Twofer on the track and road

One run already done

Today’s runs: 3.5 miles (track), 1 mile (street) = 4.5 miles

For some reason my Garmin has stopped recording my stride length. It used to show up under “cadence” but it’s no longer there. A search of the web yielded no useful information and Garmin Connect does not mention it in any of its forum posts. I’m disappointed and puzzled why stride length is no longer displayed. It’s a useful data point that helps me understand why I’m hitting certain paces (or not). I looked to see if there was a new software update, but apparently I’m current. I sent a note to Garmin support and expect to hear back in one to never days.

My thoughts about running at Stillwell shifted to the track this morning. I felt like doing some mindless running that didn’t include the paranoia of tripping on hidden roots or having mountain bikers stealthily coming up behind me on a single track path. It’s hard to explain why I find the track so appealing. I think it may have to do with being able to run outside without too much distraction and no crazy drivers.

I had the track to myself until a woman showed up to walk. That was fine and soon another runner appeared. It was a woman who seemed to be moving along well, but somehow I caught and passed her. I was running okay but not all that fast. Just faster than her I guess. I did 14 laps and headed home. Along the way I started regretting keeping it to only 3.5 miles. I decided I’d add another mile when I got home.

Road & Track

Going out for my second run was strange. I was fully “recovered” from my track workout and probably could have repeated the same distance in my neighborhood. I decided I’d keep to the plan and followed a route close to my house. The whole time I felt I was running by remote control, as if I was still at home while my body was out doing the run on its own. That was probably due to being fully warmed up, making the run feel really easy.

After I finished I thought about my experience and realized that the second run probably felt effortless because I knew I only had to cover a mile. I started thinking about a “day of running”, where I would run a mile in my neighborhood starting early in the day and come back home. At the top of the next hour (and every hour subsequent to that) I would run another mile. If I did this from 7:00 AM to 4:00 PM I could cover ten miles. If every run was a little longer I could do a half marathon or more.

So if I cover 14 miles in one day, is that the same as doing a 14 mile run? Or would it be cheating to say that?

It’s not fair that I have to try harder to run better

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.

Faster cadence is my next frontier

All clear on Colonial Road

Today’s run (Bethpage bike trail): 5.1 miles

I found it hard to believe that the weather on October 30 could be as mild as it was this morning. 64° with a little humidity made for pretty good running conditions. I’d decided to run the Bethpage bike trail and thought it would be a nice change to start in the park. I figured that the season had ended and the were no more admission charges. At the last minute I changed my mind and headed to Colonial Road. That turned out to be a good decision because, when I came through the park, I saw that they were still collecting parking fees.

My plan was to run five miles. Had I started in the park, I would have run to where the bike trail runs under Hempstead Turnpike and come back from there. I haven’t run that section of the trail in a long time but that would have been a nice change of scenery. Since I was closer to Haypath, I took off north and did a two mile out-and-back to my starting point. I kept going and ran towards the park all the way to the big hill that’s south of the lot. I returned from there for a tidy five.

The good weather conditions should have helped today, but my pace was 20 seconds per mile slower than my current average. Based on heart rate, I should have been faster. I have opened up my stride a little and that’s accounted for most of my recent gains. My cadence hasn’t really increased and I think it’s the key for me to move to the next level. I’m not sure what I can do to address that. I found an article that suggested downhill sprints. That sounds good. Anything downhill is good.

I need to get serious about adding another workout to my weekly schedule. With my current commute, I’m not going back to 4 AM street runs and the treadmill isn’t too appealing. My best option is to get in a short run or elliptical session before dinner one night a week. Increasing my running frequency will definitely help. And I have the perfect street for those downhill sprints.

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.

Running with the track team

Road and track

Yesterday’s run (track): 3.5 miles
Today’s run (street): 3.4 miles

We’ve had great weather over the weekend and I took advantage of it over the last two days. Yesterday morning I headed to the high school to run laps on the track. Today I stayed within my neighborhood. I’d considered doing a trail run, but I wanted to save time and get my workout done before the heat and humidity took over.

When I arrived at the track there were about five people walking and two high school-aged girls doing intervals. I do most of my running on local roads where I run exclusively on the left side. I wanted to even that up a bit and bucked convention by running the track clockwise. As I made my way around, I noticed young women drifting into the area and settling in at the southern end of the track. I realized that team practice was about to start and I would soon have a lot of fast company.

Track running can get monotonous but I was actually enjoying the experience. Going the opposite direction of everyone else was weird, because you are constantly encountering people face to face. I tend to get competitive with other runners so going in the other direction prevents me from pushing too hard. Still, I notice where we cross paths and subconsciously calculate whether I’ve gained or lost ground with them.

My concern of being overrun by high school track stars was unfounded. The coach dispatched them around the large field surrounding the schools and then put them through drills inside the track. I lost track of my lap count (my Garmin doesn’t capture quarters, just miles) but I stopped after estimating that I’d gone around 14 times. I was correct, the Garmin map showed I covered 3.5 miles.

This morning I wanted to get out and add a few more miles to the string of runs I’d started on Friday. Despite a mindset to run easy, I pushed my speed because it felt right. I focused on my stride that’s been compacted due to my injury. Prior to my disc problem, my average stride length had been close to a meter (per my Garmin foot pod). Just a few weeks ago it was averaging .83 meters but lately I’ve been getting closer to .9.

It occurred to me that today isn’t Sunday, although it feels like it is. I’m glad it will be a four day work week. I’m hoping to fit in a few workouts during the week to bridge my fitness to next weekend.

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.

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.

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.