Running quote of the week

"If you want to become a runner then get onto a trail, into the woods, or on a sidewalk or street and run. Go 50 yards if that’s all you can handle. Tomorrow, you can go farther." - Scott Jurek

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Runsketeers take on Eisenhower Park

The homeless guy offered to take this picture but I wanted to keep my phone
Today's run (Eisenhower Park): 6.4 miles

As I selected my gear this morning for today's run with my Runskebuds, I was a little concerned about the howling winds outside. I wondered if the story of the day would be about our group being blown all around Eisenhower Park. The wind didn't turn out to be much of a factor after all, but we did literally run all around the park.

I met the usual suspects in the Bear Park lot (#2). I don't know why it's called that. In fact, there isn't one sign calling it that, but SIOR told us to go there. It was pretty damn chilly and most of us dressed for the weather. One of us wore shorts. Guess who that was. We debated whether to run through the park, over to Hofstra University or along the perimeter of Eisenhower. We decided on the latter and off we went.

We stayed together for about a half mile, long enough for me to think I might be able to keep up my fleeter friends. KWL stayed with me and videoed our progress while TPP and SIOR burned up the bike trail. I did run close to my current pace which is much better than the last time I ran with this bunch. We regrouped around the two mile mark and made our plan to continue circling the park. I naively assumed that would total about four or five miles, but it turned out to be over six.

My splits were fairly even as I made my way around. My slowest mile was my 4th because I elected to run on the grass strip along Salisbury Park Drive because I didn't want to run on that road due to cars. The surface was pretty runnable but the uneven surface slowed me down. The slope at times was a foot higher on my right leg compared with my left.

We regrouped again when we reached Carmen Ave, just short of five miles. My friends fed me a line that we were "very close" to our endpoint. I appreciated that because running Salisbury seemed endless. As it turned out, running Carmen was more of the same. When it spilled out to Hempstead Turnpike, I realized I'd been duped. I had no choice but to keep running and I eventually made it back to reunite with my friends at the Bear lot.

It seems smaller when you're driving around it
We headed to Starbucks, as is our wont, and the place was crawling with Alpha Epsilon Phi sisters who were getting their mid-morning caffeine rush. By the time we got our coffee, the big table was free, so we swooped in. Well the table was mostly free. There was one guy sitting there who may or may not have been a homeless person. He was kind of creepy but we were nice to him.

SIOR sent a group picture via Instagram and Facebook and hash tagged some of our conversational highlights: Garmin, Shoekicker, Sketchers, Underarmor, ASICS, Brooks, Apple, Time Warner, Jeep Wrangler, politics, flashers, clowns, Berlin Marathon 2016. There was certainly more than that, but I thought that was a great summary.

The time went by unbelievably fast, but then again it always does. We agreed to meet again in November and the plan right now is to run a 5K in early December. It will be my first race in two years. I'm not quite where I want to be for a race right now, but I'm getting there.

I love the Runsketeers and today was great as always. They made me run over six miles, something I probably wouldn't have done without their company. Despite feeling like parts of the run would never end, I really liked today's workout. I feel like I'm holding my gains and I know I will soon be a little faster. KWL, SIOR and TPP inspire and motivate me to push harder than I have in a long time. Our Starbucks conversations go everywhere and are always entertaining. I look forward to the day when I can join the conversation while we're still on the road.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Denial of both service and stimulation

Treadmill data more stimulating than treadmill
Today's run (treadmill): 4 miles
Yesterday's run (street): 3.1 miles

This weekend's weather isn't great for running, but I managed to get in a couple of workouts today and Friday. Yesterday my friend and portfolio advisor (Steve) came by for one of our periodic financial reviews. Before we got down to business, we hit my neighborhood roads for a tidy 5K run.

Steve is a Crossfit guy whose workouts focus primarily on strength training and high intensity activities. Cross-fitters incorporate running into their training, but it's typically 400 meter intervals between squats, push ups and other dynamic stationary exercises. I imagine it would be hard to adapt from intensely anaerobic workouts to an aerobic training event like running. Steve said the first mile is always his slowest. I'm guessing that's due to the heavy cardio aspect of running.

Steve and I ran my typical Friday route and the pace we set seemed challenging to us both. We were surprised to discover that our speed did not reflect our perceived efforts. After Gmapping the route, I calculated that we'd averaged about 10:30 a mile. We did talk the entire time and that's an indicator that we weren't pushing all that hard. According to Garmin Connect, I averaged 76% max HR which is about nine percentage points lower than what I've recorded on recent high 9:00 runs.

After Steve and I finished up, I settled into my work, only to discover that my company's email system was down due to the massive DDoS attack on Dyn. That was fine as I had plenty of non-email work to do and, fortunately, our other systems were accessible through the VPN. By 5:00 PM, our mail server started pushing through messages. I caught up with the most important stuff and left the rest for Monday morning.

This morning the weather had taken a turn for the worse. I'm willing to run in sub-optimal conditions but the howling winds, steady rain and chilly temperatures forced me to accept the treadmill as my only real option. My enthusiasm for today's run dropped a few levels, but I dutifully got on board.  I set the speed to 5.6 MPH and edged it up to 6.1 throughout the run. Unlike running outdoors where you can see your progress, the treadmill provides very little sensory stimulation. I spent the entire time thinking about the wonderful moment when I would hit the stop button.

With humidity close to 100%, I felt all used up at the end. I've been hoping for more dramatic improvement in my performance but I'm leveling right now. Still, at this level, I'm running almost a minute per mile faster than I did in September. Yesterday's humidity was 94% and today's was worse, so I'll blame that for not pushing any harder.

I'm excited that I'm going to see the Runsketeers tomorrow. Per my opening reference to the weather, the winds on Sunday are supposed to be fierce, with gusts up to 40 MPH and a real feel in the high 30's. Should be fun.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Back to the track, two years later

Run fast, repeat
Today's run (track): 1 mile warm-up, 1 mile intervals, 1 mile cool down (total 3.1 miles)

Unlike most weekend mornings, I woke up knowing exactly what my workout would be. I knew it had been some time since I did speed work, but it wasn't until I looked at Garmin Connect that I realized I hadn't run a full set of intervals since June 15, 2014. I've been noticeably improving my performance over the past few weeks and I figured doing repeats would be a good way to end a great week of running.

It was cool but humid when I started this morning. I did a mile warm-up at 9:53 and followed that with 10 x 110 and 4 x 125 meter sprints, separated by 30 second rest periods. I'd read that rest time for short intervals should be three times the run duration, but I was impatient. Surprisingly, my speed remained pretty consistent from start to finish, and even improved a little by the end. The other surprise was that my heart rate stayed at around 77% max while running. I would have expected it to spike a lot higher.

After I finished my speed work, I thought my cool down would feel easy. That was not the case, although it started feeling easier by lap two. I ran the last mile at 10:27 which was faster than it felt. I'd averaged 6:32 for the interval mile.

I was fortunate to be home for three days last week and got in six total workouts. I always perform better when I run with greater frequency. I'm concerned that I'll fall back to three to four workouts a week. In any case, I'm hoping I'll be able to hold the gains I've made this week.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

A good Bethpage run guided by heart rate

85% maxed out
Today's run (Bethpage bike trail): 4.4 miles

The air felt chilly this morning, but I resisted the temptation to add an extra layer on top. That was a good move, although I do wish I'd run in shorts rather than track pants. I've had a good week of running that included spending a little time on dirt trails. Today's trail was paved, but still preferable to running on the road.

I wasn't sure if Bethpage State Park is still collecting tolls on the weekend so I headed over to Colonial Road to park. The wind made the 45° temperature feel closer to 41° and that prompted me to go out fast to generate a little heat. My second mile was slower than the first, but I settled down and had negative splits on the miles after that. My overall pace wasn't in the nine minute range, but it was better than my current average. And that pace is a significant improvement over where I was at the beginning of this month.

The section of the Bethpage trail that runs north of Haypath Road is rolling with a few noticeable hills. Those hills have roughed me up at times and I didn't enjoy them today, but they didn't slow me down at all. The weather brought out a lot of runners, many in groups, and I wondered if these people were training for fall races. I'm considering a return to racing this year, targeting a 5K that I'd do with the Runsketeers in December.

From Haypath to Washington and back
That said, my training still has a ways to go. I pushed to stay over 80% HR max throughout most of today's run and stayed between 83-86% throughout the second half. I ran the last half mile at 9:36. Perceived effort was high considering the unremarkable speed. Still, I'm pretty sure running mid-9's would have put my heart rate above 90% max a month ago and I appreciate the conditioning gains so far.

I may head to the track tomorrow to do some repeats. I'm hoping that will unlock a little more speed. My first performance improvements happened on the track earlier in the month. Perhaps these intervals will take that a little further.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Back on the trail with Adventure Girl

Adventure on the OCA
Today's workout (elliptical): 30 minutes
Yesterday's workout (OCA Trail): 3.5 miles

It had been more than five years since I ran with Adventure Girl, but when we got onto the Old Croton Aqueduct (OCA) trail yesterday, it was like we'd never left. AG was in town from her home in Missoula for a college reunion and then some. Her schedule this week was very busy and I was thrilled that she came to my office on Thursday to run the OCA with me. Although it's less than a half a mile from my office, it was the first time I've been on the OCA since we ran it back in 2009.

The plan was for AG to accompany me home after the run so she could join the ER family for dinner. Our challenge was getting on the trail in time to get a few miles before we made the long drive back to Long Island. We'd considered running at Rockefeller State Park, but the extra driving would have gotten us home too late. Instead, we relied on AG's supernatural navigation skills and found parking that got us very close to one of the OCA entry points.

After running a steep grade north of Greystone station, we reached the trail and proceeded north. This trail runs from the Bronx to Croton and passes through a number of towns. The trail sits between residential areas yet feels as remote as being in the woods. We were able to see the Palisades and the Hudson River and shared our path with a couple of deer. We turned around when we reached Hastings-on-Hudson. Our pace wasn't especially fast, but we moved along. I gave AG details about my back injury and recovery and she told me about her adventures running an informal 54 mile ultra across the Bob Marshall Wilderness and a 50K she did in Oregon.

Our run seemed to go by in minutes and we managed to get back to my house in enough time for dinner and a birthday celebration for both AG and my son. AG is like a family celebrity and we had a great time catching up with her. All too soon we were putting her on a train back to NYC so she could continue her New York adventures for one more day.

Between the two weekday holidays and yesterday's run, I managed to get to the weekend with more miles than usual. I did an elliptical session today as a change of pace, but I'm expecting to get back out on the trail (paved or otherwise) tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Breaking the nine minute ceiling

Can you tell I ran faster?
Today's run (street): 3.2 miles
Monday's run (street): 3.25 miles

Two very different holidays this week provided me opportunities for weekday runs. My company was closed for Columbus day so I had a nice three day weekend and was able to fit in an extra workout. I took advantage of being home and accompanied my daughter to her college to hang out before her classes started. It was great spending time with my her. Even with that, I got home early enough to get out for a run before 8:30.

Conditions were chilly, 50° with 14 MPH winds, making it feel like low 40's. With those strong winds, I kept my expectations moderate, but I found the conditions energizing. I haven't radically changed my approach to my running, but I'm increasing my effort a lot more right now. Over the past few years I've slipped into an easy running style. Some of this was due to carrying extra weight, making any level of effort feel hard. I'm now at the same weight that I was when I was running faster. There's definitely a correlation between weight and performance.

I finished my run and calculated my true pace (elapsed time and Gmap'd distance) and saw that I'd averaged 10:08 per mile. On many people's scale that might look slow, but for me it was a big improvement over where I was a month ago. My goal right now is to run consistently in the 9's (9:59 is okay) but according to Garmin Connect, I haven't broken 10 minutes on a run since December 2014. That was the Jingle All the Way 5K that I ran shortly before I suffered a herniated disc.

Today was a different holiday, Yom Kippur. This is a day when the observant fast and atone and the non-observant think about life and get in a few miles. I didn't go out with expectations of speed and would have been glad just to come close to Monday's pace. The weather was cool but a little humid (87%) and I gave no thought to my performance until I came through my first mile a few ticks over ten minutes. That made me think I had a real chance of breaking the 9:00 ceiling.

I maintained this level of effort and noticed that my heart rate was still at 75% of max so I stepped it up to 81% through the second mile and did the last mile (my fastest) at 86%. The highest I got was 88% so I know I have  more to draw on. I ended up breaking into the 9 minute range on this run, with an overall pace of 9:48.

I'm going to try to consistently hit high 9's before I start thinking about even greater performance. Getting in some extra runs and miles has helped. My biggest challenge right now is to keep that going. Tomorrow Adventure Girl and I will do a trail run near my office. I can't remember the last time we ran together, but it's been years. Me and my family are excited to see her and catch up on her wild life in Montana. AG taught me almost everything I needed to know about running when I took it up in 2008. I look forward to more lessons tomorrow.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Good running beats treadmill tedium

Oh, hello deer
Today's run (treadmill): 4.1 miles

Mother nature can be thoughtless when it comes to my running preferences. I woke up this morning to driving rain that wouldn't stop no matter how many times I looked out the window. Once I started to believe the weather reports, it became clear that my only option would be to run inside on the treadmill. I really didn't want to do that, and thought one more time about braving the rain and the accompanying high winds. Ultimately, I decided that running outside in those conditions while wearing glasses would not work too well.

I stalled as long as I could by setting up the floor fan and gearing up for my treadmill session. As I did all that, I thought about the performance gains I've made in recent weeks and hoped they would translate to this type of workout. I finally hit the start button and set my speed to what I averaged for pace on yesterday's outdoor run.

I know I keep mentioning the Garmin FR 35, but that's because it surprises me (in a good way) every time I use it. This morning I selected "indoor run" and hit start. Once I got going, I saw that it was tracking my pace and distance (and of course heart rate). That's a huge upgrade from my old FR 210 that required a foot pod to capture any run data. As I went along, I compared my speed and distance between the treadmill and watch display that were roughly equivalent.

The tedium of the treadmill experience motivated me to dial up my speed throughout my run. I ended up pacing only 19 seconds per mile slower than my next big performance target. I would have hit that had I done today's run one minute faster. Still, it was my fastest pace on the treadmill since I ran intervals on it earlier this year. My cadence and stride length were also captured and showed improvement from yesterday.

Later in the day, the ER family went out to lunch and then stopped into Dick's in Mellvile. This store has just doubled in size with the addition of a Field & Stream store. My efforts to find some decent lightweight track pants went nowhere (and by the way Dick's, have you heard of any other clothing brands besides Nike, Under Armor and Adidas?) but it was fun to explore the adjacent Field & Stream store.

I don't do guns and have only fished a few times, so I wasn't interested in any of that stuff. However, the outdoor clothing was fun to look at and I always want to buy one of those Carhartt heavy duty hooded sweatshirts when I see them. The showroom had a big display with a bunch of real (stuffed) animals, including elk, moose, wild turkeys and this caribou (see picture at the top) that took a selfie with me.

Tomorrow is Columbus day and that will give me another weekend day to get in a run. There's no rain expected for tomorrow, so I'll be doing that outside. Today's treadmill experience was mostly positive and I was pleased with my performance. But ten times out of ten, I'd rather run outside.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Performance gains from running by heart

Getting to the heart of the matter
Today's run (street): 4.4 miles
Yesterday's run (street): 3.2 miles
Monday's run (street): 2.1 miles
Sunday's run (Bethpage bike trail): 4.2 miles

I've been doing more running than blogging these days, with four workouts since my last post. Every time I've gone out since last weekend, I quietly thank KWL for sending me my FR35. While I have made stamina gains resulting from cutting out most processed sugar in my diet (and losing a few pounds in the process), it hadn't done much for my performance. The FR35 has been a real catalyst for some measurable gains in that area. So thank you once again KWL.

Last Sunday I went to Bethpage to run the bike trail and ended up covering a little more than 4 miles. I ran it about 9% faster than my average pace over the past six months. Having my heart rate showing in real time helped me apply more effort that resulted in better performance. I respond to HR feedback positively, while tracking pace tends to discourage me.

I went home from work early on Monday and went out for a rare afternoon run. It was only two miles, but it was the fastest two miles I've run all year. Yesterday morning I did my usual Friday route. I didn't get around as fast as I had on my prior three runs, but it was fast compared to a couple of weeks ago.

This morning I aimed for a little more distance and headed out with performance running on my mind. Performance is relative of course, but my perceived exertion matched the 80%-92% max HR that my Garmin recorded. I ended up pacing around my new average, but I'd hoped for more.

In terms of performance, I'm still 5% slower than the top end of my current target and I'm 10% away from where I really want to be. More significantly, I'm running 30 seconds to a minute per mile faster than just a few weeks ago. When I get to the pace range I'm aiming for, I'll consider racing again.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Putting the Garmin FR 35 to the test

First time with the FR 35
Today's run (street): 5.2 miles

It's October and I'm loving the cooler weather. But I wasn't loving the light rain that greeted me when I stepped outside for today's run. I considered staying inside and running on the treadmill, but I really wanted to see how my new Garmin performed. I learned later that the FR35 will actually track my distance indoors using its built in accelerometer. Better yet, no foot pod is needed, although the pod may provide a little extra performance data.

The 57° air felt chilly when I stepped outside. I decided to add a lightweight rain jacket that helped keep me dry, but I started heating up after a couple of miles. Had I run without the jacket I may have clipped a few seconds off my pace. Even with that, today's run was the second fastest pace I've held since February.

It took almost five minutes to acquire a signal on the Garmin, probably due to the cloudy and raining conditions. I had hoped that would improve with the new watch. Perhaps it will on clearer days. Despite the rough weather, I encountered a number of runners and walkers within the first few minutes. My running felt strong and I looked at my watch to see my progress. It was then that I realized that I'd set up the display to show heart rate, running time and pace, but not distance.

That was frustrating, but I was able to estimate how far I'd run by dividing elapsed time by pace in my head. The Garmin connects to my phone through Bluetooth and acts as an activity tracker. When I got home, I discovered that my run data, along with all my steps, had been automatically uploaded to the Garmin Connect app on my phone. Even without the foot pod, I still got cadence and average stride length along with pace, elevation, heart rate, route map and a few other metrics.

I'm very happy that fall is happening and I'm excited that Adventure Girl will be coming for a visit in a couple of weeks. We're going to run the Old Croton Aqueduct trail near my current office. I haven't run that trail since AG and I took the train from our office in NYC to Irvington seven years ago.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Garmin FR 35: I never saw it coming

Welcome back data
Today's run (street): 3.2 miles

This afternoon the fine folks at UPS dropped off a package at my house. I opened the box and saw that it contained a Garmin Forerunner 35 GPS watch. I really wanted the FR35 to replace my FR210 that I lost on the Bethpage trail a couple of weeks ago. Interestingly, I never ordered the watch. It wasn't until my wife told me that my friend and fellow Runsketeer KWL had sent it. I couldn't believe it, but I was very excited.

One of the reasons KWL wanted me to have the watch was to encourage me to focus again on my performance when I run. The FR35 has a lot of tracking features including an optical heart rate monitor that obviates the need for a chest strap. I prefer to run by heart rate/zone rather than pace and I'll be able to do that easily. It also works as an activity monitor. I didn't realize that until it rudely beeped at me and said "Move!" on the display.

I wish I had this watch when I went out this morning on my run. Instead, I ran with my stopwatch. That was fine, but I missed being able to track time and distance. All the same, the stopwatch did give me some useful feedback. I generally run the same route every Friday and knew exactly where I'd hit the one mile mark. Although my stopwatch was securely attached to my SPIbelt, I was able to catch a glimpse of the elapsed time. I saw that I ran the first mile 30 seconds faster than my most recent (improving) pace.

Going forward, my challenge will be choosing to push performance rather than enjoying the experience of a free form run. Today's conditions were cool and fairly dry and my running felt easy. I ran faster than I have in many months but it didn't feel hard. It felt great. I can push even harder and run even faster, but I don't know how far to go with that. I'm going to target 85% max HR tomorrow and see how that feels. If it feels okay, maybe a little speed will be worth the extra effort.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

This fail is all on me

Post-fail elapsed time
Today's run (street): 4.5 miles

Once again, I encountered a problem timing my run and this time it was self sabotage. Without a working watch to help me keep track of time, I took my stopwatch that I sometimes use for intervals. That simple tool would give me everything I'd need to calculate my performance on today's run. I've had so much bad luck with the devices I use to capture my running metrics that I decided going low tech was the right path. What I didn't count on was how easily I could screw that up.

The weather was perfect when I went out this morning. There was no sign of humidity and the strong breezes cooled without biting. I love fall running and easily settled into a steady rhythm while I mentally mapped out my route. I've been taking advantage of the new sidewalks along SOB Road that provide a nice straight section that goes on for a while. As I neared the end of that road, I stopped for a moment to check my time. I put my hand in my pocket to pull out my stopwatch and my finger brushed the reset button. Before I looked, I knew I had wiped out my time.

Gmap'd route
I stood in front of the town library and thought about what to do. I had only a hazy idea about when I started my run so that wouldn't help me calculate my overall time. The one thing I knew was where I was when I checked (and screwed up my time) so I could use that as a starting point for timing the rest of my run.

Now where did I put that cheap trinket?
I restarted the stopwatch and continued along through my last miles, pushing harder than I had before my timing failure. The cool weather helped a lot and I probably would have gone further if I was able to track my actual distance. Now that I know how easy it is to accidentally reset the stopwatch, I'll be a lot more careful. A few years ago Runners World sent me a "running watch" as a subscription premium (see above) that was laughably cheap looking. I put it away somewhere. At the time I dismissed it as junk, but who's laughing now?

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Bad Garmin, bad judgment

How far & how fast? Garmin's not talking
Today's run (street): 4.4 miles
Yesterday's run (street): 3.2 miles

My stopwatch would have been a better choice than my FR 60 on today's run, but I didn't realize that until I was about three miles in. That's when I experienced another Garmin meltdown. I naively thought that the Garmin was back to its old self because the timer seemed to be working again. I wasn't able to pair it with my foot pod, but I didn't really care. In fact, even if I could, the data would have been flawed because I hadn't calibrated the foot pod in six years.

It's finally fall and that means the weather is much more run friendly in the morning. Yesterday I ran my usual Friday circuit a little faster than usual and I was happy about that. I don't know if I've turned a corner in terms of pacing, but I'm generally running 45 seconds to a minute per mile faster than just a few weeks ago. I suspect cooler conditions contributed, but some of it must be due to improved fitness.

This morning I completely ignored what was happening outside and only noted the 59° temperature posted by the local news station. When I stepped outside, I felt a light but steady rain falling. I went back inside to change my running shoes because I didn't want the Zantes to get soaked. I went into the guest room to get new shoes from my gear cabinet and my wife was running on the treadmill. I told her it was raining and she said, "I told you that twice this morning." Actually she had mentioned it, but I'd decided the rain would stop before I went out.

A few minutes later I was out the door with different shoes and my ASICS rain jacket. Despite the extra layer, I stayed comfortable because of a steady breeze coming from the north. I wore the hood for the first mile. Although the conditions were cool, the humidity fogged my glasses. Things got better when I removed the hood when the rain lightened to a mist.

At least Gmaps still works
I enjoyed the cool breeze and the cloud-covered sky and I started to wonder how much time had passed since I'd started. I glanced at the Garmin which showed I'd been running about 30 minutes. I calculated in my head that, based on the rest of my planned route, I'd end up running about four and a quarter miles. About a minute after I'd checked the time, I heard the same sound that I heard at the end of last Sunday's run on the Bethpage trail. Once again, the Garmin's display said "Scanning" and I knew that I'd lost both the timer and my elapsed time.

I finished the rest of my run without knowing how long or far I'd gone. I hadn't taken note of the time when I left, so I couldn't calculate my pace based on post-run mapping and duration. I can estimate it roughly, but the margin of error is wide. I located my stopwatch when I got home and will take that along tomorrow. I'll get a GPS watch eventually, but for now I'll track my metrics like they did in the olden days. By that I mean in 2005 when Google launched Gmaps.

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