Sunday, May 22, 2016

How I'm Spending My Summer Vacation.

I know technically we still have like another month to go, but for some reason I feel like the Eugene Marathon sort of ushered in summer, maybe because afterward I had a bit of that WEEEEE EXAMS ARE DONE TIME TO CHILL!!! vibe.

And, I have been taking full advantage of it. I took a week off from running (though I did go to karate & do some climbing) and have been getting to all kinds of procrastinated tasks in the afternoons when I'd normally be running. Behold, my car is smog tested & legally registered, my luscious locks no longer make me look like a sheep dog when not tied back, and I once again have professional office lady shoes that are not literally falling apart.

#lusciouslocks ca.2001

We've also had a few weekends recently where we didn't have to get up early or be anywhere specific, and as a result our floors are shiny, our toilets are spotless, and our friends have been well fed on 10 year old cab & 90-day dry-aged sous vide ribeyes.


Basically, perfection.

(Related: Dinner parties are good for floor mopping and toilet cleaning.)

Running-wise, I'm now up to a brisk 4 miles per day, more or less, and feeling pretty darn good. My next big training cycle will be CIM in December (and Folsom Breakout Blues Half in mid-October) which I'll probably start training for in earnest sometime in August. So what's going on between now & then?

  • Danville 10K on 5/28. I kind of forgot that I signed up for this! I think trying to actually race it less than a month after a marathon is probably incredibly stupid, but it sounds like maybe I will try to pace my lovely friend Cat to a PR???? I have little experience as a pacer but maybe she will let me hang on for the ride.
  • Ireland 6/1-6/14. This all happened kind of suddenly & I don't know all the details, but I have been told there will be amazing food and lots of beer & whiskey and really what more does one need to know. #sláinte
  • Jungle Run Half on 7/16. Again, not actually racing, but I have a deferral from last year so what the hell. (Also it's in Los Gatos in July meaning temps will probably be in the 90s so major race goals include not passing out/dying.)
  • Another round of base-building, y'all. Honestly, I doubt I'll even follow a real schedule; my only goal is to log a metric butt load of really slow, easy miles.

Apologies if you've read the aerobic base training schpiel before, but ever since I spent fall 2014 & spring 2015 doing almost nothing but running lots of easy miles and collecting data on it, I'm a believer. I mean, I understood the principle in theory, but it's a whole other thing (for me, at least) to use my own body as a guinea pig & watch the hard evidence pile up.

Basically, when it comes to distance running (or any endurance sport), your body works like a combustion engine, and the two things that determine how fast you'll be are 1) power and 2) efficiency.

(Okay fine, there's also a third thing, but it doesn't really fit into the engine metaphor, so I'm leaving it out for now.)

Power is about how quickly the engine can process fuel. A car with a big 5 liter engine will be more powerful than a similar-sized car with a small 2 liter engine, because when you hit the accelerator, it can combust over twice as much fuel in the same amount of time. In endurance sports, the "size of your engine" is your VO2max. If you have a big engine, your body is able to burn a high volume (that's the V) of oxygen (that's the O2) very quickly. (The "max" just refers to whatever that fastest rate your body is capable of at all-out effort, which is how it's measured.) The most effective way to increase the size of your engine/VO2 max is through speed work.

Efficiency is about how much forward motion you get out of each bit of fuel. A sedan that gets 30 miles to the gallon is obviously more fuel efficient than an SUV that gets 15. In endurance running, this is called running economy--how much of the oxygen that you burn gets converted into forward motion. If you can go very far on a little oxygen, you are obviously more "fuel efficient" than someone who can't go very far on that same amount of oxygen, or who needs to burn more oxygen to go the same distance. The most effective way to increase your fuel efficiency/running economy is through lots and lots of easy running (aerobic base training).

Now obviously the fastest people are both very efficient AND have big engines. And when you're actively training for something, you need a healthy mix of easy miles as well as faster running. But, a very very (very) common problem among semi-serious recreational runners is focusing too much on speed work & growing that giant-ass engine and ignoring its efficiency. Which, as I understand the science, is a great way to not make much progress in the long term.

So yeah. In fall 2014/spring 2015 I decided to bite the bullet & do almost nothing but base train. It had been a very long time since I'd devoted any real attention to it, and because I was sure it would be the most boring six months imaginable I decided to collect some data and see if I could actually detect changes in my running economy.

You can read about my methodology here, but these were my results from September 2014 (when I was already in what I considered pretty decent marathon shape) through February 2015:

(r2=.39 for all you stats nerds out there, i.e., damn significant.)

The vertical units are "miles per heartbeat," ie, higher = more efficient/better running economy. Weeks and weeks of nothing but slow, easy running may not sound sexy, but it effing works.

Sadly, in February 2015 I left my HRM charger in a hotel room in San Diego and they never found it. BUT! In January of this year I ponied up for a Forerunner 235, which has a heart rate monitor built in. The upside is that that means I get heart rate data automatically every time I run with my watch with zero effort. The downside is that apparently sometime after March 13 my watch deleted all its data and that was the last day I'd synced with Garmin Connect.

ANYHOO, I was curious to see just how poorly my current running economy compared to that little experiment in 2014/2015, so I added the data to the same graph:


When we do graphs in math we ask kids to make "summary statements," ie, what conclusions can you draw by looking at the graph. My summary statements for the right-hand (Jan-Mar 2016) graph are:

  • Probably this is not enough points to draw meaningful conclusions from. (We have formulas for this in statistics & I did not do them, but r2=.02, ie probably not very significant.) That said...
  • I maybe wasn't starting from *quite* as bad a place efficiency wise this January as I was in Aug/Sept 2014.
  • Kinda-sorta marathon training these past months might have improved my running economy by a tiny amount.
  • I'm *maybe* kind of in the neighborhood of where I was in say October 2014.

So. Now that I've got a working HRM again, I'm planning to kind of run the same experiment this summer--collecting data & seeing what happens.

(Gotta stave off the boredom somehow, eh?)


1 comment:

  1. I agree - collecting data and making graphs is the only way to make base training tolerable. :)
    Great to see you yesterday! Have a BLAST in Ireland!