I’m on Twitter

twitter_001I had been toying with the idea of starting up a Twitter account for a while, but was a little apprehensive about getting sucked into the whole social networking side of things. I’m no luddite when it comes to technology, it’s what I have built my career on, but I was definitely hesitant to get into something I new little about. I dabbled with Facebook a few years back but bailed on it and shut my account down after a couple of months. Although it did enable me to reconnect with a couple of friends that I had lost touch with over the years, I couldn’t see myself using it all that often and got scared off by the privacy issue. I had similar reservations about Twitter, but decided to spend a little time investigating the platform to see if it could really add value to this endeavor. As it turns out, there are quite a few (a slight underestimation) members of the running community active on Twitter these days. And so, with typical zeal but little thought to how I would use it, I jumped right in and setup my own Twitter account: @merunfast.

Like the majority of new converts, my first few tweets were embarrassingly lame but because I had no followers there was nobody around to share in my shame except for myself. My initial thought was to use the account as a way to post regular updates regarding my marathon training, but I was not happy with the style and didn’t feel like counting down to the race date every time I posted. After some poking around the web and observing how other accounts communicated, I settled on a style that I like and plan to stick to. I am also now using the account to reach out to other runners (Bart Yasso & Hal Higdon) and organizations (Philly Marathon & Runner’s World), although obviously have to be careful not to be too eager and get blocked for spamming them.

To get myself started I have identified some active accounts to follow, including some publications and well known marathon runners. I’ll expand this list as I encounter and engage with more interesting parties. As yet I don’t have any followers, but that’s inevitable and will hopefully change over time as I raise my profile by tweeting useful information to the community. The other aspect of Twitter that I quickly learned about is hash tags. Hash tags are essentially keywords that enable grouping of tweets about the same topic. I discovered the #runchat hash tag, which is very active amongst the running community. I have already caught some informative tweets about training and nutrition and will continue to monitor the hash tag and chats on a regular basis.

If you’re active on Twitter and interested in getting regular updates, feel free to follow @merunfast.

Pace Charts

pace_chart_001Science is a great thing – it can help us learn, develop, and plan for a better future. When it comes to running, science is no different. Most top runners these days incorporate some scientific elements into their training programs. Runner’s World published this pace chart to help racer’s easily determine their per mile times for the most popular race distances. That’s great if you’re used to running a certain pace, but in my case I know that as a typical 8:15-8:30 race runner, it’s really not possible for me to enter a race and consistently hit 7:45 or 8:00 over a long distance. How then, do I get from where I am now to where I want to be. Recently, I came across something that uses a bit of scientific jiggery pokery to do just that and could potentially be a very useful training reference.

The McMillan Training Calculator, found on Greg McMillan’s web site, uses some simple calculations to determine optimum interval times for various distances and pace times for different types of runs, based entirely on the athlete’s predicted finish time for a specific race. Sound complicated? It’s really not … I tried it and it was actually pretty accurate.

I chose the 10K distance as my benchmark for the analysis. I entered my time of 51:36 from this years Scotland Run and provided the other qualifying information such as age, experience, gender, etc. The results were surprisingly accurate when you allow for the inevitable individual variations between athletes – my predicted race time for the mile was under by 5 seconds, for the 4 mile distance it was under by 20 seconds, and my predicted race time for the half-marathon was over by 30 seconds. Interestingly, the calculator predicted a marathon finish time of 4:02:06 based on my current level. That’s only two minutes over my goal time and, given the error rate based on my other distances, very encouraging.

But I don’t want to keep running at the same pace all the time. Part of the enjoyment of competing in races is going out there and trying to improve on my personal best times. So with that in mind, I changed the time on the calculator to 48 minutes – a personal goal for the 10K distance. The new predicted race times 6:37 for the mile, 32 minutes for the 4 mile, and 3:45 for the marathon. All of which are within range of my personal targets and therefore not unrealistic.

But the best part of the calculator is not the predicted finish times, it’s the pace times that it recommends for training runs – the times I need to be achieving on a daily and weekly basis, so that my body is used to running at that speed. Like the predictions before, the pace times for my current level were all plus or minus 2% of my current training level. After I ran the calculator for my goal time, I was able to see what my pace times need to be in order to condition my body to achieve that goal – and frankly those pace times are not that scary. I’m already running within range for my endurance workouts: the long, recovery, and easy runs. It’s the stamina and speed runs where I need to lift my pace. My body has become too used to running within a very narrow range of paces, and if I’m going to meet my goals over the coming months I need to start pushing myself more on the speed and tempo runs. Right now I’m hitting 3:45 on half-mile speed intervals, that needs to come down by 15 seconds to around 3:30. On my tempo runs I’m averaging 8:20 per mile, but need to take that down to around 7:50. It’s going to be a challenge, but if it brings with it the kind of results that McMillan’s calculator predicts then it will all be worth it!

* When I used the calculator I had to enter my current time for the distance. However, I could not get the application to work when entering just the goal time, it asked for both current and goal times. Even then, I saw no difference in the results. My suggestion … run it twice and save/print the results to get a comparison of where you are now (use current time) to where you need to be to achieve your goal time. When I used that approach everything worked fine.

If you have better luck using the current and goal time comparison, why not use the comments to let me know.

Central Park Conservancy Run for Central Park

cpc_001Central Park – home to thousands of runners every day and an essential park of the running culture of this city. So it stands to reason then, that each year New York Road Runners and it’s members celebrate the park and contribute to it’s maintenance by supporting a run in aid of the park’s conservancy organization. This year the four mile race was scheduled for Saturday, July 14 and encompassed a loop of the inner circuit – between 72nd street transverse and the 102nd street transverse. Without the strength sapping Harlem Hill to slow the pack down, and with some fine weather forecast for that morning, the race held the promise of some fast times for those in the right frame of mind.

I considered myself one of those people – I had been back running for about a month following my knee injury and everything was going fine. I had eased myself back my slowly increasing my weekly distances and there were no issues to report with my patella. I felt no pain or discomfort, and I was back up to my pre-injury running pace. Physically, I felt in good shape and if the weather cooperated (i.e. not too hot or humid), I thought that I might be able to take advantage of the relatively flat course to put in a good time. Maybe even a personal best!

The race started well for me. Making my way up the east side of the park, I was in a groove as we struck Cat Hill and motored up the incline with little trouble. By the first mile marker I was clocking just over an eight minute pace. The rest of the east side was familiar territory, and I used my experience on the roads to manage my output until rounding the bend at the 102nd street transverse. Crossing the two mile marker, I was still on pace for a personal best, coming in around 16:30. However, my excitement was quickly tamed as I started down the west side and the notorious three sisters hills. I must have been going too strong too soon, because half way up the second hill I felt my legs turn to solid weights and had to slow down to a walk for about 30 seconds. Similarly, cresting the third hill and the water station, I had to take a walk break because I was overheating and feeling tightness in my legs.

I kept going though, because my time was around 25 minutes and there was still the potential for a personal best. Unfortunately, my average pace had slowed too much because of that third mile, and even though I covered the last mile in just over eight minutes, the combined time as I cross the line was 33:15 – 21 seconds slower than my personal best. Slightly disappointed to have missed out by such a slim margin, I made my way to the baggage area to collect my gear and head home. As I sat on the subway going back to Brooklyn, I reflected on what might have been. Did I really need to take those two walk breaks? What would my time have been had I kept going?

Of course, I’ll never know the answers to those questions but I did come away from the experience knowing that I had come so close to a personal best on a bad day. The next time out, if it’s a good day, I have it in me to shatter my fastest time. Roll on September 15. that

Marathon Training Plan

26_predictions_001I have just finished creating my marathon training plan. I’ve spent some time looking around online and discovered that there are a large number of outlets that actually charge for this service. I’m not going to mention the fee-based services here, but a simple web search will reveal them if you’re interested. I can’t say I’m that surprised that someone has figured out how to monetize training plans, but the reality is that most of the information needed to create an effective plan is available online, and for free. With a little work, any runner can build their own customized plan and save themselves a few dollars. After all, most of these outlets are just reselling a set of canned plans that are tweaked slightly based on the individual parameters that a customers provides. The reality is that nobody knows the athlete better than the athlete themselves! I took the time to create my own plan for the half-marathon and it worked pretty well … so I’m going to do the same thing for the marathon, and fingers crossed I’ll see similar results.

In addition to using the same sources as before, I am incorporating some additional wisdom gathered from fellow runners, online resources and my own experience over the last few months into what I hope will be a well-rounded marathon training plan.

Having never run a marathon, I am vaguely aware of the amount of work required to bring my stamina and endurance to the level required to sustain me for four or more hours of running. I need to be careful not to over train and risk injury, while ensuring I do enough to meet my bodies needs. I am looking at an 18 week plan, with five days of running per week and gradually incrementing long runs on a Sunday (the only day of the week my schedule can support 2+ hour runs). I am planning on incorporating two rest days into the schedule, probably Monday and Friday, to allow myself sufficient recovery time between activities but also to accommodate some cross training such as cycling or swimming to use alternative muscle sets. In addition, I plan on including some variation in the running in the form of tempo runs and speed work. The speed work will combine Yasso 800s, Fartleks, and hill repeats. Essentially, this is the same half-marathon plan with some minor adjustments for the increased distance, workload, and time span.

As the marathon takes place on a Sunday, all my long runs are scheduled for Sunday mornings. I believe consistency is key in preparation, and helps reduce the risk of injury. However, I deviate from that model in weeks two and six because I am taking part in organized races.

Entries highlighted in red are organized races – more information for those can be found on the race information page.

Marathon Predictions

yasso800While researching marathon training plans (which I will address in a later post) I came across a few interesting articles that discuss different techniques for predicting one’s marathon finish time. I have to admit I was somewhat skeptical, but as I delved further into the topic and those behind them I began to see that there’s actually some basis of truth and science to these predictive techniques.

Yasso 800s
The first method to predict one’s finish time is the Yasso 800. Named for Bart Yasso, an accomplished runner, athlete, and senior contributor at Runner’s World, the Yasso 800 claims to predict the athlete’s marathon finish times based on his or her 800 meter time. It’s a really simple gauge and here’s how it works:

If you want to run a 3:30 marathon, train to run a bunch of 800s in 3:30 each. Between the 800s, jog for the same number of minutes it took you to run your repeats.

Of course, this is not a one of session. The idea is to run these Yasso 800s every couple of weeks during the course of the training, and to increase one’s speed from one session to the next. For my own marathon training plan, I am including 4 dedicated sessions as part of my speed work, beginning with 4 repeats and working up to 8 repeats. The last session will be two weeks before the marathon, to avoid placing unnecessary stress on my legs in the final build up. My goal for the marathon is four hours, but for the Yasso 800s I am hoping to be able to average out at 3:40 by the time I get to the final set of repeats.

Here’s a link to the full article from Runner’s World. You can also find the article reprinted, along with other helpful and interesting information on Bart’s personal website.

Miracle Mile
I also read some articles by and about Jeff Galloway’s training methods, and in particular his miracle mile. Personally, I’m not a fan of Galloway’s conservative methods but that just may be because I find them to be oriented towards beginners. There’s nothing wrong with the run/walk method, I have used it on occasion but I would not rely on it as the foundation of a training program at this stage in my development. Anyway, back to the miracle mile. Essentially, what Galloway is saying is to:

Choose a mile within the course of a run, and time that segment specifically. The mile should be run at about 80-90% capacity. Take the time and then adjust it to reveal the predicted maximum mile pace for a typical race. The adjustment factors are 5K (+33 seconds), 10K (x 1.15), half-marathon (x 1.2), and marathon (x 1.3).

Over time and through training, the athlete should improve his or her mile time so it’s advisable to recalculate every couple of months. I don’t know how much confidence I have in the miracle mile method – I’ve tried a couple of calculations off the top of my head, and the predictions come back slower than those from the Yasso 800s. Maybe I’m just being too optimistic and over-rating my own abilities, but I’ll come back to this topic when I have some concrete examples and we’ll see just how well the two pan out.

Use the comments to let me know if you have any experience of either method and how accurate they were for you.