Saturday, June 25, 2011

Article: The 10% Rule & Things We Think We Know

running injuryIn a recent New York Times article, Gina Kolata discusses the origin & legitimacy of the much-touted and oft-parroted "ten percent rule" -- you know, the fact that, in distance training, increasing weekly mileage by more than ten percent over the previous week's mileage puts a runner at a significantly increased risk of injury. Where did this rule come from, she asks, and what kind of evidence is there for its veracity?

Kolata (who is in fact a runner) first began looking into the rule when a runner friend of hers was recovering from a stress fracture and attempting to work back up to the sixty-mile weeks he was running pre-injury. Try as she might, though, she was unable to find the original source. What's more, she couldn't find any scientific evidence that it was even true. Could it be that this sacred training principle that runners of every ilk have sworn by for ages untold is nothing more than an urban legend, like repeating "bloody Mary" three times in a darkened bathroom while staring at the mirror? ("You know what I heard? I heard that if you up your mileage by more than ten percent a week, then a month later your IT band will melt off your body. Totally happened to my friend's cousin's roommate's best friend's sister.")

I think that one of the Great Truths of Adulthood for me has been that we don't always necessarily know as much as we think we know. I can recall several times in the last ten years or so when some "fact" or other piece of conventional wisdom that I've accepted and repeated for years has been called into question; someone will ask, "Wait, how do you know that?" And I'll find myself going, "Wait a minute, how do I know that?" How do I know that I shouldn't increase my mileage by more than ten percent per week? Because someone, probably a high school coach, told me so some indeterminate number of years ago. And because I probably read it in some running book written by another coach, who didn't reference anything other than his or her many years of personal experience. And we've all been repeating it back to one another ever since.

The one scientifically valid, controlled, peer-reviewed study that Kolata did find was conducted by the University Center for Sport, Exercise and Health at the University of Groningen. (You can read the full study here.) The study followed two randomly assigned groups of runners who wanted to increase their weekly mileage in order to train for a four-mile race and recorded rates of injury in both groups. One group increased their mileage by ten percent for eleven weeks until they were running for ninety minutes per week; the other increased their mileage by significantly more than that until, after only eight weeks of training, they were running for ninety-five minutes per week. At the end of the study, the injury rate in both groups was about 20%.

Now, before I make any interpretations here, I should mention that in addition to being a runner, I am also a mathematician, and as such have studied statistics and research methodology. That doesn't make me the most expert-iest expert out there on this study or any other, but it does mean I've been trained not to make certain mistakes in interpreting research data, particularly involving statistics.

For example, it's important not to make the mistake of assuming a study like this actually proves anything. Empirical questions (like, "Does increasing weekly mileage by more than 10% increase the risk of injury in distance runners?") can't ever really be proven or disproven; when a study like this is done and it doesn't support a given hypothesis, all we can really say is that we've failed to provide evidence for the alternative, and that we maybe have a little more evidence that the hypothesis is false. I.e., this study does not DISPROVE the 10% rule; it only fails to support it, and provides some evidence that the rule may not be true. Even if we had a million studies like this, we'd only be gathering stronger and stronger evidence that the rule wasn't true. When we have enough scientific evidence of something, we then start to feel that it's highly LIKELY that that thing is universally true or false, but that's not the same as proof.

Secondly, rigorous, controlled scientific studies tend to be somewhat specific by their nature. Researchers try to limit variation among participants as much as possible so that, if they do see an effect in the treatment group, they'll know that it's coming from the one variable they changed as opposed to some other one that they didn't control for. In this study, the researchers needed the runners to be about the same age (around 40), at about the same level in their running (beginners), shooting for the the same distance (four miles), etc. This is great for making sure that nothing other than the mileage increase could be causing any difference in injury rates, but it doesn't necessarily tell us much about other types of runners. It seems as if the 10% rule may not help 40-year-old novices avoid injury, but we can't say much about older or younger runners, or runners with more experience.

Even given all that, though, I think the study is still worth paying attention to because it calls into question conventional wisdom using scientific methodology, and in particular, conventional wisdom that no one has ever tried to test scientifically before. Certainly more research is needed (on runners of different ages, experience levels, injury histories, etc.), but if for no other reason, this is an important result simply because it's the first real evidence we have either way.

As for practical applications, here's what I think this study does NOT warrant. It does NOT warrant foregoing completely any sort of advice to new runners about how quickly they should increase mileage. It does NOT warrant nodding and smiling when someone decides to try going from fifteen miles a week to fifty. But maybe it does warrant teaching runners to err on the conservative side when adding more miles and adjusting according to physical symptoms rather than handing them a (potentially) arbitrary number whose origins no one can seem to recall. After all, the ten percent rule can work the other way as well; there have definitely been times in my own training when even a 6-8% increase was decidedly too much, and I would've been a fool to blindly continue upping by 10% every week.

Finally, I am sure there are plenty of folks out there who will continue to swear by the 10% rule, even if we get fifty more studies that fail to show that it reduces injury rates, citing that it's worked for them and theirs for x number of years and why fix what ain't broke. To that, I would just point out the difference between individuals continuing to do what has worked well for them (smart) and generalizing anecdotal evidence to an overarching training principle (not smart). Unfortunately, humans are pretty much built to pay more attention to isolated, personal experiences (or perceived experiences) than to scientific evidence, precisely because it often does tend to work out better for individuals. For large groups, though, this is not the case, so that's something I think we need to be careful of. If the 10% rule works for you, by all means keep doing it; do bear in mind when you're discussing mileage with new runners, though, that we now have evidence that it may not generalize to everyone under all circumstances.

Week In Review: June 19 - 25

Running ShoesThis is my weekly training journal. Including it in the blog gives me a little extra accountability in the mileage department & helps me stick to my schedule. :)

Race Week!! Although SF Pride Run isn't exactly an A race (or a B race, or a C race...), I feel pretty strongly that if I've shelled out the money to run a race, I owe it to myself to try to make sure I have at the very least a respectable race and don't sabotage myself in the week leading up. I didn't cut back drastically this week (and really, my mileage is low enough right now anyway that it hardly matters), but I did take the edge off a few key workouts, just to make sure I'd be reasonably fresh on Saturday.

Sunday: 10 miles (sort of) easy. Sooooo yeah. I was about to be all like, "I haven't run 10 miles all in a row since I was training for Santa Cruz...It was all hot and windy, and I forgot about all the rolling hills in the park, and waaaah waaaah waaaaah...." And then I checked my 2011 training journal. It seems I actually haven't run 10 consecutive miles at ANY point this year; the most I did during my Santa Cruz & KP 5K training cycles was 9. So yeah; it's been a solid 8.5 months since I've run more than 9 miles (specifically, since the Rock N Roll San Jose half marathon on October 3.). Despite the heat and hills and wind, I still averaged 8:13 / mile, with most of those miles sub-8:00.

My 10K-centric training as of late did betray me a little; for the first 6-7 miles, I was running those sub-8:00's with almost no effort at all. Then I hit the uphills around mile 8 and realized I should have done a better job of pacing myself and started out at an *actually* easy pace, rather than "easy" the way I define it in the first six miles of a half marathon. So, in spite some tactical failure, a pretty decent run. I did get the chance to make one lap of the SF Pride Run course in GG Park (one lap = 5K; the 10K will make two laps), and I always feel a little more confident going into a race if I've been on the course ahead of time. Also, my legs feel great - my shin splints seem to be taking the night off, and my hip muscles feel better than they did pre-run. Favorable portents? I'm going with yes. :)

Tuesday: 3 miles (1 mile warm up + 8 x 400 fast). This is one of the workouts where I'd already planned to cut back. Normally I cut speed work in half the week before a race (so I'd planned 6 x 400 instead of 12), but since I'm running so little mileage right now & Pride is just a tune-up race for me anyway, I figured I could handle eight, and it would help keep me focused on Bad Bass at the end of July. Hot and windy again on the track today, but I still managed 1:28 or better on every lap with the exception of the first.

Wednesday: 4 miles easy. By which I mean not at all easy, but certainly very slow. This was definitely one of those days when I felt glued to the couch, and it took all the will I had to get up, get dressed, and go. You know how 99 out of 100 times you don't really feel like running, you feel better once you're out there? Well, this was unfortunately that one where you continue to feel shitty the whole time.

I felt like I hadn't run in a year -- I was gasping and wheezing and giving it everything I had just to keep up a nine minute mile (ten or more on the hills). Then my on again/off again shin splints decided to make an excruciating appearance. Now, I have a pretty ridiculous pain tolerance and a real talent for talking myself through unpleasant tasks, but when I stopped at a light at three miles and there were tears of pain running down my face, I decided that even I was not fool enough to push it another mile. (Unfortunately, that meant I was two miles from home, as I'd planned to run five.) I walked about a mile, mostly up and down hills, and sort of toyed with the idea of trying to jog again, but even walking, every step was sending stabs of pain through my lower legs. Finally, a little less than a mile from home, I did start jogging again (albeit at a glacial pace), and actually felt a little better. Gradually I found myself able to pick up the pace without feeling like I was going to die and ran one more mile; thankfully, the shin splints had dissipated (though they're still sore).

I'm kind of disturbed that the shin splint trouble seems to happen roughly once a week or so (though this was definitely the worst day I've had in many years). If it keeps up, I may go see my sports medicine doc again (the one who cured my hip). That doesn't explain how my cardiovascular fitness suddenly went from being that of a local 5K winner to that of an elderly woman with emphysema, but as Coach Greg McMillen reminds us, "the most successful athletes don't dwell on the bad days; instead, they're eager to move on to the next day's training or upcoming race. Successful runners know that bad days don't last and aren't a true indication of their fitness. Bad days are just a freak occurrence that must be tolerated on the path to your goals." So this is me. Moving on. :)

Saturday: 7.7 miles (1.5 warm up + 6.2 race!). Given how much pain I was in on Wednesday, I was still kind of waffling on whether or going through with the Pride Run was the greatest idea ever. Ultimately, I decided I'd take both Thursday and Friday off and then see how I felt Saturday morning. After an easy 1.5 mile warm up, I could feel that my shins weren't 100% yet, but they seemed much improved for two days' rest, so I decided to go for it with the caveat that I wouldn't try to race through any debilitating pain. In the end I had a great race with only a little soreness in the tib meds, and though it wasn't a PR, my time was good enough for 3rd in my age group and 5th overall. It was a super fun race with a great vibe (stay tuned for a race report), and I'm really glad I ended up doing it because I had a great time!

Grand Total: 24.7 miles

Next week I'll be in Chicago, so it remains to be seen how much running I'll get in. Considering the heat and the fact that I don't know the first thing about Chicago geography, my guess is that any running I do will be on the hotel treadmill. All things considered, it's probably for the best that this trip falls the week after a race; I won't feel so bad about lower / easy mileage. :)

Race Report: SF PrideRun 5K & 10K

SF PrideRun 5K & 10K
This race was stop #2 on my Year of the 10K Summer Tour (Santa Cruz, SF PrideRun, Bad Bass, and Summer Breeze). I went into it kind of tentatively after a rough "taper" week that had left me nursing some wicked shin splints and went back and forth a few times about whether or not I should run it. In the end, I felt a lot better after not running the two days before the race and decided to go for it.

In what turned out to be kind of an awesome coincidence, the race ended up taking place less than 24 hours after New York State legislators voted to legalize gay marriage; between that and the fact that the race takes place at the end of Pride Week in SF, you can imagine that the mood before the race was rather celebratory to say the least. More than a few runners arrived decked out in rainbow gear of all kinds, and there was a vibe of energy and camaraderie at the starting line that I'd never experienced at a road race before. That was pretty cool to be a part of.

Me With MedalFrankly, I wasn't sure exactly how this race would turn out, given that I've only put in maybe 4-5 weeks of real training since taking a month off after Santa Cruz. What I can say is that I ran as solid & honest a race as I ever have, and although it wasn't a PR (not surprising, given a good mile / mile & a quarter of brutal uphill x 2 laps), it was good enough for 3rd in my age group and 4th overall. And I can't complain about that. :)

Location: San Francisco, CA (Golden Gate Park)

Date: Late June (June 25, 2011 this year, at the end of SF Pride Week)

Price: $30 by June 15, $35 after (same price for both races)

Deadline: Race day registration (7:30 - 8:30 with the race at 9:00)

Sellout Factor: Unlikely; it was a small event with race day registration

SFPR Starting LineThe Expo - None.

No complaints here. The race is small enough that parking is a non-issue (especially if you arrive an hour before the gun); I parked almost exactly halfway between the sign-in table and the start, literally about fifty yards from each. There is a bag check if you want it, though given where I parked, it was actually more convenient for me to just leave stuff in my car. Post race, there was a free brunch for runners plus the usual spread of water, fruit, sports bars, etc., a couple of sponsor tents, and Jamba Juice smoothies for $3. Oh, and Dj O Miestro spinning at the finish. (Definitely my first professionally DJ'd race).

The Course

Post RaceGolden Gate Park is definitely one of my favorite places in SF to run and is a pretty common venue for a number of SF road races. Bigger races (Kaiser, for example) often use the streets, but this was a small enough field that most of it was on sidewalks or dirt trails. While it didn't wind through some of the most scenic parts of the park, it was still a nice run with a good amount of tree cover. Compared to the rest of SF, the park is mostly flat but does have a certain amount of grade to it (mostly downhill to the west and uphill to the eat). It doesn't seem like that big of a deal on longer, slower runs, but since this was a 5K loop and we were going at race pace, the 1.2 uphill miles on John F. Kennedy between Chain of Lakes Dr and Transverse Dr were noticeably brutal (my pace dropped by as much as 90 seconds per mile on both laps, and at a certain point near the end of that stretch on the second lap I realized I couldn't feel my legs). The weather was perfect for running, though - low 50s & slightly overcast, and not even any real wind to speak of (thankyouthankyouthankyou!). Goodies For some reason I was expecting a cotton shirt, but when I picked up my bib I was pleasantly surprised with this lovely tech shirt! (I think I've mentioned my feelings about a good tech shirt once or twice.) I love the colors and am sure I'll get plenty of good use out of it. Finisher ShirtBronze Medal Given that the race is a fundraiser (and also short and small), it's not surprising that there weren't finisher medals. On the other hand, there were lovely ones awarded three deep in each age/gender group (by decade) as well as top three male/female overall (who also received gift certificates to Sports Basement), and gift certificates for the top male & female finisher by age-grade. Finally, the goodie bag was a reusable one from Sports Basement filled with the usual coupons, flyers, & samples (I cannot say enough about reusable bags; I've been to several races lately that have gone with those over plastic ones, and I really do hope this represents a new trend).

Overall, this was a really fun & enjoyable small local race for a reasonable price and a good cause, plus it's all of ten minutes' drive from my house. I will definitely consider running it again next year. :)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Getting Out The Door

Sleepy BearNo matter how much we enjoy running, we all have those days when we feel stuck to the couch, glance side-long at our training schedule and give a forlorn sigh at the prospect of rousing ourselves sufficiently to pull on our running shoes. And then, the moving. Ohhhh, the moving...

This is another one of those expectations games, in that we have to expect that we're going to have those days and not be caught off guard by them. When we're expecting something, we're usually better at proactively dealing with it than letting ourselves feel like a victim with no control over the situation. (Okay, that sounds a little dramatic, but I'm pretty sure the main sentiment is still true.) I know that barring an injury or illness, I'm almost guaranteed to feel better and enjoy myself once I'm running (as someone once put it, no one ever says, "Gee, I really wish I hadn't worked out today"), and the hardest part is just getting started. Here are some strategies I've developed for getting my butt off the couch and out the door on those "meh" kind of running days:

1) One step at a time. Sometimes it helps to trick myself. The emotional, irrational part of my brain says, "But I don't want to go ruuuuun....I'm comfy right heeeeere...." In response, I say, "Oh, that's okay. We're not going to run. We're just going to walk to the bedroom." And the emotional/irrational part says, "Oh, okay. That's not so bad." Then I say, "And now, we're just going to change clothes." And the emotional/irrational part says, "Oh, I don't really mind changing clothes." And then I say, "And now, we're just going to put on our running shoes." And the emotional/irrational part says, "Nothing so terrible about that." And before you know it, I'm ready to go, and all that's left is to walk out the door. This technique has worked AMAZINGLY well for me.

2) Multimedia. Sometimes reading about, watching, or listening to runners makes me want to go run. If I don't really feel like running, I'll just pull up Runner's World or Running Times and start reading some random training article or interview. A lot of the time that's enough to get me excited enough about running and whatever my goals are at the time to get up & out there.

3) Bragging rights. Believe it or not, just having my training journal online as part of this blog can sometimes be a big help. I've found that I really, really like writing about my running (it gives me an outlet & keeps me from talking the ears off my friends & loved ones about it twenty-four/seven), and any time I finish a run, I know I get to write a little blurb about it on my "Week In Review." No running = no journal blurbs, or worse, a "Week In Review" filled with lame excuses and an abysmal mileage count. Sometimes that's enough for me to go, "Are you going to be lame on the internet today, or are you going to suck it up and go run?"

4) Make a date. I haven't used this one much lately, because my schedule is often such that it's hard for me to commit to running a specific workout at a specific place and time, but I went through a period a few years back of skipping a lot of runs due to being "too busy with work" (key point: we're almost never actually too busy for something that's truly important to us). I got through it by wrangling my running co-workers and setting up a weekly schedule with a few different people. No, I didn't have a ton of time for running at that point, but doing a little running on a consistent basis beats the hell out of skipping workouts completely because you don't have time for big, long ones, and having committed to run at specific times and places with specific people kept me reasonably fit until I had time to get back to a more substantive routine. I know a lot of people who run with groups or clubs on certain days for this reason.

5) Creep on your competition. I say this jokingly; I really do. (Ok, sort of.) Especially if I'm training for something I care about a lot, I can motivate myself to get out there by pulling up the most recent "Results" page for the race I'm targeting and picking out one or two people in my age/gender group whose times were right around what I'm shooting for (or think I could beat). Then I'll be like, "You're not going to let them BEAT you are you? ARE YOU??" (I may have mentioned the competitive streak before...). In response, the other part of me will often be like, "No, Virginia*. Not today. Not today." And then I'm off.

*I have no idea who Virginia is.

6) Act like a runner. One great truth I've learned during my adult life is that if you want to BE something or someone, you have to start by ACTING like that thing or person. Sometimes if I'm not feeling motivated, I remind myself that by definition, runners run, even when they don't feel like it, even when they're busy, even when it's not convenient. If I want to call myself a runner, I reason, I have to be willing to make running happen when it needs to, and not only when I'm feeling strong and energetic and like I have all the time in the world.

So there you go -- my top tips for getting out the door when I'm not really feeling it. Happy running! :)

Monday, June 20, 2011


Running Up StepsOne way or another, expectations are everything. This is one of those realizations that I've had over and over again in the last ten or fifteen years, so at this point I'm convinced it applies to pretty much everything. A few examples:

Dating. I think the most unhappy daters I know are people who approach every first date hoping the person will be the love of their life and/or match a mile-long checklist of criteria (looks, job, education, financial, religious, fashion, sense of humor, personal habits, feelings towards pets / kids, etc. etc. etc.). The happiest (and most successful) daters I know are people who approach every date as nothing more than a chance to meet someone new and have a good time for a few hours. Because their expectations are a little lower (I mean, not abysmally low), they usually end up having a better experience.

Teaching. In my years as a high school teacher, one thing I have definitely learned is that kids will live up to your expectations one way or another. If you expect them to work hard and learn, they will. If you expect them to give up and quit, they'll do that too. I've also seen students' attitude and motivation toward a task change when I've discussed with them ahead of time what they can expect to experience emotionally (good at first as they get started, a bit of self-doubt as they get stuck, a desire to give up when they're not sure what to do next, a feeling of accomplishment and pride when they push through their discomfort and complete the task).

Adversity. It's amazing to me how the way I (and others) react to the exact same situation can vary so dramatically based on what I'm expecting. When I've known weeks or months ahead of time that I'm going to have to endure something unpleasant (ie, a stretch of very long work days, an unpleasant meeting, or an annoying travel situation), I usually only feel mildly irritated but generally manage to stay pretty positive. When the same situation is sprung on me suddenly, it's occasionally made me into something of a monster.

At a certain point, I realized that the same is true of distance running. In a previous post, I described the shock and helplessness I experienced the first time I really, truly ran all-out at a cross country meet. I can only describe that feeling as complete and utter despair; I simply could not believe it was possible to hurt so much in so many different ways and, even worse, that that was what was supposed to happen and I was honesty expected to deal with it in some way. Looking back, I'm actually sort of shocked that I finished the race and didn't just collapse on the course in a shuddering, sobbing mess.

But the second time, it wasn't quite so bad, even though I ran just as hard. That is, it was just as bad, and that's exactly my point. Somehow the familiarity of all that pain and exhaustion and the desperate desire to quit running no matter how I had to rationalize it was exactly what I needed to get me through it. I started to anticipate that last "killer quarter" (the last 25% of any race where you absolutely just want to die) and see it as my nemesis, one who never gave up trying to get the better of me but who I'd narrowly bested enough times to know that I was the stronger of the two of us. "Ah, you again," I would sigh inwardly. "Well, if you insist. Let's see what you've got." This eventually progressed to a kind of pre-race pep-talk where I'd find myself in the days and hours leading up to a race telling myself things like, "You're going for a fight. Don't even think about holding back. Beat the shit out of this thing." This was the start of the Loop of Audacity that has gotten me through some very dark places in terms of running over the years.

I experienced something similar when I first started training in San Francisco. I have this loop in Golden Gate Park that I run pretty frequently, anywhere from seven to 15 miles depending on how you do it; the first half is slightly downhill on average, and the second half is more than slightly uphill. The first few times I ran this loop, I would inevitably run the first half at a pretty good clip with minimal effort. "What a GREAT run I'm having today!" I would find myself thinking. Then I'd hit the turnaround and head back the other way. Almost immediately, there's a noticeable and rather longish uphill, and inevitably, not five minutes into the return trip, my legs would feel leaden, I'd feel myself breathing harder, and it would seem unthinkable to me that I could only be halfway. "Ugh, this run SUCKS," I would think, plodding my way up the hill at a glacial pace. Towards the end of the loop, there are several similar-looking turns, and especially on longer runs, I would tend to forget which one I was on and feel a rush of defeat each time I realized that the corner I'd just turned was not the last. That, my friend, was not a lot of fun.

I don't know how long it took me to see the pattern (too long, I imagine), but one day before I started out on that run, I found myself thinking the entire route, remembering not only what every piece of it was like, but what sort of self-talk each part inspired and how it made me feel, and why. I took the first half a little slower, careful to avoid the trap of running gleefully fast in the first half of a long run, and as I neared the turnaround, I found myself thinking ahead to the long, winding uphill I was about to confront. Let me be clear, that didn't make it any less physically unpleasant, but it did make it much easier on me emotionally. I still had that exhausted, leaden feeling, but because I had thought about it ahead of time and remembered that it was coming, I was able to stay more positive and probably plodded up that hill slightly faster than usual.

Developing accurate and reasonable expectations has made a huge difference in my running and how I experience it. I've also found it tremendously helpful in helping out new runners, similar to the way I've found that it helps my math students to be given a road map ahead of time about how they can expect to feel at different points in working through a hard problem. It really helps beginning runners to be told ahead of time about the emotions and self-talk they can expect at different points in a hard race, or while running up a hill, or doing intervals for the first time, etc. When you know what's coming, your brain has time (consciously or not) to prepare for how it will respond and react and get you through the tough parts (as opposed to the hopeless flailing I experienced in my first race).

EnchantmentManaging your own expectations can be useful in less cerebral ways as well. These days, I find it enormously helpful to conduct a "premortem" before a hard run or race. I first encountered the term premortem in the work of Guy Kawasaki (Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions), who works with entrepreneurs. Organizations routinely conduct a postmortem after completing a big project, in which they reflect on what went well, what did not go well, what the causes were, and how the whole process could be improved. In a premortem, you think about the project you are about to undertake and imagine it failed, think about all the possible reasons why it could have failed, then try to figure out what you could have done differently to change the outcome.

In "premortem-ing" a big race, I first try to imagine every possible way that my race could go badly or not as I've planned (I get hurt, the weather is hot / nasty / windy, I go out too fast, I oversleep, I forget a key piece of gear, I go the wrong way, there's some problem with my Garmin, etc.). Then I make sure that I have a plan for how to avoid that problem or how to deal with it the best I can in the case of things I can't control (like the weather). It's through premortem-ing that I've developed some good habits & routines for preventing certain problems; eg, at this point I always take the time to put on every piece of gear I'll need the night before, then take it back off and either lay it out or put it in my bag. This helps me avoid forgetting things.

Even on shorter runs, it's helpful to remind myself what physical and mental challenges lie where. It reminds my brain and body that I'm expecting them, and that I've got tools for dealing with them and not letting them take control of my race or run. Somehow, this makes tough things a little easier to handle psychologically.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Week In Review: June 12 - 18

Running ShoesThis is my weekly training journal. Including it in the blog gives me a little extra accountability in the mileage department & helps me stick to my schedule. :)

Unfortunately, I couldn't get my longer run in on Sunday, so things got shuffled around a bit this week. In the end this meant running only four days instead of five, but given that I've had some trouble with shin splints lately, it was probably for the best.

Tuesday: 9 miles (7 easy + 2 @ 10K pace). A lovely run on a lovely evening. In spite of hills and reasonably warm weather, I kept a pretty good clip going without much effort and even managed negative splits. I told myself I'd see how the first seven felt before deciding whether or not to push the last two; with two miles left, a strong pace, and no hint of weariness, I decided why the hell not.

Thursday: 4 miles (1 mile warm up + 12 x 400 hard). On the track this time! Any day I can get to the track to run, it's a good day. Even better, I completed all 12 in 1:30 or better. (During my Santa Cruz training, I was shooting for 1:30-1:40 per lap.) I wasn't expecting Pride next weekend to be all that fantastic of a race for me, but who knows? Maybe I'll actually put up a decent time. (On the other hand, my ankles and calves are a little unhappy with me. They may or may not have been quite as up to this as the rest of me.)

Friday: 6 miles (1 mile warm up + 5 miles tempo). Today was the last straw. From now on, I'll be doing my tempo runs on the track or not at all. It's just too stressful to try to maintain such a careful pace when I also have hills, traffic lights, pedestrians, etc. to content with (to say nothing of the @#$^&$% wind that won't @#$%^&% leave this city the @#$%&$ alone). On top of that, my Garmin has been all sorts of wonkadoodle on my usual route in the last week or so; my pacing may not be perfect, but there's just no way I'm vacillating between, say, 6:50 and 8:35 every twenty seconds or so. On a low-key run it's not that big of a deal (1 mile splits are good enough), but on a tempo run it's kind of a problem. On top of that, my shin splints were acting up again something fierce, which made the whole run just that more miserable. Sigh. Just one of those days.

Saturday: 6 miles (3 mile warm up + 3 miles @ 10K pace). Sooo nice to run on the track again. Not completely recovered from Friday, but definitely felt a lot better (physically and mentally!). I still had to contend with the wind on one stretch of the track, which probably meant I was running at more 5K effort occasionally in order to keep a 10K pace, but it was still a good run and I felt reasonably good after.

Grand Total: 25 miles

I'd kind of hoped to get back up to 30 this week, but I'd rather take things a little more slowly and stay healthy than push too fast and end up losing time to dealing with injuries again. And really, given that I'm primarily working on 10Ks right now, I'm not in any huge rush to up mileage yet.

Next Saturday I'm planning on running the SF Pride Run 10K, so I'll be backing off a little bit. I'm not going into it with huge expectations, but it's on a familiar course, so it'll be interesting to see what happens. :)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Week In Review: June 5 - 11

Running ShoesThis is my weekly training journal. Including it in the blog gives me a little extra accountability in the mileage department & helps me stick to my schedule. :)

Finally, my life seems to be getting back to a point where I can get a decent amount of mileage in regularly. I did manage to break twenty this week, which was novel and exciting. I didn't get in the full scheduled thirty thanks to a little bit of madness Tuesday through Thursday, but I tried to make the best of it and salvage what I could.

Sunday: 8 miles easy. And for the first time since I was training for Santa Cruz, it actually was. Normally I like to drive down to the park for anything over 6 miles in order to cut down on stop lights and hills, but as my car is currently missing a back window (thanks, Mission), I just started at the house, ran down to the Panhandle, made a few laps there, and ran back. My hip feels strangely fine (not 100% pain-free, but certainly better than it has been); I am beginning to suspect that the pain I was having last weekend wasn't completely due to running. In the mean time, I'm trying to be diligent about my stretching & strengthening work from PT. We'll see how the rest of the week goes.

Tuesday: 5 miles (1 mile warm up + 4 mile tempo run). I have a hard time with tempo runs; unless I wear a heart monitor or run on the track (it's difficult to find long stretches of flat ground around here otherwise), it's difficult for me to tell for sure how close I am to tempo effort. Sometime I feel like I'm fading & glance down at my Garmin to see I'm running low sevens; at others I think I'm cruising along and realize my pace has crept up to to the low eights. The hills make this even more difficult; it's so much easier when I can just cruise around the track and go by pace. So, to be honest, my 4 mile "tempo" run was actually probably vacillating between 5K and half marathon pace, because I think I tend to worry more about erring on the side of running too slow than I do about running too fast.

Friday: 5 miles (1 mile warm up + 10 x 400 fast + 1.5 miles easy). Yet another failed attempt at getting to the track. Due to my work schedule, it's been a little harder logistically to make it out there, so the speed workouts I've been meaning to add back in the last couple of weeks have fallen by the wayside. Track or no track, though, I was determined to get some speed work in this week, so poor man's intervals through the neighborhood it was. And WOW, there's nothing like short intervals to show you how far out of race shape you are! Although I did manage to keep up the same pace as back in February and March, the last 100 yards or so of each interval were MUCH more miserable. Initially I was shooting for 12 x 400 (my old standard); after six I was questioning whether that was really wise. In the end, though, I managed 10, and probably could have finished the last two if it weren't for my left hamstring threatening to cramp up. I decided that 10 x 400 was plenty for my first speed workout in over two months and just added the last half mile to my cool down jog. To be honest, I don't recommend intervals in the neighborhood; between the impact of pavement, hills, traffic lights, uneven (& sometimes treacherous) terrain, and dodging pedestrians, dogs, and strollers every 20 yards or so, one really starts to long for the monotonous predictability of the track.

Saturday: 7 miles (4 easy + 3 @ 10K pace). Huzzah for finally getting out to the track! Nothing makes me appreciate a soft, smooth, predictable surface more than multiple weeks of running through my neighborhood or the park. Most of the time if I'm at the track it's for a speed workout, but sometimes it can be really nice to do some easy, meditative miles on the oval and not have to worry about pedestrians, hills, traffic lights, etc., especially if it's pretty empty (which it tends to be on Saturday evenings).

Grand Total: 25 miles

All in all, not a bad week. Work should be calming down some next week, so with any luck I'll actually get in five solid days of running.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Article: A Few Words on Barefoot / Minimalist Running

Barefoot RunnerGenerally, I tend to be very suspicious of hot new trends and bandwagons. In fact, I've been known to go out of my way to avoid doing / reading / seeing / trying / etc. things that seem to be taking the world by storm. It's not that I'm contrary by nature; I've just born witness to the stupidity of the masses a lot more often that I have their wisdom.

So it was with barefoot / minimalist running. I grew up running in thick-soled traditional shoes and spent most of my high school distance career striking midfoot; although I did see the light of forefoot striking partway through college, I never thought all that hard about my shoes, and it wasn't until maybe five years ago or so that I first raised my eyebrows at a pair of Vibram FiveFingers the way you might at a large, exotic-looking insect.

Since then, I've done my share of reading on the subject, and shockingly (read: not even remotely shockingly), this seems to be one of those issues that some people tend to get all fight-ey and fundamentalist about. I've lost track of the number of articles I've read evangelizing about how barefoot / minimalist running is the be-all, end-all of the sport and promise it will magically cure whatever leg or foot maladies plague you, or, on the other hand, about how Vibrams are a tool of the devil and it's incredibly dangerous for Westerners accustomed to running in high-tech, mushy traditional shoes to switch to something so hippy dippy and preposterous.

Just as I am suspicious of sensations, I also maintain a healthy skepticism about particularly extreme positions on most subjects. And shockingly (read: not even remotely shockingly), the minimalist running articles that I've found the most compelling and persuasive have been the ones that discuss the pros and cons of both styles, the fringe cases, the "yes- and no-but" cases, and the ones that don't begin with the tacit assumptions that all runners are alike and there is such a thing as the one "best" way of doing anything related to running.

This article from The Science of Sport is such a one. It's not a terribly long read, and I definitely recommend it, but here are a few of the high points that I think don't get nearly enough air time in the ongoing debate about running shoes & foot strike:

  • There are many, many people who run in both types of shoe (minimalist & traditional) and with different foot strikes (heel, midfoot, forefoot) who are healthy, safe, and injury-free and have been for many years.
  • Some people switch to barefoot/minimalist and suffer injuries; others make the switch and find that injuries that have bothered them for years disappear.
  • Although forefoot striking causes less loading on joints and is usually associated with more efficient patterns of movement when all other things are equal, our bodies become efficient at whatever we do with them most often, so someone who has been a heel striker for thirty years may find that forefoot striking is actually less efficient for them, at least at first (and sometimes indefinitely).
  • Heel/midfoot striking and forefoot striking use vastly different muscles (more anterior for heel/midfoot, more posterior for forefoot), and runners who attempt to switch from one to the other may have dramatic strength imbalances that can result in injuries or over-training if they don't start out very, very gradually.
  • Whether or not switching to minimalist shoes or forefoot striking makes sense for a given runner is a very individualistic question and depends on a number of factors including running goals, mileage, and history of injury.

For my part, I can honestly say there is no way I could possibly force myself to land on my heels when I run regardless of what shoes I was wearing, because it requires landing with my foot out in front of my body, which puts a ton of uncomfy force on my knees and hips. (I do catch myself doing it a little when I have to slow down quickly, which illustrates the idea that heel striking does create a braking action; this is part of the reason why heel striking is often not a super-efficient way of transforming energy into forward motion.) When I first switched from midfoot striking to forefoot striking, it was definitely a very long and gradual process that involved cutting my mileage back significantly and then building it up again over the course of several months as my calves, hamstrings, and glute meds became strong enough to keep up with my cardiovascular system. I definitely remember overdoing it on a few occasions and then having to deal with mild Achilles tendon or calf strains as a result, but over time that stopped, and eventually I found that the constant shin splints that had plagued me for as long as I could remember pretty much disappeared.

I've never attempted to go "full Vibram," but a few months ago I did get a pair of racing flats, just because I was curious about how much difference a lighter shoe might make in shorter races. They have a significantly smaller heel-toe drop than my more traditional Asics and also a lot less cushioning. Because I've been running on my forefeet for years, I haven't had a lot of the issues that midfoot & heel strikers can have when several centimeters of extra heel is suddenly gone and the calf and heel cord are forced to suddenly do a bunch of extra work. Still, I've learned not to try to run in them for more than about 10K at the very outside unless I'm running at race pace; it turns out that at slower speeds, especially as I get tired, I find my heels tapping the ground a little more often, and that gets uncomfortable. (The lack of cushioning can also get uncomfortable, but that's a whole other issue.) So I'd give the same advice to people transitioning to racing flats as I would to people considering barefoot / minimalist running -- start slowly, increase mileage gradually, and listen to your body, erring on the side of taking an extra rest day now and then rather than on the side of ending up injured.

So yeah. To me this is absolutely one of those issues where the answer to the question "Which is better?" is "It depends," and I always applaud folks who don't pretend a rich and complex issue is cut-and-dry. Run on, Science of Sport! :)

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Link: Why the Bay Area is Perfect for Running

A short but interesting piece from the Bay Area Track Club:

Fills, Hills, and No Chills: A Few Reasons Why the Bay is Perfect for Running

Obviously, I heartily agree. Run on, BATC! :D

Marina Green Runners

Week In Review: May 29 - June 4

Running ShoesThis is my weekly training journal. Including it in the blog gives me a little extra accountability in the mileage department & helps me stick to my schedule. :)

As you may recall from my last WIR, I spent most of last weekend traveling and dealing with some sudden and severe hip pain, so not a lot of running got done (read: no running got done). I probably could've made the time for my scheduled 8-9 miler on Sunday, but I was still having enough pain that taking another rest day seemed like the smarter move. On Monday I was feeling a little better and if I hadn't spent most of the day on a plane, I probably would have tried a few easy miles. It was a scheduled rest day anyway, though, so no big loss. Come Tuesday, I was ready to hit the pavement again.

Tuesday: 4 miles tempo / speed. It seemed like a good idea to take things day by day this week, just to make sure my hip stays on the mend. Instead of the track session on the schedule, I decided to try four miles at whatever pace was comfortable, which ended up somewhere between tempo pace and long interval pace, with each mile a bit faster than the last (even in spite of hills!). It felt good to run, particular to run fast, and I was pleased to find that my hip (which has been feeling a little better) was no worse for the wear.

Wednesday: I thought about running Wednesday, but considering that I hadn't had a run scheduled to begin with, I'm watching out for my hips this week, and it was a karate night, I decided to nap a little before class instead.

Thursday: 6 miles (3 easy, 3 at 10K pace). I'd rather have run on the track (my feet and lower legs don't deal so well with concrete, and I've been running on it a lot lately), but it was late in the day & I wasn't sure I'd be able to find parking near my house again if I drove out there. Instead I just ran in the neighborhood. Although that meant dealing with hills again (I like to work in a couple of flat runs each week), the weather was nice and I felt pretty good the whole time, and it's hard to complain about that.

Friday: 6 miles (1 easy, 5 at tempo pace). This is the first time since I was training for Santa Cruz that I've run on consecutive days. My hips have been feeling better, though, so I figured it was probably time to give it a shot & see what happened. So far, so good!

Grand Total: 16 miles

I had a run planned for Saturday and thought I might be able to squeeze it in, but we had a lot going on & were pressed for time all day so I didn't get a chance. Still, an improvement over last week (even with skipping the long run last Sunday), and my hips are feeling MUCH better. I am determined to get back to 20 miles next week!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Road Race News: SFM "Half It All" Challenge

SFM Half It All Medals The San Francisco Marathon just announced a new program called the "Half It All Challenge," where runners who completely both of the SF Half Marathons in consecutive years receive a special medal in addition to their finisher medals. Neat!