Saturday, June 25, 2016

Pace Yourself Part 4: Hills

Pacing can be tricky. Hills, heat, and wind--consider these factors instead of looking at the pace on your watch. You'll have a much better run if you do. Here are other posts on pace:

For most runners, hills are the bane of runs or races. Whether they're short and steep or long and gradual, hills can really make it difficult to run a consistent pace.

Running even a slightly negative splits in a race is ideal, but what if there are lots of hills? How much do they slow you down running up them, and how much do they speed you up running down them?

In "The science of hill running and how it impacts your race time" from RunnersConnect.net, author John Davis explores hills affect on pace in great detail, but here are two of the simplest ways to calculate how hills affect pace:
every percent gradient of incline (going uphill) will slow you by 12-15 seconds per mile, and every percent gradient of decline (going downhill) will aid you by 8 seconds per mile
 or
every 10 feet of elevation change alters your time by 1.74 seconds, regardless of the horizontal distance covered

It's important to note that running uphill slows you down more than running downhill speeds you up. Running downhill, while faster, can also take a toll on your legs. The impact on your legs is around 75% greater running downhill.

A race with a significant downhill early can leave your legs feeling horrible at the end. The Boston Marathon is a good example.

Comparison of race elevation changes via Boston.com
When I ran Boston in 2011, I was not prepared for how the downhills early and later in the race would pound my legs. Minnesota had near record snowfall that year, so most of my runs from February to March were on treadmills.

At the race, I was prepared for the uphills. The Newton hills, including the infamous "Heartbreak Hill," didn't feel bad at all. At mile 21, I crested "Heartbreak Hill" feeling like I had a 2:55 marathon in the bag--especially knowing there was a good amount of downhill and no more significant uphills for the rest of the race.

Unfortunately, I did not factor in the pounding my legs would take from the downhills. My race plan was to run a 1:27:30 through the halfway mark, which I did. The Boston Marathon finishes downhill, and my quads told me so. By the time I crossed the finish line, I just squeaked under my "B" goal of breaking three hours, running 2:59.

So what do you do with all of the above information? Calculate your paces and write down your splits? I wouldn't. My advice: Run by feel. Try this series of four workouts. Do the last workout the week of your race.


Marathon or Half Marathon
  • Week 1
    • Have a measured loop  or an out-and-back 1-2 miles from your starting point. Make sure the loop has a similar hill profile to that of your goal race
      • Measue 5-7 miles for a half marathon, 7-9 miles for a marathon
        • If you don't have a GPS watch, find a trail with mile markers (or run with some who has a GPS watch
          • Run a 1-2 mile warm up
          • Hit the lap button as you reach your measured loop 
            • Run without looking at your pace for that distance
          • Run at what you think would be a reasonable marathon (or half marathon) pace
          • When you finish, hit that lap button again
          • If you don't have a watch, try running with a buddy who's willing to time you
          • Note your time on that loop. Then ask yourself:
            • Could I have sustained that pace for my race distance?
            • If the answer is no, make sure to run next week's workout slower
  • Weeks 2-3 (or 4 depending on the length of your taper)
    • Do the same workout, but adjust your pace based on the previous week's effort
      • Don't look at your watch!
        • Note the time on your loop. Then ask yourself the same question:
          • Could I have sustained that pace for my race distance?
          • If the answer is no, adjust your pace the next week
          • If the answer is yes--good job. Do it again the next week.
  • Week 4 or 5
    • This should be your taper week, so you're going to need a new loop
      • Measure a new loop, still 1-2 miles from your starting point
        • 4-6 miles for a half marathon, 6-8 miles for a full marathon
      • If you must, you can use your GPS this time, but don't look at it too often. 
        • This pace should not feel taxing
          • If it is too difficult, note other factors like:
            • Temperature
            • Amount of sleep
            • Stress or and increased workload
          • If it felt great, awesome!
  • Week 5 or 6
    • It's race week! Make sure you do this workout at least 5 days ahead of the race
      • Go ahead and use your GPS now. Your pace is locked in.
        • Run a 1-2 mile warmup
          • Hit that pace you've found 
            • Run 2-4 miles for a half marathon, 3-5 miles for a full marathon at that pace
        • Your pace should be a breeze now. If it's not, plan on slowing down on race day!
5k or 10k
  • Week 1
    • Have a measured loop or out-and-back 1-2 miles from your starting point.
      • Measure ahead of time during one of your easy runs
      • 1.5 - 2 miles for a 5k, 2.5 - 3.5 miles for a 10k
      • If you don't have a GPS watch, find a trail with mile markers (or run with some who has a GPS watch)
      • Run a 1-2 mile warm up
    • Hit the lap button as you reach your measured loop
      • run without looking at your pace for that loop
        • Run at what you think would be a reasonable race pace
        • When you finish, hit that lap button again
        • If you don't have a watch, try running with a buddy who's willing to time you
    • Note your time on that loop. Then ask yourself:
      • Could I have sustained that pace for my race distance?
      • If the answer is no, make sure to run next weeks workout slower
  • Weeks 2-3 (or 4 depending on the length of your taper)
    • Do the same workout, but adjust your pace based on the previous week's effort.
    • Don't look at your watch!
    • Note the time on your loop. Then ask yourself the same question:
      • Could I have sustained that pace for my race distance?
      • If the answer is no, adjust your pace the next week
      • If the answer is yes--good job. Do it again the next week
  • Week 4 or 5
    • This should be your taper week, so you're going to need a new loop
      • Measure a new loop, still 1-2 miles from your starting point
        • 1-2 miles for a half marathon, 4-6 miles for a 
      • If you must, you can use your GPS this time, but don't look at it too often. 
      • At this point, this pace should not feel taxing
      • If it is too difficult, note other factors like:
        • Temperature
        • Amount of sleep
        • Stress or and increased workload
      • If it felt great, awesome!
  • Week 5 or 6
    • It's race week! Make sure you do this workout at least 5 days ahead of the race
      • Go ahead and use your GPS now. Your pace is locked in.
      • Run a 1-2 mile warm up
      • Hit that pace you've found 
        • Run 0.75 - 1 miles for a half marathon, 1.5 - 2 miles for a full marathon at that pace. 
      • Your pace should be a breeze now. If it's not, plan on slowing down on race day!

A few notes on running hills:

Run hills standing tall. Look at the top of the hill and imagine a tether wrapped around your waist--like a ski lift for runners--and let that tether pull you up. Keep your chest open--don't look down. Not only does it close up your airway, it can also leave you with tense neck and shoulder muscles after or during your run.

Run well.



Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Olympic Hopeful Abbabiya Simbassa

Photo credit Sioux City Journal 
Less than three weeks before the US Olympic Trials, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Abbabiya Simbassa, an Olympic hopeful in the 5,000m run. On June 12, Simbassa ran a personal best time of 13:29 at the Portland Track Festival. 


He'll be joining fellow Team USA Minnesota member Heather Kampf at the Olympic trials in less than three weeks, and will be competing in the 5,000m preliminaries on July 4th. As we sipped our coffee, I asked him about his goals for the race. He told me, "It's all about making the team. Making the finals is key."


Dennis Barker, Head Coach of Team USA Minnesota, has watched Simbassa make some big improvements this season. Via e-mail, Barker wrote:


Biya is unique in that he has been running at a competitive level the least amount of time of any guy we have had on the team. Last fall and over the winter we stuck to improving his base and stayed away from work that was too intense. He ran some longer races tired and without any sharpening work, but by sticking to the plan he became able to do more intense work and recover better when we got to the racing season. That has allowed him to improve his 5,000 meter time from 14:02 to 13:29 so far this year."


Simbassa plans to draw on the experience of Heather Kampf, a trials veteran. "Heather's a hard worker and a positive person to be around," he said. "The kind of workouts she does--motivate me... the kind of work she puts in, having her around--it makes me want to do more. Every time she races, you can tell she wants it."


Teammate Parker Stinson, currently training in Oregon, is injured and will not be competing in the trials. At the Payton Jordan Invitational in May 2015, Stinson ran a trials qualifying time of 27:54 in the 10,000m. "Parker, he's a good runner," said Simbassa. "I haven't done any workouts with him--he's in Eugene now. It'll be good having him around again."


Simbassa promised me a follow up conversation on a run--I'm usually a better listener when I can't breathe. "How fast are your recovery runs?" I asked. 


"Oh, about 6:15 per mile," he said.


I wasn't sure I’d heard right. "Six fifty, as in six, five, zero?"


"No, six fifteen."


"Would you be willing to slow down for an old guy? Maybe run some 6:50s with me?"


"For a recovery day?" he said. "Sure. I like running with anybody."

I'm looking forward to trying to keep up with Simbassa.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Pacing Yourself Part 3: Heat

Running in the heat is hard (see previous posts here, and here). This post will give more detail on how to adjust your pace while running in the heat. If you're just looking for tools to pace in hot weather, skip the anecdotes and check out the tools at the end of this post.

Med City Marathon, about 100 m from the finish
In 2012, I paced the 3:25 group for the Med City Marathon in Rochester, Minn. It was hot. The day before, the high was 68 degrees Fahrenheit, and that Saturday evening I ran a 5k that still stands as my personal best time.

Overnight, however, the temperature increased, and by the end of the marathon on Sunday it was 85 degrees. In a picture from the end of the race, and you'll notice that none of the twenty-some runners were able to stay in the 3:25 pace group.


Though temperatures in the 40s may sound cool, researchers have found the ideal marathon temperature to be between 41-50 degrees. For every five degrees warmer, times slow by an average of 0.4%. Read more about the in-depth research in, "Everything You Know About Marathons is Wrong," from the New York Times.

In 2015, I paced the Fargo Marathon 3:35 group. The temperature was ideal, the sky was overcast, and the course was flat. I had a large group stick with me for almost the entire race, and several runners finished ahead of me.

How does adjusting for heat translate to training runs? Basically, it means slow down. It's going to take just as much effort to run a slower pace, so don't worry about running as fast as you normally do. If you want a more detailed look at how to adjust your pace, here's a couple of tools:

Runners Connect Temperature Calculator - A simple calculator for adjusting race times
Fellrnr Running Calclator - A more detailed calculator that includes training paces

While they're a nice tool, don't use calculators as gospel truth. Pay attention to how you're feeling, and adjust based on your perceived effort.

Previous Pacing Posts:


Run well.

Pace Yourself Part 2 - Factors to Consider

In my last post about pacing, I wrote about running negative or even splits, and some workouts that can help you pace yourself during a race.

Pacing the 2011 Minneapolis Marathon
What I didn't touch on is how to adjust your pace during a race or training run. Factors to consider are temperature, hills, and wind. Obviously you're going to run slower if it's hot, uphill, or into the wind, but how much slower?

In the next three posts, I'll give some tips for pacing, and some tools on how to adjust your pace. I've ran as a pacer in half a dozen marathons and about two dozen half marathons, so I'll try to use my pacing and racing experience to give examples of how to adjust your pace due to external factors.

Since it's going to be warm here in Minnesota for the next few days, I'll do heat first. Here's a link to the posts on Pacing:


Run well.




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