Sunday, September 11, 2022

Remembrances of September 11

 

Unbelievably, it has been 21 years since September 11, 2001. I wrote this article on 9/11/11 to help preserve the experience and I post it every year on this date. Here it is, once again:  Remembrances of 9/11

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Running Faster but Gait's A Disaster

In other words, I'm limping
In my April 14 post, I wrote about the way my blood pressure medicine was negatively affecting my running performance. A change in dosage made such a difference that I'm now running about 2 minutes per mile faster than my pace prior to March. 

While that's great, my lower back is not on board with it. Running harder seems to have triggered an old disc issue and on most runs my stride starts slightly unbalanced. This is likely due to nerve aggravation. This irritation has gone on for a few weeks and my aggravated nerves are beginning to aggravate me.
 
The problem minimizes after about 8 minutes into the run but it doesn't completely disappear and my antalgic gait appears to be costing me 30 to 45 seconds on my first mile. I really want that time back. I'm applying heat and ice to my lower back and have been doing active leg swings on the advice of Runsketeer TPP. It's helping, but recovery has been slow. 

In terms of performance, I looked at my running history on Garmin Connect and the data revealed a sharp drop-off in my pace that started in June 2017. 

This coincided with two interesting data points:

  • My stride length shortened 8.5% compared to the prior six months. 
  • My average cadence/SPM fell 8.6% over the same period.
I usually prefer downhill, but not in this case
Something caused this and I wanted to know what it was. Looking at my medical history at that time, I saw two things that happened around June 2017 that could explain it. 
  • My doctor put me on blood pressure medication. 
  • My ophthalmologist put me on a carbonic anhydrase inhibitor to address an eye pressure condition. 
I suspected that these drugs were negatively affecting my running, but I didn't know to what extent. Now that my BP medication is at the correct dosage and I'm no longer on that eye medication, my cadence and speed have returned to May 2017 levels. As great as that is, my stride length has not dramatically improved. I attribute that to my current back issue, so I still have a problem to solve.

I'm going to keep heating, icing and dynamic stretching and hopefully the nerve issues in my lower back will recede. If that happens, I think I may be able to improve my average pace by at least 30 seconds per mile. Will I ever get back to running well enough to credibly compete again? Well, that's the subject for another post.

Saturday, April 30, 2022

First Runs with the Asic Novablast 2

Nova Blast-off!
The Asics Novablast 2

  • A well cushioned neutral running shoe that uses resilient Flytefoam Blast midsole foam.
  • Ride is best described as lively, but slightly unstable.
  • Weight for men’s size 11 is approximately 10.5 oz
  • MSRP - $130

Conclusion: Even with more structure and weight than I typically prefer, the Novablast 2 provides an excellent balance of responsiveness and protection.

---------------------------------------------------------------
Last Sunday I walked into Runners Edge ready to try on some shoes. I had watched and read many running shoe reviews and narrowed it down to three stability models. In my last post I determined that under-pronation was causing major heel wear on my running shoes. I thought stability shoes might be the best way to counteract it, but what did I know? Making the Choice I told the salesperson that I was looking for a responsive stability model and showed him the heel wear pattern on one of my current pairs. He said that type of ablation was due to heel dragging and suggested that I stick with a neutral shoe. I questioned that, but since this was Runners Edge and not Foot Locker, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Plus he said ablation which is a word I like.
Brooks Launch 8

Instead of stability shoes, the salesperson brought out two neutral options: the Brooks Launch 8 and the Asics Novablast 2. I’ve run in Launch 4s for the past three years and thought it was a solid shoe, but not particularly responsive. The Launch 8 felt a little more energetic than the 4, but not exactly compelling. The Novablast 2 was a very different story.


Once I put the shoe on my foot I knew it was the right choice. The Novablast 2 is nowhere as light as my Reebok Fast 3s, but it had a similar feel underfoot. The cushion and rebound were exactly what I was hoping to find, but the thick midsole was intimidating. Unfortunately, taking them out for a spin wasn’t an option, so I took a chance and bought them anyway.

 34mm stack height - yikes!
First Impressions

INSIDE I was so anxious to run in the Novablasts when I got home that I immediately tried them out for a mile on the treadmill. The first moments of the run were confusing. The Novablasts felt energetic but also a bit unstable. I eventually acclimated to the shoes, but couldn't help wishing they were a few ounces lighter and a touch lower. When I checked my data at the end, I was surprised to see that I’d run much faster than my normal treadmill pace. OUTSIDE The next day I took the Novablasts for their first outdoor run. The midsole cushioning was substantial and it minimized harsh ground contact. The soft rebound kept my stride efficient and the hip and leg twinges I’ve felt over the past weeks were barely noticeable. I found the high platform and slight heaviness disconcerting and a few times around corners I wished for more stable footing. With all that, I ended up doing my fastest run in many months.

The handsome couple
Time will tell whether I should have tried on more shoes or waited to look for other models that the store didn't stock. Overall, the cost of the Novablast 2s was reasonable and the bounce and comfort I get from them is indeed compelling. I’m hoping the Novablasts will be the shoe that gets me back into long runs and provides the protection for recovery that I don’t get from the other shoes in my rotation.

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Running Shoe Rotation Frustration

The Shoe-pocratic Oath: "First do no harm"
Unless you're Abebe Bikila, the barefoot marathoner who won the Olympic marathon in 1960, shoes are pretty essential gear. Though some runners are indifferent to what shoe they wear and view them as tools, others (like me) look at shoes as something that can greatly enhance or diminish their running experience. I love running shoes but they don't always love me, and I'm dealing with that right now.

The Problem

In my last post, I mentioned some issues I'm having with my lower back. Recently, I've been feeling occasional pain and numbness along my right leg, hip and glute when I run. I suspect it may be a reoccurrence of a 2015 disc problem. Back then, my undisciplined training caused the rupture of my L4 and L5 discs, as well as a torn annular ligament. As a result, my orthopedist strongly recommended that I stop running for almost five weeks. 

High Octane alternative motion contraption
During that time, I was at Consumer Reports and had the opportunity to participate in a panel to test "alternative motion machines." These devices functioned like advanced elliptical machines and provided an excellent daily workout. This "zero impact" training helped my disc problem and I recovered well enough to resume my daily runs.

Fast forward seven years and I'm dealing with similar symptoms. My gait is awkward at the start of my runs but it settles down after a few minutes. Due to that, my first miles have been 30-40 seconds slower than my second. I've been running well and feel ready to add more distance. I'm holding off on that because the symptoms are reappearing once I reach the three mile mark.

The Cause

I believe that some of my running shoes are either causing or exacerbating my leg problem. I under pronate and originally ran in stability shoes like Brooks Adrenalines and ASICS GT 2140s. When I started Runner's Tech Review, companies would send me models of their newest running shoes to test. From that, I developed a preference for lightweight neutral trainers like the Saucony Kinvara and that became my default. I still prefer neutral running shoes, but they may not be a good choice for me.

My under pronation worsened after my disc and ligament problem. I started to notice how quickly I was wearing out the lateral side heel of every pair of shoes I had. I'd get 800 miles on a pair of Adrenalines but less than half of that with non-stability models. When I looked at the three oldest shoes in my rotation, I was surprised to see how much wear they showed. The difference in heel height from side to side was greater than 3mm. This is a recipe for running injury.

Worn to Run
I concluded that 60% of my running shoes were no longer runnable. That left me with two pair, the Saucony Kinvara 11s and the Reebok Floatride Run Fast 3s. Neither of these shoes have much mileage on them yet, but the Kinvaras are already starting to show a similar wear pattern. The Reeboks are still pristine and I want to preserve those peppy and propulsive shoes as long as possible.

Searching for Shoe Love

After looking up every single running shoe on the internet, reading every review and watching every video, I narrowed it down to a few models. Included in this group was the Hoka Rocket X, which is described on the Hoka site as, "...an incredibly lightweight, insanely responsive racer geared for elite athletes."  Check, check and check!  I don't want to brag, but I did take second place in my age group in a 2009 5K.

Despite deep devotion to Hokas by my fellow Runsketeers, I've always resisted the brand. They just seemed too high and bulky for my taste. When I stumbled upon a site called Hoka Outlet and saw the Rocket X for sale for $49.95 in my size (these shoes typically sell for $199) I thought, what do I have to lose? Answer: $49.95 plus tax. Yes, it was a scam.  I did manage to get my money back from PayPal, but I'm embarrassed by my naivety. 

Beware of Hokey Hokas

An Unlikely Solution

After the Hoka con, it was back to square one. I would continue my search for new shoes, but I wanted at least one additional pair right away. I considered my NB 680s that I use on the treadmill but I don't like to use my indoor shoes outside. I was about to grab my keys and head to the nearby DSW store to buy a cheap pair of stability trainers when something green caught my eye. Tucked under some winter clothes in my running gear closet was an 11 year old pair of Karhu Fast 2s that I'd tested and then quickly discarded.

Lapland Lappers
Karhu sent me these light-ish but high riding performance shoes to test during a period when I was wearing ultra minimal zero drop shoes like the Brooks Pure Drifts and Saucony Hattoris (below). The Fast 2's at 9.6 ounces were anything but minimal.

Hattori - 4.4 oz

Pure Drift - 5.6 oz
The Karhus were probably ahead of their time with their high stack height and "fulcrum" technology that facilitated a rolling gait. I found them awkward in 2011, but when I put them on now they feel cushioned and well balanced. Since I used them only to test, the shoes are still in like-new condition. I took them out for a run and appreciated the forward leaning motion and the responsive midsole. My pace almost matched the Reeboks, which are considered a bona fide racing shoe.

With my Finnish flyers added to the mix, I'm only short one pair to round out my rotation. The Kinvara is a light trainer that works well for tempo runs. The Reeboks are speedy and fun, perfect for intervals and when I want to run my fastest. The Karhus sit somewhere between these two. I'm going to focus my search on cushioned but light stability shoes that provide a responsive ride. I may end up paying more than I ever have for a running shoe to get what I want, but it will be worth it. Who knows, maybe I'll stumble upon an outlet that's selling Saucony Guide 15s or ASICS DS Trainer 26s for $60.

Either way, I'll let you know. πŸƒ

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Don't Call it a Comeback

All Hail the OMRON!

Hello? Is this on? Anyone there? Anyone? 

Okay, I know I haven't posted in a long time. In fact, a baby born on the day of my last post could conceivably be running faster than I do right now. Despite my very long break, I have continued to run and strive to improve. I'll admit there has been a lot more striving than improving, but things are changing. So don't call it a comeback. I've been here for years, rocking it like a Runsketeer.

Since my last post, I've run the gamut of motivation and expectation for my performance. I've mostly had the "Speed doesn't matter because running easy keeps me healthy" mindset. This would periodically give way to short cycles where I'd focus on regaining my old speed. Last September I decided to do every run at full effort, including running intervals a couple of times a week. I saw improvements, but they came at a cost. 

Constantly keeping the pedal to the floor exhausted me and I wound up taking a week off from running to recover. All along, SIOR was insisting that my manic training tactics were ridiculous. She said the correct way to gain speed would be to increase my distance per run. She was right -- but that wasn't the whole story.

My performance began to nosedive in 2014 and I ascribed it to a new job that I'd started that year. The commute greatly affected my running bandwidth and my monthly mileage dropped from 80 to 50. There wasn't much I could do about that. When I left that job and gained more time, I thought my performance would come back, but it didn't.

I suspected that my blood pressure medication could be the culprit. Looking back at my Garmin history, my declining pace appeared to start when I began taking that prescription. Even when pushing my pace, I would struggle to get my heart rate above 75% max. My form suffered as well. 

Recently, on a Runsketeer reunion run, I endured TPP and SIOR's well intentioned urgings to "pick up my feet." It was hard to do. I'd spoken to my doctor earlier in the year and he disagreed that my meds were affecting my running. I decided to prove my case and bought a blood pressure monitor. 

50% off!
Last month I showed my doctor six months of daily BP data that revealed most readings to be at the low range of normal. I even brought in my OMRON BP monitor to validate my data against his sphygmomanometer and they matched! My doctor admitted that my dosage was probably too high and he halved my prescription.

The results of that change were astounding. My energy level increased measurably and running suddenly felt easier. Since my dosage was halved 40 days ago, both my average pace and cadence have improved over 10%. That's not a placebo effect because the progress has continued. I don't know if I will ever get pacing back to single digits, but I believe I can wring out more performance.

I'm currently dealing with some lower back issues that are mitigating my efforts. I'm treating the symptoms and hoping to get past that soon. Once that happens I'd like to return to my old practice of a Sunday long run. I have on good authority that running more distance will yield even better performance. 

So maybe this is a comeback after all. With apologies to LL Cool J, I'm gonna take this itty-bitty world by storm. And I'm just gettin' warm. 

Sunday, January 3, 2021

First 2021 run at Bethpage

Sunny and lonely at Bethpage

It's a new year and everyone seems pretty happy about that. There's reason to be optimistic: vaccines will get Covid under control this year and this country will (hopefully) unite under its first real president since January 19, 2017. If 2020 taught us anything, it's that democracy cannot be taken for granted. In the meantime, we can manage through any of life's negatives with a really good run.

My running in 2020 had its ups and downs. I ran a total of 962 miles (a personal record) and 33% more distance than in 2019. I averaged over 80 miles a month and averaged 3.2 miles per run. My overall pace in 2020 improved 5% over 2019. On the other hand, I only had ten runs greater than 4 miles and only one longer than 5. SIOR maintains that my pace isn't going to improve much until I incorporate a lot more long runs into my schedule.

I'm ambivalent about changing up my regular routine since it seems to work for me. My attempt to move the needle on my performance last fall yielded some improvement, but it was more high effort than foundational. There's an argument to be made that longer runs and (shudder) hill training are the best ways to deliver gains. I was thinking about that on Saturday on my way to Bethpage State Park to run with the Runsketeers. We had planned to participate in the annual Hangover Run at Eisenhower Park on New Years day, but it was cancelled due to Covid.

The Runsketeers decided to kick off 2021 at Bethpage, a venue that seems to work for everyone and happens to be close to a Starbucks that has outside seating. Our post-run Starbucks time is as essential as the run itself. Unfortunately SIOR and Professor Mike had medical afflictions and had to cancel that morning and TPP had to work. I went it alone and planned to run at least 4 miles.

Conditions were good, low 40's and sunny. I felt strong and thought I was running pretty well. The paved path at Bethpage has distance markings every tenth of a mile. As I went along, I was puzzled to see that my Garmin was showing less distance compared to the marked path. I thought it was a GPS error. I ended up running 3.8 miles thinking I'd actually covered four. Later, I Gmapped my route using the exact turnaround positions from my Garmin's download. Despite my perceived performance, I ended up running a less impressive pace.

Out 'N Back x 2

I think I've figured out why the north trail markings differ from my GPS tracking. The first tenth of a mile (position .1 mile) that you encounter isn't actually .1 mile from the trail head. It's actually .05 miles. The marker is, surprisingly, the distance from the top of the steep trail that comes up from the lot to the .1 marker on the north trail. It turns out that four times back and forth from the trail head to the one mile mark is - wait for it - 3.8 miles.

Me and the Runsketeer recruits


So lesson learned. I still had a very pleasant run, although I missed my buddies. When I returned to the lot at the end, I encountered four women who were getting ready to head out for their run together. I asked them to take a picture of me that I could send to the Runsketeers and one of the woman asked if I wanted them in it. I said, "Sure, you can be temporary Runsketeers!" I'm sure they had no idea what I was talking about, but I'm used to that.

I did my third run of 2021 this morning before the rain came. It was cold and windy and only about 3.4 miles, but it was nice to know my Garmin is working.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

900 miles is easy but running fast is hard

Hoping for 80 in December

Hello runners and the running adjacent! It's December 10th: the first night of Hanukah, the 12th day of the Advent and, most notably, national Dewey Decimal System Day. 

This is my first after-election post and while I try to stay non-political on this blog, I will say my faith in democracy has been restored by the 81 million people who voted for a return to trust, competence and decency. Let's move on, unify and hope that the next Attorney General puts the current president and his cadre of corrupt criminals in federal prison for a long time. If you don't like what I'm saying here, I invite you to comment below. But please share respectfully and don't put in a link to your stupid product website because I will delete that πŸƒ

Okay, now onto 2020. The pandemic is getting worse and we are "rounding the corner" into a horrible winter season (see what I did there?). So instead of not running the Seaford Hot Chocolate 5K in Seaford or the Ho-Ho-Ho Holiday run in Bethpage this year, I won't be running the virtual versions of those races. I don't want to race for a couple of reasons. First, I've slowed considerably and I'm self conscious about posting a pathetically weak finish time. Second, I don't really get virtual racing. The best thing about racing is being present with a a bunch of strangers and having the possibility of beating some random person over the line at the last minute. I've done it and I've had it happen to me. I'm talking to you TPP. 


I recently passed the 900 mile mark, my distance goal for 2020. I run between three and four miles every day except Mondays, and I could easily do a virtual 5K or 10K race. A couple of months ago I started looking at my running stats on Garmin Connect that go back to 2009. I saw that I'm running more miles than I ever had in any of the previous ten years. The difference of course is the quality of those miles. Back in 2011 most of my training runs were between 8:45 and 9:30 a mile, my average stride length was about .9 meters and my cadence was around 174. Things have changed.

A few months ago I decided to test the waters and see what would happen if I actually tried when I ran, rather than defaulting to a comfortable pace. Or as someone in the Running Lovers group in LinkedIn put it, "Slow mindful running." Up until that point I figured I'd just drop a couple of gears and roar back to when I was a mid-pack competitor. I set off on my next run with a pedal to the floor mindset, finished my run and checked my watch. Once my heart rate fell below the point where "vagal maneuvers" would be required, I saw the data.

I was nowhere near my past performance benchmarks but I did see a marked improvement against my running average. Yes, that's a pun. Subsequent runs at vagal imperiling speed brought marginal improvement. I started doing weekly speedwork hoping to unleash a little more speed but I finally reached my performance limit. I realized that in order to move to the next level, I would need to train longer and even harder. I'd have to do regular hill training, long distance runs and maybe even core work. I thought about it and decided to focus on holding the gains I'd recently made.


So now I go out and push myself a little harder than I had prior to this performance focus. I rate my  perceived effort for each run on Connect and most of the time it's between moderate (3) and hard (6). The scale goes to 10. Every once in a while I push myself to very hard (7) and my numbers reflect it. While it's nice to see the mirage of higher performance, it comes at the cost of pain and discomfort. If every run required a "no pain, no gain" mindset, I don't think it would be worth doing. Speed is a nice to have, but it isn't everything.

If you disagree please feel free to comment below πŸ‘‡ 

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

A Virtual Pacer with Real Results

Today's run on the Bethpage trail

Last February an ignorant orange man told the country that COVID-19 would soon disappear with the heat, "like a miracle." The only miracle is that, seven months later, 42% of the country still believes him. Sadly, we're pretty much where we were the last time I posted (April 28). If there's anything positive I can say about this, it's that on the road things are pretty much the same as they were pre-COVID. Socially distanced outdoor runs don't require runners to wear masks as long as the six foot rule is rigorously maintained. It's really not that hard to do.

It's been about sixteen months since I've had to commute to a job and my time is structured very differently these days. I now get 8 hours sleep every night and my stress level is pretty low. I give a lot of credit to my 6 day a week runs for keeping me healthy. However, I've recently realized that while daily cardio may be great for my vitals and heart health, it doesn't necessarily mean I'm actually in good athletic shape. Can I run five miles without stopping? Yes. Can I run five miles in 42 minutes like I used to? No. Nein. Nyet. ζ²‘ζœ‰.  

During my last checkup in August I asked my doctor why my pace has gone from age group competitive to pathetically slow over the last five years. I'm running a lot more than I was back then and I couldn't understand why all this running wasn't making me any faster. My doctor looked at my chart and said, "Physically there's no reason. You must not be trying hard enough." I knew he was right. I was so inspired that I went out the next morning and did absolutely nothing different because trying was harder than floating through my run.

Since that doctor visit I did try making some changes to my technique that yielded modest speed increases. I focused on cadence and stride length intermittently during runs. The improvement was not dramatic but I did pick up about 30 seconds per mile. Knowing that a little extra effort yielded a marginal performance benefit, I started thinking about ways to really move the needle.

I did a search to see if there was anything online that would inspire me to try harder and I came upon an article about virtual pacers. My old Garmin 210 had alerts that beeped when your pace slowed below a set speed and I was surprised to find a video from DC Rainmaker that showed how to use the virtual pacer feature on my FR35. I had no idea that my watch even had this feature because getting to the menu is not intuitive. But I was able to configure it to beep if my pace went out of range.

Just hit Run > Run Mode > Virtual Pacer > Edit > Set...
My first run was scary because I was so afraid my watch would be beeping like an EKG, with each tone broadcasting my failure to keep on pace. But a funny thing happened. The only time it beeped was to indicate I was ahead or on pace. I was so fearful of the watch's judgement that I ran 1:20 faster than the threshold I'd set. It was like the movie Speed when Sandra Bullock needed to drive over 50 MPH or the bus would blow up. My run was like that but more stressful.

I've been using the virtual pacer (VP) feature on every run I've done since Friday and my pace has been over two minutes per mile faster on each of those runs. The VP is a great motivator but I needed to own the effort. It's a different experience going out with the gas pedal down from start to finish rather than wending my way through my route at a comfortable speed. The sad part is that I'm pushing very hard to run almost three minutes per mile slower than my former everyday running pace.

I'm determined to run 3+ miles at a 9-something pace by the end of the year. I went out to Bethpage this morning to torture myself on the hills and was pleased that I still paced well, even with my bΓͺte noire, the big hill that crests near the parking area. If I can keep this up, maybe I can again run alongside the cool kids: SIOR, KWL, Professor Mike and TPP.  Who knew that listening to the doctor could be so helpful!

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Running in the time of COVID


This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is mask2.png
Stay off the road and no one gets hurt

These days, every conversation has something to do with COVID19, either directly (Do you have it? Do you think you have it?) or indirectly ("We'd be in a completely different situation with competent leadership" or "Let's light a fire on the neighbor's lawn then sneak in through the back door and steal their toilet paper."). The toll of Coronavirus is dominating the news channels and this is very unfair to me because I prefer more uplifting content.

(Non-runners: please skip to the next paragraph) Since I stopped commuting almost a year ago, my weekly running has increased to almost 20 miles and my standing goal is 75 miles a month. So far I've met or exceeded that in 2020. My average run is still about 3.1 miles, so this week I've increased that by an average of 10% per run. I'm looking to do more 4+ mile runs in spring and possibly add another off day (I only have one rest day a week now) while maintaining my weekly target.

While I've had time to run over the past year, I found it frustrating to navigate my neighborhood due to waves of school buses, sanitation trucks and middle school parents flying down the road to drop off their kids. With Coronavirus, school traffic has vanished. There's still Fedex and UPS trucks and I'm starting to see landscapers, but the roads are often clear of vehicles when I go out.

It's not all good news though. Nice weather and stay at home orders have turned my neighborhood into a park. Unless it's raining or especially chilly, I see people everywhere, walking in small groups or alone, some with dogs, some on bikes and some running like me. I deeply resent this. I have great respect for Governor Cuomo and he says to stay in your home. Yet these people are violating the social contract and turning the streets into a Petri dish. The things I want to say as I run by them.

Since the governor hasn't given me special powers to arrest my neighbors who violate his orders, I decided to take things into my own hands. This morning, due to the new recommendation from the CDC to wear a mask in public, I decided I needed one for this morning's run. I have a mask that I use when I do home improvement projects but I don't think it's COVID19 approved. Instead, I went with one of the buffs that KWL's sister sewed for me and my family. I usually wear it in winter to keep my face from freezing on cold windy days, but it seemed light enough for 45° weather.

I took off on my run with the mask placed over my nose and mouth and headed south. That was fine for about five minutes but then I started feeling claustrophobic. My breathing began to feel restricted and the cloth felt damp. I reached an area that had no signs of my law breaking neighbors so I pulled down the mask and immediately felt better. I decided that I'd run with the mask off my face except in cases when I encountered other people. I was able to endure having it up for the short time it took to get past these selfish, non-mask-wearing interlopers. I ended up running about 3.25 and no one got hurt.

Professor Mike (L), SIOR (R)

Some of my Runsketeer buddies (shown above modeling their COVIDwear) responded as expected when I showed a picture with my running mask (see top pic). TPP said she was having trouble breathing just thinking about running with a mask. Professor Mike said he'd wear his (homemade) mask walking but not running. And SIOR, always supportive, asked me if I was on an Everest Base Camp trek and then said her nurse friend told her running with a mask will make you hyperventilate and make you end up in the ER. Well the jokes on her because I hyperventilated just fine without medical help. However, I will give SIOR credit for inspiring the title of this post.

Should I wear the mask during tomorrow's run? Probably, but I'll only invoke it during those moments when I'm forced to share my road with someone violating house arrest stay at home guidance. I've been discouraged in the past from yelling at neighbors for walking or running on the wrong side of the road so I'll hold back (for now) from berating them for not wearing masks. I mean really, why are these people out there?

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Pace matters, until it doesn't

Not exactly a blistering pace but I did get a blister.
 Most of 2019 has gone by and we will soon start another new decade. The idea that we will begin our own Roaring Twenties (roaring good or roaring bad? Discuss.) is both exciting and scary. From a running perspective it's an important milestone for this blog which began in the aughts (does anyone actually use that term?) and will, in 18 days, limp gracelessly into its third decade. That's right haters, I'm still standing!

I started blogging in late 2008, around the time that I started running seriously. Seriously did not mean well or fast, but that's when I started. Like most runners, I had simple objectives: run faster and longer. Something about health and piece of mind. But mostly run faster. That was a reasonable goal and I did make progress. Running also led to many great friendships and experiences, blah blah blah. You can read all about them in the almost 2,200 Emerging Runner posts. But let's get back to pace..

No one is ever satisfied with the speed they run. Sure, in the short term, runners celebrate their PRs and PBs. Aside from that, we are always castigating ourselves for falling short of our perceived potential. Don't agree? Tell me how many times you've told yourself that you are so satisfied with your current performance that you wouldn't wish to change a thing. Speed matters, until it doesn't.

When I first began running I had no benchmarks for speed, so I focused on increasing my distance. Running my first non-stop mile was a big deal. My pace at that time was almost inconsequential. I remember someone telling me, "If you run 8:59 a mile or faster you're a runner and if you run 9:00 or more you're a jogger." I took that as gospel and was pleased when I recorded my first run after purchasing a Nike+ foot pod and confirmed I was a runner. I soon dismissed that definition when my results showed I ran in the 9's as often as in the 8s.

I competed in a lot of races between 2009 - 2014 and probably hit my high water mark in 2012. Pace mattered then because PRs and age group podium-ing were both reasonable aspirations. A few things happened after that, including suffering a herniated disc and changing my work commute. This disrupted my workouts and hindered my performance. I watched my pace balloon to the point of near embarrassment. If 9:00 per mile was a jogger, what was I at this point?

I made the decision to stop working in early 2019 and since May I've had much more time to run. Five years ago I probably would have taken this opportunity to run at lots of different places and get back to 6+ mile runs on a regular basis. In reality, I've found it easier to commit to near daily runs by sticking close to home, running 3-4 mile routes in my neighborhood. I'm covering 70-80 miles a month, but my average pace has only improved 4.8% over the last seven months.

Hardly moving the bar on speed was disheartening, and I worried that I had a physical issue that was affecting my pace. My Garmin's heart rate monitor reported some erratic data that was hard to dismiss. I tested its accuracy in a few different ways and moved to a chest strap that showed a more stable range. But still...

Without going through all the details, I had a full day of lab testing -- cardio echo, carotid artery Doppler and even a nuclear stress test (super fun, here's a post I wrote about a prior stress test I did in 2014). I even had a couple of neurological tests for blood flow, just for good measure. The results of all that were clear, I couldn't blame my slow pace on my heart or arterial system.

I was happy to get confirmation from my doctors that I was physically fit, but I felt like I had no excuse for my slowness. I decided I had license to push harder on my runs and there has been a small improvement in my performance. However, it occurred to me that one of the reasons my test results came out so positively is due to the way I run.

I don't look at my pace readout on my Garmin anymore. My objective is primarily to follow my route and enjoy the experience. This seems to be the right thing for me. If I have to choose between healthy, active meditation or a minute per mile improvement, it's hardly a choice.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Solving the run-rest equation



See this post on our new site
The three Rs, Running, Resting and Rowin'
When you think about it, a lot of running involves math. The standard measure of performance (pace) is supported by explanatory metrics such as cadence, stride length and heart rate. That data allows us to analyze trends and calculate indicators like V0² max. I'll admit to loving statistics, but I know many people don't.

Besides my increasing skepticism of my heart rate monitor and my frustration with a stagnant pace, I'm not going to write much about any of that stuff today. Right now I'm looking at statistical frequency. Now don't stop reading, this isn't really about math. It's more about finding an optimum balance between running and resting.

When I stopped my daily commute at the beginning of May, I committed to increasing the number of miles I'd run a month. Seven years ago, I was averaging close to 20 miles a week. I typically took one rest day and totaled more than 80 miles a month. I did shorter runs during the work week and longer distances on weekends. When I was training for a 10K or a half marathon, I would cover as much as 12 miles.

Last April I ran a pathetically low 27 miles. Since then, I've steadily climbed from 57 in May to 82 in September. Just like I was doing doing in 2012, I'm again running six days a week and reaching 80 miles a month. However, that's where the similarity ends. My pace has declined measurably and I've only run more than four miles twice this year.

I've decided to make a change in my run schedule to give me more recovery time and allow for longer runs. My average distance per run is about 3.1 miles and getting back to the 5+ range will hopefully boost my stamina. If that happens, I may be able to nudge my pace back into respectable territory.

So here's the math problem:
  1. There are seven days in a calendar week. I am currently running six days each week and taking a rest day every Wednesday.
  2. The ratio of run days to rest days is 6:1.
  3. Running six days in a row is fatiguing and it invites repetitive injuries, especially to the feet.
  4. The cumulative fatigue discourages longer runs.
Here (I think) is the solution. See chart at top:
  1. Instead of keeping a specific rest day every calendar week, I will run six days out of every seven, but will insert a rest day after every third run.
  2. The ratio of running to resting drops from 6:1 to 3:1.
  3. Rest days happen based on the sequence, not on a fixed day, so some calendar weeks can have two recovery days.

This change has many positives but it could have an effect on my monthly mileage. The fixed rest day method typically resulted in 26 run days a month while the 3-on, 1-off method will be closer to 24. It will be harder to reach 80 miles a month at my present distance-per-run average, but I'm hoping that more frequent rest days will encourage me to add more miles per run. Knowing I'm never more than three days to a recovery day (or cross-training on the rower) should be a motivator.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Vlog 2: I love my Garmin, but…

Sure it is
Back in August I wrote about my frustrations with running performance. At that time I thought I could improve my pace by pushing my heart rate beyond my typical 75% of Max. After seeing some very weird numbers coming from my FR35, I figured I was either experiencing a medically concerning pulse or there was something wrong with the device that captured my heart rate. To get the details, see below.


Monday, September 16, 2019

Emerging Runner Vlog #1 - Being Cheap Pays Off


Hey Emerging Runner readers. For a change of pace, I'm vlogging instead of blogging this post which is about my recent experience getting and using a rowing machine. Running will always be my primary workout, but I've been thinking of ways to supplement my routine and put more attention to areas that don't benefit from daily runs. I'll see how this works out and what kind of a response I get. Please forgive the low production values. I promise to upgrade my camera and editing software if vlogging becomes a regular thing.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Runsketeer reunion at the Massapequa Preserve

Usual suspects: Mike, TPP, ER, SIOR, KWL
Photo courtesy of woman SIOR asked to take the picture
For the first time in 21 months, the "gang of five" core Runsketeers came together on Sunday to run the Massapequa Preserve trail. It had been a while since we'd gathered for a track workout followed by post-run coffee and snacks at SIORs house. In between then, various Runsketeers had gotten together for runs, rigorous hill workouts (I missed the Selden adventure due to my hill allergy) or the year-starting Hangover Run (that one I did).

The plan was to meet in the lot adjacent to the trail head. We all arrived on time and it felt great to see the 'sketeers: TPP, SIOR, Professor Mike and KWL, together again. The weather was cool and dry and other groups were also gathering for their Sunday runs. We voiced our planned distances that ranged from three to six miles, and made our way out of the lot and onto the path. We normally go left, but Mike suggested that we take the unpaved trail  on the right that follows the side of the lower pond. It was a bit rooty and I worried that I might trip, but it turned out to be fine.

KWL graciously stayed by my side and ran at my pace. Soon we connected with the paved trail where SIOR, TPP and Mike were waiting. They were quickly on their way and out of sight. We saw them next at the Clark Avenue crossing, but not again until we all met up in the lot. KWL and I moved along, covering many different subjects: work, guitars, 3-D printing, glass blowing and driving in the Japanese countryside. When we reached Mansfield Park, I suggested that we turn around in a quarter mile at the Linden Street crossing.

We headed back and added another two miles to what turned out to be a 4.5 mile run. I kept waiting for our speedy run-mates to overtake us along the way, but we arrived first at the trail head. Mike had followed the dirt section at the end and we saw him shortly after we'd stopped. He was coming from the west and may have actually beaten us back. I think he did 6+ miles, SIOR did 6 and TPP did 6.06. She is amazing because she mostly cycles now, yet she did a six miler last week and impressive distance yesterday. SIOR and Mike are the varsity players (to be fair, so is KWL) who can bring it in fast at any distance.

By law, the Runsketeers headed over to the nearest Starbucks which was located on Sunrise Highway a couple of miles west of the trail. TPP thought we were going to the Massapequa Starbucks but she got back on the road and joined us a few minutes later. KWL brought gifts from his various travels and we settled around a long table with coffees in hand.

We talked about a lot of things: CBD and "pharmaceuticals", books, movies, soccer, academics, kids and parents, and (of course) the sorry state of leadership in DC. As usual, two hours went by like 20 minutes and we all agreed that waiting for months on end to do these runs isn't acceptable. I appreciate the friendship and fun and I selfishly benefit from the higher bar set by my buddies that prompts me to run a little faster and farther than I would have on my own.

Running in fall with cooler temperatures and low humidity is almost as good as it gets. Running with these guys is as good as it gets.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Shifting back to miles per run

Happy September, my shirt even had a post-run smiley face
Labor Day greetings. I'm glad to report that I logged 80 running miles in August. It was actually 80.46 but who's counting? And don't get me started with Garmin GPS variance that generally under-counts run distance by 2.4%. So I ran 80.46 but I may have run 83.4. My August goal was 75 miles so any way you slice it, I'm happy. SIOR, who is not delusional even though she considers her upcoming trek to Everest base camp an easy hike, thinks I should go for 100 miles in September. I think I'm going to repeat the 75 mile goal for September and see what happens.

Now that I'm averaging 18+ miles a week, I'm ready to shift focus to running distances. My 80 miles in August and 71 in July were built around a lot of runs. With very few exceptions, I've run six days a week since mid June. I ran 27 days last month to get to 80 miles and I'm wondering if it would be more beneficial to aim for 75 miles a month, running 5 days a week. That would give me the flexibility to add another rest day to recover from long runs that aren't happening right now.

Back when I was commuting by train, I would usually run 2.5 miles at 4 AM from Tuesday through Friday and do 8-10 miles over the weekend. When I switched to commuting by car, my run schedule got disrupted and my weekly mileage and run frequency plummeted. Now that I'm commute-free, I have more options.

One thought is to do three days running with one day resting. It works out to six runs a week, but I'd never be more than three days from a rest day. My current schedule has me running five days straight for every rest day.  I could also go back to short runs (less than 3 miles) 66% of the time and longer runs (4 or more miles) 33% of the time. I could do that running either 5 or 6 times a week.

Since September has already begun and I've already logged 3.4 miles today, I think I'll aim for at least one run a week over 3.5 miles and edge up that target as I go. It's been a long time since I'd consider it no big deal to run six or seven miles on a weekend day. Right now, I just want to get back to doing four.or more.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

The Emerging Runner origin story

Perfect weather for running in circles today
I returned to running just about eleven years ago, mostly out of impatience. I didn't make any great decision to run. I just started doing it during the walks I'd began taking to lose weight and reduce cholesterol. After a month or so, I grew restless walking and began to fold in short runs along my route. What started off as a sprint to the next corner quickly turned into quarter mile runs. One day I just stopped walking entirely.

Prior to 2009, I had a few brief episodes of running, but I never made it stick. When I lived in Manhattan in the early '90s, I had a friend who encouraged me to run with her. I agreed and even went to Paragon in Union Square and bought a pair of yellow and blue Nike Cortez shoes. I'd dutifully rise, put on my running gear and go out for a few miles along Third Avenue, dodging people and stopping every block or so for lights.

I would occasionally trek up to Riverside Park to meet my running friend where I could run free of traffic, strollers and other obstructions. I put little thought into the way I ran and mostly went out full tilt every time. Part of that was due to my friend being faster than me and my fragile ego not allowing me to be left behind. I no longer have that issue, just ask any of the Runsketeers!

I continued to try and even entered my first race, the Manufacturer Hanover Corporate Challenge, in 1991. I have no memory of how I did, but ironically, it was probably the fastest 3.5 miles I ever ran. I have no records of my performance from those times and it was long before data tracking via GPS or foot pods, but I was 28 years younger. So probably.

Running hard without any conditioning plan or progress strategy led to a lack of motivation. I was tired of coming back from every run feeling terrible. When my running friend went on a two week business trip to LA, I had no daily accountability and started sleeping in. And that was that.

So in late summer 2008, as I walked up Underhill Avenue, I decided to run the 100 yards or so to Cheshire and that's how it started. Or restarted. As time went on, these runs grew longer and more frequent. I thought about the circumstances that undermined my running in the '90s and committed to a different tactic:
  • Run only at a pace that provides an enjoyable experience. 
  • Have a route plan.
  • Keep to sustainable distances.
I knew that if I struggled every time I ran I'd grow tired of the whole thing. The trick was finding a balance between comfort and effort that I could advance as my conditioning improved. As most runners know, it's possible to make dramatic progress when you are just beginning. Discipline, structure and performance targets reinforce gains. By 2009, the internet provided tools like MapMyRun and the Nike+ system that gave runners a way to capture, record, visualize and analyze their workouts. I was hooked.

When I started Emerging Runner in November of 2008, I wondered if history would repeat itself and I'd find myself shutting it down after a couple of months. Somehow it stuck and, after 2,186 posts and counting, I'm still at it. I've had my ups and downs but I have never lost my love for the run. 

Sometimes I get tired of running my neighborhood (I am reasonably sure I have run down Lenore Street at least 2,500 times) so I'll go out on the Bethpage trail or (like today) take 13 laps around the track of a nearby high school. But I never get tired of putting on my running shoes and heading out the door.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

When it comes to pace, some things are obvious

Dare to believe
Some things are so obvious that we ignore what's right in front of us. I think I may have figured out something that could get me out of the performance stasis that I have struggled with for a very long time.

I've worked hard over the past 3.5 months to get back to my old running self. Since May, I've been consistently running six days a week. This has resulted in a 4X increase in mileage per month compared to what I was doing prior to May. My runs are peaceful, almost meditative. Compared to where I was, this all seems great. But it's not all great.

 According to Garmin Connect, almost every one of my performance metrics are at their lowest points in over a year. Speed, cadence and stride length are down compared to last summer and way down from where they were when I last competed (2014). I know I'm five years older, but I don't accept this level of decline. Some of it may relate to the medication I take, but I'm now rethinking that theory.

Back to the obvious. Most runners who focus on performance understand the basics. The harder the effort, the higher your heart rate. The higher your heart rate, the faster you go. Higher effort yields more steps per minute. A longer stride gets you there faster. So if your average heart rate on a run is 60% of max, your runs will be peaceful and meditative. But your cadence will be low and your pace will be awful.

I've always been a little suspicious of HR monitors because they occasionally give readings that would trigger a trip to the ER if they were real. It's a known issue across all brands, Garmin, Polar, Suunto, etc. I noticed that my heart rate on most runs was pretty low but I chose to believe the monitor wasn't accurate. If I thought about it more, I would have realized that I had fallen into cruise control running and I had no one but myself to blame for my poor pacing.

I decided to run 10 x 160 meter intervals to see if I could match my performance from years ago. I couldn't hit those numbers, but the times were faster than anything I've recorded since 2015. More importantly, my heart rate, cadence and stride length for those ten repeats were strongly correlated to the fast paces. One might say that was an obvious result, but I still didn't connect it to my daily runs.

It wasn't until I started tracking my all-day heart rate that I concluded that the HR monitor was fairly consistent from day to day. I realized that I should believe the readings I was seeing on my run. And if those readings were barely cracking 60% of max HR, I needed to ramp up my effort.

I look good in blue
So I did. Starting Monday, I focused solely on my HR on my runs with a goal of 70-85% max. The results have not been dramatic, but I'm running almost 2 mins per mile faster than I was a week ago. It's no piece of cake and I can feel the effort, but it's tolerable. Per Garmin Connect, my V0 max has moved from good to excellent for my age.

My challenge going forward will be to continue pushing on every run in hopes of making a higher HR my new normal. I don't think I'll be getting back to 9:00 paces too soon, but at least I know what I need to do to get there.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

SIOR and I hit the Massapequa trail

Well Preserved this morning
Happy Bastille Day! Despite meeting my distance target for June (goal was 65 miles and I actually recorded 66.84, but who's counting?), this is the first post I've written in July. I now have more time to post and I'm running a lot more, but there isn't a lot to write about when every run is pretty much the same. Today I had the pleasure of running again with SIOR who accommodated my mediocre speed and actually had me pacing at a level I haven't seen in a number of months, More on that further below.

Back to the monthly mileage goal for a minute. I measure my runs using Gmaps to get a more accurate distance number than the Garmin records. This is because GPS watches have a technical limitation with the way they track vectors around corners and sometimes on straight roads. You can improve the accuracy by increasing the number of GPS "pings" per minute. It would be an easy fix, but battery life would be terrible. I've figured out that my watch generally under counts distance by about 2% so (technically) I probably ran 68.17 miles in June. But again, who's counting?

Today was not about distance or speed, although I ultimately covered 3.4 miles and paced better than my average. It was about getting in an easy run and having good old conversation. I haven't been able to keep up with the speedy Runsketeers in the past year, but SIOR made it easy for me.

We met at the Massapequa Preserve trail head at 7:30 AM with a plan to do a three mile out and back. After the usual game of Marco Polo (SIOR was in the big lot, I was in the small lot) we found each other. I had a big day Saturday up in Putnam County at Cold Spring and Bear Mountain and wasn't feeling great. I told SIOR that I'd understand if she wanted to run her pace but she was having none of that and we took off together.

This looks like a lot more than 3 miles

SIOR claimed she also wasn't feeling great and we stopped from time to time and walked. That may be true, but I think she may have done that because 12 minute paces hurt her knees. Whatever the reason, today was a throwback to the "early" Runsketeer days when I was better able to hold my own in these group runs. Some pretty funny conversations used to happen back then, with me and SIOR verbally jabbing and counter punching and TPP laughing and encouraging it all.

According to my Garmin, me and SIOR covered 2.6 miles actually running. Since we turned around at the 2 mile mark (SIOR correct me if I'm wrong) I suspect that we ran more than that. After looking at the GPS map that cut out a lot of our route and my step count on my Garmin, I'm sure we covered at least three, if not more. Here's one example of GPS malfeasance:

I don't remember running across the water
No matter the actual distance, we enjoyed it. We saw a big dog chilling in a stream and lots of other runners on the trail. I felt 100% better after my run than before it. Then there was only one thing left to do: coffee at Starbucks! You'd think after all that trail conversation we would have covered every  possible topic. But you don't know us. The thing that always amuses me when the Runsketeers get together is how little we actually talk about running. And that's just fine with me.

I wanted to record at least three miles today so I ran over to the nearby middle school and did 4 x 160 meter repeats and ran back home. That added another .8 miles to today's total and finished off my week with 16.5 miles. According to Garmin Connect, I'm at 36.26 miles for July which they say is 48% of of 70 miles. But my math (backed up by a calculator) says that's actually 51.8%. So what gives Garmin? Either way, I expect to reach 70, even with GPS under counting and Garmin Connect's "math problem."

 

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