Tuesday, May 29, 2012

I'm Getting Schooled... Part 3 of 5 (AlterG)

On May 11th, I had another appointment with Coach Wadsworth.  The main objective this day was to have him give me a stride analysis.  I really won't go into the gory details of it because it went pretty well, and what I'm about to talk about is a lot more interesting.  However, he made the observation that my left foot wasn't kicking back as high as my right, nor did it appear to be going through the full range of motion.  The cause most likely is my left leg is weaker and less flexible than my right, so I will be doing some exercises/plyometrics he prescribed.

The secondary purpose of my session with Nathan was to give his AlterG treadmill a test drive, er run.  I can vividly remember the first time I ever laid eyes on an AlterG.  It was in an issue of Runner's World which I used to have time to read cover to cover before I started blogging.  Now I mainly skim through it.  Anyhow, I thought it was a bad-ass piece of machinery that only Olympians had access to.  They are still pretty rare.

Somebody reading this may have never heard of, or know what an AlterG treadmill is.  Well, you're about to.  AlterG is short for Anti Gravity.  They are made in California with a price tag of $75,000.  They can be used for rehabilitation or performance training.  In some cases, they can just be used for a fun and unique experience.   The purpose of it is to allow you go on a crash diet and become up to 80% lighter than your current body weight while you otherwise use it like a regular treadmill.  It works by pressurizing an almost airtight tent that envelopes the lower part of the mill including you.  The resulting air pressure tries to push you out of the hole in the top thereby making you lighter.  Using the touch screen, it goes up to 18mph with a 0-15% incline.  It will even go 10 mph in reverse.  Other than that, a picture says 1000 words.

My maiden AlterG experience.  I'm actually running a near effortless 10 mph (6 minute mile)
in this photo while at 50% of my body weight.

The AlterG is controlled by a touch screen.  Like an iPod app on steroids.  I think those beverage
holders could easily hold a couple 40 ouncers.

I had it up to 12mph (5:00 pace) while at 40% of my body weight.  I'm sure I could have gone faster, but I wasn't used to the sensation and I felt a little off balance, so I played it safe.  The lighter I got, the more it felt like I was running on my tiptoes.  I wish I was wearing a HR monitor.  I've never tried that pace on a regular treadmill, and not sure I want to.  My PR in the mile is roughly 5:52, and I remember that being a lot more painful.

Aren't you glad you don't have to look at another picture of me.  Here's
a picture of my coach holding the special AlterG shorts I had to squeeze into.
Notice the industrial white zipper that runs around the waist. 

Even though my first run on the AlterG was more for fun and to get a feel for it (and to brag about it on my blog), someday I will probably try to work it into my routine.  Now that I got this experience off my bucket list, it's back to training.  In my next post, I'll go over the custom 10k training plan Coach Wadsworth created just for little old me.

Go To:
Part 1 of 5 (My New Coach)

Part 4 of 5 (10k Training Plan)

Part 5 of 5 (Coaching Costs)

Thursday, May 24, 2012

I'm Getting Schooled... Part 2 of 5 (Lactate Threshold Test)

Before Coach Wadsworth could make me a suitable training schedule, we had to figure out what kind of shape I was in.  By shape, I mean what my lactate threshold is, and I'm not referring to when my mammary glands start milking.  For those that have no idea what I'm talking about:
Lactate Threshold is the exercise intensity at which lactate starts to accumulate in the blood stream.  That may insinuate that lactate is bad, but really it is just a byproduct of lactic acid along with hydrogen ions which are the real problem.  Hydrogen ions cause an acidic environment in the muscle, a process referred to as acidosis.  Acidosis interferes with muscle contractions, causing fatigue. 
So a lactate test is just another way to measure the amount of hydrogen ions that lead to acidosis, and therefore is an indirect marker for fatigue.  I spent about an hour studying that and trying to put it in layman's terms.  Is it still clear as mud?

So that's all well and good, but how does knowing all that help my training?  The answer is, by knowing what my threshold is I can train at the highest intensity possible for the longest time while improving my ability to conserve energy and fight fatigue.  Obviously, we can't train like that all the time or we would become "overtrained" or injured.  The general guidelines state that this intensity of workouts should only makeup about 10 to 20 percent of total mileage for the week.

On April 24th, I met up with coach at his training center.  To conduct the test, he had me put on a heart rate monitor, and warm up on a treadmill for about 10 minutes.  After that he started to increase the incline and the speed every couple minutes.  After each increase he would have me rate my perceived level of exertion on a scale of 1 to 10.  Then he would have me place my hand (while I was running) on the frame of the treadmill while he pricked it to get a blood sample.  He measured the sample with a digital machine and marked down my lactate level along with my heart rate.  To finish the test he turned into a sadist and upped the incline to 8% and the pace to 8 mph until I cried uncle.  He said he did that to find my max heart rate, but he was smiling a lot when he said it, so I think he was just wanting to see me suffer.

This is the lactate test kit that was used on me.  The white and blue tool at the bottom is used to prick fingers.
The black canister holds little litmus type strips of paper used to collect the drops of blood,
and the yellow device is a digital meter used to measure the amount of lactate in your blood.

This is simply a chart to record all the heart rate and
lactate levels as the test progresses.

Now for the moment we've all been waiting for:  Nathan emailed me a letter containing my results along with an explanation of the test.  I've posted the letter below in its entirety.

A treadmill graded exercise stress test was performed 4/24/12.  A 12.5-minute warm-up at 3.5-5 mph was carried out prior to the test.  During the first stage of the test, you maintained a running speed of 6 mph with a 0 degree incline.  The incline increased to 8%, while the speed increased to 8 mph by 16:30 minutes.  During the test, you reached a maximum heart rate of 197 bpm. The “will to stop outweighed the will to keep going” and “no finish line” were the reasons for ending the test, although a Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) of 9 out of 10 was achieved indicating a near-maximal effort.  Blood Lactate levels of 4.0+ mmol/L were achieved at 16:00, which means that your body has gone over the lactate threshold value.  This indicates a switch from having a surplus of oxygen to going into oxygen debt (or the amount of carbon dioxide that your body is removing by ventilation is greater than the amount of oxygen you are able to breathe in).  Namely, you have gone over your lactate threshold.

Improving lactate threshold and mechanical efficiency can be accomplished by performing interval workouts above your lactate threshold heart rate of 183 bpm.  Quality aerobic training needs to be carried out in the heart rate range of 130-180 bpm, which is below your lactate threshold.  Tempo runs at or just above or below your lactate threshold heart rate of 183 bpm will increase your lactate threshold and allow you to improve your aerobic fitness level.

Strides and tempo runs will help you to run faster and more efficient. Be sure to perform your recovery runs at a HR of 130-150 bpm.  This level will ensure that you are recovering adequately.  With the implementation of these suggestions you will be able to improve your running times.

Heart Rate Training Zones:
Easy/Recovery Zone:  130-150 bpm
Aerobic Maintenance Zone:  151-180 bpm
Threshold/Steady Zone:  181-186 bpm
Interval Zone: 186+ bpm

A re-test in six weeks would be beneficial and should show improvement.
Now with a lactate threshold in hand, a customized training schedule can be developed where some of my workouts will be ran at that threshold.  If you'll notice, Nathan also gave me zones for Recovery, Aerobic, and Interval.  This should help me to know how fast to run based on the day's objective.

For part III of my blog series, I get to hop on my coach's AlterG.

Go To:
Part 3 of 5 (AlterG)
Part 4 of 5 (10k Training Plan)
Part 5 of 5 (Coaching Costs)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

I'm Getting Schooled... Part 1 of 5 (My New Coach)

Recently I did something that I have never done before in my 13 years as a runner:  Hire a running coach.  This has been a long time coming.  While I have slowly improved on my own thanks to gained experience, increased workouts, and self education, I have long wondered if I've been living up to my potential.  My wife thinks she has that answer, which I won't repeat here.

I want to be able to focus on the different aspects of my new journey, so I'm going to divide the topics up into 5 shorter posts.  This first one will be an introduction to my new coach, and how it all came to be.

I had 4 barriers to hiring a coach.
  1. Ego.  Freud had one and so do I.  In a nutshell I thought, "I've been at this a long time, I know what I'm doing and getting better."
  2. Cost.  Maybe the biggest issue.  Not only was I concerned with my monthly budget, but I didn't want to be self-centered by taking money away from the rest of the household.
  3. Who to hire?
  4. Is he going to laugh at me (à la Adam Sandler)?
After lots and lots of thought, here's how I resolved those 4 issues:
  1. I'm ready to try training differently (hopefully smarter), and I want a new perspective.  Worst case, I stagnate for 6 months, then go back to doing what I think is best.
  2. I got the go ahead from my wife to enlist a coach, and I budgeted for it with a portion my tax return.
  3. After overcoming the cost and ego parts, I researched and asked for a few recommendations on a good coach for me, and then came to a consensus with myself.
  4. I'm used to getting laughed at.
So I contacted a local coach/personal trainer named Nathan Wadsworth.  Nathan went to a Division I college (my Alma mater) where he was an all-conference track star and graduated with a Masters degree in Exercise Science.  His career highlights that stood out to me include a 21st place Boston Marathon finish in 2007, a 57th place finish at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials that same year, and a 2:21:51 Marathon PR.

Maybe I should note at this point that he isn't giving me any incentives to mention him, and it is too early in my training to know if any of his advice is paying off.  However, part of my reason for blogging is to educate and pass on information, so if any local runners are needing a trainer, he is an option to consider if you're in the Wichita area.  Also I/Nathan should note, if he wants to give me any financial incentives, I'm open to the idea.

Considering all the years I procrastinated getting a coach, I was counting down the minutes until my first appointment.  I first met with Nathan on April 19th for a one hour consultation.  We discussed my running goals, and where I was at fitness wise.  Part of the plan was for him to customize a training plan for me, so I went through the trouble of writing down various race paces I was capable running along with other training I had been doing for reference.  By the time the hour was up, he had another client arrive, but we had a good understanding of each other, and I had fun talking to an elite runner about our sport.  We agreed to meet the next week to start my "education."

I was interested in doing Lactate Threshold workouts as a regular part of training, but since I wasn't sure what my threshold was, we scheduled a Lactate Threshold Test for the next week, and that is where I will pick up in part II of this little series. 

Go To:
Part 2 of 5 (Lactate Threshold Test)
Part 3 of 5 (AlterG)
Part 4 of 5 (10k Training Plan)
Part 5 of 5 (Coaching Costs)

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Out With The Old... In With The New... Garmin

I rely on my Garmin Forerunner 305 for training.  I use it everyday that I run which is usually 6 days/week.  I don't even run most of my workouts outside.  I also use it on the YMCA's indoor track, and I'll even wear it when I'm on the treadmill or elliptical to take advantage of the heart rate monitor.

On Wednesday, my Garmin started out like it usually does, and I was using it to record splits during my track workout.  After a few miles, I looked down and it had turned off.  I turned it back on, and it would try to find satellites, but if I hit a button, it would turn back off.  Finally, it wouldn't turn on at all.  Later on I tried all the tricks I could think of to get it to work: charging it, hard and soft reboots, tips off Garmin's website.  Nothing worked.  It was D.O.A.

My Garmin Forerunner 305 ready for the scrap heap.

Before I toss it out like a Charlie Sheen hooker, I want to offer a small tribute in its memory:
Ode to My Garmin
By: 2 Slow 4 Boston
Concept From: Bible 
The Garmin is my GPS (God Powered Savior), I shall not want (to get lost).
It maketh me to run down green trails:
It leadeth me beside the still aid stations.
It restoreth my constant pace:
It leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for PR's sake. 
Yea, though I stink through the valley and smell of death,
I will fear no ice bath: For thou art with me;
Thy heart rate monitor, it comforts me.
Thou preparest a database table before me in the presence of my competition;
Thou annointest my spreadsheet with splits.  My Gatorade runneth over. 
Surely Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness shall follow me all the days of my life:
And I will dwell in the memory of my Garmin 305 for ever.

Please don't put me in for the Pulitzer surPrize in Poetry, I'm much too humble to accept any awards, unless it's an age group award.

I had my Garmin 305 for a good 3 and a half years.  I was perfectly happy with it, as are the majority of runners who have the 305, but of course it has to be able to work.  So it was time to replace it.  My first choice to replace it?  Another 305.  I went to buy one only to find prices $100 above where I thought they were.  I started looking at Garmin's other offerings, and was elated to find the newer Forerunner 405cx for $198, over $75 cheaper than the 305.

Garmin 405cx

Now when it comes to having a GPS watch, I don't play around, I ordered the 405cx that Thursday morning with overnight shipping, got it Friday, and wore it for the first time Saturday morning.  So far, I'm loving it.  A kid with a new toy.  I was almost 8 miles into my run on Saturday before I realized I forgot to put on my mp3 player.  Oops.

While I haven't had the 405cx long enough to vouch on it's durability/reliability, I'll go over some of it's pros and cons compared to the 305.

405cx Pros:
  1. Cheaper than the 305.
  2. Smaller, sportier, looks more like a watch.
  3. Quicker to lock onto satellites.
  4. Has a blue indiglo backlight.
  5. You can turn the GPS function off to conserve battery, and use as a stopwatch.
  6. Displays a charge % complete meter during charging.
  7. Downloads workouts wirelessly to the PC.
  8. Has a touch bezel like an iPod for quicker navigation.
405cx Cons:
  1. Less data can fit on the screen, and the digits are smaller.  Up to 3 fields per screen compared to 4 for the 305.  This is a compromise for the 405cx to not look like you're wearing a TV.
  2. Easier to accidentally activate a function on the bezel (but it can be locked). 

BTW, as I was researching the Garmin 405cx, I discovered their foot pod which attaches to the shoe laces (or inside a compatible shoe).  When sync'd with the watch, it can tell you your speed, distance, and cadence.  Since I run inside a lot, I bought one of them too.    It seems pretty accurate based on my 2 indoor track workouts where I know the fixed distance of the track.  Currently $45 on Amazon.com.

Garmin Foot Pod
Foot Pod on shoe, for scale.  Those aren't my feet, I have
way more hair on my legs.

Sound off.  Do you run with a GPS watch?  Which brand/model?  Do you analyze your run's data?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Johnston's Half Marathon Race Review

Saturday I ran the Johnston's Half Marathon in Wichita, Kansas.  Here's a brief description off the race's website: 
Following last year’s popular course, the route starts through the streets of Wichita’s beautiful Riverside Neighborhood. Then it runs along the Arkansas River until it loops by the Keeper of the Plains. Onward you’ll run, past Waterwalk and Exploration Place until you return along the river and to the finish at Central Riverside Park. This is a fast and scenic course!
Let me pause while you Wikipedia all those landmarks...  ...  ...  They are what our Chamber of Commerce likes to think of as tourist attractions.  The Keeper of the Plains is kinda our 44 foot version of the Statue of Liberty while Exploration Place is as close as we get to the Smithsonian, only 15x smaller and more for kids. All kidding aside, I really don't have anything bad to say about what Wichita has to offer, it's just a smaller market.

Although, there is one more thing I would add to the race's description...  "Get ready for some rain."

I don't know what it is about the last 6 months here in the Midwest, but I had gone over ten years without seeing much more than a couple sprinkles during a race.  Now, 5 of my last 7 races including 2 full marathons and a half marathon involved rain.  More on that later.

This is typically the one half marathon I run each year.  It's probably the second most popular race in Wichita. Over 900 finished it this year, and I'm sure those numbers were down due to the fair weather rain wussies out there.  Last year there were over 1,200 registered, and registration has grown from year to year.  One of the reasons I like this race is because I see so many running friends there who I don't normally get to hang out with.  After the race Sunday, I can think of 19 meaningful conversations I had with friends.

Did I mention rain earlier?  I knew it wasn't going to be good when I looked at the hourly weather forecast that morning and it had a picture of Noah's Ark.  Okay, maybe that's an exaggeration, but it said there was a 100% chance of precipitation during the race.  With a bit of luck, there was only light rain off and on as the race got underway.  A couple miles in, the course narrowed to a bike path, which wasn't a bad thing except there quickly came some little valleys here and there that contained mud and water runoff.  If you put forth some effort, you could maneuver to different sides of the path to avoid the water hazards.  Outside of that, the first 10 miles were fairly uneventful weather wise. There were water and Gatorade stations about every 2.5 miles, and I took a drink at each one to make sure I was hydrated.  Temperature was about 60º for the race, and although that is warmer than ideal, the rain kept me cool enough to mask any sweating that I did.

Looks like a picture from "Rave Run" in Runner's World, except without all
 that scenery and stuff.

Somewhere after getting past 10 miles, the rain really started coming down.  Water made its way into my eyes and I did my best to ignore it.  One thing I thought to myself being the awesome optimist that I am was that rain water doesn't sting your eyes like sweat does.  The middle miles of the course is a loop, but several miles before and after that follow the same out-and-back path including the valleys mentioned above that contain even more mud and water by now.  So, with the rain coming down in sheets, I was also running through puddles of mud and water.

Not everything sucked.  By now I was on my way to a negative split for the second half of the race, and with the faster pace, I started to focus on each runner in front of me and running them down one by one.  Not sure how many I left in my wake (get it? wake?), maybe a dozen, but I do know no one passed me the last 4 or so miles.

Pretty awesome picture of the conditions, just wish my eyes were open
 instead of acting like windshield wipers.

I have made very good strides these last couple months since recovering from my hip flexor, but going into the half marathon, I was sure that I wouldn't be able to maintain a 7:20 pace that won me an awesome PR last year.  Still I hoped to run a 7:30 pace, maybe faster if I underestimated myself.  As the race went on, my GPS reported a variety of paces, but I knew I was in the ballpark of where I planned to be.  I told myself in the last couple miles that no matter what my time turned out to be, I should be happy with my performance.

I crossed the finish line with an official time of 1:37:23.  Despite what I just told myself, I was mildly disappointed not to be in the 1:36:xx realm, cause it seemed a long way off of my 1:36:02 PR from last year.  In reality, I surpassed my 7:30 goal pace by averaging 7:26, and I did it in warmer than ideal 60º weather while being hampered by the rain.

2Slow4Boston Johnston's Half Marathon
Chip Time1:37:23
Overall Place58/923
Age Group7/59
Average Pace7:26

Split Time Distance Avg Pace Avg HR Max HR
1 07:35.3 1 7:35 162 174
2 07:24.6 1 7:25 173 180
3 07:33.6 1 7:34 174 182
4 07:28.3 1 7:28 177 185
5 07:18.1 1 7:18 178 182
6 07:19.4 1 7:19 180 187
7 07:29.1 1 7:29 182 186
8 07:28.4 1 7:28 180 186
9 07:29.1 1 7:29 182 186
10 07:23.4 1 7:23 184 188
11 07:13.0 1 7:13 187 190
12 07:20.4 1 7:20 186 189
13 07:06.0 1 7:06 189 193
14 01:18.0 0.2 6:39 194 195
 Summary 1:37:27 13.2 7:23 180 195

After the race I was hanging out, having all those conversations I referred to earlier when the awards started.  I made my way over to continue my socialization skills that us engineers need to work on from time to time.  Little did I realize until they called my name as the 6th place runner my age that they were handing out awards for the top 6 runners in each age group.

40 - 44 age group winners (The big guy was a race official).

My marble age group award.
For whatever reason, the data entry people screwed up a lot of runner's information before the race so the results had a lot of omissions and errors.  One friend had her bib number assigned to another guy, and she had to inform them of the error for her to get her age group award (Now I see her listed in the results with 2 different finish times).  After I got home from the race, I went to look at the online results, and I was now listed as 7th in my age group meaning I didn't deserve the age group award that I got.  I mentioned it to the race director who wasn't concerned.  He told me to just keep the award, but it doesn't feel right.  I felt a little funny about getting an age group award anyway that wasn't for the top 3.  Should I keep the award along with the story to tell?

Official shirt and finisher's medal.

In case you were wondering, this is a cropped picture of my left foot.
 If this grosses you out, feel free to focus on my manicuring skills.
Thanks to running in soggy shoes most of the race, I rubbed the skin
raw between the two toes.  Why it happened in this spot is
 beyond me, but I ran a full marathon in the rain last December
without a problem.

Next on my agenda is some 10k training.