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?


Blogger Thomas said...

While I do agree with your conclusions (miles make champions), I don't think your calculations are valid.

What makes you think that multiplying avg.HR by time gives you a "workout unit"? If I sit in my chair at 33% of my max HR for 9 hours, then according to your calculations I'm accumulating as many units as running all-out for three hours (which, of course, isn't even remotely possible).

But even if you just take the heart rate reserve into account (the bit that's above your min HR), I'm still not convinced that the calculation is valid. If I walk from my armchair to my fridge for beer and junk food several times an evening I would accumulate a fair amount of units over time. But where's the actual training effect?

5/16/2007 5:26 AM  
Blogger Jamie said...

Sound thinking, based on what I know of Lydiard. Great past couple of posts.

5/16/2007 6:14 AM  
Blogger Chad said...

Again, too much thinking - and I'm a math guy.

And while the "numbers don't lie" I tend to think that most people have no idea what they mean and how to apply them to training.

Personally, you have to keep training fun. If I'm backing off when I feel good or cranking hard when I feel like crap, because a HRM tells me to, then it's not going to be fun for very long.

5/16/2007 12:57 PM  
Blogger Ruslan said...

Andrew, your recent posts (on Mon & Tue) provide a lot of info to think of. I have questions and I will ask you soon.. Surely Mr. Plod is a Good Runner. Hope sometimes I am.

5/17/2007 7:01 AM  
Blogger Love2Run said...

Mr Plod here, sometimes also know as Mr Brisk (but rarely). Are we on for another romp around the lake or will silly holidays get in the way? Sounds a bit like heart rate training with different zones getting different numbers. too much work to keep track of it all. Just run Forrest!

5/17/2007 6:34 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

mr. brisk kicks his ass on the 5k!

the 'red line' will show if they step up to a ten mile or greater distance and then will mr. plod's endurance win out

5/18/2007 9:03 AM  

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