Data Geek Alert: Stats for a year of slow running

I’ve been using Trainingpeaks (a software for performance management) on and off and now finally got time to read the book “The Runner’s Edge” by¬†Stephen McGregor and Matt Fitzgerald from my running book list. While it dates back a bit, it is quite relevant to me and while I am digesting all the information and try to apply it to my own “beginner” situation I want to write it down and possibly learn from it. I am not in any way affiliated with Trainingspeaks, just found it super useful. Depending on your obsession with stats it might be useful for you as well. All the above can also be calculated with simple formulas and either tracked manual or via excel – I just happen to love software ūüėÄ

As in all things with life, there are 3 steps relevant to improvement:

  • Monitor
  • Analyse
  • Plan

Monitor

I’ve been monitoring everything from the start, so I am covered well in this area or so I thought! Now after a year has past, I am ready to look at all the data and make some sense of it!

Analyse

This is the interesting part, where I get to connect cause and effect. Initially I get to list all questions I want to answer:

  • Rate the quality of each workout: I blog about how I felt in each run, that should be enough
  • Is my Training hard enough or too hard?
  • Do I need to rest?
  • Am I getting fitter?
  • Is my training appropriately balanced?

All more or less difficult questions. So what do I do? I turn to what I know … business! What I need in business to get a clear head are KPIs.

Here is what Wikipedia tells us KPIs are:

“KPIs evaluate the success of an organization or of a particular activity in which it engages. Often success is simply the repeated, periodic achievement of some levels of operational goal … and sometimes success is defined in terms of making progress toward strategic goals. Accordingly, choosing the right KPIs relies upon a good understanding of what is important … Since there is a need to understand well what is important, various techniques to assess the present state of the business, and its key activities, are associated with the selection of performance indicators. These assessments often lead to the identification of potential improvements, so performance indicators are routinely associated with ‘performance improvement’ initiatives.”

Now if you replace “organization/business” with “runner” and are still reading you are getting my idea. In plain terms what I need to improve as a first step are an initial set of KPIs. So let me get started on a list:

My KPIs for Running

  • CTL: Chronic Training Load (how hard I’ve been training over the past 6 weeks) (see below)
  • ATL: Acute Training Load (past week’s load) (see below)
  • FORM: The result of the above or how well I can expect to perform (see below)
  • Training balance in % of heartrate zones per week (see below)
  • Average Pace for aerobic heartrate (need to be disciplined and run only at that heartrate lol)
  • MAF test results (need to get started on doing those properly!)
  • Resting Pulse (tracking this via my phone, need to find replacement)

Here is a chart showing the data for my first year:

performance-management-slow-runner
Trainingpeaks: Performance Management Chart

The blue gradient line is my CTL. As you can see I had 3 breaks where my fitness dropped. Each red dot resembles a run. The higher the dot, the more intense the run was. The yellow line is my Form, and the pink one is the ATL. FYI that is why people taper before running their marathons: to make their form go up so they are fresh and rearing to go once dooms marathon day arrives.

Below is a look into how balanced my training was. Unfortunately it wasn’t … but I am getting better with the slowness! You can see since the start of the year the dark red is getting less and less!

hr-zones
Heartrate zones in % per week

 

Plan

I’ve tagged all my plan related posts here. In essence I still follow the 3:2:1 ratio for my runs, do one recovery week every month and if I feel bad I don’t run. I do all my runs in super slow running motion and continue on as described. I might have bad runs, but they seem to be quite rare. I will try and keep tagging them, so maybe I can spot a pattern there at some point.

Generally I follow a couple of principles:

  • never increase more than 10% per week and only intensity or duration
  • A hard day is always followed by either a rest or a recovery day
  • if I can’t keep the HR down or need some fun, I want to make sure I don’t go over 80/20 (80% easy and 20% above)
  • Do a recovery week every 4 weeks

Further thoughts

It is extremely difficult to figure out if and by how much I have become faster. In the beginning I wasn’t fit enough and I walk fast. I also ran at a much higher heartrate. This skews the data … additionally it is difficult to judge the surface. I observed this during today’s run and there was over 1:30 difference between running on soft sand vs. pebbles or rocky beach. I didn’t think it was that much …

I also noticed that my difference in pace isn’t as big if I run 130 vs 139 HR, compared to 140-145. Is this a thing or was that a surface or software bug?

My crazy plan of slowness

Let me get something off my chest first, most people will not consider what I do running, because I am that slow. However I am not writing this post for those people. I am writing this post for my former as well as future self and people in a similar position: Obsessed with running, but not yet good enough to compare myself to guys that have been running for years, although I don’t like to admit that!

I spend a lot of time looking online, but got bombarded with people writing about their superior mile splits and while it is entertaining to some degree to just ignore the “mile” and read it as “km”, it’s just not the same. Reading all those blogs and books (see below for lists), I came to see a vision of where I want to be, so all I had to do is figure out a way to get there. I also wanted to document and share my progress or lack thereof.

Learning from past mistakes, injuries and burnouts I knew I needed a different approach to¬†my usual one (crash and burn) and much more patience as well as consistency was required. If I want to be running my best in x years from now –¬†they say it takes up to 10 to reach your potential¬†–¬†the most important point on the agenda is to stay healthy enough to keep up consistent training.

What I was looking for was a low risk approach to improve on a consistent basis, a rough plan I could follow and tweak as well as adjust as I went along.

I started again with running in April 2015. This is why I don’t do speed workouts,¬†hill repeats or races. You won’t see any PRs here, at least for a while. I don’t have a base that is big enough, good enough slow twitch fibres, a metabolism that burns mainly fat as fuel, strong enough bones and ligaments, the right mix of every other benefit running¬†long distances slow enough¬†brings.

But let’s start at the beginning:

I started with walking back in April last year and gradually added running intervals, similar to any C25k program out there. I used minimalistic shoes from the beginning to get my feet strong.

After I could run 5 k I worked on getting to 1 hour running following this guide http://breakingmuscle.com/running/week-week-guide-becoming-runner-later-life-andor-safely.

Once I was running one hour 3 times per week I noticed how tired I was after each run. I then found my current plan/structure which is¬†Barry P’s plan as listed on slowtwitch.com.¬†If you don’t want to click & read here is the gist:

  • follow a 3:2:1 ratio for your runs – 3 easy runs, 2 medium runs and 1 long run per week
  • a medium run is twice as long as a short run
  • a long run is three times as long as a short run
  • all run at easy pace in the beginning

What I love about this plan?

It allows me to use a simple formula and track my progress, yet I don’t have to oblige to beeping noises. I run by duration and not distance, so a¬†typical week right now looks like this:

week
A typical week from early December.

When I started using this plan/structure I ran by pace as calculated on https://www.mcmillanrunning.com.

After monitoring this for a while, I noticed huge descrepancies in my heartrate and I would run faster as I wanted, because of wind, terrain and whatever other reasons there were.

I also had been tracking my resting heartrate and marveled at how it was going down over the months. At some point recently I noticed that it was higher than normal. The first sign of overreaching! So … what to do to ensure I don’t overdo it?¬†I decided the simplest way for me to stick to slowness was targeting a heartrate instead of a pace. I now try to stick to around 143, which seems to be my number based on ¬†different formulas – how neat is that! How can you find your number? Try Maffetone’s 180 minus age as the quickest way and as I learned … better slow than sorry!

Now to the bigger picture:

fitness-increase

This is an overlay of my core data which helps me get a good picture and stay motivated. The gradient area is my general fitness curve, I like to see it as consistency rating. This will go up in time, if I don’t get injured (as you can see from the dip in the curve in the middle of the year). I overlayed the red (average heartrate) and blue (pace) from Endomondo over the PMC chart from Trainingspeak. Trainingspeak offers a free 7 day trial and you can import your data via¬†https://tapiriik.com/. What I like about this chart is that I can visualise¬†how fatigue builds up, bad form develops and see consistent training over a long period improve my general fitness.

Looking back at last year and it’s mistakes, as well as this week of running at the recommended low heartrate I can say that I am getting more used to the super slow running and at least think I can feel a change. I feel also much better after each run and have even more energy than ever before.

I will keep this up for a couple of months, at least that’s my plan, and then I hope to¬†see an improvement of my pace for that heartrate. With the days getting longer, I can also think about increasing the time by 10%, however I want to get a couple of weeks of solid running around 143 ¬†or lower behind me to see if my pace increases. If it doesn’t, going longer is the way to run!

Does all of this make sense? I don’t know, I am no expert, but as they say, every runner is an experiment of one, so time will tell if it works for me!

Books I read on this topic

Running to the top by Arthur Lydiard
Daniels’ Running formula by Jack Daniels
Advanced Marathoning by Pete Pfitzinger and Scott Douglas
Endurance Training and Racing by Philip Maffetone

 

It’s so simple – the results part of my plan

Brown, blue and red line please go down.

Thanks to my obsession with stats I found a way to display the forest (general development) and not only see the trees (individual runs).

Now I don’t really care about the brown line anymore since I got way too addicted to plants, but it’s the only one with a cool development ūüėÄ

I’m aware the lines are just summaries and don’t show the individual runs, but my theory is that if I stick to the slow running … and slow down possibly more, that the lines will adjust. Red down blue down – simple. To reflect that in the stats I will have to be disciplined though … over a long time period.

Never gonna happen! There will be always waves to run away from, dogs to run with, walkers with canes I must pass and nice hills I need to conquer to buy some vegan chocolate as a treat …

Have you ever done extensive periods of ‘base building’ and run in a low easy zone? How did you get started?

My goal is not to race – for now – but make sure I stay injury free and improve slowly. I can now run for 2 hours instead of 30 seconds last April and run ~5hrs per week split up between 6 runs.

15% weight lost – reflections on a healthy new me

In the past weeks I had stopped weighing myself daily, but today I just had to see and track it again. I am still a bit shocked – positively. Since I started to focus on becoming a better version of myself, I have lost 15% of my body weight.

This is the first time in probably 15 years that my BMI is saying healthy. Healthy! Me! I have a healthy weight. Let me double check … yep still!

I couldn’t be happier. Since I switched my diet – or better crowded out the bad stuff, I have stopped counting calories. I am now eating a mainly plant-based diet. Mainly plant-based, because I might add a teaspoon of honey to my tea, which isn’t plant based, as well as drinking a Guiness* here and there.

The Past

This all started with me finally getting back into running and seeing food as fuel. I began this journey and tracked what I ate. First I just tracked. Food/drinks as well as water intake. I quickly realized that most of my calories came from snacks and drinks – like milk and sugar in coffee for example. Tracking this over a certain period of time and then doing simple adjustments helped me through the first weeks. At that point I was running 3 times a week and continuously increasing the time/duration I was running. Once I hit 1 hour for a run, I noticed that I felt rather tired afterwards. I also noticed (through my tracking) that if I got stressed or had to work a lot, my eating would suffer. I wait until I got super super hungry and then needed a quick fix asap to continue working. This ended up being a cheese or whatever sandwich/bagel etc. Most of the time however I didn’t even eat lunch or breakfast but just kept working until it was evening. Then the quickest fix was to order food (think pizza …) or make something big like pasta with of course cheese!

Something had to change … and my body told me so! I put in crap food and I got crappy results from it. Now I know how to cook, but I had less and less interest in cooking meat. This might be due to the quality of the meat gotten worse or my taste changing. So I got this idea … to change things up and see what would happen. I went on a vegan diet for a month, although I told everybody that I would try it for a week first. Surprisingly everyone was supportive. Yes concerns where raised, but I had done the research and was prepared to discuss this. My main concern was obviously cheese and milk. Meat wasn’t a big deal any-more for me at this point. I hate soy milk and tofu. However I did find almond and rice milk. I even found out you can make your own! I am now using almond milk for coffee etc and rice milk (if there is no almond milk) for smoothies. There is also hazelnut milk … and let me tell you with a 100% chocolate powder this is heaven and will fix every sweet craving I have.

Obviously the first weeks where exciting. Learning about new ways to prepare meals, topping up my spices and managing to create high quality meals that make me full. In the beginning I was hungry, but my stomach was too full. My body took a bit of time to adjust and I needed to learn what a balanced meal is. Things got easier and I feel better than ever before. I especially notice this after running.

The Present

I am now running 6 days a week. Just yesterday I finished my first 2 hour long run. Today I feel like I could go out there again. It feels like my body isn’t wasting any energy on the wrong the stuff (dealing with digesting animal products), but has all energy to heal/build up itself after a tough workout.

Screenshot_NormalAppImage(1)(2)

Looking at my weight, my % muscle vs fat and my general feeling I’d say it was worth listening to my body and switching and I will definitely keep this up. While in the beginning my motive to switch was selfish, I learned so much about our food and the impact of nutrition on our health and the environment that I don’t think I can or want to consume animal products any-more.

The Future

I am happy with how things have developed. I am not tracking calories any-more and am confident that my body will find it’s healthy perfect weight and then stay there. I don’t know what this will be. I guess it will be something around 72 kg.

  • I plan to go to a GP in a couple of months to get my blood checked to make sure the way I eat is sustainable long term
  • I have to get a better picture of myself or get used to the new me – funny enough I still see my old fat self when I look in the mirror
  • I will have to get new clothes … belts just don’t do it any-more
  • I want to try even more and different types of food and want to continue to blog it here
  • I want to improve my running further

Biggest lessons learned

For me the trick was to crowd out the things that are not good for me. I didn’t want or couldn’t eat chips/chocolate in the evening when I was full due to eating porridge in the morning a giant lunch, afternoon fruit snacks and a dinner. Since finding processed plant-based products is a pain in the a@@, super expensive, it’s much simpler to create it myself.

* Guiness is made using isinglass (from fish) for fining

 

Still alive – 8 months of running

Hi guys,

I know it’s been a while. While I haven’t been blogging I have been running quite a lot.

And to get me back on track to blogging what is a better way than to review the progress I have made. This is also what actually motivates me to blog! I looked over my past entries and saw how far I have already come. So I need to ensure it stays that way in the future.

So here goes my summary:

The boring part – my weight

Since starting in April this year I lost 14% of my weight and 12% of that are fat! Wow … I gained also 2% of muscle. Now take that for whatever it means as I didn’t get any professional measurements done. I am and have for years been using a old scale that also shows percentages. Since it was going down/up I am happy enough with that as far as accuracy goes!

So in summary my weight is now at a point where I don’t worry about it. I still check it weekly, just to track it … I am super happy with that and am sure it will go down even further, or as much as my body needs/feels healthy. I’m still eating a vegan diet and have not yet any desire to switch. It is just way too delicious and keeps me incredibly healthy!

The interesting part – my running

Reading back through my old entries, I realise how far I’ve come … when I started blogging I struggled with running a full hour. I then switched to running 6 times a week and got my running durations up while keeping the pace easy. Who am I kidding … pace was super slow alright, but easy … I can’t lie about my heart rate monitor … it however most of the times did feel easy and good though.

Over the past months I go used to witness the most incredible sunrises. Going out there just when the sun is rising and everybody else is waking up is amazing and switching to 6 times a week made it a routine I now can’t miss!

20151013_075528

By now I am still running 6 times a week with one day of rest. I am up to running 3 times for 30 minutes (my easy days), 2 times for 1 hour and 1 day for 90 minutes.

Right now it’s a recovery week and the first time in a month I am not running for 2 days in a row! I can’t believe the amount of energy I have – I guess that’s why I had to blog about running again.

Oh and yes – I am still slow, but I can see my pace improving!

1km

April: 09:24

August: 06:41

December: 6:21

5km

April: I couldn’t run 5k … are you kidding?

August: 40:33

December: 37:43

1 hour

April: ….

August: 7.09k

December: 7.63k

All of the above was without any racing and mostly easy/moderate pace. I just pull the numbers from my stats page. Looking at all the numbers though makes we want to know how fast I could run when running with others!

While doing all the running I have also become quite addicted to reading running blogs. It is so motivating to read what others accomplish each day I don’t even know where to start!

So how have you all been?

4 months of running – stats

To try and keep me motivated I tracked my stats from the beginning. This is what I had missed in the times I tried to become a runner before. I hope this will give me the long-term motivation I need. After 4 months I can already see improvements.

I want to mention that yes I am super slow and I don’t focus on getting faster as I think this will only lead to injury and I am hoping speed will develop magically lol. In the first 2 months I also tracked calories and macro-nutrients. I stopped after I reached my first milestone and had lost 4 kg. I maintained this now for nearly 3 months without counting calories or missing out on anything. My goal is to get to a healthy weight. I guess I’ll have to start tracking my food and water intake again to get there – yikes!

  April May June July August
Resting Heartrate 74 63 52
Blood Pressure 116/85 120/86 112/85 110/78
Weight kg
88.3 86 84
BMI 28.8 27.7
Fat % 34.4 33.1
Muscle % 32.2 32.4
1 km 00:09:24 00:07:49 00:07:39 00:07:23 00:06:41
5 km 00:53:38 00:42:26 00:40:33
1 hour 5.10km 7.06km 7.09km

Time improvement on 1 km

1-km

Distance covered in one hour running

1-hour

Weight and Calories expenditure

total-calories

So those are my stats. I am curious to see how it will look another 4 months down the road.