Monday, March 28, 2016

Five Day Running Experiment

I am not exactly sure what prompted this. I am sure it was a mixture of a variety of things.  Be it me trying to tell those I coach how just the slightest variables can make any race different. Being asked extraordinarily vague advice about very specific things leaving me needing to say "It depends" and then being seen as aloof or a jerk because the asker doesn't get that yea, it really does depend. Happy to not have the flu anymore and wanting to get some miles under my belt.  Or any other combination of the things which pops into my head and sparks a reason for doing something. What am I talking about?

The plan: Run four laps of the 2.65 mile loop I have named the Bridge Loops on five consecutive days for 10.6 miles a day. 

Starting at the Hawthorne Bridge a few miles from my house in Portland, I would run north on the west side of the Willamette River to the Steel Bridge and then back to the Hawthorne Bridge. It is a solid and enjoyable run but not without challenges. For example, both bridges will lift at random times for a passing boat causing delays in your running.There are a plethora of pedestrians randomly walking around in their me-centric universe, taking pictures, walking dogs on 19 foot leashes, etc. In addition running along the water is very enjoyable which means that even the unsavory semi-homeless, or potheads or sundry others you wouldn't want to take to a dinner party are abound. (This makes it sound bad and it is not. But how you can watch someone openly and brazenly do some drug [I don't know what kind as I am not an aficionado but meth, crack, or heroin are my guesses] with no police intervention is a little unsettling. These are the things that a brochure talking about the best places to see in a city won't tell you. But I digress.)

The hypothesis for this (my friend told me an experiment must have a hypothesis or it is just an observation) was that I was going to be rather tired. Duh, right?  But given I had a bad case of the flu at the end of February, ran atrociously in the heat in Jacksonville the week before this (Gate River Run) and a multitude of other things, I was quite sure this was going to leave me quite exhausted.  I thought I might actually cancel the exercise in the middle of the week.  And honestly, if it was causing me any problems, I knew I would. Not because I don't stick to plans or want to work hard.   I simply know that no workout is worth one's health.

To try and keep each day as close as possible to the others, I started every run within an hour's time of each other, usually on the later half of the noon hour. I had the same calories beforehand (a glass of chocolate milk) and varied as few factors in my control as possible. I had never (or rarely- I am too lazy to check) run this many double digit mile days in a row immediately after a race of a half-marathon distance or more (having run the Oakland Half on Sunday.) Attempting to do so was also going to be a foray into the unknown.  There were a great deal of things to keep this week interesting for me.

Here is how it went down.

Monday March 21st 
Start time: 12:56 p.m
Time: 1:21:11 (7:40 pace)
Ending weight: 187.8 lbs

I was expecting this day to be the hardest of the bunch and time-wise it was the slowest of the week.  However, since it was just a day after a relatively hard run half-marathon, I was surprised how well it went. In fact, with lap times of 21:07; 20:37; 20:12; 19:15, it followed the exact pattern that I like for this run: faster every loop. It is almost a badge of honor that regardless of what the day feels like, I just have to get faster each loop.

I noticed a small ache behind my right knee but chalked this up to just the rigors of the previous day. I would keep my eye on it for sure, though. As I said, if things hurt, stop doing them.

Tuesday March 22nd
Start time: 12:15 p.m
Time: 1:18:57 (7:27 pace)
Ending weight: 188 lbs

This was an interesting run. My plan every day was to go into each run and run how I felt comfortable. Well, comfortably hard. I wanted to run the way my body felt best and not try to influence the overall week by wanting to try to get faster each day or something else akin to that. On this day, unlike the previous one, there was no significant picking up per lap. The first three loops were pretty interchangeable (20:01; 20:09; 19:56.) During the last loop, however, I came upon a runner who joined me from an angle coming off of one of the sidewalks. It ended up we were running at the exact same pace. Shoulder to shoulder I figured this was a little weird so I thought I had to either speed up or slow down or say hi. I was running the pace I wanted to and she wasn't changing her gait either, so I said "nice pace."

As it ends up in Portland, saying hello to a fast runner usually means you are talking to some serious talent. This talent was 61st overall at the Olympic Marathon trials and was one of the youngest competitors there. Jennifer Bergman was her name and we ran together for 400 meters or so. Then she branched off to run home or wherever. This little pick-me-up allowed me to run a solid 18:51 for my final lap of the day (this would be the 3rd fastest loop of the 20 I would run this week.) 

Wednesday March 23rd
Start time: 12:48 p.m.
Time: 1:19:41 (7:31 pace)
Ending weight: 186.8 lbs

I noticed when I started the loop each time, which is up a slight hill around a bend, the back of my knee was a little wonky. When I was running the flat portions of the loop, I was fine. But up and down the small hills and I could feel it.  Hmmm.

With loops of 20:52; 20:13; 19:39; 18:57 I was able to basically do a slightly faster version of Monday's run. Instead of the almost exact loops of the day before, here they were essentially forty seconds faster per loop, which is much more my norm.

One notation I made after finishing this run was that I was surprised that in three days of running I had not yet been caught by either the bridges being raised or been drenched in any rain.  We are in a record rain stretch in Portland (much needed) but somehow I had missed every little rainstorm.  I mentioned this oddity to my friend because I don't believe in jinxes.

Thursday March 24th
Start time: 11:55 a.m.
Time: 1:20:04 (7:33 pace)
Ending weight:  188.2

On my second loop the Steel Bridge caught me. Then three times in 80 minutes of running I got dumped on by the skies spaced out between gorgeous blue sunniness. OK, maybe I believe in jinxes.

My idea for when a bridge interrupts my run is that it all balances out. You get the rest from the workout but you lose all momentum. The most annoying thing about this bridge interruption as that it was for no boat whatsoever. Routinely the bridges will just go up, I guess, to test to see if they still work. So while I stood waiting I could look downstream and see I was going to run into a dump of rain that was making its way across the river. Sure enough, halfway through the next loop I was blasted with rain. With a hellacious wind accompanying the rain it is no surprise my lap times were all over the place. That said, being a number guy, I thought it was pretty neat the first loop was exactly the same as the first loop for the day before.

When the last loop and a half was nothing but sunny, I was able to pull it together and run the fastest loop of the week so far.  20:52; 20:05; 20:18; 18:49 were the four for this run.

Here I wanted to take two seconds to talk about GPS devices. All the time I hear runners complain that their "garmin" registered a distance longer than the race they ran. Well, there are 19 ways I can refute that thought process but here is one solid picture to throw into the mix.  While I think highly of myself, I guarantee you I cannot walk on water. Your GPS isn't any more accurate than this. Plus you probably don't run the tangents in a race.

Friday March 25th
Start time: 12:57 p.m.
Time: 1:17:27 (7:18 pace)
Ending weight: 189.2

My best friend joined me for this final run of the experiment. Going the opposite direction around the loop we'd see each other twice a loop. Her consistent pace gave me an opportunity to keep an accurate account of my own effort each loop. Even though I definitely knew I needed a rest after today, as the back of my knee was definitely complaining loudly, the day was beautiful and my speed felt great. The monkey wrench was when the third loop was inexplicably much slower than the previous.  I must have daydreamed or been thinking about this recap or who knows what else.  When I saw how slow it was I decided I would make up for it on the last lap for sure. I then closed it off with the fastest loop of the entire week. 20:13; 19:18; 19:38; 18:27 was this day's output.

So what is the verdict?

I surprised myself with the overall quality of these runs throughout the week. Another surprising (or actually non-surprising since I have kept extensive records on my own weight struggles) is how I initially dropped a few pounds before putting it back on again. My diet in the evenings was more or less the same. Moreover, weighing myself after the run, after showering and before consuming any liquid kept it about the most even possible. In other words, I ran 53 miles in six hours in 34 minutes just for the luxury of gaining a pound and a half. Yes, I am aware that it is entirely possible over the next few days the weight will change. Also, the number on the scale alone means nothing. But it is interesting nonetheless.

It ends up the pain in my knee was a Baker's Cyst. Not the end of the world but it means I will be taking a few days off for sure. But I am used to small setbacks. I have Gilbert's Syndrome, for example. (Again not the end of the world, but still not fun.) I have had two bike crashes which showed me how much my shoulders are made of porcelain. What I will look back on from this week is how I was able to run a solid week of double digit mile runs at an decent clip immediately following a half-marathon. Even more so, at the end of the week, I was able to pick up the pace a notch and throw down a nice ending workout.

So what does this all mean? Basically absolutely nothing. If anything it is just me using a method of routine to help me start getting miles back under my belt.  In three weeks I will be taking on the famed River to River Relay in Southern Illinois. Normally this 80 miler is for teams of 8.  However, I was fortunate enough to be invited to take part as a two person team with my ultra-fit running buddy, Mosi. The real purpose of this week was to start getting some miles back in my legs so I am not an embarrassment to our team, Ebony and Ivory.

Thanks for reading the navel-gazings of yet another runner. I do hope that as much as they were about me, you will find a little of your own running in here as well and apply some of the lessons I learned to your own training. If you want 382 more pages of lessons, check out my book 138,336 Feet to Pure Bliss. I make something like a whopping $1.50 off each copy you buy on Amazon so I am not sending you there to make me rich. I wrote the book because I felt I could share with you some of the things I have gathered through personal experiments and talking to so many others faster and slower than me. I can only wish there had been someone who had run 52 marathons in 52 consecutive weekends to guide me along on my journeys previously. Benefit from what I have done so you can hopefully do much, much better.


Bill Tichenor said...

Very interesting musings! Thank you for the inspiration!

danny said...

If we find the spread of the five runs (the difference of time between slowest and fastest) we would have 3m44sec or 244sec. If we broke that spread into 5 intervals, then each interval would be 45 seconds (from 1.17.27 to 1.21.11) and only one run would be in each interval.

Not sure what that means, but for a small sample space it is mildly interesting.