Thursday, July 26, 2012

VDOT, onward and upward!

So, I've decided to run using Jack Daniels Running Formula, which is an excellent book, since it has a nice chart "VDOT values based on current race performance" from which you can calculate easy pace, tempo pace, marathon, interval pace, and rep pace, all based on current times over common distances, from the mile to the marathon. This is useful since it's common for people to run these paces either too fast or too slow, and either way can be harmful.

In any case, my last 5K (done almost a year ago) was 19:47, right between VDOT 50 (19:57) and VDOT 51 (19:36). I erred on the side of caution, and have been doing workouts based on VDOT 50 for the past 2-3 months, but I think i'm ready to kick it up to 51, which I did this week with a 20 minute tempo at the prescribed pace, 4:11K/6:44mile.

I'll keep doing workouts at 51 for at least a month, but ideally I'd like to work up to 52, which has a predicted marathon of 3:04:36 (ie...a hair below a BQ for me) or 53 (3:01: 39), or even 54 (2:58:47).

The key in doing this is to do it gradually, and have the move upwards based on true comfort in paces and race results, not just a strong desire to move upwards. In that sense, I'm keen to see where my 5K on Sept. 1st will put me, as well as the Magic Mile that I have planned for early September.

Hopefully they'll put me squarely in the 51-53 range.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Trails vs. Road: the Wardian approach

I subscribe to Trail Runner. I buy each issue of Running Times. I follow iRunfar closely, and I really enjoy reading blogs of some of the best ultrarunners out there (Anton Krupicka, Geoff Roes, Karl Meltzer, Dakota Jones, Nick Clark...etc) but also take interest in road racing results.

It seems that quite often these days people are defining themselves as "trail runners", or "ultra runners", or even "mountain runners", while a separate road running culture exists, to some extent, disconnected and disinterested in what is happening in the trail running scene. What should one make of all this?

I guess there are a few questions I'd like to explore in this post.

1) Which is better: trail running or road running?

The obvious answer to this is trail running. There's nothing better than enjoying the solitude of nature, enjoying scenery and mountains, and reconnecting with nature. It reminds me of when I was a teenager skiing in Colorado. On some days, when skiing in fresh powder down steep unmarked tracks, one felt a awe inspiring respect for nature, and felt one's own complete insignificance in the face of nature's enormity. Trail running at its best invites us to reflect on deep thoughts and clear our heads. If one believes the main thesis of Born to Run, ie. human beings evolved to run and walk over large distances, then certainly trail running helps us accomplish the primal goal that is locked in our DNA. Sometimes I think that, just as fulfillment of sexual desire and the need to socialize are part of what makes people happy, and that not fulfilling these needs leads to psychological issues, perhaps too, running over natural surfaces is something similarly necessary for human happiness. 

On the other hand, I find that there's another, different joy associated with road running. There's obviously the "runner's high" that comes with it, but road running is much more simple (since each foot strike is pretty much the same), and with road running, especially treadmill running, there's a strange joy to be had by being with the pain of a hard workout. Frank Shorter has said that he took to running because he "enjoys the movement" and I couldn't agree more. Especially in treadmill running, there can be something almost meditative about embracing all of the body's feedback signals, almost like vipassana (insight) meditation.

In short, and personally, I love each form of running, but for different reasons. That leads to the second question:

2) Is it possible to train well for both?

The obvious answer to this is yes, since at the end of the day, they're both running. However, I've started to think that there really are some major differences. First, at least in Hong Kong, almost all trails have lots of steps. Many races have several thousand vertical feet in steps. I'm increasingly convinced that going up steps/stairs is fundamentally a different sport from pure running, when one looks at the muscles involved. Granted, stair-climbing and running are two very related sports, not unlike biking and running (or perhaps in swimming, butterfly and freestyle might be a better analogy). Nonetheless, my point is that to be a good trail racer, at least in HK, a decent amount of stair work is needed, and a specific training strategy should be devised, perhaps not unlike someone planning to enter a dualthalon or swim meet involving different strokes. To this end, I try to do a lot of routes that have steps, and in daily life, I take the steps whenever possible (ie. at the MTR). Second, trail running requires better core muscles and stability. This becomes evident, especially in longer races. Third, and on the flip side, I think too much trail running can lead to a decline in leg speed and turnover. Too much trail running can lead to a bit of dullness. Fourth, and conversely, it's also necessary to do some trail running at high speeds, since I would posit that good technical trail running is not only physical in nature, but also has a mental component (ie. perhaps it is training your "central governor" to accept a higher degree of risk).

I've written too much, but I'll just close by saying that in this question of what to run, I love the attitude of people like Mike Wardian, who is willing to do technical trail ultras, local 5K's, road ultras, or basically any running race put out there. 

Training to do that has to be well thought out, and doing that will hopefully be one of the main themes of this blog.

Outline of my training for the rest of the year

In 2011, I logged 4052KM (2,532miles), with 32 weeks over the 80k/50mile mark, and 10 of those being over the 100K mark. However, with the birth of my son Jimmy in December 2011, and with being increasingly busy at work, my mileage (or, really, my free time to train), has taken a major hit. For much of January to April, my training was minimal, as I learned to scope with the stress of having a colic-y infant.  However tough it was for me, it was even harder for my wonderful wife, but she's also adapted really well to being a Mom.

However, things have started to become a bit easier (knock on wood).  As Jimmy gets older, he's generally getting easier to take care of. Also, since my office moved to Kowloon, it now makes sense for me to run commute, which has long been a dream of mine.

                                          (He's hurt my training, but his cuteness makes up for it!)

To make a long story short, I hope to once again ramp up the miles. Thus, here is my plan for the rest of the year:

July-August -- Do a lot of easy miles, plus one tempo per week, and one speed session. Goal: get comfortable running 50 miles a week again, and do regular 30K long runs.

Late August-September - Focus a bit more on speed, for 5K series and "Magic Mile". Goal: build up some speed and leg turnover before starting the slow slog of a marathon build up.

Sept- Dec-  Go into a marathon build up (most likely for Macau Marathon, Dec 2nd). Build up to around 80-120K/week, and do quality tempos, and limited speed work.

Post marathon -Feb 2013-- Work on long-long runs (30-50K), focus on steps and elevation in preparation for Hong Kong 100.

I hope I can fit this all in while being a good father and husband!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

My first post and some thoughts on a blog name

Excuse me while I get the hang of this, but I hope to start an interesting blog about running in Hong Kong: an unlikely running gem. There are probably few cities in the world in which a major cosmopolitan city is located next to some of the best trails, many of which are steep, and technical. At the same time, running in Hong Kong poses several challenges: asphalt, concrete, extreme humidity, steep climbs, unending stairs, and so on.

So, when searching for a name for this blog, I thought of two things that symbolize the contradictory nature of running in Hong Kong: water buffalo and concrete.

Feral water buffalo roam free in Lantau and in parts of the new territories. Running in these areas, which are often remote and free of people, along beaches, abandoned Chinese villages, and tropical areas, you might assume that you were in another era or another place, with only the water buffalo munching on his/her nearby greens to remind you that you have company. In contrast, when finishing up a trail run, often you reach catchwaters or cement paths, which eventually lead back to one of the densest places on earth, a compressed and cramped city brimming with pollution, dynamism, and vibrant humanity. When in the claustrophobic and loud parts of the city, you can easily understand the Chinese saying 人山人海 "people mountain people ocean", meaning a place so crowded that the people have overwrought the landscape. 

In this blog I'll try to embrace these contradictions: the remote trails, the steep technical mountain runs, the concrete paths, and flat road races, all which makes running in Hong Kong unique.