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.

Solving the run-rest equation

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 calendar days in a 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.