Cold data vs. real people

This morning I used the Boston Marathon’s “athlete tracker” feature to follow two runners. I don’t know either of these people personally, but I’ve come to know them in the virtual world of blogging and message board posting. I was pretty familiar with their training and, even given that our relationship consists of the most tenuous of connections, I had a stake in their races. I really wanted them both to do well today.

One runner had a great race. The other had a terrible one. I don’t know what happened to the second runner, but I’ll find out soon enough.

The tracker provided 5K split times, average pace and projected finish time. With each split update, I’d do the mental math to compare it to the others (and to the time goal each runner had) to evaluate what was happening. I also have a little knowledge of the course from reading reports (and, of course, watching it on television), so I had a good idea of which 5Ks could be “forgiven” for being a little slow.

Watching the dry data — 5K splits appearing every 18-24 minutes — produced the oddest sensation, a cognitive clash between cold numbers and the raw, human experience tied to those numbers. Watching the first runner, I could tell she was having a good day, perhaps even one of those rare “on” days when everything goes right and you run to your full physical and mental potential. For the second one, I watched in horror as he imploded late in the race, dropping from a 6:30 pace in the early miles to close to 14:00 per mile at the end.

Technology is an amazing gift. With RFID chips and Internet-based media, we have an eye in the sky, looking down on our runners of choice. Yet there is also an intensely sad quality to the remoteness in tracking athletes from afar. Their triumphs and struggles are, at best, telegraphed, not shared or felt. We can’t cheer, help or hug. Only watch. And wait for the race reports.

Spring Race Training: Week 13


I’m fast approaching the sixth month mark of being on a “2 weeks on, 1 week off” training schedule. This arrangement has worked out remarkably well for me. I’m fresh and peppy for the two hard weeks, but by the time I get to the recovery week I really, really need it.

I had another great week. It’s starting to feel a little creepy. Or foreboding. Or something. Unnatural. I keep waiting for the giant 16 ton Monty Python weight to come crashing down, but it never does.

This week was, like the previous few recovery weeks, marked by insane hunger and terrible insomnia. I have no clue why these issues feature so prominently in what should be a “down” week, but they do. I’d be interested to know if others out in blogland experience these two things during recovery weeks too.

Despite last Sunday’s semi-epic fast finish 22 miler, I felt full of energy on Monday, and my fairly fast recovery pace reflects that.

Tuesday was basically a shortened version of what I did on Sunday — a mid-length general aerobic run with three miles at 6:50 tacked on at the end. This version of the run went a bit better than Sunday’s, as there was less wind to contend with (and seven fewer miles) and I was able to work harder during the last miles. On Sunday, I was just too fatigued to run 6:50 at the end and couldn’t get my legs moving (nor my HR above about 86%). In contrast, on Tuesday I had no trouble meeting (and, in fact, slightly exceeding) the required paces, and the run overall was on the quicker side, averaging 8:14.

Wednesday and Thursday each had two short recovery runs. Unfortunately, the right groin issue (that dates all the way back to late January) has returned, probably as a result of whaling on it Sunday and Tuesday. It’s not bad, though. Just annoying, especially on downhills.

Thursday’s PM run was, as it so often is, the low point of the week. I just felt like shit, especially after attempting strides in the morning. The pace is only as quick as it is (“quick” being a relative term when referring to 10:16 pace) because I wanted to get the run over with.

As usually happens, I recovered overnight and awoke a new woman on Friday morning. Since I seem to run at my best at about 7AM, I hit the track early and pulled another fabulous speed session out of my hat. Despite a steadily increasing wind, I managed to average 3:08s (right on target) for my half mile repeats, doing the second three faster than the first three. I even royally fucked up repeat #3 by pressing the wrong watch buttons. That repeat was somewhat comical, with my hitting “stop” instead of “lap,” then hitting “lap” instead of “start,” then running 200m with the watch off, then stopping and cursing…

Saturday was another down day, with a very high RHR of 56(!) and an exhausted run featuring lots of walking, sitting on benches and stopping to look at ducks.

Today’s run was supposed to be “very easy.” I was instructed to run this in the “low 9:00s,” which I did. Technically. I guess 9:01 average pace is about as low as you can go without running 9:00. I just couldn’t run any slower than this. But since I averaged 71% MHR, I figure that was okay.

This weekend felt like spring for the first time. While I’ve loved the warmer temperatures, the spring flowers and enthusiastic songbirds, the flipside is that everyone comes out on the weekend and clogs the path. I don’t know why morons are so attracted to bike ownership, but the combination of obliviousness and wheeled conveyance makes for some, uh, challenging encounters on the path. That and the dog walkers with 30 ft long leashes (with black cording, no less, so you can’t see them), ready to clothesline the unsuspecting runner.

And today I had my first bonafide smackdown with a male goose. He came charging at me, hissing and tongue-wagging. I couldn’t find a stick in time (my usual defensive move, stick waving). So I threw my arms akimbo, ran straight at the goose and screamed, “Fuck off!” Goose reversed course and scurried away. Unfortunately, there were no witnesses to capture the moment for YouTube posterity.

Coming up in week 14: Another plain vanilla 16 miler on Tuesday, 3 x 1 mile intervals on Friday (whee!) and a reasonably paced 20 miler (8:20ish) on Sunday.

Kibet, Kwambai and Claudio Berardelli

Anyone watching the Rotterdam Marathon this year saw one of the closest finishes in marathon history, with Duncan Kibet nipping James Kwambai in a finish so close that they were both credited with a time of 2:04:27. But, perhaps more important, we witnessed two of the fastest times in history — just third behind Haile Gebrselassie’s two world records at the distance.

With this race a new era has dawned, at least in men’s marathoning. The bar has been raised and, as so often happens, it’s a good bet that runners will rise to the challenge in the coming months and years.

What’s also notable about the two performances in this race is that both men are coached by the same man, Claudio Berardelli. His fellow Italian coach, Renato Canova, is a frequent (and eagerly received) contributor to In this recent thread he provides insight into the training that Kibet and Kwambai are doing. Unfortunately, English is not Canova’s strong point, so understanding his posts takes some effort and reading between the lines. But it’s mental work worth doing.

Jonathan was so curious about how these training concepts translated into his own race goals that he created this basic spreadsheet [updated 4/19/09]. Using the examples that Canova provided as a source for calculations and ratios, the spreadsheet can be used to calculate workout paces for any marathon goal. I refined it to make it a little more user friendly.

I had to rename the extension from “xls” to “doc” in order to upload to WordPress. So you may need to change it back to “xls” in order for it to open in Excel. To use, enter your goal time in the blue box at top left — you actually update it in Excel’s formula bar, with (x, y, z) being hours (x), minutes (y), seconds (z). Your paces will be calculated automatically. In order to understand the sets of workouts (Fundamental, Special, Specific), you should read through the thread linked above. You should read through it anyway, actually, as it’s full of interesting ideas and, unfortunately, lots of unanswered questions.

The usual caveats apply: This was created by a couple of amateur schlubs using information off a message board. So you get what you pay for.

It is amazing to think that these guys are doing workouts like these (4 x 7K intervals?). But they apparently work.

Have fun!

The Joanie and Billy Show

Joan Benoit Samuelson and Billy Rodgers chat pre-Boston. God, I love these two.

Lorraine Moller: On the Wings of Mercury

Nice profile of New Zealand marathon pioneer Lorraine Moller.

Goals for the NJ Half Marathon

I have two big races on the horizon: the New Jersey Half Marathon on May 3 and the Newport Marathon on May 30. The first is a tuneup race, the second is the event I’ve been preparing for since November.

I don’t have a goal time yet for the marathon, as that will largely rest on two things: how I do in the half in a few weeks as well as how I do in my remaining key workouts between now and mid-May.

However, I am ready to declare my time goals for the New Jersey race, along with what their respective minute per mile (mpm) paces:

  • Dream goal: 1:28:30 (6:46 mpm)
  • Reasonable goal: 1:30:00 (6:52 mpm)
  • “I can live with it” goal: 1:32:00 (7:02 mpm)

Declaring race goals publicly always makes me nervous. But in a strange way, I’ve often felt that the act of externalizing one’s judgments about what’s possible plays an important part in also being able to internalize those expectations. I say, “I will perform X on May 3” to the world and in turn my brain says, “Well, I guess I’d better get ready to perform X in a few weeks.”

Race Report: Paris Marathon

(Not mine.) Completely breathtaking. Allez Pascal!

Spring Race Training: Week 12


Two months out from race day and things are still going well. This was another high mileage week with three hard workouts as usual, one of them a big, scary track session that loomed large over the past few weeks.

One update before I get to the blow by blow: The foot problem is gone. No pain and no more unsightly bump. Cortisone is an amazing substance indeed. One of my favorite comedians, Patton Oswalt, has referred to alcohol as “pain go bye bye juice,” but I’ve begun to think that term is more aptly applied to cortisone.

Last Sunday was a huge effort and it took its toll on Monday. I felt fine in the morning but as the day wore on I felt progressively tired, culminating in total sleepiness at 5PM, which necessitated a two hour nap.

Tuesday was sort of a crappy day. I had terrible insomnia on Monday due to an upset stomach. The run was slower than I’d wanted and my stomach was still iffy during the run. I wonder if it had anything to do with all the crap I ate on my birthday on Sunday. Ya think?

Even though Wednesday and Thursday were recovery days, they nevertheless featured a lot of miles. I walked a lot in the city on Wednesday (and cut short one run by two miles as a result). I was completely fried by Thursday afternoon, which featured a terribly windy PM run.

Friday was a day of reckoning, featuring a speed workout that I’ve mentioned in at least one previous post. Fortunately, the weather was near perfect — almost no wind, with cool temps and somewhat overcast. I hit the track early in the morning to beat the crowds (and schoolchildren) and had what I can only describe as a dream session.

The first few intervals were slightly slow (1:38-1:40), as I didn’t want to run them too fast. By the fifth, I’d hit my groove and was running most of them at 1:37 or within a second either way. The last four were 2-3 seconds faster each than goal time, something I’d planned to try. I felt so good that I was tempted to do four more (to make it 20), but decided that I’d been assigned 16 for a good reason and not to push things. Heart rate topped out at 90%, which was lower than I’d expected. They didn’t feel easy, but they didn’t feel particularly hard either.

Saturday’s recovery effort was another ass-dragging run, when I had to remind myself that I usually snap back in time for the big run on Sunday. I’d also taken care to eat a lot of carbs during Friday and Saturday and hydrate properly so I’d be fueled up.

This morning I headed out for another big run — a 22 mile long run with three fast miles at the end. It was, as usual, horrendously windy. The wind was primarily coming from the N-NW, at a steady clip of 15-20mph. I drove to the halfway point and ran the first six south, so I’d at least have the wind at my back for the early miles. Then I turned around and spent the next 11 miles running straight into a headwind. At Valhalla Dam I turned around and found that the wind had turned to a swirling, shifting wind. It was at my back for much of the time, a side- or headwind at others.

I managed just over 7:00 pace for three miles. My watch goes completely wacky in the wind (explain that one to me — it’s a GPS watch, not a windsock), so I had no idea how fast I was running. Sometimes it would say 8:20, others 5:40. And everything inbetween.

I did my best, doing my three miles in 21:04 (34 seconds off pace). I ran a half mile easy and then decided to tack on another fast half mile to justify the beer I’d planned to have later on. I managed that in 3:30. In all, I’m pretty happy with the run today, even if it wasn’t quite the pace I wanted. 22 miles at any pace is only going to help. I averaged 8:21, which is not bad in windy conditions. As a side note, I  hit the 22 mile mark in 3:04. According to Pete Pfitzinger, this is a pretty good indicator of one’s achievable marathon time.

I’ve received the remaining weeks (plus taper) of my training plan for the Newport race. There are four more weeks of quality running to go, followed by a fairly radical cutdown in both mileage and intensity during the taper weeks. Next week, a recovery week, features another cut at longish run plus 3 miles in 20:30 at the end (Tuesday), some fast 800s on the track, and a mere 16 miles on Sunday with nothing special.

Kara sighting last night!

Fooled ya! I didn’t actually see Kara Goucher. Instead, I had yet another in my ongoing series of Kara Goucher dreams. The worst came several months ago, when I dreamt that I was lined up on a track, getting ready to race, and Kara Goucher was crouching to my right, so close that I could see her forehead vein palpitating.

Last night’s encounter had a totally different setting. I was on the set of one of those vapid morning talk programs, and they were featuring as guests some 2008 Olympians doing little demonstrations: Jenn Stuczynski was pole-vaulting awkwardly in the cramped studio space. Kara was forced to run in place.

Then it was time for the pitch. Jenn and Kara were led over to a table on which sat a plate of ghastly looking processed meat products. Kara surreptitiously flipped one of them over to hide the label. But that didn’t get past our blonde, helmet-headed host. She made an exaggerated frowny face, chided Kara for not being a sport, and flipped the package back over for a proper product placement. Kara looked both angry and despairing. Jenn fiddled with her shorts and looked away.

Then, in a fit of petulance, Kara sent the entire contents of the table crashing to the floor and stomped away.

It was awesome.

Rinus Runs Rotterdam!

Rinus is a Dutch blogger who is a regular reader and commenter of this blog. He is also a prodigious marathoner, having completed 19 (with a PB just a shade over 3:30). He races other distances frequently too. I’ve begun to think of him as the Dutch Frank Colella. Not just because he races so often, but also because he’s a serial documenter of his races, which all have an important social component as well. In any race post, I can usually count on seeing lots of pictures of Rinus and Frank and friends.

Rinus has a Google translation tool on his blog, which enables me to understand about 25% percent of each post. In a way, reading his posts is like some sort of weird sensory deprivation experience. I get pieces of the story through words, along with more visceral elements through pictures and video, and a rough (yet still somewhat mysterious) narrative emerges.

His videos — some of them taken while actually running the race — are great fun to watch. I just wish I knew what the hell he was saying in them.

In this latest chronicling of his exploits, Rinus helps a few fellow runners attempt a 4:15 race at Rotterdam. They almost made it — it looks like the sun and heat may have caught them by surprise, though.