April 21, 2014

Past as Prologue

When running, I typically think about running. Not the act I am specifically indulging in at that moment, always. Not form neurosis, or even basic systems checks. Usually, it's past races and future races. Why certain things went well, and other things didn't.

Today, while jogging around, I thought back to my first half marathon, a trail race in March 2011. I ran it in 1:39 off of less than 20 miles a week. Probably less than the 13 mile race distance, most weeks. Hadn't, with one very painful one hour exception, run for more than 30 minutes consecutively, at any point (and that was the previous fall). I was still mostly weights focused at the time - or transitioning my interests, at least. So, I primarily did interval work, as that struck me as less catabolic. (Whether I was right in thinking this is a very long thing indeed, and anyway, I'm not even remotely sure.)  My old favorite was one minute all out, one minute total rest (as in standing still) for an hour. It was a good "workout", in the general sense, but surely not specific to a half marathon. (Pretty damn hard though. I also tried thirty seconds "on", thirty seconds "off" for an hour, but couldn't do it.)

Worth noting, I was trashed at the end of this race.

A few weeks later, however, I ran the Lawrence Half in 1:32. Felt trashed again. Limped the last couple of miles, actually. Still, not a shitty time, considering my complete lack of aerobic conditioning and slow twitch fiber development. (Yes, I know that's a loaded statement. And yes, I know that it's very possible to do "aerobic" interval work. But I didn't. And anyway, that's somewhat beside the point.)

Anyway, we're a few years away from that, and quite a few miles. Since then, my training has flipped to an almost complete jogfest - Thursday group runs aside. My ability to run for a long distance has increased considerably, as has my ability to recover from these efforts. However, I do think it's fair to say that I'm not a lot "faster".

I ran that same trail half this year in 1:32, and haven't run a road half since. (I should get around to that.) Still, let's hypothesize, based on that trail race, that I'd run 7 minutes faster (yeah, I know the percentages don't even out). That would be a 1:25. (I've self timed a run on a still marked half marathon course in 1:24 and change, but that's impossible to claim as a legit PR. But by writing it, I guess I kind of am. So, delete it? If you're reading this, obviously I didn't.)

These are not incredibly large improvements, considering the massive increase in mileage. This is not to say that I haven't improved at all, or in other ways. I can run faster at every distance, and I can complete distances that, even those three years ago, would have seemed fanciful. That was my primary goal, and it was achieved. No regrets.

But let's go back to those 2011 half marathons for a moment. Considering my total lack of volume, I think those were pretty good times. Viewed as a person who just read Steve Magness' The Science of Running again (and is too damn neurotic anyway), this might suggest a natural predominance of slow twitch fibers. The heavy weight lifting and fast running I did at the time provided the stimuli needed to prop up my feeble fast twitch development. Knowing my athletic history - I was very fucking slow at everything, and bad at every "explosive" sport - this makes some measure of sense. When I switched to my all jogging, all day method of training, those fibers went to sleep, any my already not terrible slow twitch fibers enjoyed all the attention.

Put another way, I gravitated towards the training that was easier for me (and thus far more enjoyable). My natural strength got stronger, my natural weakness got weaker.

Magness (And many other coaches, but he wins due to recency bias. "Hadd training", of internet fame, covers this really well also.) specifically notes this danger. Naturally "slow twitch" types should, of course, race longer distances. But they should never get too far away from "pure speed" (hill sprints, 50-100 meter repeats, and heavy weight lifting), and they probably ought to incorporate conventional repeat sessions as well. They need volume, of course, but not exclusively. For the marathon specifically, their long runs shouldn't just be jogs.

There is something intuitive here. You should work on what you're bad at, or you'll stay bad at it. Maybe even get worse.

Magness - he's very Canova in this, and admits as much - also emphasizes the importance of race pace work for everyone, at all distances. Nine minute miles aren't specific to much, other than ultras. I got a lot better at those, predictably, but only smaller gains were made at the marathon and below. This too is intuitive. You have to practice a thing - race pace, in this instance - in order to become proficient at it.

All of that said, on some level, the mechanism doesn't matter much. Could be that Magness is wrong. (Smart guy, and I doubt it. But still.) Could be that I'm completely misreading the book, and/or my own past results. Could be I'm just grasping at straws. Doesn't much change plans going forward.

Quality counts, and training fast sometimes helps you race faster. Why, while interesting, is somewhat peripheral.

We'll see what happens. I've talked about committing to quality - to training, rather than hobbyjogging - before, but it's never stuck. Simply, I like running slow. The bitch of it though, is that I hate racing slow. So the motivation is there now, to an extent it wasn't previously. Still, no bold promises. I write a lot, obviously; but even given that, I'd like to avoid being the guy that talks better training than he does.

April 20, 2014

Free State

Volunteered at a trail race today. 

Pointed one way. Half.

Pointed the other way. Full.

Picked up the flags after. Ran the loop a couple times, to see it, and because I have to do these things. Seeing people run is like watching people eat - hard to do without craving some yourself. 

Regretted, while moving, that I wasn't racing. This is also typical. Not that volunteering isn't rewarding - it is. But racing is the best thing I know, when it goes well; and I'm perpetually foolish enough to assume it will. 

I thought then that that was selfish. Then, back to my multiple ethics classes (phil minor, to go with my english major, because I hate money), during which it was suggested that perhaps altruism is itself selfish, or rather, a guise for selfishness. Altruism, perhaps, does not exist. To volunteer, or more broadly, "do good", brings forth in us a good feeling. Often, we are rewarded with recognition and praise. Maybe that's all we want anyway, when doing something apparently nice. 

In this case, one volunteers at races to hear "thanks", to earn credit within the community, and to feel as if they've done something.

Maybe. I don't know. And I don't know, even if that were all somewhat true, that anything would really be ruined by it. Can't say.

All I can say is that I volunteered today, that my nose is red and my legs itch, but that I feel good about having done it. That part, however, coexists with another, that thinks only that I should've run the marathon, that I'm recovered, and that I'd have won it too, dammit. (Wrong, and probably wrong.)

But people are messy that way.

I do know that there has been a lot of talk, pre-Boston, about the broader running community. And I get that. I do feel like a "runner", and that I share this one meaningful thing, if nothing else, with millions of others. That matters.

But a tapestry that large doesn't hold together without fine stitching - in this case, local dirt shared by mostly local folks. 

April 18, 2014

Questions End in Periods?

Let's Run is probably best known for its dumpster fire of a message board. In addition to that, however, it does offer some of the most enthusiastic and comprehensive (not to mention poorly written) coverage of the sport.

To wit:

This interview with Abdi Abdirahman, which gives us this gem of a sequence (Note, per above, the botched punctuation after "why not"):

And this reminder that, for all of our perpetual "next American" talk, it very nearly happened in 2011.

April 16, 2014

What Speed Do

At 12 years old, Gareth Bale ran 4:59 for 1500m, and 2:24 for 800m. Had he stuck with track, perhaps he'd have grown into a competitive middle distance runner for Wales.

Unfortunately for him, he was also quite adept at kicking a ball with his left foot, and so he's had to settle for being one of the highest paid athletes in the world. Still, it's that speed - rather than his also remarkable striking - that distinguishes him. No other player in world soccer runs as far or as fast, on a consistent basis. And so you see things like this goal, scored today, against Barcelona.

In the words of Royals outfielder - and much less successful athlete - Jarrod Dyson: That's what speed do.

April 15, 2014

Moving On

The moon looks rusty tonight and I feel rusty so that is appropriate I guess.

Intended to do something involving legit turnover, but my legs weren't ready for it yet. Still, a chilly, still night is not to be wasted, so I trotted about for a bit. Felt better at the end than at the beginning, so popped off a few things I might generously call strides, but only because it was dark, so no one could see and subsequently testify otherwise.

I'm feeling better. People are saying nice things to me, which is nice, except when it isn't. Sometimes I'd prefer a simple "Yeah, you sucked, but you probably won't suck as bad next time." to "No, that's great!"

It has occurred to me that "next time" could be as soon as April 26, if I wanted. Or May 31, if not quite that soon. The former would be profoundly stupid. Pacing could improve but it wouldn't be enough time to absorb and rebound from the previous marathon, which would then be treated as a particularly hard workout. May 31 offers that advantage, at least.

Still, don't know. I could do a half or two instead, since that distance stands alone as the only one that's always been kind to me, for whatever reason.

That would probably be the smart thing to do. Fitness won't budge much in a month. Probably better seeing where my half fitness is, then moving forward with focused marathon training based on that time, targeting something in October.

If I can find a way to afford it, I might like to pay somebody (or for a static plan) to tell me how to go about this. Not that I haven't read enough about training methodology. More likely I've read too much. I know a lot of recipes but can't cook for shit. And I'm fundamentally stupid when it comes to myself, as that whole marathon-in-11-days idea should firmly establish. That said, I know enough to know that while I really enjoy my highish volume jogging, I'd like to try training for a bit.

Probably won't suck as bad next time.

April 14, 2014


There were Boy Scouts volunteering at the Eisenhower Marathon, young kids with blue button ups and yellow scarves. Cub Scouts, then, to be accurate. I remember, because I was one. Same town. Same outfit. I remember all of it fondly, even considering the various political controversies I was not yet aware of, but which now must color my opinion somewhat, even if I wish otherwise. You know what you know, and you can't unknow it.

That said, my childhood was much better for the time spent with that group. I can say that for sure. There wasn't any political or religious indoctrination that I recall, other than an attempt at instilling a certain respect for nature, and what we might now call "primitive skills". I made friends. I got dirty. I was a kid, even if I sucked at every knot.

I cut myself with a sharp knife and learned how to bake a potato in a shallow dirt pit with hot coals. I remember those things, and feeling some inkling of adventure. This isn't to say I turned into anything like a rugged outdoorsman, or even a particularly active teenager. I left the group, when I moved, basically sucked at every sport, and focused mostly on books and video games.

Maybe it left no lasting impression on me, providing nothing but some fun at the time. But there are worse things than that, for sure.

And so all four times I ran past the aid station, staffed by young, trembling hands, I slowed down and thanked them for their time, the water, the powerade. Maybe nothing about that race will make an impression on them, but hopefully they had fun.

April 13, 2014

Some Good Things

I always go back and read everything I post, one day later. It's always interesting, not because I'm quite that narcissistic, but because doing so provides me with a perspective that is now gone, and would forever be somewhat unknown even to me, where some aspect of it not committed to the internet.

This is to say, perhaps, that I'm a little inconsistent. And impulsive in my posting. The result is a rather candid glimpse into exactly what I was thinking and feeling at a particular time, which, after the fact, is somewhat revealing even to me, the writer of this thing.

I think, at times, that I sound a bit of an arrogant shit, who somewhat consistently overestimates his jogging abilities. I then appear self-deprecating and bitchy if things don't go as I'd imagined they ought.

But if this blog sometimes reads that way, then I'm glad, in a sense, that it reflects accurate frustrations, when they arise. And they do, of course.

However, I'm not always - or even usually - quite that emo, despite what my affinity for black skinny jeans might suggest. So, here are some positive things, concerning my slower-than-I-wanted Eisenhower Marathon.

- I got to see a little of my childhood home with my Dad. A little nostalgia isn't the worst thing, now that I'm old enough for such things to make sense.

- Nicest toilet paper I've seen at any race, ever. Like, so many ply. If there were still minstrels, they'd write songs about this.

- Running is still pretty fun, even when it isn't. And marathons are cool, even when they're actually pretty warm.

- I'm not injured. A little sore but otherwise perfect.

- I have a really soft PR that should make for easy breaking. (Though this could be the previously mentioned arrogant shit talking.)

- I specifically remember, back when I worked at Borders, back when anyone worked at Borders, stocking the running section. 4 Months to a 4 Hour Marathon, the book was called. And I laughed. I said to a coworker, "Give me four years, and I still couldn't finish one." Four years later, I'm pissed about running 40 minutes faster. Perspective. (By the way, this seriously did happen. I know it makes for such symmetry as to suggest falsehood, but I'm being perfectly honest.)