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. 没有.  

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 bête 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?

 

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