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.
|Dare to believe|
Some things are so obvious that we ignore what’s right in front of us. I think I may have figured out something that could get me out of the performance stasis that I have struggled with for a very long time.
I’ve worked hard over the past 3.5 months to get back to my old running self. Since May, I’ve been consistently running six days a week. This has resulted in a 4X increase in mileage per month compared to what I was doing prior to May. My runs are peaceful, almost meditative. Compared to where I was, this all seems great. But it’s not all great.
According to Garmin Connect, almost every one of my performance metrics are at their lowest points in over a year. Speed, cadence and stride length are down compared to last summer and way down from where they were when I last competed (2014). I know I’m five years older, but I don’t accept this level of decline. Some of it may relate to the medication I take, but I’m now rethinking that theory.
Back to the obvious. Most runners who focus on performance understand the basics. The harder the effort, the higher your heart rate. The higher your heart rate, the faster you go. Higher effort yields more steps per minute. A longer stride gets you there faster. So if your average heart rate on a run is 60% of max, your runs will be peaceful and meditative. But your cadence will be low and your pace will be awful.
I’ve always been a little suspicious of HR monitors because they occasionally give readings that would trigger a trip to the ER if they were real. It’s a known issue across all brands, Garmin, Polar, Suunto, etc. I noticed that my heart rate on most runs was pretty low but I chose to believe the monitor wasn’t accurate. If I thought about it more, I would have realized that I had fallen into cruise control running and I had no one but myself to blame for my poor pacing.
I decided to run 10 x 160 meter intervals to see if I could match my performance from years ago. I couldn’t hit those numbers, but the times were faster than anything I’ve recorded since 2015. More importantly, my heart rate, cadence and stride length for those ten repeats were strongly correlated to the fast paces. One might say that was an obvious result, but I still didn’t connect it to my daily runs.
It wasn’t until I started tracking my all-day heart rate that I concluded that the HR monitor was fairly consistent from day to day. I realized that I should believe the readings I was seeing on my run. And if those readings were barely cracking 60% of max HR, I needed to ramp up my effort.
|I look good in blue|
So I did. Starting Monday, I focused solely on my HR on my runs with a goal of 70-85% max. The results have not been dramatic, but I’m running almost 2 mins per mile faster than I was a week ago. It’s no piece of cake and I can feel the effort, but it’s tolerable. Per Garmin Connect, my V0₂ max has moved from good to excellent for my age.
My challenge going forward will be to continue pushing on every run in hopes of making a higher HR my new normal. I don’t think I’ll be getting back to 9:00 paces too soon, but at least I know what I need to do to get there.
|Sorry, it’s not my vault|
Today’s run: 3.2 miles
I recently looked at an old post about my experience dealing with a herniated disc I experienced a few years ago. That caused me to look at some related posts and then some unrelated ones. I appreciated how Emerging Runner served as a reliable, if narrow, chronicle of my life experience between October 2008 and February 2018. I also felt badly that I had let so much time go by since my last post, which was my only entry in 2018. I’ll make no promises about what I do after today, but here is my second post of 2018.
As you’d expect, a lot has happened over the past five months. For one thing, I fixed the hand towel holder in the guest bathroom twice. Actually, that’s about it. Last week we decided to replace the slate in our first floor hallway with oak. Between the jackhammer and bandsaw noise, demo debris, dust, stain and sealants, it’s been a bit uncomfortable.
Due to its center hall location, the contractor needed to build a platform across the floors while they dried between coats. This created a ninja warrior-like challenge to get from one side of the house to the other. By the time the floors had dried and cured, we all became experts at vaulting from the den to the platform and back. Timing was everything. A misstep could easily land you on the sticky floor.
The other thing to mention, in light of this eponymous blog, is that I have continued to run. I’ll give myself credit for lacing up and getting out as often as ever, but my workouts have become rote. I won’t dwell on performance, but that hasn’t gotten any better. Fortunately, I don’t care much about that right now. I’m just glad to be out there, doing my run on my own terms.
That isn’t to say that I’m complacent. Due to ongoing issues with my eyes, I need to take drops and, occasionally, other medicines. It’s all good, but the drugs can have an effect on my heart rate, making it hard to exceed 75% of max HR. This has been going on for a while and I’ve adjusted my expectations accordingly. I’ve recently started incorporating moderate fartleks to keep my HR above a certain threshold, hoping to get closer to 80% at least part of the time.
|Post run delirium|
This morning I got out a little after 6:00 AM. Humidity was already 79% and the temperature was pushing 80°. At that hour the trees were still casting long shadows and I took advantage of the shade as much as possible. Conditions were fine for the first couple of miles but the humidity began to get to me. I was sweating so much around my eyes that it was hard to see. I needed to clear them continuously with a cloth to maintain visibility and to minimize the sting from sweat.
I was about 2/3 through my route when my Garmin unceremoniously stopped working. It was my own fault because the battery had been running low and I kept forgetting to charge it. I wanted to make sure I covered at least three miles. Without the GPS for guidance, I quickly thought through a route that would get me my distance before returning home.
The sun had risen a lot in the 20 minutes since I’d started, upping both heat and humidity. I began to feel like I was on the last mile of a 5K. I soon turned onto my street for the final dash to my house and floated to the driveway, soaked with sweat and happy to be done.
I hope to get back to doing at least one post per week. Some changes to my medication may help me move the needle in a better direction for performance. If that’s the case, I’ll be a lot more motivated to share that progress.
|Problems (L) and problem solved (R)|
Today’s run (track): 3.3 miles
Yesterday’s run (street): 2.2 miles
I’m coming up on the nine year anniversary of The Emerging Runner and there’s a certain irony that, for different reasons, I’m running at about the same performance level as I did back in 2008. I started the blog as a public journal to record my transition from exercise walking to running. By my first post I was running more than walking, but my distances were fairly modest. Due to some unexpected medical issues involving my eyes, I’m now experiencing challenges that are similar to what I was dealing with all those years ago. However, I am making progress.
Back in September I needed eye surgery to address a couple of problems. This procedure is routine and performed about 4 million times a year in the US. Most go perfectly well. Mine only went okay and I’m dealing with a couple of issues that require medication, at least for now. Some of this medication addresses ocular pressure with a residual effect on heart rate.
One medication that is used for my condition is also the go-to drug for high altitude sickness. The first time I took it I felt extremely dizzy. I questioned why this drug would be a good choice for mountain climbers who really should not be woozy negotiating a couloir at 25,000 feet. I mentioned that to my ophthalmologist who also climbs mountains. She said the dosage for altitude sickness is half of what I’m taking. Good I guess, but I’d stick with Dramamine.
The net effect of a post surgery running layoff and all these medications has resulted in a performance setback. I had adapted somewhat to a couple of the post op drugs and was covering 3 to 4 miles a few weekends back with decent results. Last Saturday, with the addition of the altitude drug, I couldn’t run a fifth of a mile without stopping. I recognized the problem and filled in the blanks with a lot of walking, but I really hoped I would be able to adjust to the new medication.
I worked from home on Friday and set a goal of running a mile or two before I started my work day. After last week’s experience, I didn’t know what to expect. I decided I would try to run as easily and efficiently as I could for as long as I could. If I only made it through a half a mile it would still be progress.
Most runners have a good idea about how their run will go within a minute after they start. Last Saturday I knew I was in bad shape before I lost sight of my house. Friday morning was cool and clear and once the middle school buses had wrapped up their routes, I took off through the neighborhood. I felt okay and made my way past the quarter and half mile marks with no thoughts of stopping. By the time I reached my first mile I knew I could manage two and probably three. I kept it to a little more than two miles and my pace was slow, but I was very pleased with the run.
Knowing that I could run, I set the bar a little higher for this morning’s workout. I set off to the local high school to cover about three miles on the track. I left just after sun-up to avoid the crowd and to avoid the humiliation of being the slowest guy running. That was a bad plan because, when I arrived, there were two speedsters, another slowster and a couple of walkers. I lined up in lane 4 and took off at an easy pace that I knew I could maintain. Like clockwork, the speedy guys passed me about once a quarter. I picked up the pace as I progressed, which meant their passing orbit grew increasingly longer as time went on.
Besides running over a mile longer today, I paced 6% faster than on Friday. Still slow, but edging toward pre-surgery speed. I was told by my ophthalmologist that my new medication requires a high degree of hydration with electrolytes, especially potassium. There’s something to that because when I do hydrate properly, the effects of the drug are minimized. I’ve been consuming a bottle of Drink Melon Organic Watermelon Water daily which contains 980 mg of potassium (compared to Gatorade which has a paltry 37 mg). It’s pure watermelon juice and only 80 calories a bottle.
I hope that I will fully adapt to all my medications soon and get back to running as usual. Last weekend was a setback but today was very encouraging.
|At least I didn’t skip today|
Today’s run (street): 4.3 miles
Friday’s run (street): 3.2 miles
Last Sunday’s run (street): 3.2 miles
This has not been a good week for my running. I’m at that point in the year where business activity peaks for a few intense weeks in December before going quiet as everyone shifts into holiday mode. That’s meant longer days and less inclination to work out when I get home. I know I should try to run a couple of miles in the morning before I start my day, but I can’t get into that mode right now. Making things worse this week was a Saturday schedule that had me out the door before 6:00 AM. That kept me busy the rest of the day, so no Saturday run this week.
I did run on Friday and it was fine, but slower than I’ve been averaging. I don’t know if it was due to my busy work schedule, but I felt tired throughout the run. I had no time to get out before my early start yesterday and thought I’d go for a late afternoon run when I got home. I ended up feeling too tired to run, but I did do a long neighborhood walk and ended up with over 10K steps for the day.
I turned in early last night and got a rare 8 hours of sleep. Even so, my energy level was low when I got up. After a small breakfast and a big cup of coffee I was feeling more energetic. I put on my new ASICS Men’s Essential Pants that I got for a great price from Running Warehouse. The weight of these pants is lighter than my beloved City Sports track pants, but perfect for this morning’s 39° weather. I added my ASICS thermal beanie and a winter weight half zip and my Balston wool socks. I looked in the mirror and realized I was head to toe in black like a very slow ninja.
I’ve lost a little speed over the past few weeks and I’m pacing about 5% slower than I had throughout November. My cadence hasn’t dropped but my stride length has shortened a bit. I’m not too concerned about that. My heart rate has been averaging about 75% of max so I should be pushing harder. My running hasn’t felt particularly easy so perceived effort is obviously higher than my real effort.
Today’s run was a meandering tour of my neighborhood. I enjoyed looking at the holiday decorations and laughed at the deflated Santas, snowmen, reindeer and elves laying across lawns, waiting to be filled with air after the sun goes down. There were a few hardy souls out walking their dogs, some walkers and a runner who suddenly appeared from a side road. I came close to overtaking him but he split to the left while I continued heading right.
I wanted to cover at least four miles and managed a little more than that. I did step up my pace as I got closer to home and proved to myself that I could move back into target range if I was willing to maintain the intensity. At this point I’m still running better than I have over the past two years but I need to decide how hard I’m willing to work to continue improving. The Runsketeers had planned to run a 5K on Saturday until we encountered scheduling conflicts. I didn’t feel ready to race this weekend so it’s probably for the best.
|Apparently you also need to put in more effort|
Today’s run (street): 4.1 miles
Yesterday’s run (street): 3.2 miles
Considering how much I run, I’m not really that good at it. People tell me that I need to run more intervals, do more hill, core and strength training, run longer distances and run more frequently. I’ll concede that those things could help, but they all require more time and/or the acceptance of more discomfort. I’m not a physiologist, but I’ve always understood that if you do something a lot, you get better at it. If I’m putting in a dozen or more running miles a week, shouldn’t I see continuous improvement?
My running experience since late summer has been positive. I reduced my intake of sugar and simple carbs and that led to some weight loss. Running with less weight would usually yield direct improvement, but it wasn’t until my friend KWL surprised me with a Garmin 35 watch that I started to see gains. That’s because I was paying closer attention to my running data, especially heart rate. Using percent of HR max as a guide to pacing myself on runs helped me improve my average pace by almost two minutes a mile.
While I did see a measurable improvement from that, I’ve still been averaging 30-40 seconds a mile slower than my average pace from a few years ago. I know some of that is due to getting older, but it hasn’t been that long since my overall performance began to noticeably drop. Of all the helpful suggestions people have made to me, the point about running frequency probably hits closest to home.
This morning seemed like a perfect running day and I expected to run as well as I did on Friday when I exactly matched my current pace. But today felt much harder. When in doubt, I always look at the data. My average heart rate for my last two runs were exactly the same. Rate of effort was the same — 76% of max with the last six minutes pushing closer to 85%. Today’s run also matched yesterday’s for average cadence. The only variable was stride length, with Friday’s being a foot longer than today’s.
So if effort was the same, why was my stride so short? I did feel fatigued throughout run and that surprised me because I’d had a good night’s sleep. There’s really nothing that can explain why I did worse today (by 50 seconds per mile) except that every stride carried me 175 feet less every minute than yesterday.
I’m hoping that tomorrow I’ll bounce back and open my stride enough to get back to current pacing. I know that some of my friend’s suggestions for improvement would yield a quicker cadence which is the other lever I can pull to improve. But increasing cadence is tough and I still maintain that I should be getting faster because practice alone should be enough to make perfect.
|85% maxed out|
Today’s run (Bethpage bike trail): 4.4 miles
The air felt chilly this morning, but I resisted the temptation to add an extra layer on top. That was a good move, although I do wish I’d run in shorts rather than track pants. I’ve had a good week of running that included spending a little time on dirt trails. Today’s trail was paved, but still preferable to running on the road.
I wasn’t sure if Bethpage State Park is still collecting tolls on the weekend so I headed over to Colonial Road to park. The wind made the 45° temperature feel closer to 41° and that prompted me to go out fast to generate a little heat. My second mile was slower than the first, but I settled down and had negative splits on the miles after that. My overall pace wasn’t in the nine minute range, but it was better than my current average. And that pace is a significant improvement over where I was at the beginning of this month.
The section of the Bethpage trail that runs north of Haypath Road is rolling with a few noticeable hills. Those hills have roughed me up at times and I didn’t enjoy them today, but they didn’t slow me down at all. The weather brought out a lot of runners, many in groups, and I wondered if these people were training for fall races. I’m considering a return to racing this year, targeting a 5K that I’d do with the Runsketeers in December.
|From Haypath to Washington and back|
That said, my training still has a ways to go. I pushed to stay over 80% HR max throughout most of today’s run and stayed between 83-86% throughout the second half. I ran the last half mile at 9:36. Perceived effort was high considering the unremarkable speed. Still, I’m pretty sure running mid-9’s would have put my heart rate above 90% max a month ago and I appreciate the conditioning gains so far.
I may head to the track tomorrow to do some repeats. I’m hoping that will unlock a little more speed. My first performance improvements happened on the track earlier in the month. Perhaps these intervals will take that a little further.
|Getting to the heart of the matter|
Today’s run (street): 4.4 miles
Yesterday’s run (street): 3.2 miles
Monday’s run (street): 2.1 miles
Sunday’s run (Bethpage bike trail): 4.2 miles
I’ve been doing more running than blogging these days, with four workouts since my last post. Every time I’ve gone out since last weekend, I quietly thank KWL for sending me my FR35. While I have made stamina gains resulting from cutting out most processed sugar in my diet (and losing a few pounds in the process), it hadn’t done much for my performance. The FR35 has been a real catalyst for some measurable gains in that area. So thank you once again KWL.
Last Sunday I went to Bethpage to run the bike trail and ended up covering a little more than 4 miles. I ran it about 9% faster than my average pace over the past six months. Having my heart rate showing in real time helped me apply more effort that resulted in better performance. I respond to HR feedback positively, while tracking pace tends to discourage me.
I went home from work early on Monday and went out for a rare afternoon run. It was only two miles, but it was the fastest two miles I’ve run all year. Yesterday morning I did my usual Friday route. I didn’t get around as fast as I had on my prior three runs, but it was fast compared to a couple of weeks ago.
This morning I aimed for a little more distance and headed out with performance running on my mind. Performance is relative of course, but my perceived exertion matched the 80%-92% max HR that my Garmin recorded. I ended up pacing around my new average, but I’d hoped for more.
In terms of performance, I’m still 5% slower than the top end of my current target and I’m 10% away from where I really want to be. More significantly, I’m running 30 seconds to a minute per mile faster than just a few weeks ago. When I get to the pace range I’m aiming for, I’ll consider racing again.
|Welcome back data|
Today’s run (street): 3.2 miles
This afternoon the fine folks at UPS dropped off a package at my house. I opened the box and saw that it contained a Garmin Forerunner 35 GPS watch. I really wanted the FR35 to replace my FR210 that I lost on the Bethpage trail a couple of weeks ago. Interestingly, I never ordered the watch. It wasn’t until my wife told me that my friend and fellow Runsketeer KWL had sent it. I couldn’t believe it, but I was very excited.
One of the reasons KWL wanted me to have the watch was to encourage me to focus again on my performance when I run. The FR35 has a lot of tracking features including an optical heart rate monitor that obviates the need for a chest strap. I prefer to run by heart rate/zone rather than pace and I’ll be able to do that easily. It also works as an activity monitor. I didn’t realize that until it rudely beeped at me and said “Move!” on the display.
I wish I had this watch when I went out this morning on my run. Instead, I ran with my stopwatch. That was fine, but I missed being able to track time and distance. All the same, the stopwatch did give me some useful feedback. I generally run the same route every Friday and knew exactly where I’d hit the one mile mark. Although my stopwatch was securely attached to my SPIbelt, I was able to catch a glimpse of the elapsed time. I saw that I ran the first mile 30 seconds faster than my most recent (improving) pace.
Going forward, my challenge will be choosing to push performance rather than enjoying the experience of a free form run. Today’s conditions were cool and fairly dry and my running felt easy. I ran faster than I have in many months but it didn’t feel hard. It felt great. I can push even harder and run even faster, but I don’t know how far to go with that. I’m going to target 85% max HR tomorrow and see how that feels. If it feels okay, maybe a little speed will be worth the extra effort.
Today’s run (street): 4.8 miles
I didn’t run the Dirty Sock this year and was fine with that. After hearing about the great experiences (and great times) achieved by my running buddies this morning and watching all the Cow Harbor race coverage on News 12, I feel like I missed out. But after a pleasant, but non-competitively paced run this morning, I know I was right to sit it out.
My initial plan was to go to Bethpage and run there. I thought it might be quiet (in terms of runners) because a good percentage of the Long Island running world would be in Northport. Our morning plans required me to get my run done early so I stayed local to save time. I did most of my miles in the neighborhood directly south of mine just for a change of pace. Unfortunately, it didn’t change my pace.
I’ve continued to work standing up since getting my new desk two weeks ago. I use it during the weekend, at night and when I work from home. I haven’t seen any tangible performance benefits from doing this, but I have to believe it’s strengthening something. With so much written about sitting being the new smoking, it’s a good thing to do. I do believe that my running form has improved and my stride has felt more fluid in the past couple of weeks.
I had the same great weather that my Cow Harbor friends enjoyed and that kept my run enjoyable. I forgot to wear my HRM so I don’t know if I exceeded 80% max range but I suspect I did near the end. Interestingly, I kept most of my splits within 10 seconds of each other, with slight negatives each time. My last mile was 30 seconds better than the first four.
I may do a track workout tomorrow to force myself to deal with speed and the harder work that comes with it. I was on the right path back in March and April when I was following the Hal Higdon Half plan that included weekly speed and tempo runs. A little success may go a long way towards breaking out of my current routine of easy runs.