Friday, December 10, 2010

Weight War

When I finally put my mind to it, it isn't that hard for me to lose weight. We are coming up on the Christmas cookie season here shortly, so I'll probably backslide some. But I'm going to win this battle with my belly. I'm doing pretty good so far.

I've dropped nearly 15 pounds in less than a month. The losses will probably taper off over the holidays, but I plan to make January look like the above graph as well. The first 10 pounds are the easiest, so I'm going to have to stick with the diet and increase my running. I think I can reach my goal of 180 pounds by February 15th.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

God Damn I'm Fat!

I jumped on the scale the other day and saw the bad news.


It was the end of the day and I was wearing clothes, but lets not split hairs here. I'm fat again. I've always struggled with my weight. I've also had it in control from time to time and been in great shape. I dialed back the food and increased my output a bit and was at 205 a couple mornings later. Lets call that the starting point: 205 pounds. If I plan to run a marathon in 2011 that is going to have to change. Sure, I can probably complete a marathon either way. But all that training, and the marathon itself, will be much more enjoyable if I'm not lugging a tire around with me on my midsection. I just glanced at the novice marathon training program I mentioned the other day from Hal Higdon. Once I start the program I will run 426 miles leading up to the marathon, not counting the 26.2 mile race itself. Wouldn't it be nice if I could do all that running 20 pounds lighter? 

Well, I can. I've done it before. 

When I first started running I weighed 215. I commuted by bicycle mostly, and I surfed a little, so I was relatively active compared to some people. But I also ate like crap, threw back gin and tonics like they were water, and sat at a computer the rest of the time. When I started to run, I could barely run a block. I would jog a tiny little bit and then huff and puff while I walked for 10 minutes to recover. After I moved to Santa Cruz, I kept with it. Eventually, I built up to where my regular run was about 10k. It was amazing the changes to my fitness. My asthma all but went away. I even lost some weight. I was hovering around 200 pounds or a bit more. But there it got stuck. I thought things were fantastic. I enjoyed running and I had dropped 15 pounds from my peak. What could be better? I was dating the wonderful woman who would become my wife and I was in the best shape I'd been in in years. Sure, I was still heavy. But not nearly as bad as it had been.

But then then at our wedding an old friend showed up. He had dropped a ton of weight, and was talking about the biochemistry behind the Atkins Diet. I had completely ignored the diet at the time, as I was a vegetarian. "What kind of stupid diet says you should only eat meat?" was my opinion. But, my friend was a vegetarian. He was more strict at it that I was (I had recently started eating sustainable seafood).  So I bought the book and gave it a read. Say what you want about the pop culture aspect of the Low Carb diets, there is a ton of evidence that supports them (and some that does not). 

Boiled down to its basic terms, simple carbohydrates make you fat and hungry. Insulin is required by the mechanism by which our body stores fat. The crash that extra insulin causes after carbs are burned and stored makes us hungry. Avoiding the insulin response to a carb spike makes it so that your body cannot store fat, and it keeps you from feeling hungry for a long time. So, I started eating as low as I could on the Glycemic Index just to see what would happen. I'd eat a 3 egg omelet for breakfast, a good salad for lunch with tofu for protein and seafood for dinner. Each meal had protein, and I was getting plenty of veggies. I avoided potatoes, rice, sugar and bread like they were poison. But I ate all I wanted. I never let myself go hungry or counted calories. 

I dropped 30 pounds in about 4 months without feeling hungry. I went from nearly 60 minutes for a 10k training run to a personal best of 44:22 in a 10k race, and completed my first half marathon at 1:47 (still my PR). I kept the weight off for a couple years too.  

So what the hell happened?

Things change. We moved to Vancouver. Had a child. Running became less of a focus, and the occasional pizza sure did hit the spot. And who can resist a muffin with their coffee? And it sure is cold and wet and dark up here in the Winter. Who has time to run in the Winter? We had another kid. Our lives are busy. Toast is a fine snack. Granola is a perfectly good breakfast. Followed by a carb-laden burrito for lunch and pasta or pizza for dinner. Dont forget the ice cream! 

The saying "everything in moderation" is a good guide. But moderation can creep up on you. Here I am: almost back to the weight I was at 12 years ago, before I took up running. Bread, rice, sugar: I'm convinced these are mostly to blame. It is time to turn that around. I've dropped the simple carbs. I'm eating a lot of salad, vegetables, eggs,  fish and some fruit. It feels good so far. The other morning the scale said 195. It could be a general fluctuation or water weight, but it is encouraging. Ten pounds is a good start, but I'm still fat.

How low can I go?

It will be no problem to drop another 10 pounds, but that isn't enough. I would love to drop 20 pounds, but I know that will be tough: it has been a long time since I weighed 175. I went down to 169 at my lowest (and fastest). So it isn't impossible. 180 seems like a reasonable target.

I'm throwing down the gauntlet! I will weigh 180 pounds by February 15th. That will be a reduction of 30 pounds from what I weighed recently, lost in roughly 3 months, during Christmas cookie season...

Let's see how I do. 

Friday, November 26, 2010

Looking ahead.

It has been a hard couple months, as we've been coping with a death in the family. Haven't felt much like blogging about my running. But, I'm starting run a bit and I've been thinking about the future.

I'm hoping to finally do a marathon this year. It is something I've wanted to do since I started running, and keep not doing. It is understandable that I haven't, as there will be a big commitment in training and focus, and it is easy for the truly important things in life to take precedent. I know people do it, but I haven't been willing to put in that kind of time with the busy life we've had. Raising young kids is a marathon in itself, and time away just makes it all that much harder on the family. It seems selfish to set aside a day that includes a 4 hour run and hours of recovery, much less to fit in multiple workouts in a week. But life is a precious and limited resource. I''' be 42 years old after January and have yet to put myself to the 42km test. Running 1/4th of that tires me out these days and I'm hauling around way more weight than I should be.

Life could still get in the way, but I'm going to try. I did some googling on marathon training, and it seems the Hal Higdon plans are very popular. Their novice program looks really good. But it is 18 weeks with only Mondays and Fridays for rest.

No matter how I look at that graph, it seems a daunting time commitment. Most of this I can do as morning runs before work. But, in the last couple months Wednesdays will require a bit more time than that. Weeks 13 and 15 looks brutal. Cross training on Sundays seems terrible. Maybe I can swap Monday and Sunday: rest on Sundays with the Family and do cross training at the gym on Mondays.

I haven't yet decided which marathon I will do. I'll need to sort it out pretty quick so I don't wind up with less that 18 weeks to train.

Marathon, here I come. 2011 is the year.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Are graphs really that hard?

I don't understand how both Nike and Garmin Connect can get their running pace graphs so wrong. Both the Nike+iPod and GPS data are noisy. Nike just picks random points along your run, while Garmin seems to have chosen to just show all the noise. The first option is incorrect, and the second isn't all that useful.

Since I've switched to using the Garmin 405 and the Garmin Connect site, I've found a way to see how each of the three sites I've mentioned plot the same run data. This is made possible by this fantastic site that can convert and upload a Garmin run to the Nike Running site. Then, pulls the data from Nike and generates its own graphs. So lets take a look at today's sloppy attempt at a heart rate fartlek using the graphs for all three.


First, lets look at the Nike graphs. The thing to note for these two graphs is that they are the same run. The exact same data. The only thing that differs is that one view is in kilometers and one is in miles.

How is it that these graphs are the same run? These images underscore just how broken the Nike graphs are. It seems they pick a regular interval out of their noisy data, and plot them as if they were real. When you change the settings from kilometers to miles it picks new points, in different sections, and plots those. There is no rounding or cleaning up the noise in the data, which is crazy considering what the raw data looks like.

Garmin Connect

The Garmin site takes a different approach. As near as I can tell they don't interpret the data, but try to plot all of the raw data. Here is the same run as Garmin presents it.

This is starting to look a little more like my run, and I'm sure this is an accurate representation of the raw data coming off the watch. You can see what was going on, somewhat. The first and last kilometer or so of this run include some messy data. I start from the middle of downtown Vancouver, right in the middle of tall buildings, so the GPS signal is all over the place for a bit. But then you see some somewhat regular alternations of pace. My goal for this run was to alternate running hard until my heart rate hit 160bpm, slack off until it dropped to 140bpm, and then crank it back up. You can see that. Somewhat.


 The Slowgeek site presents a very different looking graph.

Now this is how my run felt. After the initial static of running in tall buildings (I assure you I did not run at 3min/kilometer at any point) it looks exactly like it felt. I alternate between running hard and backing off, until I get dog tired and everything falls apart at the end. Now that was my run. How much was that my run? Compare it to my heart rate graph from the Garmin site.

Look at the resemblance between the Slowgeek pace graph and the Garmin heart rate data. Uncanny. The Slowgeek representation of pace perfectly matches the effort exerted based on heart rate. It isn't that the Garmin graph is wrong, it is just that all that noise doesn't match reality as well as the Slowgeek interpretation.

What gives?

How is it that Slowgeek, a hobby site created by one guy, gets it right while both Garmin and Nike get it wrong. This is their business! Worse, Rasmus (who created both slowgeek and the PHP programming language) has contacted Nike a number of times and told them how to fix this. It isn't magic. From the slowgeek forums:
The math involved tries to do its best using something called a LOWESS curve. It uses locally weighted polynomial regression where each point is derived by weighted least squares regression over the local span for that point. Basically it means that it tries to pick out the trend in the data. Noisy peaks or valleys will be smoothed out in the process.
I sure wish the professionals cared as much as some random geek. I mostly love the Garmin equipment and site. But I plan to continue to use slowgeek for its superior pace graphs, and better graphs for historical data.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Garmin 405 accuracy.

GPS Accuracy

I've read much about how the Garmin 405 has a highly sensitive antenna, and is great even in heavy tree canopy or tall buildings. I'm mostly impressed with it in my limited sample size of runs so far, but today's run left a little bit to be desired.

If you really care about route data and you will be running in a city, zoom in the above and pay attention to the first and last kilometer of the run. Those do not match reality. For both the out and back my route took me up Pender, to Burrard and down Cordova. At no point did I do crazy Parkour over skyscrapers and on the living roof of the new convention center, as the map would suggest.

That said, the total distance is close to being correct, and everything after I hit the seawall is close enough to make me happy.  I still think it is more accurate than the Nike+iPod gadget overall (OK, maybe not for *this* run). I believe the problem is tall buildings. Around the lake is under trees, and that seems fine. But, from my work to the seawall is all in skyscrapers. Also, my habitual route keeps me on the South side of the street when heading west, and the east side of the street when heading north. As most of the GPS satellites are in a southernly positon in the sky from up here in the Great White North, that puts me in just the wrong position to get a direct signal. My next time out I plan to keep as clear of a line of sight to the southern hemisphere as I can and see if my accuracy improves.

Foot pod?
Another option is getting the Garmin accelerator foot pod to compliment the GPS data. For years while running with the Nike+iPod accelerometer I've had this recurring thought: an accelerometer foot pod, coupled with a GPS (and maybe some fuzzy logic algorithms) could provide almost perfect distance and pace data. I found that the Nike+iPod system is very accurate if two conditions are met:

 1) You have calibrated your foot pod on a track
 2) You run a very consistent pace

The Garmin I find very accurate unless you are in tall buildings, like the run above. But, if you could properly pair the two systems you could make it almost perfect. When you have a clear line to the satellites you could be constantly calibrating the accuracy of the accelerometer. When you lose sight of the satellites you have a recently and perfectly calibrated foot pod to cover the gaps. You would know your pace before the GPS went dark, and just after. You would have historical data for the different paces you run at, and how that matches the data coming off the foot pod. You could reconstruct the missing GPS data  almost perfectly (at least in terms of pace and distance). Plotting this on a map, you could have the route a different color when you think the GPS signal is not good enough to indicate that you probably didn't run that exact path, but pace and feedback distance would be correct on the watch and in the online data.

Is that how it works?
I don't know if this is how the Garmin 405 works when you pair it with their foot pod, but I'm going to bet it doesn't. There is a big technical hurdle that I don't think Garmin could overcome, related to processing power on the watch. If you look at the above map, I don't think I ever actually lost the GPS satellites. What happened (I assume) is that I was in the satellite shadow of a big building, and the watch was picking up the reflection of the signals off of a building across the street. How would the watch know if it was getting bad data compared to good data? Well, it would have to look at pace and location data and know how to do the right thing. An aggressive algorithm could mess things up, smoothing out speed work laps as errors and such. I think it would be tricky to get right, and might be more than a watch can handle (Or maybe not. I think we landed people on the Moon with significantly less power than this watch has).

In absence of that knowledge, I'm hesitant to fork out the cash for a footpod just yet. Sure, I'll get one at some point, if only so I can gather distance info if I'm running on a treadmill in the Winter. But I'm not going to get too excited about it. All the manual says about it is:
Your Forerunner is compatible with the foot pod. You can use the foot pod to send data for your Forerunner when training indoors or when your GPS signal is weak or you lose satellite signals.
As a technical writer, I appreciate the minimalism.  This covers the basics. I'm sure it is true. It leaves enough ambiguity around "weak signal" to allow developers to totally change how it works without reprinting the manual. Perfect. The ambiguity isn't going to keep me from buying the product and there is plenty there to satisfy the incurious. That is what I would have done as a tech writer. As a geeky consumer that blogs about running data, I want to know more. How would the foot pod have changed my run data on the run above?

At some point I will get the foot pod. When I do, I should have several, maybe dozens, of runs on this exact route logged. That should give me plenty of information to see if the foot pod improves accuracy fot this type of run.

Why not?

So here is my proposal. Garmin, why don't you send me a foot pod for testing? I'll give it a glowing review and suggest everybody buy one (assuming it improves accuracy). Heck, I love the 405 so much I think everyone should get one anyway. Buy a foot pod too in case you are on a treadmill. If it improves accuracy in the run above, I'll shout it from the rooftops.

So what do you think? Thanks Garmin. I'll be watching my mail. Also, I'm sure the accuracy would be improved significantly if you threw in an extra ANT+ USB stick. It couldn't hurt, right?


Saturday, July 17, 2010

Summerfast 10k. 49:20

So today I ran the Summerfast 10k with the new Garmin 405. I was pleased with my time (49:20 was my official chip time). My best time for the 10k ever was 5 minutes faster than this, but I was about 20 pounds lighter, 6 years younger, didn't have kids and was in a Track Club.  All in all I'm pleased with the time. I've had 10k races since I moved here that were 10 minutes slower than today.

I'm really pleased with how the Garmin 405 performed. It came in at 9.86k. That is pretty dang close. The interesting thing is that it seemed to be off by that much by the 2nd kilometer marker. There was a brief tunnel, and there were some tight turns and a brief out and back jog in the course before that. I think it might be more accurate than that if there were less trees, turns and no tunnel. I could hear the kilometer marks chiming on the Garmin watches around me (there were tons of them) and they grouped really tightly. It seemed they were all off by about 100 meters after the 2km marker and they tracked right, but 100m off, for every marker after that. The pace data was great, and I'm convinced that having quality feedback on the fly helped me come in under 50 minutes. I would check my pace and if I was above 5 minute kilometer pace I would suck it up and run faster. I was really tired around kilometer 7, but pushed through it.

I had a bit of a frustrating start. I got sidetracked answering questions about my shoes and the watch had gone into power-save mode when the race started. I had to step out of the crowd and wait for the Garmin to acquire the satellites. It was frustrating, but not a big deal since the race is chip timed.  Once it got going I dropped into a quick easy pace and stayed there. It is amazing being in a race. It isn't that I'm all that competitive (I'm mid pack overall and in the back of the pack for my age division). But it is amazing to have so many people to pace yourself against.

The rest of the day has underscored how out of shape I am. I've been starving and exhausted. It is pretty clear that I need to get back on the program in terms of diet, drop some pounds and pick up more mileage. Now I need to pick my next race. I'd like to do another 10k soon and at least one Half Marathon in the Fall.

Garmin 405

So I bought a new toy, the Garmin Forerunner 405. My data addiction can continue!  It is a GPS watch targeted at runners. The reviews sound mostly positive, & a coworker has been raving about his. The Nike+iPod system has served me well, but I think it is time to try something different. The device itself is one of the first GPS watches that is small enough to wear as a regular watch. It wirelessly connects to a heart rate monitor, and comes with a USB key for syncing data to your computer, and then to Garmin Connect online. You can optionally connect it to other devices, such as a foot pod that will allow you to run on a treadmill and still gather pace and distance data and that will fill in the gaps if you lose satellite connection in trees, tall buildings or a tunnel. Adding the foot pod will also provide information on how many steps you take per minute, which is a useful metric as well if you want to improve your cadence.

You can even buy a crazy expensive scale that claims it can record "weight, body fat percentage, and hydration levels." Once you have this scale, it records all these metrics, uploads them to the watch, and the watch then transmits them to Garmin Connect. So in addition to tracking your mileage, pace, route, elevation and heart rate, you can also watch your weight and muscle to fat ratio over time. It is a data addict's dream come true. Still, I'm not going to run out and buy the scale just yet. But, I think I will start weighing myself often on the scale I have and entering that info so I can track gains and losses over time. That could help keep me focused.

So how is it? Seems great so far. The night I bought it we went to New Brighton Park for dinner with a friend and her kids. We enjoyed the beautiful afternoon, had a cocktail and ate takeout sushi. Afterwards, as the ladies conversed on a blanket and the kids blew off steam at the playground, I ducked out for a very brief jog to see what the watch could do. My first impression is that the immediate pace feedback is far better than what the Nike+iPod system provides. I set up the workout screen to show pace, distance and heart rate. A gentle acceleration or deceleration showed instant results on the pace readout. The main reason I wanted to jog around though was so that I would have some data to sync when I got the software set up. Check it out:

So the Garmin Connect site is pretty neat. You can pull lots of information out of there. I'm really looking forward to getting more familiar with this system. I did another easy run this morning. I ran an easy 4km in to work. I'm dieing to get out and do a longer run, but tomorrow morning I do the Summerfast 10k around Stanley Park. So an easy 4k was the most I could justify.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Finally a good run.

Yesterday was the best run I've had since I hurt my calf. I have no idea if I was fast, as I haven't replaced my nikeplus foot pod or bought a different gadget yet. But I felt strong, and it felt good to push myself a little past my comfort zone. I had a good, steady run Monday morning. It was my 10k out-back-work route that has some small hills & gets me to the office. It was nothing to write home about, didn't push myself, but nothing felt bad. I debated going out Tuesday (yesterday) at lunch. I don't want to push myself too hard, but I'm behind on my training for the Sumerfast 10k next Saturday. So I decided to go out for a quick 7k. I felt surprisingly good: even breathing, quick foot turnover.

Once I settled into my pace on the seawall, running north towards Coal Harbor, I had a couple of people pass me. Both of these guys looked the part. They were real runners. I picked up the pace. I was still falling behind, but not nearly as fast. It felt good to push just a little. After I hit the gravel path around Lost Lagoon I heard footsteps closing in on me (forgot my iPod). I didn't want to get passed again, so I picked up the pace. I figured I would simply tire out and get passed, but my pace held. The footsteps locked in behind me. They would accelerate when I did, but never pushed around for the pass. I was a bit out of my comfort zone, but I felt great. That tiny bit of competitive spirit really does push me.

Then I had a bit of a vain, demotivating thought: I bet this person is old, fat or wearing jeans. It is a common frustration when I run that as soon as I feel like I'm doing great, someone who looks like they only get off the couch for another soda will pass me. I remember once, not long after I first started running and covering 10k at a time in my training runs, I thought I was invincible. Then, during a run where I thought I was doing fantastic, I heard a conversation approaching from behind. I also heard the random creak of wheels and tires, so I move a bit to the right so the bikes could pass. I was not prepared to be passed by two mothers, running and pushing their babies in jogging strollers, while they held an easy conversation. It was all I could do just to get air into and out of my body, and these two moms were holding a conversation while pushing their babies.

 It isn't fair of me to think this way. They are obviously more committed and focused than I am. But it stings when I'm being passed by people who are pushing 60, or who have a pear shaped body or are pushing another small human in addition to themselves. So the thought lingered. The sound of feet crunching in the gravel behind me pushed me forward, worried about who was about to pass. Finally, as I crossed a little foot bridge and made a sharp right, I got a quick glance behind me. It was a runner! Lean, fit, tan and wearing real running clothes, the lady behind me looked like she was serious. With the boost to my confidence I was able to hold the pace and keep her behind me for much of the rest of my run, until I cut back to surface streets to head back to the office. It was the perfect pace to keep me just above my comfort zone, and made me miss running with a track club or a running partner.

So, there is the possibility of me getting a decent time at the Sumerfast 10k. I hate to speculate when I've had a dip in my fitness and lost my ability to see pace data, but I think it is possible for me to come in under 50 minutes. It would be the first time in years.

I'll know before 9:00am this Saturday.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Rapidly approaching 10k

Everything has gone to hell

Too much has happened since my last post. A total breakdown in my body and gadgetry has thrown me off. While my injury is gone, my fitness took a hit while I waited for the calf to heal up. Somehow, I have also misplaced the foot pod for my nikeplus system, which has put a bit of a dent into my motivation. It is hard to want to go out and run knowing it won't count.  I've been running some, but I feel a bit slower. I'm not sure that I'm slower, as I have no feedback.

After easing back into running, once I was sure my calf was holding up OK, I got one pretty good run in before I left town. I Did my 13k out and back with hills and I felt OK, but the run wasn't without it's mishap.

Dog tired

There is a long steep climb on that run. I'd finally topped the hill and was picking up some speed on the gradual downhill. I was running strong, but I was tired. On the sidewalk coming at me was a little old lady walking a bull mastiff. It was a beautiful creature, but it was the type of dog you would draw if you were a cartoonist and you needed somebody to be eaten. She had a control collar on it, but the dog weighed nearly as much as that frail old lady did, and she looked a little worried. Plus, I couldn't help but remember that on that very same steep climb a couple years ago I had been passed by a faster runner. Just after he came around me and was pulling away, a pit bull ran out of a yard and attacked him. He was bleeding, but not too bad. It was the only time I've felt lucky to be fat and slow...

But, I decided to give the dog the benefit of the doubt. Dogs are mostly good. Also I was tired and didn't feel like crossing the street. So all my attention was on the dog. I was waiting for him to snap or lunge, and even when I got past him my head was slightly turned and my perception was focused on that little sliver of peripheral vision over my shoulder. Just then I hit a little lip of raised cement on the sidewalk. I wish I had a video. My arms were windmilling around like an angry Pete Townsend trying to break the strings of his guitar... my feet were doing quick little steps trying to catch up as the trunk of my body sloped more and more toward the sidewalk in slow motion. Then everything sped up in a whirlwind of sidewalk, sky and road rash.

I feel pretty lucky about not getting hurt bad. There was a bunch of blood, but other than one hand and knee I just hand mild road rash. Those two spots were not so mild, but they are healing nicely. At least I didn't bounce my head off the ground or break anything.


Another hit to my running came with my recent whirlwind trip to see three Phish concerts in NC and GA. I had a blast, but only got out for one easy run. It was a gentle run through Charlotte, NC. I meandered through the 4th Ward neighborhood and wound up in a big cemetery. I did a couple laps winding through there, but the pace was easy and it wasn't that far. Who knows how fast or far? Damn my missing gadget.

I did wear the Vibram KSOs to three concerts, so I got a bit of a foot workout from the boogie. My goofy finger shoes got a lot of questions from some spun out hippies. The interesting thing was that I had several people walk up and say: "Are you a runner?"  I find that interesting, as I rarely see people running in them. Barefoot running is seeping into the collective consciousness. The concerts were fantastic, by the way.

Race in less than a week

I'm not sure where this leaves me for the 10k I'm signed up for next Saturday. I'll finish. I'm mostly healthy. I'm probably slower than I was a few weeks ago, but have no idea how much. I'm pretty sure I can do better than my Sun Run time of 53 minutes. Can I break 50? Guess we'll see.

My next gadget?

So the Nike+iPod foot pod isn't turning up. I'm sure it will, once I replace it or get something else. The something else I've been thinking about is the Garmin 405. A coworker recently got one and I'm fairly impressed. It gives you accurate pace and distance data. Can generate amazing maps of your run that include altitude info. You can add a heart rate monitor and a foot pod if you like and collect data about your heart rate and the turnover of your feet. With the foot pod you can still log runs on a treadmill indoors.

I'm going to have to get something quick to push my motivation back up. It is time to start looking for a Fall half marathon.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Strikes and Gutters

Amazing what can happen in a week...

A week ago today I had a fantastic run. It was one of the most enjoyable 20k runs I've ever done. I dropped in to an easy quick pace and never felt tired. It was one of those runs that makes me love running, a scenic out and back from my house past Kitsilano Beach. I was passing people effortlessly and it didn't even seem like work to hold a good pace.

Then on Tuesday, another good run. This was my out, back and to work run with hills. Not quite as good a pace, but with the hills and so soon after a fast 20k I was pretty pleased with it.
Somewhere between then and now it has all fallen appart. After this decent morning run in to work, and a bit of a deadline-driven stressful work day, we went out to see Joe Cocker and Tom Petty. Both bands were surprisingly good and we were up pretty late. But I was in good shape to handle another busy day at work on Wednesday. I think Wednesday is where things started to go off the rails. That evening Nora bumped her head. Hard. So Katie ran her to Children's hospital and I stayed home so we didn't have to wake Eliza up. But I couldn't really sleep, and Katie and Nora didn't make it back until morning. (Nora is fine, but it is good we brought her in). So I was in terrible shape Thursday, running on a two night sleep deficit with extra helpings of stress.

But having had a fantastic string of runs I thought I should get in a lunch run. It might even make me feel better, I told myself. Heck the ultra-marathoners go without sleep that long and never even stop running, so buck up! So, off I go on my 7k loop around Lost Lagoon. It wasn't even raining, all that hard. Yet. But rain it did. What started as a refreshing cool mist turned into a dump. I wound up with my shirt and shorts stuck to me like a Corona T-shirt on a girl-gone-wild. I spent the first half of the run trying to keep my pace high and shield my iPod Touch from the deluge by holding it face down, cupped under my left hand. 

That didn't work. Almost exactly half way into my run, on the other side of Lost Lagoon, my iPod turned itself up to eleven and could not be adjusted. Moisture had found its way into the volume rocker switch and shorted out the contact that turns up the volume. I paused the run and started playing with it to see if I could get it to work, but my stomach dropped as the iPod spontaneously rebooted. Losing the run data was the least of my worries. A water-soaked iPod spontaneously rebooting can't be a good sign. I tried to power down, but it rebooted itself again. 

Thinking the iPod was likely fried, I figured I'd hoof it back to work and see if I could dry it out. Unfortunately, as soon as I started to run my left calf knotted up really bad. It was all I could do to make it back to work. I had to run/walk just to make it back in. It was the worst run I've had in years, after nothing but improvements for a couple months.

So the iPod works fine once it dried out (pro tip: put wet electronics in a bowl of dry rice to draw the moisture out). I gave myself a couple days rest, and my calf has been fine. So, I figure it's time for a repeat of last Sunday. I gear up for a long easy run. It is a beautiful day and I have a fresh soundboard recording of the Phish concert they played last night. I was excited to zone out and cover some miles. But two kilometers in I felt a twinge of pain. It got progressively worse. After pausing a couple of times, it was clear that there was no sense in pushing myself, and I hopped on the SkyTrian by Science World, and then a bus up Commercial. Run over...


I'm thinking lack of sleep and stress caused the calf problem in the first place. I hate to call it an injury; it is just some soreness and inflammation in a muscle. But then I guess that is what an injury is, isn't it? I'm wondering if the high stress and lack of sleep could have elevated cortisol levels in my system. Or maybe I was just so tired and distracted by the rain and malfunctioning iPod that I was running with terrible form. Maybe I was just pushing too hard too soon after long mileage.

Either way it is going to keep me from running. I think I should lay off until Thursday or Friday. Guess we'll see how it goes.

As a wise man once said "Sometimes you eat the bar. And, well, sometimes he eats you."

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Pace, Phish, Evolution and Data Addiction

Considering how slow I am, some will find it comical how much I look at the data around my pace and distance. Some of it is from a genuine desire to know when I'm improving, and to be able to predict how well I could do in a race. That certainly is motivating, at least when the numbers show I'm getting faster. But, the painful truth is I might have a bit of a data addiction. As a case in point, I'll allow myself a bit of a digression from what has so far been a barefoot running blog (where are all the Non Sequiturs, anyway?).

Anyone who knows me well knows I like live music. While I like all kinds of music, from electronica to country to hardcore, the band I've seen the most is Phish. How many times have I seen Phish? Funny you should ask... I've spent the last couple of weeks obsessing over just that. I had kept a record of all the shows I had seen. I had an old copy of a book called the Pharmer's Almanac that listed all shows and their related setlists up through the Spring of '98. I'd gone through and marked the shows I had been at so I could thumb through and reminisce. As I kept seeing shows after the date where the book left off, I kept count but did not keep a record. Until recently I was completely convinced I had seen 90 Phish concerts. Since I will be seeing a couple shows this July (for the first time in 6 years) I thought I'd figure out exactly which shows I've seen. After spending a little time at the the excellent site, I came up with this list. I think there is one more show I haven't accounted for, as I don't think I would have counted the 8/14/1998 soundcheck as a show. It bugs me that I can't find the missing show. Was it Chula Vista, in 2003? That may just be it. But really, why would I care? Because it is fun to play with the data. For instance, the song I've seen the most is Maze. I've seen it 30 times. It is a good song, but I could never figure out why they play it so much. Turns out they don't. If you look at the Overplayed/Underplayed statistics on my own personal Phish Stats, you can see it is an anomaly. In the 89 shows I have listed, I should have only seen that song 18 times. Strange.   I can also see that there are 52 songs that I saw the very frist time Phish played them, including some classics they play all the time.

It is fun to think about, and makes it easy to play with, but it is probably a pointless addiction to plow through all that data.

Which brings me back to running, and trying to interpret the data from my Nikeplus iPod attachment. While I've been encouraged by my recent pace improvements, a run last week made me think that, maybe, the calibration is more off than I would like. According to the data I ran 7.75 km at 4'37"/km pace (4.82 mi @ 7'27"/mi). Looking back, I think this is the fastest run I've ever logged since I started using the iPod to track pace in 2006. This was certainly a fast run for me. No doubt. And I've ran a certified 10k at a faster pace than this in the past, so it isn't completely out of the realm of possibility. But outliers like this make me nervous about the calibration of the equipment. Can it really be my fastest run in years? Is barefoot and minimalist running driving that much of an improvement? Really?

If the pace is off the distance will be off, right? So, I went out and mapped my lunch run on the site.  It comes out to 7.34k, while my logged run reads 7.75k, roughly 95% accurate. So, plugging in the numbers at an online pace calculator, my pace may well have been 4:53/km rather than 4:37/km. It is still a good pace for me, but not as good as I had thought: 16 seconds per kilometer slower, or more than two and a half minutes over the course of a 10k. It is not the fastest run I've ever logged, as I had thought. The good news is, looking back at the data, it is still impressive. The last time I matched that pace was during a short run on May 17th, 2007.

My seat of the pants feelings about my runs are correct. I'm seeing improvements. Now to see if I can feed that data back into the iPod to improve accuracy. When I complete a run, the iPod offers a calibrate option. That way you can set a completed run to a known distance. I did that for the Sun Run 10k. It is not a well documented feature. I don't know if it simply calibrates that one run, or if it feeds that data back for future runs. I guess we'll have to find out. Next time I do the Lost Lagoon run I'll stick strictly to my mapped route and calibrate it to 7.34 after the fact.

So I'm obsessing about details of both my runs and the concerts I've seen. I'm not really OCD, but I do like to pour over all this data. And just how does this data addiction relate to running in general? Does it? Well, I just finished reading Born to Run by Christopher McDougal (a fantastic book everyone should read) and came across an interesting idea. Stick with me here... (Wait, WTF?!? You are still here?)  A major premis of the book, besides being an interesting story about an obscure ultra-marathon that was staged in the Mexican wilderness, is that humans evolved to run. We are better distance runners than any other animal. Our build allows us to conserve energy while running steadily, while our hairless body covered with sweat glands helps us cool and recover on the go. No other animal in the world can beat us at a marathon or longer, not even a horse. We evolved that way for persistance hunting: chasing and tracking animals until they overheat and die. Obviously running is a big part of that, but when researchers attempted it they failed. The animals would disappear, fold themselves back into the herd and the hunters would wind up chasing fresh animals. But a South African man named Louis Liebenberg found the answer. He became interested in the origin of logic and scientific thought in human prehistory so he dropped out of society to go live with the Kalahari Bushmen, who were as prehistoric a culture as still exists. During his time with the Bushmen, Louis learned persistance hunting. Running was only half the equation; it turns out it takes a lot of brains as well as running.
"When tracking an animal, one attempts to think like an animal in order to predict where it is going," Louis says. "Looking at its tracks, one visualizes the motion of the animal and feels that motion in one's own body. You go into a trance like state, the concentration is so intense. It's actually quite dangerous, because you become numb to your own body and can keep pushing yourself until you collapse."
Visualization... empathy... abstract thinking and forward projection: aside from the keeling-over part, isn't that exactly the mental engineering we now use for science, medicine, the creative arts? "When you track, you're creating causal connections in your mind, because you didn't actually see what the animal did," Louis realized. "That's the essence of physics." With speculative hunting, early human hunters had gone beyond connecting the dots; they were now connecting dots that existed only in their minds.
Speculative tracking and persistance hunting probably drove our evolution; made us who we are by rewarding efficient running bodies and the ability decipher almost random scratches in the dirt. While running was a huge part of why we survived, the other half of the equation was the ability to collect and collate data.

So not only are my running and my data addiction related, they are at the core of who we are as a species. Beter than any other land animal on the planet, we can settle in to a nice comfortable run and cover huge amounts of ground. Similarly, we can take disparate information from multiple sources and see patterns, connections and causalities. We can take two seemingly unrelated points of data, non sequitors in the conversation between us and our environment, and fill in the blanks and find causal connections. You see what I did there?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Improving Pace

It has been a consistent theme of this blog that I think my pace is improving since I switched to minimalist and barefoot running. Well, I think there is now enough data to back it up. I've been using the Nike + iPod system for a long time, with a couple disruptions (having lost my iPod, etc.). The site has some great graphs for looking at the Nike + iPod data. So, what is the verdict?

I have logged 2000 kilometers since 2006, in 305 runs. The last couple of years, I haven't been very fast. I purchased my Vibram Fivefingers KSO shoes on April 15th (6 weeks ago today, as I write this). In the 16 runs I've done since then (not counting a handfull of barefoot runs, which are not logged and are significantly slower) my pace has improved dramatically. At first, some people said it was probably enthusiasm for my new gear, and simply psychological. That may well be, but I seem to be getting more enthusiastic as time goes on. I've logged 16 runs since then: 126 kilometers. Take a look at the above image, which is a snip from my Pace over Time graph. That is quite a jump and it perfectly coincides with buying the VFFs. If it's simply that I'm excited about new gear I find it surprising that I've maintained that enthusiasm over the 16 runs, and that my excitement seems to be increasing. I think something else is going on.

Another thought I've had, and that others have echoed, is that my pace is increasing because I'm running more. The data doesn't back that up either. In this image from my monthly runs graph the light red is 2009 and the dark red is 2010. In 2009 I logged nearly twice as many miles in April, and almost as many in May. But check out the Pace over Time graph above. I'm a full minute per kilometer faster now. What gives? There isn't a backlog of months of strong training this year either. I hardly ran at all this Winter.

In the short amount of distance since I took up minimalist running, it can't be all fitness improvements. Sure, I think there are benefits to barefoot running that improve the muscles in your feet and calves. But I can't see how suddenly after a regular amount of training I could see my pace jump up a minute per kilometer. I think these improvements are around increased efficiency in my gait. I've always read that the best way to improve your pace was to increase your turnover and shorten your stride. You see it in races. Several times I've been huffing and puffing up some hill, fighting the good fight, and some person comes around and pulls away doing the marathon shuffle: little quick steps, not lifting their feet high, quick turnover. I've worked on that in the past, counting footfalls per minute and trying to increase my turnover, and I think that is some of how I was so much faster in 2005/2006 (that and working out with the Santa Cruz Track Club). But with the Vibrams and barefoot running this kind of gait just comes naturally. I don't have to think about it.

The improvements I've seen have required no real changes to my training patterns, and that boggles my mind.  I'm excited by the prospect of how fast I could be if I applied myself. I feel like if I applied myself (actual speedwork, hills, consistant distance and a long run every week) I could actually close in on my 44 minute 10k PR and my 1:47 half marathon PR. I doubt I could do it for the Summerfast 10k in July, but for the first time in years I think I can run that fast again in the future.

Maybe my running will peak in my 40s instead of my 30s. If it does, I hope I'll be sitting around in 10 years saying "maybe my running will peak in my 50s instead of my 40s!" Hell, at this rate I'll qualify for the Boston Marathon before I'm 60. I'll be a shoe-in in my 80s!

Here is to a bright future as a mid-pack runner.


Sunday, May 23, 2010

Another barefoot run

Just a quick note about my run on Thursday. Went out with a friend at lunch and decided to go shoeless again.

We did about 5km, like my first run, but no major problems with the feet. They were tender at parts, and the grass was amazing compared to the concrete and asphalt, but I didn't get the same hotspot/blister problems on my midfoot.

The crazy thing is that after my first barefoot run the skin on my foot changed significantly. The outside portion of my feet was the same baby-soft skin I had up on the high part of my arch. That first run hurt like hell by the end. I thought it might blister, but it just got puffy and tender. A week later, those tender spots are now tough, thick pads of skin, more like the balls or heels of my feet. I cruised through the run at an easy pace, and felt fine after. It was an enjoyable run. Parts of it were raining lightly, and the concrete felt cool and wet. I was a bit worried about the water softening up my feet and having problems because of it. But things were fine.

I now understand how people can run long distance barefoot. Feet are amazing. They get stronger quickly, and your running adapts to take it easy on them and land softer. Obviously they have evolved to do this, but it is amazing to me how fast it happens. After a single run, my foot was ready to go and significantly tougher a week later.


I'm going to stick to one easy barefoot run a week for now, the rest in the Vibram Fivefingers,  and see how it goes. Also considering signing up for the summerfast 10k to see if I can improve on my sun run time. I'm sure I can (it is a less crowded race on a flat course). But how much can I improve? I would love to get it under 50 min. Three and a half minutes should be possible, but can I do more?

Guess I should sign up for the race before I decide how fast I want to finish.

There, I'm all signed up. Saturday July 17th. 55 days. Now for the training and obsessing on times.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A couple good runs.

So far this week I've had a couple of great runs in the Vibram Fivefingers. Actually, that is a bit of an understatement. I had one pretty good run, and one fantastic run. The first run was a bit more than 10k on my out and back and then to work run on Monday morning.
I can't complain about that: longish run at a decent pace, squeezed in before work on a Monday. 10.8km at a 5:24/km pace. That is a great way to kick off the week. I'm not getting in a fast 10k every day like some people, but it put me in a great mood for a Monday.

I took Tuesday off from running and ducked out for my regular lunch run today. Man I felt fast. I knew I went out too fast but I didn't care. I figured if it felt that good then "what the heck?" I could limp in the last half if I needed too. But I felt pretty good the whole time.

The run starts with a downhill and ends with an uphill, so I guess I shouldn't sweat the slower split times too much. I hadn't felt this fast in a long time. I was passing other runners, relaxed and easy, when often I'm trying to just hold an OK pace. Early in the run I passed a couple people and felt great. But then there was an old guy with grey hair up ahead. I lost sight of him around a corner for a bit, and when I rounded the corner it was clear he was pulling away. My brain had two thoughts at the same time:

  • "That old, grey-haired guy shouldn't be pulling away from me!"
  • "Holy Crap! I am an old grey-haired guy!
And so it was on. I picked up the pace slightly. It must have been around 1.5km on the graph. I caught him & passed (he actually looked like he was in much better shape than me) with no problem, and he slipped way back behind me. I felt great up until about the 3km mark, when a pack of three real runners passed me. I was out of gas, and it was a bit demoralizing after having passed eight or ten runners and feeling strong. But I knew I came out too fast, and I guess pushing yourself is how you get faster, right? So I just held an OK pace around Lost Lagoon, and then tried to pick up pace once I was back to the pavement by the Vancouver Rowing Club at Coal Harbor. I had some mixed success after that, with a couple of inconsistant slowdowns. But, I didn't fall off too much. 

Going back through my stats on, I was pretty shocked. The average pace for the run was 4:40/km (7:31/mile). The last time I held a pace that quick was a 4km run in October, 2006. Wow. Three and a half years? Today was a really awesome run. Fast and fun. Now I just need to keep up the pressure to make sure it wasn't an outlier. I'm hoping I can maintain the upward trend on my pace over time graph.
I'm even more excited about barefoot/minimalist running. I'm getting faster because of it, I'm convinced. Hope to get out for another completely barefoot run soon: maybe tomorrow if the rain stops.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Running Barefoot

After the enjoyable time I had at the Sun Run in my Vibram Fivefingers KSOs, and a successful and 7k run two days later, I was feeling pretty confident: not too sore, no blisters, pace increasing. I figured I've hit my goal and have transitioned to barefoot style running fairly well. But it is a slippery slope. If minimalist running in the VFFs have made my running more enjoyable, why not take it a step further and actually run barefoot?

The thing that is interesting to me is the reaction people have when you tell them you are going to run barefoot.  People are genuinely shocked that anyone would even consider it. It does seem a foreign thought at first. But when you think about it, we've been evolving for millions of years, and have only had shoes for a tiny fraction of that time. A common reaction when I point that out is "but we didn't evolve to run on pavement." While technically true, I have to call bullshit on that. Most of the world is a hard, unforgiving place full of rocks and pointy stuff. Our ancestors did not practice persistence hunting by convincing their prey to run on beaches and spongy manicured lawns. I grew up going barefoot much of the time in Nevada, and a smooth, flat sidewalk is very forgiving compared to the desert. I spent plenty of barefoot time on both. But surely that is anecdotal, right? As a doctor friend said in a Facebook comment, "Really? On pavement? Hmm." But, it turns out science is on my side with this one.
The comparison of peak impact force values across surfaces for the group of subjects demonstrated no significant differences in magnitude of force. DISCUSSION: For some subjects, the maintenance of similar peak impact forces for different running surfaces was explained by observed kinematic adjustments. For example, when running on the surface providing the least impact absorption, an increased initial knee flexion was observed for some subjects, suggesting an increased lower extremity compliance. However, for some subjects, sagittal plane kinematic data were not sufficient for the explanation of peak impact force results. It appears that the mechanism of adaptation varies among runners, highlighting the requirement of individual subject analyses.
 They throw a grave warning at the end because the "sagittal plane kinematic data" didn't look the same for all subjects, but the fact remains that they didn't find a significant differences in magnitude of force no matter what the running surface was. So, I've cherry picked a google search above, but there seems to be a growing consensus in the data. I'll sum it up with a quote from Danial Lieberman at Harvard:
Most people today think barefoot running is dangerous and hurts, but actually you can run barefoot on the world's hardest surfaces without the slightest discomfort and pain. All you need is a few calluses to avoid roughing up the skin of the foot.
And now I'm going to digress and complain about science, briefly. Many of the interesting studies I've found cost lots of money to read.  This seems wrong to me and may be leading me in the wrong conclusions. </rant>.

OK, back to my run. Yes, people think it is weird. People think it is odd enough that I run in the VFFs. I often get questions like "how much cushion do they have?" and "how much arch support do they have?" Of course the short answer in none for both. But people think I'm crazy when I say that there is plenty of data that those things are counterproductive. I can't fault them. I think of all the years I repeated the "fact" that you needed a stability shoe if you pronate too much. So now that minimal running had opened my eyes to barefoot-like running, I figured I needed to get out for a run with no shoes at all. I keep finding proponents of barefoot running talk about how the direct feedback of your feet on the ground forces you to change your gait and run better. So off I went.

I wanted to stay focused, so I didn't bring the iPod, or anything else: just my running shorts and a shirt. It was a beautiful day & I started a light, easy pace. The sidewalks near our office were recently redone in preparation for the Olympics, and they are pretty fancy. By fancy I mean contain crushed glass. I never really thought about it before, but was concerned about this 4 steps into my run. It is rounded like pebbles though, so not too bad, But I'd never thought about it before. So my immediate impression was that running without shoes definitely changes your perception and your gait. Trust me, when you are running on rocks, glass and concrete you land very gently. I tried to focus on relaxing my foot, spreading out the load and not letting the pressure build up in any one place during landing or toe-off. In the first block I was a bit worried about the ball of my left foot, but once I got onto a smooth sidewalk everything mellowed out a bit. At a stoplight another runner said "Hey, you forgot your shoes!" and then "I bet you get that a lot." I told him that he was the first, as it was my first barefoot run, but I'm sure I'll hear it more if I keep it up.

Once I hit the seawall by Canada Place I got into a bit of a groove. I wasn't pushing myself and was at a slower pace than usual, but I was running and relaxed. My feet felt fine. It was a bit like a dynamic, random shiatsu massage. I could feel every detail of the surface. That feedback had me changing things a bit. I was focusing on a gentle footfall, with the outside part of the balls of my feet softly landing a split second before the rest of my foot settled in, and then a gentle lift at toe-off, not pushing with the toes themselves. At a few different points I was able to step off the path and run in grass for awhile. Wow. After running barefoot on concrete for a couple kilometers you would not believe how nice a soft lawn feels! But what was more amazing was my gait changed. Instantly I was making more use of the heel: not pounding, but letting much more weight settle on it, and pushing through the toe-off a bit more. After the gentle, careful gait on the pavement the grass felt fast. I had the urge to sprint. But, my first footfall on the concrete landed cat-like and gentle, but very precise. The concrete didn't feel that bad, but the grass lets you drop your focus a bit. You can let your feet flop down a little, and not be so exact with how your foot strikes  lands (you do not strike the ground barefoot like you can in a shoe). I got a few comments from other runners, the most common being "ouch!"

But nothing really hurt during most of this run. My goal was to go for a very short run and turn back early if I got too tender. But things probably went too well. I wound up going more than 2.5 kilometers before I turned back, making for a more than 5 kilometer run. I felt fantastic when I started back for the office, but at some point I started to feel less than fantastic, with a fair bit of distance to go. I made it back, but I have new respect for the term tenderfoot.

All things considered, my feet aren't too bad. I got a couple of pretty bad hot spots. I would say blisters, and maybe they are, but they are similar to what happened to my big toe on my first run in the VFFs. I have a couple spots that are puffy, red and tender. There is probably fluid deep in there, like a blister, but I don't think they are going to pop. The really interesting thing to me is where they are. My toes, heel and the pads on the balls of my feet are all fine. They have obviously been used a bit and could stand some rest, but they are surprisingly good. The hotspots midfoot outside, opposite the arches on each foot. I've been trying to figure out why. It could be a problem in form. Some of the forums around barefoot running claim that blisters are usually the skin sliding against the pavement, ant that I might be twisting the foot slightly. But I can't imagine that happening only there. But the thought I keep coming back to is that it may be a result of running in the VFFs for the last month. While they are a very minimal shoe, the pads under the balls and heels are slightly thicker than the midfoot, even on the outside. After a single barefoot run I think that may be a slight design flaw. In the first few runs my toes and the balls of my feet got some hotspots/blisters. Then they toughened up and are fine. The midfoot had less work to do, as it was slightly lifted, so it never toughened up. It is just a theory, but I have a feeling that may be part of what is going on.

Either way, I did a 5km run on mostly asphalt and concrete with no shoes at all. I enjoyed it, and feel like I learned a bit proper running form, and I'm sure my feet will come out of it stronger. I think it was a pretty successful experiment, and I will likely do the occasional barefoot run on occasion to see how it goes.

Monday, May 10, 2010


So after all that obsessing over times, things turned out fantastic. Fifty three minutes was the absolute bottom of what I thought would be possible, so I'm thrilled. It was a fun race too, despite being frustrated for some of it. Overall this was the most enjoyable Sun Run I've done.

Looking back through my times, I did 57:52 last year (guess I was misremembering that in my last post) and my training was roughly the same. My first Sun Run after moving to Vancouver was 49:32. At the time it was a bit of a disappointment, as I was more than 5 minutes slower than my PR. But, having kids and shifting responsibilities and dark cold winters compared to Santa Cruz kept taking their toll, and I got slower and slower. So, it is nice to see my pace moving in the other direction. Barefoot running (well, almost barefoot) has me excited about running again. I'm already looking forward to my next run, wondering if there is a small 10k on a faster course and if I could be in decent shape for a Fall half marathon.

I saw one other guy with Vibram Fivefingers and chatted with him a bit before the race started. He'd been training since January and was in the Vibram Sprints. There was another guy I didn't get to talk to who was actually barefoot. I want to do some barefoot runs soon. I can't imagine running a 10k with no shoes. Maybe if I switch to a Garmin GPS instead of my Nikeplus foot pod I would be more inclined to, but I love to geek out about the numbers and stats of my runs over time. As the start approached I was a bit nervous. It is further than I've ever ran in the Vibrams, and some shorter runs in the buildup left me seriously sore. Right up to the start I was worried I may have made a mistake.

But, this run was fun. After an initial quick pace down the gentle decline of Georgia Street, a couple things slowed me down. First, was the bottleneck that happens every Sun Run, as the course cuts up and through Stanley Park. This area of the race funneled 51,419 runners through a section of road that is less than 2 driving lanes wide at some points. You can't help but wind up behind a wall of slowpokes.
Then you play the game of looking for an opening, darting through it quick, and trying to pick a line through all the people, until the next time you are blocked. To make it more complicated, everyone behind you thinks you are the slowpoke and is looking for the same openings. It sounds frustrating, and it is, but it's also what makes running a big race like the Sun Run interesting. It must be boring for the elite runners up front who never have to deal with the traffic.

Not long after the crowds thin out is the brutal climb up to Burrard Bridge. That big loop is steep. That is the low point of the graph above. It is hard enough to maintain any kind of a pace faced with a hill like that. To make things worse, this is the point in the race where people who should have lined up further back in the start section decide to walk. They don't move to the right and then start to walk. They just give up: right in front of you.

What I wasn't prepared for was almost getting taken out by a hipster. Some girl with a shiny chrome lowrider bicycle, with a sissy bar and a springer front end, decided she just had to cross the street. Who knows? Maybe Urban Outfitters was having a sale on ironic t-shirts. I nearly wound up on the pavement in tangle of springs, spokes and 80's sunglasses. It wouldn't have been pretty.

But a beautiful thing about that hill is that after the brutally steep roads looping up to the bridge, the first half of the bridge is just steep enough. With the early part of the hill weeding out the non-runners, the top part of the hill makes me feel fast. I always seem to pass tons of people in this part of the run. The course is wide open at this point, plenty of room. At the top of the bridge I was in great spirits and able to hold a decent pace down the back side and for some time on the flats.

Between 6.5 and 7.5 kilometers on the course I was tired. Really tired, and it shows in my pace. There are some twists and turns there, and the course narrows again making it more crowded. But I felt beat, and was pacing myself with slower runners than I should have. It was around here I kept thinking that it was a huge mistake to mostly do 7km runs while training. I had that miserable, tired before the end of a race feeling, that sometimes means it is all going to fall apart. Around this time I got a little hot spot on my right big toe and thought it was blistering, increasing my gloom. But I snapped out of it after awhile. I was able to accelerate a couple times, before my time drifted back down.

Again my head drifted back to the times. I had decided not to look at the ipod for pace and time in case it was off. Interestingly, the iPod has a glitch sometimes where it doesn't give the voiceovers, and that happened on this run. I'm not sure if that is good or bad. It turns out the iPod read 9.34km when I crossed the finish line. I'm not sure if that would have motivated me or crushed my spirits when my ass was dragging. I'm a bit concerned with the accuracy since I switched to the VFFs. It seems my pace fluctuates more than with regular shoes, and I'm not sure if the iPod can deal with that. My pace was much more constant last year, and the accuracy was great, logging the 10k at 9.97km. I'm hoping I can get it a little closer with further calibrating, but I guess 93% accurate isn't so far off as a training tool. I love the new feature where you can calibrate a run to a known distance after the fact though. I'm not sure if this also improves the accuracy of future runs, but we'll see.

I felt good for the rest of the run, including the Cambie Street Bridge, which has been demoralizing for me in the past and I was a bit worried. But I ran strong. The toe didn't hurt. I found my wind and kicked it out up over the bridge, holding a good pace through the flats to the finnish. Can't tell you how excited I was when I saw the time on the iPod. Blissed out.

I love these goofy shoes and I'm already looking forward to my next run. Maybe tomorrow morning.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

All systems go.

It is looking good for the Sun Run tomorrow. Legs and feet are fairly rested. My left foot feels good. My last 7km run was a decent pace and felt fantastic. I've had a good rest since that run. So how will it go?

I'm reasonably sure I'll finish the race without foot problems and reasonable cardiovascular fitness. If I'm right about that, it comes down to time. Thinking of time can be either motivating or discouraging with a looming race. I'll come nowhere close to my personal best, a 44:22 from six years ago when I was 20 pounds lighter and my weekly long run was over 20km. On the other end of the spectrum, I haven't yet ran a 10 slower than one hour. So where will this one fall?

My goal remains simply completing the race strong and in good barefoot form, running with the Vibrams. But I can't help to think about the time. I'll be disappointed with anything over an hour. I'm pretty sure I can do better than that. I did 58 min and change the last time I ran it.  The only run I've done recently that I know was on the money was that 4km run last Saturday. That was on a track, and calibrated after the fact to the distance. For that run I was at 5:30/km pace: right at 55 min for a 10k. But that was on a track, had no hills like the nasty climb up over Burrard Bridge or crowds to wind your way through. On the other hand, I probably wasn't pushing myself like I would in a race.

I'd be really happy with 55 min. 58 would feel like I did just fine. Over an hour will be a bit of a letdown. But, if by some miracle I can push it back down to 54 or 53 I'll feel like I really accomplished something. That is a pretty wide range of emotions for a 6 minute range, and mostly ridiculous (especially considering I've ran the same race in 48 before, and someone will win this thing in less than 30). I should just run and enjoy it. And I will.

But I can't help but thinking about the times. It is a race, after all.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Another Good Run. Bad Idea?

Had another great run today in the Vibram Fivefingers. I've been interested in what the calibration last weekend would do to my standard lunch run at work. It seems like things are more in line, and I'm still holding a decent pace. If you look back at my recent runs it looks like my calibration did reset things a bit. On my lunch loop today the run was recorded as 7.31km. The three runs prior to calibration came in at 7.71, 7.87, and 7.58. It isn't that far off, but I think the new number after calibration is closer to reality. Guess we'll see how how it logs my run in the Sun Run this weekend (assuming I can pull it off in the VFFs).

I've been fighting some foot pain in my left foot, and have been trying to get enough rest between runs. It has been a little frustrating. The pain has been strange: mostly on the top of my left foot, and very bad in the morning. But, after 10 to 15 minutes I feel fine. It is unlike other pain I've had in that it goes from feeling like I'm actually injured to feeling fine in a very short time. After my April 28th run, I was a little worried. I had some significant pain. I almost skipped running last weekend, but the weather was so good... and I wanted to calibrate the iPod... and... and... and...

I think it is easy to overdo it when transitioning to the VFFs. Since I started running I've been in running shoes: almost exclusively the GEL Kayano. I have years of training, muscle memory, and a better cardiovascular system than I've ever had. In all that time my feet muscles tendons and bones have been restricted. My foot has been held in place. I've hand my natural pronation restricted. i've been heel striking, and rolling off the front of a shoe that rolls up under the toes so they don't have to flex back. And here I've mostly switched to running with a "shoe" that does none of that. I'm landing on my forefoot and softly catching the weight of my body. My foot has been compressing, absorbing energy into my arch, springing back and returning that energy to the ground while the foot rotates from the outside midfoot to the inside ball, and pushing off of the two biggest toes as they get stretched back. None of my foot is used to this. My brain loves it and my quads love it and my cardio loves it. My feet really love it, but I think they would love it much more in moderation.

So, glancing through I come upon an article on Making the Transition to Minimalist Marathon Running in Vibram Five Fingers. OK, it appears I am making a very common mistake.

Well, I started out with a few small runs after my knee was feeling better, a few km's at a time and they felt GREAT! I could instantly feel the change it had made to my gait. I was running far more upright, with shorter steps and of course I was landing on my forefoot first. I had the obligatory calf pain, but as I had read this was "something we all had to go through!" ... Well, that was a big mistake! A few days later, my left foot ceased up (I later found out related to an extremely stiff calf!) and I was back to square one. Or was I? Was it due to the FF's? Was it my poor form? I was at a loss.
Yikes! That's me! Right down to the fact that it is my left foot and I have short, stiff calves.

So I've been trying to make sure I get enough rest between runs. I didn't run from Saturday to Monday (today). The rest did me good. I was no longer feeling injured, but I was worried about going out again. I actually got some butterflies before my run. But once I got on the pavement I felt great. Really great. I felt quick and confident and strong. I felt good the entire run. No issues. On the plus side, I'm only running 7km so far, not the 25km of that guy. Guess I'll need to see how I feel tomorrow. I think I've got enough rest time before the Sun Run that I should be able to run it. It's just 10k, right?

Am I making a mistake? Of course. Am I making a mistake big enough that I shouldn't do it? Lets see.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Calibration Resets Expectations.

So I went to the track a calibrated the ipod today. It seems to have taken the wind out of my sails a bit, with my actual pace a little slower than I've been reporting. Still, it is a slight step up from what I was doing before I got the Vibrams. I first did a 400m calibration walk. Then, a 400m calibration run. After that, I ran a steady, quick (for me) 4km (10 laps on a 400m track). The results of the iPod were off I tiny bit, so I calibrated that run to 4km after the fact to exactly 4km.

 I wasn't aware of that feature. So, with at least that one run perfectly calibrated, I held a pace of 5'30". So that is 22 seconds per kilometer off from the uncalibrated iPod. So that would come out to roughly 3.7 minutes slower in a 10k than my iPod thought I was.
Fairly steady pace. Not pushing too hard, but a bit faster than I've been running. Looking back, the last time I held that pace was June 10th, 2008: almost 2 years ago.
Both are pretty uninteresting graphs. But, I can take solace in the fact that my actual pace has come up a tiny bit, if not as much as I had first hoped. That said, it has been so much fun running almost barefoot I shouldn't even care about pace, despite all these graphs. After setting the 4km run, I wasn't sure that it fed that value back to improve accuracy. I hope it does. But in case it doesn't I ran another 2km calibration on the track. If I remember correctly,  when I stopped the calibration it read 1.85km.  So that would be 150m shy over 2km: 75 out of 1000 meters. 7.5% off / 92.5% accurate. That does not sound good. I've been closer with my Nikeplus accuracy in the past. I hope the second calibration got it closer to reality.

Listen to me. I sound like frickin' Rain Man, except I've probably had a math error. Someone correct me. Anyhow, the 5:30/km (8:51/mi) pace was real, it was measured. It is not very fast, but it is slightly faster than I've been, and it seems like a good place to start working on improvements.

Anyhow, glad I got out. I was faster than the 4 other runners on the track (which is kinda sad).

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Looking Forward and Looking Back

I've had a couple great runs in the VFFs, but haven't been able to post for awhile. The iMac is once again at the Apple Store. How many geniuses does it take to fix a faulty temperature sensor?

I'm getting faster!

This Monday I went out for my 7km loop from work. It felt pretty fast. While it wasn't exactly effortless, I felt like I had much more gas in the tank at the end of my run. I could pick the pace right up and hold it longer. For the first time in a long time I was passing some people. In the last third of the run I was able to kick it back into gear and have fun instead of just trying to make it back.
After the run I wanted to confirm my thoughts and double checked my pace. It turns out that the last time I was able to hold a 5'09"/km pace was November 3rd, 2007. That was a 16km leg of the Haney to Harrison Relay race. So in the 160 runs I've logged over the last two and a half years, I've not held the pace that I was able to on Monday. I've had periods of very active training during that time: at least as focused as I've been over the last month. For instance look at the monthly runs graph from my current Summary Statistics:
Note that June of 2008 was very similar in terms of distance to now (April 2010), other than the fact that I had a better preceding month in '08. But the fastest pace I could hold in June 2008 was 5'20" over 4km. I'm a little faster now, over longer distances, with slightly less training. The speed isn't that different, so maybe I'm splitting hairs. But, I went out again on Wednesday and came back with an even faster time:
Ok, ok... four one hundredths of a second per kilometer. I really am splitting hairs here. This falls well within the margin of error of the Nikeplus iPod gadget. Still, says it is an improvement and I'll take what I can get.

I really think running in the VFFs is making me faster. Two people I've mentioned that to have said that it is probably just enthusiasm. To that I reply "either way, I don't care as long as I'm getting faster!" But I really think there is more to it than a love of new gear. Running in the VFFs is not a little different. It is a lot different: completely different. I certainly welcome the sharp uptick in my Pace over Time graph.

While it is tough to compare running with my Asics to running in the VFFs, my gut feeling is that towards the end of my run I've got more gas in the tank and can hold a quicker pace while I'm tired. It turns out there may be something to it...

A nice find on the inter-tubes...

I recently came across a fantastic paper on barefoot running that pulls together information from many different sources. You really should read Why Running Shoes Don't Work by Steve Magness. It includes information from studies that show (among other things) that the cushion of shoes may cause harder impacts than no cushion, etc. But, the thing I found most interesting backs up my gut feeling about having more energy later in a run.
Running shoes do not utilize the elastic storage and return as well as barefoot or minimal shoes. More energy is lost with shoes than with barefoot running (Alexander and Bennett, 1989). In addition, in some models of shoes, the arch is not allowed to function like a spring. The arch of the foot can store around 17% of kinetic energy (Ker, 1987). Given these results, its not surprising that running barefoot when compared to running with shoes is more efficient. Several studies have shown a decreased VO2 at the same pace with barefoot running, even when weight is taken into account. This should be no surprise as I mentioned above, without elastic recoil VO2 requirement would be 30-40% higher. Running in a minimal shoe allows for better utilization of this system.
 So I'm not crazy!

Well, let me qualify that... In this instance there may be data that corroborates my perceived increase in cardiovascular endurance while running in minimalist shoes.

Looking forward, looking back.

Running in the VFFs has me exited about running again. If I continue to improve I could have my speed back to a reasonable clip pretty soon. Can I ever reach that 44'22" 10k PR? I guess we'll have to wait and see. For now, my goal is to simply complete the Vancouver Sun Run 10k. I'd like to keep it under an hour but just running a 10k in the VFFs is good enough. I can't help but think, given the pace of my recent runs, that I could improve my time over the last couple of 10ks I've done. My Sun Run time last year was 57'52" Guess I'll find out in a couple weeks.

So, what's the downside?

I'm not sure it is really a downside, but I've been surprisingly sore. I guess it stands to reason that I would be. I've been wearing the same Asics GEL-Kayano model shoes for many years. These are as structured and cushioned a shoe as you can get: thick heel, squishy foam, motion control, shock absorbing gel, arch support. They have been doing much of the work that my muscles, bones and arch should have been doing, and I have some developmental catch up to do. Like wearing a cast, the muscles haven't been able to their job, and have atrophied.

At least I hope that is all. I'm sore enough that I'm worried a bit about injury. When I wake up in the morning I can't actually walk. I hobble around favoring my left foot, wondering how I'm going to get through the day. But unlike other soreness I've had, it works itself out pretty quick. A few minutes of movement and I can walk OK. A few more and I'm fine. Every time I get up I go from thinking I'm actually injured to feeling fine in a very short time. It is different from other pain I've had. If my back hurts like that, I know I'll be out of commission for awhile. My quads or other muscles, 2 days. It is very odd.

My current plan is to take a couple days off, and maybe try to get a run in this weekend that is more than 7km.

We'll see how it goes.