Monday, December 31, 2007

Max HR surprises

When I started running, I calculated that my max HR should be 177 (220-43). I tried to confirm it by going up a hill a few times, as described in a book. I took my pulse up the hill but you can almost feel your pulse slow down as soon as you stop. And forget about doing it on the run. So I worked with 177 as a max.

Eventually I saw a Garmin Forerunner 305 GPS/HR monitor at my local running store and bought it. I did the hill thing and got 180 as a maximum. i really felt I couldn't go any harder. A few weeks later, after a really hard training session with lots of hills, I noticed I had a period where my HR had gone up to 182. Time to reset my zones.

A couple of months later I ran my first 10k race. I didn't look at my HR during the race but I recorded my race and downloaded it to my PC. To my surprise, my maxHR in the final sprint was a fairly steady 187! A month later (yesterday) I raced a 5k, pushed really hard and surprise: maxHR in the final 300m was 193.

This changes my race planning quite a bit. I don't train using HR zones, but I do analyze my training sessions as well as my races. When I plan my races and set my goals, I know that there are limits I can't break. For example, I know I can't run at 95% of maxHR for very long, so I can't pick a pace that requires that kind of effort for more than a km (hopefully the last one!).

I have no doubt that eventually I will find out that my ultimate maxHR is a bit above 193. As I gain experience, I become bolder and I'm willing to push harder and accept some discomfort for longer periods. Knowing my true HR allows me to plan better, see if I train or race too hard and get the maximum benefits from my training.

As I said earlier, I don't look at my HR during a race. There is no point. I customized one of my Garmin screens with my current pace, the current Km pace, Total time and distance. No HR on my racing screen.

I don't look at my HR during the race, but I sure look at it after!

Sunday, December 30, 2007


I'm not typically one to introspect too much but occasionnaly, I do. But I decided to spare you my inner turmoil following my unexpected success this morning.

I will gloat instead.

In this morning's race I beat my younger self even though I'm 20 years older than him. I beat him although he had all the advantages of youth. I'm trying to imagine the opposite: what if I had known back then, that my older self would kick my ass by a couple of minutes in a 5k.

I remember my frustration back then at not being able to run 5k under 25 minutes. I felt like I was trying as hard as I knew how.

Now, after a few months of training and at the ripe age of 43, I have exploded through that old barrier.

Now I have to accept it. You probably think: what's the big deal? So you ran under 25 minutes. Well, that limit was engrained in me. Even though I wasn't running anymore, I can remember a particular 5k run when I was about 13, a specific spot where I knew I wouldn't make it. Again. Once in a while I would get that flashback and wonder. If I start running, could I do it?

I tried to start running again many times and failed for all the mondane reasons that we've heard or experienced over and over. Kids, family, laziness, excuses, aches and pains... This time, I felt something snap into place. So immediately, I set myself two goals: run 5k under 25 minutes and 10k under 50. I have done the first so decisively that I just know the second goal is reached as well.

No book that I've read gives you any idea of how much improvement you can expect. We all have a limit, they say. Well I thought mine was at or around 50 minutes for the 10km. Now I know it's not, but I feel lost. When I look at those pacing tables, or expected finish times, where do I direct my eyes? Will I ever run a 40 minutes 10k?

I somehow feel as if a familiar safety net has been removed from somewhere under me. I used to know things. I used to know my limits. Now I don't. Should I try to find out? Does it matter?

I guess I did introspect after all.

Resolution Run results

Just ran the race a couple of hours ago and I did much better than expected! I finished in 23:44, over a minute faster than my ultimate goal of 24:59.

According to my Garmin Forerunner 305, my race looked like this:

Km Plan Actual
1 5:03 5:03
2 5:02 4:53
3 5:00 4:51
4 4:58 4:49
5 4:55 4:05

I felt really strong after my first km, after finally finding my place in the pack and I decided to go faster than planned. The course was fairly flat and had no major hill. We didn't have chips and the times are from my Garmin.

This is my best 5km time ever and I'm ecstatic. My VDOT is up to 40 from 36. My new training paces are now:
  • E-Pace: 6:19/km
  • M-Pace: 5:27/km
  • T-Pace: 5:06/km (ouch!)
  • I-Pace: 4:42/km
My T-Pace runs will now be quite challenging.

Tomorrow I will probably run 3 or 4 km real slow to stretch my legs. My Canoe club has a 9km race on Tuesday (New Year) called "Hair of the Dog Run" and I might run it. I'm not sure how hard yet. We'll see how my legs feel tomorrow.

I met a couple of people from the Canoe club at the race today. That was nice. They ran the 5k with their teenage son who pushed a bit too hard. When I saw him after the race, he was projectile-vomiting. But he beat his previous PR so who cares, right?

Friday, December 28, 2007

Last run before 5K race

Today was my last run before Sunday's Resolution Run 5K race.

Let's put myself out there: I'm trying to run under 25 minutes.

This is not going to be easy for me but should be possible. I ran a 10k last month in 54:15 and I still had some in me. This gives me a VDOT of 36 (more on that in another post). I did it with definite negative splits, running a 5:40/km pace for the first 5k and 5:21 on the second. According to my Garmin, the course wasn't quite 10K but the reported paces should be accurate.

The question is: can I shave 20 seconds per km on a 5k run? I've trained reasonably well while being careful not to get injured, especially with the ice and snow. On the other hand, when I analyze my race, my two last km looked like this:
  • km 9 5:15 pace HR=94% of max
  • km 10 4:54 pace HR= 96% of max
A bit more disturbing is the fact that before that race I thought my max HR was 184, but I actually went up to 187 at the finish. Can I, one month later, now sustain 5K at better than 5:00/km?

My threee goals are:
  • Acceptable goal: 26:22 This is what a VDOT of 36 should let me do this
  • Challenging goal: 25:46 This allows me to move up to VDOT of 37
  • Ultimate goal: 24:59 This would be my best 5k ever, and a VDOT of 38
The plan

The race plan is, assuming the conditions are right (no ice, clear course, low wind), I will start on a 5:05/km pace for the first km and see how I feel. The first km is a pain because of the start. I'll try to seed myself better than last time where I seeded myself too far back and got stuck behind the walkers. There were no such thing as walkers back in the eighties. I wasn't expecting it. Anyway, hopefully I run the first km in 5:03.

Next I will try to pick up to 5:02 and 5:00 for Km 2 and 3. I will then have to decide if I can go for 25. If I decide I have enough in the tank, I'll try for 4:58 and 4:55 for km 4 and 5.

Of course, precise pacing like that might be difficult, especially if GPS reception is poor. Also, it's annoying to look at the Garmin all the time. The gist of it though is: a tad over 5 min/km in the first 3 km, then try to finish strong in the last two km.

I'll let you know what happens on Sunday.


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Moving to Phase II.

This week I moved to phase II of Jack Daniel's intermediate program. I had yesterday off and I was well rested. It was reasonably hard and I managed to stay pretty much on pace. I guess that's expected these days when you wear a GPS watch. No excuses. The workout was:
  • 10 min warmup
  • 2 Miles at T-pace (5:33 for me)
  • 2 min rest
  • 1 Mile at T-pace.
  • 10 min cooldown
I'm starting to get excited about the Resolution Run coming this Sunday. It's only a 5K but I'm going to try to get as close to 25 minutes as I can.
The course is near the lake shore and should be fairly flat. Hope it's not icy.

This is going to be the last race for a while so this is my last chance to lower my VDOT in a race.

I have to figure out my plan for next year. Is 2008 going to be time or distance? Hmmm.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Talking to myself

For the last couple of weeks, I've been listening to running podcasts. During a quick meeting in Florida, I bought a copy of Running Times where they mentioned a few podcasts, including Phedippidations. I downloaded the very first episode, then the next, then more. I've now sampled a number of podcasts and really enjoy them. One podcast is kind of a spin off to Phedippidations and is called The Extra Mile. Its format is a bit different in that it is built from a number of segments contributed by listeners and the regular crew. It's really nice to hear how people are training and issues that interest them.
So today, I picked up my wife's dictaphone, hooked up my VOIP headset, got dressed and went for my lunch run. It was quite nice to run while talking aloud. I guess people are used to others talking into their bluetooth headsets because nobody gave me a second look. I spoke for a full 45 minutes. After editing, I ended up with a bit over 4 minutes of barely usable content. Great fun anyway.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Torrential rain

Despite ominous dark clouds, I went to the closest “Running Room” store for the 8:30 AM Sunday long run. On my way there the skied opened up and it started to rain heavily. The temperature was about 5C (41F). The snow and ice on the streets and sidewalks was mostly gone but there were major puddles everywhere.
It was my first group run. I like to run by myself but it’s nice to try new routes and meet new people. About 15 people showed up. Typically there would be a 10k and a 16k route but everyone decided to stick with 10k so there we went. My slow run pace should be about 6:45/km but the group was starting a bit fast (sub 6:15). I had no problem following but we still ran a bit faster than I’d like. Still it was nice having people to talk to. The group stops every 10 minutes for a minute walk, which I don’t usually do. I guess that compensated for the faster pace.
By the time we made it back I was completely wet and my feet were sloshing around in my running shoes. Still I somehow enjoyed that run. There must be something wrong with me.
That’s it for today.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Dog Whisperer

I like dogs. They don't seem to hate me but I'm no "dog whisperer". When I run and I see a dog ahead of me I know that nothing good can come out of that encounter. The best I can hope for is to be ignored. The smaller the dog the bigger the problem. Even if the small mutt is actually friendly, it might make a sudden move and I migh crush its little paw, right in front of its owner.

I've never been bitten while running but I can feel the dog's mind wondering about this big human charging at him and its master and then running away. I'm always afaid I will trigger its hunter instinct (if a pug dog has any that is).

I don't think I let show, but the dog and its owner probably wonder why this runner's big watch is beeping when I blow past them saying "Nice doggie!".

What can I say, it's my heart rate monitor tripping my heart rate alarm!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Having a goal

This long rant is about the importance of having a goal, any goal, to help you persevere when the going gets tough.

A few months ago, Agust 17th 2007 to be exact, I decided I needed to improve my fitness level for the upcoming Canadian Masters Canoe/Kayak Championships (also know as CANMAS). Sounds impressive but believe me when I say this: I'm no gift to the sport of paddling. My racing goal is usually to not finish last. But the whole point of racing is to do you best and I have an unfortunate tendency to bonk at 350 meters out of 500.

I've dabbled with running in the past, even ran a few 10ks in my 20s. Then came marriage, kids, responsibilities and what seemed to be a state of constant exhaustion. I tried to keep in reasonable shape with some degrees of success. Anybody wants to buy a stationary bike or a stair master?

Nothing really turned my crank. A few years back, my kids enrolled in a sprint canoe/kayak summer program and I quickly grew tired of cooking into the summer sun watching the weekend regatta. So I enrolled in the paddling Masters program.

Paddling is a very technical sport. Just keeping the boat up is a challenge, especially for us coming in the sport later in life. My kids make fun of me in private and pretend not to know me when I race. So the act of racing is always a balance between applying power to the paddle while keeping the boat up. I'm no Arnold and my balance is average. My biggest problem is that the pre-race adrenalin surge induces a debilitating jitter that interferes with my balance. Many times on the starting line have I seen other racers look around and wonder what was the strange sound they were hearing. It was the sound of my rudder wires snapping against the hull because of my heavy shaking. I always look aound too.

Still I persevere. Every year I paddle faster. My improvement rate is slowing, though, and I'm probably condemned at seeing new paddlers improve faster than me and pass me by after a few seasons.

Back to my opening argument, this year I decided to secretly embark on a secret running program to gain an unfair advantage over other less fit competitors. I figured that if I could accelerate through the whole course instead of bonking at 350 meters, I might be able to pass one or two extra paddlers.

Unfortunately, my secret weapon was blunted when the race organizers changed all the races to 200 meters because there were too many races. Starts are not my forte and 200 meter races are basically glorified starts. I did ok though and improved on my 200 meters PR. The paddling season is now over until May.

But I'm still running...

Until a few months ago I considered myself a paddler. Then I became a paddler who also ran.

In October I ran the "Race for the Cure" with my daughter. I didn't try to race it and I don't even remember my time but I was hooked. The energy of all those bodies on the starting line is hard to describe. But then again, I probably don't have to. You know. Because my previous attempts at running had mostly ened in injury I decided to follow a 10k training program.

Fast forward 18 weeks and I'm standing on the starting line of the Whitby Waterfront Races 10k run. The adrenalin is rushing through me but instead of dreading its effects, I welcome it as it sings though my system. All I have to do is keep my wits about me.

I did better than I had hoped with a 54:14 finish. My 20 years old PR is 49:55. I will beat it in 2008.

So today, I think of myself as a runner who paddles.

I don't know why, this time, running became more than just boring time spent gasping for air. I have tried in many occasions to start running again. The funny thing is that I remembered how good it could be. I just couldn't conjure that feeling back. Maybe it never existed, I thought.

I believe that the difference is to have goals. At first, I wanted to gain a secret advantage on my fellw paddlers. After racing again, I now want to improve my time. I also want to run a marathon next year. Goals. Running just to "keep in shape" doesn't do it for me. That weekly volume doesn't induce the feeling of power and well being that comes from hills training and long runs. And who would subject themselves to such acts without having racing goals? So for me running and racing are intertwined and provide the motivation I need to reach the state of bliss that I now crave for I know that were I to stop for too long, I would again wonder if I had imagined the whole thing.

But right now, I do remember. And I want more.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Wet 'n wild

Went back out today. The snow on the roads and sidewalks has started to melt, thanks to the sun and the tons of salt sprayed by the city and citizens. Why shovel went you can salt?
Anyway, it was still a nice run. The good thing about running in snow is that it's easy to keep your speed in check. You don't feel like you are less of a man because your running at a slower pace. Actually, you feel pretty good for being out at all!
I think I'm going to have to drop the speed work, ecept for maybe a few strides. I don't see how I could maintain any kind of fast (ah ah) pace until the streets are clear. I really don't want to get injured. I'll just build my base until February-March and then go from there.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Latest Endeavor: Running

I've run on and off for many years. Mostly off. Except for a period of 6 or 7 months in the late 80's, I've never persisted for more than 2 months. Every time, it ended with a foot, leg, knee (insert lower limb here) injury. Having kids left me in a perpetual state of physical and emotional fatigue that always gave me an excuse not to get back to it.

I've never been a great runner. I'm slow. My personal best on a 10k is 49:55, back when I was 25.
Now I've started to run again at the age of 43, with the firm intention of running until it is physically impossible for me to keep going.
This time, I started running on August 13th to improve my cardio for another of my ridiculous endeavors: flat water canoe/kayak racing. The Canadian Master's championship was coming and I needed to improve my fitness level. More on Canoing in summer posts. I've been running ever since. I've made two changes to my routine that I believe will make the difference:

  1. I'm actually following a training program. I've purchased a number of books (see below), actually read them and I'm actually following a rigourous program.

  2. I'm a geek and acquired a Garmin Forerunner 305. I could bore you to death writing pages about it but suffice it to say that I have never run without it ever since I bought it. It is now my voice of reason that tells me to slow down or speed up.

When I first started using my GPS/HR monitor gizmo, I immediately realized that I was running too fast, too often. My 305 keeps me honest. I'm convinced this is one of the main reasons why I always ended up injured.

Why running?

A lot of people have negative feelings about running. My older daughter can't stand it. Every time I've ran in the past, it ended in injury. So why running?

I like the concept of going somewhere on my own power. There's nothing like the feeling you get while running, especially on a long run. I feel stronger, sharper, lighter (I lost over 10 pounds), more alive.

Why racing? Why do I actually care about my time? Why do I want to beat the 49:55 I did 20 years ago? Isn't that unreasonable? Well we'll see about that! I guess that deep down, I believe that if I beat that time that means that I'm still 25. Just like I feel. Can any of us really believe we're getting older? When my body gets fat and lazy, that's when I start to actually feel old. After a 10k run, especially a race, I feel so alive that I sometimes feel like I can physically see things clearer. Call me crazy. But in those moments, I feel better than 10 years ago.

Anyway, I will beat that 49:55 soon. I will run a marathon. I promised my wife I wouldn't run a marathon next year, but I probably will. I can feel that challenge seducing me every time I read other blogs or talk to other runners. I have never read or heard a runner say: don't do it.

My initial plan was to build up my speed in 2008, concentrating on medium distances (5k t 10 Miles) and then graduate to half-marathon and marathon in 2009. We'll see. Maybe I could squeeze a marathon at the end of 2008?

Will I ever run a Boston-qualifying time in a marathon? Too early to say. Maybe my body can't physically do it. Even if I can, maybe I'm not ready to invest the time and effort required for me to do it. One thing is for sure, I'm not a naturally fast runner.

I guess I rambled enough for this first running post. I'll try to be more structured in the future.