Friday, November 25, 2011

Recovery can be fun too

It’s been almost two weeks since the Chilly Half and exactly that long since I last ran.  And I feel ok, both physically and mentally.  Yesterday, I missed my first race due to this shin splint, and I didn’t have that nagging feeling of missing out.

As I trained for the half and the pain in my shin waxed and waned, I went through periods of despair that this injury would end my bid to run my best half marathon ever.  The morning of the Somerville Homeless Coalition 5K, I made peace with the thought that I was going to need to take some time off from running and forego the Chilly Half to allow my shin to heal.  But, then the week after the 5K my shin improved.  It was still not pain-free, but I could run on it without it impacting my stride.

I picked up my t-shirt and bib for the Gobble, Gobble,Gobble 4 miler last weekend, knowing full well that only half of those items would get any use.  Yesterday morning, I went out to the race course to support my friend A as she continues to make fantastic strides in her running (serious negative split and beat her goal!), and to cheer on both BPC and BTT athletes.  As I stood at the finish line, a man next to me asked why I wasn’t running, and I replied that I was signed up but had a bum leg.  It was as if fate had sent him to tell me, “See you’re not disappointed.  Taking care of your body and not running is ok, too.”

Of course, I miss running.  Maybe it’s that setting a PR at the Chilly Half has instilled a new confidence and calm within me.  I feel a bit like a kid in a candy store:  which PR do I want to tackle next, all of them are within reach.  I’m very tempted to return to the half marathon distance again this season with an “adequate endurance base.”  

You see the week before the Chilly, my coach told me that although I would likely set a PR at the race, I did not have an “adequate endurance base for a quality half.”  Can you hear the sound of tires screeching to a halt in my brain?  WHAT? I’d been training for 9 weeks for this race, and it’s not like I was starting from a couch potato fitness level.  What Alan meant was, there’s a difference between having the fitness to go out and run a half (maybe even your best half to date) and having the fitness to run the best half your body is capable of running.  Despite the long miles I had run in preparation, I hadn’t even come close to running the 20 mile long runs for 8-12 weeks that is necessary to prepare for that best half ever time.  

Since I’ve stopped running, I’ve been swimming and biking more, and I’ve added some legitimate weight training.  For the last several months, my strength training has been limited to body-weight core exercises (think planks and bridges).  Though I enjoy these, it doesn’t compare to the pleasure of hitting the gym for bench presses and lunges.  The weight room at one time was a place that raised my heart rate just by going in.  After training with Paul two years ago, it’s no longer daunting.  I know what I’m doing, and I emerge feeling stronger for it.

My shin is improving, too.  I can run my finger over the spot that once was too sensitive to the touch and have no pain.  I’m still on NSAIDs, so I’m not quite ready to declare victory just yet, but I’m encouraged. They say that triathletes are either injured or racing or both.  My goal for right now is to be neither, so that come August I can be firmly in the racing camp.  Of course, a lot can happen between now and then:  there are no guarantees.  All I can do is put my faith in the process and enjoy the (bike) ride.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Signs of good things to come

I can now wholeheartedly recommend actually training for a Half Marathon. 

I was surprised at how nervous I was for this race.  I'd had three less than optimal runs this week that didn't do much for my confidence.  Saturday was all about the details:  what to wear, how to use my watch, what time to arrive.  Luckily, I have a very detail-oriented coach who loves getting into this stuff.  Seriously, we were discussing the blend of polyester and spandex in my tights to determine whether or not they would be appropriate for the slightly warmer than anticipated temperatures (they were).  And he gave me the ok to use not just the virtual partner, but also the advanced workouts in my garmin (so I could have a visual on pace and an auditory alert if my heart rate exceeded the prescribed zone for each portion of the race).

Sunday morning with my wardrobe approved and my watch programmed, I felt ready.  I got to the race course early, and got a great parking spot.  The race began and ended at the Newton South High School, which was great to have a structure to wait in and indoor plumbing!  I caught up with a few friends, and before long it was 7:05, time to warm up.  I ran my 16 minute warm up, ate a gel, drank some water and headed for the start line. 

Despite having finely tuned my garmin, as I was attempting to lock the bezel, I managed to start the watch.  I think about 30 seconds elapsed by the time I realized this and stopped it.  I didn't have time to reset the watch, so I just restarted it when the gun went off.  This meant that when I started running, I was already well behind my virtual partner.  I tried to stay a consistent number of seconds behind the VP.

And that worked until I got to the first hill.  You see, This course covers some of the heart break hill area from the Boston Marathon.  I've heard it referred to as the Chilly Hilly Half.  I was prepared for the "big hill" at 5.6 miles, but there was still a fair bit of "undulation" before you got there.  I decided as I floated down a hill, pulling my VP back to 10 seconds ahead of me that this was ok.  Having an average 7:45 was the goal, I can't expect to go the same speed uphill as downhill, and I might as well take advantage of the free speed on the downhill.

Touring some expensive neighborhoods in the western suburbs of Boston, the miles peeled off. It was mile 10, and I was feeling pretty good, but also getting a bit anxious to be done.  I wanted to pick up the pace, but of course the plan was to stick to the 7:45s til 11.1.  And I was very glad that I did.  I picked it up at 11 and started passing people, only to hit one last hill at 12 that allowed some one to pass me back.  Ok, none of that, keep picking people off.  Just as the finish line came into view, a woman sprinted up next to me.  No way.  I dig deep, find my last ounce of effort, and sprint past her, finishing 2 seconds ahead.

I came in in 1:40:02.  Two minutes faster than my goal and over six minutes improvement on my previous PR.  And 10th in my age group out of 154.  This race gives me a lot of confidence for the coming season.

Of course in every race, there are things that you could do better, in this one, I did not negative split.  As best I can tell I ran 49:55 for the first half and 50:04 in the second (oh, and according to my watch the course was short by about a tenth of a mile).  And the first half of the course had more climbs (247 ft versus 146 ft), so that only accentuates my getting slower over the race. 

My shin felt ok throughout the race.  Not recovered, but it didn't bother me.  In fact, right now the thing that's bothering me most is my left hip.  Maybe it was all the climbing or descending, but it's very sore.  Regardless, both will have 3 weeks to recover with no running as I take a break to try to get back to injury-free running.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Chilly Half Race Plan

The Newton Chilly Half is just 5 days away.  It will be my seventh half marathon, and the first that I've really trained for.  You see, three of those half marathons were part of half ironmans.  Totally different game.  My first half, back in Australia was just after I had moved to Brisbane, I used it as an excuse to keep myself training, but I think I only did one ten mile run in preparation.  Then two BAA Half Marathons, each on the tail ends of tri seasons where I was taking some time off from training, but not racing.  The danger of half marathons is that they are just short enough that I feel like I can just go out and run it without training.

Not so this time.  That is not the Coach Alan way.  I've been training for 9 weeks with increasing distance each week, starting around 7 miles, topping out around 11.

Race starts at 7:30, it's gonna be about 35 degrees then with winds around 10 mph.  I'm planning on wearing the same gear as the Devils Chase.  Brief warmup.  I'm gonna be racing at a 7:45 pace (hopefully with my virtual partner on my Garmin if I can get everything working right) with heartrate varying with the HILLS. 

That's right, this course has several of the hills from the Boston Marathon itself.  So, yeah there's that.

My current Half Marathon PR is 1:46.  I'm feeling pretty confident I can beat that.  If I hold my 7:45s, I'll come in at 1:42.

Finally, the most important part of the half marathon:  the BPC Brunch.  No training can prepare me for that.  See you on the course.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Calculating your resting heart rate

As I've mentioned before, I've started tracking my daily resting heart rate.

(Not sure why it says weight.  It should say pulse.  I promise I don't weigh 61 pounds.)  So, first it's pretty erratic, but what I can see are tough workouts.  Like say, Saturday's race.  On Sunday, my resting heart rate was up to 59.  After 2 days it recovered (only to spike again today, I don't have a good rationale for that one).

But trickier than figuring out what the heart rate data means, is figuring out what my resting heart rate is.  I've taken to keeping my garmin next to my bed.  When the alarm goes off, I pull on the strap, start my watch, and snooze/check my phone for >5 minutes.  Then I upload this data to garmin connect.  It looks like this:

As you can see, it moves around quite a bit, and it always has a peak near the beginning as my heart rate recovers from putting the strap on.  I couldn't just use the average over the whole interval cause that peak would throw it off.  I had been eyeballing the average heart rate over what looked like the minimal minute.  But the engineer in me just couldn't cope with the inaccuracy.  I needed... a spreadsheet!

I've created a google spreadsheet, although the same functions work equally well in excel.  You're welcome to just use it to calculate your minimum heart rate, or you can read further where I'll explain how I created it.  

Either way, you'll download a TCX file from garmin.  Excel whines a bit and throws several errors about the data, but after accepting the risks and data formatting problems, it will open.  In the file, you'll see a column with the time you started the workout, the max heart rate, average heart rate, then observation times, heart rates at each observation.  Those last two are the only ones you need.

Those first two columns are directly from the TCX, just copy and paste.  If you're creating your own file in  excel, you'll need to paste as text, in the google spreadsheet you can just paste.  You're calculated minimum heart rate over a minute will display in cell J3.  

Now, if you're still with me, here's the fun stuff.  First, we need to get the time stamp out of the string in that first column.  We can do that using the =time() function and the =mid() function (which just takes characters out of a string).  I'm not worried about the the hours here, so I just set it to zero.

Next, I want to find the time that is one minute before the time stamp (this is the time I'll be looking for to determine how many rows to go back to average).
Then I confirm that I have at least a minute of data to average by comparing the minute back time to the first time stamp in the set (don't forget the absolute reference otherwise bad things may happen).
=if(E3<$D$3,false, true)
Now for the magic.  You see, the garmin doesn't record obervations at regular intervals.  If it loses its connection to the heart rate monitor, then it doesn't record anything, so we can't just do a rolling average of say, the last 10 records.  We have to figure out how many observations were in that last minute.  We use the =match() function.  This finds the greatest value that is less than the sought value, so if we're looking for the minute before an observation at 2:59, match will look for the greatest value that is less than 1:59.  The result is the number of cells from the top of the field where that minute starts.

Now all we have to do is compute the average.  We use the =offset() function to compute the range of observations to average.  Offset takes an initial cell, shifts from that cell down a number of rows and columns, and then returns an array of the number of rows/columns specified, so we give offset the first heart rate value B3, shift by the index we just calculated, and then tell it the number of rows from that cell to the cell we started at.  

That was easy.  Now we have a column that gives the trailing average heart rate, we take the minimum of that column and we're good to go.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Planning for 2012

Got any good recommendations for spring races?  I'm thinking of another half marathon before the tri season and I'd like to get in a few more 5 and 10Ks. 

Tentatively, I've got:

  • Feb 5:  Super Sunday 5K/10K, I think, website not updated from last year
  • Mar 18:  Ras Na hEirann (or an Ras Mor)
  • Apr 15:  BAA 5K
  • May 13:  M.O.M.'s Day 5K
  • May 27:  Run to Remember 5mi/Half Mara
What do you think?

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