Saturday, October 3, 2009


Every now and then, you just kill a workout.

Here's a "picture" of my run workout from today. The postmodern implications of taking a "picture" of your run's "data" are heavy, I'm sure. Just as postmodernity took away the importance of the text and installed ideas such as self-awareness and irony in its place, the rise of training software has removed the central nature of the workout and installed, in its place, this, a representation of the workout. We don't run or ride or swim for the run or ride or swim any more or the fuzzy implications of "feel-based training" (ooh, creepy)—we do the workout to upload the data and find ourselves among the data points. Think of it as reverse constellating: instead of seeing ourselves in the heavens, the best possible mirror, perhaps, we see ourselves as a collection of points on a graph.

Well, this post has taken on a certain overblown tone, hasn't it? Odd, seeing that I've not only found myself in the data's constellation, I just had to tell you about it. Bear with me, though, since I have a reason. If you'd like to have a closer look, you can see the actual workout here. Nick, my coach, told me to try to hit this workout today, a standard 3x10' at 10k pace and then 5' at 5k pace. I did this workout nine days ago and you can compare results here. For those who don't want to open two whole new tabs and figure out how to navigate TrainingPeaks sometimes clumsy interface (those scroll bars are tiny!), here's the short version:

Wednesday, September 23rd
Interval 1: 10'; 1.7 miles; 5:54/mi.; avg HR 166
Interval 2: 10'; 1.69 miles; 5:54/mi.; avg HR 167
Interval 3: 10'; 1.66 miles; 6:00/mi.; avg HR 165
Interval 4: 5'; .87 miles; 5:48/mi.; avg HR 166

Friday, October 2nd
Interval 1: 10'; 1.73 miles; 5:48/mi.; avg HR 173
Interval 2: 10'; 1.75 miles; 5:42/mi.; avg HR 174
Interval 3: 10'; 1.73 miles; 5:48/mi.; avg HR 173
Interval 4: 5'; .92 miles; 5:30/mi.; avg HR 175

There are a few interesting trends and questions here. My heart rates were all about 4% higher (except for that last interval, which was closer to 5%) on the second day. Distance-wise I was 2.5%-5% farther (faster) for the same amount of time. The paces were much closer the second time to paces I would expect for 10k and 5k racing, respectively (I think I could rattle off a high 16' 5k right now, although it would be hard). Here's the other curve ball. The first workout took place one day after a light day (easy swim, easy run) and two days after a day off. The second workout took place on the week's 4th day of training (usually an easy day), two days after an hour-long cyclocross race, and the day after an easy day. I was definitely still feeling the 'cross race (sore back, anyone?) and my calves felt like someone had gone after them with a poker. Still, I was much, much better the second time around. Possible causes. The first is the obvious one: I'm 9 days fitter and probably fully recovered from IM Canada (most people say it takes a month). I would offer the 'cross race as an opposing point of view on that one. Oddly, though, I'm also gonna offer the 'cross race as the reason why I ran better. O.K., weird, right? Well, not so much. If you do want to geek out on training data, here's the file from that race (HR only, folks, no powermeter on my 'cross bike). You'll see my warmup (the low red line), and then the extended high red line. If you select that whole high red line and then scroll down, you'll see that my average heart rate for an hour was 172, a whole five beats higher then my highest average from day one's intervals.

When I learned to run, for real, two summers ago, with Derek Treadwell (yup, that's actually his name) on the fields of Bowdoin College, he learned me that high heart rates are actually important to going fast. I had always thought that, if you want to go long, you need to go fast at the lowest possible heart rate. Completely wrong, actually. Heart rates are notoriously individual, and the only thing that matters is where your lactate threshold is (that's the point where you start making more lactic acid than your muscles can clear—the jury is still out on whether or not lactic acid is what makes you slow down but one thing is clear: once you're above that point, the clock is ticking, for whatever reason). The more you can raise that thing, the faster you can go without setting the timer on the bomb. So in training, a high heart rate is good: it means you're A) going fast and B) raising your LT. Still, HRs are finicky: you can be dehydrated, tired, depressed, or hungover. OR your heart rate can be affected by a workout you did days ago. Yes, that's true too. That's why you'll see cyclists sprinting two days before a one-day classic and then tootling along the day before: you've got to "open up the lungs."

Nothing opens up the lungs, of course, like an hour of suffering on a bike in a field with crazies shouting at you and pouring beer down your skinsuit. I hobbled around yesterday, swam lightly, jogged, and then discovered, today, that my cardiovascular system had morphed into something akin to a '68 Shelby Cobra: I could run fast, and hard, and ignore the discomfort building in my legs.

My reward? You guessed it: an hour of swimming, a 45 minute jog, and a lazy 3.5 hour bike ride tomorrow. Heaven.

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