Sunday, September 29, 2013

Despite real evidence, a puzzle remains

Cadence confirmed
Today's run (5.3 miles)

This morning's run brought me closer to understanding the impact of the metronome, but there is still a missing piece of the puzzle. I put a new battery in my foot pod and clipped it to my shoe for the first time since I bought my Garmin FR210 in May 2011. The FR210 uses GPS, but the foot pod allows me to capture my cadence during my run. It's a metric I've missed having when I analyze my performance data.

The good news is that I now have proof that the metronome works. I set the app for 87 SPM before I started and the data shows I averaged exactly that on today's run. This is no coincidence. I have mounds of pre-FR210 data that shows that (at best) I used to average 83 SPM on a training run. The cause and effect of the metronome's beat could not be clearer. All I have to do is jump it up to 90 SPM and my performance is optimized. Problem solved!

(Cue sound of record scratch)

What? That's not the whole story?!! Indeed it is not. While there seems to be evidence supporting the effectiveness of a metronome, the result of today's 87 SPM performance was an average pace of 9:42 per mile. I measured my route using two different browsers (Milemeter is behaving much better now) and they were pretty consistent, so I'm going with that pace. So cadence improves, and my pace gets worse. Huh?

The last puzzle piece clearly involves stride length. It's likely that I'm achieving my SPM target by maintaining a shorter stride. It makes sense that opening stride length with an increasingly higher cadence will bring my pace down to my targeted level. Sounds easy, but we all know the danger of over striding. I think I'll take one victory at a time and work my way up to 90/180 SPM and see what that gets me. Once I can do that consistently (and without the need for a metronome), I can start experimenting with stride technique.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Measure for measure, I don't like this change

New and improved?
Today's run (street): 5 miles

In business, many people subscribe to the idea that, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." I made my career challenging that notion and I firmly believe (at least in technology) that complacency is the enemy of success. Okay, no more clich├ęs, but I do believe that open source technologies further the cause of progress. So am I a hypocrite to condemn the new Gmaps version that just went up, using OpenLayers in place of the Google Maps API?

I've relied on Gmaps for years as a tool to precisely measure my routes. Foot pods and GPS watches/apps both fall short due to calibration, route angles or weather. I always use mapping, combined with time, to calculate my exact pace. This morning I was surprised to see a new interface for Gmaps. I also discovered that Gmaps is now an open source supported framework, and will now be called Milermeter. It wasn't until I tried mapping this morning's run that I started to grumble.

I won't go into the specific issues that I had, but I will say that the interface can use some refinement. I'm not sure of the reason, but items flicker on screen and the tools behaved inconsistently. I'm also unsure about the accuracy. I mapped my route using "Milermeter" with both Chrome and Firefox and saw a 1.5% difference in distance between them. Both measurements fell short of what my Garmin captured, surprising because that usually under-counts distance.

Forgetting the technology issues for a moment, this morning's run turned out to be a really good workout. I ran over to the business park to run the loop a few times. This route offers either a steady uphill for almost a mile, or a shorter but steeper section if you run it in the opposite direction. I took the steeper option and made three circuits before heading home.

I used my metronome app and set it to 87 SPM. Although I felt I was coordinating my steps with metronome, I didn't end up with a particularly fast pace. To be fair, except for the hill, I didn't push that hard, although I kept a steady stride throughout the run. Right now, I care more about managing up my cadence than speed. If I understand how this all works, better paces should follow

Friday, September 27, 2013

Knee problems? Don't blame running!

 
If you think walking is a better way to exercise than running because it's easier on your knees, you would be incorrect. That is according to a Canadian study that tested both the force and frequency of steps for runners and walkers. The New York Times published an article about this study on Wednesday. The conclusion stated, "Measured over a particular distance, 'running and walking are essentially indistinguishable,' in terms of the wear and tear they may inflict on knees."

I know a few people who claim that they used to run, but can't anymore, "because it hurt their knees." I have no doubt that they think that's true. I've always thought that knee problems are predetermined and would surface regardless of any sport that these people practiced. The article also quoted a doctor and kinesiology professor who said, "the study’s results intimate that running potentially could be beneficial against arthritis." I thought so!

Today my wife and I repeated last Friday's Bethpage experience with a 70 minute walk, primarily on the wooded trails. We alternated our walking with a few minutes of running. My wife runs 45 minutes a day on the treadmill, but she has never done a trail run. She loved the the spongy feel of the main trail and I took her on some of the less groomed paths within the interior sections. We walked the last couple of miles on the bike trail. I'm not sure how much ground we covered because I forget to bring my Fitbit.

Tomorrow I may return to Bethpage to run, using the metronome to try to further increase my cadence. It will also be an opportunity to run a few hills as I prepare for the long uphill climb on my upcoming 5K.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Metronome running: Calls and Cadence

Runnis Interruptus
Today's run (street): 3.4 miles

Using a metronome may have actually helped my cadence this morning. Once I start using my foot pod (good suggestion FS) I will know for sure. It was a weird run, punctuated by a ringing cellphone that I would normally ignore. Today I had two good reason to stop. First, the call was business related and important. Second, the ringing phone shut the metronome app off. Grrr.

I used the Metronome Beats app today because it has better features than the one I tried yesterday. Most importantly, it punches out beats loud and clear, unlike Metronome Mobile's softer sound. I set it for two clicks per beat, which is easier than trying to coordinate two footfalls to a single beat. Focusing on the sound made my first mile go by quickly and the odd beeping noise produced double takes from neighbors as I passed by.

The phone call caused an interruption and I was honest about being in the middle of a run. That was no problem and I think the endorphins helped keep me calm during an intense conversation. Soon I was back to the run and I realized that it would be easier to time my arm-swing to the rhythm, rather than try to keep my footfalls synchronized.  Do your arms move at the same rate as your cadence? That would be interesting to know.

I moved really well and everything was fine, until the app quit about half a mile from home. I considered stopping and restarting the metronome, but I'd already stopped once on the run. I tried to "think" the beat that I'd been following and that may have worked. Today's pace was 9:22 and it felt fairly easy. I'd set the metronome one SPM faster than yesterday and that yielded a 2.4% improvement in pace. That assumes a lot, but it was progress and that came from somewhere.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Running cadence, there's an app for that

Metronome apps
Today's run (street): 3.4 miles

Yesterday I wrote that I wanted to increase my run cadence, but wasn't sure how to approach it. I got a comment from fellow running blogger, The Petite Pacer, who suggested I try a metronome phone app. That was a great idea and I downloaded a couple of free ones, Metronome Beats and Mobile Metronome. After researching how to use a metronome for cadence, I was good to go.

I decided to use Mobile Metronome first, and set the BPM at 85, which is undoubtedly higher than my current SPM. Back when I used a foot pod, my cadence typically averaged 80 SPM on the road and 83 SPM on the treadmill. I wanted to set an aspirational cadence, rather than start with the ideal of 90/180 SPM. I was curious whether I'd be able to sync my steps with the metronome's rhythm.

I always run with my phone and I keep it in a SPIbelt on my waist. Even after setting both the phone and application volumes to their maximum, the sound of the beat was faint. Under normal conditions I could hear it, but the occasional sounds of helicopters, lawnmowers and passing school buses would drown it out. The challenge of matching stride with beat was a little tough. I decided to let it happen naturally by focusing on the beeps.

I'm not sure that I achieved my targeted cadence today, since I have no way to capture the metric. I felt like I was on top of the beat, but it's hard to really know. My overall pace, a pedestrian 9:37, doesn't indicate fast turnover. Tomorrow I'm going to try the Beats app that provides the option of beat pairs that could help me sync both steps. The app also offers more ways to shape the sound, so I'm hoping it will be easier to hear, even with lots of background noise.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Soreness is gone, so back to the road


Today's run (street): 3.3 miles

It's fall and today's weather acted appropriately, with sun, minimal humidity and cool air. I went out early and the temperature on my phone app said 50°. I wore my vividly orange long sleeve running shirt with shorts and was very comfortable throughout the run. Conditions make all the difference.

Today was my first run since Cow Harbor. The race and Sunday's lift-and-carry workout put my legs into tough shape and I carried that soreness all day on Monday. I'd worn my Zensah compression calf sleeves on the prior two days, in hopes of reducing the level of lactic acid that was making my leg muscles feel stiff and uncomfortable. Last night, as I headed upstairs, I noted that my legs were still very much in need of recovery time.

When I took my first few steps onto the road today, I was pleased to note that my stride felt good. Not perfect, but certainly better than I'd expected. I must have benefited from a good night's sleep. I didn't push hard but I made sure that I kept my pace within the acceptable range (and faster than my Cow Harbor pace). As I progressed, I noticed more muscle stiffness, but that didn't slow me down much.

I ended up happy with the run and appreciated returning home without feeling like I was drenched in sweat. If the temperature and humidity remain low, I hope to bring my intensity up a notch and take advantage of higher performance relative to heart rate. I know I need to increase my cadence if I'm going to make improvements in my pacing. I wish I knew the best approach for doing that.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The recovery day that wasn't

Glider launch at Stillwell
Yesterday's recovery day didn't turn out to be all that relaxing, but it was fun. This morning I am feeling a little sore. The soreness came from a few different sources, ranging from residual race effects, an impromptu hike and a much needed upper body workout.

I'd considered doing a shakeout run on Sunday morning to loosen up after a fairly intense Cow Harbor run. Instead, my son and I headed over to Stillwell Woods, so he could get some pictures for a school assignment. His focus was on getting some shots of a rusted Oldsmobile that has served as a landmark on the Trailview path for as long as I've visited the preserve.

While we made our way to the car, we noticed a number of cars parked along the edge of the big field with a group of people with model glider planes. One of the people invited us over to see what they were doing. It was a competition put on by the Eastern Soaring League. These $2,000 planes, with what looked like 8' wingspans, are launched into the air and remotely controlled. The goal is to land them close to a one hundred inch target. It was fun to watch that for a while.

My son doing some technical trail running
Look closely, there's a snake in there
We eventually reached the car and my son got his pictures. We decided to go deeper into the woods and found ourselves in more technical territory where we made our way up some steep rises and down sharply angled cutouts. On our way back we encountered a snake (I may have stepped on it) that was scurrying across the trail. We got some pictures before it disappeared back into the woods.

For all intents and purposes, this is my gym
Later in the day, the family headed to a food pantry in East Northport where we volunteer (via Island Harvest) every few months. It's always a great experience. My wife and kids focus on distributing small items to recipients who come through, while I carry packed boxes to people's cars. It's a lot of up and down steps and a very good upper body workout.

After all that, I needed a recovery day for my "recovery" day. That's fine, I'll focus on business today and resume my run training tomorrow. I may sneak in some core work later, because stretching might help get me back to shape. It was a great weekend and a little Monday soreness actually feels pretty good.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Race report: 2013 Great Cow Harbor 10K

See, some people finished after me!
Today's race (Great Cow Harbor 10K): 6.2 mile - (9:53 pace)

Another Cow Harbor race has come and gone. Just like the three that I'd run prior to today, I'm incredibly impressed by both the effort and the execution. It's a massive undertaking, with many moving parts. Cow Harbor relies on a well organized army of dedicated volunteers at every stage, and they make it one of the greatest races in the country.

The flow of a Cow Harbor morning has a certain familiarity. First you have to find the high school (I often miss that tricky left on Old Pine lane), find a parking spot (easy at 7:00 AM) and get on a shuttle bus. The ride from there to the Laurel Ave school takes me back to junior high (do we have gym today? I hope we don't have to run!). The walk from the bus to the school provides time to evaluate your level of energy and to gauge weather conditions.

Starting line an hour before the race
Every time I've run Cow Harbor, the heat and humidity have been a factor. However, before the start, it can feel chilly. I usually head into the building to maintain warmth and people watch and then go outside to get in line for the Porto's before they stretch as far as the starting corrals. I ran into some friends this morning who were also running the race, although I didn't see everyone I'd hoped to see.

Elite runner registration desk
I found my place in the 9000 section and made small talk with my corral-mates while we waited. After the playing of the national anthem the announcer started the first wave, that consists of elite and semi-elite runners. A minute later the 1000's went, and eight minutes after that, my group was unleashed. I never really know how ready I am until I'm actually on my way. Those first few minutes told me that I might have some problems today.

Scudder Ave is the first main component of the course and everyone talks about the temptation to run it full tilt because it's pretty much down hill. What I always forget is that Scudder starts out with a noticeable uphill, and today it felt difficult just getting past it. Uh, oh. If that was hard, how would I do on Bayview and James?

Once Scudder began to slope down, I felt some rhythm return to my stride. We reached Woodbine and then passed Main Street to big crowds and bagpipers. Bayview is mostly uphill, but mildly so, and I was doing okay, although I definitely wasn't feeling my best. I was amused when a spectator yelled, "You guys look great!" and the runner behind me yelled back, "Thank you for lying!" We all knew what was in store for us in a couple of minutes.

As I rounded the corner onto James Street, I thought about whether I'd like Cow Harbor more if this hill wasn't part of the route. In that moment, I realized that "Widow Hill" was the defining element of the race. Today it defined me as well.

I've prided myself in races past, on my ability to take James Street at a steady pace and make it through, sweating but unscathed. I really struggled this morning and was tempted to walk, but I never had before and I wasn't going to today. I kind of wish that I had, because it took me another half mile before I felt my strength return. I lost at least a minute off my overall race time as I worked back to race pace.

Coming down Ocean near Eatons Neck turn
I was doing okay at three miles and was delighted to see an ex-work colleague at the point where Ocean Ave meets Eaton's Neck Rd. I told her that I'd be coming through around 9:15 but it was closer to 9:05. She yelled, "You're doing better than you predicted!" Sadly, no. I just got the math wrong.

The rest of the race was a puzzlement. While I wasn't feeling my best, I was running credibly and attacking every downhill I could find to make up some time. Waterside Rd, with its long uphill slope, can hit you hard in the later miles of the race. I felt that I was maintaining my targeted cadence and speed and the split announcements made me think I was tracking for a mid-9:00 time or better.

There was no point in the race where I felt overwhelmed by the effort and I remained hopeful that I'd match or exceed last year's time. The last big challenge of the race is Pumpernickel Hill and I found it slightly tougher (and seemingly longer) than in past years, but I got over it and put everything into the remaining distance (about .9 miles). I didn't back off the throttle until I crossed the finish line.

When I looked at my Garmin and saw that it took me 61 minutes to get through the course, I was a bit disappointed. I couldn't understand why I missed my target, especially after the speed, hill and base training I'd done. At the same time, I was thrilled to have completed the race and managed an average pace within the nine minute rage (if just barely).

The thing about racing is that you can do everything to support your success but it all comes down to how you feel on race day. I'll admit that I've been tired this week and, in retrospect, I may have been better off not walking the hilly Bethpage trail for 80 minutes yesterday (although I enjoyed spending that time with my wife). My taper-ending five mile run on Wednesday could also have contributed. Today's shortfall may have had to do with other factors, like not enough sleep. I really wanted to hit 58 minutes.

After the race, Cow Harbor puts on a great finish line festival. It's like Woodstock for sweaty, emaciated people. I skipped all the carb snacks and flavored juice bottles and went right to the banana truck and then over to the Poland Spring truck. The band they hire to play is really good and the crowds, energy, music and harbor view reinforce that you are participating in something special.

I happily avoided the baggage check this year
I may have placed mid-pack, but I was the first one on my bus!
I ran into a few people I know who had also raced, and then headed over to the bus line. The transportation process is well managed and, without a long wait, we were on board. A woman who'd run the race for the first time today sat next to me and we talked about our favorite races on Long Island. Her son won the 2K fun run! I don't know if her husband ran the 10K as well, but I'm guessing he did, because the whole family looked athletic. She was a really nice and funny person and it was a great way to cap off my Cow Harbor day.

My next race will be the Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor's run in October. It's a 5K and the first half is a steady incline while the second half is equally downhill. The challenge doesn't match James Street, but I'll still have to train. In the meantime, I'll be taking a couple of days to recover from Cow Harbor. I hope my friends who ran it had good experiences today. No matter what, it's hard not to have a good time at this race.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Minor taper violation at Bethpage

Today's workout (Bethpage bike trail walk): 4.4 miles

Tapering is harder than you'd think. Not hard in the sense that it takes any effort. It's really the opposite of that. Even someone who embraces downtime (like me) can find it difficult to be completely inactive. After focusing on training for a month, our bodies are tuned for action. At least they should be.

The morning was quiet on the business side, so my wife and I decided to head over to Bethpage State Park for a low impact walk on the bike trail. I figured that level of activity wouldn't significantly violate my taper, and it might just help shake out some built up lactic acid in my leg muscles. The weather was cool and sunny and we went south on the trail as far as the Beach St. exit. We're both brisk walkers, but we kept it at a comfortable pace today.

On the trail back, we talked about the number of cyclist we'd seen who weren't wearing helmets. I noticed the sign above that encouraged the use of helmets with the plea, "Do not lose your head." Good advice.

We'll be heading to the Laurel Ave school in Northport a little later today, so I can pick up my bib number and race bag. My family won't be joining me tomorrow, so I won't have any place to stow my race shirt in the morning. I could do the UPS baggage check but, with 5,700 other runners, the wait for pickup can take a while. It's hard to believe that it's just hours until the start of Cow Harbor. I hope I'm ready.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Last run before the Cow

Today's run (street): 5 miles

Training is over and now it's time to rest. Everyone has their own way of finishing a taper and mine is to put two full days between my last workout and race day. Some people I know don't even take a rest day before a 5K. I learned my lesson a few years ago that running close to race day doesn't yield a benefit. But pushing too much will definitely hurt you.

Today's run was an easy semi-base run done a minute slower than targeted race pace. I had a deadline to meet in the morning and didn't get outside until after 10:00, so I had more warming sun than usual. At that pace, it didn't matter. Aside from running face first into an overhanging branch that looked like it should have easily given way, it was a pleasurable experience. I felt a little guilty for not pushing my speed, but there was no upside to doing that.

I didn't use GPS to track my performance because I didn't want to be conscious of my pace while I ran. I didn't Gmap the route until an hour later and was hard pressed to remember all the streets I covered on my route. I did finally figure it out, and it was interesting to see the distance. I checked my time and saw that I'd met my targeted pace to the exact second.

I got a note that Cow Harbor online registration ends tonight and the site shows that over 5,000 people have already signed up. Participation is capped at 5,600 runners. Between now and 8:30 AM on Saturday, I'll be thinking about this race and its unique challenges, along with the experience of being joined by thousands of runners and tens of thousands of spectators in Northport. I look forward to seeing my friends and I can't wait to cross that finish line once again.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Technology saves an operational goof

XML salvation
Today's run (street): 4.25 miles

I did the unthinkable after finishing my run today and failed to properly stop my Garmin. While I happily traced the driveway on my cool down walk, my Garmin continued to count the seconds, obscuring the actual time I'd finished. By the time I discovered my error, at least a couple of minutes had gone by, so my calculated pace was way off.

I really envy people who tell me they run without a watch or track their performance in any way. I think about how liberating it would be to run without regard to time. Unfortunately, I've never been able to do that. On the plus side, I've compiled an online record of every run that I've done over the last five years. Despite my failure to operate my watch today, I was able to reverse engineer my finish time by reading the XML output file.

The run itself was nothing special, 4.25 miles at around 9:30 a mile. The weather was downright chilly, low 50's with strong winds coming from the northeast. When I wasn't heading directly into the wind, it was extremely pleasant. I had considered doing either a long easy run or a short, faster run and I ended up doing something in the middle. I'm not sure what today's run accomplished or what I'll do tomorrow. But Wednesday's run will be the last one I do before Cow Harbor. I hope that one counts.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Tracking well through the taper

4 minutes of intensity
Today's run (track): 3.1 miles - 1 mile warm up, 10 x 100m, 1.6 mile recovery

Nothing like 52° weather to make speed work bearable. I went to the track early this morning to run intervals, but I didn't decide on my workout until I got there. I started with a mile warm up and followed that with 10 x 100 meter repeats. I finished with six more laps around the track, three at an easy pace and the last three somewhat faster.

Overall, it was a decent workout and I managed to run my 100 meter splits at 6:50 while maintaining a heart rate around 80% of max. I would have like to see better paces after the repeats, since my leg muscles were theoretically "activated." Residual fatigue was the likely culprit and my overall pace for the full distance run was 8:58.

Tomorrow will be a busy day in the city for me and I'll forgo my workout, since Mondays are my usual rest day. I'm thinking I'll do one more easy base run, one more short fast run and then rest. I had two good race-oriented workouts this weekend with acceptable results. I'm not sure I pushed as hard as I could either day but I didn't want to invite injury less than a week before the race.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Running the hills on Sunnyside Boulevard

The ups and downs of hill training
Today's run (street): 5.3 miles

There's a time every day when runners have to face up to their workout. You know you're going to do it, but until you do, it remains unresolved. My plans for running this weekend were set: hill and speed practice, but I wasn't sure what I'd do on either day. My wife was already finishing up her treadmill run this morning when I decided to take on the challenge of the last section of the Greenbelt bike trail. A few miles running up and down the hills on Sunnyside Boulevard would be good preparation for James Street and Waterside Ave next week.

After a mile on relatively flat roads, I reached the start of the bike path. Soon enough, the road began to rise. The temperature was 57 degrees and humidity was a moderate 67%, so the level of effort felt manageable. The span of Sunnyside becomes steeper as you go south, and I kept a watch on my Garmin to see how it affected my heart rate. I managed to keep it between 80 and 86% of max for the climbs, even after two cycles.

I would have liked to follow the trail further, to the point where it parallels the LIE access road. It's there that the path undulates into a series of difficult, but useful hills. I didn't feel like negotiating the traffic to get across Sunnyside today, and I was concerned that doing too much might wear me out. I think the workout and the distance I covered today were just what I needed.

I'm going to focus on speed tomorrow and I'll probably head over to the high school track in the morning to run intervals. After that, it's more about cross training, core and at least two day's break from running. I may do a final base run on Wednesday, but if I do, it will be at an easy pace. Cow Harbor is less than a week away. I'm hoping for weather as good as today's.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Controlled conditions can't control humidity


Yesterday's run (treadmill): 3.1 miles 

One syllable sums up yesterday's run - ugh. I've been focused on a project this week, and days of intense viewing on my laptop created fatigue that was exacerbated by yesterday's brutal humidity. By the time I was ready to run, it was too hot and humid to be outside. I figured I'd do better in the controlled conditions of my workout room. That wasn't quite true.

I set the CAC to 76 degrees, cranked up the floor fan to high and turned on the puny treadmill fan. My plan to start fast was a miscalculation. After a mile run at 6.7 MPH, my heart rate was approaching 90% of Max. I dialed back my speed and, even at 6 MPH, I was sitting at 80% Max. I slowed down even further, until things came more into line. I eventually worked my speed back through the last mile, but by the time I reached my targeted distance, I felt exhausted.

I was glad to get my workout done, but with the relentless humidity, I may have pushed too hard. I felt worn out the rest of the day. Conditions are less humid today, but I'm going to run easy to prevent a recurrence of that fatigue. I'll do my last race training over the weekend and will then start my taper and rest during the week. I hope I still have some speed left in my legs.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

9/11 weekday run

 
Today's run (street): 3.1 miles

I've been off the blogging grid for the past two days, and most of today, because I've been consumed with a work project. After taking my usual Monday rest day and Tuesday as another recovery day, I was back on the street this morning. I wasn't psyched to go out at 8:00 AM, as the news was reporting 78 degrees and a dew point of 71.

I tried to set a strong pace but, felt frustrated with my turnover. The good news was, despite the hot and humid conditions, I wasn't tempted to tone down the effort. At around the one mile mark, I recalled that today was September 11. Except for when it fell on the weekend, this was the first time I didn't need to commute into the city on that day. It always made me nervous to be in Penn Station on 9/11.

20 minutes into the run, I was looking forward to finishing up. Still, I kept up the effort and wondered if it would translate into a credible time. My heart rate indicated that I was holding about 80% of MAX, so even if I wasn't moving very fast, I was trying. I ended up averaging 9:14 a mile. Given the weather, that was more than satisfactory. It was good to be back on the road, but I'm really looking forward to the fall weather.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Arduous base run and an impromptu trail

Lots of cross country teams on the trails today
Today's run (Bethpage bike and dirt trail): 6.1 miles

Tough run today. I went to Bethpage to get in some base miles and a little hill practice. From the start, my level of energy told me that this would not be a high performance workout. My intention was to make it a variable run: 20 minute easy warm up, 20 minute tempo and a moderate pace to the finish. I even intended to cap the workout with a couple of runs up the big long hill at the start of the older bike trail.

As I made my way the hill leading to the north trail entrance, I knew that I'd be hard pressed to manage the planned tempo. I felt a buildup of excessive lactic acid in my leg muscles and I tried to keep my form correct. I hoped that my stride would soon loosen up. I picked up the pace around mile one, where the biggest downhill section starts. I gained more speed down the hill, but soon encountered the two uphill sections that come just before the Haypath crossing.

Once I got to the other side, I made a split second decision to duck into the woods and follow the dirt trail that runs roughly parallel to the paved trail. I was surprised by the number of twists I encountered along this path. It went on much longer than I thought it might. As expected, the dirt trail terminated at a point on the paved trail, just south of Old Bethpage Rd.

The run in the shady woods invigorated me, and I ran the last of my northern route to Old Country Road. Instead of crossing the street to continue on the bike trail, I followed the sidewalk south about a few tenths of a mile before turning back toward the paved path. At the point, my energy level had dropped to the point where I struggled to maintain speed. I decided to dismiss the plan to do hill repeats at the end of the run.

Th only thing left to deal with were the three consecutive hills that come a mile north of the trail head. I locked in a cadence, shortened my steps and made it through the first one, and was grateful for the slight slope that comes before the next one came. I knew I was less than a mile from the end, so I maintained the fastest pace I could until I reached the end.

Today's run felt far harder than the 7+ miler I did last weekend or yesterday's hilly workout. I suspect that today's difficulty was driven by too much hard effort over the prior six days. I've decided to take both Monday and Tuesday off from running this week to help me recover a little. I'll probably do another core session on one of those days and/or some upper body exercises. I didn't love the run today, but I'm glad I put in the miles.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Can you really improve your running speed?

Looping the loop
Today's run (Business Park): 4.8 miles

I'm beginning to wonder how much one can actually do to optimize running speed. When I first started running, I was averaging 12 minute miles over the first full month. Two months later, I was breaking 10 minutes a mile. When I completed my first full year, I was averaging 9:15 per mile, with occasional dips below 9:00 on shorter distance runs.

Four years later, despite holding consistently to a six day running schedule, I'm still averaging about those same paces. The good news is that I've managed to keep my performance at the same level. The bad news is that it now takes a lot more effort to do that. My goal has always been to average below 9:00 a mile and I'm wondering if I'll ever get there.

As I focus on speed, I'm realizing how difficult it will be to get to my targeted pace. After taking a break from performance to run the trails on Friday, I headed over to the local business park to run the big loop. This route provides a lot of elevation gain and loss (+/- 1,040 feet), which I thought would be helpful training for Cow Harbor.

The temperature was 59 degrees when I went out 8:00 AM, and that provided great conditions for taking on the hills. I did two laps around the park before ducking into an adjacent neighborhood for another mile. With the great weather, I was surprised to see only two other runners out this morning. One woman was circling the park counter-clockwise while I ran it the other way. She was running with traffic and we passed closely. I wonder if these people ever connect the reason why I run on the left with safety. I'm guessing they don't.

I made it back home in time to make an early obligation. When I mapped my run, I saw that I'd averaged 9:27 a mile. Despite my focus on speed, my performance is still lagging on longer runs. Tomorrow, I'm planning on doing a fairly long tempo run, followed by hill repeats. Only one more weekend after this to train for Cow Harbor before I taper. I'm doing the best I can to prepare, but there may not be much more performance to gain.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Freedom of speech and on the trail

Into the woods
Today's run (Stillwell Woods): 3.5 miles

Those of you who also have running blogs know that the easier you make it for people to comment, the more you'll find people who'll take advantage of that access. Over the years I've changed the criteria for submitting comments. Now I allow anyone to post, because I just don't want to leave anyone out. As a result, I have to clean out a bunch of spam comments every day. But it's a small price to pay for freedom of speech!

This morning I decided that I needed to take my performance focus down a notch, so I headed over to Stillwell for an easy trail run. It was dry, cool and sunny and the trails were in great shape. A mile or so into the run, I realized how strong I felt. Stillwell tends to beat me up badly, and this was evidence that my conditioning has improved.

Besides a couple of mountain bikers and woman walking her dog, the trails were empty. I loved the feeling of running well and having the woods pretty much all to myself. There's usually a point in almost every run when you begin to feel the work. You start thinking about how much longer or farther you have to go. Today was different in the best of ways. Tomorrow it's back to road, the hills and the miles.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Stalling for time, but getting it done

Well, I did finally run
Today's run (Street): 3.9 miles

For no good reason, I just couldn't get myself out the door this morning. I finally did, but it wasn't for lack of stalling. I knew that every minute I spent taking care of "just one more thing", it was getting warmer outside. And yet I found plenty of distractions that kept me from starting my run before 11:00 AM.

We had a family dinner last night and got home late, but I still got up fairly early. I got right into  work and that delayed me from focusing on my run plan. I usually prepare my gear while my wife starts her treadmill run, and get back home around the time she's finishing up. I knew I was in trouble when I heard the treadmill's motor slowing for her cool-down while I wasted more time. At that point, I considered taking a rest day. Somehow, I found myself getting dressed for a run.

The run itself felt a little harder than yesterday's, and I wondered if I should allow myself a break with an easy recovery run. But I was committed to the tougher option, so I focused once again on my speed. I mixed up my route and even added an extra half mile to get closer to four miles today. In the end, I did good, but not great. The important thing is that I ended up getting the run in. Even if it took a while to get out the door.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Just me and the road, and the cars, and the buses

My worst nightmare
Today's run (street): 3.3 miles

After three consecutive indoor workouts, I was finally able to get outside today, and it was beautiful. The sun was bright and the temperature was cool. While I waited for the Garmin to acquire a signal, I noticed a breeze that actually made it feel cold in the shade. I knew once I got started that any feelings of being cold would disappear, but it was nice to start out that way. 

Due to a scheduled call, I had to get my run done in a certain amount of time. I could have gone out earlier, but we live close to both an elementary and a middle school and I didn't wish to compete with all the buses. By the time I hit the streets, a few buses still remained, but car traffic had picked up. You can't win, but you can run on the sidewalk. I ended up yelling at a guy who rolled through a stop sign as I approached the intersection. To his credit, he sheepishly said "sorry."

I continued my focus on speed and moved along, although I was having some trouble with my form. I didn't feel like I was getting good turnover and I was concerned that I'd end up with a disappointing time. Still, I knew that I was making the effort. Most of the time, that will yield a satisfying result.

I ended up averaging 9:05, which surprised me in a good way, because I expected I'd be about 15 seconds slower per mile. My speed described a bell shaped curve, with the first and last half miles being the fastest. So far my training strategy is working, but I still haven't put fast and long into the same run.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Heat, treadmill and potassium

Electro-like
Today's run (treadmill): 3.1 miles

Fall isn't here yet, but it might as well be. The pool's been closed and the kids are back in class. The morning had a different feel with new early schedules and I'm already feeling more energy coming from the business side. As for the fall bringing better running weather, it looks like that will have to wait for the real fall.

The morning was surprisingly busy. By the time I wrapped up my early work, a thunderstorm was moving through the area. If I was going to get a run in, it would have to be on the treadmill. It felt extremely humid and I was glad to have the big fan. I set the speed high from the start and hoped for the best. The first mile went by quickly, with little problem from either the heat or the pace.

Pretty soon after that, the humidity started getting to me. My wife thoughtfully turned down the AC, but the heat was draining. I told myself, "Less than two miles to go" and focused on CNN to distract myself from the tedium. The trouble with the treadmill is that there's no place for subtlety in your pacing. You're locked in and unless you play with the speed controls, it's a monotonous experience.

I thought I'd never reach my targeted "distance" but finally it came and I recovered with a tall glass of water and some dried apricots. I noticed the other day that they're high in potassium so I thought, why not? That seemed to work and now I have a nice alternative to gels for those long weekend runs.

Monday, September 2, 2013

No resting on this Labor Day

Hard core
Today's  workout (core, upper body): 30 minutes

Happy Labor Day. It has always bothered me that this holiday serves as a gateway to the start of the new school year. After all, how can you enjoy the day knowing that your summer will end abruptly at 6:00 AM the next morning? It's been a while since I've personally experienced that dread, but I still feel it for my kids. However, they seem to be just fine about it.

Grey skies and high humidity undercut the opportunity for outdoor fun most of the day, but we managed to get out for a while for some backyard fun. Monday is usually my rest day, but I felt the need for some additional activity. I pulled out my floor mat and my four year old issue of Runner's World that has my favorite set of Lolo Jones core exercises. I followed that with some upper body work, along with a set of sit ups and push ups.

That may sound like a lot of work, but it really wasn't too bad. Just like yesterday's experience on the elliptical, I realized how long I've neglected core and upper body exercise. Does my departure from running over the last two days mean that my workouts will now involve more cross-training? Based on my history, I'm guessing no. But for now, it may provide some extra dimension in my Cow Harbor training.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

An object of neglect provides the perfect workout

Today's perfect choice
Today's workout (elliptical): 30 minutes

Yesterday's run affected me more than I realized, and I found myself exhausted by the end of the day. This morning I woke with a pressure headache that was quickly dispatched by my standard cure of aspirin and Sudafed. Unfortunately, pseudoephedrine and running don't mix well, so I decided to put off my workout until later.

Once the day got going, I started to doubt whether I could fit in a workout. I generally dislike afternoon running, especially when I plan to run again the next morning. I remembered that tomorrow is my weekly rest day, so even with a late day run, I'd have plenty of recovery time. All I needed to do was figure out a workout. Given yesterday's tough going, I didn't think a speed run was advisable. I also didn't want to do a recovery run outside, in conditions that matched Saturday's oppressive humidity.

Then it hit me - the elliptical, that I've neglected for months, would be a perfect workout. I decided that a hill simulation, done at  moderate speed, would provide a good a balance. I set up the floor fan, put the speed on high, and set the machine's resistance to 80%.  Once I got past the first few minutes, it was smooth sailing and the time went quickly from there.

It's often hard for me to focus on cross-training, because I always prefer to run. But after today, I won't be so quick to dismiss the elliptical, especially on the day after a really difficult run.
 

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