Monday, July 26, 2010

Pace = Patience

I'm enjoying the final night of my first "vacation" from my new job, a 4 day weekend in Connecticut. In two weeks we go on a real vacation to the Cape. This past weekend had been spent in Lake Placid, NY the past couple of years, and while it would be nice to think of those trips as "vacations", truthfully they were anything but. Sure they were fun and there are lots of life long memories, but they were work. So this year we deviated from the norm and did nothing. well, okay not nothing. We went to a family party and then played with the kids the whole time. In the midst of this I did some run training in the heat in humidity to log how my body was currently handling such things as well as to conduct an experiment. So yeah, we didn't deviate from the norm that much. We did go as a family to an amusement park, and it wasn't a stressful nightmare, so that was new!

The Running

I went out for a run in the late morning on Saturday and it was hot and humid. The air temperature was 96 degrees in the shade making it 100 or greater on the road for much of the run. The run is about 8.5 miles and to give context, here's my data on the exact course in late May. For that May run I went out in the morning so it was still cool, upwards of 25-30 degrees cooler than Saturday. If all other things are equal the temperature increase should have slowed me to about 1:00 to 1:01. As it was I ran 1:04. Why the drop? Bad pacing. Purposely bad pacing, but bad pacing.

I ran a normal pace for the first 3-4 miles. I held up well over this distance, but found my hr creeping up pretty high. On the big climb that took me to the halfway point of the run, my heart hit my functional max (170bpm) and things started to come apart a little. The extra effort required to run at a pace derived in cooler temperatures was overheating my core. What you'll see in my Garmin file is that I can't get my hr to really come back down very quickly after I red line it. It'll drift down some, but no drop offs like I typically see after finishing a climb. Miles 4-6 in the "Player" view of the May file, plotting Elevation and Heart Rate, demonstrate this. So once the core is overheated and you're in the heat of the day, the only way to keep things together is to really back off the pace. Had I gone out more conservatively, odds are I come in faster than a 1:04, maybe closer to the 1:01, because I wouldn't have had to slow down as much to just keep from falling apart completely. So there are a couple of take aways here: 1) if you are training by pace, the pace shouldn't be what you've logged in the lovely spring training sessions, its that pace adjusted for the conditions. 2) Discretion is the better part of valor. You lose way more time if you blow up and have to slow, than if you just manage the pacing right from the beginning.

My biggest indicator of current "durability" is the ability to run the day after a hard workout. Indeed the hardest workout for me in Ironman training is ALWAYS the long run day following the long bike day. Running, even running somewhat long, on the same day as the bike never proves as difficult. While not incredibly long, the stress of the Saturday run qualified as a hard day. So I set out to try and recover, and attend a family function, and then run again Sunday. Sunday it was hot again, but I did a couple of things in my favor this time. 1st I pre-cooled my core by hanging in the pool for 20min or so before the run. 2nd I kept the run short (~4.4 miles). This file reads more like a normal run for me. As soon as I back off the effort, I see my heart rate come down fast. And I was pleasantly surprised by my ability to come back after being pretty gassed the day before.

So is there another take away here? For me the key to analyzing heart rate data is in the slope of the graph, not in the absolute numbers. Environment clearly plays a big part in these absolute numbers, but with a proper pacing approach even extreme circumstances can track in a normal fashion from the standpoint of the rate of heart rate change given a change in effort.

(My best example of this, which unfortunately comes before the Garmin days so there is no file, is the Mooseman Triathlon run in 2008. That day was hot, really hot. They measured 98-100 degrees on the road. On that day I ran with my head and despite really hating every minute of it, ran myself to an age group 3rd place. My running form was great that year and I was experiencing what I call "instantaneous heart rate response". I was able to move my heart rate up or down at any time with just minor variances in effort and really notice things like how much more quickly fluids cleared my gut at 154bpm as opposed to 158bpm (threshold rate).)