September 29, 2008

I suppose he could

After running 2:03:59 I'm glad Gebrselassie feels confident he can run a minute a mile slower.

Posted by eroberts at 4:16 AM

March 8, 2008

This week's sign of the apocalypse

Athletics NZ has a quote from Newt Gingrich on their homepage. Newt Gingrich, well-known American athlete ... oh, wait!

Posted by eroberts at 8:59 PM

March 6, 2008

Fun on the run

On an otherwise mundane 13km tempo run this morning, there were two things of note. The first was "meeting" one of those guys who wants to race you. They are always men, and always slightly socially awkward. I mean, in a sport like running which attracts introverts and characters, you can tell these people who want to race you on a training run are even more loopy, even more out of touch with social mores. What was impressive about this guy was that I was clipping along at 3:45/km, and as soon as I pass him he shoots off at 3:30 pace. His other oddity was that on a beautiful morning for running (13°C/55°F) he was wearing long underwear and a thermal top. Eventually he slowed down, and I caught him, passed him, and he takes off again. As he accelerates he smiles with an idiot grin to invite the race and seems puzzled I'm not taking him up on the offer. Eventually we got to a junction, and he headed off the other way but not before we'd gone through this 'race me' grin routine several times (each time his acceleration got shorter ... but still impressive speed for a guy who looked to be in his late 40s or 50s).

That bemusing 5km over I kept on heading round the bays, and managed to get on the radio in a manner of speaking. One of the local DJs, Nick Tansley, was broadcasting outside. He used to be somewhat "cool" when I was in primary school, but now suffers from a yawning gap between his chronological age and the age he plays on the radio. As I went past I heard him say "it's a beautiful morning here on Oriental Parade, and there goes a runner, he looks like's too busy to stop and talk to me ..."

Between these two 'events' I got from 20 to 45 minutes into my 50 minute tempo run with little thought for how far into the run I was. This was good, and made it a remarkably easy run. 50 minutes quicker than marathon pace should not be difficult, but normally requires more concentration than that.

Posted by eroberts at 6:36 PM

February 27, 2008

Girls, girls, girls

This will get a lot of unintended hits ...

I went to the track for the first time in 5 months today. That isn't to say that I ran on the track. It's school sports season in Wellington. This means—one rubber track in the city—that occasionally the track is occupied by high school students doing track and field events. I had a premonition this was going to be the case as I jogged up there, seeing a lot of girls in colorful outfits heading up to the park.

So I did my workout on the soccer field above the track. This was less than ideal, with some tight turns; but first interval workout in 5 months it was probably OK not to know I was a couple of seconds off the pace. The long side of a soccer field is 100m, so you can check your pace. As I jogged around in between my 5 x 1000m and 4 x 400m repeats I got to watch the Wellington East Girls sports get started. Nowadays, befitting its location "East" is a very multi-cultural school with Maori, Pacific Island, Asian, Somali, and European students. But it also has "houses," which American readers may or may not be familiar with. Houses are vertical divisions of a school (as opposed to horizontal grade/age divisions), sometimes reflecting literally where the students slept, if it was a boarding school. But for most purposes "houses" in schools were to organize competitive sports and culture. Few modern schools in New Zealand have houses. The high school I attended, started well into the 1950s, didn't have them. But any school originating before World War II probably did, and maybe still does, like Wellington East. Well, the funny thing, after all that explanation, is that East is very multicultural, but the house names commemorate long-deceased, British-born governors of New Zealand. So, as I ambled around the soccer field I got to hear a diversity of accents screaming "Go Onslow," "Go Bledisloe," "Go Jellicoe! The girls were really getting into the spirit of things, and as they started the 60m sprint the gun fired, and then the gun fired again. False start, I knew, even from the top field. But not most of the girls in the race, who tore off down to the finish, while one girl stopped, and waited for the others to stop. The girls in the stands just kept on cheering for the dead Lords and Governors. This commotion caused the announcer to cry out "Girls, girls, girls, you have to be quiet when the races are starting!!!" And then they ran the race again ...

Posted by eroberts at 6:54 PM

February 20, 2008

Department of too-easy targets

Quite apart from the humor of reading this with the British understanding of bonk (I think we will all agree, often its own reward), how many [in the American sense] bonk in a 5km? I've always thought that bonk was synonymous with hitting the wall, the [near] total exhaustion of your muscle glycogen. You can certainly struggle to the end of a 5km, but it's a different process entirely ...

Posted by eroberts at 1:00 AM

January 17, 2008

What kind of tracksuit?

From a New York Times article on exercising in the cold

That means, Dr. Noakes said, that even in temperatures as low as 10 to minus-20 degrees, a runner probably needs to wear no more than a track suit, mittens or gloves and a hat.

That had better be a very good "tracksuit" at minus-20 farenheit ...

Posted by eroberts at 10:06 AM

January 14, 2008

Ode to Minneapolis winter running

A picture representing thousands of miles in the last few years for me and many others ...

Posted by eroberts at 1:25 PM

December 27, 2007

Marathons reduce mortality

This is an interesting looking article in the British Medical Journal:

Objective: To determine from a societal perspective the risk of sudden cardiac death associated with running in an organised marathon compared with the risk of dying from a motor vehicle crash that might otherwise have taken place if the roads had not been closed.

Design: Population based retrospective analysis with linked ecological comparisons of sudden death.

Setting: Marathons with at least 1000 participants that had two decades of history and were on public roads in the United States, 1975-2004.

Main outcome measures: Sudden death attributed to cardiac causes or to motor vehicle trauma.

Results: The marathons provided results for 3 292 268 runners on 750 separate days encompassing about 14 million hours of exercise. There were 26 sudden cardiac deaths observed, equivalent to a rate of 0.8 per 100 000 participants (95% confidence interval 0.5 to 1.1). Because of road closure, an estimated 46 motor vehicle fatalities were prevented, equivalent to a relative risk reduction of 35% (95% confidence interval 17% to 49%). The net reduction in sudden death during marathons amounted to a ratio of about 1.8 crash deaths saved for each case of sudden cardiac death observed (95% confidence interval: 0.7 to 3.8). The net reduction in total deaths could not be explained by re-routing traffic to other regions or days and was consistent across different parts of the country, decades of the century, seasons of the year, days of the week, degree of competition, and course difficulty.

Conclusion: Organised marathons are not associated with an increase in sudden deaths from a societal perspective, contrary to anecdotal impressions fostered by news media.

Posted by eroberts at 2:30 PM

November 30, 2007

The standard loop

One of my standard easy run routes in Wellington

One thing that is not discussed as often as it might be amongst runners is the question of making up the run as you go along versus a standard route. It's a question of temperament, environment and running season. The choice between meandering new routes or taking the path previously trodden poses itself most often in this base building phase. Workouts and races are far from one's mind, and there's only so much you can say or think about another 10 steady miles. For me that means exploring, but perhaps not for others of a different temperament.

Slipping between "loop" in the title, and "route" in the sentence reveals temperament—the tolerance for boredom or the craving for variety. My craving for variety is such that I rarely run an out-and-back, much preferring loops. Of course, when you run up and down the banks of a river, even one as wide as the Mississippi, you are close to collapsing the distinction between loops and out-and-backs! I rarely run the same route twice in a row, though cold winter winds sometimes mean that several runs in a row will follow the same direction, often heading north to start. And I gently curse the wind for making me run the same direction as yesterday.

Running the same basic route gives me the comparison to yesterday that I'd rather not have in this phase of training. Personally I care most about the pace for workouts in race season, and that's a couple of days a week a few months of the year. On other days of the week, and at other times of year my need to know the pace varies with my mood. Wind, climate, terrain, non-running stressors, and incremental changes in fitness can add so much "noise" to the "signal" that the relationship between effort and pace is not constant. I prefer to try and focus on how I feel, asking myself are my legs heavy? what kind of fatigue do I feel? if I had the time would I want to go further than scheduled? The start of a run is the noisiest. Warming up quickly is often the sign of a good run, but taking 20 to 40 minutes to warm to the exertion—especially in the Minnesota winter—is not a reliable sign of how well the run is going. Thus I tend to care about the pace-effort relationship later in the run, hitting the known checkpoints where the times means something in the last 10-30 minutes.

When the running seasons shift from base building to racing tempo runs and everything quicker begin to shift to measured courses. In the off season there is a lot of benefit to the mostly unmeasured tempo runs where you focus on the right effort rather than the right pace. Recovery days in the racing season are a different question! Sometimes I don't want to know how slowly I'm going, and I'll shuffle round the parks or trails where I know nothing of the distances. But on other days—I suspect the days I know I'm feeling better—I like to confirm that I'm recovering well and see an acceptable pace for an easy effort despite the hard workout a day or two earlier.

So right now I'm in the mood to mostly meander around. It's been a good year for exploring and running different routes. Living in two cities and traveling a lot gives you that freedom. Even my regular winter runs heading north along the Mississippi river banks are somewhat different with the detour imposed by the I-35W bridge collapse.

Posted by eroberts at 12:52 PM

November 3, 2007

Notes on the U.S. Men's Olympic Marathon Trials

Nothing like watching a marathon for hearing some crazy sports commentary. 2 continuous hours with really not a lot of dramatic moments that require analysis. Just lots of time for commentators to say crazy stuff like the following ... It took a while before I finally got to watch the streaming coverage (thank you letsrun.com posters)

Among the first items of commentary I heard was an explanation of how Dathan Ritzenhein was taking an energy gel because he's had problems with his energy and ran out of energy in a 5000m race in Belgium this year. You can slow down in a 5000m, but it's very, very rarely because you run out of fuel.

Amazingly, they were pronouncing Jason Lehmkuhle's name correctly. The "Jason" didn't surprise me. The "Lehmkuhle" hhas tripped up many.

On Alan Culpepper: "He's not going to get over-caffeinated emotionally" (a few minutes before he dropped out)
They then referred to his wife Shayne being pregnant with her third child, which strangely implied he might not be the father.

Ryan Hall: "He's out of Stanford, so you know he's smart."

"Why on earth would Ryan Hall be looking at his watch?"

Browne and Meb seem to be cutting the kerbs very close ...

Ryan Hall: "He's an oxygen delivery machine."

Dathan: "He has a pug dog and a daughter."

"It amazes me the guys with the best resumes have dropped off the back."

They're referring to the Olympic Trials record as the Olympic record ...

Sell: " ...160 miles a week. Brazilian-like, a madman."

On Hall: "If Palo Alto's your big town, you're a small town guy"

on Sell: "In third place, you have someone who no-one thought could make it." (really?)

On Hall grabbing his water bottle at 24 miles: "The ease with which you grab your bottle is an indication of how supple you still are"

Posted by eroberts at 7:47 AM

October 9, 2007

Road relay

One of the great things about New Zealand running (inherited from Britain) is the road relay. Varied and undulating road running through beautiful countryside. As you can see from the video it can be a lonely experience as a race, since your only competition might be going much faster or slower than you. All you have to run against is the reflective markers on the side of the roads. But there's plenty of support (from your own team) and abuse (from your competition) from the sidelines. Being spring, the headwind is constant even on a loop course.

This year I was in the Wellington Scottish C-team, and though we were a few minutes out of a medal in our grade we had fun. Good running. Sheep in the paddocks. Beer afterwards. What more do you need?

Posted by eroberts at 5:02 PM

September 20, 2007

Track tourism

When I'm traveling I like to look for tracks and trails. (By the way, in New Zealand people say "tracks" for paths through the bush/forest/woods, so you have to rely on context to distinguish 400m of rubber from dirt and roots). I call this track tourism. I use tourism ironically, because tourism is mostly about promoting the uniqueness of a place. 400m tracks are all about being precisely the same in the most important way.

Thus, one of the appeals of track tourism is finding something so similar in familiar and unfamiliar places. I've become very familiar with the tracks at Bierman Field in Minneapolis, and the Newtown Park track in Wellington (left). Another appeal of track tourism is a sort of insight into local history and culture. It is the same basic 400m piece of rubber everywhere. You're keeping something constant in statistical terms. The setting and the ownership of a track give some insight into the place of track and field in a community. Norwegian tracks are very open, owned by the city, and there's always a diversity of people there running and walking at various paces. American tracks are often at schools, and even the public schools lock them up some of the time. On the other hand, some American school tracks are open to all comers. In that diversity are some of the diversity and contradictions of American life. All in 400m of red rubber.

When I saw the photo to the right on Matthew Yglesias's site what intrigued me was not the discussion of public schools in Washington, D.C. but the odd shape of the track. I knew such things existed, and that not all tracks have the same dimensions, but take a look at that back straight. It's not parallel with the home straight! To say nothing of the cars parked on the high jump pad. The tracks are not the same everywhere. They do say something about the community.

NB: If you want to see some odd tracks, this webpage on California and Nevada tracks is a labor of obsessive love. I came across it years ago looking for a track before a trip to LA.

Posted by eroberts at 1:11 AM

September 18, 2007

Heads up

Starting a new job is busy ... there are going to be a lot of cheater blog entries with pictures. Really, Wellington is a moderately sized city, but it's very attractive to be able to reach farmland in about 15 minutes easy running while still living 5km from the central city.

Running on the hills and trails around Wellington has made me reflect on the importance of training environment. As I discussed a few weeks ago Lydiard's hill repeats are not in vogue in a city like this. The other aspect of Lydiard's ideas that I think is more local than he makes it out to be is the preference for smooth road runs. Again, this makes sense if you lived in Auckland where there are a lot more smooth, flat road runs near where his athletes were living. If Lydiard had lived in Wellington I'm not sure he would have suggested the smooth, flat road run was the universal ideal. It would condemn you to doing the same run round the waterfront all the time.

I ran a smooth, flat road run on Sunday. It was meant to be a half-marathon at marathon pace. I have a sneaky suspicion it was about 400m too long. The only 5km in the race entirely with a tailwind was the slowest 5km ... and the last "kilometre" took 4:44 with a mild cross-wind. I'm glad I didn't race this sorry excuse for course measurement.

Posted by eroberts at 12:07 PM

August 16, 2007

A short history of hill repeats

Arthur Lydiard is indelibly associated with the history of long distance running in New Zealand. It's a history of great achievements in the 1960s, lack of official recognition in the 1970s, and growing appreciation for Lydiard's achievements in the last two decades. It has been interesting for me to watch a talented guy in Arizona work through Lydiard's schedules, including hill repeats, faithful to the schedules Lydiard drew up in Auckland and beyond.

Although Lydiard is associated with New Zealand, within the country he is associated with Auckland running. Hill repeats are a good example of the association with Auckland. Around the country, the influence of Lydiard on New Zealand running is clear, though "the schedules" have been modified by succeeding generations of coaches who have been dissatisfied with the periodization or other aspects. I could not claim that no one in Wellington does hill repeats, or that no one ever has, but I will claim that there's a strong tradition in Wellington running that disregards hill repeats for the long or hard run "over the hills".

Lydiard's hill repeats are not a general theory of the best way to train, but a specific adaptation to the local environment. Compared to Wellington, Auckland has lower, fewer, and flatter hills. You really have to work hard to avoid the hills in Wellington, and you can design a relatively long run with regular steep climbs and steps that gives you all the benefits of the hill repeats with none of the structure. You come to a hill, you run up it hard. You come to a set of 200-500 steps. You run up them. As my high school coach used to say, "you can shuffle uphill, but if you shuffle up steps you'll break your legs." If you think hills are good for your leg strength, steps are even better. Taking them one at a time teaches quick movement, while bounding up two or more at a time builds power in your push off. If you have a flat stretch you might stride out a bit, but save something for the hills to come. You could plausibly do 20 miles or more in this fashion in Wellington. This is much less possible in Auckland. The hill repeats were the way to get in lots of hills in that environment.

The Wellingtonian attitude to hills is in no way a disdain for the idea that hills are really good for you. The disdain is for the idea that you need a formal structure to running on hills. When you live in a place where 300m of vertical gain in an hour's recovery run is normal you really don't to run hill repeats.

Posted by eroberts at 7:27 PM

July 21, 2007

Be happy with what you have ...

Which is worse? Running in July in Wellington, or Minneapolis

Running in July in Minneapolis was for the most part not great. The heat, the humidity, the ozone days, the bugs. You make do, enjoy the chance to take it slowly 6 days out of 7, and run on a schedule dictated by the weather. Running in July in Wellington can have few charms too. I'm of the opinion that there's no good clothing for rain and 40°F/5°C. I just put on polypropelene on my top and hands, and go for it. If the southerly makes it too cold for the legs to warm up you don't run quickly and risk pulling a muscle, you just get out there and run, and wait for the weather to change, which it will do in a day. That's the good thing about a maritime climate. The cold and rain rarely stick around for more than a couple of days in a row. In short, my question when I left Minneapolis for Wellington, was which would be worse, cold and rain or hot and muggy.

In general and in respect of running I try—if not always successfully—to be happy with what I have. No point in raging against the weather. Those caveats aside, I think I'm now in a position to judge this slightly ridiculous question.

After 20 miles over Makara Peak and the Skyline Track in intermittent rain and hail below 40°F/5°C, the trails more than make up for the 30mph wind with 50mph gusts, and the rain. You have to pick your trails more carefully in the winter but 80% of the hundreds of miles of trails in the city are runnable even in the winter. You come round the corner and get glorious view of the Pacific Ocean or the city or the regenerating bush. I almost forgot that my legs were red with cold ...

Reading recommendation: Matthew Engel discusses month-by-month moves for the best weather in the world.

Posted by eroberts at 9:27 PM

July 11, 2007

You can't have a placebo effect of icebaths

Some new research questions the benefits of icebaths:

Ice-water immersion offers no benefit for pain, swelling, isometric strength and function, and in fact may make more athletes sore the next day

Then they find someone to question the new study, who says:
because it's subjective, there may even be a placebo effect on those who take the cold bath. Its part of their ritual, it finishes off the endurance test, and many clearly report that it makes them feel better

Now its true that you may get some benefits just from believing that the icebath works for you. But they aren't placebo effects. A placebo effect requires that you don't know what "treatment" you're getting.

If you're testing the effect of, say, drugs this is relatively straightforward. You give the placebo group a plain pill that looks like medicine. But even then, some patients will work out they're in the placebo group because they don't have any side effects of a drug.

It's impossible to have a placebo group in a trial of tepid vs. ice water because [nearly everybody] will be able to tell the difference between tepid and ice water ...

Icebaths are great. Right now I'm living in a climate where I get the icebath throughout some of my runs ... That is one good thing about a cold southerly in Wellington! It probably keeps the riff raff out, as they say.

Posted by eroberts at 7:24 PM

June 28, 2007

Running requires both lungs and legs

From the department of not-so-surprising-discoveries, it turns out you need both strong legs and strong lungs to run well. I reprise this obvious truth to mostly conclude my science experiment on what extended aqua-running does for your land running. Since this site (blog.lib.umn.edu) draws a lot of google hits my poor racing after extended aqua-running is presented as a public service and warning. It keeps you fit but you don't necessarily run your best afterwards.

All in all I was off dry land and aqua-running for nearly 7 weeks. That's a long time, and longer than most of the research that concludes that aqua-running maintains your racing fitness. This time coincided with the last few weeks of my dissertation writing, so I did unusually little walking. My daily routine was ride or drive to pool, ride or drive to work, write a lot, ride or drive home. I got a premonition that returning to running would be rough a week before I started back when a 3/4 of a mile walk left my legs quite tired.

Once I started back I had 5 weeks before the Bjorklund 1/2 marathon which was my goal race for the first half of the year. Having paid $65 to enter, and it's a great race, it was not one to abandon. The first 10 days of "terrestrial running" were not pretty (well, I'm never pretty running, but this is all relative), or at least felt not pretty. The first few days I was actually quite sore while running, mostly in the quads which do the shock absorbing, and more so on asphalt than on softer surfaces. Once I had some semblance of co-ordination back I hit the track for a mini-workout on the 12th day of my return to land running. A few laps of strides and then 2 x 1000m at marathon pace felt aerobically easy, but even on the forgiving surface of the track the legs tired quickly. My easy-paced runs, even the ones that felt sore and un-coordinated had not actually been too much slower than my normal training paces pre-injury. But it was pretty clear that my specific fitness for running at race pace without my legs tiring had diminished substantially. And I had just over two weeks to get it back, since the last week before the race would be mostly tapering.

Another predictable--and thus easily accepted--consequence of the pool running was that I was very aerobically fit but had no leg strength and thus everything was out of balance. If your legs and lungs are out of balance I think it is the worst combination when your lungs are stronger. It leads to even more leg problems since you unconsciously try to outrun your leg fitness. Suffice it to say that I had a host of minor niggles in the two weeks of crash-training where I had to get used to (a) running 6:low/miles again, (b) running for 80-90 minutes, and (c) combining a and b on a relatively unforgiving road surface. Again, I cannot speak too highly of active release therapy, and specifically put in a little free local advertising for Jenna Boren at Bridging Health in St. Paul.

If my goal had been a smooth transition to effective training, the adjustment back to land might have been a little smoother. I would have run more frequently, for shorter distances and at slower paces. But my goal was to try and do a somewhat decent race. So I focussed on two kinds of runs, longer runs to get my legs used to being on the road for a while, and tempo runs with some strides before and after. Since I'd done VO2 max type intervals in the pool I'd taken care of that side of my aerobic fitness, and they seemed to have the most potential for injury. On the days in between the land runs I was in the pool, jogging around for recovery. Again, my thanks to H2O Man and MPR for keeping me sane for up to 2.5 hours in the pool. Really, anything over 20 minutes of aqua jogging seems interminable without the mental focus of a workout or the distraction of the radio.

A week out from the race it was quite clear I was not going to have one of those miraculous injury followed by PR experiences. I had a host of niggling issues with the legs that I was working out with the foam roller, and I was worried that in my haste to get road-fit again I'd done just enough to tire myself out. Thus I set myself the modest goal of merely running marathon pace (1:24:30) for the half marathon. If I could do that I'd be happy.

Not achieving even a modest goal would normally be disappointing. But given the slow transition back to the roads I was more inclined to take the positive feedback from the race, and not worry about the shuffle to the finish. On the morning of the race I made the decision to check my time at the first mile and then run by feel, trying to hit the split button on the watch without looking at it. 6:27 at mile 1 was right on target. Although I got to see my time at mile 5 and 10km the feedback was good, I was knocking off the miles between 6:24 and 6:28 (goal being 6:26). Around 8.5 miles the quads began to protest that they were not used to this. It was not quite like hitting the wall in a marathon, since I gradually slowed from 6:26s to the shuffling 7:30 I ran for the last mile, but it was similar. If your legs aren't used to the road you aren't going to make it. The end result was a 1:28:47 that I figure to be 8-11 minutes slower than what I might have run without the 7 weeks off the road. But in the long view I'll take the positives -- my pace judgment was good and I ran 1/3 of a marathon at marathon pace. It could have been a lot worse.

The generalizable lesson is this: aqua jogging does keep you fit, but you've got to keep up some weight bearing exercise once you can walk on the injury, and the longer you're off the land the harder it will be to come back. While it's frustrating to have to wait for my legs to catch up with my lungs, being unfit in both is even harder to come back from.

I've always found recovering from injuries to be somewhat mentally refreshing. They force me to break from the plan, and to enjoy each day's running for what it is. My goal for the year is still to try and run a decent marathon in October in Auckland. As luck would have it this marathon does not fill months in advance, and I can decide as late as early October whether I'm really going to do it. To let the legs catch up with the lungs the next couple of months are mostly going to be easy runs to build up the mileage with one tempo run or race at Harriers each week. There are few better cities in the world for doing winter base building than Wellington. You have hills and trails, and if you need to hit the flats or the track they're available too. It should be fun.

In other non-surprising news, moving across the Pacific and starting a new job is kinda time consuming ...

Posted by eroberts at 5:23 AM

June 14, 2007

A short jaunt past history

This entry represents the confluence of two of my favorite things: running on trails and history. Meeker Island lock and dam was the first set of locks constructed on the upper Mississippi river in 1907. If you are strolling or running along the east bank of the river just where Minneapolis meets Saint Paul it has always been possible to go down some steps (in Minneapolis) or down a rutted little trail (in Saint Paul) to the riverbank and see the remnants of the dam. When the river level is low you can see a lot of what was there, if not the island itself which is submerged by the now much deeper channel of the river.

The lock and dam lasted just five years, and was then submerged by the raising of the river achieved with the construction of the much larger dam at the Ford Parkway.

Now with the centenary of the Meeker Island dam upon us, the Saint Paul city council has spruced up the area a little, added some tables and benches, and made the path alongside the river more runnable (or walkable). The best way to see this on a run is to run down the wagon road on the Saint Paul side, along the river, and then up some iron steps (beside a storm water outlet) into Minneapolis to emerge about 100 meters from where you went down the wagon road.

Lake St bridge

Minneapolis' beach on the Mississippi

National Parks Service book on the history of the Mississippi in the Twin Cities

Posted by eroberts at 5:29 PM

April 27, 2007

A-muse(ing) someone

Hopefully this will make someone, somewhere laugh. After 31 days of pool running, 24 of them hard days, it's time to take a recovery week ... from my aqua-jogging routine. That's the part you're supposed to laugh at.

The cutback will coincide with the last week of dissertation writing before I hand it off to my committee, and wait for their permission to defend it, so the extra time will be valuable too. Even with the joys of Zotero and EndNote the final footnotes take longer to format than you think (even when you adjust for them taking longer than you think ... )

What with it being apparently spring weather outside (I wouldn't know, I go to the pool, I go to my desk, and when I look at the weather forecast page in my browser I often discover I haven't reloaded it for two days) the muse (Clio, maybe) from running outside would be a good thing. After a month in the pool, I've found my muse in there more than I thought I would. When you're running by yourself if you have a thought you can verbalize it (=talk to yourself). In the pool with the lifeguard sitting relatively close I can't do that ...

Now, back to that little essay I have to write.

Posted by eroberts at 1:59 PM

April 23, 2007

Seeing double

from letsrun's London marathon photos on Monday, 23 April, about 5pm CDT

Posted by eroberts at 5:04 PM

April 6, 2007

Dispatches from the pool

Everyone, I am sure, is anxiously awaiting news of just how exciting pool running really is. The good news is that I've done 10 days in the pool. The [expected] "bad" news is that I can still feel the toe so I'll be in the pool a while longer. No miraculous cure, even at Easter time.

Given the length of my sentence I decided to invest in this classy product. It doesn't look stylish, but remember I am wearing a blue aqua-running belt and a becoming black heart rate monitor. I already look like a doofus. And besides, I don't ever see anyone I know at the pool. Not that I care, really ... The marginal cost in style of adding the yellow, red and blue H2o Man waterproof MP3 player is much outweighed by the marginal benefit of being able to do 90 minutes of aqua running without getting bored. There's been some slightly reduced concentration on keeping the heart rate up with podcasts, but the bottom line is I'd be more likely to be on the couch eating caramel eggs and getting fat if I didn't have the stylin' H2o Man. One anticipated side-effect of the H2o Man was that it interferes with the heart rate monitor. My heart rate recovered to 37 at one point in today's "run." I'd be glad to have that as a resting heart rate, meaningless as it is to performance. I'm doing well in the pool if I get the heart rate above 140 with the H2o Man attached to the belt.

Running in the pool is quite the scenic letdown after the great outdoors, but I'm lucky enough at the U of M rec center to be able to choose between two pools depending on my time of day. For the first week, sans H2o Man, this gave me some limited variety in scenery. Unfortunately I'd sometimes pick a time of day to get this variety when there were—can you believe it—swimmers with the temerity to want to use the same lane as me (I jest). I'm sure they're all great people, but most of the recreational swimmers I've been sharing lanes with, splash a lot. I've never swallowed so much chlorinated water in my life! There are signs up at the pool about how you're not meant to spit into the water, or slurp in water and slurp it out again, but when someone swims past and washes a pint of chlorinated water down your gullet ... you break the rules.

Posted by eroberts at 7:59 PM

April 4, 2007

Running links o' the day

Great article from the IAAF about Norwegian runner Susanne Wigene. Miles make the champion.

Should you run in a graveyard? I say yes.

Posted by eroberts at 4:35 PM

March 30, 2007

Oh dear ...

I fed the cat in the dark about a month ago, and now I'm banished to aqua-jogging in the pool for at least a month. Feeding the cat does not normally lead to the words runners dread: "You should avoid running for at least four weeks," but I stubbed my little toe when I fed the cat. And now I have a stress fracture in my little toe. Things could be a lot worse. I got in a month of decent training before I was banished to my fate of bobbing round in the water avoiding the swimmers.

For most of the month I just thought I'd bruised the toe. If I put on spikes or racing shoes, which generally fit a little snugger I'd feel the toe a little more. "Oh sure, it's just a little bruised, maybe I should ice that," I thought occasionally. But then I'd amble through my cool down not feeling the toe, and the bag o' ice never made it to the foot. I suppose it was a warning sign that the "bruise" persisted, but really it was so intermittent it didn't bother me enough to worry about it.

But midway through Tuesday's 90 minute 20km run I noticed I was altering my stride to avoid landing on the toe. And then it was painful walking on it. Bad sign. Off to the doctor ... but also onto the internet where I have to say that once you sort through the crap, the collective experience of other runners injuries on LetsRun is actually quite useful. The crap is the 17 year old kids who say "you can keep racing on a stress fracture if your state track meet is in 2 weeks time." I wouldn't have thought that merely stubbing your toe (while feeding the cat, the ignominy of it!) could lead to a stress fracture. But apparently so. You don't get a lot of blood flow in your little toe. Add on the stress of running on it, and there's your fracture. The internet also provided me with worst case scenarios that made the doctor's recommendation of four weeks off seem like a gift! Apparently with your little toe—compared to other toes—there's much more of a risk that the new bone will form out of alignment and surgery would be required to straighten it up. Other bad scenarios you can find related to a fifth metatarsal fracture are "wooden shoes," "crutches," and "no weight-bearing activity."

The X-rays confirmed my self-diagnosis: stress fracture! But far enough along that they could see new bone forming, and not out of alignment either. I don't need wooden shoes, crutches, and I can keep walking, but should try to minimize "weight-bearing activity," like ballet dancing.

Ballet dancing does not describe what aqua jogging looks like. While I imagine myself to be gliding along quite nicely on dry land (my low injury:mileage ratio over the years gives me some confidence in this delusion) there's no hope of that in the pool. You just look silly. Once you've put on the vest, and the heart rate monitor there's little dignity left in your appearance. The first day in the pool 75 minutes passed incredibly slowly. The next day 90 minutes passed a little quicker with the help of a poolside radio, and semi-crazy people being interviewed on MPR. "They said what!" would prompt a bout of higher heart rate activity. Today 90 minutes passed even quicker with the heart rate monitor as do "sets" of running starting at 110, building slowly up to at least 140bpm and then hold it for as long as I could.

We'll see how the pool running goes ... it's April so I'd just be getting wet in the rain anyway if I was running outdoors, right? The pool can't be worse. But lots of people start off with great ambitions of running in the pool, and the boredom gets to them ... Without the distraction of the radio, or the challenge of trying to get the heartrate up I couldn't do it. Somehow the musings and thoughts that make even the most dull run outside enjoyable just aren't provided in the pool. But all the research shows that the pool is the only thing that keeps you fit for running. So the pool it is!

Posted by eroberts at 6:34 PM

March 20, 2007

The race you have when you're not having a race

There was a great advertising campaign in New Zealand in the 1980s for an alcoholic drink substitute called Clayton's. Their slogan, which has done better than the product itself (no longer available) was "the drink you have when you're not having a drink." Sounds good, huh? Almost as good as O'Doull's and with the same lack of effect on your mood.

"Clayton's" has lived on in Australasian English as a synonym for "fake," or "poor substitute." So I had a Clayton's race at the Human Race on Sunday.

In retrospect it wasn't a good idea to do 3 workouts on the indoor track in 7 days. That thought made itself known very quickly in my IT band on the last lap of some 1400m (6 laps, outside lane) tempos 5 days before the "race." By Sunday I was mostly OK but the left leg still felt different doing strides, so no race. What was most painful by the weekend was the inner turmoil of "you're a wimp," versus "you're making the right decision." Once bitten, twice shy motivated some of the decision not to race the race. Last time (6 years ago) I faced a similar dilemma, minor ailment improving pretty rapidly but not yet 100%, I raced and was off for a month.

Having paid the entry fee, and collected my race number and champion chip it didn't make a lot of sense to not run the race. So I did. To remove any temptation to turn up and race I wore clunky shoes, non-racing shorts, and long underwear for temperatures that didn't require it. It's all about dressing for the occasion. Having tapered the training down for this "race," I did have the enjoyable experience of running the easiest 7 minute miles I've run in a long time, but it was still a Clayton's race. It just doesn't taste the same.

Posted by eroberts at 8:22 AM

March 12, 2007

New York Times weird quote of the day

First in a series I probably won't continue, but which I easily could. Reading back issues of the New York Times as I write the dissertation serves only to remind me that the idiosyncrasies of the paper have existed for nearly a century. Anyway, what do you make of this:

At 5 feet 10 inches and 145 pounds, he races at whatever distance is available.

If he was a different height and weight he'd race more selectively? Is that the implication?

It's an otherwise interesting profile of how someone combines excellent running with a day job. But I just hope he doesn't lose weight or shrink, and have to choose his races more carefully.

Posted by eroberts at 7:08 AM

March 7, 2007

Cedar Avenue bridge

Nice article in the StarTribune about efforts to get the Cedar Avenue Bridge refurbished and re-opened. If you run the Minnesota river trails it's something to wish for.

Posted by eroberts at 6:51 AM

March 5, 2007

Misprint of the day

Wow. You can be on an Ekiden team that runs a marathon in 2:16:04, and your 4:06 1500m runner throws in a 19:30 5km. Inspiring how well the others run. Inspiring to know that Olympians have really, really bad days and run about 50 seconds a kilometer slower than expected.

Except that she ran 6km. Minor detail, minor detail ...

Posted by eroberts at 6:20 AM

February 20, 2007

Competing marathons

As happens every few years, the Chicago and Twin Cities marathons will be on the same weekend this year. And again, some people make comments like this:

Twin Cities and Chicago marathons
are both scheduled for Oct 7 .... What's up with that? Is this a one time deal, or are
they planning on going head-to-head every year?

I just don't get why this is an issue. For sure, they're in the same region of the country, they're always around the same time of year, they certainly compete for the affections of runners from Wisconsin, and you have to enter insanely early for both. But even when they're three weeks apart (like in 2006) I can guarantee you the number of people who ran both (or even thought of running both) is trivially small.

Just by being held in the same month Twin Cities and Chicago are competing. After that it scarcely matters whether they're on the same weekend or not.

On the topic of Twin Cities I'll make a prediction. There will be few Americans up the front of the marathon. If you're on the verge of qualifying for the Olympic Trials (2:47 or 2:22) you don't choose the course with the 150 foot climb at mile 20, you go to Chicago and hope for a calm day. On the other side of the ledger, men who have already qualified for the Olympic trials won't be running a marathon one month out. My brave prediction is that a Kenyan or Russian will win.

Posted by eroberts at 9:34 AM

February 13, 2007

A week for every mile raced?

(From Dean Karnazes' Ultramarathon Man, p.209)

Not sure how this radical inflation of running lore slipped past the masses in their ongoing condemnation of Dean Karnazes! I've heard the adage, as have others, that an easy intensity day (1/7 of a week ...) for every mile raced is a decent place to start thinking about how to schedule your recovery. But never a week! I'm not sure if this was a copy-editing mistake or Dean Karnazes is just that far removed from competitive running's oral lore about how to do things.

A lengthy concluding by the way: One could discuss the worth of the original adage for a long time. Some people think it's too conservative. Everyone's experience varies. My view is why do a hard workout when you're still tired from the race? It also depends, I think, how hard you're racing. If you're really just rolling the race as a workout, then you don't have to recover as if it was a race (the race as workout, there's another long discussion). First of all, there's a distinction between easy days and recovery days. If I race less than 10 miles I'll almost always do an easy paced long (2+ hours) run the next day. That's not a recovery day. I very rarely do any anaerobic workouts within x days of an x mile race. Strides and moderate aerobic workouts (tempo and slower) are OK. Your mileage may vary. But don't take Dean's advice, or you'll hardly ever race.

Posted by eroberts at 8:26 AM

February 6, 2007

No bad weather, just ...

There's two different versions of this quote in running circles. One attributed to Bill Bowerman is

No bad weather, just soft people

The other version that has less specific attribution is
No bad weather, just bad clothes/gear

How to reconcile these aphorisms? Bowerman was probably talking about Eugene, which most of the time has near ideal weather for distance running, and when it precipitates, it rains.

There is no good clothing for rain. Get out there for long enough, and you're just wet. If you want to keep going you keep going. Bowerman was speaking some truth there. But in a colder or snowier climate that's not true. There is good clothing for really, really cold weather. You don't have to be particularly tough to put it on and get out there. You just have to know what to wear. Knowledge rather than character, depending on whether it snows or rains.

Posted by eroberts at 7:22 AM

January 13, 2007

Marathon recovery

Marathons leave you fit but f***ed up. How do you take advantage of that?

All the usual caveats apply. Your mileage will [literally] vary. Not only from mine, but over time from your own previous efforts, and not necessarily predictably. You might be fitter going into (and coming out of) one marathon than another, but you still might need more recovery from the one you approached with more fitness.

So, marathons leave you fit but f***ed up. How do you take advantage of that? There's no question that if you prepare right, you come off a marathon tremendously aerobically fit. Now, I think it's very much the case that the specific fitness required to run your best marathon will not put you in the shape to run the best 5000m you're ever capable of. If you prepare for a marathon right you'll be tremendously economical, great at sparing glycogen, but perhaps not as sharp as you need to run a great 5000m (this relates to the Greg McMillan article in Running Times Mike discussed a while back. One day I may discuss this. That day could be many days away).

Nevertheless many people do run shorter distance PRs pretty soon after a marathon. I happen to think that this is because their overall aerobic fitness has been raised so much that it compensates for non-specific preparation. (Lets put it this way. If you successfully bump up your mileage to 80 mpw and train for a marathon, you'll probably beat the 5km times you ran on 50mpw but doing 5km focused workouts. The aerobic benefits from the increased mileage and threshold work would more than compensate for the dimunition, even absence, of VO2 max workouts.)

Now, if you live in the upper Midwest and do a late fall marathon you're not going to get much opportunity to do a PR at anything several weeks after your marathon. So I happen to have lost touch with the idea of seguing from a marathon into shorter distance racing. But what I know from earlier marathons and other people's experience is this: it is possible to do a good race a week or two or three after a marathon, but you need to let your muscles recover somehow (aqua jogging, running on grass very easily) before the next race, and you're just going to set your recovery back again. But hey, if you're fit, there's a good race on, and you feel mentally up to the challenge, why not? My best racing soon after a marathon has always been 5-8 weeks afterwards. That time frame gives me time to recover, time to get in a week or two of easy distance, strides and then at least one workout before the race. After my first marathon I didn't race for 8 weeks, but that gave me 4 weeks without workouts, 4 weeks with workouts, and then a very good day at the races (albeit in a relay at the totally non-standard distances of 4.78km and 3.89km. My absence from racing meant I got stuck in a relay team below my ability that was one person short. Beating both the people from the team I would normally have been in was the most valuable index of how good I felt). To sum up, my limited experience with transitioning from the marathon back into shorter races suggests that the best races come a few weeks after the marathon when you're both recovered and fit.

Transitioning back into another build-up, however, is something I have experimented with over the last 18 months, and my conclusion is this: an extra week of recovery makes for an even better build-up.

Here's a graph of my mileage after my last three competitive marathons

After Grandma's and Philadelphia I followed Pfitzinger's recommendations: "[Shuffle for a week] Then run 50% of your usual weekly mileage the 2nd week, and 75% the 3rd week." I interpreted "usual weekly mileage" to be what I'd averaged over the marathon buildup which came out to about 85 miles per week (mpw). In both cases I felt pretty good by week 3. After Grandma's the jump from 62 mpw to 75 mpw with a tempo run left me feeling a little tired (though perhaps it was just the July doldrums) so after Philadelphia once I'd got to 63 mpw in week 3 I then added 7-8 mpw until I hit 100. This worked out pretty well and while my mileage was a little lower than after Grandma's it was slightly higher quality. If the footing wasn't always great, the effort was higher after Philadelphia than after Grandma's. The 5 week sequence of 88, 90, 100, 100, 100 mpw post-Grandma's was done mostly at an easy effort because it was July and August, and I couldn't be bothered making my head spin by running harder in heat and humidity. But it wasn't until the last two weeks of that five week stretch that I felt really fresh most days.

If you have the time to freshen up, why go into your next training cycle mentally and physically fatigued? With this in mind I decided that after Chicago I would have a week completely off running, and then take a very easy month. Now, I won't pretend that the obsessive-compulsive mileage addict that lurks in me didn't have some doubts about this, and didn't say "Why don't you jog a couple more miles each day?" But I mostly banished these thoughts from my mind. The 30 and 40 mile week were quite enjoyable, mostly ambling around at an easy pace. There was a mild sensation of the legs and lungs not quite feeling in sync -- the legs felt fresh after the week off to recover, so I'd pick it up gradually and wonder why 7:15/mile effort yielded 7:55/mile. But mostly I just jogged around.

The 50 mile week was a challenge. 3 weeks post-marathon there shouldn't be much fatigue left. I struggled through the easy 13 mile run I'd normally do 2 weeks after a marathon, and wondered how I'd ever get back to the point where 13 miles was a pretty typical day out on the roads. But a couple of days later I felt slightly better on an 11 mile run, and realized that perhaps I was not fatigued, I was just a little unfit (relatively speaking). If you're used to running at least 300 miles a month, a month where you run a marathon and mostly jog another 100 miles will not maintain your fitness. Another couple of days later, and I felt slightly better again on another 11 mile run. But on the days in between I felt much more tired than 11 miles usually leaves me. So, the week was a struggle between the days I felt fatigued from runs that normally wouldn't tire me too much, and the gradual realization that each of the longer runs was better than the one before, and perhaps I was regaining fitness.

So I started the 60 mile week mostly expecting to continue feeling better. And I did. When I checked my pace on various runs I was hitting the times I expected for the effort I was putting out. Things were on the upswing. Yet the pay-off for the longer recovery was not the 60 mile week, it was the month from Thanksgiving to Christmas where I ran 80, 90, 100 and then 113 miles in each week. Aided by a dry, warm start to winter I was able to make those good quality weeks with at least one long tempo run in each week, a leg speed workout, one day of reps on hills, and good long runs. I felt the best I've ever felt starting a winter buildup, both physically and mentally. The price of a good month's training was an extra week's recovery, and really it was a bargain. It wasn't much fun feeling unfit and slow for 2-3 weeks, but it all came back together much quicker than I'd expected.

Better to struggle through the 50 mile recovery week and then feel fresh when you are running 100 miles, than to keep the miles up and feel fit but tired when you're doing 100 miles.

Posted by eroberts at 9:09 PM

December 18, 2006

Tokyo Olympiad

Anyone with any interest in running history should rent and watch Tokyo Olympiad. Directed and produced by Kon Ichikawa this is the best moving footage of the Olympics I've seen from before the era of mass-televised coverage. The movie is in color, which instantly sets it apart from all the other Tokyo coverage I've seen (e.g; these YouTube links) If you are expecting, say, full coverage of the 10,000m you'll be disappointed. But they do have 3 minutes in full, clear color including the whole last lap and it is amazing to see how many lapped runners Mills, Gammoudi and Clarke had to pass as they swapped the lead in the last 400m. Other, shorter, races are covered in full.

The coverage is artistic, rather than functional, There could be coverage of more events in its 170 minutes. You might get frustrated at the women's 80m hurdles being replayed from multiple angles—from the front, focusing on their leg muscles etc—while the men's 1500m gets only the briefest finish shot. But that would be to miss Ichikawa's intentions of recording the human drama and artistry of the Olympics.

It is not entirely track and field, with gymnastics and swimming also being covered. But the "other sports" get surprisingly little coverage. Track and field, and especially Abebe Bikila's marathon, receive the most footage.

There is no plot to the coverage, so it's quite possible to watch it in snippets when you have the chance. I've been watching it while doing my daily stretches. It might make for good relief from boredom on the treadmill. However you watch it, if you instantly recognize some of these names—Hayes, Clarke, Gammoudi, Packer, Roelants, Odlozil, Tyus—you'll get more than a little enjoyment out of this film.

Links: New York Times review. Wikipedia

Posted by eroberts at 7:52 AM

December 14, 2006

Hand off

Now that winter is sort of upon us (I was doing strides on the soccer field wearing shorts this morning. This is not a normal thing, mid-December, in Minneapolis) it's the appropriate time to ask a question that has long puzzled me: Who, other than RoadRunner Sports models, wears long pants and a thermal top when running, but no gloves??

This kind of dressing decision is absolutely and totally mystifying to me. Gloves are always the first thermal element I put on. There are times I'm happy to be out running in a t-shirt, shorts, and gloves. Typically this is when it's between 40 and 50, sunny and relatively calm. If it gets a little colder the next thermal item I will add is the long-sleeved thermal top. Colder still (below 35°F) or planning to do something a little quicker and not wanting to needlessly strain a muscle I'll add something warm on the legs.

Most serious-looking runners I see round here appear to follow similar dressing conventions. Gloves are one of the first things they put on when the temperature drops. The folks I see without gloves on below freezing days tend to be the same people wearing cotton sweatpants and tops, in other words, people not making the most comfortable running clothing decisions to begin with.

But perhaps other people have better circulation in their hands than I do, and like their legs toasty warm relative to their hands. Comment away!

Posted by eroberts at 2:13 PM

November 30, 2006

Google maps fun

What would make Google Maps great for runners? How about if Google mapped trails? Well, now they do. For New Zealand. As best as I can tell they've digitized the 1:50,000 scale topographic maps and included the four wheel drive trails and "single track" trails you can run, walk, and sometimes mountainbike.

The picture below (follow the link to see for yourself) is of my old stamping grounds of Wilton's Bush and the Skyline trail.

Not all of the trails that exist on the ground are there. 1:50,000 is still quite large scale, and no doubt some of the trails on the ground are non-official. Nevertheless, what an amazing thing to have added to Google maps. If you happened to find yourself in Wellington or Auckland and wanted to go trail running you could start planning before you hit the ground.

The other semi-useful thing about Google Maps for New Zealand which you can see if you click on "Map" on the linked image are property boundaries. Those boundaries in between the roads when you get in close enough appears to correspond to people's houses and yards. Something you can't yet see in Google Maps for America.

Posted by eroberts at 11:10 AM

November 16, 2006

King of the hills

Good article about Wellington-area native, Jonathan Wyatt who has dominated world mountain running the last decade.

Posted by eroberts at 1:06 PM

November 1, 2006

Obsessive compulsive runner existential dilemma of the day

Like many runners I'm kind of obsessive compulsive (in a good way, right?) about logging how many days I've run and my mileage ("kilometrage" doesn't roll off the tongue), and most years getting out the door 350 plus days a year.

In the past I've taken this to the ridiculous-in-retrospect extent of hobble-shuffling through the few days after a marathon, in one case motivated by the perverse desire to run a year straight without a day off (having now achieved that once I have no desire to better it ever). This year I decided to take a week off for the mental and physical recuperation I needed. It was surprisingly mentally easy.

On 4 of the days "off" running I went to the pool and ran in the water with the funky belt on. The aqua running made my legs feel much better, and in fact scientific research shows that recovery from muscle trauma is better when you aqua run, than when you land run. Apparently it's also true from multiple studies that the aqua running can maintain your fitness for six weeks. This isn't one of those crazy "How many running miles does my long bike ride count for?" questions you see on letsruminate. I was really running. If it wasn't for the beautiful crisp fall weather waiting outside and the inconvenience of getting to the pool and the boredom and the chlorine in my hair I'd keep doing the pool running ... Really, it's that fun bobbing up and down in the pool and going nowhere while the lap swimmers wonder what you're doing.

So if the pool running is physiologically as good as running, here's my existential dilemma: Do I count the days I ran in the pool as days I ran? Do I divide by 5(8) and tally up the kilometres(miles) and add them to the year's total? What if those pool miles were the difference between getting to 4000 miles for the year and not?

Posted by eroberts at 7:51 AM

October 24, 2006


Chicago marathon, 2:59:03. 1:25:11 through the half, which makes a shade under 1:34 coming home. A little disappointed, but reasonably satisfied. Calves really tightened up from 31km, which has never happened to me, and which I'm attributing to wearing flats. Better to learn that lesson in this race than when I'm in better shape. Longer self-indulgent report follows.

As it happened, some of the things I predicted could happen did happen. Specifically, these things happened:

Put it on the line for sub 3:10, 3:00, 2:48:47, 2:37:20, 2:30:00, 2:22:00 or whatever you're going for, and you'll come a cropper one of these days. Just the way it is. Just the law of averages ....
if you get to this point of searching for a reasonable goal to keep going you'll probably be changing them mile by mile ... That's been my experience.

So, I put it on the line for low 2:50s. This implied trying to ease through the first half in 1:25 and then bring it home. 1:25:11 through the half was pretty much where I hoped to be, and it felt good. Not much to say really about the first half, other than that I missed the first mile marker, saw mile 2 was 10 seconds too quick and successfully eased off just the right amount. And that when there are huge bunches of people the wind is not really an issue. If you're Brian Sell, however, and you're marooned between people doing 1:03 and people doing 1:06 for the first half, the wind was probably more of an issue.

Things continued feeling pretty good through about 29km. I can't see intermediate place information on the results site, but my impression is that 24-29 was a good stretch where I passed quite a few people (it was nice to have the kilometre markers, and the chip mats every 5km provide useful information, so useful I didn't bother taking my mile splits). I took a Gu at 13.5 miles/22km, and that probably kicked in a little later. Some of the people I passed were the women who took a tilt at 2:46:59 and were now fated to shuffling home in well over 2:50. "Nothing venture, nothing win," I thought as I noticed them.

Aside on Gu: A couple of years ago I got in the habit of taking Gu on nearly every long run, even the easy ones. What I noticed was that once I was used to the Gu, the effect of it was more immediate but less sustained. Now that I'm back in the habit of only taking Gu on some long runs where I'm doing marathon pace or faster (enough to practice taking it, and to know that I won't have "GI" issues with it) I notice that the effect doesn't noticably kick in for at least 5, and sometimes 10 minutes, but that it is then sustained for longer. This, to me, is consistent with the idea that by training with less calories than you'll race with you do teach the body to be sparing with glycogen. Conversely, when you get used to taking calories in training your body becomes greedy and inefficient with the available glycogen. Just my slow-poke 2c worth.

Although most things felt good from 24 to 29, including the important things like breathing, perceived exertion, mental attitude etc ... I did begin to wonder if I'd made the wrong shoe choice. By 31km it was quite clear that I had. My calves were tightening up a lot, and it wasn't getting better. Since I was slowing for reasons unrelated to fuel I felt quite alert, alive and energetic—it was just getting more and more painful on the calves to run. What had been 5km splits just a touch over 20 minutes became 22 minutes from 30 to 35, and then 24 from 35 to 40.

Now, if you define "hitting the wall" as a quite sudden thing in which you finally exhaust your muscle glycogen, your quads get really heavy, and your brain (which runs on carbohydrates) gets really discouraged, then I didn't hit the wall. If you define hitting the wall more broadly as anything [unrelated to elevation and wind factors] that causes your second half to be more than a minute or so slower than your first half, then I hit the wall. This was a very gradual wall, however, in which my alertness and enthusiasm held up quite well even as my pace slowed and the effort to shuffle 7:40s with rapid turnover got higher than it "should have."

So, it was the shoes, or more responsibly, my decision to wear the shoes. I've never had a problem with sore calves in a marathon, and tight calves are totally consistent with wearing flats that are too thin. Two days later my calves are still sore, and my quads feel like I ran a downhill race. It's a subtly different feeling than when you race all the way to the end. Lesson learned. Was it foolish to wear flats (even relatively heavy ones: Adidas Response Comps) in the marathon? Yes, in hindsight. However, I'd done two 22 milers with 15 miles at [goal] marathon pace in my second pair of the shoes (which I picked up cheaply precisely for marathon training) and a bunch of 16-18 milers. In none of those workouts did I feel more beat up than doing the same workout in more cushioned shoes, and I didn't have any issues with my calves. That is, I'd done about as much, if not more, research on the shoe choice than is conventionally recommended and it still didn't work out. Obviously (obviously!) 30km, let alone 42.2km at marathon pace was too much.

So, in sum, I think I prepared as well as I could given my "pre-cuses" of the iron depletion and glute strain in spring and summer, excecuted pretty well on the day through to about 30km, and through my own mistaken choice of footwear never gave myself the chance to put it on the line in the last 10km where you really find out what you've got.

From here, it's a week completely off running, though I'll probably hit the pool for some aqua-jogging, then a slow climb back up to 100km/week by Thanksgiving. It's been two years since I took some sustained downtime after a marathon, and now is the time to refresh and regroup. I then hope to put in a good month through to Christmas, after which I'll think about a winter marathon, a spring one, or concentrating on shorter distances for the spring, and a marathon again next fall. Who knows? Without overstating the difficulties there are some complications of trying to do a winter or early spring marathon coming out of the long Minnesota winter. There's also the issue that spring marathons in North America have much more variable weather (it's not for nothing that all the major competitive spring marathons, except Boston, are in Europe and Japan). But variation is variation, you could get the freak 80° day, or you could get the ideal 45° day. If I'm serious about chasing the PR substantially down from where it is I may have to take some chances with the variable North American spring ...

Posted by eroberts at 1:37 PM

October 5, 2006

Twin Cities Marathon 2006 photos

Photos from the Twin Cities Marathon 2006.

Posted by eroberts at 8:55 AM

October 4, 2006

What is marathon pace?

Zeke has a nice post up on marathon pacing. I was going to leave a comment there, but why not get a post up for myself? Like a lot of things in life, it's all so simple in theory, but difficult to get right in practice. Perusing any marathon results will pretty quickly show you that if you slow down by less than a minute in the second half you're keeping rare company and should be relatively pleased with your execution of the race. Even splits and negative splits are special, special things.

As I say, all so simple in theory. The first step in theory and practice is to know that the marathon is a cruel thing, that relatively minor mistakes you can recover from in shorter races (even up to 30km races) can have really big effects on your marathon; that if you run race enough marathons, some of them will be bad. If you are well trained and "just" run a marathon it's a long training run, you'll get "pleasantly tired" (to quote Arthur Lydiard) and you'll be out doing speedwork soon there after. Put it on the line for sub 3:10, 3:00, 2:48:47, 2:37:20, 2:30:00, 2:22:00 or whatever you're going for, and you'll come a cropper one of these days. Just the way it is. Just the law of averages. Though I know that is no consolation on the day it happens.

Hitting the wall is absolutely no fun, but most of the time you should finish. That would be my rule two for setting a goal. "Always finish" is a solid rule for any length of racing, since once you've pulled out once it becomes so much easier to do it again the next time it gets hard (a DNF for acute injuries is totally acceptable, but how often does that happen?). But I have a sneaking suspicion that the effect is worse for marathoning, simply because there's just so many more moments in the race when you might want to drop out.

At this point, there's a huge gap between what you'll end up with and what your ultimate goal was, so my rule three is to have a succession of intermediate goals in between the "dream day when I find I'm fitter than I knew" and the death shuffle from 18 miles. Personally, I now set that first goal beyond just finishing as a Boston qualifier, since a Boston qualifier is still 5 minutes over my personal worst, but avoiding a personal worst time is probably a good part of any cascade of marathon time goals. Your specific aims will vary, obviously and if you get to this point of searching for a reasonable goal to keep going you'll probably be changing them mile by mile ... That's been my experience.

In between finishing, avoiding personal worsts, and the actual realistic goal for a race there may be many minutes, so rule three point five is to find other intermediate goals, so if you went for 2:45 and ended up with 2:50:05 you can still find something to appreciate in your performance.

This all gets us to the pointy end of establishing a realistic goal. I go with three rules of thumb here

  • Your marathon will probably be 2 x a recent half marathon race + 6-10 minutes
  • Each minute too fast in the first half will cost you four minutes in the second half.
  • What you can actually run on the day is somewhat random. The best statistics and science in the world cannot predict the error term (to get a little technical on you).

On the last point, I think it's pretty well established that lactate threshold and aerobic threshold, and pretty much every other relevant physiological variable, will do just that, vary, from day to day. You can do a lot to reduce this variability, and increase the predictability of what you can do with appropriate time trials and other workouts, tapering, etc, etc ... But you can't predict the inevitable random variation. If you go in assuming you can run 6 minutes over 2 x 1/2 marathon pace, and that day the best you could have done if you'd paced perfectly was 8 minutes over ... there's four minutes you're giving up in the second half. There's your 1:24/1:29 splits.

Of course, the disaster that's going to occur is not necessarily obvious at half-way. It will still feel easy, because running 2 minutes over half-marathon race pace (for a half) feels surprisingly easy, 3-5 minutes over, that takes real, real restraint when you're feeling good.

Until this year I never quite understood how people might go into a marathon really uncertain of what they might end up running. Now I do. Back in April and May this year I was confident I was going to take a decent shot at the low 2:40s in Chicago. Running 62 for 10 miles in early April feeling like "this is marathon pace," does that for you, especially when you back it up a few weeks later with a 41 minute 7 mile tempo run. Going rapidly backwards for five weeks as your iron levels fall erases that confidence. Getting on the iron supplements, and doing a good month of base influenced by the Speed with Endurance schedules gave me some of that confidence back. Two weeks into the 12 week specific build for Chicago I was metaphorically patting myself on the back for getting over the iron problem, and doing two weeks of workouts that I think indicated 2:46-2:48 could be realistic. Then I strained my glute tripping over a rock and lost several workouts in the next month. I can't speak highly enough of active release therapy that with 2 weeks to go I think 2:50 is a realistic goal. This implies trying to hit the half-way at Chicago in 1:25.

If I really am in shape to run quicker then I'll be able to negative split. That's the part of me that believes the great spring and mid-summer training must still be there in some way. Negative splits still hurt, but they hurt a lot better than running 1:22/1:35 ever will. And if, after this up-and-down six months I'm really in 2:53 shape, 1:25/1:28 is not a huge explosion. 18 days to go.

Posted by eroberts at 3:14 PM

September 28, 2006

Griak cross-country pictures

My photos from the 2006 Roy Griak Invitational meet are now online. Results for the meet are available. Higher resolution copies of any pictures available on request.

I have a renewed appreciation for the sterling work Alison Wade does at eliterunning.com with her photographs. While it's easy (there is software) to load a directory of photos and create a catalog of them, the captions take time if you want to get them right.

Not only that, I have a great appreciation for the quality of Alison's photography. I've posted the bad ones here, most of them come early on in the set. It was a while since I'd taken many photos of running, and it's tough to get right. For the record I was using my Olympus OM-1 with 400 ASA film, a 70-210mm zoom lens which I typically had at about 150mm, and shooting at 1/500 second. The weather was overcast as you can probably tell from some of the photos. You may wonder "Why not digital?" I have a digital which is mostly great for snapshots, has a great movie function, does wonders in archives, but is really not great for sports photography. The OM-1 is 30 years old, but after a thorough overhaul a decade ago has given me ten years of great use. Digital photography is great, but I'm willing to bet you your Leica that it will take several decades before they make digital cameras that last as long as even a mid-market SLR like the OM-1. Film ain't dead yet, though Kodak's stock ticker shows it's not going to be a mass market for much longer.

Posted by eroberts at 8:23 PM

September 22, 2006

Modern times

Where I do my long run now is, a lot flatter but no less scenic in its own way. The views are less grand for their lack of elevation, but the confluence of the Minnesota with the Mississippi is a special place. And its prettiest season is upon us right now. It's an early fall that you can't quite see in this photo from a week ago, but down amongst the trees it is starting.

Posted by eroberts at 6:42 AM

September 21, 2006


Good interview with a guy from my former running club who has enough natural talent to run a 2:18 marathon on the flat (and 2:13 down a hill), but "only" after years of patient training. It's people like Matt that are more of an inspiration to even less talented people like me, because I've seen the work they put in and the gradual rewards for their hard work.

For what it's worth in the perennial debate about "how fast to run your long run", Matt was a 2:20-low marathoner / 30:30 10k runner in the summer of 1999/2000, and I was running around 34 minutes for 10k at that point. Yet the long runs we did as a group round the south coast of Wellington (see below) were totally comfortable, probably well over 7:00/miles, though they had typically been preceded by a 3000m or 5000m race the day before (me and others) or a tempo run (Matt and others). My point is not that one should never belt out a faster long run, but that 2:30 over hills and trails at 90 seconds/mile over marathon pace is good enough on a regular basis for a 2:20 guy, so it's probably good enough for the rest of us.

Posted by eroberts at 2:30 PM

September 13, 2006

August 23, 2006

Stamping out marijuana in sports

I don't get it:

The race directors for the Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York marathons -- collectively known as the World Marathon Majors -- aren't waiting to take action. The group said Tuesday it will impose lifetime bans at its races for any runner caught using a banned substance, including minor offenders for drugs such as marijuana.

I'm all for getting performance enhancing drugs out of sport, but marijuana just confuses the issue, because it isn't performance enhancing. What are they going to do next? Impose a ban on athletes who get on the turps the night before and still manage to get amongst the money?

One of the problems with performance enhancing substances in sport is that some of them are legally available (if sometimes restricted), because they have genuine medical applications. Like EPO, for example. It does seem that when significant doping is going on with the assistance of medical professionals, those same medical staff are often violating some regulations about appropriate dispensing of drugs. This gives anti-doping authorities a completely legitimate avenue to pursue athletes for breaking the civil laws of the country, as well as the specific regulations of the sport. (Still following me?) But, by and large, the converse is not true. Athletes who have broken laws unrelated to sport shouldn't be banned from the sport because of it.

Marijuana is precisely an example of confusing the relationship between general law, and the specific rules set up by private bodies governing sports about what aids and enhancements are acceptable in training and competition. This will not get me elected to public office in America (but believe me, there's other impediments to that so I don't care), but the criminalization of marijuana is in many ways a historical accident that does not reflect the harms the drug imposes on society. I'd be willing to bet [a six pack of beer] that under-age drinking causes more harm to the world than marijuana use. Under-age drinking, however, has a long, mostly happy, association with the fine sport of athletics. If they started banning people for that, we wouldn't have a sport left.

Posted by eroberts at 11:11 AM

August 7, 2006

The 80 mile per week sweet spot

Theoretically every extra mile of training per week has diminishing returns. It's a nice theory that gives you a nice logarithmic curve of improvement versus miles gained. Great in theory, but I think that there are points where your 10-20 extra miles per week can give you increasing returns (for a while). Specifically, if you're running around 60 miles a week I think there are surprisingly large benefits to getting up to 80 miles per week.

I found this out by trial and error several times in my early twenties, but never really thought about why that might happen. With the shallow wisdom of being 31 I can look back 8-9 years and see why ... If you get your mileage up to 80 your long run can average 20 miles. Allowing for a bit of a range of ability, that's a 2:15 to 2:45 run. When you're running 60 miles per week, if your long run is in a good proportion to your week it's hard to get above 16 miles, or much over 2 hours. Get your long run out to 20 miles, and you're well into the territory of recruiting fast twitch fibres to keep going. That longer long run, I think, accounts for much of the benefit of getting to 80.

That's 20 miles for the week. I have a friend who jokes that 80 miles is easy, it's a 20 miler and then six 10 mile runs, but if you really want to optimize your 80 miles that's not the best way to do it if actual real life (work, family, the long arm of the law) let you mix it up some more. With 80 miles you are not staring at the more imposing face of 10 miles on your recovery days, so you can have two six mile days for recovery if you choose. That gets us to 32, which leaves 48 miles over 4 runs. Throw in a 13 and 15 mile day (perhaps intervals with long warmup and cooldown, and a long tempo run), and there's just two days left for moderate paced 10 mile runs. There's your 80 miles, with no doubles (singles can be easier to schedule) plenty of recovery, three quality days, and two moderate days for aerobic development.

If you can get the extra 10, 20, 30 ... miles per week that's great. Do that. But I find that the extra benefits from going to 100 from 80 are somewhat smaller than the benefits of going from 60 to 80. You may wonder, how easy does the jump from 60 to 80 feel? Even at the time I remember being surprised at how manageable it was to move up from 60 to 80 over a couple of months. The point is that at 60 miles per week you're doing more than pottering round for health and fitness. Few people run that much without some competitive desire, and for a reasonably small amount of extra time I think there are surprising benefits to be add in getting the mileage up to the magic 80.

Posted by eroberts at 12:49 PM

July 29, 2006

Sculpt what ...

An email arrived from Runner's World (really, I think the apostrophe should be plural, but whatever) today offering me an annual subscription that would probably equal the amount I spend on the magazine in airports over the course of the year. But frankly I refuse to pay money for a magazine that purports to be about running but opens their sales pitch with the line I have highlighted below.

I will say this though. The daily interviews on the website are [sometimes a little New York centric] mostly pretty good, and I would consider ponying up the money if they charged separately for that. I heard someone muse once that the overlap between the magazine and the website readership must be really low. Do the editors know that? Do they not care? Are they happy to subsidize their coverage of the competitive side of the sport off the subscriptions of the more risk-averse side?

Posted by eroberts at 1:02 PM

July 27, 2006

Drugs on ice

Exhibit A: Tour de France winner Floyd Landis failed a drug test. Shooting yourself up with testosterone. Bad.
Exhibit B: World Anti Doping Agency considers banning rooms that simulate sleeping at altitude. Debatable.
Exhibit C: Paula Radcliffe swears by an ice bath after every race. Good.

Drugs don't make you faster. Even if I riddled my body with needle marks and someone else's EPO enhanced blood I'd be lucky to ever break 15 minutes for 5000m. Drugs do help you recover quicker from hard workouts though. So do icebaths. If you haven't discovered the icebath and are training for a marathon, really, now is the time to start before they ban them too. In fact, I'd say that sometimes the icebath after the hard workouts seems to be the difference between 2 and 3 workouts in a week, because it seems to cut my recovery time by up to 12 hours.

I don't think they're going to ban icebaths anytime soon, but my point is that where you draw the line on unacceptable aids to athletic performance is not clear. The rationale that drugs are bad because they may cause harm to athletes is one basis for discriminating between drugs and artificially simulated altitude, but even here it's a matter of probabilities and proportions, not absolutes. Jack your altitude settings all the way up to 30,000 feet and you'll cause some harm to the athlete. Stay too long in an ice bath that's too cold and you could kill yourself. It's harder to do than overdosing on drugs, but still just possible. And once you're dead, what does it matter?

This is to say nothing of the probably even greyer area that you reach when athletes have legitimate medical conditions that may require drugs that also have recovery-enhancing benefits. Or, the difference between "natural" and "synthesized" products. Getting protein, carbs and liquid within 15 minutes of a workout is also a significant boost to recovery. It's significant enough that you sure notice the difference when you don't replenish straight away, and then try to run twice that day, or do another moderate to hard day the next day.

No-one is ever going to be worried about what I'm doing in between workouts, but I'd wager it's a good deal easier for me to get in the icebath and the full meal after my morning run than someone with children and a job that expects them there promptly. You could extend this contrived example of inequity to more accomplished athletes, the sponsored runner who only works a 20 hour job because they have a shoe contract versus the person 20 seconds slower than them over 5km who doesn't quite have the sponsorship and works full time. But where do you stop with inequity as a basis for banning recovery-enhancing substances and techniques? We can't sponsor everyone, nor could we really level off the playing field by making everyone wait four hours after working out before getting anything to eat.

Drugs are bad, I agree with that. Icebaths are good [for you]. But in between them there's a lot of grey and the ethical basis on which we draw the line is not that clear.

Posted by eroberts at 1:00 PM

July 26, 2006

What will they think of next?

Rubber sidewalks. Made by this company. I guess you couldn't really call them a "rubber pavement" (pavement being the British-Australasian term for sidewalk) since pavement kind of implies asphalt or conrete or cobblestones (little known trivia for runners: most sidewalks in Australasia are, in fact, asphalt, not concrete, meaning you don't face the devils choice of running in the street for ease on your joints but have to look out for cars versus running on the sidewalk to save yourself from lunatics in cars with greater stress on the body).

Anyway, the rubber sidewalks. What a thing! Think of the possibilities! Could you paint them red and put lanes on them with markers every 10 metres for pace judgment? What about a little inside rail to stop people cutting the corner on the way to the store or school?

Posted by eroberts at 4:01 PM

July 20, 2006

Simultaneous marathon running

As if there weren't enough websites that aggregated race results and tried to advertise stuff (I won't link to them, if you care you know what I'm talking about) there's also Virturace. Now I'm well aware of why database programmers in this kind of area don't like to delete entries—it's tricky programming and you inevitably wipe out some legitimate entries as well as silly duplicates—but surely they should be able to not make it seem like I ran the Philadelphia marathon three times in one weekend in three different times last year.

For the record, the 2:49:04 is my official chip time, while the 3:07:46 was done by my alter-ego (who pronounces his name "Evv-in" ...) who lives in Bethesda, MD. I was sorry to miss out on the chance of meeting him last year at the Stonewall Jackson Ambulance Run.

Posted by eroberts at 10:29 AM

July 17, 2006

Two out of three ain't bad

and "If you have a man servant, take advantage of him" ...

With an overnight low of 82* Sunday's run had the potential to suck. Six hours sleep, a 5am starting time after waking up at 4:45, and 15mph headwinds the first half hour made me wonder why I was out there. The surprising thing was that I saw five people running the other way before 5:30am, so my strategy was shared by other crazy people. But it didn't suck. It was fun. If you have company for two of the three hours an easy 38km doesn't even feel that long. Thanks, Zeke.

As we were coming out of Minnehaha Park towards the end of the run we were passed by a young woman moving relatively quickly (7:30/mile) with apparent ease. She slowed and chatted to us for a while, and was training for Twin Cities. She had the assistance of her partner/boyfriend on a bike carrying her water. Literally. Every runner's dream. A potentially gigantic waste of time for the person on the bike. Even if the runner is doing 6:00/mile that's not much of a workout on the bike. Now, maybe this is just me, but if I had a mule beside me with water I'd keep running when I was drinking.

After the woman with the water-carrier had passed us, and Zeke had left me to head back to his car, I passed her a mile later as she was stopped to take a drink. I thought maybe they were sheltering from the storm that was passing through to drop the temperature from 81 to 73 over the course of the run (a much better temperature progression for 38km than the reverse!), but no. Glancing around I saw that having taken the drink she was off and running again. Odd. Projecting marathon times from long run pace is rife with inaccuracies, but if you're doing a two hour run at 7:30/mile you're probably looking at doing a marathon between 2:55 and 3:15. Decent running. Locally competitive for a woman runner. If you're that good it seems odd to be practicing stopping for your drinks.

Posted by eroberts at 7:17 AM

July 11, 2006

1954 Commonwealth mile

7 minutes of your time. One of the greatest mile races in history. It doesn't matter if you know what happened, it still is amazing to see it, and to see film of Landy turning to look the wrong way at the top of the straight, well, just that little better than the still photos of the moment. (Or in sculpture form)

A good trivia question is "who was third?" I didn't hear them say in the video, which appears to have original commentary. The answer can be found at the link.

Posted by eroberts at 12:17 PM

June 21, 2006

Random reading recommendations

Josh Marshall on public support for WWII during the Battle of the Bulge and public support for Iraq now. Historical research in action.

Minntelect's analysis of Minnesota state House races
. If you're really interested in politics.

Runner's World interview with Kenny Moore, author of the recent Bowerman and the Men of Oregon.

Posted by eroberts at 1:38 PM

June 14, 2006

It means something else too

Good article in Runner's World about nutrition for runners. Why is Runner's World on the web so much better than Runner's World in print?

Of course I titter whenever I hear the word bonking.

Posted by eroberts at 4:53 PM

June 5, 2006

F. Scott Fitzgerald lives (and runs)

Noticed in race results.

Not bad for a guy who's really 109.

Posted by eroberts at 8:48 AM

May 25, 2006

15 minutes of fame

for Gopher steeplechaser Emily Brown in the Star Tribune and Runners World.

Mildly funny discovery of the day: As I looked for the link to the permanent version of today's—May 25 2006—Runner's World Daily News I accidentally got the news for tomorrow ... Now I grant that not a lot of athletics competition occurs on Thursday nights (but probably an awful lot of workouts) so it's probably OK to prepare the news in advance. Hopefully on the weekends they actually wait for the results before posting the news.

Posted by eroberts at 12:33 PM

May 18, 2006

Alan who?

(Click on image for larger version)

Posted by eroberts at 10:53 AM

May 16, 2006

Lunchtime track trivia

Who ran the first sub-four minute mile on American soil?

The clue that it was an Australian would have led me astray. It's not John Landy. Though he also broke four minutes in the same race.

Posted by eroberts at 1:30 PM

April 19, 2006

Boston marathon

3:04:04. First mile was the slowest (7:30), followed by the two quickest miles (6:40 each) and then they all settled between 6:55 and 7:05, except for over the hills from 16-17 and 20-21 which were around 7:15 a mile.

As has been widely reported, that's some marathon course ... If one was to race the course it would indeed be tough since the large net decline in the first 16 miles exacerbates all the normal temptations to go out too quickly. Yet I think that since the first 16 miles are net downhill, and the last 10 are up and over, for little net elevation change, your best time on the Boston course would actually come from running positive splits, with the second half perhaps a minute or two slower. I wasn't racing, and was in fact holding back on the last downhills, and my legs are still a little beat up two days later.

It's also not an original observation to note that while you don't want to lose too much ground going up and over the hills, you also need to save yourself some for the last 5 miles as it undulates down. If you were going for a good time you could not just rely on gravity from the top of Heartbreak Hill. So, yeah, the Boston marathon is a more challenging course to run well on than say, Chicago or Christchurch, but you still drop 500 feet and [maybe] get a nice tailwind. A personal record is a personal record, but I wouldn't want to claim a Boston time as my best unless it was at least a couple of minutes quicker than an officially record quality course.

It's also fair to say that the course is historic, not scenic. The first 10 miles are not that pretty, and must have been even uglier back in the day when people lived in black and white if you can believe the photos. It gets pretty after Wellesley. And I am not talking about the screaming Wellesley girls. That's all they do, scream. Even though you read about how you can hear the Wellesley girls from 1/2 a mile away, you are still surprised when 1/2 a mile away that's what you hear. Screaming college girls. As I was running past the Wellesley girls I did a little math ...

How long are they screaming for? How do they keep it up? Do they sub out at some point? Here's the math. Elite women go through pretty quickly, probably in the space of about 10 minutes. Then you have the elite men starting around 1pm (1 hour approximately from the noon start), and then it's a stream of runners for at least 40 minutes with the new wave start (end of wave 1 is about 3:30 qualifiers, so assume some are running slower than 8 minutes/mile and you have 1:40 to get to Wellesley). So, that's 40 minutes of screaming. Then they get a break and the wave 2 runners come through just after 2:00pm and they must be coming through for at least another 40 minutes. How do they keep up all that screaming?

Another aspect of Boston that bears note, at least this year, is this: they put Peeps, yes, Peeps, in the finishers' bags of food. As far as I could see, both yellow and pink ones. This has been much discussed on that democracy of the common runner, letsrun. I thought it was kind of cute, given that it was not just Patriots' Day, but Easter Monday as well.

Peeps. No better note to conclude on.

Posted by robe0419 at 3:33 PM

April 15, 2006

Looking forward to Boston

Boston. It's hard to be aware of the history of running in this country, nay, the world, and not know that Boston looms large. The Boston marathon is only a part of that. A large part to be sure, but running is just that little bit more important as a sport here than it is in most other places.

One example of that is that they print the results of local races in the Globe. There's a 4.13 mile race in Somerville every Thursday which I've never run because when I've done the math on getting from the library to the start line after a day in the archives (what has brought me to Boston a lot recently) it's never worked out. But anyway, this 4.13 mile race which was won the other day in about 25 minutes. Not shabby, but not a major competitive race. They printed that in the paper. That's a good paper, not a slow race.

They also print the results of the semi-famous Fresh Pond races which are held every Saturday at 10am at Fresh Pond. I was looking forward to these almost as much as the Boston marathon, because they [now] represent just about the other end of the spectrum of amateurism to commercialism than the marathon does. If you get in the top five at Fresh Pond you get your name in the Globe. Now, I sure as anything am not getting a top five place in any competitive category in the Boston marathon (even running slowly I may be in the top five New Zealanders ....) so my chance to get in the paper was to run at Fresh Pond. I achieved my aim. Third place. It was just like this Running Times article says the races are like. Except they ran the full 2.5 or 5 miles today. I jogged around, and then did another lap. 45 minutes at tempo pace was on the schedule for the day.

I'm also looking forward to the Boston marathon. When I was a kid I picked up a swag of late 1970s and early 1980s back issues of The Runner at a kindergarten fundraising sale. This was of course the era of American dominance at Boston. Rodgers, Salazar, Beardsley, Wells, Hoag ... It would be great to see an American win at Boston, but the 1970s and 1980s were an aberration. The history of the Boston marathon roll of champions is a history of the diverse enthusiasm for marathon running around the globe. Of course, there was a time when Boston was unquestionably the major international race to win, not quite the Olympics, but the next best thing to win excepting maybe Fukuoka. So you can't realistically hope that Boston live up to its reputation of being a major world marathon, and think that Americans should win regularly.

So I've wanted to run the Boston marathon for longer than you might think. At least since I was 13. Now, it quite obviously hasn't been a burning desire, since I've waited five years to do so since landing on these shores. But the desire has been there, and now I'm here to run it.

I'm hoping that this latent desire to enjoy the Boston marathon doesn't manifest itself in buying tons of merchandise with the logo on it tomorrow at the expo ...

Posted by robe0419 at 9:24 PM

April 10, 2006

Boston marathon weather watch!!

What's more fun in the middle of April than the annual game of guessing what the fickle winds will blow into the Boston area at noon on Patriots' Day? (Answer: looking forward to actually running the race that might be run in tropical heat, snow or anything in between). Let's see how much the Boston forecast for 17 April changes in a week ...

Evening of Thursday, April 13: Who needs the science of metereology when you're actually in Boston and can feel that it's unseasonably warm for a mid-April evening? However ... it's meant to cool down just in time for the race! There is some kind of justice for the last three years when Patriots Day has apparently been the freak hot day in a two week stretch. Accuweather's forecast remains the same, though those strong winds are now just from the north at 20mph. Over on weather.com and the National Weather Service, the forecast highs remain in the mid 50s, with partly cloudy conditions. With consensus like that it's bound to be great weather on the day, right? Time to remind myself I'm not really racing this one all out ...

Morning of Wednesday, 12 April: Accuweather predicts the same 57°high, but with winds from the NE at 19mph. Not so good. Weather.com gets even better, overnight low of 41° and a high of just 50°, while NWS now predicts 56. Bottom line: the average predicted highs are getting lower ... and I'm still not taking them seriously.

Evening of Monday, 10 April: weather.com predicts an overnight low of 44° Partly Cloudy, 52° high 20% chance of preciptitation. If you could toss in a wind out of the west that would be perfect marathoning weather ... On the other hand the National Weather Service predicts "Mostly sunny, with a high near 63." And Accuweather gives "High: 57°F. Times of clouds and sun. Winds from the N at 9 mph."

[To be updated]

Posted by robe0419 at 10:28 PM

April 7, 2006

Clarke, Clayton, Bedford and Hill

While I can't concisely summarize what I've learned from my [not yet completed. should I abandon this entry ... ] history PhD one thing I've noticed is that my appreciation of running history is more historical and less anecdotal, more appreciation of past runners on their own terms. Zeke's quote of the day from Monday

if you know why that happened and you put your training plan together properly to reproduce that peak performance again on the day of the first race you want to win this season, then I would say you know something about training. Until you can do that, you don't know a damn thing about it. You are just a good athlete who, one day, without realizing why it is happening, will run a good race.

coincided with an interesting discussion on Letsrun about 1970s 10000m world record holder Dave Bedford, and his history of not living up to expectations in major championships. Peaking has a history ...

But first, some reflections on running history as history and not just splits from yesteryear.

Take, for example, the [too?] often told and written story of the pursuit of the four minute mile. What with the fiftieth anniversary of Bannister's 3:59:4 being celebrated just a couple of years ago, there's some recent entries in this genre. Neal Bascomb's The Perfect Mile is a good read, and the device of switching between Landy, Santee and Bannister helps a little in making it not seem inevitable that Bannister will succeed. It's like the movie Titanic. The ending is no surprise. It's difficult to convey suspense when your audience knows what will happen. John Bryant's 3:59.4 does an even better job of conveying uncertainty about the outcome by showing how people were convinced the Swedes would break the barrier during World War II. Moreover, Bryant sets the chase for the sub four minute mile in historical context; both backwards into the 19th century and forwards into the new committed, semi-professional approach to athletics that was exemplified more by Landy than it was by Bannister.

Reading about Landy's training and Zatopek's in Bryant's book reminds you that Arthur Lydiard was not nearly as much of an innovator as some would make him out to be. Lydiard's genius was systematizing ideas about volume and periodization and speed endurance, and then showing just how much control you could have over when you achieved your best performance (peaking).

Yet for all Lydiard's genius in person with his own athletes—and the following is hardly an original interpretation—applying and adapting what was written down in his 1962 book, Run to the Top was not straightforward. In later editions of Lydiard's work he himself mentions recommending to [1960s 10000m WR holder] Ron Clarke that Clarke do more steady state running, which Clarke did with gusto, but then failed to convert his dominant times into major championship wins.

Clarke was not alone in that era—the late 1960s and early 1970s—of failing to convert great times into major championship wins. His compatriot Derek Clayton, and the two Englishmen Bedford and Hill are often accused of the same "failure."

Here is my historical "analysis." You can imagine the quote signs with finger schtick here because analysis flatters what I'm saying.

It's not at all coincidental that these runners are of the same era. They overlapped in that post-1965 era when Lydiard's own athletes were no longer so dominant, and when Lydiard's ideas were just starting to make their impact in other countries. Lydiard had published his ideas, yes, but there's little doubt that Lydiard's comparative advantage was in hands on coaching. It's not hard to imagine how Lydiard's ideas mutated into overtraining in the hands (or feet) of people who were not directly coached by him. If you saw what Halberg had achieved with 100 miles a week, why not see where 200 will get you?

The other common element with these four runners was long periods of largely self-directed running. A coach could have held them back and helped them peak. But to get a reputation for disappointing in the big meets, you have to set up expectations you'll do well in the first place. World records (all but Hill) and second fastest times ever (Hill) set some pretty high expectations. And all four athletes did win major international events. They 'just' didn't win Olympic gold, which is ultimately the standard world record holders are held to. Moreover, their world records were long-standing. Some of the longevity of their records reflects that athletics was not as deeply competitive and professional as it is now.

In short, these four men were products of their time; very talented, very dedicated, and coming at an historical moment when the world records were assaulted by people whose training far surpassed what had been common only fifteen years earlier, and when that new form of training (high volume and sharply periodized) was not widely understood. Until there is new paradigm shift in running training we are not likely to see so many world record holders fall short in major championships as these men did.

Posted by robe0419 at 10:34 AM

April 2, 2006

Ron Daws 25km

As Zeke notes my weekend plans included the Ron Daws 25km "race."

This race commemorates 1968 Olympic marathoner Ron Daws. Daws, a '60's/'70's Minnesota running icon, trained over this same course. The race was renamed as a memorial to Daws the year after his death, in 1992.

The course runs over hilly terrain to the south and west of Hopkins. The race, begun in 1979, and now in its fourth decade, has proved to be a stiff challenge at a middle distance for those training for Boston or other spring marathons or who are otherwise looking for a testing workout.

The course is now measured in kilometers.

They're exaggerating about the challenging nature of the terrain. I'll merely comment that Minnesotans—so phlegmatic about climate—allow themselves to be easily fazed by terrain. Here's a tip. If you want to run 25km on Saturday morning, doing your first session of the season of 7 x 1000m in spikes on Friday night isn't ideal preparation. I was expecting some of the run to be on trails, after seeing photos like this from last year's running. No such luck, apparently owing to ice on the trails last weekend when they inspected the course.

For $3.50 you get an old school race. Now, for $3.50 you don't get a certified course, but you do get one that is fairly accurate. I say "fairly" because some of the miles were quite odd, and the half marathon mark was about 50 metres past the 13 mile mark, which is about one quarter of the distance you'd expect. The course was not measured in kilometres. Or kilometers.

Except for the total distance. I'm still waiting for an adequate explanation of the half-way metriciz(s)ation of American road running where the total distance is denominanted metrically but the intermediate measurements are in miles. See, I'm putting this in bold so any non-running readers who would otherwise bypass this paean to dead runners learn something [truly trivial, yet still interesting]. Adequate? Any explanation would do. It would be like if you weighed your produce in pounds and then got to the checkout and they charged you by the kilogram. It would all work out (probably) but my oh my, why not just pick one measurement system and stick to it. The traditional chocolate fish for the best answer is on offer.

Old school also means that the base for the race was a church basement. In my experience this is what churches are for: hosting Saturday running events. I've heard they may have other uses other days of the week? I saw a lot of church hall running events in my day in the Antipodes. So the Cross of Glory Baptist Church in Hopkins brought back memories of Island Bay Presbyterian, Saint Lukes Anglican and Saint Mary's Anglican in Wellington. Here's my contribution to comparative religious studies: church halls look pretty much the same in two western countries. They don't have enough bathrooms for 150 runners about to start a run, the art of the Sunday School children is touching in its creative interpretations of scripture, and changing your pants in a church has the same minor sense of actions inappropriate to your surroundings in both hemispheres.

I was more excited about the sense of running history in doing a race that celebrated Ron Daws' life. I grew up as a runner with the advice of Lydiard handed down in the "oral tradition" (fancy historian speak for a game of Chinese whispers/telephone over several generations). Daws, more than anyone, was responsible for bringing Lydiard's influence to Minnesota. It's an influence you can still hear today. People still run repeats up Daws' Hill in South Minneapolis.

Even before I came to Minnesota I'd heard of Daws. Or, more accurately, read about him. He was married to Lorraine Moller briefly. And his advice and writing about running transcends borders. I don't think there's many better guides to how to interpret, adapt and apply Lydiard's principles than Daws' books, Running Your Best and The Self-Made Olympian. But beyond that there's a sense in both books, though especially The Self-Made Olympian of the possibilities that everyone has to succeed in running. Both books manage to convey also the way in which running can transform lives, or merely be such a wonderful part of it.

That connection of two country's running history was a bargain for $3.50. The Great Harvest cookies and nuggets available afterward made it even better!

Posted by robe0419 at 8:57 PM

March 31, 2006

World cross country championships

The second best sporting event of the year is this weekend (the most important is from 9 June to 9 July). Good overview here of the current sad trend towards making cross country little more than a leafy green track race. It will also be good for World Cross to revert to its traditional one race format. For sure, the 12km format suits 10k runners more than it does milers, but there's no reason a well trained miler or 5km runner can't do quite well over cross country. John Walker was 4th at world cross in 1975, the same year he became the first man under 3:50 for the mile.

For "just" $19.95 you can watch the world cross country championships on the internet. So tempting ...

Posted by robe0419 at 11:47 AM

March 28, 2006

Something to read

Vin Lananna (Dartmouth, then Stanford, now Oregon running coach) profile in the Eugene Register Guard.

Posted by robe0419 at 12:13 PM

March 24, 2006

White man's fantasy metric mile

There are not a lot of international championship 1500m races that involve just two Africans, but the Commonwealth Games 1500m final is one of them. It is unfortunately in the middle of the night. It is doubly unfortunate that while TVNZ offers free streaming video of the Games ... it is only available to people actually in New Zealand and there are no public proxy servers that allow you to fool the TVNZ site into thinking you're in New Zealand.

Because of all the white people, and the four NCAA Division 1 alumni in the race, it is attracting more attention than any other event at the Commonwealth Games on the normally U.S.-centric letsrun.

The main contenders--based on personal bests, all set last year--are New Zealand's Nick Willis, Australia's Craig "Buster" Mottram, and Australia's Mark Fountain.

Start lists and results are here. I am hoping for a New Zealand sweep, but this is unlikely.

Update, 25 March: Mottram and Sullivan tangle and fall. 2 minute split at 800m must play into Willis' hands. Willis wins! Brannen takes the silver. Fountain the bronze. Hamblyn (NZL) just 0.05 out of third. Sullivan and Mottram get 7th and 9th respectively.

Posted by robe0419 at 10:32 PM

March 16, 2006

The workout myth

Before I begin, let me note that this is not a knock on anyone in particular. I've subscribed to this myth in the past, and may in future succumb to the tendency again.

What I call the workout myth is the belief that afflicts all runners some of the time (and some runners all of the time, with a nod to Bob Dylan's Talkin' World War III Blues where I first heard this general phrase) that the way to improve is to drop some hard workouts into their week. 400s with short recovery, after not doing anything quickly for months. The qualification is crucial. Sometimes 400s with short recovery or long recovery are just the thing you need—I know I neglected them a little last year. The workout myth is this, that when you're unfit the way to get fitter quickly is to do some intervals.

As I say, I've done that. Here's my example of falling prey to the workout myth. After getting my weekly mileage up into the 70s in summer 2003, owing to the demands of travel and study my weekly mileage fell back to 30-50 for about six months. Sad story, weight increased, times went up. When I got back into it I threw myself into six weeks of winter base training moving the long run from 1:30 to 2:10 in 3 weeks, weekly mileage from 40 to 75 in a couple of weeks, and some "run to the barn" tempo runs. Good standard base building stuff, which I did because I know that "rule" about adding 10% a week to be too conservative. Then I had two weeks back at 50 miles, and my first race back was over 20km where I didn't run anything outstanding, but did run the same pace I'd been racing 5km at just two or three months earlier. Now, here's how the workout myth starts. I thought, "wow, that was decent with six weeks of base, what could I do if I did some speedwork?"

So I added some speedwork, VO2 max stuff like 8 x 3 minutes with 2 minute recoveries, and 15 x 1 minute with even recoveries. This was April/May in Minnesota where you know that you have the most ideal racing weather you're going to get until that 10 day stretch that surrounds the Twin Cities marathon. To accommodate the fatigue of doing this speedwork and trying to race at least every 2nd weekend the mileage stopped going up. It fell back into the 60s. It's not like I was racing well, relative to the benchmark I'd set at the 20km race I was doing worse every time.

I persisted with this foolery for a couple of months, before realizing what I was doing, put in three 75-85 mile weeks with only tempo runs, and was instantly rewarded with taking a minute off my season's best for 10km. Of course, the VO2 stuff was ultimately helpful, once I'd done the mileage. I was certainly doing better with my 60 miles and crappy workouts than I was with 35 miles and no workouts.

It's easy to fall into the workout myth, I did it just two short months after reading Lydiard. How quickly fools forget what they read. The workout myth is similar to the idea that you can spend money to advance a little quicker. The joy of running is that it's so simple, and that up to a point you can probably get the most out of your natural abilities by just going out and piling up the mileage. And in the miles you spend by yourself in that very simplicity you start to wonder if you couldn't get just a little better by doing something more complicated. More complicated, more structured must be better, no? Well, actually, no. Not all the time. Not to mention that workouts sound organized and precise, like you're more in control of your training. It's just not nearly as remarkable to say that your plans for the next 10 weeks are to gradually increase your mileage, and throw in some strides and fartlek when you feel good.

The other irony of adding in workouts is this, unless you fold them into a normal, everyday, training run out on the roads, trails and bikepaths they can be a lot more time consuming. All the time you spend driving to the track (if you have to), changing into spikes (if you want to), etc ... it all adds up to maybe 10 extra easy miles a week you could have run.

So, I hope that when I next am recovering from unfitness and get to that point after a few weeks of rebuilding the miles and think "What could I do if I added workouts?" that I pause and remember that the question should probably be "How long should I keep building my miles for?"

Posted by robe0419 at 3:59 PM

March 7, 2006

Interview with Nick Willis

Excellent interview with NZ 1500m runner Nick Willis.

(fast connection needed for optimal viewing ...)

Posted by robe0419 at 4:41 PM

February 22, 2006

Listen to your body, it might be trying to tell you something (even if you don't quite understand it)

The body is a good computer. Sometimes it needs a little help with its display.

Chad asked the other day what good heart rate monitors and other new-fangled tools like GPS units are for running. I'm with him on both the need for numbers to show the effect of such tools and his general skepticism about the magnitude of their impact on actual race times. But these things are notoriously difficult to measure. To really do that you'd have to randomize people to wearing or not wearing a device, and even then you'd have the issue of how do you interpret the effect of the device versus the effect of training itself, and determining which training changes would only have been made with the assistance of the heart rate monitor.

I think Jack Daniels' skepticism in the latest edition of his Running Formula book is well put; the human body is an amazing computer and you can learn a lot by thinking about how you're feeling when you're running, how effort corresponds with pace and the like. When I first got a heart rate monitor one of the things it helped me to do was slow down at the end of recovery runs. As I warmed up I would slowly increase the pace and the effort. It was all very unconscious. This slowly increasing effort showed up on the heart rate monitor, and I learned to identify the other signals that I was doing this. In other words, the monitor alerted me to signs the body was already sending the brain.

Here's an anecdote that reveals the sometime utility of the heart rate monitor, and how sometimes it tells you to push on, rather than hold back.

The joy of all those tracks/trails in Wellington took me to 102 miles on singles a couple of weeks ago (5-11 February). Probably a weekly record on singles. And by the end of the week I was really done, really tired, and due for a recovery week. Really, I was due my recovery week a couple of weeks ago, I could feel that, but I stretched out the effort, felt a little tired on the trails, and did another big week so I could have a recovery week coincide with a week I didn't have much time for running. But it did confirm something I'd thought last summer, that in the base phase I can string together 5 big weeks before feeling like I need a rest. That's one thing I've learnt from listening to my body—that I can get in 5 weeks of base training before needing a cut-back.

How do I know that? Well, in the sixth week I just felt more tired. I didn't need to look at the watch or my heart-rate to know that. I no longer felt the need to charge up the hills, there was no late-run unconscious surge for several runs. One easy day was not enough to recharge me for another hard effort. But I pressed on, I over-rode what my body was telling me ("take a rest").

And then I had my recovery week. I ran 41 miles (actually, I still log mileage in kilometres, and put down 66km for the week). By Wednesday three days jogging on flat grass and dirt trails beside vineyards and sheep paddocks had me feeling fit and fickle, and I did strides and felt good. I took an unplanned, but not regretted, day off and spent time with my grandmother. The next day I felt great on the 40 minutes I was able to get in, running strongly when I came to hills.

Recovery week all going to plan, right? Well, the next day I started off feeling great but late in my 14km (8.75 miles) my legs felt really crappy. Sunday's 20km run felt no better on the legs though I timed myself through a 2km stretch on a Melbourne bikepath in 8:20 (6:40/mile) not really feeling it in the lungs. Back in Minneapolis, after a day off (spent largely at Los Angeles airport, not eating enough) I did my 22 miler and felt weak and sore some of the time. Picking it up for 5km late in the run I split 20:35, again without it feeling too hard in the lungs. But oh my, the legs still felt not there. Not what you expect after a recovery week, right? Even after two easy 5 milers on Monday, this morning's 11 miles was not great. My quads were sore, and we [should] all know that sore quads and a slow pace are one of the first signs of overtraining.

I was a little worried, but given that I'd begun to feel a lot better after the first 6 days of my recovery week, and other indicators of being fatigued were not there, I wondered. As I mentioned, the running felt OK in the lungs, my breathing felt right for the pace but the legs were sore.

So for this evening's run it was out with the trusty heart rate monitor. And I clipped through 13km in 59.30 (after 2km warm-up the last 11km were at 7.15/mile pace) keeping my heartrate in the 140s, on the low end of my steady training efforts. The legs also continued to feel better though I was getting to 31km for the day.

What the heart rate monitor helped me confirm was the intuition that if my breathing felt right for the pace, that my legs felt better going uphill, and I was feeling better each day after Saturday this was probably not overtraining. Probably it was legs getting bruised at going back onto concrete and asphalt after two weeks nearly exclusively on trails and grass. But the legs adapt in a few days. When it thawed after Christmas and there was no snow to run on, 85 miles on asphalt felt bruising too.

Telling people to "listen to the body" can be a coded way of saying "slow down, take a day off, stay well inside the envelope" but it doesn't have to be. Sometimes the body is saying "keep going, persist, I will adapt" and it does. This was one of those times.

Posted by robe0419 at 9:12 PM

January 28, 2006

Unintentional irony of the day award

Yeah, you would hope that the first time you ran an event you would set a PR (or PB, for personal best, in NZ-run speak).

(from Wellington Scottish Athletics homepage)

Kate McIlroy is one to watch over the steeplechase, she's tall, has the strength from winning the World Mountain Running champs, and has developed steadily over the past ten years.

Posted by robe0419 at 12:37 PM

January 25, 2006

Tuesday's child

A couple of weeks ago I did a long post about the hundred mile week, and suggested something like this start to the week:

Sunday: 22-24 miles
Monday: 8-9 miles (with strides)
Tuesday: am: 13-17 miles, pm: 3-7 miles (to make 20 miles for the day)

In comments and then by email Eric and I discussed the long Sunday run, and whether to do that run with gels or not.

I should just note after three weeks of this [approximate] schedule that I've been doing the long runs without gel. Like Greg McMillan I think there's a lot of benefits to be had from doing these easy, base phase, long runs without gel and getting used to running on fumes, or at least body fat rather than glycogen. Monday's run is just an easy recovery anyway, so I'm never too concerned if I feel crap then.

What is more interesting is the pattern with the Tuesday runs. While I typically feel pretty good on Tuesday morning and get through my 13-15 miles easily enough at my normal training pace, I can still feel the last effects of glycogen depletion. Rarely on Tuesday mornings do I pick it up towards the end. Long and steady. Tuesday evening is a different story. With the benefit of a 13-15 mile warmup in the morning, but more importantly, an extra 2 meals in the legs, Tuesday evening is often when I push the pace again. Last night, for example, I threw in 1.5 miles at just over marathon pace and then some surges up the hills.

Doing a longer morning run on Tuesdays means an extra 2-3 miles of running on low fuel. This is valuable, but not as much fun as an impromptu tempo run. Stopping after about 13 in the morning, and doing 7-8 in the evening means getting in more quicker stuff for the day. Different benefits from each arrangement, which is why every high mileage week should be a little different than the one before it.

Happy running.

Posted by robe0419 at 9:23 AM

January 20, 2006

Random ramblings

I should be writing an abstract for a conference. On a Friday night. "Should"? But the week kind of got away on me, and it's not as done as it "should" be. That's the trouble with wanting to get it written early. Now, even if it's on time I'll still feel it's late. Oh well. So instead of getting on with it, I'm blogging a post no-one will read ... Not that I keep very close track of the matter, but readership declines markedly on Saturday, and picks up on Sunday. This is not unique to me, the famous bloggers have noted this too.

[The cat does not understand that when I have the laptop on my lap she cannot also sit there. Hey, it's a magic Apple cat-warmer pad, she's thinking.]

But anyway ... where was I. No-one's going to read this. More stuff I can't really link to stimulating bloggable posts.

We were at Half Price Books this evening looking for Christmas presents for my parents (the strange advantages of visiting your parents six weeks after the actual holiday ...) and I came across Jim Fixx's Complete Book of Running. (possibly annoying bold text to help the one person reading this navigate the topics) And his Second Book of Running. Came across? Well, I suppose that after we'd found the Christmas presents I might have made a beeline for the sports section. That brought back some memories. Memories of being a 12 year old kid getting into running, and reading my father's late 1970s collection of running books. You see, I don't actually remember the late 1970s jogging craze in America. Though I've read more about it than you might guess. Or as much as you might guess, given my academic inclinations.

I digress ... Fixx was a good writer. His sheer enthusiasm for running came through. I didn't see anything about capping your mileage at 40 miles to avoid injury. You can, I'm sad to say, read that nonsense in Marathon & Beyond this month. Now, 40 miles is a totally fine mileage if that's all you have time for, if you're susceptible to injury, or you're just not really into running a lot. But Marathon & Beyond? It has always seemed to me to be a magazine that caters to a people with, at the least, an intrinsic enjoyment of running a lot, and at the most a verifiable obsession. I can't quite understand how it is that we currently have a boom in participation in marathons, and a print media for the sport that mostly caters to the idea that going beyond 60 miles is dangerously high mileage. And I exaggerate somewhat when I say 60, "run a marathon on 40 miles a week" is a not uncommon article summary in Runners World.

[the cat has left ... momentarily ... for a drink]

This time last week I was telling myself that I should probably take a recovery week in the running. I didn't. That was the right decision. It's been a great week running. 4 weeks into this buildup and the pace is starting to come. At the end of runs I find myself pushing down towards marathon effort for a couple of miles without really thinking of it. I was also telling myself a week ago that I would top out at 100 miles (repeatedly) in this buildup, but just try to run it at a strong pace. Now I find myself wondering if by the end of the 12 week buildup I might not be able to run more miles (111 miles per week has a nice ring to it ...) and keep them at a decent pace. We'll see. Expert opinions vary. I have been reading Run Strong and John Kellogg writes about doing base mileage at 60-65% of maximum heart rate. This seems slightly slower than I've been going. Time will tell. I do have a dissertation to write too ...

Moving right along to the next magazine rack, I was browing tonight while doing errands: Minneapolis/St. Paul magazine at Lunds. Once you get past the 400 pages of semi-advertising for the city's top doctors you can find interesting, balanced—in the best sense of the word—yet still skeptical articles. Like one about Al Franken, and his potential run for the Minnesota Senate seat in 2008 againt Corm Noleman or whoever the current incumbent is. The gist of the article, so you don't have to read it, is this: "Al is serious about running. But a lot depends on what happens in the 2006 elections."

[the cat is now quietly resident on the sofa behind me ... time for catnip, no?]

Online I read this article about Hillary Clinton, which argued that, really, she did not do that well in upstate New York in the 2000 Senate race, and that her ability to do well in "red states" is being overblown on the shaky grounds that she did well in upstate New York. Who knows? I'm somewhat skeptical that Hillary Clinton would make the Democrat's best candidate for President, and frankly that's all that matters to me. Here's the trick the Democrats need to pull off: to nominate the most 'winnable' candidate, without that turning into a superficial rush to annoint a biographically driven candidate with little demonstrated appeal and ability on the national stage. Not that I'll have any input at any level ... Nor will I likely be here for the election. But I'm still interested!

In any case, Hillary, if you're reading, please don't run! I write this completely independent of their other merits and demerits, but it's been slightly corrosive for American democracy to have the son of a recently former President be elected President. It would be just as corrosive to have the wife of the previous one run and be elected. Democracy, if it means anything, should be an open, competitive system, not something resembling a feuding aristocratic house.

They're having an election in Canada on Monday. It looks like the Liberals will lose, after 12 years in office. I don't keep much of an eye on Canadian politics, but the Liberals look tired, the Conservatives have found something of a theme and consistent voice, and that should be enough to seal the result. Interesting how the slicker, more polished Paul Martin has proven to be a much less adept politician than his tough, gritty predecessor, Jean Chretien.

If you're still reading, get in touch, and I'll send you a fruitcake by way of appreciation.

What a great issue of the New Yorker this week! Interesting—if short—article about the Diversity Visa program (online). A retrospective on interviewing Ariel Sharon. And an article on car chases in Los Angeles. All very interesting. And so different. So truly random. Whereas I give that adjective to a post on my predictable interestss.

I rarely read the fiction in the New Yorker, and suspect I am not alone. The real life they write about is more interesting than the fiction. You can't make a lot of that stuff up!

Posted by robe0419 at 9:10 PM

January 10, 2006

Re-imagining the hundred mile week

100 miles a week is a nice round number, and a nice round number that many runners aim for. But always remember Don Kardong's quip that "My feeling is that people pick 100 because it's a nice, round number, but an even rounder number is 88." Indeed.

Nevertheless 100 miles per week (mpw) is something that many runners aim to get to, for whatever reason. I should note that I'm thinking about the 100 mile week in the base phase, and moreover for people thinking about running marathons who put more of a priority on longer, single runs, and achieving the adaptations those confer. Also, if you're going to hit 100 mpw multiple times in a buildup, getting to that target in different ways is probably more effective than doing the same schedule week after week. Not to mention that actual real life will often require a different schedule than the model. So the 100mpw schedules I present below are starting points for myself and anyone who finds them somewhat useful.

I don't think I'm the only person that has found there to be a world of difference between 85-90 miles in a week, and 100 miles in a week. No doubt, there is a similar breakpoint when you start heading for 120 or 140 miles a week, but I've never been there and might never. 85-90 mpw is pretty achievable on one run a day, and it's quite feasible to schedule a day where you just amble round for 6 miles or 10km. With 100 mpw your 6 mile day is purchased with even higher mileage on another day.

100 mpw in singles is not that hard, and Arthur Lydiard has a classic schedule for getting there.

Monday :10 miles (15km) at 1/2 effort over undulating course
Tuesday:15 miles (25km) at 1/4 effort over reasonably flat
Wednesday:12 miles (20km) at 1/2 effort over hilly course
Thursday:18 miles (30km) at 1/4 effort over reasonably flat
Friday:10 miles (15km) at 3/4 effort over flat course
Saturday:22 miles (35km) at 1/4 effort over reasonably flat
Sunday:15 miles (25km) at 1/4 effort over any type terrain

I've done weeks similar to this, and you certainly get to your 100 miles. One issue I have with this schedule is that the 10 mile days are not really recovery days, since you do them faster or over hillier courses. But as a way of dividing up the miles, this approach is pretty good.

Ron Daws' book, The Self-Made Olympian has a modification of this schedule in which Monday and Friday become basically recovery days, and split into doubles for even more recovery effect if necessary. Another issue I have with the original Lydiard schedule is that the Saturday long run and Sunday moderately-long run are in the wrong order. Running 15 miles followed by 22 is not a lark, but it's not too difficult paced correctly. Running 15 miles the day after 22 is not the most fun. Since 22 miles will deplete your glycogen stores a bit, heading out for another 90-120 minute run the next day is not the most effective form of recovery.

My modified way to get to 100mpw in the base phase starts from the presumption that the most important runs are the long runs and moderately long runs, and being able to run quite strongly on some of those, and making creative but not excessive use of double run days. Thus, there's more variation between the different days than in the classic Lydiard schedule and its variants.

Monday: 8 miles (with strides)
Tuesday: am: 13-17 miles with some tempo running, pm: 3-7 miles (to make 20 miles)
Wednesday: am: 10 miles (with strides)
Thursday: am: 13-17 miles with some tempo running, pm: 3-7 miles (to make 20 miles)
Friday: 8 miles (with strides)
Saturday: 12 miles with some tempo running
Sunday: 22 miles

By making Tuesday and Thursday bigger days in total through running twice, it's easy to schedule two 8 mile recovery runs. The pace on the Wednesday 10 mile run can vary. Some days on this schedule I've felt great on the Wednesday and run my normal steady run pace. Other days it turns into a 10 mile jog, or if I feel really beat up, I'll split it up into two 5 milers or 6 and 4 miles. If it's going to be one 10 miler, it's easiest to do it in the morning, assuming the Tuesday and Thursday runs are also in the morning. This allows the most recovery. In the second half of the longer runs on Tuesday and Thursday I will typically throw in some aerobic surges, or turn it into a progression run. When I say tempo running, I don't mean Daniels' T pace (one hour race pace), but marathon pace + 30 seconds, down to marathon pace. This is a less rigorous definition of tempo running than some would allow, but is a pace range that has a lot of benefits without taking too much out of you. The benefit of the second run on Tuesday and Thursday is that you start the run glycogen depleted and get some of the benefits of a 20 mile run without the tiredness of doing 20 miles in one run. Saturdays run, being a little shorter, often, but not always, turns into a tempo or progressive run. If I'm still a little tired from Thursday I'll run Saturday relatively easily so I can have a good long run on Sunday. Sunday is the more important weekend workout.

My other variation on the 100 mile week is relatively similar, but makes Sunday even longer and Thursday a single 18 miler. This is a somewhat tougher way to the same total, with the 100 miles coming in just 8 runs if done as scheduled. The important workouts are still Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. If some of the recovery days become double days so you're recovered for the big days so be it.
Monday: 8 miles
Tuesday: am: 13-17 miles with some tempo running, pm: 3-7 miles (to make 20 miles)
Wednesday: am: 10 miles
Thursday: 18 miles with some tempo running
Friday: 8 miles
Saturday:12 miles with some tempo running
Sunday: 24 miles

By distributing the miles more unevenly over the days of the week than the Daws or Lydiard schedule, this approach places more stress on three or four days of the week, and gives a slightly different stimulus to the body. In closing I would emphasize that varying the way you reach the same total is probably more effective than repeating the same schedule, and these are two model weeks that I work from in planning my high mileage weeks along with the Daws variation on Lydiard's schedule.

Posted by robe0419 at 5:55 PM

December 19, 2005

What a difference a day makes

Random notes on recent runs follow ...

Back to Minneapolis and back into having to check the national weather service (for wind direction) and our indoor/outdoor thermometer for the temperature. Last Tuesday, before the heavy snow I got in a good 16 miler down to Fort Snelling, picking it up in the 14th mile over a measured stretch for a 7:05. The marathon a receding memory for the legs. Two days later the snow had fallen and been somewhat cleared, and a 21.5km loop I have down to Lake Nokomis and back took 1:45. Not bad with lots of soft snow, and leaping over the little hurdle snowbanks that build up every block.

Sunday's run was beautiful. 8 degrees, but only a light westerly when I started, so back down to Fort Snelling and along the lakeshore. Most of the trails are now posted for cross-country skiing only, but the road round the lake is snow-covered enough that it's well-cushioned. The wind turned slightly while I was out, and coming up through Minnehaha Park my hands went numb as I took off the mitts for just a couple of minutes to drink some water and change my hat (changing your hat regularly on long winter runs is the gist of my Running Times article. But you should still buy the magazine ...) I cut loose a little in the last four miles, 29 minutes for four miles is not flying but into an 8mph northerly and with the snow on the ground it was a good finish to an 18 mile run. 18 miles is a nice distance, though perhaps what I mean is 2:15 is a nice time to run for ... Long enough to log it as a long run in a short week, short enough you can do 2 or 3 of them in a week if you're trying to get in the miles in singles.

This morning it was 15 degrees colder, or -7°F when I stepped out the door. But really, there is no bad weather just bad gear. I probably overdressed a little. But there was no wind, and now that I think back there was a weekend in January when I did two 20km runs in similar conditions. So ambling through a 10km recovery run was not at all challenging. One shouldn't mistake several extra minutes getting dressed and undressed for running with actual difficulty in running itself.

Product recommendations ... I can highly recommend Red Ledge PM16 gloves as a good mid-weight glove. By themselves they seem good down to the mid-high 20s, and with a glove liner maybe lower. I've been looking for something intermediate between the mitts and the polypropelene liners for several winters now. I picked up a pair for $10 at Midwest Mountaineering, who now don't have any more (!!) and I can't seem to find any online. The Swix lobster mitts are also brilliant in cold weather. My hands have never been cold with them on, and they warm up very quickly after stripping down to liners to fumble with water bottles or change hats.

Posted by robe0419 at 2:18 PM

December 7, 2005

Crossing the Brandywine

It snowed overnight in Delaware. I knew I wasn't in Minneapolis when I heard them talking about the "bitter" overnight temperatures—in the low 20s, ha!—that we'll be having.

But it was perfect today, an inch or so of snow, about 28° at 6am, and I was able to use the half-light of early dawn to get to the Brandywine Creek trails just as the sun peeked over the horizon. Some famous people have crossed the Brandywine. I had the advantage of not being chased by Redcoats, while lugging a sleeping roll, a musket and shot, and hard rations.

The high 20s are such a great temperature for running, though there will be much colder between now and March in Minneapolis. Bring it on! Ron Daws is still right: it's much easier to train in the cold than the heat. I used that quote from Daws in my Running Times article about winter running gear (hats, mainly). It's not online, you have to buy the January/February issue. Go buy it!

To inspire you to get out and run, here are some views near Brandywine Creek in the snow that I took on my run today.

Looking west along Brandywine Creek from the Rockland Rd bridge

Trail on the northern bank of the creek, part of the Northern Delaware Greenway

Looking east from the state highway 92 bridge

Trail on the south side of the creek

Looking across Brandywine Creek from the south bank (true right)

I also saw a fox scuttle up from the creek where it was drinking.

Posted by robe0419 at 7:39 AM

Encounters with marathon history

I was about to give up on the remaining volumes of Edison Life—the staff magazine of the Boston Edison company—as after 1935 they reported fewer inter-office marriages, and gave less and less detail on what Edison brides were going to do after they married.

Then I found this article about Johnny Kelley. Yes, the Johnny Kelley, 1935 and 1945 winner of the Boston marathon, only American finisher in the 1936 Olympic marathon, 61 (yes, sixty one) times runner of the Boston marathon. In 1938 he'd been working at Edison a year or so, it seems from his obituary he kept working there.

(Click on image for larger version)

And then a few pages later I found stuff for my actual research. Good end to the day.

Posted by robe0419 at 7:18 AM

December 4, 2005

Not on crack

When running on crowded roads, assume everyone driving is:
1. Drunk or on crack
2. On their way to Walmart in a hurry in their Hummer to buy a supersize 2 liter soda, a singing Santa made in China, a bicycle horn, and a "Livestrong" bracelet. You are just an obstacle in the way of this perilous and urgent and perilous mission.

So writes a man more experienced on suburban roads than I am ...

He's only exaggerating about the crack.

Running from my pleasant, temporary, abode at the Hagley Library to the beautiful running at Brandywine Creek State Park I actually saw several SUVs careen by, the driver on a cellphone, Christmas trees on top, and Target bags in the trunk. I don't know if they were on crack. Or drunk.

This part of New Castle Co. (DE) is something else compared to my normal running haunts. Most of the cars round here seem to be German. The people with just a Volkwagen Jetta are the poor people. The local poor people in their Jettas weren't trying to run me down. But the people in the Mercedes ... I swear some of them were using that emblem on the front to line me up and run me down if I got in the way of them getting back to their estate for whatever rich people do when they're at home. You know, the rich, they're different from you and me (they have more money).

Saturday was the first run since the marathon (two weeks ago) that I felt "good." Good is totally subjective, but defined here as I wanted to go further at the end of an hour, and I found myself back to my normal practice of pushing the pace when I came to a hill. Longest time it's taken me to get to that point after a marathon. Typically I feel good about a week afterwards. It was great not to hit any wall at the marathon, but the ability to race all the way to the finish meant I was more beaten up by the whole thing. When you hit the wall and have to do the survival shuffle for several miles your body is protecting itself by not letting you go any faster. An extra week of laggardly feeling runs is a small price to pay for a PR so I ain't complaining ...

Posted by robe0419 at 11:52 AM

December 1, 2005

One of these is not like the others

In the email telling me race photos from the Philadelphia Marathon were available they included a small selection of photos they must have thought would make me order the photos. One of these people is not me ...

Posted by robe0419 at 4:13 PM

November 20, 2005


That was a good way to end the running year. A 4:15 marathon PR in Philadelphia.

It may sound odd to then say I didn't think I had a great day, but I'm happy and it was a good race. In some ways the marathon PR was kind of soft, dating from 1999 and my first marathon. But it also dated from a year when I went on to run sub 34:00 for 10000, and chase the 5000 time into the low 16s. In that marathon, without the benefit of such modern things as gel (this was the twentieth century, kids) I cruised through 20 miles--following the instructions of running friends to not do anything stupid before then. Feeling great I picked it up a little and found out what the wall was a couple of minutes after 37km (23 miles).

The dirty little secret of marathon running is that up to 18 or 20 miles it can be great. Sure, some pain is to be expected in the last 2-8 miles as the mind pushes the body through what it really was not designed to do: race on asphalt for 26 miles and 385 yards. But the first 20 miles can hold some of the sheer delights of running, of running along at a fast pace you can sustain for mile after mile.

Today I didn't get that. But I'll be back for more cracks at the distance. The first mile was ok, but then it was slightly downhill and mile 1. Nothing should be read into how you feel at mile 1. Of course, feeling bad in mile 1 can save you from charging out too fast. Never a bad thing. But mile 2 on, oh my ... Never quite settled down. It was mostly my feet telling me that the shoes were laced just a little too tight, but that discomfort always seems to spread up the leg. Maybe, just maybe from 12-13 I had a taste of that glorious marathon feeling, but after 13 I was applying myself to the task. It wasn't coming as naturally as I'd hoped, but each mile kept ticking over in pretty much the same time so I stuck at it.

But here's the rub: I never felt awful, and that was the making of a 1:24/1:25 PR. I kept on expecting it to feel awful, but it never came. After a first mile that was a tad too quick things settled down into a steady routine of 6:22-6:28 miles that saw me to half-way a sprightly 1 second faster than at Grandmas. The 6 mile haul (14-20) out to Manayunk was enlivened by three things; the first at 16 when the guy I'd just passed (looking a little ragged) ran into the cone and hit the road, then at 18 the woman who eventually got fifth caught up to me. Since at that point I was generally passing others, it was good to have someone to run with in the dead spot before Manayunk and the spectators there. And at 19 I saw the famous Duncan Larkin powering along back to the finish.

Having clocked consistent miles around 6:24 through 21 I knew that I had a good chance of running somewhere in the upper 2:40s if I could hold it together. The 22nd mile was a little slow (6:44) with the hill that Duncan had mentioned and then a sharp little ramp back to Kelly Drive--the riverside road you are on for miles 14-18 and 22 to the finish. But hey, I was at 22 and I had not hit the wall. I could follow the advice in Pfitzinger and Douglas's Advanced Marathoning and take increasing risks all the way to the finish. The 23rd and 24th mile both ticked over in the low 6:30s, so I was losing ground on 2:48 and any brief thoughts at 20 about a negative split were gone. But slipping just 10 seconds a mile in these miles is way better than in previous marathons where I was wondering how 6:30s turned into 7:30s and worse.

The moment you know to expect, where all you can think of is the finish came about half-way through the 25th mile, and I see from revieiwing the watch that that was another 6:44, but with less than 10 minutes to go I was happy to keep telling myself to keep the stride rate up, just focus on getting from cone to cone, and pulled through the last mile and 385 yards in 8:06 (6:39/mile).

I could see the high 2:48s ticking by as I came down the straight, and it was a momentary disappointment not to get there in time. But on a day I never quite settled into it I was happy to take the PR, the decent splits, the renewed enthusiasm for the marathon that comes with it, the prospect of an easy couple of weeks, and then a build-up for a possible half-marathon in Duluth in June, and then the Chicago marathon. If I can push down into the low 2:40s I'd be happy, but to do that I need to spend spring and early summer working on the 5km - half marathon end of the range.

late updated random thoughts I took gels at the start, 7 miles, 13 and 20, and credit them in part for not hitting the wall. All those tempo and marathon pace runs probably helped too.

What's with the silly medals marathons give out? The t-shirt at least is functional, the medal not so much.

Philadelphia has a decent marathon with a nice course that is pretty quick. The major ups and downs are all over by 12 miles. Worth thinking about it for your late fall marathon schedule. Interesting mix of downtown urban with parkway. Kelly Drive was as pretty as any area on the Twin Cities course, "most beautiful urban marathon" and all that. But in Philly you also race down South Street, past stores like Condom Kingdom and Erogenous Zone. How many miles of changing leaves, lakes and rivers does any race need? Great variety at Philly, which I preferred. Of course most-to-all people will have to give up racing the ubiqituous Turkey Trot on Thursday if you do this marathon. The mid-40s with sun they organized for today was also a treat. If they can just manage to order more porta-potties for the starting area they could become an even bigger national marathon.

Amazingly I am able to walk down stairs facing forward with minimal discomfort. I expect that this will change by tomorrow morning, and I will be hobbling around for a couple of days. Maybe I didn't run hard enough?

Posted by robe0419 at 3:50 PM

November 15, 2005

Running notes

As Chad notes Saturday was a beautiful day for a longish run round Lebanon Hills park. I say "longish" because 96 minutes is not daunting at all but takes a chunk of time out of the day (1/16 of it. approximately).

I had wanted to race the USATF cross country champs, but a week out from a marathon probably not the best idea. It would have been a fun race, good spread of competitive runners testing themselves over hill and dale. Owing to travel I have missed the other cross-country opportunities round the cities this fall. The USATF champs used to be held 3 weeks after the Twin Cities marathon which, I suspect, reduced attendance. A 10km up-and-down cross country race is not for everyone 3 weeks after a marathon. So moving this race to mid-November was, in some ways, a good call to encourage more participation in a season-concluding race. Combining the mens and womens races into one was also a good idea. Few enough people running post-collegiate cross country in the state that it makes sense splitting up the races.

But ... but ... mid-November? On average, the second weekend in November does not see mid-40s, no wind, and partly cloudy (=perfect racing weather). More often than not, the second weekend in November in the Twin Cities sees rain, low 30s, and a cold wind out of the northwest (Canada!). That does not encourage participation. And what's with making the adult cross country champs for the state just 5km long?! 5km or 5000m is a great distance, on the roads or track. But grown men and women should be running 8km-12km for championship cross-country races. Just my cranky two cents worth on that!

My guess is that they moved the senior champs to this date because the 3rd weekend in October is too soon after Twin Cities, the next weekend is the MIAC championships, and then the first weekend in November is Rocky's Run, already well-established on the local race scene.

Maybe I can race it next year when the law of averages will see the first inch of snowfall accumulate on race day ...

Anyone still reading???

Posted by robe0419 at 3:58 PM

November 2, 2005

One year anniversary

One year on from the presidential election I will be wearing this t-shirt for my run today.

Posted by robe0419 at 12:45 PM

October 21, 2005


Why is it so hard to find a road race longer than 5km after mid-September in this town?

This marathon. And this kind of weather, on average.

But the Chicago marathon is October 22 next year, two weeks later than it has been the last few years. That is good news.

Posted by robe0419 at 4:51 PM

October 18, 2005

Fort Snelling/Minnehaha Park warning

UPDATE: 2 November 2005 Via email from the Minneapolis police the news that this was a hoax: "Minneapolis Police have announced that the reported sexual assault of a woman at gunpoint in the Minnehaha Off-Leash Dog Park on Oct. 17 was unfounded. The woman told officers today that the crime had not occurred." Good news.

FYI for those readers who frequent the trail that runs between Minnehaha Park and Fort Snelling (on the route of the old Minnesota Central line).

It's not in the papers as far as I can tell, but apparently yesterday at 8.30am (17 October) a woman riding a bike alone was forced off her bike at gunpoint by a white man in a blue jacket, dragged into the woods, beaten and raped. According to the notice that was posted at the head of the trail (Minnehaha Park end) the man hasn't been apprehended.

I learnt of this after running up the trail and coming across two police cars parked a short way from the entrance. The notice that has been posted to warn people of what happened says something like "Attention Women," which is appropriate in as far as sexual assaults like this are predominantly directed against women. But it sure got my attention as well.

{Update: Reported on WCCO's website}

Posted by robe0419 at 3:45 PM

September 24, 2005

3:40 does not equal 2:29:xx

I've seen this New Balance advertisement in several recent running magazines (linked to a larger version)

Now, when they say "Cracking 2:30:00" and have a photo of someone clearly finishing the 2004 Chicago marathon, I assumed that (1) they mean cracking 2:30:00 for the marathon, and (2) Mr. 20394 actually did this.

But I was wrong about (2) -- that the person pictured actually cracked 2:30:00. I was suspicious because—and not to be mean—Mr 20394 looks a little chunkier than most sub 2:30 marathoners. Most sub 2:30 marathoners look like they are several weeks of hearty meals short of the low end of healthy weight guidelines.

Curious about whether Mr. 20394 had broken 2:30:00, I went to the results. Mr 20394 had broken 2:30—for 30km—and got home in 3:40:34, which you can see for yourself. And just to check that this was the same guy, you can see his other photos here.

In case you're wondering how Mr 20394 came to have his photo stand in for the achievements of people nearly 9 miles ahead of him, it's because when you enter a road race you sign a waiver basically saying that anyone can use a photo taken of you during the event for whatever the organizers choose.

It's not Mr. 20394 that I feel disappointed in. He may well not know of his sort-of-fame, and I'll assume that he wouldn't have chosen to overstate his achievements so much. In fact, that's why I won't name him here, though anyone could find it out -- public information and all.

You can see bunches of people breaking 2:30:00 at this site, including these guys who are just slipping under, and they all look a little less photogenic.

It's New Balance that I'm disappointed in. They must know that less than 170 Americans ran under 2:30:00 for a marathon in 2004. Even if all these people all wore New Balance, and all changed their shoes every month, that's only 2000 pairs of shoes a year. Not a lot really.

No, the real money is to be made further down the distribution of times. It sounds much less exclusive to say "Cracking 3:15" but the truth is that it's among these runners that more of these shoes will be sold. Why they just can't be honest, and market the shoes towards that group, and with someone who ran the time, I don't know!

Posted by robe0419 at 4:31 PM

August 16, 2005

Veering left

If it doesn't kill you, you don't adapt.

Driving on the left is the natural thing to do (according to C. Northcote Parkinson), but it's not the way most of the world does it.

It's not at all difficult to adapt from side-to-side, as a driver or pedestrian, since the whole thing is very Darwinian. If you get it wrong you could die! Really, all it takes is about three weeks of being very conscious about what you're doing (look left, right, left again or vice versa when crossing the road) and it's pretty much ingrained.

The other social conventions that follow from the driving conventions do not seem to have embedded themselves in my little mind after five years on the other side. Much to my surprise.

Most of the time I do not walk down the wrong side of the sidewalk, but the habits of 25 years of veering left when faced with oncoming people is still with me. Last year I nearly ran down a woman with a heavy baggage cart at LA airport as I hastened between the terminals. As I had just been six weeks in left-hand drive/walk countries this was understandable.

But last Friday I was a good 18 months away from left hand drive/walk conventions and I still did the wrong thing. Ambling along the Minnesota river trails a mountain biker came round the corner, in the center of the trail, where I was running. So I veered to the left. He shouted at me. I kept on going left. Instinctively. Correctly. He skidded. The river loomed beside him. He put his hands out to save himself. I hopped to the right and managed to avoid his bike flying out from underneath him across the trail, and he got good value out of his gloves as he rolled onto the gravel. He picked himself up and swore at me. I apologized, hoping the accent would suffice as an explanation. But he was already peddling away, still swearing at me.

Watch out for me on the trails! And keep to the left right.

Posted by robe0419 at 4:18 PM

August 14, 2005

Women's throwing events

When it comes to watching track and field, the throwing events are normally bottom of my list.

But I'll pay attention for the moment, because Valerie Vili, at just 20 years of age, has won New Zealand's first medal of these world championships; a bronze in the women's shotput. New Zealand's only other medal in 22 years of world champs in athletics was Beatrice Faumuina's gold in the discus in Athens in 1997. I'm a fairweather fan of the throws.

At the other end of the body type spectrum, kudos to the New Zealand and American women who ran personal records in the World Champs marathon today. And good on Paula Radcliffe for winning her first world title in emphatic fashion.

Posted by robe0419 at 11:01 AM

August 9, 2005

Best $4.95 I ever spent

It's the biennial IAAF World Championships in Athletics (track and field) this week, so posting may be light.

For the bargain price of $4.95 U.S. residents can watch streaming and archived video of the whole meet.

As I say, best $4.95 I ever spent to watch a 150 x 150 pixel screen of genetic freaks running, throwing and jumping faster and further than the rest of us ever could. If you don't want to pony up the $4.95, live outside the U.S., or have a slow internet connection, the IAAF has streaming radio available for free.

It's money well spent because the local TV news I occasionally watch regularly reports on a certain local football team's summer practice sessions before they report on actual, competive play in "America's pastime": baseball. Amazing!

So, the chances of seeing a report on the World Championships run of Katie McGregor would be slim to none. You know, she only finished 14th in the world. Far more important to watch 360lb men practice waddling and crashing into rubber dummies in 90 degree weather. Yeah.

Posted by robe0419 at 4:38 PM

August 2, 2005

Taking the train

It has been said that "any marathon that doesn't involve the use of public transportation is a success."

I had that thought in mind as I set out on Sunday for a near-marathon length training run, with money in my pocket for public transportation. Idling through the easy miles down the West River Road, through Minnehaha Park, down the old Minnesota Central spur line that is now a bike trail taking you from Minnehaha Park to Fort Snelling, over the Mendota Bridge, and down to the Sibley House. (I would post photos of these places if I had been carrying a camera, but I rarely take the camera running.)

From the Sibley House there is a trail that runs 10km/six miles to the Cedar Avenue highway bridge (PDF map link). It's [mostly] cool and shaded, so at 7.30am on a Sunday morning it was relatively crowded with bikers and runners. Being so close—right beside, in fact—to the Minnesota River the trail is very prone to flooding. I suspect they leave the signs up saying "WARNING! Trail closed due to flooding" year round. If you're going to hike/bike/run/otherwise-perambulate on this trail summer through early winter would be the best times to go, so long as it hasn't rained much recently. The last times I tried to do this run in summer 2002 and summer 2003 I had to turn back between the 494 and Cedar Ave bridges owing to water over the trail.

At the Cedar Avenue highway bridge there is a bike/walking bridge that takes you over the Minnesota river. Carrying an old bike map of the Twin Cities I planned to head up Old Cedar Avenue towards Nokomis. But I was foiled! The old Cedar Ave bridge is closed, very closed (the second linked photo is the prettiest).

I was half-tempted to find out quite what they meant by problems with structural integrity, but decided that ending my days in Long Meadow Lake falling between the beams of a bridge was not the way to go. Having been running, at that stage, for 2:10 I followed the bike/walk signs for Bloomington. This trail is part of the Long Meadow section of the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. From the Cedar Avenue bridge a 4.5 mile trail takes you northeast to 80th St in Bloomington. After 4.5 scenic miles you come up a hill and are confronted with the Park 'N' Fly and the Bloomington Hilton. Quite the scenic joy, I tell you.

From here, your options are somewhat less scenic. You can make your way round the side of the airport, following some suburban streets and make your way back to Lake Nokomis and the Minneapolis parkway system. Or, there is a bike bridge on 494 which will take you back to the southern side of the Minnesota river and you can return to the Sibley House the way you came.

After trying to find a shortcut back to Fort Snelling through the National Cemetery (you can't: the only public entrance is on 34th Ave) I was near the 3:00 mark for the run. Bloomington and Richfield are lovely suburbs, I'm sure, but the sun was coming out, I was getting hot, and concluding the run with 30 minutes running on the roads to the west of the airport didn't seem like much fun.

So with 3:04 on the watch I succumbed to the joys of having a light rail line that would whisk me home. I didn't quite do a marathon—probably accumulating 24 miles in the 3 hours—but this was a near-marathon in which the use of public transportation was a success by letting me wander so far from home.

(Water is available at the Sibley House, where there is a tap in the garden. It doesn't look like the highest quality water, but two days later I can report no ill-effects from drinking 10 fluid ounces of it. The MN Valley Wildlife Refuge headquarters—beside the 494 bridge on American Blvd—have fountains inside.

The closest light rail station to the MN Valley Refuge is the Bloomington Central station. On the linked map, the trail exit is about where it says "MN Valley ...")

Posted by robe0419 at 1:02 PM

July 2, 2005

New Zealand 1500m record

Nick Willis has broken the New Zealand 1500m record, running 3:32.38 in Paris to break John Walker's 30 year old national record by 0.02 of a second.

You don't get much slimmer than that in athletics, but the symbolism of beating Walker's 1975 time is huge. (The New Zealand Herald article linked to says that Walker's national record was from the 1974 Commonwealth Games. It wasn't. Walker ran 3:32.5 at Christchurch, behind Filbert Bayi's winning 3:32.2 with both breaking the world record. Walker ran 3:32.4 the next year in Europe, before breaking the mile world record and the 3:50 barrier)

There was an interview a few weeks ago where Willis matter-of-factly stated his ambition to break all the New Zealand national records between 1500m and 5000m. Most of the publicity for his European campaign said he'd go after the 1500m record in Oslo (where Walker set the previous record), so perhaps we'll see him run even faster then. Here's hoping. He'll also attempt the 3000m record this month.

I met Nick years ago when he was probably 9 years old. His father is a colleague of my father at Victoria University. Nick's older brother, Steve, was a contemporary of mine in Wellington, and we ran together occasionally. Such are the ways of a small city like Wellington that plodders like myself can run with future sub-four minute milers and older brothers of future national record holders. Nick had the same coach in high school that I did, Don Dalgliesh. This says much about Don's generosity in coaching 9:40s 3000m runners like myself, along with low 1:50s 800m runners like Nick Willis.

In that small way hearing about a national record like this means something more than a world record I have no connection with at all.

Posted by robe0419 at 7:11 PM

June 29, 2005


<sarcasm>This is what makes it all worthwhile. The summer days when you swallow your own sweat laced with both sunblock and insect repellant. The days when you promise yourself it will be fun after 5 minutes, and it's still a little bit of a drag at 40. The days you get up at 4.30am to run in the dark in winter.

If you do that you get some rewards. Like this fine trophy. </sarcasm>

If I'd actually been in third place this trophy might mean something slightly more than it does, but I wasn't in third place overall. I was third place in a five-year age group.

(I should have used my new copy stand to take the photo without flash, but I haven't set it up yet.)

Posted by robe0419 at 9:37 AM

June 27, 2005

Taking my lumps

A week's further reflection on the mini-disaster that was my marathon lead me to think that it was probably 90% a case of "just not my day," and 10% a case of being a little past my peak with the 18 weeks of speedwork leading into the race.

Lots of folks would love to run 3:05, and 3:05 is far, far better than DNF or DNS.

As I feel inspired to think about the summer ahead, and the next attempt at a marathon in Philadelphia in November I'll be keeping the following in mind.

I handle relatively high mileage well, and do well off it. All the best seasons I've had have come off a high mileage base, of at least 75 miles/week. In 1992 (7th form=high school senior, age 17) I dropped my 8km time from 29:low to 27:high in the space of 6 months. I'd stopped growing. I'd been running since I was 11 and doing up to 100km/week the previous year. It's hard to avoid crediting the extra miles for the improvement. I did about 3 months of 120-130km/week before the cross country season, and then did another 6 weeks high mileage aerobic running once cross country had concluded to build up for the road season.

After a couple of bad races in early 1993 I took too much time off and spent the next five years rarely going over 110km/week (70 miles). Results were patchy and inconsistent, and did not fulfil the glimmer of promise of my senior year in high school. 27:high for 8km does not set the world on fire, but when you don't improve on that in the next five years something is not right.

Deciding that if I was going to get out there six days a week for 100km I might as well carry on for at least another 30km/week, I got serious again. Between late 1998 and mid-2000 I worked up to the weeks mileage regularly being between 130km and 160km (dipping down to taper for and recover from a marathon and then taking 3 weeks easy after the road relay season was over to concentrate on exams). Then I put in two months of 100 mile weeks in November/December 1999 and was rewarded with the following revision in PRs in late 1999 and early 2000: 3km 9:38 to 9:12, 5km 17:02 to 16:09, 10km 36:09 to 33:51, 1/2m 1:22:32 to 1:16:42. That made me a believer in what I'd been doing.

Some of my best races have come while just doing aerobic miles, or shortly afterwards. For example, when I took my 5k PR from 17:02 to 16:22 I did it during a 100 mile week. I "tapered" for the race by doing an easy 10 miles the day before. After dropping the mileage I managed to cut a measly 13 seconds off the time. The 3km PR was done 2 weeks after I'd finished the Nov/Dec 1999 mileage buildup, and dropped the miles to 130km/week and started track sessions.

Just this spring, I ran the winter half in 1:20:42, after 3 months aerobic mileage in which I'd averaged 80 miles week (4 weeks at 75, 4 weeks at 82-84, 3 weeks at 90). With the exception of 10 200m strides most weeks and a couple of 5km races in December I'd done very few miles at less than 7 minute pace. But then I got out there and raced at a shade over 6 minute miles.

My best years running have not been continuous seasons, but interspersed with mini buildups. After the Christchurch marathon in June 1999 I didn't race for 8 weeks. I took 2 weeks easy, built the miles back up, and spent most of late July and early-August getting back to 80-90 mile weeks. Then from late August to early October I did 4 races, and ran PRs (or the equivalent) in each one. Same in 1992, after the cross country champs I returned to easy aerobic running, and built up afresh for the road races in September, then another mini-buildup for the next big race in December.

I need to work at different paces to get the best of quality sessions. Staple workouts each week in 1999/2000 were 20-40 minute tempo runs, and shorter intervals (8 x 3 minutes, 4-2-2 with 2 minute recoveries, 10-12 x 2 minutes). It was good to have 6-8 weeks of tempo and marathon paced running in the build-up for Grandma's, but 12 may have been too much for me. Next time I'll mix it up some more.

The best running comes when you can keep up the mileage for a long time.So long as you schedule some downtime into the season, it has been the years when I've put in the miles that have ultimately been rewarding. After the mono, and grad school taking priority for a couple of years I hit 80 miles for a week in June 2004 for the first time in two years. Now I have a year when 80 has been regular mileage, and if I can carry on with that I should be able to see Grandma's as an aberration.

Running at goal race pace is an important part of training When I ran 16:09 it was disappointing not to run 10 seconds faster. But to get that close was the result of running a lot of 76-78 second laps in training. I was able to run a shade over 6 minute miles for 20km all by myself this spring because I'd done lots of 5km tempo runs at that pace. Goal pace training is something I really only have committed to recently, and I need to stick with it.

Hills, strides, stretching, and grass are good for you. In Wellington I could get away with not doing "hill work" since you had to consciously avoid the hills. You can avoid the hills much more easily in Minneapolis. It's not good for you.

When you're young you can get away without doing strides. When you're 30 you can't.

When you're in your teens you can often get away with not stretching. When you're 30 you can't.

Running on grass and dirt lets you increase your weekly mileage tremendously. In my first year in Minneapolis (2000/01) I was seduced by the ease of the flat asphalt paths, and felt sore and bruised at 70 miles week. This spring I felt spry and fit at 100 miles by sticking to the grass when I wasn't doing tempo runs.

Despite the disappointment of Grandma's I think that I should largely stick with what I've been doing. I won't try to do an 18 week buildup again. I will try to mix sessions up over the course of a build-up. Relatively high mileage has worked for me in the past, it should continue to work again.

Posted by robe0419 at 8:33 PM

June 22, 2005


Grandma's was a great marathon. Lovely course. Tremendous organization. However I didn't have a great marathon. Far from it. The self-indulgent reflections on the race are below the fold.

As always the splits tell the story. You can see them in their official glory here.
Here they are with commentary.
1 6:15 6:15 Brakes!
2 12:45 6:30 Now, to average that out ...
3 19:05 6:20 Not quite slow enough, but feeling easy
4 25:29 6:23 "All" I need to do is repeat that for 23 miles!
5 31:47 6:18 Save your energy
10km 39:30 6:15 Just another 3 of those and you're at 40k!
10 1:03:46 24:15 Right on target. And I can still do math in my head!
11 1:10:18 6:32 Don't worry about losing seconds to take water and carbs
12 1:16:48 6:29 Now you are into the territory you know from the 15 mile marathon pace runs. You can do this
13.1 1:24:01 7:13 Right on target! Now to repeat that.
14.1 1:30:28 6:27 After a couple of bad minutes, felt good again
15 1:36:15 5:47 7 seconds over 6:24 pace. Keep focused!
18 1:57:47 21:31 (3 miles) 6:50, 7:10, 7:30. Things are unraveling.
19 2:05:10 7:23 People are really starting to stream past me now. But if I can just keep up 7:30s I can get under three hours?
20 2:13:58 8:48 That drop-out tent looked mighty appealing! But the B&B is 3 miles away. I can drop out there.
21 2:22:35 8:36 Someone (an elite Chinese woman) is having a worse day than me! We swap places for a few miles.
22 2:30:11 7:23 That mile must have been short! Or a little over-ambitious. I feel light headed again
23 2:38:17 8:06 That Lemon Drop Hill is not so bad!
24 2:46:37 8:20 When a medical person at the 24 mile drink stop asks if I want to continue I know that this is an objectively bad day. But I say that I think I will finish. I try not to walk in front of all the people cheering. I am unworthy of their support.
25 2:55:30 8:52 I will not run 9 minute miles! That Twin Cities run last year looks pretty good in retrospect (2:55:55)
26 3:04:02 8:32 Not far now! You can break 3:06
Finish 3:05:39 1:36 WTF?!

The first half, with a couple of minutes of the inevitable feeling that this is not just a training run, felt easy. I felt relaxed and loose. The early tunnel vision that is often a precursor of later problems wasn't there. I was looking around, I was feeling good. I took water at all the stops except 7, and gels at 3 and 11, as I'd practiced on training runs. Just after half-way I had a couple of minutes of not feeling great, but by the 14 mile mark I felt good again. I slipped back a few seconds from half-way to 15 miles, and thought this was just the point where I had to concentrate a little more to keep going. So I picked up the effort a little from 15 to 16, and thought I should have got back to my 6:24 pace. 6:50 signalled things were not going well. I started to feel light headed, so I eased off, and the pace was out to 7:10, and then 7:30. Feeling sick I skipped the gels on offer at mile 17.

The race really came apart between mile 15 and 19, slowly at first as I sunk 20 seconds a mile for 3 miles and then more rapidly in the 19th mile. This did not feel like hitting the wall because I'd gone out too fast, I felt light-headed and weak. The faster 22nd mile, and the 8:06 over the hill from 22 to 23 suggest maybe there was something there, but really they just did me in and I had to walk 50 meters on the downhill just past mile 23.

All in all, it was a long, long way from the 2:47/48 that I'd thought was realistic. After the 1:20:42 half marathon in February, and the solo 1:15:45 20k (in tougher conditions: by myself, hotter, very windy) in early April, 2:48 seemed a realistic goal. I'd done three half-marathon to 15 mile training runs at 2:46 pace, and they'd felt comfortable but I was unsure how that pace would feel at 20 miles, let alone 24. So, I thought that hitting half-way in 1:24 would put me in the position to do a good even race, and if the day was right and I was in good shape maybe even negative-split.

And at half-way it all felt on track, I'd eased off from some slightly too fast early miles and felt I'd got into a good rhythm. And then it all unraveled in the space of 4 miles. I've gone out too fast and hit a wall at 22 miles (Twin Cities 2004) or 24 miles (debut at Christchurch 1999) and I know what that feels like. This wasn't that. This was something else.

Perhaps the humidity, which was apparently relatively high on the Lake Superior shore at that time.

Perhaps I was just slightly overdone. I felt things really clicked about 5-8 weeks ago when I ran the Montreal and Wayzata half marathons as training runs. The three weeks following those I had two workouts that didn't go quite as smoothly, but in the last month the Buffalo half-marathon, and the last long run went smoothly. For Philadelphia, I'm going to do a 12 week buildup, starting in late August, a schedule that fits in well with weather and other things happening.

Perhaps I was a little imbalanced in electrolytes. It's possible I didn't get enough salt in the last few days as I was hydrating.

I had a great spring preparing for this. I felt very fit and prepared going in, and that the plan I followed (Daniels Running Formula, Plan A with a peak of 100 miles) was good. It was challenging but good. The lead-up races showed good progression -- if things were going wrong they would have gotten worse, and they didn't. The fitness is still there (I hope). After some recovery I'll do a 10 mile race in late July and possibly a half-marathon in early August. Sometimes bad days just happen. I can't easily identify what went wrong, and until I've had several bad races in a row I'm not going to say that something systematic was wrong with the training and preparation.

Posted by robe0419 at 4:42 PM

June 13, 2005

Five day "forecast"

Grandma's marathon is now just five days away.

If Duluth was most inland American cities now would be the time that anxious runners could look at the forecast and start making some kind of mental preparations for the weather ahead. 45 and cloudy, yippee! Or 80 and sunny, holy shit!

Unfortunately Duluth sits beside the largest lake (by surface area)body of inland water in the world. This has two effects on the weather, familiar to those of us who grew up beside the largest body of water in the whole wide world. First, the weather can vary wildly and quickly. Secondly, the weather close to the water can be cooler and windier than the weather just a few miles further inland.

For this reason I put little to no stock in what is currently forecast for Duluth: overnight low of 54 for Friday night and high of 77 on Saturday. That isn't to say that I won't look at the weather channel every day between now and then to see the updated forecast, but just to bemuse myself at how the forecasts five days oscillate around.

Basically I'm just going to wake up and see what the weather is like on Saturday morning at 4.30am. And then know that even that might change significantly in the next six hours.

Posted by robe0419 at 3:07 PM

June 9, 2005

Aqua jogging for horses

Luckily I've never had to experience the frustrating and scenically boring experience that is aqua-jogging for injured runners. But I've heard enough about it that I was able to laugh at this story on the local NBC station about aqua jogging for horses. Horses apparently get the same benefits as injured runners from the pool:

The pool provides a place to train and work the lungs without the pounding on the legs.

Posted by robe0419 at 7:10 AM

May 17, 2005

Outsized, part 2

The fattening of America continues ... I noted previously how it's sort of odd that at 6' I end up buying small clothes. And now another sign -- you can't even request a small t-shirt if you're running the Buffalo Marathon or Half-Marathon.

Posted by robe0419 at 12:50 PM

May 16, 2005

Jim Ryun

Good article on Jim Ryun (now a Republican Congressman) in the Washington Post.

What they don't mention in their catalogue of decline of American track is that one reason not very many high schoolers break 4 minutes for the mile is that American high schools don't run mile races. They run 1600m.

All race distances are arbitrary, but it is still somewhat silly. Can high schools afford tracks but not afford to paint the stagger line 9 metres back of the finish line on a 400m track? Are they afraid the kids will collapse in the final 9 metres (18 for the 2 mile!)?

The absurdity of the distances run in American high school track are, of course, a regular feature on letsrun.

Posted by robe0419 at 5:54 PM

May 12, 2005

Luke what?

Team USA Minnesota athlete, Luke Watson, gets renamed by Let's Run. Come on down, Luke Whatson.

Posted by robe0419 at 3:55 PM

May 1, 2005

You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows

Let me see if I understand the Star Tribune's write-up of yesterday's running of Minnesota's most expensive 10km, the Get in Gear. (Actually, their official tagline is "Minnesota's Annual Rite of Spring," but they seem to have taken the view that people will happily pay $5/mile for a 10k race.)

The Strib reports that "The slow early pace was dictated by the weather. Though many trees were in their best spring bloom, the temperature at race time was 40 degrees and winds blew at 7 miles per hour from the northwest." To be fair, they do rely on the 2nd place getters opinion to substantiate their summary. But if you skim the results down the field they actually look a little quicker than last year's running.

40 degrees is about 5-8 degrees on the chilly side of ideal, but a slight headwind in the first half, followed by a tailwind on the way home seems pretty good conditions. To be fair, I wasn't racing but I was jogging around the course in the opposite direction and it seemed pretty decent conditions for knocking out a reasonable time. Not perfect, but nothing too bad.

Unlike today. Knocked out my second [goal] marathon pace run in a week at the Wells Fargo Half Marathon. Now all I have to do is reduce the recovery between half-marathons from 165 hours to 0! The results are annotated "Snow (!), lots of wind" and that describes what we got. The race heads southwest, and the wind was out of the northwest, so heading west it was a little tough, but the last couple of miles were aided by a nice tail wind. To get in my 15 miles at pace I jogged through the chute, round the side and hauled myself back to the 11 mile mark at the same speed.

The snow was starting almost exactly as I finished the half marathon and I briefly contemplated stopping there. Glad I didn't as the extra 2 miles give me the confidence of knowing that I've gone beyond halfway at goal pace. Having done it in 34° with snow showers won't be much help if Grandma's turns on a hot day!

What is the 7 week extended forecast for Two Harbors?

Posted by robe0419 at 6:01 PM

April 20, 2005

History of Canadian marathoning

And if that's not a title that will bore everyone in some way I don't know what is.

I picked up a copy of Marathon & Beyond to read on the plane out to Los Angeles (on which more later) last week. Good magazine.

On the back cover they promise that in next month's issue one of the articles will be "A History of Canadian Marathoning."

First of all, that's funny because Minnesotans find Canada funny, in the way that people jest with their siblings and cousins.

But it's also funny because, frankly, the history of Canadian marathoning is quite undistinguished at the elite level compared to the United States, Britain, Australia, or even New Zealand.

American and British men and women have held the world record, and both nations have won numerous Olympic medals in the marathon. Australia's Olympic marathon history is not as glorious, but Australian men held the world record for 17 straight years (1967-1984). Starting with Lisa Martin, Australian women have won numerous Commonwealth Games marathons, and Martin won Olympic silver.

Two New Zealand men won Olympic bronze (Barry Magee in 1960, Mike Ryan in 1968), and Lorraine Moller won bronze in 1992. And New Zealand men and women have picked up the lower medals in several Commonwealth Games marathons (Ryan in 1966, Foster in 1974, Moller in 1986)

But Canada? I can't remember a Canadian medalling at the Commonwealth Games, let alone the Olympics in the last 30 years. A Canadian won gold in the 1906 Olympics, which aren't generally recognized as counting towards Olympic medal totals. And that seems to be about it.

It's sort of odd because Canada has a pretty good distance running tradition that seems strong today, especially in men's middle distance and the women's 5000m, and Ontario schools seem to supply a lot of good athletes to American colleges.

But no marathon medals it seems. Obviously the history of Canadian marathoning is more than elite performances. However, over the long haul medals reflect depth in a sport. Canada's lack of major championship medals in the marathon seem to indicate that marathoning in Canada is not as strong historically as in its peer countries.

(In case anyone wonders, the Commonwealth Games while not having the depth of the Olympics or World Championships are taken seriously by all the countries involved, including the strong running nations in Africa, such as Kenya and Tanzania, and now South Africa.)

Posted by robe0419 at 10:28 PM

April 13, 2005

Patriot fever

The Boston marathon was very hot (80°F) in 2004, and not ideal in 2003. (I wasn't there, I've just heard about it).

Now, look at the 10 day forecast for Boston. The marathon is on Monday and starts at noon ... 63 degrees is not awful, but it's about 20 degrees higher than ideal conditions for marathon running. Saturday would be like a dream day for the marathon if the forecast was right -- 40s and cloudy ... Good luck to all the runners. I personally hope that the 370 day forecast for Boston is good, because [barring injury] I plan to be there next year.

I guess this not-ideal weather is why people say you don't run Boston for the time, you run Boston for the experience, the screaming girls at Wellesley, and the history. But the net downhill will always tempt people to think a fast time would be nice to have as well!

Posted by robe0419 at 5:08 PM

March 25, 2005

Two cheers for Yasso 800s

Regular non-running readers will be bored ... Runners, my two cents on the famous Yasso 800s are below the fold!

The problem with Yasso 800s is that either the recoveries are too long, or the repeats are too short. With a little tweaking -- that would make them less easy to convey in a magazine article -- they'd be a good workout.

If you've come this far you probably know what Yasso 800s are. They're a marathon-oriented speed workout where you work up to running 10 x 800 in as many minutes and seconds as your goal marathon time in hours and minutes.

[So, if you want to run a 3:10 marathon you should be able to do 10 800m repeats in 3:10 with 3:10 jogging between]

I can see the appeal of this workout -- it's easy to remember, easy to set the countdown for on your watch. If you do it on the track you can just roll though the recovery, and start the next two lap effort when your time is up at any point on the track.

If you do a couple of miles warmup and a couple warmdown, and get at least 400m jogging in between you'll get a good 11-14 mile run in for the day. The volume of speedwork (8000m or 5 miles) is good. The pace is good, you should be running round about your 5k-4 mile pace in the repeats.

Yet there's some acceptance that the Yasso 800s aren't quite accurate. Greg McMillan reports that many people end up running about 5-7 minutes slower than their Yasso times.

And it's not like they're totally useless, but with a little extra effort you can get a lot more from the workout.

To step back for a moment, Yasso 800s are a V02 max workout. That is, they improve your ability to consume oxygen. To improve your V02 max you have to be working in oxygen debt at a high heart rate for between 3.5 to 5 minutes. Then you recover, then you do it again.

You can make the repeats shorter, if you also keep the recoveries shorter.

If you're doing your 800s in 4:00 or over then the 800s are probably OK for you. You'll be working on your oxygen uptake abilities for about the right amount of time.

But anyone below 3:30 and certainly those close to and under 3:00, should make their Yasso 800 workouts 1000m, 1200m, 1400m or even 1600m workouts, at the same pace as the Yasso workouts (so long as the total workbout is less than five minutes. Anyone running 2:30 800s or 5:02 miles probably knows something about what they're doing). The recovery can be about equal to the repeat.

Indeed, if you look at Jack Daniels' Running Formula you'll notice that his Interval pace for 1000m-1600m intervals is pretty much the Yasso pace for 800s. But you just keep going ...

Alternatives to the Yasso 800s
Do the 800s, with a 400m jog in between. The 400m should take about 45-60 seconds less than your 800 time. The shorter recovery will mean that you hit oxygen debt a little earlier in the 800 repeats and have the right amount of time sucking wind and improving your oxygen consumption abilities ... This is less than optimal for a couple of reasons. (1) If you really are training for a marathon the longer repeats are probably better, and (2) If you're aiming to race 5Ks and 10Ks along the way, doing 1000-1600m at 5k pace is good for that aim too.

Do 1000m-1600m repeats at the Yasso pace, with equal time recoveries (or slightly under equal recoveries). My own experience is that even with equal time recoveries this is a harder workout. You're working in oxygen debt for quite a while in each repeat.

When I was younger I used to avoid doing workouts where it was easy to think "I'm halfway now." So I'd do odd numbers of repeats or ladders to make the workout mentally easier. Perhaps oddly, now that I'm older I find the 8 x 1000m or 6 x 1200m easier, partly because I do more varied workouts week-to-week.

Whatever your situation, ladders are an excellent way of breaking up the monotony. A ladder of 800-1000-1200-1400-1400-1200-1000-800 adds up to the same distance as the Yasso 10 x 800.

There's no law that says you have to do repeats that are an even number when divided by 100. A session of 1000, 1100, 1200, 1300, 1400, 1000, 1000 has some variety, and you can look forward to shorter repeats after your 1400m effort.

My final piece of advice is that the value of any of these workouts is enhanced by running them at an even pace. As you are running around your 5k pace, these workouts are an excellent opportunity to practice running evenly at that pace. Most watches these days come with a countdown or lap/split counter. If you set these to beep at you every 100m or 200m and try to hit each 100m-200m in an even pace throughout the workout it will be a much, much better session.

Running a 90 second lap followed by a 100 second lap is pointless. If you hit an even pace, the first few repeats will feel relatively easy. That's OK. You should still be working hard in the last couple of hundred metres of each repeat. Since the first repeats are easier, starting with the longer repeats and working down to 1000m can be productive. A session of 1400, 1300, 1200, 1100, 3 x 1000m has 8000m of repeats and coming down in distance feels mentally easier while still working the right systems at an even pace.

Good luck!

Posted by robe0419 at 1:39 PM

March 19, 2005

Compare and contrast

The World Cross Country Championships are the most prestigious races in athletics after the Olympics and World Championships. The US 8km road champs are a 2nd tier national championship race.

So if you were interviewing people running both, which do you think would be the most anticipated event. If you're from fast-women.com, it's not the World Cross Country, it's the 8km champs, because it's in New York and fast-women.com is hosted by the NY Road Runners Club.

Contrast with the local Twin Cities running site, which has a sense of humor about Minneapolis athletes passing up a local race for the World Cross.

Fast-women.com and its sibling site, MensRacing are pretty good, but sometimes their northeastern provincialism is a little tiring.

Posted by robe0419 at 8:47 PM

March 16, 2005

March 1, 2005

Don't leave 'til you see the country

The marathon in all 50 states ambition has always seemed a little crazy, but the kind of crazy I might be susceptible to in my dotage (Please don't stop reading now ...)

There is a guy from Georgia who is close to running a sub-3 hour marathon in every state, and D.C. That is quite an achievement in just five years.

Posted by robe0419 at 5:27 PM

February 7, 2005

Fun, but not educational

How far can you run while drunk and holding a bottle of liquor?

Posted by robe0419 at 11:21 AM

January 30, 2005

Bad neighborhoods

As I've ambled round the streets of the Twin Cities the last week the stark differences between different streets in how much shoveling has gone on is really quite amazing. On some blocks it's clearly a social disgrace to not have a clear sidewalk, on others it seems no-one can be bothered, and in yet other places there are some delinquent apartment owners who haven't ridden herd on the maintenance man to earn his wages.

One of the bad neighborhoods is the area round Otis Avenue and Riverwood Place in St. Paul. It's the area just back of Eastcliff, where the esteemed President of this institution lives. The houses there are big, and they mostly have two cars in the driveway. So, they're rich. And they don't shovel. Most of the sidewalks, even today, after a week of thawing, were still covered in sheets of ice. Here's a thought if any residents of that area are reading this -- if you can afford the big house and the big car, you can afford to pay the teenage kid to shovel if you can't be arsed doing it yourself. There were some houses where the owners had clearly shoveled the driveway, but not done the sidewalk. Those people truly deserve to slip on the ice someday.

In that same neighborhood is the Living Word Church and Outreach Ministries, who have collected enough money to have their own parking lot. They also don't shovel. In a just world they'll go to hell for their sins.

Posted by robe0419 at 8:53 PM

January 3, 2005

A lower bound on the deer population

Happy New Year!

Easing back into work and not work (blogging) ....

Jim saw ten deer on his jaunt around Pike Island. While running around the island I have never seen more than three deer at any one time, which has always made me wonder whether the same three deer re-appear at other vantage points to be double-counted.

I'm sure the carrying capacity of Pike Island is greater than three, and as Jim says, any rational deer should find their way there to avoid being shot. But I can't be sure there's more than three.

Some sort of capture-recapture study would be useful.

Posted by robe0419 at 4:59 PM

December 14, 2004

Shooting pigeons or running 100 miles?

Arthur Lydiard -- who died on Saturday -- was an advocate of running 100 miles a week in the build-up phase of training.

Following his death some people are planning to run 100 miles in the next week as a tribute. Other people think that's "meaningless."

The final word on the subject must be: " ... it actually makes more sense than 21 soldiers firing at pigeons in the sky at a president's funeral."

Posted by robe0419 at 12:55 PM

December 13, 2004

Running does not make you live forever

Arthur Lydiard. Dead at age 87. (NYTimes obit that assumes less knowledge than NZ coverage)

Going for a long run right now would be the best way to remember Lydiard, but I have a book to review ...

Posted by robe0419 at 1:56 PM

December 4, 2004


Or, web pages for everything ...

Owing to not traveling much I've set a personal record for consecutive days of running (197 as of today), thus my interest was piqued by a letsrun.com discussion of these things, and learnt of the United States Running Streak Association.

Web pages for everything.

I'm curious how these people would deal with a trans-Pacific trip, and crossing the dateline since westbound flights involve losing a whole day. I always considered that breaking the streak (not that it was ever a big one at the time).

Boredom over, regular readers!

Posted by robe0419 at 7:40 AM

November 30, 2004

No bad weather, just bad gear

Minnesota running legend, Ron Daws, tells it like it is

The truth is that winter running is so simple that there is little out of the ordinary to tell about. Training at 20 below zero is far easier than at 85-90 above. Its relatively easy to protect oneself from the cold, but impossible to escape the heat. My endurance base is always built during the winter, when there is little else to run but high mileage.

I never thought when I moved here that I would love the winters, and find the summers sorta miserable. But that's how it is ...

Posted by robe0419 at 5:09 PM

October 4, 2004

Cardboard cutouts and the Star Spangled Banner

Yesterday's rendition of the Star Spangled Banner at the start of the Twin Cities marathon was very nice; especially since it was 42F, rather than 32F as it was last-time.

The Democrats were the best organized at showing their message out on the course, with many signs and banners. The best of these at the 14 mile mark was the life-size cardboard cut-out of John Kerry giving a thumbs up.

Further along the course, the Democrats were handing out stickers to the middle-to-back of the pack runners, many of whom were festooned with them from there to the finish, passing thousands of voters along the way. The lone woman with her Bush-Cheney sticker on her singlet was greatly outnumbered.

A link for anyone who cares to know how I did.

Posted by robe0419 at 3:10 PM

August 29, 2004

on track

Slate has an article that will be intrinsically interesting to runners, and may grab your attention otherwise, about how tracks are made.

Posted by robe0419 at 2:26 PM

August 25, 2004

white men who can run

Three white men qualified for the 5000m final! Alistair Craff (Ireland), Tim Broe (US) and the great white hope, Craig Mottram from Australia. Mottram is only the third white man to go under 13 minutes (the others being Bob Kennedy and Dieter Baumann).

Cragg and Broe have done really well to get through, with Broe not much off his best time in uneven races (2.40 odd for the first 4 kilometres, and 2.26-2.28 for the last in both heats).

Posted by robe0419 at 12:44 PM

August 6, 2004

Women's 1500m

Carrie Tollefson beats Jen Toomey (both under the B standard) and Amy Rudolph (just over the B standard), and Suzy-Favor Hamilton dropped out, so if I understand the USATF selection rules ... Carrie Tollefson will be the only U.S. woman in the 1500m.

What was so fascinating abput this qualification race was the passing of the Regina Jacobs/Suzy Favor-Hamilton era in American women's running (and you wonder how Regina Jacobs kept going so long ... ), followed by two 5000m runners (Rudolph and Tollefson) and an 800m runner trying desperately to make the team. For athletes competing at that high a level, the training is often so specifically geared to a particular event that shifting gears to run a different distance is quite a challenge.

Posted by robe0419 at 3:06 PM

July 31, 2004

5000m out of Byzantium

In a previous post I noted the byzantine selection policies that meant that in some athletic events the Olympic Trials winners were left hoping that people they beat would not run faster in the future ...

At least in the case of the men's 5000m, it's all resolved happily with the Trials winner Tim Broe running 13.18, well under the A-standard. Now both he and the second place finisher, Jonathan Riley will go to Athens.

The women's 1500m is still up in the air. Jen Toomey (2nd at the Trials) missed the B standard by 0.3 seconds, while Tollefson and Rudolph couldn't improve on the times they ran in Sacramento in 96F heat.

Posted by robe0419 at 4:41 PM

July 21, 2004

can anyone explain this?!

Can anyone explain the way the Olympic Trials selection policies work?

In the the sprints it's easy. Lots of people make the IOC qualifying times, the top three from the trials go.

In the distance events it's bizarre. Not many people make the times, people drop out of finals, and it all becomes byzantine.

I think what's happening is that line by line, the rules that USATF has laid down are pretty clear and hard to argue with. But when you put them together, and add reality, they are revealed as somewhat inconsistent with the goal of getting the best, uninjured people on the line at the Olympics.

Posted by robe0419 at 12:57 PM

July 7, 2004

what happened to Nike?

Back in the 1990s Nike had a whole range of solid running shoes, that covered all the bases: stability (Air Stab), cushioning (Air Max), neutral (Air Pegasus), lightweight trainers (Air Skylon), and a fine line-up of racing shoes (Mariah and Duellist) and spikes.

For whatever reasons the spikes and racing shoes are still going strong, but the training shoes have veared off the road or trail, and I don't see many serious runners wearing Nike anymore (unless they have sponsorship).

Take a look at the lineup. Any problems loading the site? That sort of encapsulates whats wrong with the shoes too. Lots of flash and a diminishing amount of substance.

For whatever reason, Nike is catering to the cool kids out there who probably don't actually run in the shoes, but merely have them hidden underneath their baggy pants (if baggy pants are still in).

It seems like most of the major shoe manufacturers have been through this phase at some point in their careers. There was a point in time when Adidas had basically opted out of making serious sports shoes, and Reebok appears to have done the same for some of the 1990s, though both are back now. Adidas in particular is once again nearly synonymous with track and field.

Asics and New Balance, having never been adopted by the cool kids on the street, have just on plugging away at making dependable sports shoes for people who are somewhat serious about what they're doing.

What's somewhat strange is Nike's persistence in making high quality competition shoes at the same time as making flashy, frivolous training shoes. Adidas and Reebok pretty much gave the game away in spikes and racing shoes during their flirtation with being a youth-fashion footwear manufacturer.

One supposes the answer is that there's money to be made, and Nike must surely be aware of the substantial brand loyalty they have amongst runners who first pulled on a pair of zoom spikes at age 14.

Posted by robe0419 at 6:58 PM

July 4, 2004

more thoughts on American distance running

Further to yesterday's comments on the uneven state of American [men's]distance running; by comparison the Australians (PDF) have no A qualifiers in the 1500, 1 in the 5000, none in the 10000 (where the Americans are surprisingly strong with 6 A qualifiers), 5 in the marathon (8 U.S.), and 1 in the steeples (2 U.S.). New Zealand has 1 1500m qualifier, a 10,000m qualifier and 2 in the marathon.

Now obviously, in small countries these things are somewhat more random, you just don't get exceptional athletes turning up all the time in small populations.

Australia is a good comparator though, precisely because it's smaller than the U.S. but not really small (like New Zealand). 5 qualifiers in the marathon with a population 1/15 the size is a pretty good indicator of the relative strengths of distance running in the two countries.

The real contrast, in both Australia and the U.S. has to be with the swimming programs which are phenomenal. In fact the contrast with swimming suggests that some of the problems are structural -- get a good development program going and keep young people coming through the system and you get lots of people contending for the Olympics, which tends to lead to some of them winning medals and making finals. That just isn't happening systematically in American distance running, but developments like Team USA MN have to be a step in the right direction, with a lot of the athletes involved making pretty rapid downward progress in their times.

Posted by robe0419 at 6:42 PM

July 3, 2004

the uneven state of American distance running

The U.S. men have just two A-standard qualifiers in the 5000 metres, six in the 10000, and eight in the maraton (where the A qualifying times have been relaxed from previous Olympics), and just two A-qualifiers in the 3000m steeples.

By contrast there are 27 A-qualifiers in the 100m and 38 in the 200m.

Things are pretty much the same for the women, a few A-qualifiers in the distance events and 20-odd in the sprints.

Are the sprint times too easy? Are the distance times too hard? Are there more sprinters who are drug users?

Hopefully the trials will produce some more A qualifying times, but anything being held in Sacramento in July is not designed to produce a quick 10000m time.

Posted by robe0419 at 2:18 PM