Sunday, February 27, 2011

Statistics is Just a Fancy Way to Lie II (Part B)

Trends are promiscuous numbers being somewhat monogamous...

And just so you know, this may be a bit long as well...

Below, for all of the moments of glory or failure are numbers from my long runs for Bayshore 09, Chicago 09, Boston 10, Grand Rapids 10, and current training for Boston 11. I'll note a few things under each graph, but I save the more in depth discussions for last. And a special thanks to the Redhead who decided to take these from a scrap piece of paper and put then in a graph.

In Bayshore I used the Hal Higdon's Intermediate II marathon plan. The key idea for this training plan is the middle week tempo runs as well as the Saturday/Sunday tempo/long runs. I was attempting to BQ. Of note, I ran the Earth Day Marathon as part of a long run.

KEY: If there is a parentheses after a number, that is what I ran. So, if it says 12M (15.7) then I ran 15.7M (or a 25K race); but if the number is smaller than I ran the shorter distance (see week 10 of Chicago 09). An '*' indicates I ran with someone else at their pace.

What I did well: A 19M run at a sub 7 pace.

What I didn't do well: Too many races (4 5Ks) and runs longer than supposed to.

Short Race Day Recap: Calf cramps at mile 20 destroyed me...destroyed me something awful.

For Chicago 09 I used the FIRST training program. The FIRST uses a track workout, a tempo workout, and a long run, plus two training days (can be running, but must run at slow pace). Plus, it is a 16 week program.

What I did well: 24M run at a 7:06/M pace.

What I didn't do well: Stayed up late, consumed over 150oz of Mt. Dew night before week 9's 18M long run. Lots of Mt. Dew will cause you to throw plastic patio furniture and have a melt down.

Short Race Day Recap: Sat on pacers for race, felt great, and got a BQ.

This one is ugly. I've said it before...I did an awful job training. Number of runs in April before marathon...3. Still using theory at least.

What I did well: Did all of my long runs.

What I didn't do well: Track workouts, tempo runs, or any other type of mid-week running.

Short Race Day Recap: Knew I was undertrained, tried to enjoy and run comfortable, still had major calf cramps.

Used FIRST again, but modified mileage because: 1) I'd taken a ton of time off and was out of running shape; 2) I wanted to try back to back 20M weekends.

What I did well: Had faith in my training plan and kept getting in better running shape despite weeks of not seeing results. A 23M long run at a 7:02/M average.

What I didn't do well: Begin with a base of any kind, stay positive for the first few weeks.

Short Race Day Recap: Had a wonderful race for 20M, 8:09/M avg for last 10K not so hot, still managed a BQ.

So, what does it all mean. Really, I could point out some trends and other things, but the reality is this...the numbers don't really mean all that much. I know when I'm in good running shape, and when I'm not. I've had awful runs during training cycles that led to BQs, and amazing runs during a training cycle where I was trying to BQ but didn't.

One common factor I've had is, when not following a pacer as I did in Chicago 09, I tend to blow up around mile 20 regardless of training (see Bayshore 09, Boston 10, Grand Rapids 10). After Bayshore I began to add 22M, 23M, even 24M runs, but I still seem to blow up on race day. Suggestions or ideas?

Sure, the numbers can get all gooey and sexy and may cause Nitmos to need a moment, but guarantee a great race? Nope. And worrying about the numbers is wasted energy, which is why I try to focus on effort more than numbers. Remember, there are no 4 week marathon training plans. So accept that you will have good runs and bad runs over the course of 15 to 18 (or more) weeks of training.

This is not an easy process, but it should be a joyful one. And when I minimize my complainnig and bemoaning, I realize it is a wonderful journey.

Statistics is Just a Fancy Way to Lie II (Part A)


I don't often delve too deep into the number on this blog. Honestly, I'm more interested in how we as runners approach long runs, races, running in general, and other philosophical or mental aspects of the sport. I also love the overwhelming support and encouragement bloggers share with one another (well...this guy and this guy have some issues to work out).

But, I won't pretend that I don't look at the numbers or think about them. I just know to never get too caught up in them. And the story below is illustrative as to why getting caught up in the numbers is a bad idea.*

Thus far this training cycle I've done three 20M+ runs, a 20M, a 22M, and a 22M. My average pace went 7:09/M, 7:14/M, 7:18/M. You could argue I'm trending downwards, notwithstanding the fact that I'm in better running shape than I was three weeks ago when I ran my 20M. So what accounts for this? A few things. First, my first 22M run was the weekend following my 20M. Back-to-back 20M runs is demanding, and a slight drop off is understandable. While this weekend I decided to return to the Lansing area and run my Hills of Death route (pictured below). So, despite being my slowest average, my 7:18/M pace is significantly better than I've ever run on that route (besting my 7:43/M top spot from last year).

And, yet, I don't feel overly optimistic about my HoD run because of the way I fell apart over the last seven miles. As you can see from the graph below, I started to really 'chunk-up' time during the last third of the run.

Still, at mile 20 I had a 7:15/M average; but the last two miles (also the first two miles) were unshoveled sidewalk lightly covered in a fresh layer of snow--the kind that conceals ice and matted down clumps of snow perfect for rolling an ankle. On my way out I nearly fell three times. By the time I returned to these miles I was unable to pick it up or even run fast enough to maintain the 7:40ish average I had for miles 17-20. Basically, the first time through the hills went well, but on the second round the hills ground me up like a piece of low quality processed meat. good.**

In case you ever want to run this fun little 11M out/back, you just start at the MAC and head north on Hagadorn to Grand River. Take Grand River east to Park Lake Road. Follow Park Lake north until you get to a road called Coleman (you cannot miss Coleman because you look to the right and see three angry hills). Go east on Coleman until it dead ends, run west back on Coleman to Park Lake and turn north again. Take Park Lake north until you hit the I-69 ramps. Turn around, then enjoy the hills again. The elevation gain is 2523, the loss is 2546, with a net of -17. Below is the elevation chart for my first 22M. NOTE: This route involves lots of road running. Basically, there are no sidewalks on Park Lake or Coleman north of Lake Lansing. If you are not comfortable running on roads, this is not a route for you. As always, be safe out there.

Above is the elevation graph for my first 22M run around the greater Howell area. Elevation gain is 2178, elevation loss is 2190, net is - 12. Now, compare the above two routes to another 'difficult' route.

Elevation gain is 1129, loss is 1545, and the net is -416.

* In Part B of this post I'll talk in depth about trends form five different marathon training cycles.

** Down goes another potentially lucrative endorsement deal.

Monday, February 21, 2011


A few things unrunning.

Bedtime Story

First of all, if you ever wanted to get a little insight about the daily lives and interactions between the Redhead and myself, then enjoy this little recap. The identities have been removed to prevent the tarnishing of either party's reputation. One party unjustly claims that the other 'bigger' party is a cover hog. The other party adamantly protests and says there is no evidence to prove such an unjust act. The alleged aggrieved party insists the 'bigger' party is a brute and takes said covers purposefully. To which the 'bigger' party responds that control over the covers is war. Plain and all out war every night.

What Goes Around

Several weeks ago the powers that be decided that I would hit a patch of black ice and send my top-heavy SUV spinning at 70mph on a highway. The roads were clear up to that point, and it was at 5:30am. Fortunately, I put said SUV into the concrete wall (as oppose to going into the ditch and likely rolling like one of Ren and Stimpy's logs). Several kind strangers helped me that day. So, today, it was my turn to help out several strangers. Armed with nothing more than a new all-wheel-drive crossover and a shovel, I helped dig out four different cars at various points today. I did this because I believe I owe Karma something. Also, I'm using said kindness as a reason to not do a 5M maintenance run today.

Too Much What

During the lunch break at the company retreat, I went directly to the desert table to secure the best of what was offered. A coworker saw my triple chocolate cheesecake and said that there was too much chocolate. Believing ignorance must always be fought instantaneously and with the power of enlightenment, I informed her that saying such a thing is like saying someone gives you too much joy. I also told her I would accept her apology.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

BAAseline Adjustments

I know you know about what they did. I get that changes were necessary, but I have a difficult time with the idea of BQing but possibly being blocked out of the race. In theory, you could BQ every year, maybe by just one second, and you could never actually be accepted into the race. If you have a background in philosophy and history then such a thing poses quite the mental quandary, as it calls into question what it really means to BQ.

That said, it seems I need to make some adjustments to my training. No longer will training to run a 7:15/M average be acceptable (at least not until I get a little older). So, I adjusted my training times and goals. Which means my I-can't-wait-for-this-weekends-easy 13M run became a run at 7:00/M pace.

Before I get to the numbers, a quick discussion about expectations for a run and the actuality of a run. While sitting around yesterday and planning my run my goal was to start off with a 7:05 to 7:10 mile for the first two to three miles and then build up to a 7:00 pace until around mile 10, where I would try to pick up the pace to around a 6:45 to 6:50.

Yet, I make these plans knowing I'd be running a modestly hilly route. It is almost as if I make my running plan on the assumption that I'll be running a perfectly flat course. It wasn't until mile three (a 7:10 into 25mph winds) that I actually realized I'd need to modify said running plan to account for the miles into the wind and the hilly miles; then try to push hard during the flat miles and the miles with the wind at my back.

This meant a run with all kinds of crazy fluctuations (like a 6:46, 7:10, 6:55, 7:10). After mile 9 I was about 30 seconds slow. This meant turning 'it' on for the last four miles, going 6:39, 6:48, 6:50, and 6:35. These last four miles were enough to give me a 6:57/M average.

This just demonstrates the point that you can't always run the exact pace you want every mile (unless you are on the treadmill), but you can still get to your overall goal if you can accept the slower miles the terrain forces you into and pick up time on the miles that will give them to you.

Ah, running. So easy. So hard.

Also, seems I owe the Redhead something cotton.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Bad Friday

If you are lucky, sometimes in life you discover keen, if not profound, insights about yourself. Friday was such a day for me. Why? Because on Friday I realized my badassness is limited only by my dumbassness.

Profound eh?

And what event brought me to such an insight? The fact that I realized I was a week off on my training plan. I was supposed to go 10, 13, 15, 12, 18, 13, 18, 20, 22 (there are more, but these are the import numbers for the story). Friday I realized I had gone 10, 13, 15, 12, 18, 20. Seems I forgot about that step-down week of 13M and instead did my first 20M run early. Score a point for my dumbassness.

Therefore, on Friday evening I had to redesign my long run training plan, and I had to decide if I should run the 22M I had been preparing for all week long.

While attempting to rearrange my plan, I did desire to keep my slotted back-to-back 20M (or more) runs. This was something I introduced into my training last fall for Grand Rapids, scheduling a 20M then a 22M. I had an 8:07/M pace for my 20M and a 8:38/M average for a 2 mile shortened run of only 20M. What should be noted about the second 20M run back in August was that it came after getting a massive blister in the CRIM and that I pretty much had a runner out-of-my-mind experience where all comprehension of time was lost and I felt like I was running well past midnight even though it was closer to 10pm. The Redhead will tell you, I returned a different person than when I had left.

But I was feeling confident after my 7:10/M average for my first 20M run last week, and so I decided to go ahead and rearrange my schedule and run 22M on Saturday. I set out with a goal of averaging around 7:15/M pace, with the goal of no mile slower than a 7:30.

Despite dropping one 7:35 during mile 16, I averaged a 7:14/M pace. I’ll be doing that missed 13M next week, and my legs are eagerly looking forward to the step-down.

The Marketing of Boston (Not The Boston Market)

I’ll admit, I may have hated on Adidas last year a bit for their Boston Marathon line. So this year I’ve been closely watching them. First, they offer—for the first time ever—the “Boston Qualifier” line. Clearly an attempt to capture the market of runners who managed to qualify but were not lucky enough to get a spot in the 2011 race.

Now, it should be noted that during the first few days the BQer clothing was available, Adidas also offered a green 2011 BM running singlet as well as green running shorts (sorry ladies, but I believe they were the men’s shorts). Almost immediately Adidas pulled the BM clothing, leaving only the BQer line.

In case you didn’t know, the original BQer clothing had purple all up in it. Then Adidas, likely because of poor sales or consumer complaints about how crappy the colors were, changed the colors to make them more consistent with Boston’s blues and yellows.

Because Adidas pulled the pictures, I’ve done my best to give you an idea of what they looked like. And if Adidas has a problem with my crappy Word Art skills they can just send me the originals and I’d be happy to put those pictures up. Oh, and don’t think I didn’t try calling Adidas immediately to let them know I was interested in ordering the removed items they had changed overnight. And don’t think I didn’t spend a good hour on the phone with various ‘customer service’ representatives as I tried and tried to see what had happened—me playing the distraught customer the entire time—or to see if I could still order the old items.

All my efforts were for not. Sure, I never really intended to order the stuff, but I wanted to try and figure out what had happened. The best I could get was that the purple colored items were no longer available. I insisted, but some must still exist. If I could order one last night, they surely they exist? “No, sorry.” was all I got.

That said, some other changes are shown below (new on top, old below).

Then, a little over a week ago, Adidas decided to release the first run of official BM 2011 clothing. This includes the “Official Marathon Jacket.” As you can see, Adidas decided to "Go Green" with their clothing line.

Now, a more detailed discussion about the “official” jacket. Last year it looked like this.

This year it looks like this.

Basically, the exact same jacket with the exception of the new colors. Or so I thought. First, I noticed that there was something strange about the packaging of my jacket. Can you spot the mistake? Hint: Boston is all about the right numbers.

No, I’m not talking about the hefty price of $95 buckers. Answer: the tag for the jacket is from the 2010 product line. Excellent job on that one Adidas. Not only did your customer services associates stonewall me from getting the ‘extinct purple’ products, but they seemed to be a little confused as to what year this is. But back to the price. $95 is a lot of money. And I get it; a BM jacket carries some clout amongst fellow runners. But tell a non-runner you spent that kind of money on a running jacket and they will stare at you the way a deer stares into headlights approaching at 75mph—that is, awestruck and slightly unable to comprehend.

So, when I spend that kind of money, I at least want a quality jacket. Last year’s was of sufficient quality. But this year’s jacket is not only as expensive, but friggen cheap a$$ Adidas decided to omit the embroidery and simply screen-print the lettering/logos. WFT!!!

I swear to God (or FSM), please allow Nike or Asics or some other company to replace Adidas as the clothing sponsor for this race.* Please. Pleeeeeaaasssseeee! And I’m not the only one who feels this way, just take a look at the comments people have left under the “Official Jacket.” Not happy folks out there Adidas.

*Heck, I’d even give Under Armor a chance.

A small story of redemption for Adidas. My favorite shirt I purchased from last year’s race was a yellow t-shirt that simply had a distressed light blue unicorn head and “26.2” underneath the picture. One day the Redhead and I were shopping at Meijer and a little girl in a cart saw my shirt. She then excitedly uttered: “Mommy! Mommy! I just saw a unicorn!” The mother, busily trying to find the correct box of Rice-a-Roni, mindless uttered, “I’m sure you did Honey.” As we walked away the little girl protested, “I did! I did!” To no avail I’m sure.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Long Run/5K Weekend

The wonderful thing about the Super Bowl is that it is always on the same day as the Super Bowl 5K race in Lansing. This is a great race to test where your fitness level is early in the year...maybe.

Comparing your running fitness to the previous year's fitness level is never as straight forward as comparing the results of one 5K race to the same race the previous year. The truth is that 'where' you are on the island of Runland--located somewhere between your head and your heart--has a lot to do with where you think you are. If you think you are standing on Runland's cliffs of despair then you run like it. If you are somewhere in Runland's forest of underprepared and looking for a way out, then you know the only way out is hard work and dedication. And if you are in the great flatlands, the key to Runland's kingdom is yours.

Let me explain.

Last year at this time I had run a 22M long run the day before dropping a mid 19min 5K. The pace for the 22M run was 7:55/M. This weekend saw a 7:10/M average for my 20M long run and a 10 second slower 5K. Sure, it could be argued that I'm obviously running my long runs at a much higher rate; therefore, the slower 5K time is natural. Yes and no. Last week on my 18M I only managed a 7:55/M average. True, last weekend's long run was mere hours after 6 inches of snow and run mostly on unplowed country roads. But the better road conditions from a year ago are tempered by the fact that I was running the 'Hills of Death' route.

The times from this year and last year are not so dramatically different that one can simply declare a definative change. And yet, unquestioningly, I am at a much better place in Runland than I was this time last year. Even though my times are roughly comparable. And this is the big secret. It is more about where you believe you are than what the times are.

As for the race itself? Like last year, the first mile was on clear roads, but the next mile and a half were spent on disasterously mushy subdivision roads where you foot slid with every step you took. It was druing that part of the race that my legs, like last year, began to feel every step of the massive long run 24 hours prior. By the time I exited the subdivison I was ready for the race to be over. I just tried to pick up the pace a bit and grind my way to the finish where the Redhead and Jen B were there to cheer me on.