Saturday, December 1, 2012

Characteristics of a Good Runner (A case study)

I've been in kind of a running block lately. I'm on my 4th week in a row of ~30 miles per week. I plan on doing this indefinitely, which means absolutely nothing as I am a horrible planner. It's still nice to have aspirations.

One of the reasons for my increased mileage lately is that I would like to work on my weaknesses in the sport of triathlon. Out of swimming, biking and running I have biking and running weaknesses. Due to work/ holiday/ pansy scheduling, running gives me the highest rate of return on my time investment. Therefore, I run.

My progress has been slow. There are a few reasons for this.
  1. I am not a good runner.
  2. Okay, I'm not even a mediocre runner
  3. Okay, okay, I'm not even a runner (if there is any argument, see pic at right)
  4. Even if I were a runner, running progress would still be slow. Such is the nature of the sport.
I, like most Americans, would like to take short cuts in becoming a better runner. If only there were a pill I could take and magically become a runner. (Aside: I'm pretty sure there are pills. I'm also pretty sure that they would be on the USADA banned-substance list. Since I also want to compete, the pill idea is out. End Aside.) In addition to running more, I've taken a more scientific approach to my running. My goal- to learn what good runners do differently than dolts like me.

My scientific studies are in their preliminary stages. I admit that a larger sample set would be needed in order to make my research more valid. Allow me to explain. See, I don't have much money (another reason I'm not on the pill) and therefore couldn't recruit large numbers of volunteers ('cause you're supposed to pay volunteers, right?).

As a fiduciary consequence, I recruited only those that are really close to me. However, I'm not that popular of a guy (which makes sense since triathlon is not that popular of a sport). Given that I have limited my resources to those willing to work for free and those who actually like me, my selection pool is not as large as I would have hoped.

In the end, my options for study (based on the criteria above) netted just 3 individuals: The Wife, The Big Dog, and The PRP. The Wife has been plagued by a knee injury. That and she is quite unwilling to get up at 5:00 am in sub-freezing wind to do a 7 mile tempo run. She declined the invitation to be involved in the study.

The Big Dog is a 120 pound Newfoundland. He is as cute and as furry as could be imagined. He is also the reason I own a second dog. Way back when the Big Dog had just concluded his puppy stage, I wanted to take him for a run. Dogs like running, right? He seemed excited when I got out the leash. He was even able to keep a decent pace. For about 58 yards. (I measured.) That's when he stopped. As in, he utterly refused to run another step. He sat down and dug his massive paws into the concrete. I tugged on the leash. Nothing. I yelled at him. He panted back in defiance. I tried to force him to go. Key word is 'tried'. He was willing to move from his spot the moment we turned and headed back home. His message was clear- He will not be running. In our household, he is affectionately referred to as "Her Dog."

That's when I announced to the family that we will be getting a proper running dog. Granted, I had ordered a pure bred Golden Retriever.  My previous dog was a Golden and he was great. The Amish guy, who also made us a high quality kitchen table, told me it was a pure GR. He was clearly not correct. By our best guess, the PRP is half Golden and half Yellow Lab. He is easily the best runner I know. Therefore, all of my conclusions are based on observations made of the dog. His dog. (It's true, we have his and hers dogs.)

Characteristic 1-Take Care of Business Early
I have noticed a significant change in behavior of the PRP during the beginning of the run to the end of the run. Whether it's going potty or getting in some squirrel chasing, the business of the run is taken care of during the first half of the workout. He does a little bit of running to loosen up, then he expends his excess energy.

I have learned that if I have hills or intervals planned for the day, I will do those in the first half of my run. My energy is higher and therefore I can make my sets more intense.

Characteristic 2- Steady as She Goes Late
The PRP somehow knows when we have entered the second half of the run. I don't consult with him about the workout ahead of time. He doesn't ask questions. Yet, he has this clairvoyance about the route which translates into reduced bunny hunting and more of sitting at my heels kind of running. He is clearly happy keeping at this pace and distance (which I don't understand given that dogs have a heightened sense of smell and I stink when I run).

I have learned that the last half of the run is a great time to work on pacing. Keeping a steady gait will yield endurance dividends.

Characteristic 3- Speed Work in the Afternoon
Morning times are for distance in the Banter household. Once the mileage is achieved, I go off to work and try to convince the young minds of the world that social studies sucks science is the key to our future. Upon my return, the PRP is ready for some sprinting. He grabs his bouncy ball and leads me to the Chuck-It. I toss the ball and he races after the orb as it he were saving the planet. Each and every time.

I have learned that no good running program can do without the speed work. You cannot get fast with just miles and miles alone. Sure, once you get started, mileage-only will generate speed. But, this is a law of diminishing returns. Speedwork is best accomplished in the afternoon when the core body temp is up, along with (hopefully) the sun.

Characteristic 4- The Importance of Recovery
It doesn't matter workout set we have just completed- from a 3 mile recover run to a mile 6 mile tempo run to a 10 mile long run, the PRP's behavior is exactly the same upon our return. He goes into the house, drinks enough water to sate his thirst, then finds a nice soft place to lay down and take a nap. In fact, he stays in napping mode for most of the day while I'm at work trying to convince the young minds of the world that fashion is dead biology and chemistry really are worthwhile fields of study.

I have learned that napping after a good run is a great way to recover. Your body increases it's production of naturally made HGH while allowing the muscles to repair any exercise related damage. In fact, on off days, I make it a point to do as little movement and work as possible. Ya know, purely for the recovery part and no, um, other reason.

So there you have it. Four simple, yet easily attainable characteristics that nearly anyone can mimic. I admit that I struggle with the last one on a regular basis (a fact that I would like to remedy). If you, too, are interested in becoming a better runner, those characteristics will help you on your way.

Oh, and just because they are so cute, here's one of my favorites.

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