Saturday, March 3, 2012

run walk run

My blog entry about a week ago on the subject of running was titled run walk.

Being too out of shape to sustain the volume I needed to get back into shape (I know it's kind of a catch 22 situation), I adopted Jeff Galloway's system of running with short walk breaks.

More precisely I adopted a repeating schedule of running for 1 mile at 7.0 mph and walking for about 90 seconds. The key is to make the workout manageable yet run enough to trigger significant physiological changes. I can safely say it seems to work.

This week I can report I've upgraded to walk run walk. See the following graph:

First five miles were covered with the treadmill set at 7.0 mph with 90 second walk breaks at 3.0 mph between each mile. Then I finished the workout off with a 3 miler at 7.0 mph sans break. That got me a satisfying 1100 kcal or so burned. (I certainly couldn't have completed this workout last week after the long layoff.)

How did I know I could hack the final 3 miles? Well, the running equation is all about legs and lungs. My first mile always feels a bit lumpy. So the first ten minutes is not informative. But by the 3rd mile, I can usually tell if I have the legs fatigue-wise. The rest of the equation is simply about form: running form and breathing form.

In terms of running form, I can feel my leg mechanics getting more efficient as the workout progressed. Look at the graph above again: from mile 3 onwards, the jaggies in the plot are at a lower point. It looks as though I'm running slower. However, the treadmill speed is exactly the same as in the earlier miles. I believe the accelerometer in my iPod Nano is reporting that I'm bouncing less and running smoother. And every bit of running economy helps.

The final factor is breathing form. If I'm running into slight oxygen debt, eventually I will not be able to maintain the set pace no matter how motivated I am. So it's important to breathe well. I started paying attention to my breathing technique around mile 3, and suddenly the miles came subjectively much quicker: I'm not glancing at the time and distance display on the treadmill as often.

By mile 5, I felt much better than in miles 1 and 2. I know it seems counterintuitive, but 7.0 mph felt much easier despite being more than half-an-hour into the run. (I don't believe this can be attributed to an endorphin response.) With legs moving more efficiently (perhaps confirmed by the graph) and a good breathing rhythm established, I felt I had the formula nailed. Thus I decided to insert that 25 min block at 7.0 mph to complete the workout.

In fact, I now believe the run walk method is superior to a pure run workout for me. It seems the run walk pattern allows me to converge on running form. Once established, I can then run (without breaks) with maximum efficiency. And as the miles pile on, I do begin to feel the well-being associated with an endorphin rush. (Actually, I felt like continuing onto mile 10, but I ran out of time.)

Unfortunately, this convergence doesn't always happen. See the graph below (taken a couple of days later):

At no point did I feel I was settling down to a nicely efficient stride or breathing pattern. There is no improvement as the miles progress. So I cut my losses and abandoned the run after just 4 miles.

Back to the 8 miler, unfortunately, my workout is now well over the 1 hour mark. I have my iPod Nano 6g set up to power the bluetooth dongle that sends music wirelessly to my Sony XBA-BT75 wireless earphones. And after maybe a total of 90 minutes, the Nano was reporting battery was in the red zone. The earphones are rated by Sony for 3.5 hours battery life. It seems the Nano is the limiting factor here. This is a little disappointing. I'm not sure the combo will last for a half marathon.

I forgot to include last time a picture of the USB-powered charging station for the XBA-BT75. Here it is:

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