Monday, May 21, 2007


Last week my legs, through careful attention, started to come back. Many weeks to MDI, I can afford a longer build. It's sort of a long walk to the starting line of training. My goal this year is to train at more appropriate levels of intensity and training long & far enough to maximize my aerobic capacity within the bounds injury prevention.

A tall order for me.

Step one: Build more slowly than I normally do.

Step two: Introduce varied / hilly terrain more gradually.

Step three: Full warmup / cooldown jogs.

Last week:

Sunday - 0

Monday - 2.36 miles low aerobic (75%) ~7:00/mile; 6.5 miles total.

Tuesday - 3 miles low aerobic ~ 7:08 pace; 5.16 miles total.

Wednesday - 3 miles high aerobic (80%) ~ 6:40 pace; 5.12 miles total.

Thursday - 3 miles low aerobic ~ 7:03 pace; 5.07 miles total.

Friday - 3 miles high aerobic ~ 6:39 pace; 5.87 miles total.

Saturday - 3 miles low aerobic ~ 7:08 pace; 7.04 miles total.


34.76 miles w/17.36 miles aerobic work. At the heart rate ranges above, last week's work was @ 20% of optimum. Each week, I will try increase the percentage until I am at or near optimum.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Minutiae of Quality

A school of thought exists that "quality trumps quantity" when developing aerobic capacity. On the flip side, there is a contingent contending "enough quantity produces quality". It is an interesting topic for discussion.

Before we begin, let's limit the concept of aerobic capacity to the development of the cardiovascular system or improving:

1. The ability to consume oxygen (lungs)
2. The ability to transport oxygen (heart / vessels)
3. The ability to utilize oxygen (muscle cells)

In terms of aerobic capacity: A workout can claim the characteristics of "Quality" if, when compared to other workouts with similar aims, a greater increase in aerobic capacity is gained in a shorter span of time. Or more succinctly: The greatest aerobic return per time unit of exercise over a given period of time. This description suffices based on Lydiard's instructions for running at or just below the aerobic threshold (90% of maxHR or the pace one can run for 1 hour).

Therefore, let Quality = aerobic improvement per time unit of exercise.

Let Quantity = elapsed time running.

An aside: references to maxHR are based on Karvonen method (% reserve + resting rate).

Describing "quality" in this manner highlights these important points:

1. Quality is relative to an alternative. Quality must be expressed in terms of degrees of improvement or percentage of advantage. For example, if we assign the baseline workout a value of '1', a workout of increased quality would produce an advantage (as a function of time) of a certain % over 1.

2. Quality is improvement expressed as a function of exercise per unit of time over a span of time (the training period). In other words, if you do the base workout for 30 minutes per day for 10 weeks, a regimen of increased quality would produce x% greater aerobic capacity for the equivalent time spent exercising over the same period.

The confusion begins when we insist on separating quality from quantity. Without quantity there is no quality since no time has elapsed running. Therefore at any level of quantity we have established at least a baseline of quality from which to measure alternative methods of exercise.

Here we insert Lydiard as our arbitrary measure of optimum quality. Recall, we are limiting this to developing aerobic capacity:

1/4 effort (Sun) = ~75% [120 mins]
1/4 effort (Mon) = ~75% [90 mins]
1/2 effort (Tue) = ~ 80% [60 mins]
1/4 effort (Wed) = ~ 75% [90 mins]
1/2 effort (Thu) = ~ 80% [60 mins]
1/4 effort (Fri) = ~ 75% [90 mins]
3/4 effort (Sat) = ~90% [60 mins]

The heart rate ranges above are assumptions. I can do this because all workouts exist within a heart rate range, acknowledged or not. In other words, barring recovery issues, similar efforts will produce similar heart rates per person as a % of maxHR (adjusting for aerobic improvement).

If we allow Lydiard's daily regimen by effort level (and thus a practical corresponding %maxHR range) to be the optimum degree of quality per time elapsed running (quantity), then there are three possible major deficiencies in our training:

1. We train at reduced %maxHR ranges thus limiting improvement per time unit of exercise or...
2. We train at a reduced time elapsed running (quantity) thus defeating the relative improvement of the higher intensity of training or...
3. We train at both reduced %maxHR intensities and time elapsed running.

And this is the reason we want to know - Is it better to run faster or longer? The answer depends on the assumptions we make regarding the relative merits between competing workouts and how we derive these assumptions.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

If it's physical, we can quantify it.

I like to run by feel and have a good time. And I do.

However, there comes a point when all of us start asking ourselves "how much", "how often"? Mike's comment about his greater desire to run a steady 8 weeks @ 80 miles per than a few 100 mile weeks and subsequently suffering injuries necessitating pool running etc. is good commentary on our options as runners. But it leaves unasked, "what about 8 weeks at 85 or 90?" Why not 70?

There has to be an answer, a reason why experience teaches us our hard lessons. If we claim to be a part of this natural world then we must be obeying some natural law. As far as I know, most natural laws can be reduced to a mathmatical expression, at least in part.

The purpose of such an exercise is not to uncover some unknown "super formula" as yet "un-experienced" by the common runner. Rather, it can illuminate the real numbers of our training. Because we all know... "the numbers don't lie". It's like wearing a heart rate monitor... Some do and some don't. But if those that don't because they "don't want to know" then there is a problem. The numbers do not lie. You can not train anaerobically and pretend you aren't. And you can't magically make your anaerobic training give you aerobic benefits. Good luck.

The greatest hurdle to understanding the complete running "machine" is identifying all the variables (some unique) in a certain runner's current existence, now, 2007. But this is unnecessary if we make some simple assumptions for the purposes of creating general illumination. And I think aerobic capacity is a good place to start.

If we agree that aerobic capacity is indeed the base, the very foundation of all that is built in terms of racing fitness, we can gain quite a bit of useful knowledge by focusing on this specific portion of the training experience. Later, we can branch out into other aspects of training and their respective degree of effect they have on the final marathon finish time.

In my last post, after a lengthy preamble, I suggested that we could quantify our base building by multiplying the number of minutes running by the average percentage of maxHR. By adding this product daily, the weekly result would give us a clear indication how our training compared to an arbitrary "optimum" using Lydiard as the benchmark. I'm not saying we need to add yet another data point in our daily log. No. What I'm saying is if you are training and you absolutely refuse to critically examine your regimen, here is your chance to secretly look at how you measure up. At the very worst, it will only highlight your untapped potential.

All of this, of course, in terms of aerobic capacity. That is all I'm addressing just now. But that is enough. If you are running great times but only for 40 minutes a day, do the math. How much more can you physically gain by a slight change?? Lengthen it. Slow it down if you need to. Do the miles. Do the time.

A short example:

Mr. Brisk likes to run 5 miles and feel the wind in his hair. He runs 3 x 5 miles per week at 6:30 per mile. His pace equates to 90% maxHR - a really good, fast pace, but still aerobic. On the easy days he runs an hour at a nice 75% maxHR pace. Comfortable and smooth. His weekly total aerobic "work" is 26,775 units.

Mr. Plod gets up early. He's tired, he's cranky. That first mile each morning is the pits. But he runs at least an hour and most days he runs 90 minutes. For balance, he runs his hour runs slightly faster than his easy days. Let's say 60 minute days are at 75% maxHR and 90 minutes days are at 65% maxHR. His weekly total aerobic "work" is 36,900 units.

Mr. Plod runs his "hard" days at the same pace as Mr. Brisk's easy days. Yet, he is gaining 37% more aerobic capacity during the same period due to the increase in time at an elevated heart rate (even though the heart rate isn't reaching the heights of Mr. Brisk).

At the next 5k, Mr. Plod just needs to take Mr. Brisk to the red line. Somebody is not going to die. Can you guess who?

Monday, May 14, 2007

Aerobic Capacity

I have just finished reading Thomas' post, Rebuilding, where he ponders the proper weekly mileage for optimum marathon training.  I unfortunately, but deservedly, hold the honor of "what not to do" in the post.  If I can't inspire confidence, at least I can inspire restraint.


And since I like to talk as much as the next guy and seeing how Mike posed the rhetorical "optimum vs. maximum" discussion question in a comment, I thought I'd submit some thoughts about that topic.  


Lydiard's Mileage Chart of roughly 102 miles split amongst the days of the weeks as follows:


22 Sun

15 Mon

10 Tue

15 Wed

12 Thu

18 Fri

10 Sat


And with varying intensities as:


¼ effort Sun

¼ effort Mon

½ effort Tues

¼ effort Wed

½ effort Thu

¼ effort Fri

¾ effort Sat


Has been followed by many in order to improve aerobic capacity.  This is known as the marathon base building phase of the Lydiard training cycle.  It is the longest and most beneficial phase of the training regimen.  However, it should be duly noted that to adequately peak for the goal race (which was Lydiard's point) one does need to follow the rest of the program (hills / speed / race prep / taper).


Myself, I have only been concerned with this 'base' phase since I feel my aerobic capacity is no where near its potential and should remain my main concern for years to come.


It has been written that improving one's aerobic capacity is the cornerstone to improved race times and lays the foundation for future improvement.  Many proper analogies exist – building a skyscraper is one (Duncan).  Paraphrasing Mr. Larkin, "the penthouse is where the speedwork is, but the actual height of the building is the result of all the base building miles that took years and years to build."


Lydiard indicated, and I believe others have shown, the ability to exercise anaerobically is limited and that limitation is fairly consistent from person to person.  However, reaching one's potential to exercise anaerobically requires intense exercise for a period of 4 to 6 weeks that can break down a mere mortal.  After this short period, the maximum benefits of this training are realized and must be acted upon in a performance setting before the training 'fades'.  It can be reclaimed through additional exercise after an appropriate resting period.


But there is a limitation here – the very maximum performance that can be obtained is a function of the base aerobic capacity.  This is because once the maximum benefits of anaerobic training are obtained, the performance gains are added to the present ability to exercise aerobically.  Therefore, it is the person's unlimited ability to improve his or her aerobic capacity that can vault the runner into new realms of racing fitness.


There is no doubt however, that most of us, if we chose, could improve our present fitness dramatically (and in short order) by choosing a 4 – 6 week anaerobic training regimen.  We would be taking our present aerobic capacity to exercise and adding an additional capacity to exercise anaerobically.  These two together would produce some relatively outstanding performances.  Relative being the key word – our performance would be relative to our current aerobic condition.


Lydiard was a long-view coach.  While incorporating peaking mechanics into his training cycle, he nevertheless became famous for putting much time and effort into convincing people to run aerobically for a long, long time.  So when people say they are running "Lydiard", they most often are referring to the base phase of the multi-phase Lydiard program.  If you haven't mastered Lydiard's superb aerobic capacity building phase yet, then the time-value approach biases toward continuing with the base phase "as long as possible".  The benefits are enormous.


But here's the sticky question: Just how many miles should I run?  The answer: All of them.


A quick read of Lydiard's writings and we find that his runners routinely ran "aerobically" at 6 minutes per mile.  This meant that on a ½ effort day, they could cover their 10 miles in about 1 hour.  This correlates with another schedule Lydiard proposes based on time instead of miles.  In fact, he suggests using the time schedule as an introduction to approaching the high mileage:


2:00+ Sun

1:30 Mon

1:00 Tue

1:30 Wed

1:00 Thu

1:30+ Fri

1:00 Sat

Weekly total: ~570+ minutes.


His runners were already very fit and needed coaching to maximize their aerobic potential.  In order to maximize aerobic capacity, Lydiard proposed running at or approaching the aerobic threshold on a daily basis – thus his varying time/miles and intensity schedule.


If we assume Lydiard was correct in his time/mileage assessment for building optimum aerobic capacity in a training regimen, and if we assume that his varying daily intensity corresponds to a maxHR training regimen such as:


¼ = 75% maxHR

½ = 80% maxHR

¾ = 90% maxHR


we can re-list the schedule in terms of minutes x % HR or HR Time Units:


9000 HRTU (Sun)

6750 HRTU (Mon)

4800 HRTU (Tue)

6750 HRTU (Wed)

4800 HRTU (Thu)

6750 HRTU (Fri)

5400 HRTU (Sat)


A total week of HR time units = 44250, an average of 77.6 HR time units per minute or rather, running at an average of 78% maxHR.  Now if we use Lydiard's limit of 100 miles for his runners running the above schedules, then the optimal pace at 78% maxHR is 5:42 per mile.  [44250/100 miles = 442.5 HRTU per mile / avg 77.6 HRTU = 5.7 minutes/mile].


So if we are still running under 5:42 per mile at 78% maxHR, then there is no reason to run the 100 miles per week because most likely we can't do it at optimum paces (proper heart rates) and therefore not receive an equivalent aerobic benefit.


Or can we?


Let's say that following the above HR schedule a runner netted 85 miles for an average 78% maxHR pace of 6:42 per mile.  He ran a total of 44250 HRTU's, just like Lydiard's pupils, just slower.  Thus he achieved optimum aerobic capacity training for his ability.  But can we choose to run at lower intensities and still obtain optimum aerobic capacity benefit (defined as 44250 HRTU per week)?  Or what if our conditioning doesn't allow our bodies to run at such HR intensities without breaking down?  Can we still shoot for 44250 HRTU per week?


Yes we can…  A quick look at a recent run of mine says my 60% maxHR pace is 8:41 per mile.  At an average pace of 8:41 per mile, I'd hit 44,250 HRTU at exactly 85 miles.  But it will take me 23% longer (2 hrs 48 mins) to get the same aerobic improvement (relative to each runner's respective starting point).


This is the beauty of training.  We each find ourselves in different circumstances relative to our level, weaknesses, drive, etc.  Yet, if we put in the time, at a corresponding level of effort, we can still achieve great improvements from where we are – even if we aren't running "hard" every day.


On the other hand, you can easily see that the runner running "optimum" paces has many advantages:


1.                  Has time to train (takes less out of the day)

2.                  Probably less prone to overuse injuries

3.                  More likely to meet the weekly optimum

4.                  And more able to increase his time running if he so chooses (beyond 44250 HRTU)


Lydiard did mention as an aside that those deciding to run longer to reach the weekly mileage goal probably "achieved greater aerobic improvement".  This is because their HR is elevated for longer periods of time thus accumulating more HRTU's.  For example:


The optimum pace runner accumulates 44250 HRTU's per week.  The 60% HR runner @ 8:41 per mile would accumulate 52,100 HRTU's per week if he ran the full 100 miles.  (The other runner only running 85 miles) Thus, barring injury, he would make great strides in personal aerobic development and at a faster rate than the "optimal" runner.


But injury is the catch.  How long could the runner withstand such intensity of time on feet?  And when calculating risk vs. reward, can we assume linear marginal improvement beyond Lydiard's schedule or should we assume a degree of diminishing return for every HR time unit beyond 'optimum'?  The latter is the most widely suggested with good empirical evidence (my blog for example).


My assumptions for the above:


·                    Lydiard's schedule representing "optimum" level of training therefore establishing a point of diminishing return

·                    Practical maxHR % correlations


This doesn't address issues particular to the slower runner – one being fuel efficiency beyond 2 hours.  The runner running slower in training but still following the reduced Sunday time (2 hours) may run into some unfortunate surprises late in a marathon.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Smart Running

Smart:  Intelligent, Savvy
Smart:  Handsome, nattily dressed
Smart:  To hurt, to hurt while running.  To run while tears form in the eyes and whisk away in the breeze.
Ugh.  After Sunday's nice run and Monday's day off, I had a good Tuesday.  10 miles @ 7:23 pace.  A little sore but nothing to speak of.  Wednesday was a different story.  Each step was torture.  4.5 miles was all I had.  In fact, I stopped half way through to take my bearings.  I ran a few 50/50's to see if I couldn't at least get some blood flowing.  It seemed to work a tiny bit.
Today started out as bad as yesterday.  After 2 miles I was toast.  Every fiber in my legs was as tight as a banjo string.  So tight my feet were cramping.  As I was slogging home with my tail between my legs I came across Eric.  For some reason I couldn't help but just try to run with him at his faster tempo.  After some initial discomfort, the pain subsided into the background.  It must have been my chatter as I got distracted from the soreness below.
Anyway, Eric saved the workout and I was out for 90 minutes just over 10 miles.  May 10.2 , maybe longer.  I'm taking tomorrow off.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Tick Talk Do (as I say)

Mile 5:
Mike stops and flexes his knee.  "What's wrong?" I ask.  "I'm ticking," he replies.
"You're ticking?"
"I'm ticking." 
Resume running.
"Do you hear that?" he asks.  "I do," I reply.  "I'm ticking!" he cries.
Just my luck... running with Hezbollah.
Running up the last hill.  My legs have held up well but they're sore.  That massage on Saturday put me back on the road.  I'm so glad.  We're approaching 13.2 miles and the cars.  I play the conservative card, sure of Mike's blessing.
"I'm feeling very good, Mike.  So I'm going to quit while I'm ahead.  Stopping at the cars."
"We're going 15," he replies.
"No, no.  I need to run tomorrow.  I'm being conservative.  I'm going to do 15 tomorrow."
"You're taking tomorrow off," says he.
"No, I'm not taking tomorrow off," I say.  "I don't take days off.  I am running tomorrow.  15 miles," I argue.
"No, you take tomorrow off.  There's 1.8 miles to go."
Approaching the cars: "Grab your water bottle and come along!" orders Michael.
I grab my water bottle and follow...
(3/4 mile later): "Mike, this is the best I've felt all day!" I pick up the pace.
Mike slows.
"Come on Mike!  Let's go to Route 1 and turn there."
"We're turning before then."
"No, no!" I laugh.  "We go to Route 1 and turn there!"
Mike slows. "We turn around here."
I stop, put my hands on my hips, and say in my best pout, "Mike, just because your older, you don't always get to have your own way!"
We turnaround and head back...
Monday morning...  I take the day off.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Jumpy Muscles

No run today but got a massage instead.  He said my muscles had the "post-race jumpies".  Since I haven't run a race in awhile, it's due to starting up the good miles again.  Today he worked on the quad muscles and hamstrings.  They were very sore.  Hopefully this will get me back on track so I can run long.  I don't want to run hard just now, I just need to be able to run for hours.
Tomorrow I run with Mr. Smarty-Pants who's "tsk, tsk's" and "told-you-so's" will flow freely.  Well, we'll see what trouble I can get him in.  By the way, Mike - do you have any more of those kippers?
Week 1 Recap
Sunday:  13.2 miles @ 7:55 pace
Monday:  15.85 miles @ 8:30 pace
Tuesday:  10.7 miles @ 9:04 pace
Wednesday:  16 miles @ 8:03 pace
Thursday:  12.53 miles @ 8:41
Friday: .75 mile bust
Saturday:  Massage
Total:  69 miles.

Friday, May 04, 2007

If I'm to get hit by a bus...

It will be today.
I awoke early somewhere in the 3's.  I waited.  But while I was waiting, my leg hurt.  Just lying there it hurt.  Not good I thought.
The leg didn't pass the walking downstairs test.  Serious doubts about 18 miles began to scream about the brain like errant atoms in a cyclotron.
I put on the heart rate monitor and grabbed the Garmin.  Garmin was dead.  Kaput.  Needs to be sent back to the Orient on the next express.
I went out.  It was 4:30.  Before 1/10th of one mile was covered, I was stopped by a growling dog.  Stand off.  I was tired, sore, and out of humor.  Human 1, Dog 0.
Made it 3/4 of a mile.  I walked back home.
Time on my hands.  Ice bath.
Ice baths do not improve humor.  Made myself an omelet with pastrami, ham, and parmesan cheese.
Then my little Meg came downstairs.  She read me a story she had written about a very nice unicorn.  It apparently wandered about helping people by administering First Aid to those in need.  I made a remark that, as far as I knew, unicorns were also rushing about the countryside poking people with their horns.  Wrong!  A ready explanation of unicorn horns followed.  They are not used to poke people.  No.  Rather these horns actually double as umbrellas that carry the unicorns into the air whenever they wish.  
Maybe I won't get hit by a bus after all.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Next Day

I've been nervous about the day after a "good" run - paranoid the leg or knee will misbehave.  While not perfect, the easy paces and really gentle approach back into my miles seems to be working.  So far so good.  It seems like the day's rest does just enough to get me back out on the road so I can work on my aerobic capacity.
Today was 12.53 miles @ 8:41 pace.  HR 135.
Met up with Eric around 2.5 miles and we did another 10 together.  A beautiful morning.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Legs ok, HR high

The legs responded this morning without complaining.  I was quite pleased.  16 miles at an easy gait 2:08:42.  8:03 pace.  150 HR (not pleased).


Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Let the games begin

10.7 miles at an utter crawl.
Gently, gently, ever so tenderly coaxing the legs to give the lungs some air time.  They seem to be allowing it.
The soreness this morning was the typical beginning-of-training complaint.  No acute pain anywhere and the knee behaved as best it could.  I ran on any and all soft dirt.  I ran slowly with easy form.  The goal was to get my 10 miles, to get my time, to have the heart rate elevated for about 90 minutes.  It's the classic battle between aerobic development and muscle/skeletal stress.
Looking for that fatigue.  Got to enter the zone.
9:04 pace 139 HR