The data behind the pace

Open the stride and quicken the cadence

Today’s run (street): 5.5 miles

Conditions were chilly this morning and I had to dress like I was going out for a winter run. I feel like it’s payback for all those weeks of unseasonably warm weather that we had in March. Somehow I picked the right combination of gear and set out for a run in a nearby neighborhood. I started out with a loop around a local business park that has one hill that I always dread. I did another half loop before moving on to run in what I call neighborhood #3.

Once around the park

My run was fine and, although I thought I was doing a good job introducing speed at times, I ended up running fairly slowly. When I looked at the data from today’s run, I noticed that my current pace hasn’t degraded that much since mid-2014. It was interesting to see that my training paces were often 2 minutes per mile slower than my race paces. That gave me hope that I could get back into race shape if I wanted to start focusing on performance.

I decided to do an analysis that compared three data points from my run history: pace, stride length and cadence. I randomly selected thirteen runs between 2013 and today that had data captured via my Garmin foot pod. Pace is measured in xx:xx time format, stride length is typically between .8 and 1.1 meters and cadence usually falls (for me) between 160-180 SPM. Those disparities required me to index the metrics so they could all be displayed on the same scale.

My first reaction when the data was visualized was that faster paces are clearly correlated to longer stride length and faster cadence. Not a surprise. I know that 13 data points doesn’t yield statistically significant findings, but it’s enough information to be directional. It shows that if I want to get back to 9:30 training paces, I’ll need to average between 172-176 SPM and stride lengths between .98 to 1.0 meters.

I have work to do to get to those numbers but at least it’s a baseline target. I need to decide whether to focus on cadence and let my stride adapt as needed, or if I should try to open my stride before taking on the tougher metric. I’d prefer the latter, but messing with stride length is tricky because over-striding is the gateway to injury.

Making strides on the track

Part one of today’s workout

Today’s run (track): 4 miles plus 4 x 200s

My legs exploded off the line, firing my fast twitch muscles and propelling me 200 meters at breakneck speed. That was the experience I was hoping for, but not quite my reality. My plan this morning was to do some speed work so I headed over to the high school to run measured intervals. I did get in some repeats, but most of my workout was track mileage.

When I arrived at the school I was excited to see that I had the place to myself. I decided to take advantage of the clear lanes and do a two mile warm-up before switching to strides. The flat track helped my performance and provided me a half minute per mile improvement over yesterday’s pace. I wore my new buff around my neck and pulled it over my head when I encountered strong winds.

The track doesn’t provide a lot of visual stimulation, but I liked watching the bright sun coming up over the horizon while I made my way around. I decided to keep running after I’d covered my first two miles and ended up doing a full four before moving over to speed work.

I only ended up doing 4 x 200s with 30 second recoveries, averaging 59 seconds per repeat. Not exactly explosive speed, but I haven’t done anaerobic training in a long time. Still, it worked out to 8:00 per mile, a pace I haven’t seen for months. If I could sustain that speed for more than 200 meters, I’d be pretty happy. The answer is clearly more intervals, more often,

Marathon day but not a marathon run

I ran 1/6th of this distance today 

Today’s run (street): 4.25 miles

After yesterday’s horrible run I was a little gun shy about going out again this morning. Daylight Savings Time allowed me to sleep until 6:30 AM and still get up at 5:30 and I was hoping the extra rest would help. I think it did. I told my wife that I was worried about having another bad running experience but she dismissed the thought, saying every run is different. I managed to get out of the house early and my Garmin quickly acquired its signal. I wasted no more time thinking about how I’d feel once I got going.

I usually think out my route and distance before I run. Today I took off in a random direction thinking I’d figure it out as I went. I soon determined that yesterday’s struggles wouldn’t carry over to today and I focused on getting through the run as quickly as possible. I was anxious to get home so I could watch the NYC marathon coverage on TV and track a number of friends who were running.

I felt much better today and it was enough to improve my overall pace by 42 seconds per mile. There was a pronounced wind that both helped and hurt depending on which direction I was going. The temperature was 59° but I began to feel the heat due to the 72% humidity. I’d paid no attention to my time or distance and thought I’d only gone about 3.5 miles when I got back to my house. I was surprised to see that I’d run more than 4 miles.

It was fun to watch the the coverage of the elite runners when I got back. I had a half dozen people that I wanted to track and I was excited to find that FS was also running when I looked her up. I enjoyed being able to follow people’s progress by laptop and wished that the network spent more time covering non-elite participants.

Watching the marathon was fun and I keep waiting for the racing bug to return for me. For now I’m happy to run on my own terms. I’m more interested in training to beat my PB for distance in a single run (13.1 miles) and I plan to start on that next weekend. Once I get my base up, I might be looking at 10Ks a little differently.

Kenyans are faster than my commute

These cars were new when I started my commute

Today’s run (street): 3.4 miles

If you took every car on Long Island and laid them end to end, it would stretch all the way to my exit off the Long Island Expressway. That is the reality of my daily commute home. 35 miles in 150 minutes is an average of 14 MPH. An elite runner could run home faster. This is the reason I like Fridays, because working from home saves me one day of all that aggravation.

Last night it took 2 1/2 hours to get from my office to my house. I had every intention of doing a post-work elliptical session, but my night was getting short and I decided to forgo it. Today I had no excuses. I was pleased to see the below 70° temperature and feel the cool dry air when I stepped outside this morning. I felt good from the start and that continued throughout the run.

It’s getting close to fall, my favorite running season, and I’m wondering if I’m finally turning the corner on my lethargic performance. Little by little, I’ve increased my effort on my runs and have started to see incremental improvements to my pace. Today I focused on increasing cadence and a more dynamic leg motion.

The end result was a substantial improvement in my pace compared to a few weeks ago. As impressive as that sounds, I’m still over a minute per mile slower than I was last year. On the other hand, today’s pace was half a minute faster than last Sunday. This type of progress is very encouraging. If it continues, I might get fast enough to out run the Expressway traffic.

Happy on the Bethpage trail

Trail appreciation day

Today’s run (Bethpage trail): 5.4 miles

The best part of today’s run came during the last half mile. I’d spent the previous five moving at my usual pace (slow) but opened up the throttle on the last stretch of the path. I ended up with a final split in the range of my old normal pace. That contrasted with the rest of my data and really highlighted how much my performance has dropped off over the past few years.

I wanted to break out of my typical 3 to 4 mile rut and I knew the best way to do that was to run the Bethpage bike trail. There was partial sun breaking through the clouds and the humidity didn’t seem too bad. But humidity can be deceiving and, a few miles in, I began to regret leaving my water bottle in my car. Garmin data says humidity was 83%. On the other hand, there was a steady breeze coming from the west that acted like a cooling fan, especially when I was heading south.

Rather than go north as usual, I decided to run south to Bethpage State Park, turn around there and head north to Old Country Road. I figured that would get me my targeted five and then some. Soon after I’d started, I saw a couple of people running ahead of me at about the same pace that I was running. Well the guy was running my pace and the woman was running faster and looping back periodically to run with him. It reminded me of running with TPP and SIOR!

I eventually caught up to them, but they kept going south while I turned around. I was feeling good and took the time to look around and appreciate how fortunate I am to have this beautiful trail ten minutes from my home. The abundant trees and well maintained paths make it a happy place. I noticed that they’ve put in water coolers near the end of the first section of the northern path. Very civilized. I wish I’d drank from it when I had the chance.

For some reason, I expected that my run north would feel short because I’d covered 2.75 miles by the time I’d looped back to where I’d started. It wasn’t a slog covering the remaining distance, but it seemed to take longer to cover slightly less distance. As it turned out, I went much faster during the second half. That was probably due to my more urgent pace towards the end.

The fact that I could hold a much faster pace for a fairly long stretch reinforced that my speed issue isn’t physical. I’ve definitely fallen into the habit of running comfortably rather than with a performance goal. My absence from racing explains that to some degree. I’m not sure that I want to start folding in faster paces in all my runs, but with cooler weather coming, it might be a nice thing to try.

Finally, I want to give a shout out to SIOR who finished in the top 8% of the Suffolk County Half Marathon this morning. It makes me proud to be a Runsketeer. Even if I’m the slowest one.

Getting my head around running faster

 

Today’s run (street): 3.4 miles

I missed my mid week workout and hadn’t been on a run since Sunday. Working from home on Fridays provides an opportunity to get in a few miles in the morning. An early business call provided a scheduling challenge. Despite my chronic tendency to procrastinate before running, I managed to get out before 7:00 AM and was rewarded with a cloudy sky that kept the temperature down. The humidity was another story.

My running experiences have gone from being exciting efforts that occasionally produced performance breakthroughs to embarrassingly slow cookie cutter efforts. I’ve used the excuse that I have to watch my speed to prevent further issues with my lower back. Even I don’t buy that anymore. I think it’s come down to the fact that I’ve lost the will and the knack for running fast.

The thing is, I haven’t consciously backed off on the throttle. Most of the runs I do today feel as difficult as the ones I did three years ago. The difference between now and then is measured in minutes per mile. Every time I go out for a run, I think about going to the track and running repeats. I don’t have any hope of managing 52 second 200’s as I’ve done in the past, but it would be great to break a nine minute mile once in a while.

I keep telling myself that increasing base past 6 miles will make it easier to maintain speed on shorter runs. I know from half marathon training that there’s some truth to that. But I haven’t felt the motivation to push beyond a certain perceived effort. The mind has to accept the challenge before the body can perform.

Goodbye pain, hello speed


Illustration by Mr. Emerging Runner Jr. 

Today’s run (street): 3.9 miles
Yesterday’s run (street): 3.6 miles

Happy Mother’s Day. We did most of our celebrating yesterday because we had a lot of stuff to do today. That meant family time during the day, followed by an early dinner at our favorite place. This weekend also included a couple of sunny outdoor runs for me that felt close to normal. The gating (or gaiting : ) factor is my stride that feels constrained on my left side. It’s causing my left foot to land differently, so that it jams up against the front of my shoe.

Both of my weekend runs were pretty much the same, although they were tougher than they should have been. The issue wasn’t my disc problem. Part of it came from an extremely heavy pollen count and high humidity, especially today. I’ll also blame the minimal road work I’ve done over the past couple of months. My street runs are generally longer than the treadmill and elliptical workouts that I’ve been doing. Plus, these outside runs produce a lot more impact than fitness machines.

The bright spot in today’s run happened near the end when I came down a long stretch and saw a couple walking in the distance. I picked up the pace to pass them and held it long enough to determine that I wouldn’t cause a relapse of my upper thigh pain. My overall pace for the run was still very slow, but that last quarter mile was in the mid-8:00 range. No pain during or after.

Tomorrow I’ll finish up the formal testing of alternative running machines. I want to keep the momentum of weekday workouts after this program finishes. I don’t like using the locker room at my company’s fitness center, but if I schedule my workouts for the end of the day, I can towel off with gym wipes and then head straight home. That’s what I’ve been doing during this testing period.

Over the weekend, my son created a running graphic for me (above) that looks like some of the artwork I’ve created for this site. I like his running man (or woman!) and I think he nailed both the concept of running and a forward leaning stance in karate. I haven’t had to combine those two things to date, but if I do, I’ll have an icon to represent it!

You need to run 600 yards to run a mile

1,800 feet of hell

As far back as elementary school, I’ve struggled with running fast paces over long distances. I really did try. In fifth grade, I ran the 50 yard dash for the track team and even placed first in my town for the standing broad jump (still the apex of my athletic career). These events were part of the Presidential Physical Fitness test that every kid had to take to pass gym class. Running 150 feet and jumping six feet was relatively easy. It was the 600-yard timed run around the field that haunted me all the way through high school.

I wasn’t alone. We all dreaded the “Six Hundred”, a seemingly endless distance. Now that I have some perspective, I realize that 600 yards is a mere third of a mile. One and a half quarter repeats! I actually remember my high school time (2:12, the temperature of boiling water : ) that put me right in the middle of the pack. What was regarded then as a mediocre time actually calculates to a 6:27 pace. If only I had more perspective back in those days. At the time, all I could think about was the painful burning in my throat and the relief that it was finally over.

A recent suggestion by my running and blogging buddy She Is Out Running brought back memories of the Six Hundred. SIOR proposed that she, TPP and I do a timed mile run. I thought that was a great idea. I’ve come to terms with my race times slipping over the past few years, but I’m still achieving credible times when I do repeats. A mile distance is a great way to see how far I can push my anaerobic capabilities.

Intervals (for most of us) are a combination of short but intense bursts of speed, followed by a similarly short jog or rest. The biggest challenge of running a flat-out mile will be to sustain that intensity for a much longer period. I can go full speed for 200 meters and maintain a 180 SPM cadence through a full quarter. After that I begin to fade. Maybe that was why running the 600 as a sprint was always so difficult.

The fastest mile I can remember running was a 7:51 at Long Beach that led to my 10K PR. I’d started at the front with all the hollow-eyed ectomorphs who took off at the gun like whippets. I was passed by a lot of people and thought I was having an off day. When I saw the Mile 1 timing clock, I realized those speedsters were running six and seven minute miles. So that’s why people use pacers!

Maybe speedsters SIOR or TPP can do a pace lap for me when I do my timed mile. I’d return the favor, but I fear my 6:27 days are far behind me.

The two dimensions of running speed

Sample combinations

Today’s run (street): 3.4 miles

I was looking at the metrics of today’s run on Garmin Connect and thinking about the factors that determine pace. I recently put a new battery into my foot pod so I can capture my cadence as well as time, pace, heart rate and elevation. Besides steps per minute (SPM), the foot pod also shows average stride length. After looking at new and past data, I’m seeing some correlation to pace.

When you think about it, running speed is controlled by two factors — how far you are propelled with each step and the frequency of these steps. As an example, last year I ran the Hot Chocolate 5K averaging 178 SPM, but with an average stride length of 1.03 meters. That translated to an 8:46 pace. A month later I did the LIRCC Hangover Run averaging 172 SPM and .95 meter stride length and averaged 9:50. Fairly small differences translated into almost a minute difference in pace.

Interestingly, my data shows when I run intervals, my stride length drops to half a meter. However, average cadence jumps up to 188. That usually results in an 8:00 pace or better. I’ve read that, to improve performance, increasing cadence is a better approach than increasing stride length. I’m sure that’s due to the danger of over striding which can put excessive pressure on the knees, tendons and ligaments.

Today both my cadence and stride length were middling and I ended up pacing in the mid 10’s. That was by design as I wanted to minimize wear and tear on the muscles that may be aggravating my sciatica. Once I’m past this annoyance I’ll start playing more with cadence and will try to make my way to the ideal (180 SPM). I’d like to run some intervals this week get that started, but I want to make sure I don’t do more harm than good.

Doing the wave on a friendly Friday

Howdy neighbor!

Today’s run (street): 4 miles
Tuesday’s run (treadmill): 2.3 miles

In the scheme of things, adding a couple of miles to your weekly volume doesn’t make a lot of difference. However, when you are only able to run three days a week, adding another workout day provides some psychological benefit. Or perhaps it lessens guilt. Same thing. So for the past two weeks, I’ve dutifully risen at 4:00 AM to up my weekly run count to four and get my mileage a little closer to where it used to be.

The rest of my week’s running happens between Friday and Sunday and I kicked that off today with a 4 miler around the neighborhood. I work from home on Fridays and that saves time from my long commute. I try to get outside early so I can finish my run and start my business day at my usual time. Since I prefer early running, this works out fine. Today it worked out great.

I’ve written dozens of posts complaining about running the same streets of my neighborhood, day after day. I thought about that this morning as I covered a section that I’ve probably run more than 800 times over the past six years. But every one of those runs has differed in some aspect. There’s always a story.

Getting out early provided great weather conditions with temperatures in the mid 60’s and humidity at its lowest point in the day. As I ran, I noticed some people in business clothes walking out to their cars, ready to start their commute. Perhaps it was a TGIF mindset, but almost everyone waved or said good morning as I ran by. I crossed paths with a couple of runners and they gave friendly waves as well. Even people in cars waved as they passed. Lots of waving today.

That pleasantness carried over to my run. I felt good enough to push my pace and ended up averaging about 20 seconds per mile better than my current training pace. I had hopes that it would be even faster than that, but I’ll take what I can get. As much as I enjoyed my friendly neighbors today, I’m looking to get away from my local roads over the weekend. The Bethpage trail would be an obvious choice but since I’m not planning to run Dirty Sock this year, I may go to Belmont Lake and run the course.