Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Running better than Paula

I received a tweet from Paula Radcliffe this morning: "Thanks guys. Pretty s**t day for me but great to see the London course looking so good and so many runners. Just need to fix myself!" She'd just placed 3rd in the Bupa London 10,000 in 33:17 — a respectable time for a 37-year-old mum, but well outside her road PB of 30:21. Paula's disastrous run reminds me that all runners have their own individual standards as to what is a 'good', 'average' or 'bad' race.

In my current state of fitness, if I were to run 12:45 for a 3000 metre race I'd call that a 'good' performance. On Saturday afternoon I raced in the YCRC 3k at Campbell Park. I placed 23rd in 13:43, which looks to be well outside my definition of good. Thinking about it though, I'm encouraged. The race was cross-country (on dirt tracks actually); there were tree roots, rocks, rutted tracks to negotiate; a horse stile on a sharp turn at the 500m mark; a dry creek crossing; a climb of some number of metres to the half-way turn. Most of the runners in the race ran a minute or so slower than what they would for a track 3000, so I'll be generous and give myself a 'good' rating for that race.

How did my stride feel? Not quite as expansive as it did in the 5k the previous week. I tried to take on board Rick's tips (from Earl Fee's book) about keeping my hips and chest forward. I couldn't quite get it happening though. Perhaps the 10k jog I did Saturday morning took the edge off my legs. Improving my stride is still a work in progress. Also on Twitter, Pete L. linked to a video from Dr. Yessis about over-striding and stride length. The doctor makes some good points that make sense to me, including "If you want to increase your speed the first thing you should do is increase your stride length, not your stride frequency."

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Getting my stride back in a 5k race

With running, one thing I'm sure about is that I never possessed the wonderfully flowing stride of a Herb Elliott or a Catherine Freeman, but there was a time (last century) when I at least ran with the feeling that I was 'striding out' and not shuffling along. My 5k race on Saturday afternoon was something of an epiphany in that at last I felt like I was moving well. Now I know that running is a numbers game, and the raw numbers from the race are nothing extraordinary: 35th place in 23:06 — 1:20 slower than my best time on the course from 2008. The thing is, my excitement about the race has nothing to do with numbers. It's because of how I felt about my movement whilst I was running. And that was a good feeling.

There was a beautiful study by Pete Larson of high-speed (slow motion) videos taken at this year's Boston Marathon: Gait Variability Among Elite Runners at the 2011 Boston Marathon. It contains a table showing the variability of different stride 'components' amongst some elite female and male runners. For example, 'step rate' (stride frequency) varies between 173.9 and 188.5 strides per minute for the men and 181.8 and 194.6 for the women. What has this to do with real-world (particularly aging) runners? I'm interested to hear your thoughts. I think it's easy enough to run with the same stride frequency as we age. An 81-year-old lady can race with the same number of steps per minute she used when flying over the ground in her thirties. What changes as we age is stride-length.

Rick reminded me about Pete Magill's article in Running Times: Solving the 5K Puzzle. The first piece of the puzzle is Stride Efficiency, so that's why I'm happy my stride felt good on Saturday (even though I'm yet to commence the drills and short hills that Pete recommends in the article). The only thing I've been doing thus far is running less mileage (50 to 60 kilometres per week rather than 90 to 100) and running faster (while concentrating on form) during these runs. I'd like to build the weekly mileage to something higher and assemble the other puzzle pieces over coming months.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

A sucky race, and feeling good

Last Sunday I raced in the Nail Can Hill Run for the 6th time, managing to record a PW of 63:07 on a spectacular autumn day. I was spectacularly slower than '08 when I ran with a camera, stopping to take photographs while still managing 56:53. I'm nowhere near being in the shape needed for a hilly 11.3k race. However, I'm not unhappy. I enjoyed the day out with my running mates and my legs felt good — for 3k!

On Thursday I ran my 10k MAF test course at 736 heart-beats per kilometre, which is only marginally inferior to the 732 I recorded on 3 March. On the face of it, I'm not too far away from the 710 to 720 beats per km I was recording in '07 around the time of my M50 10,000m PB and 20:54 5k at Stromlo. But, I'm not sure... my mileage since the surgery has been about 60k per week (including quite a few rest days), so is the apparent aerobic improvement just due to having (relatively) fresh and springy legs?

My quest for springy legs is in its early stages. The only change to my training thus far (besides the reduced mileage) is to do as many of my runs at close to 5:30 per kilometre pace. This is about 82% of my 10k race-pace (if I could run 45 for 10k, which I'm not sure that I can!) — for a runner capable of 36-flat for 10k it'd be like doing regular runs at 4:23 per km (7:04 per mile). Not all that fast, but a pace that requires some springiness.

Well timed photo from John Kennedy, but both feet aren't in the air!My mate John finished so far ahead he had time to grab his camera and take this photo. Thanks John!