Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Techno Road Runner

I've always kept a training log. I go back and look at things from time to time, but most of my thoughts actually come out of just sitting down and writing how the day's training went. In the field of engineering, a key practice is the 'retrospective'. It's a time when you reflect on the past and try to learn something from it. It's not really specific to engineering. I think it's a good thing to do with any endeavor that you might take on in life. Specifically for running - it creates some 'quiet time' to collect my thoughts and benefit from the following:

  1. The experience of writing it down takes me out of the discomfort and emotional aspects of the workout itself, and puts you into more of an analytically detached mode where I can critically look at what went right or wrong and what is working vs what isn't. 
  2. I can keep track of splits, PR's etc - and see either improvement or degradation based on training.
  3. I can write race notes to reflect on later, and this helps in future race planning (for example - I learned a lot from Bolder Boulder 10K that I then applied to the Loveland Classic 10K. I can also go back and read a race that I'm going to repeat - like Georgetown 1/2 - and that will help me better recall the course and prepare.
  4. Writing it down leverages the 'guilt' factor, especially with a coach. I know someone else is going to see whether I completed the workout and hit my splits - and I better have good reasons for not doing it. Sometimes in the middle of a tough workout - I push harder because I don't want to have to report weakness :-)

When I was bike racing, I kept a written log. I went through a spectrum of very structured to just writing whatever.

For the past few years running, I've printed off a table of workouts and kept it on the inside cabinet door. I also use that to track the mileage on all of the shoes I have (more on that later).

I've tried using some of the advance programs out there like those available from Training Peaks, Runners World,, etc.. but for me they just require a bit too much work and are far too detailed and structured. The graphs and tools are great - I'm just not *that* analytic!

Since enlisting a coach in January, I decided to come up with an easy way to share my training log. I've been using Google Docs - which worked pretty well, but now recently I converted over to using a Blog.

I started playing around with the idea a while back in my head and it actually came out better than I had thought. I think the Blog format works really well because it's simple, can be read from computers and mobile devices easily, and can even RSS feed to my coach's eMail if she wanted. Because you can customize the page, it also allows me to add some structure to it - more than just a collection of documents. The navigation to any month or week is much easier, and I can include static pages on my racing calendar and PRs - as well as other things that I haven't quite thought of yet.

It's not incredibly interesting to read - it's meant more as just a communication mechanism between me and my coach. My intent for talking about it here was just to share one approach that seemed to work out pretty well for logging workouts. If you start reading it on a regular basis, I'm flattered and have at it - but I'm warning you; it's boring, dry stuff..... Ok, now I'm nervous!!

Anyway, here it is:

Related topic - Managing the Training Calendar
For upcoming training, my coach sends me a schedule over eMail. I then just break it out into 'All Day Events' on Google Calendar by day - one for each workout. That allows me to push them automatically to my iPad, work computer (Thunderbird and Outlook both support Internet Calendars) and sync them to my Android phone natively. It's pretty nice to have my workout schedule always handy like that, but maintained in just one location. If my coach (or others) wanted to see my upcoming workouts, I could always just share the calendar with them and they could easily incorporate. In fact, if I was a coach, I'd really look at standardizing a Blog template and using Google Calendar to centralize all training info for my runners. But I'm kind of a geek.

Let me know if you want any more information on the technical details and I'm happy to help with any of these!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Loveland Classic 10K Race Report

I raced the Loveland Classic 10K this past Saturday. I found out about this race from someone in my track group when I mentioned that I was looking for a 10K distance to do in the late July time-frame. This one was perfect timing, and I'm really glad I signed up and participated in it!

It was the first time I ever won my division. I've usually done pretty well in races, but it was really cool to hear my name announced as first place in my age group (40-49). I was smiling all the way home. btw - I also had the fastest time in the younger pups (30-39) :-)

My overall place was 11th out of 115 total racers with a time of 41:49 - a minute faster than Boulder. The course was flatter than Boulder, but there was less opportunity to draft and it was much warmer.

The race started at 7am, I decided to suck it up and drive up that morning, even though it meant getting up at around 4am. I had looked into finding a primitive camp-site, but couldn't find anything other than developed (RV) camp-sites which, when you price out the site and the park pass - ended up being like $40 bucks - cheaper than a hotel, but sorry guys, that's just silly for a place to drop your tent.

As it turns out, driving up worked out perfectly. The race is small (less than 300 racers split between the 10K and 5K options). When I got there at 6am, I got to park right across the street, picked up my packet and was able to just hang out for 15 minutes before having to start warming up.

It was toasty - probably in the mid-60s at the race start. I knew the limiting factor in pace wouldn't be tired legs or VO2 - it was purely going to be a race against overheating.

The race start was so cool and casual. People just sauntered to the starting line. Then there was a 'racers on your mark' and then a siren sent everyone off at the same time. No tags needed, just one race clock. I liked the simple, casual feel of it all.

The race started out briskly, as they always do. Especially funny was the 4-5 kids that went screaming out in front of me with their mom shouting, "Don't sprint!" But kids are kids. They were easy to dodge as they burned out to a crawl in 100m.

The course is a big loop, slightly downhill on the way out (south) and then you reclaim that elevation on the way back.

I had a far better pacing strategy pulled together this time than for Boulder. In Boulder I had thought about the first couple miles, but hadn't really spent enough time on an 'agenda' for each mile to keep my mind sharp throughout the race. For Loveland I had a plan for each set of 2 miles and was able to stick to that plan.

Probably the best measure of that strategy was how strong and measured I felt with my energy level throughout the race. I felt like I doled it out pretty well and felt like I thought I would at pretty much every mile marker. The last 400m is a slight uphill on a straight road. You see the chute up there, you know you'll get there and just need to grind through it. I pushed it until I was on that edge that, if there was money on it - I could probably eek out another 20 seconds, but at the cost of dry heaving or falling down from over-heating in the chute. I'm trying to put that effort in the middle of the race more than just kicking so hard at the end that I risk hurting something.

The finishing area was so supportive and had a great family feel to it. There was a kids race too which was fun to watch and free Dole frozen fruit yogurt cones!

I think it's a great race and I highly recommend it!!

Next up is the Georgetown 1/2 Marathon on August 13th - going for sub-1:30 !

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Running in Circles - Random Thoughts on the Track

I like running on the track. That encapsulated, consistent little world. You can always see your destination - and generally in speed work it's not far away.

I like the springiness of the track surface and wearing racing shoes. I like being able to run fast, then recover. The feeling of running fast on recovered legs.

I like that all the other distractions are out of the equation, and you can really 'feel' your form and instantly tell if you are running tension free in all your bits and pieces.

And I like running with a group on the track because regardless of abilities - you're always essentially running 'together'. Regardless of speed, you're all suffering the same amount.

And although just about any track will do, even blacktop ones with weeds growing out of them; there are some tracks that are better than others. There's something about a new brown running track in a stadium that draws me more than the blacktop middle school track. Sometimes I make the trek over to Heritage - it's a very professional track and accessible to the public.

Then there are some tracks that I covet running on. Yes, I meant to use that strong of a word - especially the ones that I'm not allowed on. I literally crane my neck to view longingly at the Jeffco track on Kipling and 6th every time I drive past it. Same with The Bird's Nest when I was in Beijing a few weeks back. I would love to spend my whole day just running circles in that stadium. I'm sure I could figure out ways to get into these nirvana venues - but I kind of like that they are not easily in my reach. It's always good to have places that carry a certain amount of mystique to them.

I run with a track group on Tuesday evenings (or sometimes Wednesday mornings). Last night I showed up for the evening session. Got all warmed up only to have the rain and lightening start moving in. I have no issues with rain, but I have a healthy fear of large amounts of electricity. I've read enough stories about lightening strike victims. You're never the same, and that's if you survive. So I pushed to this morning at 6am.

I actually prefer running early. It's cooler out, you get it out of the way and are into the office by 7:30am. Downside is that I have to wake up about 4:45am - yuck.

This morning's workout was 2x800m / 2x600m / 2x400m / 2x200m with 400m recoveries - for the non-track knowledgeable, once around a track (measured on the inside lane) is 400m. So a 2x800 with a 400m recovery means you run twice around the track at a fast pace and then jog, walk, stop to dry heave (off to the side please) - for a lap. Then repeat. 'Fast Pace' varies, and there wasn't a specific one given - so I just as fast as I knew I could complete the prescribed distance for each without compromising the later repeats.

When you've been doing track for a while, you recognize that every distance has a 'feel' to it.

1600m (4x around - about a mile) - Can't go out too fast - you want each lap the same or faster. A mental challenge to not lose focus on the middle laps and slow down accidentally. Usually sounds more daunting than it turns out to be, especially when someone says 6x1600m repeats.... <groan>... but pretty soon you are on the fourth one.

1200m - This is a weird distance for me. I haven't done it enough to have a feel for it. I probably tend to run these the same pace as a 1600m - and I shouldn't.

800m - My absolute favorite repeat. It's just long enough to test you and to get into a groove. But you can still go pretty fast, and there is little chance of losing focus. And generally you don't even start to hurt until you're near the first lap, and by then it's 1/2 over.

600m - I have grown to love this distance and there is a distinctly different way I approach and run these vs the 400 or 800. You can really push it a bit and I especially like to kick on the last 200m (it then ends up being more like a 400/200 progression).

400m (one lap) - I like being able to go out fast on these, but I almost always either run them too slow, or I go out like a shot feeling like I can do it forever and then fade somewhere with about 150m to go). Still, they are over fast - so big fun points scored there.

200m - Great pick-up type exercise, usually done with short recoveries (like 100m - 200m). Generally this is really my top speed.

100m - Good for strides, but I'm just too old and worried about blowing a 'hammy' to kick these out, imagining Usain Bolt next to me. I'm not a sprinter (either on the bike or track) - so I don't think I'm capable of  running these any faster than 200m.

If you're a runner and have never tried track, you absolutely should. Especially if you can find a group to do it with and someone to guide you. Since everyone can see everyone, all the time, you can ask for friends or your coach to watch you for tension sneaking into your stride. You'll get faster over time, and it's fun to run fast but get some rest time in between the repeats. I highly recommend it.

I'm also curious if my 'secretly coveting' certain tracks is a common thing, or just yet another weirdness with me.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

12.5 Miles + Downhill + Rolling Stones = Nostalgia, Peace Signs and BIg Smiles

My scheduled run for the day was 12 miles to mimic the Georgetown Half that I'm doing in mid-August. That course is 'basically downhill' - although it's a little deceptive. It actually starts with 2 miles of hills twisting and turning through Georgetown (CO) and has some tricky downhill on the rest of the course on dusty trail with some rollers and a finishing uphill just to smack you around a bit. Did I mention too that it starts at around 8500ft ?

A close run that came to mind was to start at Tiny Town (just up Turkey Creek) and then do the climbs past the fire station and drop down Deer Creek Canyon to Chatfield reservoir. The initial 3 miles of climbing is a little more severe, the elevation is lower and the drop is a little more down the canyon, but close enough.

Paige dropped me off at Tiny Town around 7:30am and I headed out. It was an amazing run. Through such beautiful scenery, wildlife and the endless stream of cyclists coming up the canyon. Great run to practice my downhill running - I was hauling, even at an easy effort. Nice and smooth turnover, relaxed.

My music selection was The Rolling Stones 'Hot Rocks' album that spans all their hits from 1964-1971. I'm currently in the middle of reading Keith Richard's book, "Life"- and reading it has added a whole new perspective and renewed interest for me in all of their music. Keith by the way is a remarkable writer - I highly recommend the combination.

The years the album covers are especially nostalgic and interesting for me personally. I was born one year prior to this block of time, Paige one year after. I definitely discovered these songs as I got older. I'm not sure my folks were playing them around the house when I was 3 or 4.

They are truly remarkable from a song-writing perspective. One thing you get from Richard's book is just how entranced and committed he is to the study of music. It consumes him. I remember the first time I learned to play the opening chords of Beast of Burden - I was in awe of how he took a simply chord change, threw in a slide and turned it into such a recognizable hook.

Listening to that era of music, flying along with effortless ease through the canyon like that, passing all the cyclists suffering up in the other direction - it put me in such a care-free, "I have the best life in the world" state of mind. I flashed a peace sign to everyone I passed and was probably smiling the whole way down.

It brought back memories of my youth - to when I heard each song, commentary on the songs from Keith's book on what they meant and what was going on with him and his mates at the time, and bits of history I recall hearing about the songs that's cobbled together an immense tapestry that has been tucked away until I recalled it this morning. It's amazing how our minds work. How it connects things, and how powerful those memories are in creating a sense of passing time and the brick upon brick of our lives.

For fun I queued up the song 'Emotional Rescue' for when the double album had run it's course. It came on as I was rolling through the exit of the canyon only a mile or so from the reservoir. It's not a particularly good song, but it has some meaning to me. I distinctly remember it from when I was like 15 or 16. Everyone of my friends (all rockers) and bandmates at the time hated it, But this girl I was dating at the time loved it. "Dating" is actually the wrong word for my teenage relationships. I was more hanging out with her from time to time, trying to figure her out. She was a mess, and that's painful when you're a 16 year old boy trying to figure out a girl you're entranced with that's a mess.

I think it's cruel to have 16 year old boys have to figure out girls at all. You're not equipped at that age. It's like forcing a 5 year old to comprehend particle physics to get their breakfast and keep them from having their hearts broken at the same time. It's nearly sadistic.

I won't say that I understand women now. But there's a lot of articles and books we guys can read these days. It doesn't help you to understand women any better, but it tells you what to do. It's like programming your DVR - if you just follow the directions, things seem to work out.

Nothing substantial ever came of chasing that girl. It wasn't some love never meant to be or anything so crushing like that. My point was that it was previously a lost memory, dislodged by a 3 minute crappy song. It was more the memory of being 16, driving around town - feeling lost and confused. It's the memory of what it was like to feel so despondent about love, and the happiness I feel that that those days are long since past. The passage of time and the joy in my life these days with a girl I actually *can* figure out, and with whom love is so easy and tranquil means everything to me.

Today had so much more packed into a single run that I thought I'd get this morning. The memories, the happiness and appreciation for being alive and having so much in my life to be thankful for.

All for the price of a record album. That's a bargain in anyone's book.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Most Dangerous Object on the Path

Wired magazine has this recurring segment called, "The Most Dangerous Object in the Office". In it, they highlight some bizarre bit of technology that they have laying around, that typically has a dark side if used inappropriately - or even appropriately. Past examples include 2 foot Tesla coils, Orion flare gun and neodymium super magnets. It's one of my favorite columns.

The column was the first thing that came to mind today on my 6am run around Clement Park. It was actually scheduled for Thursday, but.. well.... a chain of events that started with our housekeeper dislodging the 55lb chandelier onto the glass dining room table while trying to 'dust it' on Tuesday, slipped my runs out a 1/2 day. Luckily housekeeper is fine, chandelier and glass dining room table; not so much. But despite that being the Most Dangerous Object in the Dining Room, this post is focused on a completely different location. The multi-use path.

Now most runners, cyclists and other multi-use users (rollerbladers, XC roller ski users, incumbent cyclists, pogo-stick bouncers) that move more than 4mph would probably rattle off a number of dastardly things that must be avoided.

  • Cars driven by teenage girls updating their Facebook profiles - "Oh snap. My new eyeball piercing looks totally fab staring back at me from the rear view mirror"
  • For that matter, teenage girls even just walking side-by-side.... texting each other... "hi.. watchya doin'?"... "wlkin"... "where 2"...."dunno lol w/my bff"..."reelee?"..."yah"... 
  • Prius drivers (which deserve to be singled out for the sub-15mph silent death mobiles that sneak out of alleys and driveways)

  • Pit bulls and other imposing breeds
  • The family of 5 out for an afternoon bike ride (bike trailer, helmets askew, junior's first bike ride with the training wheels off, etc...
  • Tri-geek pulling 22mph on a crowded Sunday afternoon - arms firmly anchored to the aero bars (for those not in the tri-geek know - the brakes are not really.... uhmmm.. 'handy' there.
  • Descending inline skate newbie... ski poles flailing

Anywhoo. The list goes on. You get the picture.

But all of these things pale translucent when the votes are tallied for the Most Dangerous Object on the Path. Yes, I am speaking of that most lethal and evil terror of all:

Middle aged woman with yappy ankle biter dog tethered by the nylon retractable leash.

Often this creature is accessorized by completely inappropriate Lycra attire with a cell phone permanently attached to her ear by one hand, while the other hand attempts to cradle both the football field length leash (fully extended of course) and her morning triple foam, 12 pump caramel soy latte. Every one of these accessories exponentially increases the lethality of the situation. As does the fact that these express tickets to the ER can travel in small packs, and often sport more canines than humans.

However, the real lynch pin in the 'Most Dangerous' equation here is truly the retractable leash. Because really without that, the other slow-moving elements can simply be slalomed and the yappy dog jumped over and outrun. But connect these components with a tether that is nearly invisible on one side, has the tensile strength of unobtanium, and is usually spooled out at least 30 ft across the path, and baby - you better be looking for the ditch your going to bail into.

The person that invented the retractable nylon leash should be tied to a chair, beaten with hammers and thrown from a helicopter screaming. It is a pure illusion of convenience at the expense of any common sense with regard to the safety of the owner, dog or nearby collateral damage it has the potential to wreak. The entire system is as fundamentally unstable as a 2 year old with a pack of permanent markers and a sippy cup of Pepsi.

Ok, kids - Story Circle Time - yay!!

I was once riding into work on the path when I noticed one of the 'MDOP's standing off to one side, staring into the bushes on the other side. My brain processed the patterns.... attention in the high grass... arm a little awkwardly extended from the side... suddenly, a slight breeze caught the tether of mayhem, twisting it to it's broader, visible side... OH CRAP!! I stopped in plenty of time, track standing the bike while the little drop-kick sauntered out from his morning duty, completely unaware of his near-miss slingshot adventure into space. That was several years ago - I still wake up in a cold sweat from time to time.

This morning I was running relatively quickly as I approached an MDOP(2x3 combo) - 2 humans, 3 dogs - splayed out across the 6ft wide path. Thaaaat's right. I called out in plenty of time and in a very low-key gentle voice, "On your left". What resulted was proof positive of the lethal combination of human, canine and retractable leash.

The left-most MDOP locked and pulled the retractable tether on the leftmost DK (drop kick), which instantly dropped it's neck and leaned further left in deft defiance. At the same instant, the other DK controlled by the same MDOP - obviously freaked out by the sudden click of the retractor, frantically ran like an ionized plasma particle in random directions, wrapping the other tether around various appendages of the MDOP combination. The right most DK was unaware of the situation, and kept sniffing off in the weeds on the right side of the path.

I remember recalling an engineering class where I learned how quickly a fundamentally unstable system can spin into a state of complete entropic chaos. I shudder to think had mobile phones or latte's been part of the equation. It would have surely generated a 'divide by zero' error and the entire scene (including me) would have been dragged into a spontaneously created black hole right there on the path.

As I watched this psychotic train-wreck unfold, I slowed to a complete stop and waited for the calamity to clear. Then with an audible 'sigh', I scooted around the left most side of the pile-up. There were no apologies exchanged, either from them, or from me.... I wasn't sure what to apologize for, "Uhmmm, sorry for existing?"

So for heaven's sake, be careful out there. Avoid all the usual suspects, but for your assured safety, never underestimate this Most Dangerous Object on the Path.

Uhhhh... Nice try, but I didn't say the Most 'Disturbing' Object on the Path!