"There's only one hard and fast rule in running: sometimes you have to run one hard and fast."

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

2016 Dreaded Yearly Fashion Report

This late after the event, most of the possible commentary's been done, but I still have a few thoughts about the Golden Globes red carpet.

First, the best moment of the night was when Amy Schumer was asked about her boyfriend/date and said (I'm paraphrasing): "I also wrote a movie I'm pretty proud of, but it seems the bigger story is that I found a man willing to sleep with me."

Amy wins the night [her dress was... okay].

The Pantone color of the year is a green between forest and kelly, but only one person tried it. Jaimie Alexander, who is covered in tattoos in her TV role, apparently wanted to show as much uninked skin as possible. The plunging neckline was a common trend of the night. Even though she was en pointe as far as that goes, the dress did little for her. The pockets are handy, though.

The woman who usually goes for the plunge - and gets comments from me about visible nipple guards, underwires, adhesive and tape - Jennifer Lopez, did not, and finally gets my vote as best-dressed. Mustard is a tough color to wear (this was a bit yellow chartreuse to goldenrod, which helps), but it did not make her look sallow. The cape, which has been a disaster since Gwyneth Paltrow a couple years ago, makes a triumphant return. The necklaces, which looks like a clasp for the cape are a perfect compliment and the matching bracelet and handbag aren't too much. The only flaw is that, as a presenter, the train was too long to be truly functional.

Kate Hudson has completed morphing into her mother in the 1960's. The "tube" bra top does not look good on anyone and the color just washes her out. The champagne to pink champagne color was everywhere that night.
A number of people liked Kirsten Dunst's dress. It's not terrible - the length is right, the simple black is an okay, if boring, choice, etc. It just isn't anything special - on a night of plunging necklines, she simply had the most noticeable assets.
Rooney Mara's dress is one of those that looks good only in very specific lighting circumstances. Most of the night, she looked pale even for an Irish lass. The texturing of the dress comes off as messy; doesn't it look like a bra strap fell to her elbow?
I've never seen "Shameless," but after two "whoa- who is that?" moments, I may have enough of a crush on her to watch her show. The dress is overly simple, but it looks good on her. And the lipstick is exactly right.
My worst dressed goes to Katy Perry and not just for the Elvira Misstress of the Dark hairstyle (and, if she dyed the dress black, she could be a horror hostess), but because I saw her adjusting the dress twice. When you have large breasts, low necklines require some serious structural foundation. That's why I rhapsodized over Siriano's 2010 orange dress for Christina Hendricks.
Olivia Palermo has her own fashion line and a show no one's seen, "The City." This dress tries. It really tries. It just belongs on channel 253.
Jessica Oyelowo was another "who is THAT?" contender. She was there for her husband's work, but really, no one can tell you what David was wearing even though it was purple check. She's stunning.
Alicia Vikander can do no wrong this year, in most opinions, whether in acting or fashion. The knife-sharp pleats on this were great, but I hated the crossed back straps and, from the front it looked to me like poorly hung curtains.
You know I was searching for new redheads and found Sarah Hay. I've never heard of her or "Flesh and Bone," but she got my attention. The gown - Marquesa - has too much tulle and is the wrong color for her. Anything dark against that skin would've been showstopping.
Amber Heard. Why others like this, I don't know. Her lipstick matches the neckline of the dress. That's all.
Brie Larson in Calvin Klein was one of the most talked about. The metallic champagne trend of past years has I hoped reached its conclusion. The dress looks fresh and young, like its wearer, and it drapes well. The parallel curve of the hip cutout and top of the bra is a nice detail, as is the unusual neckace-like neck.
I'm including Bryce Dallas Howard simply because she bought her dress out of a catalog. Granted, it's the Neiman-Marcus catalog and it's a Jenny Packham dress (marked down to $660 when I looked, undoubtedly sold out by now).
Caitriona Balfe ("Outlander") is another complete unknown to me, but I know an Alexander McQueen dress when I see one [hate that the best photo has that huge lettering]. The feathery sleeves look like too much at first, but they're necessary; without them, the dress is a bottom-heavy sheath. It seems you can wear a mermaid gown and a ball gown at the same time - just wear one under the other! Consider her the thinking-man's best-dressed.
Gina Rodriguez. Too formal for the occasion, too long (note how beautifully fitted it is from waist up and how baggy below).
I don't like Eva Longoria, but I'm going to defend the dress others have derided. The bow-tie neckline is an under-seen and appreciated touch (it looks like she's wearing a bolo tie!) and the matching belt is a good idea, if riding too low [perhaps a wider belt is needed, if she's naturally short-waisted]. She was trying to emphasize her Texican heritage and the details, including the embossing, were a nod to that. The print on her hip is required - the dress is too simple without it - it's just a little too distracting. A more delicate print, a little smaller, would've worked.
Jennifer Lawrence got generally rave reviews (though I don't think she should've won an award...) She finally wore a dress she could walk in. The necklace looks like part of the dress. Her hair accentuates the clean lines. The cut-outs! The cut-outs actually DO something other than show skin and look like holes. The cut-outs make the waist look tapered and draw attention to the draping of the top. Dior designed a true winner of a dress.

I liked Kate Bosworth's dress; many didn't. I still say you shouldn't wear designs that look like they sit on your nipples [wow am I talking a lot about boobs whenever I do these posts], but this doesn't seem too overly busy, the color is a good choice and it's a flattering silhouette.

Lady Gaga tried for 1950's movie star glam. She should've stopped before the bullet bra, though. The padded (I hope) hips don't really help.

Don't try to impersonate Anita Ekberg unless you have a fountain handy.

Corinne Foxx continued the streak of very pretty teenage "Miss Golden Globes" of recent years, but looked much more mature than the others; her dress did not look like a prom dress! Is it just me, or does she look eerily like a Disney princess?

As for the usual suspects (cough, cough, Maggie Gyllenhaal) and those who've earned the right to dress as they wish (Jane Fonda), I'll leave the catty comments to others. There was a rainbow of colors for once, though mostly monochromatic - darn it, Palermo's dress is growing on me - and the gold metallic dress, little black dress on steroids and dull white dresses have not stopped. There's little to say about shoes, as floor-sweeping dresses were everywhere. Jewelry and handbags were mostly not attention-grabbing, so were correct.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015


I had about 8 posts planned and two completely written, but I need to make some changes.

I'm suspending the blog.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Microscope 5: Explosive Speed "and a bit more"

I believe in running two hard workouts per week "and a bit more." If one does two hard runs per week, one can expect steady gradual progress, as long as neither of the runs becomes so difficult that one cannot recover in time for the next one. It's possible to accelerate improvement by adding a moderate run each week - a pattern of: hard, easy, moderate, easy, hard, easy, easy. Unfortunately, this greatly increases the chance of getting injured. Training thus becomes a continuous balancing act, trying to do "a bit more, but not too much more." You should keep in mind this rule of only two hard runs per week when I get to the late stages of training, when it looks like I have a hard run every day; it is these ideal-week training schedules that get published for elite runners and they need to be understood in the context that some of the workouts that seem difficult are either occasional, unimportant, over-stated or simply not done.

In the phase of training where I have the EI and FCR workouts I described in the previous posts, I also include "a bit more" in the form of an explosive speed workout of steep hill sprints. Right now, several people reading this are thinking I got the idea from Brad Hudson, but he got it from Renato Canova, who got it from Brooks Johnson, who probably was influenced by Percy Cerutty, who - though he would claim he invented everything - probably was influenced by the Finnish runners of the 1930's.

The workout is a total of 30 seconds of all-out running, 3-4 repeats of 7-10 seconds. When I first do these, I do them on the steepest hill I can find; when I don't feel I'm improving, I move to a less steep hill so that I can run faster; eventually I move to flat ground (and late in this series, I'll address downhill sprints).

The first reason for doing these is as a check on the two hard runs. Because one is starting to do speedwork, sometimes temporary gains seem to be made at the cost of poor form, which will lead to injury over time. These sprints will accentuate any imbalances or inflexibility and let you know what you need to work on - for some new to these, the form problems that are minor at lower speeds can cause sudden injury when sprinting. One must approach these carefully! Paradoxically perhaps, these same sprints seem to have a protective effect against injury when done properly, as the hill decreases the forces on the legs on landing.

The method for doing these is straightforward. Building into the sprints with "a flying start," that is, not from a standing start, avoids the sudden jarring that's usually the cause of injuries when doing these. One accelerates as quickly as possible, stopping when one can no longer accelerate. This workout, though anaerobic, should never lead to breathing hard, as it uses creatine phosphate for energy and doesn't produce lactic acid. The recoveries should be complete, as long as possible, ideally spreading them evenly throughout the run (in most systems, these are done in a bunch - which is admittedly convenient - and at the end of a run). If done correctly, these are actually fun and I find the brief bursts of speed tend to carry over to the rest of the run, causing the whole to be done slightly faster.

There is no need to try to improve this workout by running more repetitions or doing longer sprints (top sprinters would go longer, but that's not my audience here). Improvement comes with increased speed; some GPS units display an instantaneous top speed, which can be useful here, if the unit works in the shadow of the hill, where they are notoriously inaccurate.

Microscope 4: The Fast Continuous Run (FCR)

At the outset, this seems a no-brainer: it's a continuous run, done fast. The question becomes: how far and how fast (okay, 2 questions)? Here's where another rule of thumb comes into play. For most runners training for most distances, running one fifth of all miles fast is about right; some do a little more, some a little less, but it's a good starting point.

So, from my plan to run a 5:18 mile, I have about 35 miles/week training and a fifth of that is a convenient 7 miles run hard each week. The previous post detailed a workout that built to 3.5 miles of repeated 200 meters, or half the total, leaving a fast continuous run also of 3.5 miles. Because the interval run gets longer as one improves, say from 16 repetitions (2 miles) to 28 reps (3.5 miles), the FCR gets shorter, going from 5 to 3.5 miles. As the FCR gets shorter, however, it gets faster and in the example I'm using, more closely approximates racing conditions.

How do you determine the pace of this run, especially given that it gets shorter and faster? Here's where I have to give my definition of some terms: a tempo run is half of a race or more, a threshold run is a third of a race and a moderate fast run is a fifth of a race. If you run at marathon pace, you could do 3 miles easily, but at 5 miles (1/5th of a marathon) you will regard it as a marginally tough run. At 9 miles (1/3 marathon), a typical threshold run for marathoners from almost any school of thought, it's become a hard run. If you continue to 13 miles (1/2 mar.), a tempo run, you're going to need to recover from it as if it were a race.

The answer, then, is to treat a FCR as the first one-fifth to one-third of a race (preferably the latter). There is one caveat: it should not dip below 15 minutes, for it then becomes a different type of run, focusing on a different aspect of training. If my early FCR is 5 miles, I try to do it at roughly 25K pace, but will accept doing it at marathon pace. For me, training ti run 5:18, that'd be 5 miles at 7-7:20/mile. At the end of this phase, when running 3.5 miles, I'd be running at 10 mile to 30K pace (6:45-7:00/mile).

I should point out that for some runners  "anaerobic threshold pace" is a real, measurable quantity. It isn't for others, including myself, for whom it is a continuously shifting range of paces. The nebulous quality of this term is demonstrated from the introduction of things like "ventilatory threshold" and the practice of many coaches, such as Brad Hudson, to use several different "threshold" paces. It's still a useful idea, but needs to be defined by each person who uses it and I choose a definition that's simple and practical and still manages to mesh with others' usages fairly well.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Microscope 3: the EI

The first introduction of speed I like to incorporate is the extensive interval (EI) workout. Essentially, it is a large number of repetitions of a short distance at a relatively easy pace. It's never been popular, but it never goes away. It originated in the 1930's with a cardiologist that suggested that the heart can be exercised as a muscle; when one speeds up in running, the heart rate increases but with aq time lag, so one briefly runs anaerobically even at an easy pace and the heart adapts to this stress. In the 1950's, it became the focus of a Teutonic "do more useful work" idea; though a mile in 5:00 might be difficult, an eighth of that can easily be done eight times with sufficient rest; in fact, one can do a great deal more at race pace than race distance. At the mile race distance, it is usually possible to do 20-30x200m at race pace. It is the cumulative effect of these individually esy reps that makes it challenging.

In the 1970's, this workout trickled down to the college and high school levels, where athletes routinely balked at the idea of doing the same thing dozens of times, claiming it to be boring (the reason it's never been popular). In fact, it can be as tough mentally to do as it is physically. I can still recall vividly an extensive interval workout I did in my prime: 25x400m in 72 sec. (5K pace) with 75 seconds recovery between repetitions. At first, I felt it was a waste of time and that it would take all day. It was very difficult to keep track of what rep I was on, even though I used a marker that I shifted from one lane of the track to the next as a counter. The repetitions became more difficult and my thoughts went from how I felt and where I was in the workout to how many reps I had left, to actively psyching myself up to do "one more" a few times. I ran one a bit slow, ran the next one too fast (over-compensating) and stopped half-way through the next before goading myself to finish.

To compensate for the inherent sameness of the workout, most coaches of teams substitute a fartlek run. As one speeds up and slows down irregularly, one does the cardiac part of the EI workout. What's lost is the precision and reproducibility - one can easily measure progress by the number of reps, though it's not a linear relationship (it is much easier to go from 24 to 25 reps per workout than it is to go from 14 to 15).

There are two ways I make this workout more manageable. One is by having a 3 mile course with fairly accurately measured quarter miles and doing the repetitions there (for me, a fast 200m is roughly 75 strides or 150 steps). It's easier to track reps this way, though they are a little off. The other way is to divide the workout into sets. 28 repetitions becomes 7 sets of 4 repetitions; generally, the recoveries within a set are less than those between sets - I might walk every fourth recovery "jog" and it's easier to keep track of where one is that way.

Remarkably, the very people who are the first to decry how boring this workout sounds have created their own version of it. Ultramarathon trail runners not uncommonly are doing hill workouts where they walk up and then run down a hill scores of times. They're doing it for a different reason, i.e. trying to reduce "dead quad" problems that come up in long hilly races, but the similarity is there.

During this phase of training, I have a second hard workout per week, a continuous run. That will be the focus of the next installment of this series.

Monday, November 30, 2015

A Mile Under the Microscope 2 - Base

After setting a race goal, the first questions runners ask are how many miles per week they should run and what pace they should be running them. There are complicated ways to determine these, but there are also some easy rough estimates. As I'm training for a mile race, the average training pace should be 1 1/2 times the race pace, with easy runs 30 seconds per mile slower than that. For marathoners running under 3:30, the average pace should be a minute per mile slower than race pace, again with easy runs 30 sec./mile slower.

The number of miles per week is trickier. I've compiled records for people who trained and raced without much outside influence (almost impossible today) and found that, regardless of finishing time, racers at any one distance tend to run about the same number of minutes per day: 40 min./day for milers, 60 for 10K runners, 75 for marathoners. Using total minutes and pace, one can determine mileage.

So, for me looking at 5:18 for a mile goal as an example, 1.5 x 5:18 = 7:57 (call it 8)/mile. Add 30 seconds and easy pace = 8:30. For comparison, Jack Daniels has an easy pace of 7:48 for a 5:16 mile. For mileage, 280 min./week  divided by 8 min/mile = 35 miles/week. [For a 3:50 miler, this would be only 50 miles/week, but at that level, I'd have two-a-day workouts, bringing the total to 100/week, about what is commonly done.]

The next question comes automatically. If you're supposed to run 35miles/week at 8:00/mile, should you run the miles and try to improve the pace, or should you do as many miles as possible at pace and build up mileage? My answer - though there are too many exceptions to list - is to focus on time run. So, if I were running 9.5 min/mile (which was the case recently), to get to 280 minutes/week, I'd be running 29-30 miles/week (far less than I was running at the time). As I improve, both the pace quickens and the mileage increases.

When a day off is like a long run

The next question to address is the distribution of mileage over the week. One of the most common mistakes is to run the same amount every day, both for convenience and to be able to constantly compare one run to the next. Running the same distance every day invariably leads to injury when, after weeks of training, one makes a change, such as doing a race. I have very complicated procedures for deciding how many miles to do on various days, but there is once again a simple guideline - you can run the same distance five days and take two non-consecutive days off each week, or take one day off and have a long run of about twice the typical day's run's mileage. This seems to be just enough variation to avoid "staleness."

Why long runs are problematic for milers

Just as the total minutes per week is fairly constant for each race distance regardless of pace, the longest run for each is also a fairly constant amount of time. Faster marathoners typically have long runs of 2 1/2 hours, with a longest run of 2:45; beyond three hours, these runs become counter-productive, as they begin to use muscles and energy systems in ways not used in the race and require too long of recovery to maximize utilization of training time. 10K runners typically have long runs of 2 hours, which is about the limit of what they can sustain at a reasonable training pace and remain completely aerobic.

Milers face a conundrum when planning long runs: their long runs are not much greater than their average. Since the 1960's, the typical long run for a 4:00 miler has been 10 miles in 60 minutes (note that the pace is 1.5x race pace), partly because of the nice round numbers, but also because 60 minutes is about the limit of what one can run at "anaerobic threshold" pace. Some miler's workouts, however, take more than an hour to do, which necessitates standing rests (rather than jogging recoveries) or the very careful mixture of paces that does not do too much at any one pace - and which still amounts to under 80 minutes. Anything beyond 75 minutes is counter-productive for a "pure" miler.

So, if a miler is running an average of 40 min/day for the week, with two days off, this becomes 5 runs of about 56 minutes each: in other words, making every single run a long run! In the earliest phase of training, when training just for (short-distance) endurance, this is not a terrible idea.

Base training progress measurement

In this preliminary phase, improvement is tracked by mileage and pace. When these no longer improve, one is ready to move on to the next phase. There is one flaw to this procedure, when one has an athlete that is highly motivated and competitive - improvement in mileage and pace at the cost of much greater effort. I've made this mistake - repeatedly - in my career, as it is sometimes possible to keep pushing in "easy" training runs until one becomes exhausted, over-trained and one crashes.

A way to prevent this is to track effort levels for each run, either by perceived effort (e.g. the 20 point Borg scale), or with a heart rate monitor. With a monitor, one's heart rate should stay roughly the same as one improves and should be lower for any one given run as one improves. It is not necessary to force oneself to run below a certain heart  rate (such as in systems like Maffetone's), just to note trends so one doesn't develop what's called "wind-up," the drive to make every run harder than the previous one. When one's mileage and pace at a constant effort plateaus, it's time to move to the next phase. Here one should check to see current race ability, taking the weekly minutes, dividing by weekly miles and then dividing by 1.5 to get a mile time one could run at that point.

Friday, November 27, 2015

A Mile under the Microscope #1

According to age-graded calculators, the best I could hope to run a mile is 5:18. Here's the plan I would use to accomplish that - of no interest whatsoever to anyone else, I know - but the following posts, which will explain it in detail, should teach a great deal about how training schedules are developed and that I hope will be of interest.

Phase 1

M: off
T: 55 minutes
W: 55 min.
Th: 55 min.
F: off
Sa: 55 min.
S: 55 min.

Phase 2

M: 0
T: 6.5@8.5min./mile
W: 6.5@8.5
Th: 6.5@8.5
F: 0
Sa: 6.5@8.5
S: 6.5@ 8.5

Phase 3

M: 0
T: 7.5 in 55 with 3.5@6.25-6.5
 W: 6.5
Th: 6.5 w/ 3-4x7-10 seconds, steep uphill
F: 0
Sa: 7.5 w/ 7x[4x200 in 40 - 200 run] - 200 walk
S: 6.5

Phase 4

M: 2.5 in 20
T: 7.5 in 55 w/ 4x1200 in 4:27 - 400m
W: 2.5
Th: 7.5 w/ 8x400 in 79 - 400
F: 0
Sa: 7.5 w/ 100 in 18.5 - 700
S: 9 in 75 w/ 1.5 in 9:23

Phase 5

M: 8x50 in 8, minimal recovery
T: 3x1600 (1200 in 4:27, 400 in 85) - 400
W: 4x100 downhill in 17
Th: 5x400 hill (with 100 ft. of climb) in 1:51
F: 0
Sa: 1200 in 3:40-4:00 (400 all-out, 800 as close to mile pace as possible); 10 min.; 400m in 65-70
S: 9-10 miles, last 2000m in 7:25.