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

Monday, April 24, 2017

How Many Hills Are Enough Hills?

When I first started thinking about the Superior 100 Mile (more than a decade ago), the prevailing thought was "If you can run up Buck Hill 30 times, you can finish Superior." Superior has 20200 feet of elevation (the sources saying 16800 must be from the course when much was on road and 21000 seems to be rounding up) and Buck is a little over 300 feet and a little less than a half mile long, or about 1.5 times the average steepness of Superior. Thirty repeats would be half the elevation of the race, which, figuring that the course probably has some flat [damned little, as it happens] and some steeper sections, this seemed like training for the harder part.

Then Buck Hill was closed to runners and hikers. It's been re-opened and closed so many times and it's so far from me that I just stopped thinking about it.

The popular choice for hills became Hyland, where the south ski hill is about 140 feet of elevation and 7 repeats is about 2 miles (2.5X as steep as Superior)Runners were doing 60-70 repeats, again about 10000 total feet of elevation.

Then I started seeing scientific reports on delayed onset muscle soreness. Because gravity is an acceleration, the impact forces increase by the square of the distance. If Buck was 1.5 times as steep, then 1/(1.5x1.5) times 20200 feet gave 30x300 ft repeats - what people did! But this would give only 23 repeats at Hyland, a mere 6.5 miles. If one went by distance run, rather than by elevation, one gets Hyland being 103.3/(2.5x2.5) or 16 miles, which is 56 repeats, about what people did. This same measurement for Buck, however, gives 46 repeats.

Looking at my favorite hill, Snake, it has the same grade as Superior with 174 feet elevation change in .435 miles. It's 116-119 repeats, by either method of calculation. Doing 13 repeats in two hours, I've thought about doing that 9 times over - at that pace, I'd set a record!

Going back to the one meter box jumps used for DOMS studies, assuming a two foot jump out (you need space for your legs), the two methods give 90 repeats and 150 repeats. The method used in the studies was 100.

I did 100, which took about 50 minutes (where I do it has a long ramp). The next day, I was sore in my piriformis, gracilis and abductor magnus and a bit sore in the hamstrings and quads and was surprised by pain along my spine (probably lats, but maybe erector spinae), all the things that go wrong for me when doing ultras.

Then I went to Snake Hill to find out how many steps it takes me to do repeats (just over 600 down, just over 800 up), which means I drop 3.4 inches with each stride when tired. Plugging that into the equations, Superior is equivalent to 150 box jumps, as one method above had it.

The problem with box jumps is that one lands on both legs, which is not like running. If one were to do one-legged landings, far far fewer would be possible. Seeing how far forward I would bend when doing them - sometimes I braced myself from falling with my fingers - explains why I have back troubles. Landing straight-backed would be preferable, which is essentially doing squats.

My God, squats. Now I'm thinking like everybody else!

Monday, April 17, 2017

Polarized Training for Ultrarunners

Most studies that advocate some radical method of training are based on a few untrained athletes over a short period of time. They don't mean much, but they get a lot of attention. Not long ago, there was a study of more than a hundred trained endurance athletes from a variety of sports that compared different training protocols. It last nine weeks, which was as long as they could get athletes to abandon what they were already doing and why several sports were involved. Each group had two weeks of hard training, followed by a recovery week, repeated three times. One group did a version of high intensity interval training, one did a lot of lactate threshold training, one did solely long slow endurance and one did "polarized" training which involved both very long endurance and maximum VO2 uptake interval sessions. The polarized group ended up with the greatest change in VO2max and endurance, which one would expect, as that's what they trained for, but they also improved their lactate threshold more than those who trained specifically for that. It's unknown whether adding specific lactate threshold runs to polarized training would be even better or not.

The training regimen immediately made me think of ultrarunning schedules. Here's what I'd come up with:


M off
T 90 minutes total averaging 75% max. heart rate, with half at lactate threshold
W 20 min warm-up, 4x3min hill at 90-95% max heart rate, 35 minutes cool-down, 4x3min hill, 15 minute cool-down (120 minutes total)
Th repeat Tuesday workout
F off
Sa 240 min trail run at 75% max heart rate, with 6-8x 5 sec. uphill sprint roughly every 20 minutes.
S 150-240 min, done as on Saturday.


M off
T 4x3 min hill
W off
Th 90 min, half at threshold
F off
Sa 120-180 min
S off

To this, I'd add strength training, which I think I described once before on this blog, done as 100 1-meter box jumps. This is the protocol used in studies to generate delayed-onset muscle soreness. I believe that, if one can get to doing those box jumps without DOMS, from training effects, one could probably handle the worst terrain in trail races.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Not Universal, Not Unique

I was thinking of a quote from Brad Hudson's book "Run Faster" during today's run. He said: "Ever notice that when running intervals the first one or two are never the fastest?" And I remember thinking, "No. That's not my experience, because I go into interval workouts rested, I do a proper warm-up and I'm running a challenging pace." I get what he was saying - it's a common experience - it just isn't mine.

Among other aches and pains, I recently developed pes anserine bursitis. It's a pain below and medial to the knee, where you think there isn't anything. If you ask experts, they'll tell you that it takes 4-6 weeks to recover, with no running. I'd had it before, knew what caused it, knew how to treat it (stretching hip adductors and hamstrings, and correcting some running form errors that came from running tired and babying other injuries) and I was recovered in three days. That's unusual, but not unique. I wouldn't tell others to expect a 3 day recovery, however.

Today was a day of hard hill repeats. I was worried, because I'd had two weeks of poor training and a bunch of minor aches and pains, including the bursitis just mentioned, which running fast and on hills could cause to become worse. I'd run the Snake Hill in 3:58-4:14 (four repeats) earlier this year, but my pace had slowed down to about 5 minutes of late and I was hoping to run 4:05-4:12.

I did the first one in 3:37. Oops! All the nervous energy from fearing that I wasn't ready to run fast had me go out too fast. I intentionally slowed the second one. I ran it in 3:40. This was going to be a major problem; I knew I wasn't in good enough shape to maintain that (there's always the thought "hey, maybe I am that good," which usually leads to disaster. So I slowed down, way way down and just "jogged" the next one... in 3:53. The fourth one had me falling apart and I ran about 4:25, barely able to keep from quitting. I couldn't do a fifth one.

So, no... I didn't notice that the first one or two were not the fastest. If I'd the first one in 4:10-4:15, maybe I would have. That's just not the way things work for me.

Monday, March 13, 2017

A Bit of a Whine

It's a miracle that I can run at all, so it doesn't make sense to complain when things get a bit tough. It's also Lent, and you're not supposed to brag about how difficult what you're doing is, nor complain about how hard it is.

But you couldn't do it. And right now, it sucks.

I got into heavy training a couple of weeks ago and now the weather's gone bad just at the worst possible time. Saturday, I did hill repeats for two hours in sub-zero wind chill [and whoever of you it was who honked at me from your white truck: you have tinted windows. No one can tell who you are. But thanks, anyway; I was at a particularly low point]. Sunday was a long run - with speed work - and it was still below zero and I quit early because my arms went numb (and daylight saving didn't help matters). Last night it snowed, so I had to shovel before I ran and I ended up running in snow, still below zero wind chill. Tomorrow's the last tough day, for a few days at least, and it will STILL be below zero and I have to run hills, probably in the dark and probably on glare ice. We'll see.

I don't know how I'm going to get through tomorrow.

I'm doing the Great Lent, 48 consecutive days of minor fasting, and coinciding with heavy training, I've lost a lot of weight. My clothes don't fit. I'm always tired and a little grumpy.

My heels hurt even while I sleep.

I also gave up social media, so I don't have a lot of places to bitch and moan. Okay, so I've done that. [By the way, I had to do a 80 minute software update on my Suunto watch and it erased all my data. I hate that watch so much.]

On to tomorrow.

The $15000 baton relay

Update: The Return of Cool Hand

I did Tuesday's workout as if I were born to it.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

"Greyhounds" Workout

The next time I post what I've been doing, this workout will be in there, so I thought an explanation was in order.

The first time I encountered this workout was in examining the training of some world-class 800m runners. I thought it was a typo. Years later, whenever I see it online, there's inevitably a comment from someone saying that "This must be a mistake. It doesn't sound reasonable." Here's a typical Greyhound workout:

10x100m with 5 meter recoveries

See? You immediately wonder if I meant 50 meters or maybe 5 minutes. 5 meters looks wrong.

Think of a dog (a greyhound) running along the fence of an enclosed yard. It runs as fast as it can, suddenly encounters a fence and has to slam on the brakes. Then it turns around and runs the other direction as fast as it can. It does this until it's exhausted or gets distracted. That's what the workout is like.

It's usually done on a track where the 100m race is marked. One runs a sprint in lane 1, turns into lane 2 and sprints back, turns into lane 3 and so on. The beauty of the workout is in the stopping and turning. Having to rapidly decelerate stresses the same muscles you use in sprinting, but in a completely different way, switching from concentric loading to eccentric loading. Runners tend to slow gradually in training; about the only time one runs like this is in a cross-country race where there's a hairpin turn at the bottom of a hill [I have a great story that involves doing that; if we ever meet, ask me about it]. The pivots at the end of each sprint require some agility and work the smaller "balance" muscles, which are also under-used by most runners. It is a completely different workout than running 100m hard/ 100m easy.

Energetically, short sprints use the creatine phosphate/ ATP shuttle. You can regenerate creatine phosphate in less than 5 minutes (usually) and your normal muscle stores are enough for about 45 seconds. Thus the first 2-4 sprints in this workout are mostly depleting the creatine phosphate stores; after this, one goes into lactic acid training - the sprints become more difficult to do and are generally slower as one fatigues. Eventually, after 10-12 "greyhounds," one is slowing enough that the ability to run anaerobically is ending and one should stop before turning it into something else.

It's a tough workout. Invariably, after 5 sprints I find myself thinking that there's no way I can do more than 6. I still end up doing 8-10. It's a workout you don't want to do often enough to get good at it (!) - doing it frequently tends to teach one the "bang" start used by some sprinters (which is good if you're a football player, not for most runners) and then one slows over a much longer distance more gradually; it's the short stop that's important.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Training Log: January, February

At the start of the year, I had some lung issues, so I was unable to run much. Other things worth noting: "strides" are 45 strides (90 steps) in 30 seconds, about 100-120 meters, done once or twice per mile;" "sprints" are done up a very steep hill on a trail (when possible) and are roughly 8-10 seconds; "Mounds Hill" is 0.25 miles up, with 89 feet of climb (6.5% gradient), "Ramsey Hill" is 0.215 miles up with 117 feet of climb (9.5% gradient) and "Snake Hill" is 0.43 miles up with 174 feet of climb (8% gradient).

There's a LOT of niggling injury stuff here, which is expected when going from no running to heavy training at my age and with my injury history.

1 3.5 miles in 36:45 with 12x30 seconds (max pace 6:37) at Mounds Hill. Max heart rate = 171
2 6 miles in 60:19
9 1.06 miles in 10:42. Multiple issues.
10 1 in 10:40
14 2 in 21:26 with 4xMounds Hill. Wheezing, chest tightness.
16 5 in 59:03 Max HR=173. Breathing problems. Redness under nails of big toes.
17 8 in 87:58. Icy (Mounds Hill was un-runnable)
18 6 in 61:59 Breathing is improving.
19 8 in 89:31 with 15xMounds Hill. Long icy patch.
20 6 in 60:33 Some puddles, ice. Breathing improving at night.
21 11 in 118:28 w/ 21xMounds Hill. Some light rain. Minor pain in right heel.
22 14 in 2:29:42 (plus 4 miles hiked). Chafing trouble early. Right heel hurt from 12-16. Hands froze during hike. Fell apart at about 10 miles.
23 5.5 in 57:46 Tightness in right hip, soreness in left big toe.
24 8.5 in 87:02 with 16xMounds Hill.
25 5.5 in 57:38 Snow. Variable footing.
26 8.5 in 89:23 with 16xMounds Hill. Slight soreness from right hip to heel.
27 6 in 60:36. Slept poorly.
28 11 in 117:48 with 21xMounds Hill. Heel pain in right foot last mile. Tough at the end. Some stiffness in right hip. Some residual soreness in peroneal attachments afterward.
29 14 in 2:28:51 (plus 6 hiked). Gusty winds. very cold hands. Sciatic "warm spot" on left leg. Stiff in right hip. Soreness in right heel lingered all day.
30 4 in 42:22. Snow. Slept badly.
31 5.5 in 62:47 with 10xMounds Hill. Soreness in peroneals at start.


1 4 in 39:42. Didn't sleep well, some icy patches. Wind chill -4.
2 5.5 in 56:21 with 10xMounds Hill Horrible wind. Wind chill -6.
3 4 in 35:59 Slept poorly. Right ankle stiff at start. Wind chill -4.
4 8 in 79:44 with 15xMounds Hill.
5 10.5 run in 1:39:41 (plus 4.5 hiked). Sore right heel when walking, partly self-corrected. Hands froze. Residual soreness in heels all day.
6 6 in 56:40 with strides.
7 [Too icy to run outdoors]
8 [-15 windchill. Back ache.]
9 [-13 windchill. Could've run later in day.]
10 6 in 57:47 with strides.
11 11.5 in 120:38 with 22xMounds Hill Difficult toward end. Aches in both medial ankle malleoli. Soreness in hamstring attachments at left knee.
12 15 in 154:28 with last 0.5 miles hard (uphill and against wind). 40 mph wind gusts. Very icy.
13 6 in 61:44 with strides and sprints. Dead-legged.
14 5 in 56:14 with 12xRamsey Hill HRmax=171. Surprisingly grueling starting the 9th hill. Very sore piriformis (both) after [this took three days of deep massage to mitigate].
15 6 in 58:03. Icy patches.
16 7.6 in 92:05 with 18xRamsey Hill. Left achilles sore starting on #12.
17 6 in 53:52 with strides. Overdressed. Twinge in right hip at start. Lateral soreness in both ankles at start, left at the end.
18 10.61 in 114:30 with 25xRamsey Hill. HRmax=167. Bathroom break half-way through.
19 15 in 2:32:11 with last 1 in 9:00. Break at 6 miles to remove clothes. Left knee (medial) ached from 4.5-6 miles. Sore right heel last few miles. Sore hip adductor attachments at groin.
20 4 in 37:31 with strides, sprints. Soreness in left peroneals, tightness in hip adductors.
21 5.5 in 58:34 with 13xRamsey Hill. Dense fog. Sharp sciatic pain and leg weakness in uphill #10. Groin soreness when taking long strides downhill.
22 4 in 36:41 with strides and sprints.
23 5.02 in 54:25 with 12xRamsey Hill, last 3 hills at 9:40/mile (max=7:27).
24 4 in 38:07 with strides
25 7.5 in 78:15 with 17xRamsey Hill. Started a bit fast. 0 windchill at start, overdressed by end.
26 11 in 102:19, last 2 in 16:14 (plus 5 hiked). Frozen hands again. Sore right plantar fascia.
27 6 in 55:24 with strides, sprints.
28 7.75 in 83:27 with 9xSnake Hill (4 hard uphills - 3;58, 4:03, 4:07, 4:10) HRmax=165  Slept badly. Dead-legged. Several aches.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Is Training a Markov Process?

This is one of the most esoteric of questions, but one I've been mulling over for a while: Is training and racing a Markov process? A Markov process is one in which the conditions at any moment determine what happens in the next moment, but the overall history of how you got to that moment is unimportant. It's actually a bit of a free will vs. determinism question; if every moment decides the next moment, then you have no choice in what happens.

The immediate response of most people would be that, if you run a certain time at a race, it doesn't matter how you got there. The time you run is the time you run and that's that. Of course, if you used performance-enhancing drugs, then all of a sudden everyone thinks it's very important how you got to where you are. So - it's not important unless it is?

I think what's important is where you are in your training. Training responses tend to form a logistic curve:

If you're early in your training, at point "A," then if you race, you probably are going to run about as expected (not all that well, but better than in training). Similarly, if you're late in the training, at point "C," then you can be fairly confident that you're going to race well and within a narrow range of possible times. It's when you're in the middle, at point "B," that things get tricky; you're rapidly improving, so it's possible that you might have a surprisingly good race. I think most runners don't have any idea where they are, because they don't train consistently, but if they did, they'd know whether they're improving rapidly or starting to reach a peak.

This is why, if you see me running, you shouldn't ask me what I'm thinking about.