Tag Archives: Training

Chops: A personal statistic for tracking training volume

Chops

A snapshot of my Google Docs training log, which outlines mileage, time spent in “hard running”, time spent doing hard exercise or similar labor, estimated walking distance, lifetime training miles since 2016, and my personal stat “Chops”, described below.

I keep a Google Doc spreadsheet log of all my training sessions: Mileage, any speedwork mileage, time spent in strength training plus other active/intentional physical effort, and estimated distance walking.

I also track known lifetime training mileage, and a self-created stat called Chops.

Chops is named after the musician term chops, which describes a performer’s current musical skill. Similarly, my Chops number provides an estimate of how many miles I can comfortably run at full strength over the following week.

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Strength runs, or a backpack of pain?

When I first began running in Chicago, I would run home wearing my backpack. I did it largely out of necessity, because at the end of a busy day I needed to get home, and the end of a busy night was often the only real time I could get in a run.

At the time, the weight (my bag usually weighs around 8-10 lbs) slowing me down was not a particularly big deal since I didn’t run all that fast anyway. Covering the distance consistently and building my aerobic fitness was the main goal.

But as I began training more seriously, at a higher volume, running with that weight on my back was not the most useful form of training. I began leaving my bag at home and coming to work with only what could fit in my pockets, so I could run after work as unencumbered as possible. My wallet, phone, keys, etc still added a few pounds, but that was more manageable.

The thing is, while walking with a backpack is no big deal, running with a backpack can beat up your upper body if you’re not used to hauling weight all the time. Admittedly, I’m not. The few times I had done it since, it was an unusually arduous experience even at a slow easy pace.

Along with your lower body’s typical glycogen needs, now your upper body and core muscles are demanding glycogen and post-run protein to handle the shifting extra weight as you run. Plus, this can leave your upper body feeling sore.


This morning I ran to work with my bag on, a straightforward 5K route to my workplace from home. After work, I ran back with the same bag on, albeit at an easier pace than the morning’s run. Having improved my conditioning over the last few months, this run felt a lot steadier and more comfortable both ways, and I don’t feel sore right now.

I’m not in a hurry to get back to the gym, but this could help me develop upper body strength if I can consistently, comfortably do this two way run during the workweek.  And it would further prepare my running muscles, as I’d do other runs, not to mention races, with 8-10 lbs less weight than I do during these work haul runs.

The key is for these runs to not be painful ones. If it becomes painful, then I’ll stop doing them. Until then, if it makes me stronger, then let’s go for it.

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Practicing fueling during marathon training

A lot of people struggle with fueling during a marathon because they aren’t used to running with food or drink (beyond water or maybe Gatorade) in their stomach.

I have a fairly strong running stomach. I’ve even gone as far as to eat pizza before heading out on a speedwork workout, and done well (in no small part thanks to having a bunch of fat and carbohydrates at the ready thanks to the pizza). I obviously wouldn’t recommend going that far, but I have on many occasions eaten a full meal and then gone out on a run without trouble.


Yesterday I segmented 11 miles into three separate runs, as I ran to the Loyola women’s hoops game, then back towards home.

After the game, before my 2nd run to Montrose Beach, I stopped at Raising Canes and treated myself to a Box Combo with some lemonade, because why not.

But instead of waiting a bit for the meal to digest, I immediately crossed the street onto the LUC campus and took off for Lincoln Park.

I bring this up because, while I didn’t feel sick running with such a disgusting meal in my stomach… the inevitable gas you’d expect from your stomach led to a realization.

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Heart Rate: Should It Be Tied To Pace?

Many running guides, metrics, coaches, etc, will talk about your pace in relation to your heart rate, namely your maximum heart rate and what percentage of your maximum heart rate corresponds to a given effort or pace.

What to do in accordance with your heart rate depends on who is giving the advice, from Daniels and other coaches recommending a given heart rate for every pace, even suggesting your fastest runs be done at 100% of your max… to the Phil Maffetones of the world recommending you never run above 75-80% of your maximum heart rate… to coaches like the Hanson Brothers who won’t really discuss heart rate at all, focusing solely on your pace.

And this never minds that few can seem to agree on how to determine your max heart rate. Presuming you don’t shell out for an abusive VO2max or heart rate test, you’re often left to estimate using methods no one can agree on. The conventional ‘subtract your age from 220’ formula has long since been proven inaccurate. Runner’s World floated the result of a 2001 study as proof that the formula is close to (207 – (your age * 0.7)).

Scientists in Norway have found that an accurate formula is (211 – (your age * 0.64)). That’s the formula I use. The max it gives me (currently 185) seems more attainable than other results.

But anyway…. Personally, because I’m a fan of not dropping dead, I tend to avoid trying to hit my max heart rate even when running hard.

The closest I have gotten according to my Fitbit tracker is 184. My Blaze once said my heart rate had hit 187, but that could have been a blip. In neither case did I feel anywhere close to death: They were random occurrences during otherwise typically tough runs or workouts.

In most of my speed workouts and races, my heart rate may reach the 160’s, occasionally the 170’s. In my fastest 5K’s my HR has tapped the low 170’s for a short spell, but otherwise I never get above the high 160’s… even if technically I should be able to hit 185.

I do begin to wonder if along with my aerobic endurance my lower body muscles have sort of a ‘solid state hard drive’ strength to them, where my heart doesn’t need to pump at a maximal rate to keep everything going, where the muscles have the strength and energy systems to keep going with a more high-normal rate of circulation.

Even when running at closer to threshold effort or pace, I find I don’t always get to what Daniels would consider a threshold heart rate. It’s often closer to a marathon effort heart rate, maybe a half marathon rate. Even when I PR’d last year’s Lakefront 10, my heart rate never hit the 160’s until the final couple miles, when I was kicking for a strong finish.

Sometimes during my regular runs I hit the 140’s, but often my heart rate is in the 130’s. On my long runs during the last training cycle, I even hung in the recovery-territory 120’s for much of those runs.

I don’t know if I’m doing things differently, or if my body is wired differently, or what. But I certainly don’t mind seeing results even if my heart’s not having to pump at the rate that experts say it should be for me to get those results.

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Some Keys to the Yasso 800’s

The basics of the Yasso 800’s:

The Yasso 800’s is used as a marathon predictor workout, about 3-4 weeks before your goal marathon.
You run 10 reps of 800 meters all as close to the same pace as possible. The average pace of the reps should correspond with your potential marathon time.
For example, if you can consistently run the 800 meter reps in 4:05, that indicates you can run the marathon in about 4 hours 5 minutes max.
Some experienced marathoners find this estimate is fast by a few minutes, which is why I refer to the estimate as a max.

The standard caveat regarding runner ability:

A lot of what I’m about to say below assumes you’re not a hardcore runner logging elite-like volume (70+ miles per week).
When you’re pumping out 70+ miles a week, you probably already run high-volume speed workouts like this on a regular basis, and can probably run the Yasso’s at a strong pace, such as your 5K pace or better.

For experienced runners relatively new to the marathon:

The more volume you run per week, and/or the fewer marathons you’ve done, the more you should scale back the Yasso projection.
e.g. if you run 100 miles a week and can run 800’s in 3:05, maybe estimate something closer to 3:20 for your marathon. Or if your 20 mile long run is the first time you’ve ever run 20+ miles, scale those 4:15 Yassos back to a 4:30 projection.

You should already be running a lot of miles.

If you’re training for marathon, you should be logging more than 20-30 miles a week during training. Probably way more.
40-50 miles is probably the minimum during marathon training that will produce a good marathon effort, assuming you don’t already do several marathons a year.
Personally, I feel a lot of self doubt having run 30-50 miles per week, even though many would say I’m in pretty good shape to run my next marathon (while many experienced runners would say I’m not even close).

Speedwork is not a race. Don’t run the reps like a race.

As with any interval workout, you should not race these reps: Don’t do them hard. Don’t pick up the pace and “kick” at the end of the rep.
Run every rep with a steady effort wire to wire, where once you finish you could run another few miles at that exact pace if you had to.
The reps in the Yasso workout are supposed to be a barometer of your capabilities. Running closer to your max effort will not give an accurate picture of those capabilities.

These Yasso paces should be easier than running a 5K

According to most reliable pace charts (Daniels, McMillan, etc)… you should be able to hit a desired Yasso goal at about your 10K pace or slower.
If you give more like an 8K or 5K effort to hit your pace on these reps, not only may the workout be inaccurate, but (unless you run 100+ miles a week and do workouts like this all the time) you probably won’t maintain the stamina to nail that Yasso 800 pace consistently for all 10 reps.

How easy is your active recovery period between reps? That matters.

If your inter-rep recovery is a jog instead of a full rest, the following is a good barometer of whether or not you’re going too hard: If you need to walk or stop, you went too fast.
If your version of the workout allows a full stop to rest, then a good barometer of whether you went out too hard: You cross the line not feeling like you could have kept going another 800+ meters at your pace.
Again, you never want to race to the finish of these reps, reaching the line needing to stop for a total rest. Run wire to wire at a pace you’d expect to maintain in a race, meaning you should cross the line able to keep running at that pace if you had to.
If at first you can jog your recoveries… but then you need to walk or stop at later recovery intervals, it’s not only possible your intervals are too fast… but also possible that your recovery jog was too fast.
Many runners mistakenly pace their recovery jogs at more of a normal running pace. This is too fast. These recovery jogs should be super easy and casual. Imagine you’re working yourself back from a leg injury and you’re doing a test run just to get back in the swing of things. That’s the pace and effort you should put into recovery jogs.
Another analogy I find accurate is to observe a baseball hitter’s home run trot: That’s the effort you want to be putting into a recovery jog.

The key reps are the reps BEFORE the last one.

Pay close attention to the results of reps 7, 8 and 9. In fact, you could average just those three reps and may get a more accurate Yasso 800 estimate than estimating the average of all your reps.
It’s your performance while tired in the later reps that paints the most accurate picture of your capability. Bear in mind the tendency many runners have to do the final rep hard in an effort to finish the workout strong. Rep 10 will probably look stronger than the other later reps.
Pay closer attention to how reps 7, 8 and 9 look, where you’re tired but not emptying the tank with a final flourish because you know you still have more reps to do.

Another effective estimate: Take the average of your 5 slowest reps.

Few can fake 6-10 good, accurate reps.

If the pace of your individual reps varies substantially:

(let’s say by more than 15 seconds between your fastest and slowest rep):
  1. Most likely, you went out too hard. For most runners their reps in a speed workout typically vary like this: The first reps are very fast, then later reps are much slower.
  2. In some cases you may start your reps super easy, realize you have more in the tank than expected, then pick up the pace in later reps (like a negative split in a race). Along with being a psychological tendency among runners… this can indicate you didn’t warm up effectively beforehand.
  3. If your rep times consistently bounce back and forth by 12+ seconds per rep, you are either trying (at least on some reps) to hit a pace you’re not totally capable of running in a race… or you’re not taking full rest periods. If you’re in the middle of a Yasso workout and you see your times bouncing around, focus going forward on running a comfortably brisk pace that’s a tick slower than you want to run (whatever that means to you), and try to hit the same pace on the remaining reps.
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