How do you know it’s working?

So I’m on this journey to train hella hard (and smart!) to get as fast as I can at triathlon-ing. The earliest I’m going to race  the swim-bike-run format is February, 2015. I have months until I will test my fitness in a race.  There are fitness tests on my training calendar but right now I’m in this limbo of working out a lot (really, a lot!), and sort of beating the crap out of myself, and not knowing if it’s doing a damn thing besides make me tired.

Dear Buddha, let this be worth it…

I have a great fear that I’m slow, that nothing I do will make me faster. In my brain slow=fat and fat=lazy, stupid, bad, horrible, etc. So yay, irrational fears!

This past weekend I got on the bike trainer for my first extended bike workout. Unlike the daily bike commute, there is nowhere to hide on a trainer. You can’t coast, there are not stop lights. When the schedule says 40 minutes, there will be pedaling for 40 minutes. Because the weekend schedule was crazy, I lumped my run in right after this ride.

Behold! The scene of much future suffering. Yes, you can come over and play Centipede.

It was easy. 40 minutes watching old Ironman Hawaii coverage, alternating between the hoods and the drops to build my arm and neck strength and keeping my heart rate in an easy work zone and my cadence high. No worries! That was probably faster than I have ever actually ridden in a race and then I busted out 30 minutes with the stroller, toddler and doggie. No speed records but I covered most of the distance of a sprint triathlon in a time I would have been jealous of four years ago and I wasn’t even tired.

So yeah, it’s working. Strangely enough, so far, self coaching and working out by myself has been effective. With the exception of swimming, which I do at masters and it kicks my ass, I don’t workout with other people. There is no temptation to slow down and chat. Conversely I don’t go too fast trying to keep up with faster athletes.  I’m training myself and it feels awesome.

Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t hit me up for a run, just don’t expect me to run at _your_ pace.

-fh

Comparison Shopping Running Apps & Wow was my run good today!

I had the best training run of the last two years today. I was in a funk last night and very anxious about my ability to execute to the level of fitness I thought I had. My last two long training runs had been extremely difficult. I had run much slower than I thought I was capable of, I had been low on energy physically and mentally. I was really quite afraid of what was going to happen today and on race day in two weeks.

Today was amazing. It was twenty degrees cooler than it had been two and four weeks ago on my really tough runs. My fueling was spot on, my hydration was good. I ran hills today that I wasn’t able to run before. I averaged ~15:15 per mile (more on that in a bit) rather than 17 to 18 minutes per mile. Even after a wrong turn added to my mileage for the day I didn’t flag at the end. I was still running up and down hill. I was relaxed and happy. I didn’t back off after my bad days, I had doubt but I stuck to my training and today it showed in how strong and fast I felt. I fell pumped and ready to race, which is a far cry from last night. Let’s hear it for consistency!


 

About those apps…

Today I ran three run tracking apps on my phone: MapMyRun, RunKeeper, and Wahoo Fitness.

I have been using RunKeeper for just over a year. It’s got a good interface and I really like the interval feature. At the designated intervals of time and distance it will announce the time, distance and a smattering of other stats, including average pace. I use this to time my nutrition.

I use MapMyRun on the web to map out runs. I used it today because this was not a route I have run before. It was a good choice as I did make one wrong turn and almost made a couple others.

Wahoo Fitness are the makers of my heart rate monitor. Their data is meant to be uploaded to other apps for analysis. It does the best job of transferring usable heart rate data to TrainingPeaks, which is the application I use to plan and analyse my training.

There are predicatble time differences because I could not start and stop all the apps simultaneously (I’m sure there’s an app for that). It’s the distance and elevation differences that interest me.

RunKeeper: 3:18:25 12.85 miles Total climb 3763 feet.

MapMyRun: 3:18:39 13.15 miles Total climb 1514 feet.

Wahoo Fitness 3:19:11 13.26 miles Total Climb 5315 feet

 

I know that Wahoo is very sensitive to elevation change, as it tells me I have been climbing when I run on a treadmill, so I’m going to disregard that number.  The climb of 1514 seems very low and I suspect that MapMyRun does a lot of smoothing. I like it’s distance number though, in the middle of the other two. I need to run them against Strava for my next run and see where that falls.  I’d like to run one or maybe two apps at most. And someday I’ll grow up and buy a damned Garmin like an adult.

-fh

 

Getting down to it

The Diablo Trail Adventure is coming up in less than three weeks!

Training is peaking this week. Five miles at lunch on Tuesday, a 45 minute tempo run today, and 12 miles on Sunday. I feel great. The heart rate monitor is helping me target my training to the correct zones. As I suspected, before I was using it my fast runs were too slow and my slow runs were too fast.

I’m not sure I’m ever going to understand what “comfortably hard” means but I’m getting to grips with “embarrassingly slow” for my recovery days. I think I’ll label them “unashamedly slow,” I’m never going to be embarrassed that I’m getting out there and getting it done, no matter the speed (or lack there of).

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Doing my part for the running community since 2004

 

It’s always a bonus when you can feel your increased fitness. Yesterday I was riding my bike up the hill and I got out of the saddle a lot. It was easy! Just up and out and booking it to survive a 1.75 mile bike commute through East-ish Oakland. I never used to get out of the saddle. Even short jumps left me completely out of breath. Getting out of the saddle was reserved for going downhill and relieving some pressure in my back.

I don’t ride a long way, but I get on my bike twice a day, five days a week. Mornings down the hill, evenings back up. My gearing choice in the evening depends on what my workout was the day before. In the mornings, down the hill, I rarely shift out of the hardest chainring/cassette combo. As an experiment, I stayed in my biggest chainring going up the hill last week, in the evening. It was doable, not super easy, but it didn’t exhaust me to buckle down and get up the hill that much faster.

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Not quite this big, but you get the idea

I think I’m getting smarter

Sunday before last, I went out for my long run. 8 miles on the schedule, no biggie, about two hours for me on hilly trails.

It sucked. I was just out of gas. The muscle strength was there I just couldn’t make my legs move. At one point I just stopped. Stopped walking, because I surely wasn’t running. My dog, Archie, looked at me. He wasn’t tired. I didn’t want to move anymore. I did move, it was two miles back to the car and sometimes it helps to have zero options.

As I was running it was hard to pinpoint what was going on. I was so miserable and tired. I spent a few days dissecting the run and that is where the smarts come in. No run is “bad.” Some are much harder than others but in all things, it is the most challenging experiences that can teach us the most. I unpacked the whole weekend to figure out why a run that I should have been able to complete if not easily, then at least feeling decent was a death march for the three miles.

What I Learned:

The Long Run starts the day before. And the day before this run I was at my aunt’s wake. The day before that, an old friend died unexpectedly. I wasn’t sleeping well that weekend.

Lesson 1 – Never underestimate the effect of emotions on your body. Emotional exhaustion = physical exhaustion.

At the wake I was happy to see my family and sad for the occasion.  I dressed up. I wore heels and make up. I danced to the bagpipes with my toddler (yup, proper wake!) Jumping up and down in heels carrying 25 pounds of little girl doesn’t make for a good lung run the next day

Lesson 2 – Stay focused. I lost my future focus (see lesson 1) and was completely in the moment. It was fun but I paid for it.

There was a light lunch at the wake. I didn’t track how much I ate. We ended up eating a late lunch at 3 PM and got home at 4:30 PM. We were all tired so I turned on the TV to watch some Thomas the Tank Engine. The next thing I knew it was almost bed time for Pip so she had a dinner of Joe-Os and raisins and I didn’t really have dinner at all.

Lesson 3 – Fueling is a constant. When I don’t track what I am eating and ensure I get enough protein, my body does not have what it needs to carry me and no amount of wishful thinking can change that.

I tried a new fuel on my run. This I knew was a risk. I was trying out eating dates as fuel. One date every ten minutes equals about my gel consumption.

Lesson 4 – Dates don’t work for long runs as fuel.

The recommendation for dates as fuel came from a bicycling website (Loving the Bike). Digestion is different for cycling and running so that might account for why the dates didn’t work very well. The dates not only did not provide me the energy to run, they also gave me a bit of GI distress, which is something I have been lucky enough to avoid for my endurance life.  They stuck in my teeth, so I found myself drinking more water than usual to try to rinse my mouth out. They tasted alright but overall they do not get a pass. Maybe for a future bike ride or hike I will try dates or dates mixed with other dried fruit and see how that goes down.

Lesson 5 – Scheduling is important

If I could have not run long on that day, I would have. September is booked up, socially. Every weekend has at least one social commitment. The weekend before the tough run was a fall back week, the weekend after had even more social commitments. I had to get the run in on this day and I should have tempered my expectations. Disappointment is really powerful. The expectation that I would be running at a specific pace set me up for a negative jolt when I saw how slowly I was going.

Lesson 6 – it’s all good.

That run took ~2:45 for 8.5 miles. The good part is that I toughed it out. I didn’t give up. I was tired and I kept going and I’ve developed mental toughness. The physical endurance is built no matter how slow you go. I’ve learned a lot from the run so the difficulty, the fatigue, and the hurt are not wasted.

I know what went sideways for this run. The trick now is integrating that and staying focused on what I want. I want to run and race well. So no more high heels until the holidays, keep fueling, keep sleeping, and recognize when maybe it’s time to take a break or maybe just when it’s going to be a tough day.

I don’t know myself at all OR Why I bought a Heart Rate Monitor

In our last episode, our intrepid heroine undertook to set her heart rate zones based on a Rate of Perceived Exertion Test. Said test was demonstrably wrong. Because I am absolute crap at working out to RPE. The next day I replaced my scheduled tempo run with a 30 minute treadmill time trial.

The Procedure:  Warm up for 5-10 minutes, run for 30 minutes at best effort, cool down for 5-10 minutes. Take average of heart rate for the last 20 minutes of the effort.

Best Effort? The fastest pace that you can maintain for the time period. Your best effort for one minute is way different than your best for an hour. There is some fun stuff you can do with testing at various durations and charting the result, but that’s for another day we’re running here!

I set the treadmill at 10 minutes per mile. This is fast for me, for 30 minutes. I have run that fast exactly once in my life. It was a 3.5 mile race about 5 years ago. I had a friend pacing me and I ran absolutely on the red line the whole damn race. I was so close to that line that by the last mile if I started talking I would get nauseous. I kept it up and averaged 9:58 per mile. I nearly vomited at the end of the race. Good times!

That’s the level of effort you’re looking for in a time trial, slow enough to make it the whole way at the same pace, fast enough that you could not go another minute at the end. So it will feel easy at the beginning “Should I go faster? I think I could go faster.” Just right in the middle “Alright, this is good. I’m working but I’m not hurting.” Like death at the end “Dear god let it end. I can do it, just another minute, just another minute.”

For reference, see Jens Voight’s Hour Record attempt. (You watched that, right? It was amazing!!)

I had picked a pace that I knew would be hard but that I hoped I could maintain. This was good! I think I could have actually gone faster but it was absolutely work to finish it.  I made it the whole way and had a bit of gas in the tank at the end. Not a lot though, so the pacing was pretty good.

Now our previous test had given me a Lactate Threshold of 147 beats per minute. I knew this to be false because my predicted max heart rate of 157 was nowhere near the 164 I averaged on my weekend run the previous Sunday.

The new test, the harder test, gave me a Lactate Threshold Heart Rate (let’s just say LT) of 178 beats per minute. Dope. Absolutely. Looks good!

I took that out for a spin the next day. It was an easy day with drills and strides. My goal was to keep my run “Easy” or Zone 2 or lower. As I suspected, my heart rate monitor slowed me down, far below my usual speed for my easy days. I was running outside and it was getting on to 80 degrees. Higher heat = higher heart rate so my easy run pace is slower in the noon day sun than when I’m getting my miles in on the treadmill. At the enforced slow pace I felt great. I didn’t have to take walk breaks to finish the run and today I feel great. I could have kept up that Zone 2 shuffle for hours.

Next week we’ll see where it puts me when I do my 400 meter intervals at 5k +~30 seconds per mile pace. I’ll go with the rate I’ve been using and see where my hear rate goes. Then I will adjust to get my heart where it needs to get the most out of my training time.

-fh

This week in fitness technology

I got my Wahoo TICKR X!  I took a long time deciding on which heart rate monitor to buy and there were some travails. I am very excited to train with heart rate.  I’m really bad at determining by Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE). Like many runners, I run my easy days too hard and my hard days too easy, I think.  I’ve been running off a pace chart based on how fit I was in January. This is totally inaccurate by now.

Today I ran a test workout meant to determine my heart rate zones. It was a Lactate Threshold Test, not a Max Heart Rate Test. It wasn’t hard and it wasn’t meant to be. A kinder, gentler Lactate test. The testing was based on RPE, which I’m very bad at attaching to a pace. The test gave me a Lactate Threshold of 147. Ok, sounds good.

Except on my run this weekend, my heart rate averaged 164 for three miles. I was going what I would call 10K race pace, which is supposed to be at about the Lactate Threshold. Notice I’m not talking about abstract speed here. Speed to heart rate mapping sucks when you are a multi-terrain athlete. The heart rate from running 12 min/ mile on smooth pavement is going to be massive different from the heart rate of 12 min/mile on trails or pushing a jogging stroller. If my Lactate Threshold was 147, my heart rate of 164 would be sprinting, super, ultra, absolutely as fast as I could run for 100 yards. Utterly unsustainable for 3 miles.

One of the aspects of my athletic self that I am trying to develop is the acceptance that going fast is going to be uncomfortable. That it’s gonna hurt sometimes. Like most beings, I’m not a fan of pain and I avoid it. Achieving more of my athletic potential is going to involve being willing to get into the pain cave. My RPE estimations are terrible because I’m supposed to guess if I could hold a particular pace for an hour and I have no idea!  I know the pace I want to hold, I know the paces I have held. I know how far apart those are.

I performed the test on a treadmill and I’m sure that affected the outcome. I was setting the speed at paces I have been using, rather than going by feel alone. Given that this got me going a touch under 12 min/mile it was still quite an easy day.  I’m thinking I will take part of that time and perform a second kind of test. This test is a lot harder. Conveniently, I’m schedule for a 30 min tempo run tomorrow (that is a fairly hard run), so this shouldn’t throw me off my training plan. I’ll report back after tomorrow with updated heart rate numbers and the result of my testing!

Decisions are hard

In service of my goal of getting as fast as I can, I want to leverage some technology. I trained with a heart rate monitor a couple of years ago and really liked how it helped me target exactly how fast or slow I should be running. I fall into the very common trap of running my fast days too slow and my slow days too fast when I don’t have a reference point to keep me on target.  I am terrible at running by “feel.” I would love to get there! But for now I know that my best results come when I have an external prompt to track against.

I have shopped around and I am going to purchase a Wahoo HRM. Their monitors work on ANT+ and on BTLE (Bluetooth Low Energy). The short story there is that they will work with what I have now – my phone – and with whatever I buy later, be it a Garmin, a Polar or what have you (within limits but it is highly diverse in supported units and this market space is only getting larger). It’s taken me months to decide on this. I’ve been stalking this damn thing. They have three models! The TICKR, TICKR Run, and TICKR X. I thought I would get the X. It’s the big daddy, it does amazing stuff (stores your data in the monitor to load into your phone later – hello swim workout tracking!) and I like to make purchases for the long haul.

But it’s not available yet. There are pictures, there are reviews! But you can’t buy it yet and I’m ready to buy. I’ve got the money, I’ve got the will. I want the thing! I’ve picked out the speed and cadence sensor for my bike that I can use with a laptop to get virtual power readings to improve my bike workouts. I’m ready to do this. and now I’ve got this stumbling block and I’ve no idea what to do. Do I wait for it to come out with no definite timeline? Do I buy the TICKR (the run doesn’t do much for me) and then upgrade in a few years time?

I thought I was going to do this today and now I’m stuck. Poop.

 

-fh

Fascinating

My new thing when it comes to fitness is settling down.  I saw Tim O’Donnell speak a couple of weeks ago and his parting wisdom to the crowd was that the consistency was key.  I’m aiming for that. I’ve been dedicated to my yoga practice for almost a year and that has garnered great results. I’m adding in sustainable amounts of training. I’m up to running four days a week, consistently. Thursdays are a double header with a maintenance run at lunch and yoga in the evening.

Today I am wrecked, in a good way. My legs are tired but I feel a springiness in them. I could absolutely see going for a 15-20 minute easy run to just get the blood pumping. BUT this is a rest day and I’m respecting that, and the toddler was up at about four in the morning and never really went back to sleep. So it’s coffee at 5 in the evening and no work out today.