Embrace the hobgoblin

Today’s run (street): 2.5 miles

Last Sunday I took a look at my running history on Garmin Connect. This dataset goes back to February ’09, when I got my first Forerunner watch, the FR50. Although my modern running history starts a few months before that, the 750 recorded runs represent a statistically significant performance database. I ran a report of all my street runs and discovered that the pace and distances I ran in January 2012 are almost exactly the same as my all-time average.

I was happy to know this because it shows that my pace hasn’t degraded in the three-plus years since I returned to running. A deeper look at the numbers confirmed that my paces in early 2009 were similar to today’s, so this average isn’t merely 1.5 early years of fast running, followed by 1.5 years of slowness.

This morning I had a slow start to my run, owing to my chronic pain above my right heel that may or may not be my Achilles tendon. The burning I feel when I start off tends to go away once I’ve warmed up a bit. The pain isn’t bad. It’s just that it’s always there at the start.  Due to this, my first mile was slow — over 10 minutes — but I picked up the pace and finished with a time only 40 seconds longer than yesterday’s.

Today’s run and Sunday’s performance review both reinforced the fact that, most of the time, I run about the same, regardless of what I think at the time. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “…consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” That may be true, but I think consistency, when it comes to running, is a great way to validate your efforts.

Pace perception, pace reality

I think I may have a distorted idea about what constitutes my “normal” running pace. In my mind I consider myself a 9:00 miler but in truth I’m not. Garmin Connect provides reporting tools that allow you to analyze your history and this helps me compare where I am today against previous periods. Sifting through the data and applying the appropriate filters allows me to see what paces I was doing last year on the treadmill, the road, the track and the trails. My overall pace, current or historical, means very little because it’s a blend of those running types. Comparing or just reviewing anecdotal data, I see that my normal road pace is about 9:15. There is a margin of error because this data comes from my Garmin which has an over/under tolerance of about 3%, depending on its state of calibration. I often move the footpod from pair to pair depending on the type of running that I’m doing. When calibrate accuracy to .01 mile on my Adrenalines and then move the footpod to my New Balance trail shoes I’ll get a different result. It’s an inexact method but it’s good for measuring trends over time.

Prior to last Sunday’s race I had focused primarily on building up my running legs with less concern about pace. In the first two post-race runs this week I kept the speed dialed down in consideration of recovery. Today I decided to start faster and maintain a pace that was on the edge of discomfort. About halfway through I increased the speed a bit more and at the end I expected to see that I’d run the type of pace I do for road races (8:19-8:40). I was surprised to see the Garmin readout say I’d covered my distance at 9:00 per mile. It sure seemed faster than that. It’s possible that the Garmin under-counted because of calibration variance and I was on the treadmill and not on the road. Next week we’ll have our new treadmill that will provide a readout that I can compare to the Garmin’s. It was nice to run my “normal” pace today, despite my delusions of grandeur.

Technical recovery

I have been operating without any personal information management device since Wednesday when my iPhone shut down and refused to come back up. I had been trying to get a satellite fix so I could track a family hike using one of half a dozen GPS apps that I’d downloaded to the phone. The iPhone flat-lined in the middle of that attempt and despite my IT support team’s best efforts it would not come back to life. I still have a Verizon feature phone that I’ve been using when the iPhone can’t get a signal (which is much of the time) so at least I am connected. However, without the iPhone I can’t reach my business email any time that I wish and, most importantly, I’m unable to use GPS apps to track my runs.

After almost five days without an iPhone or Blackberry I feel pretty good. Funny that when these devices aren’t available you can really focus on other things. My wife surely appreciated that I wasn’t constantly staring at a 3″ screen all week while on vacation. Now that I’m back in my office I have a legitimate need for mobile connectivity and I just found out that IT has resurrected my iPhone. I’m rather shocked since I tried for hours to get it to restart. They still don’t know why it failed and they suggested that wiping it clean and starting over might be the best course of action. I’m unwilling to reload all the apps and content I’d put on it so I’m getting it back as is. I hope it doesn’t fail again.

I’ll use it tomorrow to track my morning run. Yesterday afternoon my daughter and I covered a couple of neighborhood miles which I tracked using my Garmin 50 that I’d calibrated at the track earlier in the day. I had some frustrations over the weekend when the Garmin Connect website coughed and sputtered and refused to upload one of my runs. The run appeared to upload but then disappeared from the site. I was thrilled when I went onto Connect yesterday and saw that the ‘technical difficulties’ notification had been removed and I was further amazed to see my 5.25 mile Saturday run magically appear in my log. So despite the clumsy way it happened two running technology issues are resolved. Well at least for now.

Letting go of data obsession (a little)

As a coda to yesterday’s post I managed to delete this week’s run history from my Garmin before I had a chance to upload it to Garmin Connect. I’m disappointed by that but I’m also okay because running has finally become more about the experience than the measurement. A year ago I began to log my activities, first when walking and then when I switched over to running. The act of capturing the data, monitoring improvement and summarizing my monthly mileage became my primary motivation. When my Nike+ Sportband stopped uploading to the Nike+ website I practically panicked because I felt if the run wasn’t captured it didn’t count. Like it didn’t even happen.

I switched from Nike+ to MapMyRun after that and I meticulously transferred information captured on Sportband to this website for a while, until the Nike+ technology failed altogether. Every month I would look at the summary and compare my miles per day/week/month against previous periods. I’d key in my cross training to capture elliptical miles from a paper log I kept next to the machine. I think my focus on the data rather than on the event began to switch when I started running trails more often. Mixing pace times from rugged, hilly runs with flat road runs made monthly pace averages less relevant. I’m still interested in the metrics of each run but I’m satisfied to know that I ran about 20 miles in a week, not that I ran 20.65.

Does this mean that I have transcended the beginner phase of running by focusing metaphorically on the game rather than on the score? Many experienced runners chuckle when I tell them how I capture run data with foot pods and GPS apps. They say they’ve been doing it so long that they know the distances they run and can pretty much assess their pace as they go. I’m not willing to give up my measurement tools quite yet but I’m willing to live with a few missing sessions on Garmin Connect.

Garmin 50 – illogically lovable

A number of years ago, on vacation in Paris, my wife and I were completely puzzled by the challenge of crossing the street to visit the Arc d’Triomphe. If you’re not familiar with its location, the building sits in the middle of a traffic circle off the western end of the Champs-Élysées. It was clear that crossing that traffic would lead to instant death by Renault and yet we saw a number of people milling around the Arc. After some searching we saw a small sign indicating an underground passage that led to the center. It certainly wasn’t obvious to us but in retrospect it made perfect sense.

The Garmin 50 reminds me very much of that. Before the Garmin I used the Nike+ Sportband which had less complexity but also less features. It was simple to set up and use, basically it had two buttons that controlled everything and good documentation to show you which ones to push. The Garmin has four buttons that seem to do different things based upon the mode of the watch that can be switched between time, training, interval timing and history. The simple idea of using it as a stopwatch took me almost three weeks to master. The process to do this is simple but the lack of instruction in the manual made it maddeningly difficult. As I use the watch I’m beginning to better understand how the sequence of buttons makes things work. It’s still a little annoying when the display says “press OK” when it really means “press the View button” but now, after experimentation, I know to do this.

Of course now that I have gained some comfort with its operation I am thrilled with the data it collects and presents. The combination of pulse rate, speed, cadence, time and distance (accurate to about .03 miles now that I’ve figured out how to calibrate it) and the Garmin Connect website (that collects and reports the information) are really good. There are dozens of things I’d do differently in terms of functionality and user interface but in the end, it works. However I do wish it calculated pace on the watch, not just speed in MPH.

This morning I ran 4.06 miles at about 9:05/mile which didn’t make my target of staying under 9 minutes per mile, but I fully accept it as great progress. It was about 43 degrees when I went out for my run. I only wore a base layer plus a long sleeve technical jersey under a lightweight windbreaker. I was comfortable throughout most of the run but I got very hot near the end. I didn’t make either my speed or distance (8 total miles) goals for this weekend but I am very happy with what I’ve accomplished.

A miss is as good as 3.6 miles

I came within 1% of my goal of running over 3.1 miles at 9:00/mile this morning, completing a 3.57 mile run with an average pace of 9:03. The chart above from Garmin Connect illustrates the technique I used throughout the run where I alternated between my normal pace (~9:20) and a speedier pace. I was pleased to see that the slowest pace that I ran today was 9:28 and the fastest was 8:24. Overall I’m 99% satisfied with the run. The temperature was around 40 degrees when I started but it rose quickly and, coupled with direct sun, I became very hot. I made the mistake of wearing too many layers. This worked great for the first eight minutes but I found it to be a burden over the next 24. At around 2.75 miles I really started feeling taxed which surprised me since I didn’t run on Friday and I’d had more than my usual overnight rest. I’ll blame the hot weather and the faster pacing. After hitting a wall so soon into the run I am slightly concerned that my conditioning isn’t where it should be. But I did recover pretty well and my new focus on speed should help that going forward.

I was also glad to see that my large toe, although still tender, did not cause me any problems during the run. I’m trying to decide on tomorrow’s run strategy: 1. Try again to make the “3+ mile, sub 9:00” goal, 2. Aim for a shorter run but make the target pace even faster or 3. Accept today’s 99% success and just go for distance on Sunday.

All suggestions welcomed.