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.

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.

When your pace is slow, focus on the statistics

Saw this on a car in the REI parking lot today

Happy Father’s Day. My goal of more frequent postings has been stymied (only six this year including today) but I’m definitely on track for running frequency. Over the 44 days since I finished up work on May 3rd, I’ve run 36 times (82% of days). Just to compare, I only did 33 runs from January 1st through April 30th (28% of days). So run frequency is good. End of statistical report.

June so far – 14 runs in 16 days

It’s not all good news in the running department however. The three measures of progress I’m using are frequency, distance and speed. My plan is to meet a target for each point, hold that target and start focusing on the next point. I’m tracking just about 6 runs a week and have started to focus on increasing average distance per run. I’m going in the right direction, but the increase is small, up about 8% from May’s average.

The third measure, speed, is my biggest challenge and I have done very little to address it. My pace is abysmal, but I’m hoping that by maintaining high run frequency and increasing distance, my fitness will unlock some of my old speed. I don’t like being slow, but forcing my pace turns happy running into a dreaded chore. I guess I could go back to doing intervals which compartmentalize the discomfort. Once I reach my average distance goal, I’ll start putting weekly track visits into my schedule.

I’ve been planning to buy a new hybrid bike to cross train. I’d like to ride some of the great bike trails on Long Island. Two of the other Runsketeers (TPP and KLM) are serious cyclists and I’m pretty sure Professor Mike knows his way around a bike. SIOR has a bike so she has one leg up on me. KLM has been giving me expert advice and will be helping me make a purchase in July. When that happens I’m I’ll be looking to do the inaugural Runsketeer ride.

Running mileage is up, performance not so much

Rat race

I think this running thing is starting to work. I knew that increasing my weekly run frequency would help my overall performance, but I didn’t know where the benefits would come. Thanks to my Garmin F35 and Garmin Connect, I can compare my current performance metrics over the past 12 months. While I’m not quite at the pace and cadence levels I was achieving last July, I’m covering 10% more weekly mileage and my May performance metrics are up compared to the last five months.

That said, I’m still embarrassingly slow and that’s primarily due to reduced cadence and shortened stride length. When I look back at my metrics on Connect from 2011, it’s almost like I’m looking at a different person’s numbers. I know I can knock a minute per mile (or more) off my pace if I commit to running at 85% of max. I’d still be well below my peak, but the improvement would be encouraging.

My plan right now is to continue to run six times a week. So far, that’s been holding. I’ve been adding distance carefully and today I did my longest run in May, 3.3 miles. Not the six milers I used to do, but three miles a day, six days a week, would get me to my target of 18. If progress continues, I’ll probably step down to five runs a week and go longer on the weekends.

I’ve needed to stay away from Bethpage State Park this week due to the PGA Championship. That has kept me in my neighborhood for most daily runs. I need to work on my timing to avoid the parade of aggressive parents dropping off their kids at the elementary and middle schools and escape the cavalcade of yellow buses. Just for fun, I Gmapped my entire neighborhood to see how much distance I’d cover if I ran on every street. It’s a little more than 9 miles and it looks a lot like a rat’s maze. That’s definitely not the way I want to cover that distance. Happily, the golf tournament ends on Sunday and then it will be back to the trail for me.

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.

I’ve talked about 600 things

600 words about one thing

Today’s workout (elliptical): 25 minutes

As unbelievable as it seems, I’m coming up on my one thousandth Emerging Runner post. Based on my publishing frequency, that milestone should be reached some time in mid-September. What’s interesting is that post number 1,000 will also coincide with the third anniversary of my return to running. I guess that makes sense since I started this blog as an online journal to record my new experiences as a re-engaged runner.

A quick review of the site’s subject categories shows approximately 600 descriptive terms for the 950 posts to date. The most frequently applied tag is (no surprise) pace. 600 tags is a lot, and I think it shows that running is surely not a one dimensional subject. It would probably be interesting to create an actual taxonomy to reveal the true richness of the sport. But then again, I’d rather spend my time running.

My workouts by the numbers

Today’s run (street): 3.5 miles

I did my last workout of this vacation today; a mid-morning run around the neighborhood. It was the thirteenth day in a row where I’ve either run or cross-trained on the elliptical machine. A check on Daily Mile showed that I’ve done 24 workouts over the last 27 days. You’d think I’d be in better shape!

Although my activity frequency is high (90% days per month), my running distances have mostly stayed under 5 miles over the last few weeks. I blame the heat and some exceptionally busy weekends this summer for that and I know I’ll need to get my base back up to 6+ miles as I prepare for the Dirty Sock  and Great Cow Harbor 10K’s.

This morning the sun was less intense than yesterday and that helped me move briskly over a route that took me around, and then through, my local streets. I tried to focus on my form and to notice if my arms crossed my chest, which I now know is a sign that I’m reaching the point of fatigue. All systems seemed to be working well today and I finished up with a sprint on the final quarter mile that left me panting and soaked by the time I reached home.

Tomorrow means a return to the train, the subway and lots of meetings. My vacation has been great and, with a diversity of activities that included our visit to New Hampshire and Maine, it felt endless. But there is, of course, an end and I’ll experience that when my alarm jolts me awake at 4:00 AM tomorrow.