Another run on that thing

 

Today’s run (treadmill): 40 minutes

Not long ago, I was having lunch with some business friends who also said they ran. I espoused trail running and another friend mentioned how much he loved running in Prospect Park. Our other colleague said that he did a five mile run every day on his treadmill. I asked him if he ever ran outdoors. He said that he lived adjacent to a wooded bike trail, but still preferred running on the treadmill. I couldn’t understand that at all.

To be fair, my wife does 45 minutes on the treadmill almost every day and it works for her. Time is important and the treadmill is very efficient. No ten minute process to put on layers and other gear when it’s cold outside. There’s even a timer to help her keep her schedule to the minute. Knowing this, I should have been more understanding of my friend. But he has a trail in his back yard.
Yesterday was devoted to meeting a tight deadline and that meant starting at 5:30 AM to ensure that I’d complete what was needed by 5:30 PM. There was no time for a run and I was okay with that. This morning I had more flexibility and planned to go out in the 24° cold, but my wife warned me that the roads were extremely icy. I have enough concerns about sanitation trucks, school buses and bad drivers in my neighborhood that I don’t like to increase my risk with slick roads. So it was back to the treadmill.
 
I think the treadmill seems harder because it forces a higher cadence relative to stride length. In other words, if I require 174 SPM to maintain a nine minute pace on the road, I may need to run 177 or more SPM to manage the same pace on the treadmill. It’s a lot of extra work to get to the same speed. Still, training at a higher cadence might yield a benefit that I can leverage outdoors. Until they put a bike path through my backyard, I guess I’ll be stuck on that thing from time to time.

Is 93% of max the magic number?

Not far from 180spm, so where’s the speed?

Today’s run (street): 3.5 miles

I’m a little disappointed with today’s run because I could not generate any speed. Despite clocking my first mile in 8:57 (easy for many, but hard for me lately), I ended up averaging an unremarkable 9:29 pace over 3.5 miles. After a good start, I’d lost time on mile 2 and then tried to make up for it over the last 1.5. I felt like I’d made a good effort, but according to Garmin Connect, my heart rate across the whole run ranged only between 77-85% of max.

I took a look at my race history and compared my pace performance with my average heart rate. Since I’ve only run about a dozen races using a heart monitor, this wasn’t a statistically significant representation. Directionally, it seemed to indicate that my best times happened when my heart rate averaged 93% of max HR or greater.

Does this mean that I’m somehow holding back, even as I work to push my speed during a run? The numbers seem to point to an opportunity to unlock some speed by adding even more effort. My cadence rate has actually improved over the 5+ years since I’ve starting daily running, but that hasn’t translated to speed. I will do my best to hold the effort on Saturday. I’m not asking for much, but beating 27:50 would be nice.

Data visualization drives a decision

Downward slope

I downloaded my Garmin after yesterday’s race to get a breakdown of my run. I’m a big fan of data visualization. When I looked at the cadence chart the data showed exactly where my base training had come up short. At 3.2 miles (almost the exact distance of my daily training runs) my average cadence had dropped from 89 to 85 SPM.

The shortcomings of my running routine could not have been clearer. I wasn’t putting in enough distance in my daily training. I’ve always prided myself on the fact that I usually run six days out of seven. While the frequency is high, the distance is middling. It’s a healthy routine, but not one that produces great race performances.

I’ll admit that it’s hard to break a running routine that’s been a way of life for five years. Clearly a change is due. I’ll continue to aim for longer runs on weekends, and try to increase my weekday distances. I’ll aim for the same 18-20 miles a week, but will only run three days instead of four. If I could get closer to a 5 mile average run, my performance might proportionately improve.

Running views and visualizations

Sure looked like fall along the trail

Today’s run (Bethpage): 6.25 miles

The Hope for Warriors 10K next weekend prompted me to head to Bethpage this morning for a base run. I’ve plateaued on distance since Cow Harbor, having completed only a handful of 5+ mile runs since that race. After a week of rainy and windy conditions, today’s clear, dry 57° weather made a run at Bethpage very appealing.

More scenes from today’s run

When I arrived I saw that the right side of the lot was fairly full. There were lots of people with bikes and I wondered if there was a cycling event planned. I don’t think it was anything that formal, although there were a lot more bikers on the trail than I usually see. Considering the density of cyclists on the path, along with many runners and a good number of walkers, I encountered few reckless riders.

With my headache and sinus pressure gone, I felt good energy along the trail and felt less intimidated than usual by the big hills. That isn’t to say that I particularly enjoyed them. My plan was run 5K south and turn around at the 3.1 mile mark. It works for me to break a middle or long distance run into parts. For that same reason, I like to familiarize myself with a race course before running it for the first time. It’s always valuable to understand the challenges of the course before you face them for real.

New Garmin Connect cadence graph

I didn’t dog the pace but I wasn’t looking to simulate race conditions either. The purpose of this run was to get a 10K distance under my belt close to the real thing a week from Sunday. When I downloaded my Garmin after the run, I saw that they’d changed the data visualization on Connect and added a new metric: average stride length. Better still, the site has a pop-up that helps explain SPM and running dynamics. I felt good when I read this in the explanation: “The data values in the green, blue, or purple zones are typical for more experienced or faster runners.”

Good context on cadence

Ideally, I’ll see less green and more blue data points as I work to increase my cadence. Races tend to bring out our best performances (my recent history excepted) so I might even get myself into purple territory next week.

Despite real evidence, a puzzle remains

Cadence confirmed

Today’s run (5.3 miles)

This morning’s run brought me closer to understanding the impact of the metronome, but there is still a missing piece of the puzzle. I put a new battery in my foot pod and clipped it to my shoe for the first time since I bought my Garmin FR210 in May 2011. The FR210 uses GPS, but the foot pod allows me to capture my cadence during my run. It’s a metric I’ve missed having when I analyze my performance data.

The good news is that I now have proof that the metronome works. I set the app for 87 SPM before I started and the data shows I averaged exactly that on today’s run. This is no coincidence. I have mounds of pre-FR210 data that shows that (at best) I used to average 83 SPM on a training run. The cause and effect of the metronome’s beat could not be clearer. All I have to do is jump it up to 90 SPM and my performance is optimized. Problem solved!

(Cue sound of record scratch)

What? That’s not the whole story?!! Indeed it is not. While there seems to be evidence supporting the effectiveness of a metronome, the result of today’s 87 SPM performance was an average pace of 9:42 per mile. I measured my route using two different browsers (Milemeter is behaving much better now) and they were pretty consistent, so I’m going with that pace. So cadence improves, and my pace gets worse. Huh?

The last puzzle piece clearly involves stride length. It’s likely that I’m achieving my SPM target by maintaining a shorter stride. It makes sense that opening stride length with an increasingly higher cadence will bring my pace down to my targeted level. Sounds easy, but we all know the danger of over striding. I think I’ll take one victory at a time and work my way up to 90/180 SPM and see what that gets me. Once I can do that consistently (and without the need for a metronome), I can start experimenting with stride technique.

Measure for measure, I don’t like this change

New and improved?

Today’s run (street): 5 miles

In business, many people subscribe to the idea that, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I made my career challenging that notion and I firmly believe (at least in technology) that complacency is the enemy of success. Okay, no more clichés, but I do believe that open source technologies further the cause of progress. So am I a hypocrite to condemn the new Gmaps version that just went up, using OpenLayers in place of the Google Maps API?

I’ve relied on Gmaps for years as a tool to precisely measure my routes. Foot pods and GPS watches/apps both fall short due to calibration, route angles or weather. I always use mapping, combined with time, to calculate my exact pace. This morning I was surprised to see a new interface for Gmaps. I also discovered that Gmaps is now an open source supported framework, and will now be called Milermeter. It wasn’t until I tried mapping this morning’s run that I started to grumble.

I won’t go into the specific issues that I had, but I will say that the interface can use some refinement. I’m not sure of the reason, but items flicker on screen and the tools behaved inconsistently. I’m also unsure about the accuracy. I mapped my route using “Milermeter” with both Chrome and Firefox and saw a 1.5% difference in distance between them. Both measurements fell short of what my Garmin captured, surprising because that usually under-counts distance.

Forgetting the technology issues for a moment, this morning’s run turned out to be a really good workout. I ran over to the business park to run the loop a few times. This route offers either a steady uphill for almost a mile, or a shorter but steeper section if you run it in the opposite direction. I took the steeper option and made three circuits before heading home.

I used my metronome app and set it to 87 SPM. Although I felt I was coordinating my steps with metronome, I didn’t end up with a particularly fast pace. To be fair, except for the hill, I didn’t push that hard, although I kept a steady stride throughout the run. Right now, I care more about managing up my cadence than speed. If I understand how this all works, better paces should follow

Metronome running: Calls and Cadence

Runnis Interruptus

Today’s run (street): 3.4 miles

Using a metronome may have actually helped my cadence this morning. Once I start using my foot pod (good suggestion FS) I will know for sure. It was a weird run, punctuated by a ringing cellphone that I would normally ignore. Today I had two good reason to stop. First, the call was business related and important. Second, the ringing phone shut the metronome app off. Grrr.

I used the Metronome Beats app today because it has better features than the one I tried yesterday. Most importantly, it punches out beats loud and clear, unlike Metronome Mobile’s softer sound. I set it for two clicks per beat, which is easier than trying to coordinate two footfalls to a single beat. Focusing on the sound made my first mile go by quickly and the odd beeping noise produced double takes from neighbors as I passed by.

The phone call caused an interruption and I was honest about being in the middle of a run. That was no problem and I think the endorphins helped keep me calm during an intense conversation. Soon I was back to the run and I realized that it would be easier to time my arm-swing to the rhythm, rather than try to keep my footfalls synchronized.  Do your arms move at the same rate as your cadence? That would be interesting to know.

I moved really well and everything was fine, until the app quit about half a mile from home. I considered stopping and restarting the metronome, but I’d already stopped once on the run. I tried to “think” the beat that I’d been following and that may have worked. Today’s pace was 9:22 and it felt fairly easy. I’d set the metronome one SPM faster than yesterday and that yielded a 2.4% improvement in pace. That assumes a lot, but it was progress and that came from somewhere.

Running cadence, there’s an app for that

Metronome apps

Today’s run (street): 3.4 miles

Yesterday I wrote that I wanted to increase my run cadence, but wasn’t sure how to approach it. I got a comment from fellow running blogger, The Petite Pacer, who suggested I try a metronome phone app. That was a great idea and I downloaded a couple of free ones, Metronome Beats and Mobile Metronome. After researching how to use a metronome for cadence, I was good to go.

I decided to use Mobile Metronome first, and set the BPM at 85, which is undoubtedly higher than my current SPM. Back when I used a foot pod, my cadence typically averaged 80 SPM on the road and 83 SPM on the treadmill. I wanted to set an aspirational cadence, rather than start with the ideal of 90/180 SPM. I was curious whether I’d be able to sync my steps with the metronome’s rhythm.

I always run with my phone and I keep it in a SPIbelt on my waist. Even after setting both the phone and application volumes to their maximum, the sound of the beat was faint. Under normal conditions I could hear it, but the occasional sounds of helicopters, lawnmowers and passing school buses would drown it out. The challenge of matching stride with beat was a little tough. I decided to let it happen naturally by focusing on the beeps.

I’m not sure that I achieved my targeted cadence today, since I have no way to capture the metric. I felt like I was on top of the beat, but it’s hard to really know. My overall pace, a pedestrian 9:37, doesn’t indicate fast turnover. Tomorrow I’m going to try the Beats app that provides the option of beat pairs that could help me sync both steps. The app also offers more ways to shape the sound, so I’m hoping it will be easier to hear, even with lots of background noise.

Rethinking GPS versus foot pod

Today’s run (treadmill): 2.5 miles

My first method of capturing running data was with the Nike+ chip that fit into a concave spot located under my shoe’s sock liner. The accuracy of the this system was surprisingly high, but the software was buggy and the wristband that displayed metrics like pace, time and distance had serious corrosion issues. After going through three of these wristbands in less than a year, I got my money back and bought a Garmin FR50.


FR60



The Garmin 50 (and after that the FR60) uses a foot pod that works in a similar way to that Nike+ chip and I got used to tracking my distance and pace that way. The foot pod needed to be calibrated each time I switched running shoes (in my case, frequently) but the accuracy was very high. I started running with the Saucony Hattoris that have no laces to hold a foot pod, and made the switch to the Garmin FR210 GPS watch thinking I’d be upgrading my experience.
As it turned out, after almost two years, I’ve discovered I’ve given up more than I’ve gained by switching to GPS. The accuracy of GPS (~ 3%) is far worse than with the foot pod (~ 1%). The foot pod also captures cadence, an important metric, but the FR210 does not.



FR210



I had an amusing experience on the treadmill with the FR210 this morning. I wore the watch to capture my heart rate but, even indoors, it had locked in on satellite. When I finished my run I saw that the watch had recorded my distance at .14 miles. I’ve been considering using the FR60 again with the foot pod for treadmill runs. But for outdoor runs, I have to say the one big advantage of using the GPS watch is that there’s no fussing with calibration or switching foot pods. Nothing’s perfect, but at least I have a choice.

Why do I walk so fast and run so slow?

Today’s run (street): 2.5 miles

Yesterday morning I took a walk with a colleague to Central Park to scope out locations for our division Fun Run. She’s a fast fitness walker, but I was able to keep up with little effort. I typically walk faster than anyone I know and I always have. It’s easy for me and it probably has something to do with my long stride length. So, why then, am I such a mediocre runner?

Before I started running I used to think that I’d be fast, simply because I walk fast, but four years of history tell me that’s not true. I sometimes wonder if there are things that I do when I walk that get lost in translation when I run. My stride length when running always seems short to me and I know my cadence is typically 8% less than the ideal of 180 steps per minute.

This morning I went out again on a cool morning run and moved along fine, but I barely cracked the 9:00 range for my pace. I know that if I’d put in more effort I could have improved by 30 seconds per mile, but not much more than that. It would be great if I could apply my walking speed to running, but I don’t see an easy way to do that. And, no, I have no interest in race walking, whatsoever.