Thursday, June 30, 2011

It's all in the mind (the mental flexibility of the successful runner)

I spend a fair amount of time on the letsrun message forums, and one point that comes up repeatedly is the concept of "two types of runners."  You can read the entire thread here, but it reduces to the concept that different runners have different ratios of fast-twitch to slow-twitch muscles, and thus benefit from different training regimens.

The "two types" are defined by their physiology, but I think you can also classify runners by personality.  Based on a ton of observation, my perception is that there are three types of competitive runners, from a mental standpoint.  And just like the "fast-twitch v. slow twitch" classification, in which many runners fall in between the two extremes, I think of these classifications not as absolutes, but as different zones. There are many who fall into more than one of these buckets.

Type 1: These guys are characterized by their relaxed, fun-loving approach to training and racing.  They sign up for racing because they enjoy the atmosphere, and pick races with fun shirts, nice goody bags, etc.  They care about their training, but they also value other activities, sometimes (or frequently) skipping runs in favor of happy hours, work, bad weather avoidance, or just plain sleep.  They are willing to shut down workouts early if the workout is not going well, though sometimes they are too prone to shut it down.  Similarly, if these runners run into a difficult patch of training, their normal response is to take a break, and then return to running when they feel fresh. 

These runners are rarely at the very front of the pack, but they are completely happy with that -- their priorities lie elsewhere, with friends and family and other commitments.

Type 2:  Workouts are completed no matter what (and this type may show up at the track to do the workout on their own when it's cancelled, or when they've been told not to show).  Rain, snow, bad knee, sore throat, major personal crisis, sleep-deprivation, they're there.  This type tracks (and evaluates and analyzes and applies several other verbs to) nearly everything, including every single split of every run.  Including the warm-up and cool-down jogs.

And they're always looking to do more, whether training is going well or badly.  "Rest" is a relative concept; it may be given lipservice, but it's not followed in spirit.  And it's easy to understand why -- to this type, "rest" is not very restful.

These runners are generally in the middle to the front of the pack, and they advance very quickly early in their training.  But they hit an artificial ceiling well before they reach their true potential and the front of the pack.

Type 3:  In actuality, this isn't a type of its own, but rather a distinct blend of types 1 and 2.  These are the runners who are more "type 1" in most of their training.  Easy runs are relaxed and informal -- they do what they need to do, but they feel free to skip a workout if they feel off or if there's just too much going on in their life. When it's hot and humid, they don't fret about slowing down or cutting the run short.

However, these are also the runners who are able to magically swap to "type 2" at the right moment -- during a key workout or a race.  When it really matters, they turn it on and give their all.  They are flexible, going back and forth between the two mindsets as appropriate.

My observation is that the "front of the packers" are almost universally type 3s.  And it's been eye-opening to recognize this.


I'm a solid type 2, and I'm reasonably sure I'm not unique here.  When my training's going poorly, my overarching instinct is to train harder, to fix things.  To the point where, after a bad workout or race, it's very hard to resist the urge to go out the next day (or even that afternoon) and do a hard workout to compensate.  I do resist, but it's a struggle.

And of course, when my training's going well, I want to train harder -- to strike while the iron's hot.  I get greedy.

I actually believe that nearly all competitive runners are type 2s, to some extent.  Simply because it's a certain type of personality that is drawn to running to begin with.  And also because the culture of training logs and plans, discussion boards, Garmins, etc, encourages that type 2 personality.


I've been lucky enough in the past few months to be able to run with some very successful runners.  And I've noticed that they're consistently type 3s.  That seems to be the mentality of the runner that makes it to the very top.  They maintain a healthy perspective that carries over to easy runs, warm-ups, cool-downs, and rest days (I've noted particularly that people much faster than I run their warm-ups and recovery jogs much slower than I, and are much more comfortable in skipping days).

And yet, these guys are able to flip the magic switch at the right moment, and shift to type 2.  More importantly, they are able to distinguish when it's appropriate to be a type 2 (i.e. finish the workout no matter what), and when it's appropriate to take a break or cut back.

The conclusion's pretty obvious -- those of us who are type 2s are held back by our tendencies, and will never reach our potential until we learn to back off a bit, and not sweat (literally) the small stuff.  So why don't we?

Easy.  It's insecurity.  A lack of confidence in one's running leads to a constant search for reaffirmation, be it in the splits at the end of an easy run, or the miles in one's training log.  A bad workout is an emotional blow; thus the urge to prove to oneself as quickly as possible (by running hard the next day) that it was a fluke.

Moreover, many of us type 2s fear that we don't have the mental strength to be tough unless we practice it constantly -- if we relax and adopt the type 1 mentality, we won't be able to turn it on when it counts.  Or we may even see ourselves as type 1s, who have only advanced as far as we have due to constantly fighting our natural tendencies.

Becoming a type 3 runner is all about self-confidence at the end, and that's what makes it so hard.  You need to believe in both your fitness and your mental toughness, without proving it to yourself repeatedly in workouts.  You need to be secure.

I don't know quite how you get there.  But it seems that if you have the discipline to push everyday, you should have the discipline not to push.  One hopes.  The alternative is that you never reach your potential, and that's not terribly appealing.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Training log - Week ending 6/26/11

This week was 43 miles of “real running” and 19 “miles” pool running plus 3200m of swimming -- training log is here.

I had a running “gait evaluation” done on Monday – I was taped running, along with a general check of mobility/flexibility/strength.Very helpful stuff. It was nice to hear that apparently my form’s pretty good overall. I also got some helpful points on where I could improve.
a) My overall body position is very good, but I have a bit of a swayback (slight anterior tilt). I’ve always been aware of this, and do a ton of core work, but it hasn’t seemed to help. He noted that it’s not a strength issue with me, but a muscle activation issue – so he gave me some exercises to practice engaging correctly while running (I start with the “dead bug”). Lightbulb 1.

b) I often have the sense that I’m running slightly crooked, especially for the first mile or two. Did the eval, and…I have reduced external rotation on my left hip, and reduced internal rotation on my right hip. Lightbulb 2. For this one, he recommended some ART on my hips and PT work.

c) Apparently I’m too much of a forefoot striker – in my natural gait, my heel just barely touches the ground. He noted that he wasn’t certain whether I should try to change it (and if I did try to change it, to change very slowly). I think I’m going to hold off on playing with that for now.

Edit:  Thanks to Elizabeth, here's my videos.  For all of you dying to see what I look like on land...


So, my takeaways were to be doing the “dead bug” leg exercise as much as I could (including _any_ time I feel that I’m starting to lose correct back position), and also to do more hip mobility work (I have an ART appointment scheduled for Monday).

He also made a very helpful observation about stretching – basically, you can err by doing it too deeply. Then you make tiny tears in the tissue, which results in scar tissue, which makes the issue worse. He prefers that one do gentle stretching (just until you feel tension), but as many times a day as you can.

I had a nice hill workout on Tuesday, but then Friday’s workout was kinda crappy.  That’s OK – I was due. It was partially attributable to a bit of sleep deprivation, but primarily due to a failure to pace the workout properly (especially given my lack of sleep and the humidity) – I ended up running with a faster group than I should have for the first rep, which fried me. Lesson (re-)learned. At least I’m getting to the point where I do something stupid every 5-7 workouts, instead of every 3. On Sunday, I was better about keeping the brakes on, and was rewarded with a good run (low humidity helped, of course).


Monday: 2200m of swimming breathing drills (half with pull buoy, half without), followed by injury prevention exercises. Got a running gait evaluation in the afternoon.

Tuesday: In the morning, 11 miles, including 6 hill repeats – nonstop circuit of up a hill for about 2 minutes, a 90 second easy jog, a stride, and then some more easy jogging to the bottom (whole circuit takes ~5 minutes) We averaged 7:30 pace for the full 6 repeat circuit (just over 4 miles). Harder than last week, due to significant humidity. Followed with a shakeout 20 minutes easy pool-running, for “2 miles”. And then some injury prevention exercises. Strength-training plus foam-rolling at night.

Wednesday: In the morning, 10 very easy miles outside on the towpath (8:42 pace) plus some drills and strides post run. Followed by 1000m of swimming breathing drills (some with the pull buoy, some without). Foam-rolling plus a yoga class at night.

Thursday: In the morning, "4.5 miles" of easy pool-running (45 minutes) followed by strength-training and injury prevention exercises. Foam-rolling and stretching at night.

Friday: In the morning, 7.5 miles on the track in pretty bad conditions (dewpoint of 71, temp of 73), including a “D’Oh!” tempo workout totaling to 3.75 miles – the workout was 2-3x2 miles, with 1 lap jog between each. I went out too hard for the first, doing 2 miles in 13:17 (6:44/6:32), and thus died on the second, pulling up after I finished the first mile in 6:52 (and slowing the whole time). I don’t like pulling up, but in this case it was obvious that I was digging myself into a deep hole (this was reinforced by the fact that I felt like heck after). Took a minute recovery, then rejoined the group to run the final 1200m with them in 4:45 (6:20 pace). And then I was cooked. Oh well. Not a fitness issue (or a breathing issue, so yay), just a dumb pacing issue. And I don’t think the workout was a total waste.

Followed with “3” miles of easy pool-running (30 minutes). An easy pilates session (working on alignment) in the evening.

Saturday: In the morning, 65 minutes easy pool-running for “6.5 miles.” Upper-body/core strength-training plus injury prevention exercises, foam rolling, and stretching in the afternoon.

Sunday: Long run of 14 miles. I averaged 7:42 overall - 8:08 on the way out, 7:17 on the way back (7:30 pace for most of the return, but dropped the last two miles to 6:56, 6:40, and then a final quarter mile at ~6:00 pace). Followed with drills+strides and injury prevention exercises, and then “3 miles” in the pool – 30 minutes very easy pool-running.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

What not to wear

One of the problems with pool-running is that you go through suits quite quickly, necessitating the purchase of new. And it's surprisingly hard to find a suit that works for pool-running. Here's a few examples of suits I've noted while on-line shopping that I have declined to purchase for pool-running.

This is a good one for reminding you not to use your arms too much

Just in case you have trouble recalling where the belt goes

For the woman who has everything,
including a pair of "flotation devices" permanently implanted.

Doubles as a diaper

Comes with its own fabric rudder on the
 shoulder, in case you like running in circles.


I've read of people tying themselves to a pool ladder
so they can run in place -- that must be what the rings are for.

I'm a sugar daddy, a breast job, and a lobotomy
away from being able to pull this off.

So, you may ask -- what is an example of attractive and appropriate pool-running attire? What gives me the right to snark?

Well, here you go.
Feel the hotness, be the hotness

Um, yeah. Maybe I should be a tad bit less judgmental.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Training log - Week ending 6/19/11

This week was 46 miles of “real running” and 20 “miles” pool running plus 3000m of swimming -- training log is here.

I’m pretty happy with this week. We’ve shifted to doing hills instead of track interval work, and I’m pretty psyched – hill repeats seem to always give me a big fitness boost. Friday’s workout was a pretty long tempo workout, which is another workout that hurts at the time but yields big benefits for me.

I just need to remember that just because I can push every workout doesn’t mean I should. In particular, I’m trying to keep my tempo and long run aerobic, and to back off the pace any time they start to feel anaerobic. Doesn’t do me any good to push very hard in one workout if it means I’m not rested for the next.


Monday: 40 minutes of easy pool-running in the morning (“4 miles”) plus 1000m of swimming breathing drills (all with pull-buoy), followed by injury prevention exercises. Tiny bit of foam-rolling+stretching at night (truncated due to urgent work issue)

Tuesday: In the morning, 9.5 miles, including 6 hill repeats – nonstop circuit of up a hill for about 2 minutes, a 90 second easy jog, a stride, and then some more easy jogging to the bottom (whole circuit takes 5 minutes) Numbers really don’t matter here, but we averaged 7:32 pace for the full 6 repeat circuit (just over 4 miles). Followed with a shakeout 20 minutes easy pool-running, for “2 miles,” and then some injury prevention exercises. Strength-training plus foam-rolling at night.

Wednesday: In the morning, 12 very easy miles outside (8:30 pace), followed by 1000m of swimming breathing drills (most with the pull buoy, some without). Yoga class at night.

Thursday: In the morning, "5 miles" of easy pool-running (50 minutes) followed by strength-training. Foam-rolling and stretching at night.

Friday: In the morning, 10.5 miles on the track, including a tempo workout totaling to 6 miles – the workout was 3 miles, 1 lap jog, 2 miles, 1 lap jog, 1 mile. Ended up running 20:31 for the three mile (6:55/6:52/6:44 – 6:53 pace), 13:34 for the two mile (6:50/6:44 – 6:47 pace), and 6:28 for the last mile. Tough one at the end (primarily because I got impatient early on and opened up too much). But happy to have finished it. Humidity was pretty bad (temp of 65, dewpoint of 64), and my HR wasn’t dropping at all on the recovery jogs. Followed with “3” miles of easy pool-running (30 minutes – shoulda only done 20, but a friend dropped by who’s going out of town, and I wanted to chat a bit). An easy pilates session (working on alignment) in the evening.

Saturday: In the morning, 40 minutes easy pool-running for “4 miles”, and then 1000m of swimming breathing drills (all with buoy). Upper-body/core strength-training plus injury prevention exercises, foam rolling, and stretching in the afternoon.

Sunday: Long run of 14 miles averaging 7:48 pace – started at 8:45 but dropped the pace down, with the last four miles being 7:20-ish. The pacing was a bit erratic in the middle, and we also stopped 5 times for water (all necessary – dewpoint of 70!). Followed with “2 miles” in the pool – 20 minutes very easy pool-running as a sub for an ice-bath. Injury prevention exercises and foam-rolling tonight.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The week's just started

I work, more or less, a traditional work week -- Monday-Friday, with Saturday and Sunday as off.   Because I work at an international company and have "global" in my title, I usually end up working some on the weekend (in the Middle East, the weekend is Friday and Saturday; and Monday morning in the Pacific Rim is Sunday afternoon my time).  And of course, sometimes there's just too much to do, and the weekend is catch-up.

But still, Monday to Friday, for the most part.  Monday's the hardest day, but it's a push through to Wednesday -- "hump day" -- before coasting down to Friday.  On Friday, I may have a bunch of things to get done, and quickly, but the weekend's right around the corner.

The neat thing is, my running's following much the same schedule. Only different.

My running schedule is currently something like this:

M: easy day (pool-running)
T: Intervals on the track or hills
W: easy to moderate run, usually with friends
Th: easy day (pool-running)
F: Tempo on the track
S: easy day (pool-running)
Su: Long progression run.

But, I find myself actually thinking of Friday as the start of each running "work week", and Tuesdays as the conclusion.  I think this is because tempos are by far the hardest workout for me (even more so mentally than physically).  When starting each tempo, my mindset is very similar to how I feel when I sit down to work my way through emails on Monday morning.  And when I finish?  Whew!  Got the first one out of the way, and now I can coast through the week.

The Sunday long run is very much like hump day for me.  Yes, it's long, and can be a slog. But nowhere near as tough as my Monday -- the tempo.  And at the end of the "day" it's over, and the rest of my running work week is downhill from there.

Tuesday intervals/hills are my second hardest day (long runs are generally the easiest workout for me), but they're fun, and there's the satisfaction of finishing another good week.   It's very much like closing out a bunch of work issues on Friday morning.

And then I get to run easy with friends on Wednesday -- it's my running social Saturday night.  This is followed by my Thursday pool-running day, which is the equivalent of a Sunday recharging for the work week (and that tempo).

So with a Friday tempo out of the way, I'm looking forward to the rest of the running work week (and the weekend beyond).

Pretty neat.  What's even nicer is that my running schedule balances out my work schedule, in that my real life workweek is ramping down just as the running week begins, and that the "humpday" for the one falls on the weekend of the other.  Brings a new meaning to work-life balance, I guess.   And while I guess you could see it as meaning that you're never too far from Monday, it also means that you get a weekend twice a week.

Anyone else think of their running week in this way?  It works pretty well, I think.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Training log - Week ending 6/12/11

This week was 44 miles of “real running” and 17 “miles” pool running plus 2500m of swimming -- training log is here.

A decent week to report overall. I’m really happy with how good I’m feeling . It’s now been almost 2 months that I’ve been totally gluten-free, and it’s amazing how much better I feel in nearly every way with each week.

Skin is clearer, stomach cramps are rarely an issue during runs (instead of being omnipresent), and my lungs seem to be functioning so much better (not surprising, as the breathing problems were often triggered by acid reflux that seems to be fading). I’m down to one shot of Pepto pre-run (as opposed to 3), and maybe I’ll be able to eliminate that soon. Running also feels just so much more easy and fluid. So yay. Now I just need to get better about smart workouts and races.


Monday: 45 minutes of easy pool-running in the morning (“4.5 miles”) plus 1000m of swimming breathing drills (all with pull-buoy), followed by injury prevention exercises. Foam-rolling+stretching at night.

Tuesday: In the morning, 10 miles on the track, including a slightly careful 6x800m (400m jog) due to high humidity. Splits were 3:06, 3:00, 3:01, 3:01, 3:00, 2:57. I had hoped to do one or two more, but coach shut me down at 6 to be careful. Followed with a shakeout 20 minutes easy pool-running, for “2 miles”. Strength-training plus injury prevention exercises and foam-rolling at night.

Wednesday: In the morning, 11 easy miles outside (8:15 pace), followed by 1000m of swimming breathing drills (most with the pull buoy, some without). Yoga class at night.

Thursday: In the morning, "6 miles" of easy pool-running (60 minutes) followed by strength-training. Foam-rolling and stretching at night.

Friday: In the morning, 8 miles on the track, including what was not my best tempo – mile splits were 6:38/6:33, but I paced it unevenly. I can focus on more evenness next time, I guess. Followed with “2.5” miles of easy pool-running (25 minutes) and 500m of swimming breathing drills. A massage plus very gentle pilates (working on alignment) in the evening.

Saturday: Off. Just foam-rolling and stretching.

Sunday: First did my very first track meet (pretty low key) – 3 miles warm-up, then a mile race in 5:49 (report). Then drove out to Carderock to do a long run (very easy, cautious, with handheld water bottle due to temps in the mid-80s and dewpoint in the mid-70s - pace was 8:54, and I wouldn’t have wanted to push it more than that). I meant to do 10, but ended up with 11 due to a missed mile marker and a missed turn. Sometimes I’m really not sure I should be running without adult supervision.

Followed with “2 miles” in the pool – 20 minutes very easy pool-running as a sub for an ice-bath.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Leveling up

About 4 years ago, when I first got seriously into running, I was heavily into World of Warcraft.  Not in the obsessive don't-bathe-forget-to-eat-lose-job way, but it was something I enjoyed and played quite a lot.

The appeal addictiveness of WoW is fairly easy to understand.  It's a predictable world, where hard work yields guaranteed payoff.  Achievement is measured in "levels", which are clearly displayed to all (facilitating comparison).   You start as a level 1, and after you go chat with Melithar, you're a level 2.  It took you less than 3 minutes, and now you're a bit better.  The flush of accomplishment washes over you, and you opt to delay a visit to the bathroom in favor of another quest.

As you advance, it takes more and more XP (and time) to reach the next level.  But still, you always know where you stand.  You know how many XP you need in order to level up, and you know what you need to do in order to rack them up.

In the real world, things are not so clear.  Few of us know exactly where are, in terms of our career advancement or success in other fronts; by contrast the online gaming world is a flashy graphic oasis of predictability.  It's no wonder so many escape there.

For the new runner, the similarities between running and World of Warcraft are striking.  You run a race, receiving a time as your result.  Usually, within about 10 minutes of the race being over, your thoughts turn to a) wanting to do it again and b) wanting to do it better.  (the 10 minutes previous were dedicated to wondering why the hell you ran the race).

So then you run a bit more.  And you enter another race two or three weeks later, and run a better time.  You've just leveled up.  And you're hooked.  And just like on-line gaming, the advances come easily as you slash minutes off of your 10K time.  At first.  And then the rate of gains slows, and you have to work harder for each PR.  But the PRs still come, and the increasing effort needed to gain each one only makes the eventual triumph sweeter.  Addictive personalities really aren't all that different; it's just the venue that shifts.

At some point, the advances slow even more, and you start to research how to improve.  World of Warcraft has leveling guides; running has various charts calculating what paces to run in your workouts.  And so, you start grinding -- simply repeating over and over the actions that will rack up what you need to make it to the next level.  Mechanically, without any enjoyment other than what you receive from your eventual advancement.  You hit the track, and chase the splits, because that's what you need to do -- the chart told you to.

There is a key difference, though.  With each action in World of Warcraft, be it killing a Plague Lurker or or obtaining the Sha'naar Key, you know exactly how many experience points you've earned. But there are no official guides listing the experience points earned for each run.
I wish.  Boy do I wish.

I sometimes envision XP rising in the air above my head at the conclusion of each workout or race, but the truth is that I have no idea if or how much I've advanced towards my goals.  There is no equivalent to the nice little bar at the bottom of the screen showing just how far I am from the next level, so that I know exactly what I need to do.  I won't know how far I am from leveling up, until I get there.

And unlike World of Warcraft, where your actions at worst earn you no experience points (or get you killed, but that's easily solved, ironically, by running back to your dead body), it's quite possible for your workouts to make you worse off, and not better -- to slide your XP bar back to the left.  And, again, you just don't know.

You'd think that lack of knowledge would make competitive running less appealing.  And yet, it makes it more.  The more uncertain you are about where you stand, the more of a thrill you get when you finally confirm your progress via a new PR.  The surprise makes it all the sweeter.  And the hope of that surprise (and perhaps the illusion of being closer to that new PR than one actually is), is what drives our training. 

The trick, of course, is to avoid the temptation to grind away at your workouts unceasingly in the meantime between PRs.  Because, unlike Warcraft, the harder effort doesn't always yield the greatest reward.  And without helpful XP bubbles, the only way to deduce a lack of progress is by failure to advance.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Pool-running, how not to do it.

Some of you may already have seen this story (complete with video).  Man runs through Kansas naked, then jumps into pool and hangs out there (presumably aquajogging) until he is arrested.

There are several problems that I can note here, as lessons to others. 

First of all, while it does work well to do your outside run first, and then your pool-run, it really is most polite to shower between the two if you've broken any sort of sweat.  Jumping straight into the pool is gross.

Second of all, I've learned from experience that pool-running doesn't work well with large groups of children -- one tends to end up disrupting their games, and their splashing can be disruptive to one's focus.  Separate lanes really are best.

Additionally, if you're going to pool-run, you do need to maintain some focus in order to derive benefits; it's really very easy to slack off and simply go through the motions in the water, without any effort.  I'm admittedly reading between the lines here, but my sense is that this guy was really hanging out in the pool, rather than expending any actual effort, and so I'm sure he wasn't reaping the benefits that he could have.

Finally, barefoot running is de rigueur in the pool; wearing your running shoes in the pool is really just a horrible faux pas, worse even than failing to shower.

So yes, there's a lot to learn here.  I do think being arrested by the police was overkill though -- none of the points above are really crimes.  Hopefully this guy hasn't been turned off from pool-running by this experience; pool-running really is a more-the-merrier type thing.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Training log - Week ending 6/05/11

This week was 41.5 miles of “real running” and 18 “miles” pool running plus 1000m of swimming -- training log is here.

A bit of a cut-back week this week, as I a) tried to cope with the onset of summer and b) did a mini-taper for a 5K. Heat is not my friend, and so I’ve been playing it very safe. I’m not just adjusting my workouts to have the same perceived effort as they would in cooler conditions, but over-adjusting them, to be on the safe side. I feel a bit silly for doing so – my workouts have all felt at the time like they’re way too easy (and I feel like a slacker to be breathing easy while my teammates gasp and push) - but the fact that I’ve felt utterly drained about 6 hours after each one indicates that perhaps this is the right strategy.

Saturday’s race was a nice positive boost (report is here). I held back a bit – though I did race it, I ran it at about 95% effort, rather than all out 100% (which in some ways is an unsatisfying way to race), and still ran probably one of the best times I’ve ever run in a summer race (granted, it was only 66 degrees, with low humidity, and a fast course, so not really oppressive conditions). This gives me hope for what’s to come in the fall, if I am patient. Well, the late fall – just as the heat starts to fall the allergies will kick in (*sigh*) . But I’m feeling really good about late October through December. And maybe the Allegra will give me a better fall season.


Monday: An hour of easy pool-running in the morning (“6 miles”) plus foam-rolling+stretching+injury prevention exercises.

Tuesday: In the morning, 10 miles on the track, including a very cautious 12x400m in oppressive conditions (temp 80 degrees, dewpoint of 70). We were supposed to jog 200m between each; after every fourth rep, I skipped the 200m jog in favor of hydration. Splits were 1:34, 1:34, 1:34, 1:32; then 1:32, 1:32, 1:30, 1:29; then 1:30, 1:29, 1:29, 1:20 (took off the brakes for the last). Followed with a shakeout 20 minutes easy pool-running, for “2 miles”.

Wednesday: In the morning, 10.5 very hot and humid aerobic miles outside (8:11 pace), followed by 1000m of swimming breathing drills (most with the pull buoy, some without). Yoga class at night.

Thursday: In the morning, "6 miles" of easy pool-running (60 minutes) followed by strength-training. Foam-rolling and stretching at night.

Friday: Off. Just foam-rolling and stretching.

Saturday: In the morning, 3.5 miles warm-up, and then 5K race in 20:11 (6:30 pace), followed by “2.5 miles” of pool-running (25 minutes). Upper body strength training in the afternoon plus foam-rolling+stretching in the afternoon.

Sunday: Long progression run of 14 miles. This run was pretty low key -- we took it out very slow at the start: (9:20 pace for the first 3 miles) before picking it up. From then on, we averaged ~8:10 pace for the next 7.5 miles, and then opened up -- 1.75 miles at 7:37 pace, then 2 miles up the Capital Crescent at 7:06 pace, and then I did a final kick to Fletchers at 6:11 pace. The overall pace for the run was 8:11. Alternately, can see it as a 11 mile long run at 7:53 pace, with 3 mile easy jog warm-up :)

Followed with “1.5 miles” in the pool – 15 minutes easy pool-running, and then injury prevention exercises in the gym. Foam-rolling at night.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Hippocrates' PRs

The setting: a tent on the grounds of the Washington Monument, about 20 minutes after the picture on the right of this blog was taken.

They've made me sit on a cot, and I'm a bit annoyed.  My warm clothes are in my checked bag, and the longer I wait here, the longer I'll have to wait to get them.  I'm futzing with my Garmin, and trying to remember exactly when I hit the stop button.

A woman stops by, in a shirt that indicates she's "medical personnel."  I note that she's considerably younger than me -- most likely a medical student.

"So, exactly what happened?" She's a bit hesitant, and trying too hard to exude confidence.   Most likely a junior medical student.

"Um...I'm not exactly sure.  My chest just got really tight as I got close to the finish line, and I had some trouble breathing.  I think I just started my kick too soon."   I have no idea whether she knows what a "kick" is.

"Hmm. Do you have asthma?"

"Not to my knowledge."   I shift on the cot. I'm definitely getting cold.  "Any idea when I can get out of here?"

"We'll let you go in a bit, but we're supposed to keep you for at least 30 minutes.  Were you experiencing any breathing problems earlier in the race?"

"Nothing like this.   I was definitely pretty congested -- I think all the tree pollen got me."   Damn trees.

"How about shortness of breath?  Were you breathing hard?"

"Well, yes, I was definitely breathing pretty hard, especially in the second half of the race."   I'm reminded of the warnings on the gym treadmill -- discontinue use if experiencing shortness of breath.

"So, what do you think happened?"

"I gotta admit, I'm not quite sure.  I know I was running pretty hard, and I think I just started accelerating towards the finish line too soon."  I decide not to use the term "kick" this time.  "Obviously, I'd rather this not happen again."

"Hmmm.  One way to avoid this in the future might be to try running slower?   Try not exerting yourself so much?   Next time you feel yourself breathing hard in a race, just slow down a bit?  Or you could even walk."

I look at her, dumbfounded.  

"But it's a RACE!"


Doctors are not like you and me.  Especially if you and I are runners or other athletes.

Or maybe a better way to put it is: runners are not like most patients.

Medicine is based on population norms, and the US population is increasingly sedentary and unfit.  Those of us who are active and have relatively high levels of aerobic fitness are really a sub-population, with our own norms that differ from society as a whole.  Runners' resting heart rates can trigger all sorts of alarms -- apparently a RHR below 60 is defined as bradycardia.  My RHR?  It's 42, which is pretty normal for a fit runner).

In some cases, this can lead to frustrations.  Once I complained to a doctor of substantial fatigue, providing the example that, despite great conditions and being rested and fueled, I had gone out for a 6 mile run but had to stop after 2.  The response?  If you can run 2 miles, you're not fatigued. 

Another time I was instructed to perform an "exercise tolerance test" to exhaustion to test for exercise induced asthma.  The test was ended when my heart rate hit 172, as they had pushed me to my "maximum".  My protests that I knew my maximum heart rate, that it was quite high, and that 172 was generally a reading I saw during the first half mile of a tempo run were all disregarded.  In each of these cases, I was assessed against population norms, not my personal norm.

Advocates for the obese note the issues that they sometimes face in getting their medical concerns acknowledged by the medical community.  Ironically enough, the fit face similar difficulties, albeit for different reasons.  Our deviations from our norms are not far from population norms, and so we're proclaimed fine when that may not be the case.

However, the greater frustrations come from the disconnect between runners and most doctors when it comes to injury.  I think this is because (again), doctors base their assessments and treatment recommendations on their experience with the general population.  And the general non-athletic population, when faced with painful injury, simply want the pain to stop. 

Many people pick up a fitness activity not because they enjoy it, but as forced penance in response to some perceived flaw (i.e. excess body weight).  Thus, when told that they need to cease that activity in order to end the pain, they don't object.   They didn't particularly enjoy the activity anyway, and their primary objective in seeing the doctor was to address the pain, which ceasing the activity clearly does.  And now they have a ready made excuse.  No wonder a doctor's first response to "it hurts when I do that" is "don't do that".  It's easy and quick to say, and fixes the patient's problem. 

In the story above, the student doctor assumed that I simply cared about being able to say I completed the distance, and that I didn't want to have breathing problems again.  Viewed in that light, her advice makes total sense.  But there was an obvious disconnect between her and me.  I wasn't upset at the breathing problems per se; I was ticked off that I had fallen down before the timing mat and added precious seconds to my finishing time.

Unlike others, we crazy runners see our bodies as performance machines, rather than soft sheltered aspects of the self.  When injured, our primary concern is the ability to return to full activity as soon as possible, pain be damned.  Thus, "don't do that" is received...poorly.   Tell one of us that something hurts, but the only way to fix it is to run through it, and we're delighted.  Tell one of us that something that barely hurts still requires several weeks of rest, and we're frustrated beyond measure.

And worst of all is when we're not given a timeline or even a diagnosis, but just "don't do anything, and come back and see me in 6 weeks."  We're goal focused, with training schedules and objectives.  We compete in a sport where we complete a specified distance while aiming at a goal time, with mile markers on the way as intermediate checkpoints.  It's not surprising that open-ended recommendations don't sit.

And therein lies the disconnect between runners and doctors trained to treat the general population.    I consider myself to be the CEO of my own body, and doctors to be highly paid outside consultants.  However, when those consultants provide advice targeted at getting me somewhere I don't care about being (i.e. painfree regardless of the cost), the advice given is a poor fit.  The answer, in business-speak, is to find a doctor who understands and is aligned with one's objectives.  For us runners, that's usually going to be a doctor with substantial experience treating athletes -- someone who's familiar with our subset of the population.

That's hard to do, though, and that's why we treasure our running-focused doctors so very much, when we find them, sharing their names in the same way others do the locations of fine restaurants.