Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Don't Call it a Comeback -- A Tale of Two Runs

Running has been a bit of a struggle since coming back from vacation. I had my very tough 12 miler on Saturday, and went out for a run on Monday morning that definitely ended up not meeting my expectations.

It was a gorgeous morning, in the low 60s if not the 50s. The humidity was a bit high, but nothing unreasonable. I ran my usual 10-mile course (I'm kind of ignoring Higdon this week because schedule is permitting fewer than recommended midweek runs) and just sucked. I'm usually between 1:36 and 1:39. My best 10-miler this year is 1:33:26 back on May 8, and my slowest was 1:40:28. On Monday -- 1:43. Ouch!

I can explain this. It was a cool morning, with humidity no worse than most of August; I felt fine, ; level of effort seemed good (I don't race these didn't feel like I was taking it easier than usual); and I was on my usual route through Manchester and Mt. Wolf.

Today, ignoring Higdon again, I set out for another 10-miler. I was running a bit late, and it's the first day of school and my usual route has a lot of bus traffic and students walking to school, and since it was another cool, beautiful morning (around 60 degrees) I decided it was a good day for "Pain Lies On the Riverside", which I think is a tougher route.

When I run this route, I try to make it to the flagpole at the square in Goldsboro, 5 miles away, in 45 minutes. I hardly ever make it. Today, I seemed to have a good pace and felt great, but it was almost 48 minutes when I got to the square. Since the second 5 miles in this run is tougher, in my opinion, than the first, I know that I could be on my way to a similar pace to Monday's debacle. I dug in, knowing I had to make up time before I got to the steep, half-mile hill right at Mile 8, where I'm lucky to be able to go over 4mph. I climbed the hill faster than usual, and now, thinking I had a shot an under 1:35, which would be excellent, ran as fast as I could the last two miles, which are mostly flat or downhill...until a brutal quarter mile hill at the end that ended any chance of 1:34:xx.

Still, a much better pace than Monday, and I don't know why. I felt better Monday, they were equally nice days, and if anything I was better rested on Monday. Sure, there's some variance from run-to run, but this is a seven-minute difference on a distance in which I've been really consistent. A few theories:

1. My subconscious caused me to run slower on Monday in order to delay my return to the office. If that's the case, it should have impelled me to run even slower.

2. The East Coast Earthquake, which I didn't notice as I drove through the Philly suburbs in the mighty Neon, changed the magnetic field of the earth which somehow made me, and probably everyone else, faster.

3. This is just regular variance -- look at any runners marathon or half-marathon times and there's a lot more variance than this.

4. Monday's run was an outlier to even my normal variance.

The answer, I suspect, lies in numbers 3 and 4. So, in hindsight, this blog post is probably an over-analysis of nothing. But, not only did I have fun writing it, it made think about my two favorite local routes, how I attack each one differently, and how the one I thought was a lot tougher may not be so tough, after all.

Here's the elevation chart for "Pain Lies on the Riverside", aka York Haven to Goldsboro and back (click for a bigger view):

The tough climbs in this route are within the first two miles and at mile 8. But there's a five-mile continuous stretch of relatively flat roads in the middle of this, before the very steep climb at mile 8 (and it is devastating -- during my first year of half marathon training on this route, I walked this hill every time), and then a downhill stretch on the upper plateau for most of the last 1.5 miles in which I can make up some time.

Here's my usual route.

Until the end, the hills are not as steep, but the 2nd half of the course is mostly uphill. The overall incline is gradual enough that I can make up time on the 2nd half, but not as easily as the flat stretch of the other route, and by mile 8, I'm done. The steepest uphills are still both ahead of me so there's no real chance to make-up time.

What does this mean? Maybe I haven't gotten slower...or as much slower as I thought. Maybe the 1:33s or low 1:30s I'd been putting up in a flatter part of the county in the spring of 2010 aren't as unreachable as I thought. I'd love to be able to come in under 1:30 at the Broad Street Run next year, if I can get into the next one before it closes, that is.


  1. I feel your pain man, but sometimes we learn more from the bad ones than the good ones. At least, that's the way I rationalize a crappy run. If you're committed enough to examine it in this depth and detail, I'm sure you will start nailing those times.

  2. Thanks for the encouragement and for reading! I struggled in the Spring, when there were several weeks in a row where I just felt deadlegged and it was weird that I had my worst pace on a day where I felt very good.

    I'm not too bummed about my bad run since it seems like it's just 1 bad run and not the start of something worse. It was fun to look at my routes in more detail, though in hindsight it probably is just nothing more than normal variance. It'll be interesting to see if I'm consistently faster on the one than the other. I'm ignoring the crap out of Higdon this week, but that's another story.

  3. some days are just better than others is part of what i have realized. however I also think after a number of rest days I'm just really sluggish and instead of being refreshed my body is slower!

  4. I think I have spent many wasted hours trying to analyze one single run, for which there was no explanation. Maybe it was operator error and your watch was off! I like that one :).

  5. @ Amanda -- I agree, I really shouldn't try to overanalyze it unless it becomes a pattern!

    @Jill -- You know, my cheap-o Garmin did seem to be reading a bit behind on mileage on monday. maybe it did lose the satellites for a minute and I didn't notice. That's what I'll tell myself.