September 15, 2014

Running wisdom by way of Greek myth and a French author

“To work and create 'for nothing', to sculpture in clay, to know that one's creation has no future, to see one's work destroyed in a day while being aware that fundamentally this has no more importance than building for centuries- this is the difficult wisdom that absurd thought sanctions. Performing these two tasks simultaneously, negating on one hand and magnifying on the other, is the way open to the absurd creator. He must give the void its colors.” 

“There is scarcely any passion without struggle.”

“The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.” 

-Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus

Simply, in the fleeting dusk of a weekend very full of running, I'm inclined to wonder on the why of it all, to question the genesis and potential for meaning inherent in any of it.

I'd say more, but the quotes above answer better than I can, and additional words could only detract.

There will be more later, of course. 

September 14, 2014

Everything hurts, and I don't care.

Won the 5K this morning, and thus a pair of Adidas shoes.

Paced my runner for the last 40 miles of his first place, course record 100 miler.

I suppose it's possible to have a better day, but I don't know how.

September 12, 2014

It's Friday, and I'm not writing much

I am not the religious sort, but this really speaks to me.

I'm not the drinking sort either (I think it's been about 4 years since I've had a drop, half by accident). So replace that with coconut milk ice cream, or mixed nuts/dried fruit and you've got me.

More here.

Also, it's going to dip below 40 tonight. Perhaps it will get a little chilly in your area as well? If so, please enjoy the finest one woman Danish black metal act you'll hear all week. Or ever. In any case, it's music to fit the weather.

September 11, 2014

Evidence that 30 second intervals and heavy weights improves distance performance

I'm desperate to read this entire study, once it's available. In the meantime, it will almost certainly be co-opted by the all intensity, all the time crowd, disregarding the fact that some interval work mixed with some endurance work is basically standard distance training fare.

Still, I've got a few thoughts, just from the abstract.

1) First of all, I love that they tested actual performance, rather than physiological measurements. Too many studies assume that an increase in VO2max is the same as an increase in performance. That simply isn't true. But 10K and 1500 meter times are real, relatable things. I know what a 42 minute 10K is, what it looks like.

2) We really need to see what the control group's training looked like. Was it all slow? What was the volume?

3) We also need to see how long the endurance runs were for the "intensity" group. The abstract implies that they were reduced, but it could also be referring to weekly volume.

4) What did the weight training consist of? It was heavy, we know that. Were plyos involved too?

5) Lydiard folks would note that the intensity group basically did an old fashioned sharpening phase. Of course the athletes ran faster, they'd argue. But without the previous base work, they wouldn't have benefited to the same degree, or perhaps, been able to handle the training.

6) To that end, it is a very short study. Peaking works. We know this already. How would the 10K times look if the intensity group had kept up their training for 6 months, however?

7) See number one again. Seriously. They nailed this aspect.

Easy doesn't

Probably a lot more to say about the psychology of the "longer is better" thing, but it's late, too late, and I'm getting up at around five to go in to work early. Well, earlier. Though the barista days are now long gone, that sort of schedule still makes sense to me. One of these days I may shake it. One day, I may be forced to. But not yet.

Anyway, I mentioned yesterday that I'm going to run a 5K this Saturday. I'd thought about jumping in anyway, but frankly, I'm a little scared to see numbers attached to my present fitness. It's irrational, and nobody but me cares... but still, that neurosis exists.

I pulled the trigger when one of the managing editors at my office asked if I was going to do the race. She suggested that maybe I might like to, if 5Ks weren't too easy for me, and that it was for a good cause (it really is).

That middle portion is what I'm talking about, and what I've talked about several times before. Recently. And not at all recently. Running nine ultra/marathons in the last three years - inevitably, people ask about the limp, and things get around - seems to give the impression of running abilities well beyond what I feel is reality. This knowledge of my having done some longer stuff actually embarasses me slightly. Not that the act itself is embarrassing. It's not. But the idea that I'm a particularly good runner... well, I'm not really comfortable with that, nor do I really agree with it. And I'm certainly not comfortable with using my slight ultra pedigree as evidence to that point.

In any case, specific to this instance: 5Ks aren't easy. Not for me. And not for anyone that gives a real effort. That is to say, racing them isn't easy. Racing anything is never easy.

And frankly, as mentioned above, racing always scares me a bit. Not the difficulty inherent to the task. That, I don't mind. It's the goddamn clock. To look at a clock, a flat stretch of concrete, and know that these things will not lie to you. They will take all your effort, and assign a cold value to it. This is where you stand. We don't care how hard to tried. This is what it's worth.

Waiting on my number.

September 10, 2014

60 seconds

I'm going to race a 5K this Saturday, the morning of my pacing duties.

To that end, I decided to indulge in a little specific work, a few days out. Not to improve fitness, so much as improve my capacity to use the fitness I've got. Semantics, maybe. But something many smart people encourage, for reasons ranging from muscle tuning to "because it works".

Either works for me.

In any case: 2 miles easy, 4 x 400 @ 80 seconds, 4 x 400 @ 70 seconds, 4 x 400 @ 65 seconds, 2 miles easy.

I hit the last 400 at 64 seconds, if I'm being specific, which conjured up the question of whether I could run under a minute when fresh.

At the moment, no. But with focused work, and a drastic reduction in my easy running, I think it'd be possible in somewhat short order. A couple months? Maybe?

Will I actually attempt this? No. My broader goals, such as they exist, are at much longer distances. Just yesterday, I wrote about how I'd attempt to train for a hypothetical 100 mile race, which is quite a bit further than 400 meters. And while that is very hypothetical, I don't see myself really getting inspired by anything shorter than 13.1 miles in the near future.

Ideally, what I'd like to see is this: I continue my several weeks long now focus of including a myriad of paces, of doing actual workouts, rather than falling back into my volume for volume's sake habits. Gradually, as those weeks become months, and months become years, I'll get progressively more fit. That is at least somewhat the goal, right? And whether it's foolish or not, I really can't believe that I've maxed out my abilities, such as they are. (Though inevitably, that point will come. I won't acknowledge it except in hindsight, of course.) Subsequently, my workout paces will organically drop, and a sub 60 second 400 will be academic.


Ideally, of course, is not reality. And the truth is that nobody I know is really satisfied with their fitness. In fact, just about all of them - across an incredibly broad swath of abilities - classify themselves as pretty slow. I certainly count myself in that group.

The pleasant side to all of this is that those same people - and myself - enjoy the training for its own sake. And so, neurosis and self effacement aside, we all blissfully indulge in the process, outcomes be damned.

Strange hobby we've got.

September 8, 2014

100 steps

Hypothetical training musings ahead, by someone who is not a scientist, a coach, or that accomplished a runner. So, get your salt ready:

I'm pacing the last 25 of a 100 this weekend, which is a rewarding experience, but brings with it the unfortunate likelihood that I'll come away from the experience wanting to attempt one of the damn things myself.

I've allowed myself to taste the idea, if only because I don't presently have the desire to make a meal of it.

Still, that hasn't stopped me from thinking on potential recipes I might employ, should a genuine craving strike.

(Food metaphor is done now, I promise.)

The thinking goes that, the longer the race, the more "slow twitch" it is. No need to run fast. The law of specificity says so.

And there's intuitive logic to that. After all, if we assume the most important training is done around and at goal pace, and goal 100 pace is fucking slow (unless you're Zach Bitter, in which case, hi Zach Bitter), then why do anything but indulge in sweet LSD?

I dunno, exactly. Certainly plenty of people (probably most), from the sharpest end of the stick to the blunt, have trained with nothing but lots of weekly volume. Specificity is respected with big weekend mileage, and the pursuit of terrain (and perhaps vertical) that mimics the goal race. That has worked quite well for many.

My thinking, however - and this is far from revolutionary - is that the demands of running 100 miles are possibly best met by including multi pace and resistance training in addition to high mileage.

I believe this might have to do with muscle fibers. For our purposes, let's say that we've got slow, intermediate, and fast twitch fibers. The utilization progression goes mostly how you would expect, as the race distance increases. The further you run, the less fast and intermediate twitch fibers are involved.

And this is true... right up to somewhere around the marathon. At that distance, glycogen depletion and muscle damage require greater recruitment from the other fiber types. And although it hasn't been studied to my knowledge, it only makes sense to assume that 100 milers increase the need for these ancillary fibers to be recruited, when compared to marathons. And so the notion that 100 milers are an entirely slow twitch event, such as it exists, I would argue, is wrong. Much more likely, I think, is the possibility that every damn fiber you can muster becomes vital.

This same concept is also the driving force behind Lydiard's top down approach to training middle distance, which has since been articulated by real runner/scientist Peter Snell.

Do note that, as Snell points out, it's possible to train all fiber types with nothing but lots of steady distance. But you have to do a lot of it, and you can't just jog. Lydiard emphasized most running be done at a "good aerobic pace", which was not slow. And so possible, I'd argue, isn't necessarily optimal in this case. Certainly not when we're discussing the vast majority of ultra/marathon runners, 100% of whom are not Peter Snell.

I know I'm not. So it follows, then, that if I were to train myself for such an endeavor, I'd strive to increase the number of fibers I could recruit, and practice getting them to fire cohesively in a running stride, across a range of paces.

Practically, this means I'd do squats, box jumps, hill sprints, hill reps, track reps, and tempos. In other words, I think I'd probably train an awful lot like I would for sub marathon races, but with a greater emphasis big back to back weekend long runs.

It is worth noting that I'm hardly inventing anything here. Though plenty do train for 100s on nothing but volume, many others do more or less what I just spelled out here. Even still, the "why?" fascinates me, as ever. Maybe not enough to ever test any of this, but we'll see.

(An aside to this: Since it's long enough to not be "fast", but short enough to avoid marathon damage, is it possible that the half marathon is best distance for the truly slow twitch athlete?)