Kenny’s Gettysburg North-South Marathon Report

Get ready.  This might be a long one.

After a harsh training winter, it was finally time for the Gettysburg North-South Marathon on April 27.  The race was fairly small; there were 465 finishers this year.  Over a hilly course, each runner chooses a “side” to be on (North versus South).  The top male and female times for each side are added, and each member of the winning side gets a mug (spoiler alert: the North won).

I had done the best that I could with my training this winter, and I felt that this race would be my first legit shot at a sub-2:30 marathon. Fitness-wise, I felt that I was there.  However, the nature of the course would definitely present a challenge.  Here is a link to the map.   The course generally ascends early in the race, reaches its highest point soon after 7 miles, ascends once more before mile 11, then descends for the majority of the second half of the race.

I always try to have a few goals going into a big race.  My top goal for this one, if everything went perfectly, was to run under 2:30.  This would be a stretch, so my next goal was at least to PR, which meant running faster than 2:35:30.  I felt that this would definitely be doable, but in case something went horribly wrong on the course, my final goal was to be faster than 2:40.  This would at least convince me that my time under 2:40 from last year was not a fluke.

Read the rest at https://sciencerunrepeat.blogspot.com/

Adjusting your Training/Eating/Supplementing

I am a voracious reader of exercise related studies.  I love reading about anything that might make me a better runner, and for a long time I was apt to try out lots of what I read in these studies.  Whether it was new type of workout, a prerace fueling strategy or the hottest new supplement I was willing to give it a shot.  In the 10+ years of my second running life I have learned a great about training both through reading and experimenting.

books

I’ve tried all of the following as a result of something I read in a study.

  • Tabata protocol (the real one)
  • Fish oil supplements
  • Beetroot juice
  • Various caffeine prerace loads
  • Hill Sprints
  • Plyos
  • DHEA
  • Lower body strength training
  • Iron supplements
  • Tea
  • Shakeout runs
  • Doubles
  • Vitamin D supplements
  • Innumerable warmup stratagies
  • Innumerable taper/peaking strategies

That is actual just a partial list of the things I’ve tried, I’ve forgotten many and am too embarrassed to admit some of the others.  Through trial and error I have focused both my intake of supplements and my training.  I’ve also learned enough about scientific studies to not bother to try most of what I read these days.  I’ve narrowed down the above list to the following.

  • Drink my normal cup of coffee in the morning before a race and sometimes have a cup of tea later in the day if I’m tired.
  • Iron supplement once a day at bedtime. (my hemoglobin hovers around 12)
  • Vitamin D 4000 iu October through April

I don’t do any plyos, weight lifting, Tabata workouts, biking etc but I do hill sprints at various points of my training cycle.  I’ve given up trying to “properly” taper or peak and usually just take it easy with some strides the few days leading into an important race.  As for my warm up I’ve settled into a 20-25 minute easy run with some strides and dynamic stretching beginning 45 minutes before race time.

labrunner

So how did I go from a crazy try anything experimenter to a training change skeptic?  For starters I never saw any improvement in my race times when i tried most of the stuff these studies said would make me faster.  Even the iron and vitamin d which I still take is hard to equate to any improvement in my racing.  The other big shift in my thinking came when I made some realizations about studies, even good studies published in respected peer reviewed journals.  Here is what I finally realized.

1.  These aren’t the participants you are looking for.

slowrunner

What do you consider a well trained runner? How about an experience runner?  Most studies done on runners don’t apply to you because you are just too good of a runner.  To a researcher in small college in Idaho, running 15-20 miles a week and having a 5k time of 25 minutes +/- 3 minutes is a well trained or experienced runner.  It is should be no surprise then that nearly any change in training will result in an improvement.  If you take a bunch of people who run 15 miles a week at an average pace of 9 minutes per mile and race 26 minutes for 5k and add in 2 times a week of 8×10 second sprints they are going to get faster, often a lot faster… you not so much.

When it comes to supplements, often the studies are done on people suffering from some ailment, or they are older non-exercising folks.  I remember a study that showed something along the lines of 20% improvement in muscle strength with DHEA supplementation, but this was in an elderly population suffering from a muscle wasting disease, not healthy already fast distance runners.

2. Training for a marathon ain’t like playing pickup basketball, crossfit boy.

NikBruce

I’m sure by now you have all heard about the many benefits of high intensity interval training or HIIT.  This new miracle method of training trains both your anaerobic and aerobic systems at the same time in as little as 30 minutes a day.  Study after study prove that HIIT raises VO2max higher and faster than the simply doing aerobic training.  The implications are clear, you are wasting your time doing all that running.  By doing cross fit a few times a week, not only can you get ripped and shredded but you can run a faster marathon too!

Only one problem… no one I know trains only by running slow all the time.  Beware the study that setups unnatural dichotomies.  I’ve yet to see the study on HIIT that shows improvements in VO2max (or god forbid actual races times) that are superior to what you would get training like most distance runners I know train.  That is to say doing 65-75% easy running a week and 25-35% of some form of speed work.

3. Don’t get technical with me. What P value? What are you talking about? I’ve just about had enough of you. Go that way, you’ll be malfunctioning in a day you near-sighted scrap pile.

c3po 

Researchers love their P values… and really who doesn’t love a good P value?  According to Goodman and his article  “Toward Evidence-Based Medical Statistics.” (via wikipedia) In statistical significance testing the p-value is the probability of obtaining a test statistic at least as extreme as the one that was actually observed, assuming that the null hypothesis is true.

Fine whatever you say Goodman. In more easy to understand terms a P value tells you how unlikely it is that some other thing is causing a result.  The lower your P value the more likely your hypothesis is, or I suppose the more unlikely the null hypothesis is… look it doesn’t really matter, it’s just a bunch of bullshit.  It is kind of like our monetary system, it is a collective delusion.  Born to Run apologist and Harvard Professor  Daniel Lieberman has published studies about how awesome barefoot running is based on “research” done on the Harvard cross country team.  The research showed that the 2 out of 13 kids on the team that ran with a forefoot strike the other 11 rearfoot struck.  Those 2 kids  didn’t get hurt during the season and 3 of the kids who rearfoot struck did get hurt, so clearly barefoot running is great and he has the data and sweet tiny little P value to prove it… yeah Dan you have a real small P value all right.

First off, that story about Dr. Lieberman is only partly true, I’m not even sure what parts because I don’t feel like looking up the study right now and I’m just going roughly off what I remember about it from 2 years ago.  Second off, this seems to be the basic approach that major news outlets including the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal take to writing about research.  They see some result that people will want to believe and they write about it without really knowing the subject matter or the details involved.  Which leads me to my final thoughts on the matter.

4. I find your lack of faith disturbing (OK now I’m just being lazy and not even changing any words in the quotes)

Lucy_CharlieBrown-779461

The wonderful thing about the internet is that it gives everyone including me a voice.  The terrible thing about the internet is it gives everyone including me a voice.  And while certainly major and formerly respected news outlets should do a better job of critically reviewing and reporting on scientific studies, they are the least of the problem.  Pay for content sites like Livestrong.com, About.com and many more are willing to pay for and give the title “expert” to just about anyone.  These sites come up early and often in search results, and do a very good job of presenting themselves and trust worthy sources of information.  But we all need to be smarter about critiquing our sources.  I’m not going to get into all the problems these sites present (maybe I’ll address that another day I’m bored and a little grumpy at work).  The next time you find yourself reading something posted on one of those sites just think of poor trusting Charlie Brown.

The bottom line is, there is a lot of information out there.  Some of it is interesting, some of it is useful and some of it is just a wanked pigskin.  Be smart about what you consume both with your mouth and your brain.

How to win a road race

If you happen to glance down at the post below, you will note that I wrote I was more interested in running a fast time at the Ed Erichson 5 miler than I was in winning.  Alas, it was not to be.  I did not run a particularly fast time, but I did win the race.

Having a bad hair day
Having a bad hair day

When I made my return to road racing 10 years ago I was very concerned with winning races.  I don’t remember the exact race, but it took about a year before I finally won a 5k and my time must have been in the mid 17’s.  I’ve won a fair number of races since then at distances from 800 meters to 25K, sometimes with good times (for me anyway) and sometimes with not so good times.  I’ve learned over the years that it is nice to win a race, but I get much more satisfaction from a race well run than a race simply won.

Should I be thrilled that I won the Ed Erichson 5 miler this weekend?  By mile 1 I had a minute lead, and by the finish my lead was 5 minutes.  A bit of a hollow victory.  After the first mile I just went into cruise control mode and dropped from 5:20 pace to 5:30 pace for the rest of the race.  I told myself I was playing it safe, and setting myself up for a better race a week later at Johnny’s.  That may be a good reason, but the truth was, I just wasn’t motivated enough to run at race effort if I didn’t have to.  Contrast that with the Bergen 5k 2 years ago.  There I ran 16:15, my 2nd fastest road 5k ever, and I finished in 28th place.  Which race should I feel better about?

Anyone can win a race, and I do mean anyone. (I guess there is one person who is the slowest in the world but the other 7 billion could in theory win a race.)  It all depends on who decides to show up. Next weekend is Johnny’s Runnin’ of the Green.  If I have a great race I might finish in the top ten and win a bottle of wine.  I can’t wait to get my ass-kicked. Cheers to competition.

Ed Erichson 5 Mile Results.

You’re all going to go crazy and die

If you have been following fitness news at all in the last few months you have probably encountered headlines like these:

Couch potatoes rejoice! Too much exercise may be bad for you

OVER-EXERCISING CAN SPEED YOU TO THE ‘FINISH LINE OF LIFE’

Running Too Far Too Fast Will Make You Dead (Eventually)

They all stem from a Wall Street Journal article with the wonderful headline “One Running Shoe in the Grave” and that article stems from a couple of papers all written by the same two authors over the last few years.  The basic premise is if you run more than a few miles a day and if you run more than 8 minute per mile pace running stops being good for you, and in fact becomes bad for you.  Now there are a lot of problems with this premise. First is how they manipulated the data to get a result they wanted.  Science journalist Alex Hutchison breaks it down much better than I can so I’ll just quote him (please read his full article here.)

(1) One of the major pieces of evidence the group cites is a study that was presented at a conference over the summer. The WSJ description:   In a study involving 52,600 people followed for three decades, the runners in the group had a 19% lower death rate than nonrunners, according to the Heart editorial. But among the running cohort, those who ran a lot—more than 20 to 25 miles a week—lost that mortality advantage.  

But here, from the actual abstract, is the part they never mention:   Cox regression was used to quantify the association between running and mortality after adjusting for baseline age, sex, examination year, body mass index, current smoking, heavy alcohol drinking, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, parental CVD, and levels of other physical activities.   What this means is that they used statistical methods to effectively “equalize” everyone’s weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, and so on. But this is absurd when you think about it. Why do we think running is good for health? In part because it plays a role in reducing weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, and so on (for more details on how this distorts the results, including evidence from other studies on how these statistical tricks hide real health benefits from much higher amounts of running, see my earlier blog entry).

They’re effectively saying, “If we ignore the known health benefits of greater amounts of aerobic exercise, then greater amounts of aerobic exercise don’t have any health benefits.”

The second and more troubling problem with the premise is that they use, as part of their paper, data from a study involving 400,000 people that doesn’t in fact show a problem with exercising up to 2 hours a day or vigorous exercise.  In fact, what the data actually shows is a leveling off of benefit at around 2 hours a day but does not show a turn toward negative impact, just no more positive impact. (again you can see this in the Hutchinson article.)

To me the most ridiculous part of the scaremongers claim is that they are using mortality rates as their sole indicator of whether prolonged vigorous exercise is good or bad for you.  They take a group of people and find out over a span of 30 years how many of them died.  That is your mortality rate.  So setting aside the obvious fact that every person who ever lived or will ever live is either dead or is someday going to be dead, I’m more interested in the quality of that life.  Lets pretend they weren’t screwing with data, and cherry picking information to get a result they want.  Lets pretend for a minute that they are right, and running 7 hours a week and doing speed workouts, and races means that you have a higher chance of dying in the next 30 years than someone who goes for a few mile jog a few times a week.  Are you really going to stop running the way you want to run?  Is it worth giving up your running life for 30, 40 , 50 years just so at the tail end you can squeak out a few more years in a nursing home?  Given the choice of doing what I love and dying at 80 or not doing what I love and dying at 83 I know what I’m going to pick.  Luckily it isn’t really a choice I have to make.

 

 100 year old Fauju Singh the World’s Oldest Marathoner.

Hot on the heels of the too much excerise is going to kill you news is the, too much excercise will make you depressed news.  This latest paper has been published in the most recent Journal of Preventive Medicine.  If you don’t have access to the full text you can read a pretty good summary of the article here by Scott Douglas.  This article hasn’t been hyped nearly as much as the running will kill you article, but I say give a month or so before newspapers and websites pick up and on it and start splashing the alarmist headlines.  If you don’t want to read the origonal or even the Douglas summary I will break it down for you very quickly.

No exercise= sad

2-25 hours a week of exercise= not sad

More than 25 hours a week of exercise= sad

There is even this handy chart.

 

Don’t be sad.

So the lesson here is very clear.  If spend twice as much time running as the best marathoners in the world you will not be happier than someone who doesn’t run at all.  If you spend triple the time running as the best marathoners in the world you have mental problems.  Yah science.