Posts Tagged ‘training


My Own Running Streak Challenge

I’m in a bit of a lull right now. I have no races scheduled for December. No marathons on the horizon. Nothing to really to train for. It’s also cold and dark. It doesn’t get light until nearly 8am and it’s dark by 4:30pm. This is not ideal running conditions.

However, if I want to get better I should keep on running. So what to do? Starting last week I decided that I would run every day this month — even Christmas and New Year’s Eve. I thought I was going to be all original with this, until I found out that Runner’s World was encouraging a Thanksgiving to New Year’s running streak. Well, I started a bit late, but I guess I’m in too.

Then I started to look at my own running stats for the year. From January 1 to November 30 I had run 1277 miles. A new record for me, but still 223 miles away from my goal of 1500 miles for the year.

It's been a Good Year for Running

So, can I do it? Well, that’s the challenge. In may I ran 227 miles, so I’ve done it before, but I’ll need to treat it as though I’m in top training for a marathon. Maybe I’ll need to find a January marathon…

So, that’s goal. Every day this month. 227 miles total. An average of 7.2 miles a day. Eight days in I’m at 60.5 miles – a little ahead of that pace. It’s go time.


Improving form with 100-ups

For the last year I’ve integrated “barefoot” (actually done in my Vibram Five Fingers) running into my regular routine as a method to work on different muscles and improve my form. I’ve worked myself up from only a couple of miles to a maximum of 17 miles this past summer. However, after 17 miles my heels were killing me, which is strange because barefoot running shouldn’t have a heel strike. Observation of my form showed that after long distances running barefoot my form goes to total crap and I take on a flat foot or almost heel strike in some cases. This really isn’t all that ideal, so I’m looking for alternatives.

As part of their coverage of the ING New York City Marathon this weekend, the New York Times is dedicating a large portion of their Sunday magazine to running, including some guest articles from folks like Christopher McDougall, the author of “Born To Run”. This includes a video where McDougall, and, for some strange reason, Peter Saarsgaard, demonstrate some exercises for proper barefoot running called 100-up. In short, this exercise has you almost run in place with a concentration on the proper way to bring your feet back down that will cause minimal injury.

While I’m in taper mode for the NYC Marathon this weekend and I don’t want to try anything new, this seems something that is simple enough that I could do it in my office over my lunch breaks.

Anyone else have good suggestions for simple training exercises to improve form?


A Litany of Excuses

There’s lots of reasons why I haven’t blogged much recently. The main reason? I haven’t been running as much. Since the Fourth of July I have only run a single race, the Twin Cities Duathlon. I was pleased with my performance in the 5k run – 18mi ride – 5k run race, both of my 5k’s were around 23:00. Otherwise not much in my running world. Here’s why:

July was actually a pretty good month. Almost 150 miles of running in. August started off horrible. At the beginning of the month I got the bright idea to do a Friday run barefoot. Normally I do not run on Friday and I do not run barefoot. Needless to say, this did not end well. After 1.3 miles my feet were bloodied and blistered. I could barely walk for the next four days.

I managed to come back a week later with a 20 miler and a good solid week, but then I got the norovirus that I lovingly spread to my wife because I thought it was non-contagious food poisoning. If you haven’t ever had the norovirus, here’s how it works. First, it lies in wait for a day or two. Then it cleans EVERYTHING out of you from both sides and makes sure you can’t take anything else down. Then you’re just left dehydrated and exhausted for a week after. Thus, I missed a whole week of runs.

At the end of the norovirus week I did a 17 mile run and the next day was the duathlon. My knee was killing me, so I took a few days off. Did a 5 miler then a 20 miler. My knee still hurt. To cap off the 20 miler I went and boarded a plane for Europe that evening and spent two weeks in Europe. I didn’t run at all in Europe. Lots of walking, but no running. This was probably a good thing. After some long days of “museum walking” for eight to twelve hours my legs were killing me. Running would have been bad.

I returned to New York yesterday night. This weekend called for a 20 miler, I’m not jumping right into that. I’m going to build some mileage this week after my nice early morning six miles today. On Saturday I’ll run the Fifth Avenue Mile and then on Sunday I’ll do a 20 miler.

This leaves me with a very short taper for Chicago. I had hoped to peak there, now I’m just hoping to finish. Life is like that. I love Chicago, I’m going to love the race. I just won’t be down around 3:30 for it.


It’s all about the rhythm

No blog post for the last couple of weekends because I didn’t have a race to write about. Memorial day weekend was the peak of my training for Grandma’s Marathon where I did 24, 11, and 9 miles over the three day weekend. Sadly, I had to get up incredibly early on Tuesday morning to catch a flight back to rather warm and humid New York, and that’s where stuff started to go downhill.

I fly often enough that I have no problem sleeping on planes. Put me on a plane at any time of day and I can nearly guarantee that I can fall asleep. Often times it’s a little like magic, I board the plane early, side down by the window, and just fall asleep — completely missing the announcements, takeoff, and landing. Air travel truly is some sort of magic teleportation device for me. Unfortunately, this is never “quality” sleep. No matter how much I sleep on a plane I’m still tired. Such was the case on Tuesday. Get into New York around 11am and drive to work and stick around there until 7pm. Drive home and go out for a planned eight mile run up to Valhalla and back. No problem. Ughh. About two miles in I was sore and felt like I was dying. Time to turn around and walk the two miles home. No reason to be stupid and hurt myself during my taper.

Wednesday and Thursday are usually running days too. Not last week. Work calls, and this week it meant busting my ass (and that of my co-author) to get a CSCW 2012 paper out the door. Sadly, this meant 18 hour work days on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. I felt enough like I was going to puke without the bonus of going for a run.

Which brought me to Saturday. A medium distance run of about 12 miles was the plan. No problem, right? It was good weather, I was reasonably hydrated. I felt good. Unfortunately, my old bones hurt like hell doing it. I tried to tell my body that it had only been out of commission for three days, but it wasn’t going to listen. I finished the run at about my marathon pace, but I worked my ass off to do it. Sunday wasn’t much better.

Tomorrow is supposed to be rest. It’s under two weeks to Grandma’s Marathon. Right now I feel like I just need to get a decent run under my belt. Loosing your rhythm two weeks before the Marathon is not such a wonderful thing.

Until next time, keep running.


Counting Calories, Loosing Weight, and Marathons

A quick search around the web reveals hundreds of different diet plans: diets that let you eat almost anything, diets that eliminate entire food groups, diets that are loosely based on the science of how the body processes calories, and more. Unless you’re one of those people naturally gifted with the extremely high metabolism at some point in your life you’re going to need to watch your intake.

I’m not going to go into full details but about eight years I concluded I needed to loose 50lbs. Over the course of the next two years I lost about 55lbs and felt good. Then I started to vascillate up to around 200lbs. When I started running in May 2008 I wanted to know how many calories I burned, so I started tracking my weight. This got me to wondering, how does my own weight affect my running ability.

Let’s start out with something very basic, as a 32 year old, 6’2″ male, if I were to loose 30lbs and go from 195 to 165, my caloric expenditures in a marathon would drop by 631 calories. In more realistic terms, if I were to bonk at 22 miles weighing 195lbs, I could make it through the whole marathon without bonking at 165lbs. Plus, there’s the ancillary benefit of less wear and tear on your joints. Wondering about how many calories your next marathon will take? Here’s a little table I made with the help of Wolfram Alpha. It assumes a flat course and is set up for a 32 year old 6’2″ male. Someone remarkably similar to yours truly.

The key to loosing weight so you can further on the same amount of energy is simply understanding that you need to burn more calories than you take in. In other words, count calories. I’m a scientist (yes, a real scientist with the Dr. title and all) and spend most of my day recording and analyzing data. I’m also busy, so I can’t waste time creating two exact duplicate meals and burning one in a calorimeter to determine the exact number of calories in a meal. Instead, I cheat and estimate my meals using an online food tracker.

My tool of choice is FatSecret. Using FatSecret I can easily track both my weight and food intake. It’s not perfect — I can’t track other measurements such as body fat, running pace, my sleep — but it gets the job done. FatSecret also can give me a report of my food for the week including the nutrients and caloric breakdown (fats vs protein vs carbs). Although I’m not a finely tuned machine where these matter a ton, it does help me understand what is going into my body.

People find it strange when I tell them that even now I’m counting calories and trying to lose weight. I have a healthy BMI and look much skinnier than my BMI indicates. However, for me, I consider this to be an essential part of training, at if it means not bonking during a marathon, or even delaying the bonk a few miles, I’m willing to put up with indignity and hassle of counting calories. After all, many runners swap shoes because of mere ounces of weight difference — I’m talking about 30lbs. That’s not only swapping shoes, but also cutting off most of a leg. It seems a little crazy, but when I cross that finish line it will be entirely worth it.

Do you count calories while training? Any hints for people starting on the journey?


Know Your Calories

(note: this article has been in draft form for a while, seeing the recent post on Lifehacker inspired me to get it out.)

An under-appreciated element of training for a marathon is tracking your daily runs in a training log. A training log is a great way for a first time or experienced marathoner to go back and look at where they were and where they are now. It provides me a great sense of accomplishment when I look at my training log. In the case of an injury I can look back and see what might have precipitated the injury. Was it over training? Running too hard? A change in surface? I track all of these in my running log.

An additional helpful thing that my log tracks automatically is the number of calories that I burned during a run. After a run I can look at how many calories I burned and get an idea of what I need to replenish those lost calories. Although you can’t get an exact count of the calories you’ve burned without running inside of a calorimeter (is that even possible‽), there are numerous tools that give you a close approximation.

One of the easiest ways to get an idea of the calories you’ve burned is to simply use a table. Find a weight that is similar to your own weight and a pace that is about what you did and you’ll get an idea of how many calories you’ve burned. A nice advantage of these tables is that they often contain many different sports, so it’s easy to look up and see how many calories you burned during that game of beach volleyball or that run around the park too. There’s an excellent guide at NutriStrategy that has most sports you can think of and even some less sporting activities such as taking out the trash. If you want to get a bit more advanced, you can utilize calorie coefficients. These numbers tell how many calories you burn per minute of activity per kilogram of body weight.

Pace (min/mi) Pace (min/km) Coefficient
5:30 3:25 0.300
6:00 3:44 0.266
6:30 4:02 0.250
7:00 4:21 0.233
7:30 4:40 0.225
8:00 4:58 0.208
8:30 5:17 0.191
9:00 5:36 0.183
9:50 5:54 0.174
10:00 6:13 0.167
11:00 6:50 0.155
11:30 7:09 0.150
12:00 7:27 0.140

Calorie Coefficients for Running. Multiply Your Weight In Kilograms by The Coefficient and Number of Minutes of Running.

Another way to track your calories is to simply use a website that calculates your calories for you. RunKeeper, a great iPhone/Android app that recently went completely free, will approximate your calories based not only on your weight, pace, and distance, but also utilizes elevation information. It then displays the calories burned on information pages for individual runs and a running total on your RunKeeper profile page. If I were to use RunKeeper as my only log it would require no additional effort to provide calorie counts.

If you want more information than just calories, including expected times for races of other distances, then WolframAlpha can calculate them for you. Visit the WolframAlpha Home Page and enter your information in a format similar to this “194lb 6’2″ 31yo male running 4.33 miles in 39.5minutes” and WolframAlpha will provide a whole slew of information about your performance, including predicted times for races from 100m to a marathon.

Snapshot of Wolfram Alpha Calories

Metabolic Information Generated by WolframAlpha (Click for Full Report)

Of course, there are dozens of other ways to count calories while running. My personal approach is to use a consensus from a couple of different sources and average them out. How do you track your calories for a run? If you don’t track calories, why not?


Running on Ice with Screw Shoes

As I’ve mentioned before, I train primarily in New York City, but also spend a lot of time in Minneapolis. While the snow in New York tends to disappear pretty quickly, once it snows in Minneapolis it generally sticks around all winter. Unfortunately, because most of the running paths along the river and through the park do not get enough use, they’ll keep a nice layer of ice on them all winter long.

I attempted to compensate for this when I purchased a couple of new pairs of shoes for running in Minnesota.  I purchased one pair of road running shoes and another pair of trail running shoes (a big shout out to Adidas outlet stores and buy 1 get 1 sales).  The thought was to use the trail runners on the snow and ice and road runners once the weather became more manageable in mid-April.  Unfortunately, as I discovered on my first run in the Minneapolis on Wednesday morning, this was not going to cut it.  My time was fairly slow, to be expected because of the 13°F air temperature, but it was extra slow because of patches of glare ice and rough ice that I needed to slowly navigate.  On Thursday morning my pace improved slightly, despite a lower air temperature around 4°F, but I chalk that up to regaining some of my Minnesota footing and knowing where particularly icy spots in the path were.

I knew that if I wanted to run better in the ice and snow I needed a better solution.  Talking to friends and googling around, I came upon three possible solutions.


Yaktrax Pro Traction Cleats (image from E. Krinker on

YakTrax are nifty elastic bands encased in a metal spring that wrap around your shoe and provide dozens of extra contact points with the ground. They’re designed to fit over both shoes and boots and come in a variety of styles, including the durable Pro style.  YakTrax came recommended by several friends in the Chicago area who used them for walking through Chicago snowbanks.  They’re widely available at retail stores such as REI and retail for around $30.

Unfortunately, YakTrax don’t seem to be built for running.  While many runners have had great luck using them for light runs, I’m fairly certain that they would break after a couple of weeks of 50 mile runs.  For most runners they seem to break by having one of the pieces of elastic give way.


Stabilicers Sport (image from

Stabilicers from 32North are a slightly less common option that seem a little more durable than YakTrax. Rather than a series of elastic bands, Stabilicers are more like an additional sole that is strapped to your shoe.  This sole is designed to provide additional traction and features a set of spikes, which can be easily replaced.   It’s also possible to find them at retail, although my REI store didn’t have them, although their online site does.  They retail for about $40 for a pair of the Stabilicers Sport, which have great reviews on REI.  However, the lack of instant gratification made this a little more difficult for me.

Screw Shows

The most low-tech solution was to create a pair of Screw Shoes.  This option was suggested be a friend who read about them in Runner’s World and provide a link to a summary article about screw shoes because the article was not available online.  A little more searching led me to Matt Carpenter’s article about Screw Shoes, where he goes into detail about sizing of screws and extolls readers to make their own.   This seemed like the least expensive solution.  A trip to Home Depot and $3.15 later, I had 36 #6 3/8″ hex head screws in my possession.

Now, here’s the key to my success with Screw Shoes, get a drill with a magnetic hex driver.  If you’re using #6 screws, the 1/4″ hex driver head should work just fine.  Then, just put them all around your shoes in the deepest parts.  In my case this was where the tread was extra deep for trail running. After about 10 minutes of work, I had 18 screws in each of my shoes and I was eager to try them out for New Year’s Day.

My Screw Shoes: The Adidas Kanadia 2 - Awesome on the Top Side

My Screw Shoes: The Adidas Kanadia 2 - Killer on the Bottom Side!

While it was -4°F on New Year’s morning, I still had the best times in the last week. At first I was a little cautious, the shows felt a little funny, especially on pavement.  The whole sole wasn’t making contact and they really bit into the pavement.  It was a hard run.  As soon as I hit ice, about a quarter block away on the sidewalk, the different was night and day.  Where before I was extra cautious, I could easily cruise over the ice with no worries.  I began to tempt fate and run over the black ice, the really slick stuff.  No problems, the shoes bit and let me cruise over at near normal speeds.

After my first run in Screw Shoes this morning, I can easily say that they’re more than worth the $3.15 and 10 minutes of work — not the best $3.15, that would be bandaids or Body Glide, but they make running in winter possible.  Of course, on the down side, I’ve just relegated this pair of shoes to winter running only — but what pleasant winter running it is.

Sadly, it looks like this may be the last time on this trip I get to use the Screw Shoes.  They’re miserable for running on pavement, and I’m sure they’d destroy a treadmill, which as you can see from the forecast for tomorrow, is going to get some use.  Running at -10°F is one thing, but -18°F with a -32°F wind chill is too extreme for me.

-18°F at 9am? That's a bit too cold for running outside. Time to hit the dreadmill!

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Marathon Times

2011 NYC Marathon3:57:45
2011 Hartford Marathon3:58:17
2011 Chicago Marathon4:20:16
2011 Grandma's Marathon4:07:43
2010 Big Sur International Marathon4:22:49
2009 NYC Marathon4:37:05
2009 Twin Cities Marathon4:43:28
2009 Pittsburgh Marathon4:14:38
2008 Erie Marathon5:11:40

Upcoming Races

  • Nov 6 - New York City Marathon, New York, NY
For previous races, check out my Race Log