Sunday, February 27, 2011

A New Plan

With racing on hold for the foreseeable future (with a few low-cost exceptions thanks to SteveQ), and my motivation to run slowly returning, I've come up with a plan that that may keep me sane for the next few months.

Instead of training for a specific race, I'm going to rebuild my base.  I'll start at 20 miles next week, then increase that by 10-15% per week until I get to about 50mpw.  This build-up phase will take between 2–3 months.  From there, I'll stay mostly constant at 50mpw.

I'll de-emphasize speedwork, but will throw in the occasional fartlek to keep things exciting.  I won't do hill repeats, but I'll stick to my hilly routes (the benefit of living at a local elevation maximum in St. Paul).

At some point, I'll race again, and when I do, I'll switch to a speed phase.  I'm thinking some pseudo-Lydiard periodization here, but whatever happens after my "base phase" will be determined by whatever race I do, and I've got no clue what that will be.

Not my ideal 2011, but I'll try and make the best of what I've been dealt.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

To Run

Why do I run?  I can't really offer a reason other than I run because I run.  Some days I run because I want to get faster.  Other days it's to let off steam.  Still other days it's to enjoy the world in which we live.  I just run.

I haven't run much lately.  In fact, there was almost a 2 week gap between runs.  We had the best weather since November, and I didn't run.  There have been some major personal changes in the last week or so, and I guess I've just been in a funk.  Typically, I'd run to de-stress over something like this, but I just didn't feel like running.  Even last night, my first run in 12 days, I didn't really feel like running.

One excuse I could give would be the major change in my 2011 racing calendar.  Here's the calendar:

Securian Winter Run, 1/29/2011

Yup, that's it.  Because of some of these changes, race fees got axed from the budget.  No Irish for a Day 10 mile, no Brian Kraft 5k, no Red, White and Boom Half.  A change like this is enough to strip one of the motivation to run pretty quickly.  Why punish oneself with 12x400s if there isn't a race you're training for? But I suppose that's just an excuse.

To be honest, I'm at a loss for what to do.  I like each of my runs to have a purpose.  Each one should fit with the others like pieces of a puzzle.  So when people say that even though I'm not racing this year I should still run, it's just not that simple.  Why run 5 miles when I can run 3?  Why run fartlek when I could just lounge around at home?  When I run, I just don't know what to do.

My apologies for this departure from the usually light-hearted tone of this blog.  I've had a lot on my mind lately, and this post is mostly an outlet for those thoughts.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Online Training Logs Redux, Part 2: RunningAHEAD

Yesterday, I opined on Training Peaks.  My conclusion was that while Training Peaks is a good online training log, there are other logs that are much, much better.  I was motivated to find something more full-featured since I had been using the Runner's World Online Log (RWOL).  After my experiment with Training Peaks, I noticed something at the bottom of the splash screen for the RWOL:

click on photos to enlarge

See the red arrow at the bottom?  It points to where the RWOL is actually powered by  Out of curiosity, I surfed over to RunningAHEAD (RA), and what I discovered was that RA was very much the same as RWOL, but it was (a) newer, and (b) had way more features.  Since both logs were designed by the same person, it was a fairly easy process to import my RWOL into RA (something that wasn't available with Training Peaks).  So, here's my review of RunningAHEAD


What I like about RA is that it is really simple to use, but offers a ton of features.  The homepage of my log is shown above.  It's got everything you need to log workouts quickly.  In the green box, I have options of logging a run (or a swim, bike, weights, walk, or "other"), logging equipment, creating a route, and uploading GPS files.  On the left (in the red box), the tabs take me to all parts of my log: workouts, routes, PRs, etc.  And in the middle, we've got a quick summary of my training.  It's highly customizable, so what you see here is just my setup.
I'll use this as an opportunity to say that RA is not just for running.  RWOL treated swimming and cycling pretty poorly.  On RA, you can log all the detail you want for swimming and cycling, and all those fancy charts and tables on the homepage can be created for those sports too.  I've even got a "swim" box on my homepage.

Logging a run is really simple with RA.  In the red box that I've highlighted above, you've got all the important information to log a run quickly: type, route, distance, time, and shoes.  That's all you need.  And, it knows that a 2 entry time (XX:XX) means minutes:seconds.  But the beauty of RA is that there's so much more you can track.  It can track weather conditions, run quality, run effort, weight, and heart rate.  A really cool feature is shown in the green box.  If you're logging a race, you can put in all your finishing stats (overall, gender, and age group), and then track your progress over time.  Neat stuff.

One of my main requirements for a log is the ability to track speedwork.  I've got that in a blue box above, and more detail below.

This workout is from when I did 6 x 2 Metrodome laps about a month ago.  I can easily put in each rep or interval, and write a quick note about it if I choose to do it.  My favorite feature is the Auto Sum, where you can have it sum times and distances for any or all of your recoveries, intervals, or rest periods.  That sum is then placed in the main workout time and distance fields, and you don't have to worry about adding 6 laps of 605 meters, 6 laps of 305 meters, etc.

The route mapper is the best I've used out of ANY mapping program.  Yes, it beats MapMyRun, Training Peaks, Runner's World, Dailymile, and others.  It's got a really clever "follow roads" feature with 4 options:
  1. Do not follow roads.  Pretty self-explanatory.
  2. Follow roads on foot.  It ignores things like one-way streets.  This is useful if you're running on a one-way street the wrong way, but you're on the sidewalk.  Or if you're going down one side of Summit Avenue, but it's opposite the direction of traffic.
  3. Follow roads on bicycle.  Here, it follows all traffic laws, but avoids highways.
  4. Follow roads in a vehicle.  Follows all traffic laws, and takes highways.

It's also got all kinds of analysis tools.  As an example, here is a plot of my pace over time, but only for my long runs.  Being able to label runs let's me do something like this really easily.  I could do the same for tempo runs, fartleks, etc.  There are countless other things you can plot: pace, distance, time, pulse, weather, effort, weight, etc.  The bar graphs even look pretty (see the second image in this post).

For those of you who are really "techie" when it comes to running, this has got some features for you.  If you've got an Android phone (the iPhone is so 2007...), there's a free app, "Handy Runner" that logs your runs via GPS and uploads directly to RA.  Simple as that.  If you've got some other GPS device, you can upload those files into RA too.


As you can tell, I really like RunningAHEAD.  The developer (a guy named Eric), is very present in the forums and is making changes/updates constantly.  You can tell he's really involved, and this is very much his "pet project".  And that's really the main difference between RunningAHEAD and Training Peaks.  Training Peaks is a behemoth that's created to get you to pay for the extra features.  RunningAHEAD is free log created by a runner for runners.  I'd never consider paying for the "premium" features on Training Peaks, but you can bet that I'm going to donate to the RunningAHEAD cause.

So, faithful readers, do you use Training Peaks, RunningAHEAD, or some other log?  I hope I've given you a useful peek into two logs, and I'd be interested to hear what you have to say about them.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Online Training Logs Redux, Part 1: Training Peaks

Last May, I wrote a post comparing two online training logs.  In it, I compared the Runner's World Online Training Log with Dailymile.  Since then, I've tried out some other logs, and now I want to do a more in-depth look into them.  This post will deal with Training Peaks, and the next post will be a look at Running Ahead.

Training Peaks

Main Calendar View

Training Peaks (TP) was a very attractive option for me, and for the last few months of 2010, I had planned on switching to it once the new year came about.  TP has a lot of features, so it's a lot more than just a training log.  You can put your meals in, and it has a vast database of foods that you can select from.  It also allows you to plan your training, making it easy to compare what you've done with what you planned to do.  Furthermore, if you have a coach, or use one of Hal Higdon's Interactive Training Plans, the workouts can be put on your calendar by your coach or Hal.  I'm not coached, but the number of features was appealing.

A downside to all these features is that TP seems pretty dated.  I'm not referring to the visual appearance of the software (although it isn't particularly attractive), but rather how it adds unnecessary steps to simple tasks.  For example, if I wanted to log a 4 mile run that I ran in 35 minutes, 29 seconds, I might try and enter it like this:

Notice the Pace?  It thinks I was running a leisurely pace of 8 hours, 52 minutes, 15 seconds per mile!  You'll see in the black box that all I did was enter my time, 35:29, and it assumed a format of hours:minutes.  Almost every other log I've tried is smart enough to recognize that a two field entry (like 35:29) means minutes:seconds, not hours:minutes.  Is this a big deal?  Not really, but needing to enter something like 0:35:29 is a little ridiculous.

Here is the same run with the corrected time, and you can see that there are a lot of features on this one screen.  It can be expanded even more to let you input planned duration/distance.  And you'll also see an "Exercises & Intervals" tab at the top.  The ability to record reps and intervals is a must-have feature for any training log.  So, if I click on it, what do I get?  This:

Alright...well, that wasn't helpful.  I just want to be able to record my rep times and interval times.  But, I'll click on "Add new set" and see what happens:

Better, but not very helpful either.  What does "Set 1" mean?  Is a set my entire 8x400 workout?  Just the reps?  Or intervals?  Or is it just one entry?  Not sure, but I can only enter a single time and single distance.

Now I've got one rep in there, let's try adding an interval:

So, what TP is offering is the ability to record a ridiculous amount of data for each entry.  Since I'm not using a HRM, I don't need to enter heart rate, or RPE, or intensity for each entry.  That's way more detail than one should need.

Other parts of the software can be just as frustrating.  If I mapped out a route, I'd like an easy way to apply it to my workout.  But, since this is TP, it's not going to be easy.  First, one must find the "Routes Library" on the left side of the page.  From this list, you can drag a route to the workout screen.  Drag?  Why not just a drop-down list?  And, since I'm on a laptop computer, the workout screen overlaps the routes library, and I have to move it all around just to be able to do this:

On a side note, TP uses Mapquest for it's mapping software.  Not to nitpick, but Google Maps is significantly better at including pedestrian and cycling trails on the mapping system.  It can make a big difference in distance if one follows, for example, Minnehaha Parkway or the Minnehaha Trail.  Big difference.  Google can do this.  Mapquest, not so much.

To top it off, the map won't default to my home address.  It's not fun to be centered over Kansas every time I'd like to map a run starting in St. Paul.

But, for me, the thing that convinced me to give up on Training Peaks is that all of the features I'm looking for cost $$$.

All those green things? Premium features.

I get that companies need to make money in some way.  But plotting your weekly distance is a Premium Feature?  There is very little available in the way of analysis for the free user.  When I first started using TP, I tried finding a way to classify all of my runs.  What I like to do is label a run as LSD, or Fartlek, or Easy, or something like that, then I can compare runs of the same type.  It's ideal to compare LSD paces to each other.  Not so ideal to compare LSD paces with Tempo paces.  The TP people are very responsive to questions via Twitter, and the best solution they could offer was to put the label somewhere in the description of the run, then I could search for it later.  Not the most elegant method, but it would work.  I tried to do this, but then WHAMMO, that's when I realized that all the analysis I wanted to do wasn't available to me.

I wanted to like Training Peaks.  I really did.  But I don't.  I think it needs some major updates to make it competitive with other training logs.  Logs like Running Ahead.  Tune back in tomorrow for my review of Running Ahead.

Update: Part 2 has been posted.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Friday's Featured Blog: Run Tall, Walk Tall

Last week, we were in my hometown of Detroit.  This week, Friday's Featured Blog takes us all the way to   South Africa!  Yes, this week, the featured blog is Run Tall, Walk Tall by Johann.

I get a lot of enjoyment out of reading Johann's blog because it shows how running can tie so many people together.  I'll admit that I didn't regularly think about the running scene in South Africa (the only runners on the African continent that matter are the Kenyans, right?), but Run Tall, Walk Tall features some great experiences that people all over the globe can relate too.  Heck, they've even got Boston in South Africa:

Recently, Johann completed an 80km (that's ~50 miles for my Imperial readers), and has a fantastic set of photos from the race on his blog.  You can see those photos and his race report here.

Head on over to Run Tall, Walk Tall and give it a read!

The Friday's Featured Blog series is an opportunity for me to feature blogs that I enjoy reading.  If you're looking for new blogs to read, click on to the blogs I feature.  If I feature your blog, and you're uncomfortable with me doing so, or using images from your site, just drop me a note in the comments and I'll take it down.  I have not contacted the owner of the featured blog prior to posting this--it's just my way of giving a shout-out to a worthy blogger.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Securian Winter Run "Fifty-Eight One Hundred and Thirty-Firsts" Marathon

Saturday morning was the Securian Winter Run Half Marathon.  You know, the race for which I was significantly undertrained.  I would have been really happy with anything close to my PR of 1:52.  Well, I finished in 1:35.  WHAT?!?  HUH?!?  Uh, keep reading...

I know how to dress for weather that's above 30.  I know how to dress for 15 below.  I have trouble with the in-between temps.  So here was my living room floor the night before the race:

Many options for clothing, and I changed my mind many times

Strangest chip I've ever seen

Eventually, I decided to wear my new New Balance compression tights with an Under Armour base layer top and Under Armour pullover.  Adding a hat and some gloves, it turned out to be the perfect race-day outfit.  I was also really excited since this would be my first race on a dry surface in my Brooks Launch.  (As it turns out, they felt fantastic.)

Katie was racing the 10k, and we got to the Securian Building about 75 minutes prior to the gun.  We milled about, ran into some friends (Steve and Pharmie, Tony, and Steve Q., then meandered outside for the start.  Katie and I wished each other luck, and I found a spot in the starting corral.

Looking down Jackson

While waiting around for the start, I ran into two people who I had only known via Dailymile/blogging: Shannon and Salli.  All of a sudden, the gun went, and we were off.

At the start, still on Jackson

The course was...challenging.  Instead of heading down to the river as in past years, we had to detour around the light rail construction area (another reason I'm not a fan of the Central Corridor).  So, we went downhill to Lowertown, then began a long, steady climb up Kellogg to Rice Park.  Below, you can see the start of the climb beyond where Union Depot crosses the road.

Before getting to Rice Park, I saw Steve running the other way.  My aim was a little off, so I had to edit the photo just a bit to get him in the shot.

At the same time, he was recording video and got a shot of me.  His aim is slightly better.  (If you can't find me in the photo, look under the BIG. RED. ARROW.  Thanks Steve.)

The loop around Rice Park was actually quite nice because we got to see all the ice sculptures.  And a circa 1990 Dodge Dakota.

The 10k'ers started 5 minutes after the Half Marathoners, so I was keeping an eye out for Katie heading back down Kellogg.

She's wearing BRIGHT GREEN.  And she's not the cop directing traffic.

The 5k was brought to us by the letter Y.  It's in front of the bus.

Heading downhill to Shepard Road, the course headed up the river.  Reaching the first water stop at mile 3, I was a bit puzzled by the water:

The problem is that they gave me a bottle of water with a cap on it.  So, I had to juggle a camera, the water, the cap, and later, a Gu.  It was a little tough.  And there weren't any trash cans except right at the water stop, so since I held on to the water for a little while, there wasn't a good place to ditch it until the next water stop a few miles later.

At this point, I should update you on my running.  Actually, I was having a great time and feeling pretty good.  It was tough to read my watch because it fogged up.  The hills were nice and rolling along Shepard Road (my favorite type of course), I felt reasonably swift, and the day was perfect for a run.

I hit the mile 6 marker in 50'06", and knew that I had a shot at my PR.  Up ahead was the turnaround, and I thought "Wow, that came up pretty quickly!  Nice!"

The turnaround.  No race official, just a cop.

After turning back towards Downtown, I saw the next marker.  It said 8.  "Wow, this race is flying by!"  Then, "I don't remember marker 7, well, maybe I just didn't see it."  Hitting my watch, my time from marker 6 to marker 8: 3'44".  Two options.  First, I just set a world record in the 2 mile.  Second, someone screwed up.

Somehow, someone botched the turnaround and did so about 3/4 mile too early.  The final distance of the race ended up being 11.6 miles instead of the usual 13.1.

Let me editorialize here.  Did Securian/Anderson Race Management screw up?  Yes.  Was it the end of the world?  No.  All the runners knew going into the race that the course was not certified.  Thus, you couldn't use the race to qualify for Corral 1 of TCM, for example.  It was billed as a fun, winter run.  Whether it was 13.1 miles, or 11.6 miles, it was still a race of significant distance.  Everyone ran the same course.  We'll hope they fix everything for next year, but I urge you that if you ran this race on Saturday and are upset about the distance, understand that things happen, and try to enjoy the run.  It was really a spectacular day for a run.

How could one get upset about the error?  I mean, look at the fantastic views one gets as they head back into Downtown:

Getting back downtown, I realized how much I loathe the Central Corridor.  First, we go up the hill on Jackson:

Then, it was downhill to Lowertown, then back uphill again in the last mile back to the start.  That last uphill just killed me.  I lost any momentum I had and my calf cramped.  Ugh.  But, I was happy to be done:

So was Katie:

Result: 11.6 miles, 1:35:29, 8:14/mile pace.  Extrapolating that pace out to a 13.1, I would have finished in 1:47ish.  Which, would have been a great PR.  I felt great running, and it showed in my finishing time.  Even though I can't count it as a half marathon PR, I definitely set an 11.6 Mile PR.

Afterwards, we ate, stretched, and left.  Back home in the parking lot, I noticed that Katie hadn't taken the plastic bag off her backpack, so she had a cape thing going on:

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