Thursday, May 26, 2011

Running by the numbers

After the end of winter track season, I took my mileage down under 60 for two weeks, and I didn't do any workouts. During this period, something strange happened: I would run just like normal on my standard running loops, and I would return home two or three minutes earlier than usual. My training pace, which had been around 7:30-7:45, was suddenly down around 7:10 pace.

I was thrilled! All that hard work was paying off! My coach was not as thrilled:
Just because you CAN run faster doesn't mean you should... If you'd like to be more scientific about it, we can get you set up with a heart rate monitor with target zones, but I think you'll work out and most importantly race better if you're a bit more relaxed on "off" days.

Get all scientific about it? Say no more; I'm on it! I got out the heart rate monitor and, since March 1, I have been recording my average heart rate for as many runs as possible. I've been graphing HR vs. pace as I go along:

I know this is hard to read. Sorry. You can view the full size. The trend is clear: As the pace slows down, the heart rate comes down.

It is a fact that if you run at a constant speed, your heart rate will slowly increase. So for a given pace, the average heart rate will tend to be higher for a 10-mile run than for a five-mile run. Because of this, I labeled each data point with the run's distance.

This graph contains many stories. There is the hilly 13-miler that I slogged through with a heart rate averaging 159 (bordering on "tempo effort"). On the other hand, there's a smooth 8-mile run averaging under 7:30 pace but with my heart rate at a cool 142.

I now have a better sense of what my heart rate is when I'm running; I can sometimes guess what it's going to be, without looking. If I'm running along and I don't feel very good, I'll glance down -- "oh, heart rate is 157, maybe that's why."

Something unexpected: My team does the same loop for both warm-up and cool-down on workout days, but my heart rate is drastically different for the two loops. This data is typical: Warm-up, 7:30 pace; heart rate 142. Cool down, 7:30 pace; heart rate 159. Gosh, track workouts must be really tough on the body!

A side benefit of graphing my heart rate is that I am less annoyed when I find myself running faster or slower than I intended. Fast people show up to the fun run? No problem, that's a new data point at 6:30 pace! End up running with the slow group? No problem; that's a new data point over 8:00 pace!

I think that a graph like this is a great way of measuring someone's fitness. My friend, who was also trying to keep her heart rate reasonable on recovery runs, wanted to know if we'd be able to run together, and a quick look at my graph told her that we would. If you want to know whether you and I can run together, you can easily tell from the graph that I do most of my runs between 7:30-7:45 pace (from the swarm of data points there), and a glance at the scale on the vertical axis tells you that this is usually a conversational pace for me (under 145 BPM).

The numbers on each data point tell you the run's distance, but there's no way to express change over time on the graph, so I made sure to keep track of the data points separately, with the date, in case I want to look at that later. I think that I am getting in better shape, because when I add data points, they are usually towards the bottom, with a lower heart rate for a given speed.

If I really try to peak for some of these upcoming races, and stop doing hard workouts but keep collecting heart rate data, I hope to see the type of thing that started this whole experiment: easy recovery effort, fast pace for the effort level, low heart rate. In other words, I hope to continue to make excellent happen.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

New 5k PR! (NBB Twilight Meet #1)

Last September, I lowered my 5k PR from 18:21 to 17:40 at the JCCRI 5k. Lots of people said, "great job, Diana!" but inside, at least a few were thinking, "the course was clearly short. Who takes 40 seconds off of their PR in one race?" (Never mind that it was USATF-certified and the course measurer was there.) So I was thrilled to follow it up with a 17:43.7 three weeks ago at the Scott Carlson Memorial 5k. And now I'm even more thrilled to have taken another 23 seconds off, with a 17:17.1 at last night's twilight meet!

The race was at night, so all day I hydrated and rested (with a 10-minute shakeout run) and ate cereal and bread. I got to Bentley a few hours early, and was happy to see that it was cool and calm -- no heat, no wind, no rain. Perfect conditions! I sat in my car for an hour or so and thought about the race, how I would feel and how I would react.

Ever since the end of indoor track, I've been training for this series of twilight meets, and in particular I've been training to run 83-second laps for the 5k. I reviewed what my times should be at various points (5:32 mile, 11:04 after 8 laps, 11:45 with four laps to go, etc.). All spring, I've been doing lots of intervals(800s, 1200s, miles, even 400s) at 83 seconds per lap, so the pace should be well-ingrained into my muscle memory.

I did about two miles of warm-up, and befriended Carly from the BAA. When I had seen her name on the start list, I had looked up her training on Athleticore and thought she might be trying to run 17:20 also, but it turned out she was planning to go out a little slower than that. We chatted for about a mile. I did a bunch of stretching and strides, and felt very loose by the time we lined up.

When Dan fired the gun, a Canadian runner went out really fast, and I went out well behind her, settling into second place and trying to settle into an 83. I could tell I was leading a pack, and the first lap turned out to be 80. Oops. Melissa from BAA was running directly beside me as I led the group through the second lap in 84. When Melissa heard that time, she jumped into the lead and I went with her. The third lap was 82, for a 4:06 1200. I stuck right with her even though the fourth lap seemed kind of hard, and it was -- 79.9, for a 5:26 1600. That was faster than my goal of 5:32.

It is well-known that it is easier to run 83s if you can tuck in behind someone who is running 83s, than if you have to run them all by yourself. However, it's not necessarily easier to tuck in behind someone running 82s, than to run 83s on your own. This was the problem I faced. I decided to stick with her and see if I could run a 17-minute 5k (81.8 seconds per lap). I fleetingly thought of my friend Caitlyn, who once found herself in a group and just went with it and ended up running 17:00.5. "Get on the train and ride," I thought.

The fifth lap was 82, for a 6:48 2k. At this point I was starting to lose contact with Melissa. She would get a little gap on me, and I'd have to put in a surge to catch back up. I did this twice or three times. Marissa, a high school runner, was running just behind me, and when I let a gap open up again after six or seven laps, she took the opportunity to pass me and get on Melissa's shoulder. I was able to stay in mental contact with the pair of them until about eight laps, passing that mark in 10:59, for a 5:33 second mile -- right on pace.

Before the race, I had mentally broken it up into the first four laps, the next four laps, a 200m, and then the last four laps. I knew I should get to "four laps to go" in about 11:45. I passed it in 11:44, so then I knew I was just about on pace. I had decided that I would run a little harder on each of the last four laps, so with four to go I increased the pressure. I was running harder, but only managing 84s. So it goes.

As I passed 4k, I heard 13:50, and made a mental note of that (I looked it up later; my previous 4k PR was 14:21). This means that I passed 3k in about 10:19, which is pretty good since I actually ran a 3k at BU in 10:16 when I had a bad race. Up ahead, Marissa had passed Melissa and I harbored fantasies of catching her as she slowed down. Though I was running hard, I wasn't able to close the gap between myself and Melissa. Although I was running hard and obviously in pain and oxygen debt, I also knew that the race was going perfectly, that I was running exactly the pace I was supposed to be running, and that everything was going exactly like it was supposed to go, so I had a certain calmness. I wasn't going to break 17, but I was going to live up to expectations.

I had decided that 15:50 was as slow as I could be with one lap to go and still get under 17:05 (NBB's Tier 1 standard), since a 75-second 400 is pretty much my limit. The clock said 15:57 as I poured it on. I ran 80 seconds for the last lap, 38 for the final 200, coming in at 17:17.10. If I'd only eased up just a little, I could have run 17:17.17!

Here is the video. My teammates are taking the video and narrating, so I get more airtime than a normal fourth-place finisher:

Watch more video of 2011 New Balance Boston Twilight Meet #1 on

I can't wait for the 10k next week!