Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Proof Is In The Pudding

As I'm sure you know, I'm trying something different this year with my training. I started this approach in October and have steadily kept to it over the winter and now into spring. To summarize - less speed/high intensity work in favor of largely aerobic work. It is pretty simple, though there are tweaks to the plan. A large part of the volume is "relatively" easy. I don't expect everyone to be able to have this method work for them, but I do enjoy the periodic realizations that this method is working, as seen by my most recent PR.

The results from baseline tests typically tell the story of success in one's training. By simply looking back at my training logs over the past 2 years, I can see a significant upswing in my ability to hold pace at a low heart rate, based on this new training approach. And I believe it is the ability to run well at low heart rates that leads to the ability to run fast. However, in order to accomplish this, you must go back to running easy for a while. It didn't start coming around this way at first. The first few weeks felt painfully slow, but I decided I had nothing to lose (since there are no high priority races to force me consider short term goals in favor of long term), so I stuck to the game plan. Sure enough, after a few months of consistent work, I am starting to see a serious correlation to the numbers I post on a day to day basis, to the numbers I post in my baseline tests, and now to the numbers I post in my races (regardless of race distance thus far).

It is the adaptations that happen through these low HR runs that are allowing me to steadily improve. Not by increasing my top end speed, but by increasing by body's ability to operate efficiently. There are 2 schools of thought on this:

1) By consistently training at a hard pace, you "teach" your body to handle the stress over time, at that hard pace
2) By consistently training at an easy pace, your body becomes efficient, thereby providing benefits at ALL speeds

Within these 2 options, one introduces lots of stress (1) and the other does not (2). By not introducing stress, it is easier for me to recover from my runs and become much more consistent. When one introduces stress, the residual fatigue (depending on the difficulty of the workout) may persist for days, thus compromising future workouts. In all of my training runs during this time (up to 14 miles), I have not had a day where I felt too fatigued to be able to run the next day. Day after day, I've continued to build my efficiency, to not only handle the increased stress from the volume, but my body simply responds better to ANY type of stress I introduce to it.

For comparisons sake in my training methods, let me simply describe my previous training, which consisted of speed work, tempo runs, a long run, and a few easy runs mixed in. My pace progressed, as did my times. But I found myself injured or dinged up a bit more frequently than I would care to admit. I also found that after a period of training (typically 2-3 months), I'd plateau, making it very difficult to progress any further, forcing me to introduce even more stress (by increasing the intensity or distance at a similarly high intensity). In my new alternative approach, my focus is primarily in low heart rate, higher volume, aerobic base building prior to implementing any other type of training. As it stands, I am seeing significant progress WITHOUT any of the speed work, tempos, etc. The focus is on building the aerobic engine. In fact, my weekly volume is on the verge of topping my typical weekly volume when I was marathon training. Only the difference is that I do not constantly find myself nearly as fatigued. Progress? You betcha.

What this training (and numbers) prove, is that a strong aerobic base is much more effective than high end top speed. Genetically, I am fast at short distances, as my high school track experience dictated. But the unfortunate thing is that this does not correlate to endurance sports. I cannot simply run at my fast pace, each time a little bit longer, and expect the get the same results. Why? Because even races as short as 5k rely significantly on your aerobic engine, not just top speed. Top speed certainly does increase the potential at a 5k distance, but it is your aerobic engine that will allow your body to operate at a high level, not your anerobic ability. Building the aerobic engine allows your body to carry itself at a given pace more efficiently.

Let's remember that for the past 4 months, I have not done any speed work, tempos, etc. Look at my race results in the past 4 months - 3 PRs at the 10k distance. I never trained for the 10k, nor did I ever train at anything close to race pace. My body was simply able to operate more efficiently, because of the aerobic engine I built (and will continue to build so long as my times keep dropping).

Let me go back for a minute. As the title of this post states, the proof is in the pudding. I've looked at nearly all of my data from 2+ years of training and what I can tell you is this:

My pace at my Zone 1 HR is consistently dropping. Never have I seen a significant drop in my HR for a given pace at an easy HR using other approaches. Until now.

Let me give you some numbers. For me, 9:00/mile is not a fast pace (it is approximately my Zone 1 pace give or take). But when you start looking at my limited success at long distance racing (ie marathon implosions), you see a different story about that pace. Now clearly, I didn't race my marathons at a Zone 1/easy pace. I ran them at a high Zone 2/Zone 3 pace, per most marathon pace guidelines. Here is an example from the National Marathon races I have run:

- 2008 National Marathon: 3:57:48, pace: 9:04/mile, Average HR 160 bpm
- 2009 National Marathon: 3:49:14, pace: 8:45/mile, Average HR 158 bpm

What I am starting to see, is that my former "Zone 2/3 pace" that I followed in the marathon, is quickly becoming my easy Zone 1 pace. In marathon training, I did most of my runs in Zone 2/3, a few Zone 4 runs, and a recovery run in Zone 1/2. But based on my data, that type of training did not drop my HR at any given pace. My body just adapted to the work and was able to handle it over time (until the fatigue became too much, resulting in injury).

Now - here is another example from a recent long run:

- 2:05:52, 14 miles, pace: 8:59, Average HR 139

Take a look back at the marathon numbers I provided above. I'll give you a minute to let that soak in.

A similar pace, but nearly 20 bpm lower! Now it is true that this was only 14 miles and not a full marathon and just a training day and not a race. But, my numbers in training at all distances from my previous logs were very similar, so it is safe to say the numbers can be used for comparison.

What this is essentially showing is that my base fitness is steadily improving through this method of training. With an incredibly low HR (for me), I am almost able to run at what was my Zone 2/3 marathon pace. What this also means is that when I start increasing my effort (ie HR goes up), my pace drops. So when we look at my pace at a HR of 150, we'd see (from my baseline tests) that I am somewhere around an 8:15/mile pace. This HR is still a good bit below the HRs posted at the marathon, but drastically lower in pace. And the trend continues when we look at my HR at 160, 170, and 180. It is this correlation that has led to faster 10k times.

So long as this base fitness keeps improving, so will my HRs ability to maintain pace over the course of a race. The fitter I am at my aerobic level, the faster I'll be able to race in the end because of this correlation.


I am doing the work, being consistent, and starting to see the results. Sometimes though, you have to check your competitive ego at the door. When I'm out running and I see some guy in non-running clothes huffing and puffing and pass me, my instinct would be to speed up so I can show him who's boss. But I just have to let him go. I know that I can probably smoke him any day at any time. But training runs are not the time or place. Baseline tests and races are when you show up. Anything else, just limits your progress.

The proof is in the pudding.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Race Report: Ukrop's Monument Ave. 10k

As previously mentioned, Rebecca and I headed down to Richmond to stay with a friend and run the Monument Ave 10k. We did this race last year, so we were a lot more prepared for the largeness of the race. Despite the nearly 37,000 people that registered, the race does NOT come close to feeling that crowded. With 33 waves of runners (ranging from 750 to 3500 runners per wave) and each wave going off between 1-2 minutes after the one before it, the race is staggered quite a bit. Of course, because people are seeded on expected finish time, this can lead to crowding in some of the later waves, because not everyone knows what time to expect. Fortunately for me, I was in the 1st wave (sub-43 minutes) and all who wanted to be in this wave had to "qualify" from a previous race to be placed in it. So I only had to deal with the couple hundred people that were in front of me, rather than that thousands that most other people had to deal with.

About 30 minutes before the race started, I went out for an easy 2 mile jog, followed by some strides, and plyometrics to get a decent warm up. It was a mere 32 degrees at race start (Rebecca even slipped on some ice on the way to the race), so it took a little to get truly warmed up. With only about 5 minutes till the race start, I weaved my way through the 4 waves lined up behind the A Wave (I couldn't just jump in because they had metal fences to keep people from doing it), so I literally got into the A Wave with 2 minutes to spare. There were a few small announcements, a countdown, and then a simple "Go!" over the microphone. I guess since there are so many waves, it doesn't make sense to use a horn or starting gun.

Mile 1 - I was actually shocked at some of the slower paces my wave started out in. I purposely did not put myself toward the front of the wave, because with a wave of sub-43 minute runners, there is a pretty large range of times mixed in there (some as fast as sub-29 minutes!), so I didn't want to get sucked into too fast a pace. I wanted to ease into this race, unlike my traditional way of starting by blasting the 1st mile and burning the rest of the race. So I went at a comfortably hard pace, but by no means pushing or breathing too hard. My goal for these first 3 miles was to remain in control, but know that there is more in the tank. The course is generally up hill on the way out and generally downhill on the way back, so I figured if I could remain in control on the up, I'd cruise the down. I came through Mile 1 in 6:28 and knew that was pretty close to right where I should be at this level of effort.

Mile 2 - Mile 2 brought the first series of smaller rolling hills and also was primarily run on cobblestones, which made for interesting footing (and not to mention sore calf muscles!). I cruised through Mile 2 with a 6:40 split. I was pretty content, because my effort was solid and I really didn't feel tired at all yet.

Mile 3 - This last mile before the turnaround is the toughest of the course, since it contains the longest continuous uphill part of the course. I knew my pace would slip a little here, but I was mentally prepared for it. The goal continued to be to just run comfortably hard. I hit Mile 3 in 6:52, and crossed the 5k mark at 20:45. I knew if my legs would hold up according plan (running the 2nd half equal to or faster, a PR was in play).

Mile 4 - I started to push a little harder after I crossed the 5k mark, but also came to find more small rollers than I remembered, so my legs were beginning to tire. I still held a constant pace, trying to play cat and mouse with a few runners around me. I knocked the pace back down a bit, coming through in 6:46.

Mile 5 - I kept telling myself the hills were over, but they kept on coming. I remembered last year that the mile marker sign was right after a hill and one of the larger monuments on the course. Only problem was that it was another hill. Where did these come from? I told myself to just hold pace for this mile and to start pushing once I get to that marker and kick on the downhill. I hit Mile 5 in 6:43.

Mile 6 - With just a little bit to go, I knew I could start giving whatever I had left. I simply focused on proper form, smooth breathing, and just relaxing. Before I knew it, I could see the stage where the camera people take your picture above the course, just as runners enter the homestretch. I kept picking up the pace and pushing with what I had left. Mile 6 came through in 6:42. I was too focused on finishing hard, that I didn't pay attention to the last .2, but knew I finished strong.

Final Time: 41:37 (10k PR by 28 seconds, course PR by 1:11)
Avg Pace: 6:42/Mile
Avg HR: 181
Overall Place: 438/30,800 finishers
Age Group (30-34): 53/1600

I couldn't be more happy with the results. This race is just further proof that what I am doing in my training is the right thing for me. I did this race (and the one last year) with ZERO speedwork and still managed to PR by a large margin. In fact, aside from the 2 baseline tests I've done and my last 10k in December, I haven't run anywhere close to sub-7 minute pace for the past 4 months, yet my 10k PR has dropped by more than a minute. The reasons to explain all of this and more will come in another post.

Until then, I'm going to enjoy my shiny new PR ;)

P.S. I also wanted to give a big shout out to Rebecca who also smashed her 10k PR by a TON, but I'll let her do the talking on that.

P.P.S I managed to get in 3 games of beer pong, before being eliminated from the tournament. My partner, who was randomly picked out of names in a hat, had NEVER played a single game of beer pong before the tournament. So to be able to win 1 game was a success.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Volunteering at the National Marathon

Saturday morning, Rebecca and I volunteered at the National Marathon. Since I wasn't running it this year, I figured why not volunteer at it. We also roped a friend into it, because the aid station where we'd be working (Miles 1 and 15) was just a few blocks away from her apartment.

I have a new appreciation for those who work the aid stations. I've volunteered at races before several times. But I never worked the complete setup. When we arrived at 6:00 AM, we got started by setting up the tables one after another. After that, we started unpacking the jugs of water, before finally starting to fill the cups. Much to my surprise, this was a lot harder and took a lot longer than I figured. A LOT of cups fit on a one table. Add to that the fact that you are pouring from a 1 gallon water jog into a small cup. You have to be pretty gentle with the pouring, otherwise the cups fall over like dominos, resulting in a wet table and a lot of cups on the ground (not that it ever happened ;) ).

Then, it was on to the Powerade, which took even longer, because each cup had to be poured from the spout of the 10 gallon jugs we mixed it into. In total, setup took us right till 7:05 when the first runners started coming.

Once thr race came around, I was manned at the Powerade section, handing out red fruit punch flavored Powerade. Since we were at Mile 1, I didn't think too many people would be taking water, let alone Powerade. But sure enough, I couldn't unload the cups fast enough. With nearly 10,000 runners between the half and full marathon, it was a steady stream of runners for about 30 minutes.

At Mile 15 (the 2nd time the runners came through), local running legend Michael Wardian had a commanding 5 minute lead on everyone else. He of course went on the win the race by about the same margin, posting a 2:21:58 time.

By the end of the day, my fingers were bright red from all the Powerade. Note - this photo doesn't do the redness justice. They were REALLY bright red.

In all, this was a great time. I enjoyed interacting with the runners and cheering them on. I can't think of a better way to watch the race than by helping them out and being on the course. Congrats to any and all runners who ran on Saturday. The weather was amazing, and FAR different than it has been in the past.

Be sure to thank all volunteers - they work hard to make sure the race is executed smoothly!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Hello Bike, Remember Me

With all the nice weather had this weekend, I figured it was about time to dust off the bike. After my workouts on Saturday, I took the time to remain outside in the nice weather by giving my bike a much needed cleaning. After it was all shiny again, it sat there just asking to be ridden.

Since my running has been the focus, I haven't spent much time on my bike. Add to the fact that we had snow on the ground almost the entire winter and it was bitterly cold, I really had no motivation to get out and ride. Oh, the trainer? Yea. Not for me, unless I am training for something and absolutely must get in a ride. So that just gathered dust in the basement, along with the bike. You could pretty much say that I haven't been on a bike since October. I have however, been going to some spinning classes lately, but my riding has been sporadic at best.

So when the nice weather hit this past weekend, it made for a great opportunity to hit the roads. It was a short, sweet ride of only about 20 miles, but it felt good to get back out on the road. I love long distance running and going to places you wouldn't otherwise get to, but cycling takes that to a whole new level.

In my opinion, there is no better feeling than riding on a car-less road, out in a hilly area, which are not very far from my house. When out there, you find lots of nature and not much else. Just you, the trees, animals, and your bike. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday morning.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

2010 Schedule Update

Truth be told, I never actually spoke of a schedule, so this isn't really an update. As I had mentioned, I am not focusing on any particular race this year, simply focusing on running and whatever else I decide to do. I have rules to my plan, just nothing clearly defined other than having fun. I do however, have 2 updates.

Specifically, I am signed up for 2 races in the near future.

1) Ukrops Monument Ave 10k - You may remember this from last year. Rebecca and I went down a week removed from the National Marathon to visit a friend, run in the race, and play in a beer pong tournament (how could I forget to mention that part in the race report!). A great time, which we decided was worth a return visit and another shot at the beer pong title.

2) GW Parkway Classic 10 Miler - I ran this race way back in 2007, but have spectated/sherpa'd/photographed at this race the past 2 years, while Rebecca ran it. This year, I'm back with a vengeance and hoping to lower my 10 miler PR (1:13:49). This is one of my favorites in the area, due to the scenery, fast course, and great atmosphere.

So those are the 2 updates. Nothing crazy. Just some fun races that are a good time. I'm sure there will be more of these to come.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Returning from Vacation

You probably just figured I was lazy and not posting. I bet you never thought I was gone. Well I was and I am sad to say, I'm back. The feeling of waking up after a nice long vacation and realizing that life has to continue through the usual routine is never fun. But, the show must go on.

For the past week, Rebecca and I went to California, starting in San Diego, driving up the coast, and eventually ending in San Fransisco. It was quite the scenic journey. Our trip consisted of lots of food (fish tacos were my favorite), driving, hiking, running, wine tasting, and photos.

So without further ado, I bring you a few photo highlights from our trip:

Standing amongst the big waves in La Jolla

Who could argue with views like this...better than snow in DC!

Strange looking bird hangin out by the oceanNever seen anything greener that this

Part of the Big Sur Marathon Course (Bixby Bridge in the distance)

Hiking among the enormous redwoods in Big Sur

Surfer in Santa Cruz

There is something wrong about squirrels chewing on blue gum

Wine country in Sonoma

They wouldn't let me ship these barrels home, so I tried to drink as much as I could


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