indoor/outdoor combination in which I start indoors on the treadmill running barefoot (today was 40 min.), then lace up the sneakers and do a shorter segment outdoors (today was 25 min. for a total 65 min. workout).  The point of the outdoor portion is to keep the body acclimated to the impacts of running outdoors because, as we all know, the treadmill is artificial in many respects especially regarding pace which creates a paradox.

The pace you think you are running on the treadmill according to the computer board does not translate second for second to outdoor running.  This is why I recommend you focus on "effort level" when running on the treadmill, that is, ignore the actual computer pace and run according to the effort you would give if running outside (I slowly increase pace as my body forces it).  Case in point, this morning the treadmill said I was running a 9:24 pace and then I immediately put on the shoes and headed outside and checked my garmin and I was running a 8:50 pace (I only used the garmin to prove this point as most of you know I don't generally run with a watch or garmin but I needed technology this time to validate what I'm posting).  This delta represents a 30 sec. difference which is material.

The treadmill can be a wonderful piece of technology if used correctly.  Remember to put the treadmill in proper context.  It is there as a great alternative when running outside is not a possibility, for whatever reason (in my case, I only revert to the treadmill when its too cold, snowy or icy).  The treadmill allows us to maintain our level of fitness which is a major asset, however, it should never been considered a legit replacement for outdoor running.  The treadmill, by in large, is too ideal . . .


Monday, December 3, 2012

Mach 14's - beautiful look, light, minimal but too much bounce

Last week I received a trial pair of Brooks Mach 14's (spikeless).  Let me start by saying they are beautiful to look at :) . . . great looking shoe.  Also, extremely light weight (my pair of 12's weighed in at just 6 oz.), very soft upper and much less toe spring than the previous Mach 12 and 13.  I did a few runs in the Mach 14 but as I mentioned in an earlier post, I'm not a fan of shoe rotation so I won't be doing a ton of running in this shoe but I give it an early passing grade and would likely recommend it for "some" other runners.

For me, the combination of the midsole design and toe spring provide a high level of energy return and take a major burden off the legs and allow you to glide or bounce along, or almost fly by which, on the surface sounds great but there's another side to that.  When shoes provide too much spring for me, it puts pressure on my achilles because it can alter your stride by extending your stride to where you almost feel like your are bouncing along.  That bounce feeling is something I call "un-controlled" form (I know, I have weird terms and descriptions) but I like a very compact controlled stride and there's a fine line between that and bouncing along which can also result in the foot spending too much time on the ground and creating more of a push off (i.e., lower cadence and longer stride).

Anyway, check out the shoe.  I know this is a lame review but I can't spend too much time running in the shoe at the moment.  One red flag for me, and it's a red flag I identify in the vast majority of running shoes including so called minimalist shoes, and that's the design of the sole.  Even the new wave of minimalist shoes are still trying to over design the sole, all in an attempt to differentiate themselves but they generally suck.  Even as the vast majority of these companies move toward "zero drop" they continue to over-design the sole . . . they just can't help themselves :) . . . this is what happens when you turn your company over to engineers.

The problem is all we need is a simple layer of rubber, even if you add some EVA it should be flat and nothing more . . . no special grooves or midsole designs or special attention to certain areas of the foot, etc.  Just a piece of rubber (again, it can be EVA, I don't care) but just flat, flat, flat (no grooves or spikes unless it's a specific shoe for a specific terrain but I'm talking about general everyday running on hard surfaces or easy dirt roads and trails).  But, that wouldn't be sexy and then every shoe would start to look the same and shoe companies can't have that :) although they could differentiate with the design of the upper which is what it should be all about anyway . . . the sole is boring and it should be that way as it should just be a layer of protection for the foot (again, flat and simple).


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