Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Some words about numbers

I love words, playing with sentence structures, teasing semantic overtones, reveling in the subtle shades of meaning from choosing one word over another. I can spend hours obsessing about the phrasing of a single sentence. My more serious posts to this blog can sometimes take days to complete. I've even one that's months old still siting in the queue, unposted, unfinished. No doubt, I've been accused of exhibiting a certain pedantry.

Numbers as well. With numbers my tendencies tend towards a sort of compulsiveness. I've been logging my runs since around 2000. Before that I wasn't consistent (or confident) enough in my running to track it because once its recorded, it's later reviewed then manipulated, analyzed and, ultimately, judged. Time, distance, pace, elevation, calories. Splits, averages, fastest, longest, most, best...worst.

The first few years I maintained written logbooks, but eventually moved to an electronic one. I was always meticulous about recording my runs. If I didn't have my log with me on a trip, I would record the time and distance on some random scrap of paper. Miles would be calculated from maps or estimated (roughly) in their absence. Online mapping software was my best friend. Before a run I'd use it to explore possible routes and alternatives; afterward, I'd retrace the precise path I had taken. I was actually fairly resistant about getting a Garmin for some time. I always said it was just one more thing over which to obsess. But, secretly, I think I really enjoyed the process of adding miles up on the map--mentally re-living the run along the way.

Eventually, I gave in to the GPS. After all, I am a gadget lover as well. Simplicity of recording meant more time for post-run analysis. With programs like SportsTracks, I could review trends: daily, weekly, monthly. I could even generate custom reports; my obsessive nature delighting in the minutiae. With such tools, I can now figure out the difference between my average pace on Wednesday afternoon versus Thursday evening runs over the course of a given year! What more could I as for?

I, similarly, had an initial aversion to using a heart rate monitor (HRM for the initiated). If I already spent way too much time checking the watch for my current pace, distance and accumulated time, I would likely become downright rediculous wirh yet another number to track while out on my training runs. Then there's the whole bio-feedback angle where the very act of worrying about my HR can make it go up. But, alas, I committed to follow the Maffetone equation and keep my heart from beating more than 145 times every 60 seconds during my base building phase. There was pretty much no way to avoid adding yet another electronic device to this normally simple sport, further feeding my obsession with a constant stream of numbers.

So, I've been monitoring my heart rate, trying to keep it below 145 bpm while maintaining a consistent (but, hopefully, increasing) pace. At least in these initial weeks, my pace and average HR vary quite a bit based on a number of factors that I can't always identify. Basically there are good days and bad. I've been looking for a way to compare workouts so I can look for a general trend. My idea was to simply multiply HR in beats per minute (bpm) by pace in minutes per mile (mpm) to come up with the metric of beats per mile. I could then compare the results of this function from one run to another as a sort of index.

The problem with this function is that HR doesn't necessarily rise linearly with pace. So, for example, if my average HR at 10-mpm is 140 and at 9-mpm its 150 then the I get values of 1400 and 1350, respectively. Further, the reality is even more dramatic as my HR seems to go up more slowly as my speed increases, at least to a certain point. After that I, need to work much harder for increases in pace. However, this point, the functional minimum (or the point where the first derivative equals zero for the mathematically inclined), is well above the 145 recommended max HR. I could conclude that I should just try to run as close to 145-bpm as possible in order to optimize this function within the limit. However, this is not only difficult to acheive in practice, but probably goes against the spirit of Maffetone. The idea is to keep all your running below a certain effort level, not to target a particular average while pushing the pace.

I suppose I could just try to minimize my total heart beats over a week, but then my distance is pretty variable so perhaps I could just look at the average per mile. However, even here, weeks with longer runs will tend to skew the data as my HR is higher for a given pace late in a very long run and, therefore, not comparible to the measure added up from a few shorter runs. There are also runs with my wife where I go at her pace so my HR will tend to be much lower overal than if I were just running at my own pace within the zone. No, the only thing to I can do is compare workouts where my HR is at near the same average and see if pace is increasing over the weeks (or conversely compare runs where the pace is similar and see if HR is decreasing). There's no need for my beats per mile metric if HR (or pace) is kept constant.

Oh well, at least I can have some new useless facts with which to waste time. My heart beat 98,560 times while running the last week. Fascinating. This does bring me to one last thought which is the concept of "lifetime heartbeats". As runners, we are often confronted by sedentary people who offer up some dubious criticism of our sport generally as a rationalization for their own lack of fitness. Usually its something about ruining our knees, being hit by cars or eaten by wild animals. However, chief among these absurd claims has to be the assertion that "we only get a certain number of heart beats in our lifetime." The idea being that we runners are going to die sooner because we are using up our heart beats at a faster rate.

Let's enter the couch potato's fantasy land and grant this claim at face value. The average male human resting heart rate is around 70-bpm. Mine is about 48. Let's assume that when not sleeping our fictional sloth manages a modicum of exertion--getting up to go to the fridge, walking to the car, moving between cubicle and elevator, etc.--and manages a weekly average of 75-bpm (we'll put mine at 55). A week has 24*7=168 hours. On a good week (when not racing a 100 miler), I will get in 11 or so hours of running. Let's say that I work pretty hard and have an average HR of 150-bpm for my runs. That would be 11*60*150=99,000 beats while running. The rest of the week would total 157*60*55=518,100 beats for a total of 617,100 beats for the week. Now, our sedantary man in that same week will have accumulated a total of 168*60*75=756,000 beats. Even on a week where I ran a 30hr 100-miler with an average HR of 140 (no way I could keep that high in a 100), my total would still be just over 700K.

Now, tell me, who is going to use up their heart faster?

After all this data gathering and post-data gathering analysis, there is really only one inexorable conclusion. I am, quite likely, borderline OCD about certain things (I can hear you laughing, honey, but its a big border, OK?) The only cure I've found is to lose myself in a very long run on a remote trail somewhere with the GPS serving only its most vital function of reminding me that I do, eventually, need to return home (and letting me know just which way that might be if I need it).

Monday, January 26, 2009

Does this race make my ass look fat?

The Fremont Fat Ass 50K has been a great way to start the season the past two years and I still wanted to be a part of it this year even if I wasn't prepared for the full distance. With my long bike rides, I felt my aerobic condition was fine. The question was more about how much pounding my calf could put up with. My goal was to just run for 2-3 hours, perhaps 15 miles or so. I would still be aiming to keep my heart rate under 145bpm so I would start with the back-of-the-pack runners. It would be nice to go at a more casual pace and socialize after pushing it last year to finish under 5 hours.

I started out running along with Drs. Cynthia and David, two PhDs who work in the patent law industry. Having had to deal with software patents from various fronts in my job, we had some very interesting discussions. About half way to Coyote Hills we came upon Jim Winne. Jim has an arrythmia condition and was having some heart rate issues this day. He said it was common for him and he would be fine so long as he kept his HR below a certain level. He was doing so with frequent walk breaks. He said he was probably going to turn around early and asked us to let Catra know if we saw her.

Since I was taking it easy anyway, I decided to just stick with Jim. If he was going to turn around early then it would be good incentive for me to do the same. Besides, it's always interesting spending time with some of the people who have been around this sport much longer than I have. Despite the slow pace, we were approaching the entrance to Coyote Hills before we knew it. I told Jim that this was pretty much the last chance to cut it short and he said he was going to go ahead and finish the whole thing. I decided I'd better stick with him for safety sake. That's my story and I'm sticking to it! OK, the truth is I am just too pig-headed to stop. If Jim was going to finish and my calf was feeling fine, then how could I turn back early?

As we made our way to the water stop at the Dairy Glen area we caught up with Linda McFadden and Barbara Elia who had started early. I ran with Linda for a bit at Coyote Two Moons last year and Barb, well, you can't really run ultras in the Bay Area for long and not know who Barbara is. I've seen her at so many races that I've joked that maybe she just runs from the end of one to the start of the next. She has been running ultras since I was in high school and has probably run more miles than just about anyone on the planet. I ended up sticking with Barb for the remainder of the race. I've talked with Barara before, but this was the first chance I have had to spend extended time hearing about all of her amazing experiences.

I finished the race in 6:37 (nearly two hours slower than last year) and my average HR was 144. Ron Duncan, whom I'd met two years ago at this race, came in first and was kind enough to go out and buy pizza and beer for everyone behind him. No that is a tradition that I think this race should adopt! My calf felt fine the entire race and the only pain is from being out of conditioning. After running with my wife for a little under 10 miles more on Sunday evening, I still feel fine. For some reason, my thighs are actually the most sore and there is a pain in my left glute that will need some work this week. I guess that is sort of par for the course. Besides, I know I can be a pain in the ass to my wife with my running obsession, it's only fair that I should end up with one at the end of one of her runs.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Happy Returns

I am happy to say that I just completed my first week of consistent running since my injury. I ran a total of 22 miles from Monday to Monday all at a very easy pace. The longest outing was just an hour and a half, but I have done bike rides of 3-1/2 hours and 4 hours the past two weekends to keep up my endurance. I've also continued the exercises given to me by my physical therapist and I have had no pain in the calf at all. This next weekend I am planning to attempt my first long run. I may join the Fremont Fat Ass 50K, but don't expect to run the entire distance. Maybe something in the 2-3 hour range. I will either do a bike ride on Sunday or a shorter run with my wife depending on Saturday's results.

The following weekend is the PCTR Race Series Awards Ceremony in Walnut Creek. While I didn't win any awards (I only ran one race in the series anyway), I'm going to attend because it promises to be fun. I am going to ride my bike to the ceremony and back. The ride I did this past weekend was a test of the route. I started too late and had to jump on BART in Pleasanton after 57 miles because it was getting dark and the last thing I wanted was to try to ride on Niles Canyon Rd. after dusk. Based on this ride, I expect the entire 72 mile trip to take about 5 hours. I will leave from Fremont BART around 6am and then head back out after the ceremony at noon. I've plotted the route I plan to take on Google Maps.

So far, this doesn't really stand as a training plan, but if I get through these next few weeks I will feel confident enough to put something more formal together. Stay tuned. I'm back. Hopefully, I'll have something more interesting to write about soon.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Phasing into races

After successfully completing two very easy 3 mile runs, I am ready to cautiously declare myself as having returned to running. The real question is how things will progress from here. I'm hoping that my 3-1/2 hour bike ride last weekend is a sign that my endurance is in reasonable condition. My runs have been at a VERY slow pace, like 10+ mpm on flat terrain. However, this actually fits with my original plans. My goal for the early part of this year was to execute a real base building phase which I have never really done in a formal manner. I planned to use the Maffetone approach which has me keeping my maximum HR at 145bpm. To assist with this, I have changed the default display on my Garmin to display heartrate in place of pace while running. Of course, since it still displays time and distance, I can obviously do the calculation in my head. However, it should cut down on my tendency to constantly monitor my pace and to focus more on heartrate.

I have a semblance of a race schedule set up for the first part of the season. However, already, two races have are off. We cancelled our trip to Disneyworld after me being sidelined by my injury and my wife's training going south after a November illness. The next target for her is Big Sur which is supposed to be beautiful. I am still in Coyote Two Moons and am remaining hopeful that my progress will allow me to join the fun an luncacy of that race again. With an average pace of 3mph, it really is more like a long hike where I run the downhills. The only other possible race before then is Sequoia which I will treat as a training run. It is pretty tentative at this point as my son has a potential playoff basketball game that night and we also have a weding invite for the same day. Will play that one by ear.

After Coyote Two Moons, I plan to finally run the Diablo 50m since it doesn't fall on my wife/mother/nephew/mother-in-law's birthday weekend. Those two races should get my endurance up. I then want to have a "big" month of May before tapering for States in June. I didn't get into Miwok this year (no 3-peat for me) so I will look for another race in early May. Options include the following:
I'm leaning towards one of the 50 milers as all of the above except Quicksilver would require travel and I don't like to travel for anything shorter than a 50m. PCT or Bishop would add in some good altitude training before the Western States Training Camp, but Quicksilver is the easy choice. I plan to keep Ohlone and Mt. Diablo 50K events on my schedule, but plan to keep them as training runs to be followed by my taper.

After States, I really have not firmed up any plans. I have some ideas of other 100s I'd like to do, but will probably be limited to those that do not fill early. I will likely return to Javelina again and consider making a streak of it. However, I really can't look that far ahead right now. I am most focused on the immediate comeback. I will do my first run of an hour or longer this weekend. I will also probably do another long bike ride to keep the endurance up. It really is day by day at this point.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

"...moving fast and efficiently, breathing calmly, monitoring himself so as not to get into oxygen debt as he fought gravity to the top. His sure feet knew the trail so well, every rock and root, twist and slant, that he felt he could close his eyes. But he didn't. Every path, no matter how well known, contains the unexpected."


The path is in sight.

After many fits and starts, entire pain-free weeks followed disparagingly by short test runs that ended in calf-seizing setbacks, I finally went to the doctor. He referred me to the very knowledgeable physical therapists at Elite Sports Physical Therapy. During my first consultation my therapist, Jacon, confirmed what I had suspected, but also explained something that had remained a mystery to me. It certainly appeared to be a fairly severe calf strain. However, the reason I have been having so much trouble recovering from it is that I have been fighting against the body's natural healing process.

When the body heals a wound, scar tissue develops around the site to help promote healing. It was explained to me that it works somewhat like a cast holding the injured fibers together. The problem is that scar tissue is inflexible and doesn't necessarily align with the movement of the muscle. This means that as you try to come back from an injury you are often working against the scar tissue (especially if you are trying a little sooner than you should). Not only does this explain the occurrence of re-injury, it also explains why I was experiencing the "cramping" feeling whenever it happened. My calf muscles were basically pulling against the scar tissue that were holding the injury in place.

My rehabilitation involved some ultrasound and soft tissue work to break up and help re-shape the scar tissue along with exercises that increasingly load the muscles to both strengthen the supporting areas and help align everything with proper movement. It started with seated toe-ups against pressure from my hands, but quickly progressed to body-weight versions. Combined with this has been a number of single-leg balancing exercises performed on spongy blogs that reduce impact, but also really work all the stabilizers on the outside of the legs. The one-legged jumps were the final test and I could really feel it in the legs as well as the hips. I am going to incorporate all of these into my normal routine going forward.

So, the end result of all of this was that yesterday I got on the treadmill. I ran at an easy 10 minute-mile pace while Jacon watched my gait. He showed me a couple of stretches to help with some tightness that might be causing a slight outward rolling on the injured side. I went less than a mile, but felt ZERO tightness in my calf or pain around the inujured area. This was a first as when I did the previous tests on my own I always felt tightness at the start (foolishly convincing myself that it would go away upon warm-up). The only thing I did feel was a in my shins, but this was most likely due to the 50-mile bike ride I did on Sunday. In the end he gave me the go ahead to start running.

I did 3 miles last night at a very easy pace with my wife. No tightness. No Pain. No calf seizing up. Everything felt good. I'll probably do a couple more easy runs this week and then do about 6 or so this weekend to see how it holds together approaching the one hour mark. I'm going to keep it on the flats for now, but returning to the trails in the near term no longer seems a fantasy.

I will most likely head up Mission Peak once I feel strong enough for the hills. Being as it is so familiar to me, it has stood most clearly in my mind when I imagine being back running on the trails.


"Kim was, as always, utterly happy while running, in accord with nature, in harmony with the universe, in touch with the truth that was in him, full of love for all creatures, even the lowliest insect."

- The Holy Man by Susan Trott