Thursday, October 9, 2008

16 miles + Comment.

16 miles done as 8 miles in the morning very slow and easy. 8 miles in the evening comfortable pace.

Brett asked a great question on yesterday's post and my response became so long I thought I would just post it...

Tim - a question on pacing. Take a highly aerobically fit person (you) and a relatively average aerobically fit person (me). At constant heart rate, what pace drift downwards might each one of us see during a marathon? Are you a fan of constant target pace as long as possible, or constant effort? Or is there so much grey area this question is impossible to answer?

Brett- Excellent question. I have looked closely at cardiac drift as my own fitness progresses and pay close attention to my athlete's HR progression (digression) during tests. When I am very fit my tests tend to stay even with HR vs. pace up to a certain point in mileage. I call this my "popping" point. If I do a MAF test for say- 5 miles- I see only a drop off of 2"-3" per mile. If I progress at MAF HR at a certain point the drop becomes very apparent- maybe 10"-15" per mile. This point, to me, represents where my endurance is by mileage. Remember that when I'm really fit my pace in MAF tests gets down to 5:30 pace. I think most MAF experts would say that I am not truly running at MAF HR, that I am running too intensely. Maybe. The MAF concept is not for runners though, it's for Ironman athletes. It has value to a runner at certain times of the year, but I would caution most runners to favor intensity that is based on their race time and intensity. My marathons take me ~2:30, not 9:00.. so the intensity is completely different and training needs to reflect the race goal. Plus the MAF formula has huge potential for error and should only be used as a starting point, then adjusted later based on the athlete's sense of their lactate threshold. Or get LT tested and use science. As I have said many times before- the MAF formula only coincidentally fit my own aerobic profile perfectly for the Ironman. Now though- when I am fit, my LT is ~178. MAF formula would have me running at ~135-145 HR.. at the low end I would be more than 40 beats below LT!! This is too moderate to build specific muscular strength required for me to run 5:30 pace in a marathon. Also, because in a marathon I can race up to a HR of 170, the disparity is too large. For Ironman on the other hand, the effort has got to be so moderate that the MAF principles tend to work more effectively. An ultra runner could use the MAF formula more readily. Or an athlete with a very weak aerobic profile that has problems burning fat even at slower paces. A MAF test can show this.
What I have observed in all 4 of my marathons is downward cardiac drift. At Denver I started at HR 170 and watched as it fell steadily to 155. This was more due to hypothermia (I suspect- I had numb lips, hands, and severely impaired judgement.. I was like I was DRUNK!) and a diet Rockstar energy drink at mile 20 brought me around enough to finish with a HR of 165. My pacing at Denver (as all of my marathons) was over zealous though, so part of the HR drop was due to muscle dysfunction. Also, a part of the HR drop has occurred at the moment that I gave up. I've given up in all of my marathons because at a certain point I looked at my watch and thought that the number didn't match my effort. The pace per mile triggered FEAR which allowed my brain (the central governor) to take control and protect my body (heart) from damaging itself. This is partly why I was always able to run the day after an Ironman- even the races where I ran a 2:50, I gave up during those races.
I believe firmly in training yourself to hold a certain pace, then on race day go for it. I used the HR monitor to guide my maximum intensity during the marathons but never actually ran by HR, mostly just goal pace (but I have always started my marathons well under goal pace, full of piss and vinegar! Too fast.). With the pace vs. effort concept, I think it depends on your goal. If you are going for a Boston qualifying time then you need to hit a certain pace per mile. I would tell anyone doing this, to run BQ pace as long as possible.. once you are within conceptual sight of the finish, then and only then, pick up the pace. If you are truly racing the marathon however and want to just run your best and find your limits, then effort is the way to go. For KC next week I will be running through the half in ~1:15 which (hopefully) will feel very easy. Running more on decaf tea. Then I will turn off my watch and run 100% by feel. Then the piss and vinegar. The course is quite hilly, the hilliest I've ever run but the strategy should set me up to examine my own problems with my central governor. "Problems" meaning that it is very strong.. my brain does not allow me to place myself in harms way. So in my case next week- I will be doing both pace and effort. No HR. As Uli says: "HR is wrong". And I now agree. HR is a guide that should be used with an open mind, something I've never really done. I allowed the HR monitor to tell me how I felt. I let pace tell me how I feel still, but am working towards correcting this by simply not looking at my watch. When I see a pace that I have learned is too fast to hold, then it triggers a fear response. Hormones are released and your legs go weak. I firmly believe that part of why the Kenyans have been so good is that they never learned fear of paces... they never HAD watches, or GPS or HR monitors... just a tree on a hill in the distance that they ran to with a group that included guys who have won NY, Boston, Chicago. They don't learn fear, they learn confidence.
Sort of a rambling response.. I'm not a writer. Jog hard.

ps- Uli, I'm sure you have some wisdom to impart here!


j.p. patrick said...

Stumbled across an interesting site. Thought you may be interested.

- J.P.

uli said...

No, I can't really add anything. This is spot on what I believe.

I can definitely not comment on HR. Last time I wore a HRM was in the early 90s. Back then, as a roadie, I certainly did not now how to properly use it. Not that I would know today even though I read all the theories about it. ;)

Personally, as for judging the effort in a marathon, I have always been a pace guy. I control every mile (or k) and usually hit them +/- 1sec. I gauge my pace based on my PR and how my training was going. Back when my PR was 2:38, I was shooting for 2:35 the next time. I failed as that aparently was too fast, so next thing I tried was 2:37 until I hit it. It took me two more flat marathons to achieve that (first was 2:38 again). I seem to have reached my limits under the given circumstances (other life commitments, habits, training).

If I run well, I am not able to check my watch during the last three miles (too much effort!) and will still hit it spot on but will have spent myself completely by the end of the race.

However, you said it too, all that only really works on flat courses. As I am running NY in three weeks, I start considering if I should use your approach. However, I am a pretty controlled person so I do not fear going out too fast. I am more afraid of not pushing as hard as I could towards the end because I THINK that I am still running the same speed although I am just more tired and slowing down.

Still, going 'naked' (no electronics whatsoever) is appealing. I don't know if timing the first half and than stopping the watch would work for me. I would have to throw the watch in the east river from Pulaski bridge.

Any thoughts?

Brett said...

"I'm not a writer."

Well you do pretty damn okay to me!

by7 said...

my personal experience (I am a 2h38' marathoner):

without getting obsessed by the HR, it is quite useful to give a look at it during the marathon to avoid over/under pace.
In many cases, the race can be in completely different conditions from what/where you trained (temperature, course, altitude), so you can arrive at race day still not sure of your actual capability (especially if we are talking about -/+5 seconds/km differences ... that is already a large difference on 42km, but very small in itself).
Personally I keep an eye on the HR until the 20k to avoid going over my "preset" limit (170bpm/86%HRmax).
If you are fit, usually pace/HR keep stable until the HM, than start a moderate drift (1 bpm up every 2km...).
In the last 10k I forget about the HR and just "race" against myself and the clock...
If you have the change to give a look at the data AFTER the marathon, you can notice usually 2 opposite patterns:
- marathon where you "bonk" or anyway struggle: the HR does not go up anymore after the 30k, or maybe even goes down. It might be glycogen exhaustion or whatever, but the HR "can not follow"...
- good marathons: the HR continues to climb, up to the end...
basically you are like running a 10k race from 32k to 42k... and personally my HR goes up until the level of a 10k race effort

Lucho said...

Uli- KC is all going to be a big experiment for me. What I am secretly hoping for is that the leaders will be several minutes ahead of me at half way and I can use them as carrots. Either way- this will be a complete departure from my usual racing strategy, which hasn't worked in the marathon yet. I know I have been capable of going well under 2:30, so it's time to try something different. We'll see. I'm just going to turn my chrono off at half way, but throwing it will be tempting!

By7- good comments. I think I have always over estimated my abilities on race day because I am a better trainer than a racer. At Phoenix I went through half way in 1:11 and felt great but backed off because I was nervous about the pace. At Denver, half way in ~1:13 in miserable conditions at altitude. At Austin, the first 10k in 33:00 with my max HR at 156 but my back and hips seized from a crappy massage the week before.. lot's of excuses! I have yet to put it all together. I think if I hold back more in the early miles my HR will follow.

Thanks J.p.- I'll check it out.
Thanks Brett.

GZ said...



I mean wow. You say you are not a good writer. I guess if I could have articulated this with you a year ago ... I guess that makes me a bad writer and a bad speaker.

Awesome to watch this journey on several fronts.

Live it.

by7 said...

since you are sometimes not judging your own capabilities in the best way, maybe you should really stick to the HR for your next marathon.
avoid massage and other weird initiatives and just start the race at 83/84%HR. drift to 85% later in the race and than just try to stick to the pace after 20 Miles...
Maybe that could be the way to remove your own subjectivity on the pace.
My "breakthrough" performance come out just following the HR, because mentally I was "scared" by the pace that was much faster by what I thought possible for me.

Lucho said...

by7- After 10 years of strict HR use, 15 Ironmans and 4 marathon that were run strictly by HR... I don't think I'm going to do this race the same way that all of my failed races were run. Time for something new. Thank you though for the input!