Open Beta for Twitletic

I posted about this yesterday on Twitter:

Screen Shot 2014-06-11 at 10.09.24 AM

The basic gist goes something like this: you record workouts (running) on your Garmin, and upload them to Garmin Connect. By registering with this app, it will automatically post a brief summary of your running shenanigans on your Twitter feed on the 1st of every month (here’s what it would look like).

Right now, only Garmin Connect is supported, but I’m already looking into Strava and MapMyRun APIs, too. Feel free to poke around if you’re remotely interested! If you sign up and later decide you don’t like it, you can go through the same process but instead delete everything (and unlike social networking platforms, yes,¬†everything is deleted). I’d love any feedback you may have ūüôā

Here’s the link!

Pace calculators: is too much of a good thing a bad thing?

I’ll admit up front: I don’t spend a whole lot of time using pace calculators. I may not be the most experienced runner out there, but I’ve gone through enough training cycles and run enough races to know that my performance isn’t really something that can be predicted with mathematical precision. Running paces, for those of you who are statistically minded, are pretty much Exhibit A for random variables: one’s paces will oscillate around some [unknown] average with some [unknown] amount of variability, and these two amounts can change depending on all sorts of factors, including but not limited to:

  • fitness level (j/k lol this has nothing to do with your pace, pshhh)
  • temperature
  • time of day
  • amount of sleep you’ve had
  • work stress
  • what you ate 10 minutes ago
  • what you ate 10 hours ago
  • how cuddly your significant other is in the mornings
  • whether or not you just had argument with someone on the internet
  • whether or not a butterfly in Brazil¬†flapped its wings

The punchline here is, your pace is hard to nail down exactly. You can certainly get a good ballpark figure, but I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve crashed and burned one day, only to go out again less than¬†24 hours later and have the run of my life. Or vice versa.

But there are plenty of websites that attempt this feat nonetheless, with varying degrees of success. One of my favorites is McMillan Running.

Who wears polo shirts out in the mountainous taiga?
Who wears polo shirts out in the mountainous taiga?

One of the reasons I love it is because of how ridiculously optimistic it is. If you’re on my blog, you probably see the text box to the right near the top that has my PRs. Go ahead and enter my 5K PR into McMillan, and see what it spits out in terms of a marathon finishing time (punch in anything you want for “goal race info”).

The resulting “current times” make my head spin.

Screen Shot 2014-05-09 at 12.28.36 PM

The 10K is within reach. The half-marathon is my A+++ goal for Air Force 2014, and the marathon…Dreamland. Seriously: a full¬†hour faster than my current marathon time. Ha. Ha ha. Ha.

But if you keep looking at it for a few more seconds, something starts happening. You may not even be consciously aware of it. But if you’ve set enough PRs and care enough about improving your time, you’ll realize: you’re plotting how to make the consciously-dismissed Utopia of Running into cold, hard reality.

And I’m here to say: don’t deny it! We all do it. In fact, I’d suggest you err closer to the other end of the spectrum: embracing it¬†(with some caveats, which I’ll get to). For instance, on a whim, I entered my recent Pittsburgh half PR as my current time, and added the Boston Marathon qualifying time for my age group.

Screen Shot 2014-05-09 at 12.36.18 PM

To say that it’s a reach would be an understatement. My 1-mile time would have to improve by a full 30 seconds; my 5K time is getting close, but that pace is (as of right now) much closer to my¬†current 1-mile time than my¬†goal 1-mile time.¬†The 10K and especially the half marathon are also light years away from being a reality.

BUT. If I’m brutally honest with myself, I have to admit: seeing these numbers got me thinking about how to make them a reality for a solid few minutes before reality seeped in and, at least temporarily, put a stop to the scheming.

And that’s the caveat with these things: the optimism and inspiration are¬†great, but reality can be a cruel mistress. I think that was probably my biggest mental failing in the last year: I assumed a linear trend of improvement as a function of time and effort. Of course,¬†if you’d asked me directly if I thought training at a particular pace made that pace a reality, I’d have replied with¬†some horrible mish-mash of pie-in-the-sky Kantian percepts tempered by nonsensical anecdotal realities that ultimately wouldn’t answer the question in any satisfiable way. But some part of me believed that if I (or some pace calculator)¬†said my easy pace was 8:30 min/mi, it would therefore happen.

News flash: it didn’t happen. In fact, I’ve gained more speed over the last 6 months from throwing pace expectations entirely out the window than I did from stridently¬†insisting on¬†certain speed / tempo / recovery paces.

This is not to argue that pace calculators are useless; they aren’t. McMillan has some pretty sweet suggestions for speed / tempo / recovery paces based on your current race times. Just be sure to keep in mind that¬†these paces can vary between miles, to say nothing of days or weeks or months. Use these paces as guidelines with huge error bars, rather than¬†Truth Incarnate. Use them as motivation to set and attain new goals,¬†while remaining fully cognizant of the inherent up/down nature of running.

And at least in part, use them as a source of amusement and a reminder that nothing in the real world conforms to exact mathematical precision.

Like body mass index.


Offseason Antics

Ahh, the Offseason: that glorious time of unstructured workouts, pressure-free races, and flirting dangerously with the line between pushing your limits and being just plain stupid.

A few years back, after The Lady and I ran our first Air Force half marathon in September 2011, I took a few months off (glorious offseason!) before doing something I hadn’t really done before: experimenting. I hit the track and the streets in the early months of 2012 with singular, sometimes borderline ridiculous, goals in mind. The first few attempts were often colossal failures: I’d burn out really, really fast. A track workout in mid-November 2011 saw my first-ever sub-6:30 mile…followed by a 7:15 mile, followed by throwing in the towel. I wasn’t there yet.

Same with tempo runs: I was pushing below 7:30s, but couldn’t hold it for very long before burning out. And on several occasions, I’d hit the track¬†and do a tempo run in the same week. Yeah, a little borderline, I will readily admit: rest is a very, very good thing.

But here’s my point: provided you’re smart about it, the offseason can be an incredible opportunity to explore your own limits. Come January and February of 2012, I was pushing consistent 6:50s on the track, and 7:30s on longer tempo runs. The first half of 2012 saw what has been my longest period of steady, uninterrupted improvement.

I was off to a somewhat late start this offseason, given my IT band injury. But it’s been cooperating lately (KNOCK ON WOOD), so I’ve seen fit to push things a little: two weeks of both a track workout and a tempo run.

Farragut High School football stadium. Hello, gorgeous.

The local Fleet Feet has started its summer speed sessions, and while I’m departing Knoxville this weekend, I wanted to participate in the two sessions I could attend (pro-rated, of course!). The first was a time trial–and a very wet one at that–which we built upon this past Tuesday morning with a ladder workout: 10-minute warm-up, followed by 400 / 800 / 1200 / 1200 / 800 / 400 / 200, with (# of 400s) minutes rest in between each set.¬†The goal was to match my time trial pace, or a 6:40 min/mile (1:40 for 400, 3:20 for 800, and 5:00 for 1200).

Don't pay attention to the average pace, not sure why it's so bunk.
Don’t pay attention to the average pace, not sure why it’s so bunk.

This was, of course, hardly 24 hours after I’d returned from a weekend in Las Vegas, visiting my godson and nephew. While the visit was spectacular, the time change wasn’t nearly as awesome. I did well enough at the track, but I decided to¬†really push my luck and go for the gusto: a tempo run two days after the speed session.

Put simply: it was brutal. I’d gone to Mellow Mushroom trivia the night before, and while I was really good and didn’t touch any pizza (I know, I’m still in shock), I did get to bed a little later than would be ideal. Even less rest for tired muscles. And I opted for a 6-mile run, the longest since April 25, with 4 miles at tempo, the longest tempo run since April 11.

Flirting with stupidity? You’d better believe it. To quote a line from the great Dr. Rodney McKay: “Mentally unstable like a fox!”

My legs wanted to quit after mile 2.
My legs wanted to quit after mile 2.

About a quarter of the way through mile 5, I walked. I was in complete anaerobic mode, and my quads felt like they were eating themselves. The humidity didn’t help, either. But just like last week, and in the same spot I might add, I saw my buddy Bob.

Greetings, Shannon. I am the Heron. You have many questions, and while the process has altered your physiology, you remain irrevocably human, ergo you are going to feel tired after TWO QUALITY WORKOUTS IN A SLEEP-DEPRIVED WEEK.

I took his presence as a sign: finish this last 0.75. So I did, hence why my mile 5 time is a little slow compared to the middle two.

It was hard. Really, really hard. A mental battle as much as a physical one, and for just about the entire run. This is a rather extreme example, and I’m not planning any more quality workouts until MCM training starts.

BUT. It was¬†awesome. I love this sort of limit-pushing and flirtation with disaster. I¬†love it. Nothing outright stupid, but just stupid enough to be interesting and perhaps reveal something about one’s character as a runner. The key to all this, of course, is that it’s done during the offseason. That way, if you fall a little too much on the side of stupid, you have some time to recover from it. Once MCM training starts, then it’s time to stick to the schedule. Sure, there’s flexibility for races and schedule hiccups, but pure experimentation time is over until the race is done.

Oh, and one little awesome tidbit: as I was walking after my cool-down, I noticed Bob flying by…with a friend! It was the first time I’d seen two herons in one place all summer, and it was beautiful to watch them gliding so gracefully in unison. It’s like they were making sure I finished my run. Rotten shame I didn’t have my camera on me, because it was an incredible sight.

The magic of tempo runs

Here’s the punchline:¬†tempo runs dictate your race performance.

How my tempo runs usually feel.
How my tempo runs usually feel.

When you’re training for anything over 10k, and you’re past the point of just surviving and want to actually¬†crush it, tempo runs are your best friend. And probably your worst enemy. You may have found that folks are throwing the phrase “tempo run” around quite a bit, but my favorite definition from that article (and the one I’ll use here) is as follows:

One fourth to one third of race distance at race pace.

So to use my own situation, in which I’m training for a half-marathon and want to finish in under 1:40, I need to be semi-regularly running 4-5 miles at 7:38 min/mi pace. Though realistically, my tempo runs need to look like this:

Screen Shot 2013-04-03 at 12.27.41 PM


The whole point of tempo runs is to¬†get your body acclimated to racing. Long runs are great because your body needs to get used to the distance; easy runs are great because you¬†need to rest;¬†speed work is great to push your body’s anaerobic limits and increase your V02 max. But at the end of the day, tempo runs are what carry you through a PR on race day.

Tempo runs are supposed to closely mimic your race environment: you’re pushing a hard pace for a handful of miles (just like a race) without resting in between (just like a race). It gives your body and your mind a taste of how you’ll handle the rigors of a full race. This is why speed work, in my opinion, is less essential to training than tempo runs: you don’t get to rest in between miles during a race! Plus you certainly won’t be pushing as hard as you can for one mile at a time before taking said rest.

One thing (of the many) I learned from my years in team sports: you practice like you play. You have to be put in game-day situations during practice, so when those situations happen during the game, you’ll know what to do and can react without thinking. Whatever your race strategy is, you have to practice that exact strategy while training for the race. Tempo runs are the next best thing to actually racing.

As always, Runner’s World has a great write-up on what tempo runs are, why they’re so beneficial, and how to go about implementing them correctly. There’s a definite reason why these, to me, are more intimidating than long runs or even track workouts, and therefore even more rewarding. If you already have a solid mileage base and are looking to improve your current race times, tempo runs will get you there.