Sunday, September 14, 2014
After yesterday's 10 mile run, I am 100% convinced I will be able to run the Rochester Half Marathon on September 21. That leaves me with the issue of what running I do between now and then. Common training wisdom dictates a taper; but I have not followed a typical training schedule. I have done very little speed work, and what I have done was rather gentle and designed more to test the recovery status of my foot than to actually work on getting faster. I have not had the full ramp up of long runs to culminate in 13 miles two weeks ago. Since I don't have the hard training that precedes the taper, I find myself having to make it up as I go along.
The first part of making it up was yesterday. The formal program for half marathon training called for a 6 mile run yesterday. I ran 10, because I'm still building mileage. The conversation I had with the half marathon rookie who tagged along for my last 4 miles has got me thinking about the reasons for long runs and tapers and what I should be doing for my current state of training.
Long runs are there to train the legs and feet to take the pounding for the length of a race. The taper is designed to let the trainee rest a bit and recover from the bumps, bruises, and minor strains of a hard training program. So where do I stand?
My legs feel totally healthy. My feet are as good as they've been since the injury, and probably better than they were going into Flower City last April. That leads Mr. Testosterone to whisper his claim that I can run the half faster than I had planned. I'm pretty sure I need to ignore Mr. Testosterone, though.
My reality is that I am newly recovered from stress fractures in the left metatarsals. Maybe I could run the half hard, turn in a PR result, win the age group, and be fine. And maybe not. I'm not willing to take that chance at this point. Definition of insanity, and all that.
The primary goal, as my sister would say, is to finish upright, with a smile on my face, and wanting to do it again. In my case, I'd add two more conditions to how I want to finish. I want to finish so that running an easy 4 miles two days later is No Big Deal. And I want to finish so that I can continue to run regularly, which is currently 4 days a week.
With the primary goal and my current state of training in mind, I think a modified taper is appropriate. I'm not going to chop it down to 4 days of an easy 3, like the training program had me do before Flower City. I'm not as beat up as I was at that point of the last training cycle, and I don't need to back off that far to be race ready.
However, it would be foolish to be pushing the envelope this week. I have in mind running 4 days, between 4 and 5 miles each time, at an easy pace. I'll allow myself to go up and down hills, but I will not run hard. That is the plan.
The first step of the plan was a 4.6 mile run today. At 2PM, in the heat of the day, it was 62° F and overcast. I ran my standard winter 4.6 mile route around the section to the west, where I typically speed up on the hills after mile 2. In near perfect running weather, I concentrated on keeping it easy. The result was 4.61 miles in 38:00, for an average pace of 8:14. Mile splits were 8:30, 8:18, 8:08, 8:13, and a pace of 8:10 for the last 0.61 mile. Those two hills did get me to speed up, but I was motivated to slow back down at the bottom of the hills.
So far, so good. The other three runs are planned for Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. They should be a little shorter than this run, perhaps 4.3 miles each. The idea is to not run at all on Saturday, and be as healthy as I can be for the half on Sunday.
Then the plan is to stay with the 1:45 pace group (8:00 per mile) until such time as I'm certain I can run faster than that for the entire remaining distance on the course. That implies a total finish time somewhere in the 1:42 to 1:45 range, depending on whether I have the confidence (or foolhardiness, as the case may be) to leave the pace group behind around mile 10.
That's the plan. I will need to remind myself of what the plan is several times this week, to ensure I don't do something stupid on race day.
Saturday, September 13, 2014
I've ranted on this subject before, but I feel the need to do so again. Today I noticed a warning message at the bottom of my fitness tracker:
I don't know whether the text in the image will be legible, so here's the details: Today is Saturday. It shows that I have supposedly burned 9468 of my planned 8000 calories this week. That is highlighted by putting the planned fitness minutes and calorie burn numbers in red.
Then there is the red text at the bottom of the tracker. It says: "*The number of calories you should eat to manage your weight depends on many factors, including how many calories you burn through exercise. It may seem counterintuitive, but eating too little while burning too much can actually hurt your weight-management goals and the outcome of your fitness program. If you are consistently burning more calories than recommended here, please update your fitness settings as soon as possible. This may adjust your calorie ranges (if necessary) so you can reach your goals in a timely and healthy manner."
Now, that sounds good. There's probably even scientific studies to support it. But there is one little problem with advice like this on the fitness tracker. Ready?
The calories burned numbers are garbage. It says I burned 1814 calories today. 1744 of them are reported by Fitbit, which arguably is the most accurate technical estimator I have, usually. Today was a long run day. Garmin (which had access to heart rate data) said I burned 853 calories while running 10 miles. I seriously doubt I burned more in my non-running time today than in my running time. Either the Garmin calorie burn number is inaccurate, or the Fitbit calorie burn number is inaccurate, or both are. I think both are.
Oh, and that 8000 estimated calorie burn number? I picked that number to make the low end of my calorie range come out where I need it to be in order to make my weight trend sideways. I have a nice 2+ year trend of the weight moving sideways, so I think I know what I'm doing in picking the calorie range.
I remember I used to get a similar warning while in the weight loss phase. I was happy with how fast I was losing weight, so I mostly ignored it. But what if I hadn't? What if I had chosen to eat more to avoid all the problems mentioned in the warning message? Maybe I would have lost weight more slowly. Or maybe I would not have lost weight. Or maybe I would have gained weight.
I know now that I am right to ignore that message. The indicator that tells me I need to adjust my calorie range is the scale. If my weight starts trending up, I need to adjust calories down. If my weight starts trending down, I need to adjust calories up. This doesn't happen every week, or even every month, but it happens often enough that I would call it a common occurrence.
I am troubled by the illusion of accuracy in the linking of calories burned to calories eaten on Spark People and every other online or high tech aid to weight management that I've looked at. None of the systems seem to have any respect for the chance of inaccurate measurement. Most, if not all, don't even mention the *possibility* of inaccurate measurement. That becomes even more troubling when the range of calories to eat automagically adjusts in response to fictitious calorie burn numbers.
It would be more honest of SparkPeople to present a best guess estimate of what someone should eat, then allow the user to override that calorie number while allowing the tracker to compute the macronutrient ranges as default percentages of calories. I achieve this by using the old (non-preferred) method of un-linking the nutrition tracker from the calories tracked by the fitness tracker, and changing the calories planned in the fitness tracker to produce the desired level of calories to eat in the nutrition tracker. That works, but it's a hack. If you're comfortable with hacking systems, you understand what I wrote and you could choose to do the same. If you're not comfortable with hacking systems, you probably don't understand what I wrote and if you grasp the concept you're not sure how to execute it.
So why do people fail to lose weight? There are many reasons. Some don't keep doing the things they need to do. Others track food inaccurately. But there are probably some who are doing everything right, and failing to lose weight because the answers depend on garbage inputs and the error is in the wrong direction.
If the error is small, it doesn't matter that much in the weight loss phase. You lose weight a bit faster or a bit slower, but you still lose it. However, any long term directional bias is unacceptable in the maintenance phase. My weight is trending sideways. At the standard estimate of 3500 calories to the pound, eating 1468 more calories per week at my current exercise level should have me gaining two pounds every five weeks. That is not acceptable in maintenance.
I have my solution. I know that calorie burn numbers are wildly inconsistent and inaccurate. I know to ignore them. I know how to hack the fitness and nutrition trackers to produce the ranges I need in the nutrition tracker.
But I'm troubled by the precision presented to new members as truth, when in reality it is a very rough estimate. I'm troubled by the absence of any discussion of why it's an estimate or what to do if it doesn't fit you as an individual. I suspect there are people out there who believed the numbers, did everything according to the system, and didn't see results. Worse, the standard SparkPeople answer is blame the user by saying this is due to inaccurate tracking.
Well, yes, it is due to inaccurate tracking. But the worst inaccuracy is not the member's fault. There is no easily obtained, accurate measurement of calories burned. That's a hard truth that ought to be proclaimed as prominently as SparkPeople proclaims that there are no quick fix, magic bullet answers to losing weight.
Saturday, September 13, 2014
It is 8 days till the Rochester Marathon. I had planned for this to be my first marathon, but injury and recovery being what they are this year I'm happy to be able to run the half marathon.
Today was the last preview run, a 6 mile route that had perhaps 3 miles on the half marathon route. All of a sudden, we have autumn weather. At 7 AM it was 47° F and overcast, with the promise of showers later. This turns out to be the low end of the temperature range where I can run with short sleeves and no gloves. It also let me run with so little sweat that I didn't need to mess with putting plastic bags over my car seat to drive home. :)
Once again, there was no 8:30 pace leader; he was off running a marathon elsewhere. The group was smaller this week; we only had 4 guys trying to hold an 8:30 pace. Two of them didn't have GPS watches. We started out right on pace, but pushed a bit as we went along. The miles splits were 8:27, 8:26, 8:24, 8:18, 8:17, and 8:13.
I wanted to get 10 miles in, so when we got back to the store I kept going on a long 3 route that has been used for public group runs. One of the guys came with me, and we pushed the pace a little more. He's running his first half in 8 days, and I suspect he should have quit at 6 miles. I did what I could for him, stressing the importance of following the taper even though it will feel like he isn't doing anything. I explained I'm not tapering because I didn't have the hard training before the taper, and I'm still building mileage. Today's 10 miles is the farthest I've run in one piece since April.
A bit past 9 miles, I took a steep hill detour to make my 10, sending the rookie back to start by the most direct route. My last four mile splits were 8:09, 8:17, 7:55, and 8:19; I likely wouldn't have been over 8 on mile 10 if it weren't for the hill detour. So much for pace control.
Got back to the store, used the restroom, stretched, and rehydrated. While I was stretching, the 15 minute pace group came in from their 6 miles. Then it started raining. Drove through the shower to get home, and went into the weekend routine.
Now comes the debate with Mr. Testosterone. The rookie thinks he wants to run the half at a 7:40 pace. Mr. Testosterone thinks I can do that. Last week's experience shows that I could tolerate a 7:15 pace for 3 miles, but probably not for 13. But how about 7:40? I've been at 7:45 on easy runs with no ill effects . . . Hmm.
My current thinking, and the plan I told the other runners, is to head out with the 1:45 pace group (i.e., an 8:00 pace per mile) and see how my feet felt after 10 miles. If they feel good, take off at about mile 10 and try to finish in about 1:42. If they're a bit iffy, hang with the pace group and finish in 1:45.
Mr. Testosterone is trying to talk me into 1:40. That sounds good, but . . . sitting on the bench is no fun at all. And 1:40 would still probably only be 4th or 5th in the age group. Hmm. I think I need to stick with the plan. Time enough in October to run a 15K as a race, let's run this half as a training exercise and social event.
Instead of listening to Mr. Testosterone, I need to think about the kid I saw while running at noon on Thursday. This kid yelled, "Why are you running?" I replied, "Because I can!" And that's a good answer. I run because I can. I should not run in a way the risks being unable to run. It is a blessing to be recovered enough to *think* about running the half for time, but the blessing is more likely to continue if I don't actually run that hard.
Thus, today's pep talk. Remember that the primary goal is to be able to keep running regularly. Everything else - running with a rookie who is probably 3 decades younger than me, the pride of winning the age group, winning a jar of organic nut butter, or whatever other excuse there may be to run hard - is less important.
I'll probably need to remind myself of this periodically this week and again on race day.
Sunday, September 07, 2014
Ten days ago, on a Thursday, I tested running at tempo and had to back off after I'd gone a bit more than a mile. I told myself I wouldn't test speed work again for at least a week. The following Thursday it was 85° and humid when I ran, and I just did an easy run. I didn't feel like pushing things, and in the back of my mind I remembered the weather was like that when I got my stress fracture in a routine tempo run. I'm sure that's an irrational connection, but I was comfortable with an easy run.
This afternoon I had good running weather, 71° and sunny with reasonably low humidity. I wanted to run about 5 miles. I decided to start slow, let my speed build naturally, and see what felt good.
Before I got to mile 2, I was seeing some current pace numbers below 8 minutes. I thought about the speed test 10 days ago when I didn't warm up properly, and decided I'd deliberately pick up the pace at the 2 mile mark and see if I could hold a soft tempo for the last 3 miles of the run.
It went almost as planned. I picked up the pace when the Garmin buzzed for 2 miles, and then let the pace build naturally after that. A bit before the 4 mile mark, my left foot warned me to back off. So I backed off enough to make the foot happy. I thought I was backing off to a pace between 7:30 and 7:45, but it turned out I didn't back off that far.
The route was a bit short, so I just kept running down my street till the Garmin reported 5 miles, then stopped the recording and started my walking cooldown. The final numbers turned out to be 5.00 miles in 37:30, for an average pace of 7:30. The mile splits were 8:06, 7:46, 7:18, 7:03, and 7:16. It looks like I can sustain a 7:15 pace for three miles without bothering the left foot. I don't think I'm ready to try to run fast in a race yet, but I'm satisfied with the progress. I actually did run 3 miles at something approximating the easy side of tempo.
This does not change my decision to run the Rochester Half on September 21 with the 1;45 pace group, which would be an 8:00 pace. The pace leader might tell me to run ahead about mile 10, and if he does I might be silly enough to listen; but I am mindful of the fact that the longest run I've had since my injury was yesterday's 9.46 miles. I need to remind myself that playing with running fast in the last part of a 13 mile run might blow up on me. 1:45 is fast enough, even though it shouldn't place in my age group.
I am hopeful that I'll be able to actually run at race pace by October 18. Yesterday I paid the entry fee for the Finish Strong 15K on that date. The course is pancake flat, and the distance is certainly in my range; the only question is how race worthy I'll be in six weeks.
Saturday, September 06, 2014
It's two weeks till the Rochester Marathon. On the two Saturdays before, the local Fleet Feet training program has preview runs, which it opens to the public. Based on recent experience, I expected that there would be no one showing up for the non-preview public group run at 8, so I went to the preview run at 7. As I expected, there was a crowd containing many familiar faces.
Looked around, and didn't see anyone holding up a sign saying 8:30. Asked one of the coaches, and was assured that there ought to be an 8:30 pace group. I ultimately saw a guy I knew had run 8:30 in the spring, and went over to hang out with him. It turned out that the current 8:30 pace group leader was off doing a triathlon today, so there was an 8:30 pace group with no pace leader.
Okay, we're all adults here. Most of us have GPS watches. We might not be as good at holding an 8:30 pace as the leader is, but we can have a group run. The organizers declared us to be an informal 8:30 pace group, and started our group first. It turned out to have 7 or 8 guys in it. Everyone but me was training for a marathon.
The weather was reasonable, 71° F and overcast, with no more humidity than you'd expect in late summer. Se started out quite slowly before finding our stride. By the time we'd run a mile, it was clear that this was a group of guys who tend to push the pace. We had to keep reminding each other to slow down.
Chatting with the other guys was just like training last spring, only warmer. It felt like Old Home Week. I don't particularly want to run a half or a marathon in January, but I might pay for a pace pass to run with the training group next training cycle anyway. This was fun.
The overall stats, per my Garmin: 9.46 miles in 1:18:59.7, for an average pace of 8:21 per mile. The mile splits were 8:48 (the slow start), 8:16, 8:21, 8:08 (telling each other to slow down), 8:14, 8:56 (mile containing the water stop), 8:18, 8:11, 8:04 (more warning each other that we were too fast), and a pace of 8:10 for the final 0.46 mile. Yes, this was definitely a group I fit into. It felt like my solo runs struggling to keep it slow, except we were closer to 8:30 as a group than I've been managing on solo runs.
We stopped for water at fleet feet at this point, and I was done. The rest of the group took a short break then went out for more miles to get their 15 or 20 miles in today, for their particular training requirements. Shortly after they left, it started raining. It wasnt' a hard rain; I would have been okay running 6 miles in it, if 15 miles had been my plan today. But between 9 and 10 is what I needed, and I knew better than to go 6 more for pleasant conversation.
I think I could have gone another mile today, but it doesn't hurt to stop when there's still a mile in the tank. Absent any unpleasant surprises, I will run the Rochester Half on September 21. My target finish time is 1:45, with the pace group for that time. Then I'll need to think about what I'm doing for the fall season.
Life is good.
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