Archive for the ‘training’ Category


#52 – Running from the Scene of the Crime

27 March 2008
Masked Dogs

When you go out for a run, you never know what you’re going to find.  Last evening after work I took advantage of the 49-degree, sunny weather and headed out for a nice jog.  Upon reaching Main Street I noticed that the police had closed off a section of the road.  An officer instructed me, the pedestrian runner, to take the detour!  I asked him what’s going on and he mumbled a couple words that sounded like “crane drop”.

I noticed a large crane over at the flour mill and while it appeared to be intact and functional, the officer’s comments had me wondering if a crane accident had occurred, reminiscent of the collapses in New York and Miami.  As I finished the detour loop and popped back out on Main Street, though, I observed that the crane was outside the closed-off area.  Hmmm.

Poor Amanda had to drive the detour when she came home – cars were backing up enough that at times I was out-pacing them with my blazing 9-minute miles.  That’s what you call “ludicrous speed“! 🙂

Finally home, Amanda was able to find out what happened: there had been a bank robbery on Main Street!  The perpetrator left behind a bomb that turned out to be fake, but during my run was when the bomb squad was checking it out.  Apparently the officer I encountered had said “bank robbery” and not “crane drop”.  One cool thing in the news story is that they interviewed Chief Valentine, who happens to be one of my neighbors.  Good job, Jim!

The funniest thing about the robbery (if crimes can be funny) is that the bank robber fled the scene on a bicycle!  The news anchor in the video clip refers to it as the “get-away bike”.  If it was a tandem bike would the other guy be called the “get-away pedaler”?


#45 – New Year, New Running Log

11 January 2008

Andrew and Haven during a trail run

No, not that kind of running log! Haven imitates a mountain goat during our trail run.

If you read my 2007 running stats then it was pretty obvious that I am one of many runners who tracks my training in some type of log. I used to think that my running log was fairly sophisticated – after all, I track my dogs’ miles, too! – but it pales in comparison to the running log developed by David Hays.

Being an engineer of my generation (growing up in the 1980’s) it should be no surprise that my running log is maintained in a spreadsheet on my computer. It started out innocently enough with just three columns: date, distance, time. I soon added a comments column, another for the weather, another for the route I ran, and, well, you get the idea. My running log now sports 17 columns and tracks road and trail miles, miles with dogs, miles per shoe, and calculates lots of averages and totals.

17 columns is nothing… How about 17 sheets of tracking? That’s what David Hays developed for his running log spreadsheet that can only be described as “wow”. A colleague pointed me to his site last fall and now I’m trying to use this impressive log for 2008. It’s somewhat complex and takes a while climb the learning curve but the potential for insightful graphs, charts, and summaries is hard to ignore. Some highlights of this running log include:

  • Weekly, monthly, yearly, and lifetime totals calculated and graphed automatically
  • Graphs of your running broken down by type (e.g. race, speedwork, long run, etc.)
  • Tracking of the mileage on your shoes
  • Heart rate tracking and calculation of your %max HR for each run
  • A training plan that automatically shows your actual progress compared to the plan
  • Pace calculators and a pace predictor
  • A graph showing you how close you are to running around the world or to the moon!

I can’t imagine how much work went into this running log but it’s pretty impressive. I’m modifying his spreadsheet to add the ability to track my dogs’ mileage but I haven’t quite figured it out yet. I’ll have to keep using my running log for the time being but hopefully this old dog will soon learn some new spreadsheet tricks!


#22 – Look at the Clouds

26 June 2007

Suffering through a tempo run in today’s 90-degree heat, I cranked up the volume on my iPod in an attempt to distract me from the discomfort. The song that happened to be playing was Little Fluffy Clouds by Orb, which naturally caused my gaze to drift upwards to the clouds. That’s when I saw it…

An elephant. Or rather, a cloud in which my weary mind saw an elephant. Better yet, the elephant was carrying a civil war cannon on its back! Then I spotted a small, round cloud – the cannonball! Emerging from the hazy sky was a giant moray eel, jaws agape, ready to snatch that cannonball for lunch. I kept watching as the wind slowly removed the elephant’s head from its body and dislocated the eel’s jaw.

By the time my eyes returned their focus back to the sidewalk I realized that the song was over and I was half a mile farther down the sidewalk. Seizing upon this newfound method to pass the time, I took a drink of water and then looked up at the clouds again. Within a minute I spotted a giant rabbit with four ears! A few minutes later appeared a turtle with the head of a snail.

I wound up spending half of my run searching for creatures and other objects among the drifting clouds, a great way to escape the pain of a tempo run on a withering, muggy afternoon!


#21 – Fire Hydrant Fartlek

24 June 2007

Usually when I run during lunch at work it’s at an easy pace, but Friday I was scheduled for a harder workout. I ran the same old five-mile route but this time I found a way to make it interesting – I fartlek’ed between each fire hydrant!

The sidewalk has fire hydrants stationed along it at near-regular intervals. After a five minute warm up, at the first hydrant I ran hard until the next one, where I slowed to an easy jog until the next hydrant, at which I ran hard again. It came out to about 30 seconds of hard running alternating with 45 seconds of easy jogging, over and over again. Boy did I get worn out!

Next time you grow tired of a routine running route, spice it up with a fartlek! If there are no fire hydrants, use driveways, telephone poles, streetlights or even trees to mark the “finish lines” for each of fast segments of a fartlek. This even works well for groups since each runner can go their own speed during the fast intervals and then allow everyone to regroup during the slow recovery.

Who says that only dogs can enjoy fire hydrants? 🙂


#19 – Run Down Memory Lane

10 June 2007

Reason #18 took me back to some bad high school memories; this entry is going back even further to some happy days of elementary school.

Sometimes it feels weird that I’m living in Lowell, Michigan – it’s the same small town where I went to elementary school before my family moved across the state to Ann Arbor. Until moving here four years ago I hadn’t really been back, and I’m still finding things that jog my memory.

Saturday I went for an easy long run of 8.5 miles but never got farther than 2 miles from home. I merely wandered around downtown Lowell, camera in hand, checking out the early morning sights. This is a great way to run! I had no plan other than to run for about 1.5 hours. At one point I found myself running past Bushnell Elementary School, the same one I had attended years ago kindergarten through fourth grade.

It was right next to that tree that I got my first “kiss”… At the end of a first grade recess as we lined up along the brick wall to come back inside, a girl named Lisa ran up and planted one on me! I tattled to the teacher, none too pleased since she now claimed that we were married! It turns out she had been to a wedding the previous weekend and apparently decided I was a pretty good guy. 🙂

Running a loop in the parking lot took me past the playground – I was shocked to see that some of my old favorites were still there! The dome-shaped structure on the left we called the “upside-down eagle’s nest” and on the right are the “monkey bars”. The slide in the middle is new, but the other two were climbed by yours truly!

One of the cool things about modern-day Bushnell Elementary is that my former kindergarten teacher is now the principal. A couple months ago I had a day off from work and on a whim stopped by to say hi and she remembered me! Of course she called me “Andy” instead of the “Andrew” that I currently go by. 🙂

Continuing past the school I came upon Richards Park, a cozy one-block square park that’s been around for over 150 years! In the background behind the sign is a skating rink – during the winter water is poured inside the raised berm to create the frozen surface.

In 2nd or 3rd grade I made a model of that park for a school project. Once again I was surprised to see that the playground equipment I had modeled is all still standing over 20 years later! When I laced up my running shoes that morning I certainly wasn’t expecting to see these items from my past. I’ll have to go for more runs like this and see what else I can re-discover!


#17 – Don’t Eat Before a Run

30 May 2007

Frequently I’ll join some co-workers for a 5-mile run during lunch. Today I tried an experiment that really backfired: I ate a turkey sandwich an hour before running. Coupled with today’s heat (87 humid degrees) my body was overwhelmed and I had to walk a couple times during the run! We were just running an easy pace but apparently my digestive system had gotten dibs on my oxygen supply before my legs, lungs, and skin (for cooling) got a chance. My energy was non-existent, my legs were mush, and my skin was on fire. I was curious to see how eating a meal before a run would affect things, and I guess I found out! So save yourself the trouble and hold off on that sandwich until after the run!


#12 – Pushing the Pace of Physics

5 May 2007

Last weekend I ran in the Road Ends Trail Run and despite achieving my goal, I noticed that my leg speed just wasn’t there. Thursday I hopped on a treadmill to get a feel for my stride rate (steps per minute) and sure enough, my recent lack of training had slowed my legs down a bit. Yeah, speed work is good.

While running pops between a 6:00 pace and a 10:00 pace I noticed that as the treadmill sped up, it went quickly from 10:00 to 9:00 but more slowly from 7:00 to 6:00. My brain was too tired to do math at the fast pace, but when I slowed down again I realized that this made sense – speed does not correlate with pace in a linear fashion. For example:

10:00 pace = 6.0 mph, 9:00 pace = 6.7 mph, a difference of 0.7 mph;
7:00 pace = 8.6 mph, 6:00 pace = 10.0 mph, a difference of 1.4 mph!

What this means is that the faster you run speed-wise, the harder it is to reduce your minutes-per-mile pace because speed and pace have an inverse power relationship, like you see below:

The blue line is pace relative to speed. I also added a green line representing energy to show how energy is proportional to the square of speed, meaning energy has a parabolic relationship to speed. (For simplicity I used generic “energy units” as opposed to real units – like Joules or Calories – where 100 energy units equates to a 4:00 pace.)

Since most of us runners measure ourselves using minutes-per-mile pace rather than miles-per-hour speed, I created a plot showing the relationship of energy to pace:

This shows why running fast is so hard! The faster you go, the even more energy it takes to sustain that pace. Using the paces from my first example, it takes:

4 energy units to increase pace from 10:00 to 9:00
12 energy units to increase pace from 7:00 to 6:00

And just to show how tough it is for elite runners to push themselves to a 4:00 pace:
36 energy units to increase pace from 5:00 to 4:00

Wow! So cutting your 5K time from 30 to 27 minutes isn’t nearly as difficult as trying to improve from 18 to 15 minutes. This is why elite runners measure their performance to the second while average folks like me are content to measure to the minute or half-minute. Speaking of 5Ks, here’s how my performance has improved running 5Ks over the past couple years:

24:39 overall = 7:57 pace = 25 energy units (October 2005)
22:42 overall = 7:19 pace = 30 energy units (October 2006)
21:07 overall = 6:49 pace = 35 energy units (March 2007)

Looks like I’m pretty consistent; if I can improve another 5 energy units to 40 that puts me at a 6:19 pace, which would pass my goal of running a 20:08 5K (a 6:30 pace).

One way I can see an analysis like this helping runners in training is to provide more achievable goals. As we train and improve, initial results are going to come quickly as we cut large chunks of time off our race performances. If we expect such improvements to continue at a linear pace then we’ll only become frustrated. For example, my second 5K was two minutes faster than my first; however, I should not expect my next 5K to be two minutes faster than my last one. This may seem ironic but the faster we get, the “lower” we should aim our sights for the next goal.

Try it out! How fast were you running when you first got started, and how fast are you now? How many “energy units” is that? If you maintain the intensity of your training, you could expect a similar improvement in “energy units”. Of course the human body has limits to its energy output, which makes running faster even more difficult than just the physics of energy and speed!


#9 – Explore the Entire Country

18 April 2007

Last Sunday I explored the local countryside in a 16 mile run. Meanwhile someone else is exploring the entire western half of the country in a 6,875 mile hike!

Andrew Skurka is a hiker who advocates packing lightly and moving quickly, usually covering around a marathon’s distance per day. He’s a former high school runner who fell in love with hiking during college, and now appears to have made hiking his full-time job. Pretty impressive.

Andrew’s Great Western Loop hike began on April 9th, and just two days ago his mom posted his first update from the trail. Amazingly he’s hiked even further before – his “Sea to Sea” trek from the Atlantic to the Pacific covered 7,778 miles in 11 months! Summaries, stats, photos and even gear lists from all of his hikes can be found on his website – he seems to be quite an obsessive planner and organizer, which is good for the rest of us to get an idea of how one would prepare for such an undertaking.

One good way to prepare is to run, which Andrew does often as part of his training. Since resuming running four years ago (after five years of minimal activity), I’ve noticed a huge benefit when hiking or even just walking around the office. I encourage you to notice these small but significant changes that running can add to your life because after all, it’s not only about the running.

Have fun, Andrew!


#8 – Explore the Countryside

15 April 2007

Today I went for my weekend long run, choosing to explore some of the rural farmland here in west Michigan. I left home right at sunrise and the clear skies provided stunning views. Lots of wildlife crossed my path – deer, vultures, hawks, blackbirds, sparrows – but none were cooperative enough to pose for a photo. Fortunately the countryside itself doesn’t move nearly so quickly!

Out in the middle of nowhere I was surprised to come across a stash of water and Gatorade! Scribbled on the lid was ““, a running club based out of the local running store Gazelle Sports. I figured they must be out for an organized training run. Since I had three liters of water on my back to use up, I didn’t touch their stuff… besides, I didn’t ask permission!

A couple miles later I was in the middle of some big, rolling hills when I spotted this picturesque farm. As I got closer I saw a sign proclaiming this farm to be 164 years old, having stayed in the same family since 1873! Pretty amazing. It’s such a great location that I’d want to keep it, too.

Across the street from the farmhouse was this view that that family has awakened to for the past 164 years. Yes, that’s my shadow in the low, morning sun.

Leaving the farm and descending a steep hill down into the Flat River valley, I crossed one of Michigan’s historic covered bridges, White’s Bridge. There’s just something really charming about these bridges, don’t you think?

The Michigan Historic Site marker describing White’s Bridge.

Climbing north from White’s Bridge out of the valley I was treated to this spectacular view of the Flat River. This is one of the prettiest views you’ll ever see (sorry, the into-the-sun photo doesn’t do it justice) and it’s visible from a simple isolated stretch of dirt road.

Continuing along the dirt road I passed by this interesting silo that has been converted into what looks kinda like a lighthouse. You can’t tell from this angle, but this silo is sitting on the bluff overlooking that stunning section of Flat River seen in the previous photo. If I ever own a silo someday, it would be this one.

Turning around, this is what I saw across the road from the silo – a flat, wide-open field. It’s amazing how the Flat River carved such a deep valley just a few hundred feet behind me yet left this stretch of land flat as a pancake.

I ran past cornfields, beanfields, hayfields, wheatfields, but my trek wouldn’t be complete without passing a Michigan apple orchard. Maybe I’m partial to them because my dad grew up farming apples, but I think they’re more picturesque than any other farm crop.

Speaking of farm “crops”, Michigan has its share of dairy farms, too. The sign says “Drink Milk for Vitality” and a glass of cold milk sure sounded good right about then – I was two and a half hours into my run at this point.

Here I am at the Flat River yet again, but several miles south of White’s Bridge now. This photo was taken from a modern vehicle bridge at the north end of Fallasburg Park in Lowell, Michigan. The North Country Trail has an access point just to the left of the photo’s field of view, but since I ran there last week I kept to the roads this time through.

My second covered bridge crossing of the day! Here is the Fallasburg Bridge, part of the park but at the southeast end. The sign says “$5 FINE For Riding or Driving on This Bridge Faster Than a Walk” – since I ran across three times while taking these photos, should I get fined $15? 🙂

This historical marker describing the Fallasburg Bridge.

Running up the hill away from the Fallasburg Bridge these four ducks crossed the road ahead of me. As I crouched down to get a duck’s-eye view, they started waddling towards me! It looks like the one on the right is the drill sergeant, quacking orders to the others to ensure they look good for the picture.

Moving just tad more quickly than those ducks were the RunGazelle folks nearing the end of their group run; about an hour earlier I had passed them up near that apple orchard, so I figure they were running about 1.5-2 hours. At this point I was three hours along but just as close to finishing as they were.

After taking that photo I ran less than five minutes before meeting Amanda, who was out for a long walk of her own. We walked the North Country Trail back to where she’d parked the car and headed home. Check out her blog, too, for some photos she took on her trek.

Where do you usually run? In town, near your home? That’s true for me – I walk out the front door with running shoes on and most of my runs don’t go far enough to take me into the countryside, but today’s 16 miler gave me the opportunity to bring the camera and see some new sights. Next time you’re up for a long run, I suggest you head “outward”, away from town, even if you have to drive a bit to get closer to the countryside. And don’t forget your pocket camera!


#7 – Do Something Crazy

11 April 2007

Official season: Spring

Official weather: 32 degrees, 30 mph winds, heavy snowfall

If the weather wasn’t already crazy enough, I trumped Mother Nature by going running – in shorts – out in this stuff! Crazier yet, all four of my regular running co-workers showed up for today’s lunch-hour run ready to hit the streets. I wasn’t the only one wearing shorts, and one guy had no hat or gloves but cleverly wore his work socks on his hands.

When we began our 5-mile route the snow had just started falling and a 1/4″ coated the sidewalks. We remarked now nice and soft the concrete felt with this frosty padding, and soon the discussion turned to global warming and how Mount Tambora‘s 1815 eruption had some crazy effects on the weather in 1816. As far as I know, today’s weather wasn’t caused by volcanic ash in the atmosphere!

Our route is C-shaped… it begins heading south, turns west, then north, where we turn around and thus face south, east, and finally north. I mention this because the howling east wind stung our faces (and bare legs for a couple of us) with an incessant stream of ice pellets. The crosswind legs of our route weren’t too bad, and the downwind was rather comfortable, but mile 3.5-4.5 faced us directly into what felt like the onslaught of medieval longbow men.

My instinct was to raise my sword and charge, attacking the wind – I upped the pace considerably and battled onward. One of the guys joined me and boy, what a fight! He had no eye protection and the ice pellets were stinging his eyeballs and loading freezing mascara onto his eyelashes. I was wearing clear-lens sunglasses but they didn’t help much – the inside of the lens fogged up while the outside was completely covered in sticky snow that I had to wipe off every minute. We could barely see the sidewalk!

We didn’t give up. The harder we ran, the sooner we’d be out of the ferocious headwind. It seemed like forever, but we finally reached the intersection in 7:30! That’s fast for us, especially given the conditions. Once we hit the 5 mile mark, we turned around to pick up the rest of the guys who kept a more sane pace, then all five of us fearless warriors finished together, completely covered in snow. I had so much snow in my hair that when I ran my hand through it, I grabbed enough of the white stuff to make a snowball! The 1/4″ ground cover had become over 2″ deep when we finished – our tracks from the start of the run were no longer visible less than an hour later!

We must’ve been an impressive sight. During the entire run motorists were honking at us and a few rolled down their windows to shout encouragement. We wondered, though, how many of those honking drivers were saying “Way to go! You guys are hard core!” vs. “Get back indoors you crazy freaks!”

I may be a crazy freak, but when Nature puts on a show that is as amazing as it is rare, I’m going to be outdoors… and running!