Monday, October 25, 2010

Jef says: How Fast Does That Old Pony Run

I was going to be smart about training for the Boston Marathon and hit it hard when it’s time to, but not a day sooner than it’s time to. Now through about Thanksgiving is the off-season, and the plan was to relax and train by feel and by fun and put no pressure on myself until 16 or 20 weeks out and then start fresh.

Curse that National Public Radio.

Weekend Edition just interviewed Ben Rapoport, who, it has to be said, is a little too impressive for the rest of us anyway. He’s a sub-3:00 marathoner who’s simultaneously working on a Ph.D in electrical engineering at M.I.T. and attending Harvard Medical School. And he’s worked up a calculator to assess, essentially, the scope of any given runner’s fuel needs, and thus the amount of glycogen that runner needs to make it through that marathon without hitting the proverbial wall.

NPR posted that calculator online, and according to the data I plugged in about myself, I coasted through Detroit last weekend about an hour slower than I was capable of finishing. What a slacker!

The data: I weigh 145 pounds (conservatively), and my resting pulse is 48 (again, that’s a conservative figure) and I’m 48 years old (that one is, alas, accurate). The conclusion: My “conservative best marathon,” with normal glycogen loading, should be about 3:29. That seems fine. My “aggressive best marathon,” with optimum glycogen loading, is 2:23. Two Twenty-three! We’ll note that 2:23 was good for 30th overall in the 2010 Boston Marathon, and I’m guessing it probably wasn’t that guy’s fourth marathon.

Obviously the calculator is simplified a little bit for the NPR listeners Web site (imagine what the version posted on the All Iron Butterfly All The Time station’s Web site must look like); there's no place to plug in the runner's VO max, even though it was mentioned prominently in the story and is crucial to performance prediction in the sense that, say, wheels are crucial to bicycle riding. And neither the calculator nor the story mentioned anything about lactate threshold (another key indicator that you can actually do something about), let alone whether a person has anything to do with their life besides train, eat and sleep. And, I guess, go to med school while getting one of the toughest Ph.Ds in existence.

But I don't care. If it says I can run a marathon at a 5:28/mile pace, why, I'll set up my training program with that in mind. First step: Work my way up to being able to run 400 meters at a 5:28/mile pace. It should all come together from there. And then I will positively blitz Boston, provided I don’t have a horrible collision with Lyle Lovett or Todd Snider while they team up to serenade the racers as the race course weaves its way through the Lingerie Model District. Which shouldn’t be a problem. How many wild-ass fantasies can one race accommodate?


Liz said...

Way to go. Find a new yardstick, and buy it. Doesn't matter if it's made of radioactive material, or clay, or fairy dust. Seems like there are lots of good references out there for runners, and in fact you yourself are a resource to others. If not for your own benefit, for the benefit of those that read you, knock it off. Unless you were being completely sarcastic, in which case, never mind.


La Professora said...

While not a calculator, the guy's formula is available in his paper in Computational Biology. True, there's no mention of a lactate threshold, but there is a couple on lactate kinetics.

TriEric said...

A friend of mine posted a link to that calculator. I'm supposed to be capable of a 2:11 which means I better start training for the Olympics.

Said friend needs to read the paper supporting the calculator, but so far the research she has done some pretty close to the calculator.

She's one of those PHd types also...and an excellent running coach.

Tim R said...

Yikes... Sounds like a recipe for disaster if you ask me.

Taking advice from a radio program on the speed you should be running? You first Boston you run so hard you blow a gasket before finishing? What are you thinking!

I am not advocating slacking off (you wouldn't BE in the Boston if you had done that) but don't set up unrealistic expectations either. I assume your got fitness is where is by measured effort (Correct me Patty if I am wrong).

Improve your performance, sure, but listen to your body, not the radio.

Jef Mallett said...

I need to make one thing really clear here: I believe in myself to a fault, but there's no way I run a marathon in 2:ANYTHING. I'm not generally given to sarcasm, and certainly not to laughing at MIT doctoral students, but that's exactly what I was doing.

That's not to say I won't give Boston my best, most methodically aggressive shot. I'll employ a coach and a plan. I'll employ a heart-rate monitor and probably even a VOmax- and lactate-threshold test. I'll even employ various tables and calculators. But then I'll find out my potential the old-fashioned way:

Go out and race myself silly.

Liz said...

Yet another interesting paradox: if a fast time is desirable at marathons, what is the point of having beautiful music and scenery along the course?

Is it really all about the finish line, or the journey? Obviously it must be both.

BD said...

It sounds like the researchers at MIT think they have found the elusive running Secret in glycogen loading. But, as John L. Parker reveals in "Once A Runner", there is no Secret.

McGovern (McG) said...

Jef - just a quick word of advice about pacing for the Boston Marathon. No, I have never raced Boston, but based on one key sentence within your blog, I consider myself incredibly qualified to issue this tip:

* Race 5.30s, 6.30's, or whatever you want for Boston, but PLEASE promise us all that you will drop to a slow 12 min/mile crawl as you hit this enchanting Lingerie District that you speak about. In fact, I would personally recommend that you fake a pulled calf or something to guarantee sufficient enjoyment.

You're welcome.

Jef Mallett said...

Liz: I've been in a lot of pain with a lot of focus in some really gorgeous places, and absolutely, you appreciate your surroundings. Which is (partly) why I don't understand why anybody runs with an iPod or something similar. But that's just me.

BD: Awesome book, isn't it?

and McG: I promise, I certainly promise.