Monday, November 8, 2010

My running report card: 12 months of races

Ok, it’s been 15 months since I took my first steps back into running. I ran in my teens and twenties for fitness, but stopped sometime in my early twenties. Since then, I have been anywhere from moderately active to sedentary, depending on what kind of work or activities I was have been involved with.

Early in 2009, I started cycling, and loved it. Eventually, I wanted to do what I could to improve my cycling, and running a couple times a week as a form of cross training seemed like a good option. So, in three months, I had improve my running condition enough with occasional running and continued cycling to run a 5K race, when my wife suggested it.  I loved it, and that was the beginning of my latest journey into running.

Since that first race, I’ve run 11 more, from 5K to Half Marathon (13.1 miles/21K).  My running frequency has increased to four to six days per week, with weekly mileage ranging now usually from about 25-45, and occasionally exceeding 50 (when training for the half marathon). I’ve also been through three periods of when I couldn’t run much, when I was suffering from ITBS in from December 2009, well into February 2010, when I started some core strengthening exercises and changed many aspects of my running form.  Later, the lengths of my runs were limited by pain from an impinged nerve in my right foot in March-April 2010.

My first race in 2010 came in early May, and I have raced fairly regularly since then. The races have been a great way to assess my progress in running, so I’ve decided to reflect on how my running performance has changed over the last 12 months.

The Report Card

Overall Grade: B

Comments: Student should avoid overtraining and train with greater consistency

5K Races. Over the course of 12 months, my 5K times improved by 4:34 or around 23 seconds per month.  The changes were most rapid during the first six months of that period, and have slowed since.

      25:11 (8:07 pace) -- 11/07/2009 Heart Center 5K
      24:31 (7:54 pace) -- 11/26/2009 Loveland Turkey Trot 5K
      22:01 (7:10 pace) -- 05/01/2010 Cinco Cinco 5K
      * 20:45 (6:55 pace) -- 06/12/2010 Run for a Child's Sake 5K
      21:20 (6:53 pace) -- 06/20/2010 Father's Day 5K
      21:38 (6:58 pace) -- 07/11/2010 KRFC Radio Flyer 5K
      21:11 (6:49 pace) -- 09/19/2010 Crossroads 5K
      20:37 (6:39 pace) -- 11/07/2009 T&H Series: Warren Park 5K

      * Course only 3.0 miles, but average pace was an improvement.

10K Races.  I ran my first 10K race on May 31, 2010, and since then have run two more, so at this point, I’ve been running 10K races for just a little over 5 months. In that time, my time has improved 4:10 or around 30 seconds per month, with the improvement being fairly steady so far.

      46:16 (7:46 pace) -- 05/31/2010 Bolder Boulder 10K
      ** 44:45 (7:20 pace) -- 08/01/2010 Fort Collins Human Race 10K
      42:06 (6:47 pace) -- 11/06/2010 Heart Center 10K

      ** Course only 6.1 miles, but average pace was an improvement.

Other Races. In addition to 5K and 10K races, I’ve run two longer races.

      Half Marathon: 1:42:10 (7:47 pace) – 08/14/2010 Georgetown to Idaho Springs Half Marathon

      10 Miles:  1:16:34 (7:39 pace) – 10/02/2010 Bacon Strip 10 Mile Race

What does it mean?

Overwork and injury. It’s worthwhile to run races at regular intervals. A race is like a test of your training effort/strategy, and your results like a report card. Early on, I expected to see rapid improvements, and then some decrease in the rate of improvement over time, so I feel pretty good about my “grades.” I’ve achieved them despite two injuries and an overuse syndrome (ITBS), but these kinds of injuries and overuse syndromes lead to the idea that our bones, ligaments, tendons, and muscles need to adjust to greater levels of activity gradually. Trying to do too much, too early can clearly be counterproductive at times.

Diagnosing and addressing strengths and weaknesses. In addition to the problems created by going for too much, too fast, I’ve learned a lot about my strengths and weaknesses as a runner, and I’ve been able to make adjustments in my training strategy to achieve improvements in the areas where I need them most. Early on, I assumed that aerobic capacity was limiting more than anything else, and I addressed that by incorporating more threshold runs and interval training in my workout schedule.

I saw rapid improvements in my 5K time, but my first 10K was slower than projected from my 5K PR by a couple of minutes. That made it clear that I could benefit from an increase in my mileage and the addition of some hill training for running-specific strength training, both of which help improve speed when running at aerobic paces. That, in turn has resulted in rapid improvements in my 10K time over 5 months.

I ran a Half Marathon and 10 Mile races as tests. I was injured during the Half Marathon, and still ran well and finished with a good time. Before the injury began to affect my running, with 5 miles remaining, I was on pace to complete the race only 1 minutes slower than projected based on my most recent 5K performance, so the increase in mileage and longer threshold work I had included in my training leading up to the Half Marathon appeared to have done some good. The 10 mile race was a hilly one on dirt roads, so it’s difficult to use that one as a benchmark for performance in other 10 mile races, as the course conditions likely slowed me down.

Another important factor that helped improve my performance, was weight loss.  I lost about 15 lbs. during this period. Research has shown that due to the decrease in the amount of physical “work” due to the loss of weight, higher speeds can be maintained during running events. The improvement in average pace due to the loss of a single pound is in the neighborhood of 2-3 seconds, depending on the length of the vent and assuming conditioning remains otherwise constant. When weight loss at a modest rate is combined with strengthening and conditioning workouts, a runner can achieve even greater improvements.

Weight On ItThe importance of body weight in running performance. Having lost 15 lbs during the course of 12 months, I would expect for my average pace to have improved by 30-45 seconds, with additional improvement being the direct result of my training efforts. My total improvement in average pace at 5K was 1:28, which means that up to about half of the improvement may be attributed to weight loss alone. This is a good indication that the importance of diet and maintenance of optimum weight should not be underestimated by runners.

With weight loss, however, there is a point of diminishing returns, and if a runner goes so far as to become anorexic, performance benefits of reduced weight cease and performance declines (along with overall health and condition). If you lose too much of your body’s energy stores, you simply cannot sustain your condition or your performance in endurance events, so it’s important to ensure that caloric intake is sufficient to maintain strong, healthy body condition, and to adequately fuel your training and other activities.

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