November 24, 2008

Kicked asphalt - or my first marathon

Yesterday I ran the Philadelphia marathon. What a great race during which I got my ass kicked. My goal was to keep the 8 minute per mile pace and finish at 3:30. I felt great during the first 10.5 or so miles and kept-up with the 3:30 pace group. Actually the 10 miles passed like nothing and I did not even realized we were already running for 1 hour and 20 minutes. The crowd support in the city was just amazing. Then I had to take a short bio-break and fell about 2-3 minutes behind the pace group. I resumed the pace and picked it up a bit on the downhill to bridge the gap. I ran another 2 miles at about 7:30 to 7:45 pace and could see the 3:30 pacing group balloons in distance. But then I had to slow down and take a minute walk. Not sure if that was mental or the increased pace was getting to me. I resumed running again and started to do math - you know like when you should be running and instead you do a lot of thinking. Yep - that was the mistake number two.

I decided that maybe I should forget about the race time and try to enjoy the time outside. This may sounds like a mistake, but I consider it one of the best decisions of the day. Then I made a pact with myself - I'll run for a mile (or about 7-8 minutes) and then walk for one minute. And I'll keep doing it until the end of the race or until I pass out. And so I did it (well I finished not passed out). It worked quite well until about mile 19 where I needed to extend the walk to 2 minutes, get gels, electrolytes and water to regain composure. For some reason it was hard for me to keep hydrating - the weather was cold and drinking cold water was not helping much.

After mile 19 it is all a big blur - beer aid station, the crowds cheering all the way on the main street in Manayunk, somebody handing out brownies, gel aid station, someone playing harmonica (or was I just dreaming at that point?), thinking about how bloody hard this marathon thing is, cursing myself for signing-up for it, and then being happy that I'm part of something this big. Wow it was emotional roller-coaster. In any case run-walk worked very well and although I was slowing it was not that bad. Around mile 23.5 I got passed by the 3:45 pace group and just knew I do not want to cross the line with next pacing group (the 4:00 crowd). I dug deep, still did the run-walk but tried to do more of run and less of the walk. Then it was only a mile and I could feel that the end is very close. The last kilometer was just plain amazing, people cheering, all the noise and I started to pass people that were struggling on the uphill. I guess the run-walk method saved me some energy for stronger finish (it was not a strong finish, I just had little more in my tank than the people I passed).

I crossed the finish line in 3:55:06 (chip time) and was glad that I was done. First thought after crossing the line - OK next time I'll be better prepared and do the 3:30. Now only if my legs did not hurt so much and my ankle was not giving me the trouble. Congratulations to everyone who finished yesterday. It was quite cold one for my taste - especially the stretch by the river.

If you want to check the details of my race here is link to the GPS map and other stats.

One addition that you can not miss - as you can imagine we have heard the Rocky song more than one time on the race day.

November 19, 2008

And now something completely different... Suunto T6 firmware upgrade

As the title indicates I will not talk about Polar in this post. I actually have news about Suunto this time. As you may remember I kept the Suunto T6 as my backup watch. Last night I sent support request to Suunto inquiring about availability of the firmware update from T6 to T6c. This morning I received a response suggesting that while the upgrade is not available in the US I can send my watch to Finland to get the update done. So this morning I filled-out the required paperwork, packed the watch and sent it off to Finland. I'll report here when I receive it back.

If you are considering this step note that the procedure is relatively expensive - shipping with tracking number via FedEx is about 60 bucks (this is the most economical way to ship with tracking and delivery in few days) and the upgrade itself is 79 EUR for the firmware upgrade or 99 EUR if you also want to get a Comfort Belt with the upgraded watch.

You may be asking why I do this. Here is the reason - this past season I raced with Suunto T6c and like the functionality of the watch for racing. I was little disappointed with the durability of the T6c watch though. When I compared it to T6 the watch face was not as durable as the previous model. I also liked the color, design and feel of the T6 on my hand better than the T6c. The T6c ended-up on eBay and I kept the T6 as a backup watch. T6 functionality is little flaky compared with the T6c firmware and I never really had success in using it in race to record the whole race without a glitch. So the ideal watch out of the two is the hybrid - T6 model with the T6c firmware. I may stick with it for races. But I'm sure I'll keep training with Polar as it has more functionality to help me structure the training sessions. I guess this will be the big decision for next season when we get close to the first race. Plenty of time until then.

November 11, 2008

Anyone running Philly on Nov 23rd?

I have not talked about training lately. But since my bike accident in late September I have been trying to get back to marathon training. I had two rocky weeks when I was suffering from cold. But I have been back on the road in the past few weeks and completed some tempo runs and long runs. With one long run little shy of 3 hours just this past Sunday.

Am I ready to race in less than 12 days? I guess I'm as ready as I can get. And I'm sure Craig has some more fine tuning in store for me. I'm ready mentally and that is what counts. I'll go out there and run as good as I can. It will be my very first attempt at the marathon distance so I take it as much as a learning experience as a race with the clock. I have my goal, but I'll be flexible and adjust as the day goes (and that means both ways). I learned on the long runs that the going gets tough past the mile 16, but I also learned that you can keep pushing and it gets better (not necessarily easier). So with the few days to go I continue running, biking and swimming. I hope to see some of you down in Philly. If you see me say hello as I do not necessarily know you :-).

I'll be in Philly on Saturday afternoon together with my support crew - my son, wife, mother in law and a friend of the family. Anyone staying over night in Philly and wanting to get together for a chat or sip of pearly water let me know. I'm chicken the night before race - no need to inflict more pain by bad habits than what the distance causes itself. But I'll for sure get a glass of good red wine the night after the race. Do you know any good restaurants downtown that accommodate larger group with a kid? I'd like to get some good, but light meal and get good sleep. It does not necessarily need to be Italian pasta, but I'm not really looking for steak house either... See you down in Philly.

Also I plan to be at the expo on Friday between 2-4pm let me know if you will be around we can meet-up and chat before I hike back to the woods north of Philly.

November 10, 2008

Calibrating Polar foot pods

This past week there were few discussions on the Polar forums about the calibration of the foot pod with Polar watches. It does not really matter which watch you have S625X, S725X, RS400sd, RS200sd, RS800sd, RS800cx or the new FT60 or FT80. If you use foot pod you will get better results if you calibrate it. With all foot pods in the industry it is true that they are sensitive to your running style, running form, surface you run on, type of the course you run on, etc. Over the years I found that for the best results it is good to keep track of most common calibration factors for combination of surfaces you run on and shoes you run in. I keep a running tally of calibration factors for all pairs of shoes I run in and generally keep at least two calibration factors (CF) - one for running on my treadmill at home and one for running outside on the road. I do not do much of trail running, but if I did I would keep that as a separate CF.

All depends on how much accuracy you strive for. The S1 and S3 foot pods from Polar will give you result within the 5% range of accuracy out of the box. That may be sufficient for some folks, but if you want to be more accurate I suggest to calibrate. All Polar HRMs I used so far let you calibrate the unit by either running pre-determined distance and then correct the lap distance manually or by manually adjusting the CF. I prefer the manual calibration. In order to determine the new CF I run known distance of at least 1 mile. Sometimes I take the measurement multiple times to get better feel for the accuracy. I record each calibration run in a spreadsheet and look at the new CF from the run (or multiple runs). In case I have multiple runs I may take average of the CFs or eliminate the obvious error CFs and take average of the CFs that are quite close. Sometimes you may hit the lap button too early or too late and that may mess-up the CF calculation.

Actually I have a mile long distance measured from the corner of my street to another corner and I use that for all my outside calibration runs. That makes it easy to repeat the calibration when I need it - even like the day before the race if I want to be 100% sure the calibration is OK.

If you want to be super accurate - which may be important for some track workouts you will want to run mile repeats at constant pace and record the laps at different speeds - like 8 minute mile, 7:30, 7:00, 6:30 and 6:00 or faster. Your CF may be slightly different for different speeds, but this is too anal even for me. I usually run with just the CF for combination of shoes and surface. Most of my calibration is done at pace between 8 minute mile and 7 minute mile and they work quite well even for running intervals at 6 min mile. Especially the S3 foot pod is less susceptible to pace changes and accelerations / decelerations that the S1 does not handle as well. The S1 may not give you 100% great distance in interval run - it is best to calibrate it well for the interval part of the workout and just ignore the pace / distance recorded in the recovery sections of the workout.

If you are calibrating on treadmill it is best to use the exactly the same treadmill every time. If you go to the gym you may need to repeat this for few machines as they tend to be quite abused and each may produce different results. You also need to understand that all you do in this process is that you are calibrating your watch to show the same numbers as the treadmill - no guarantee that the treadmill itself is accurate. They quite often are not. If you run for a week in a hotel - don't even bother to calibrate. It is pretty much waste of your workout time. The calibration itself on the treadmill is easy - just hit the lap button at some nice round number, keep running until you ran 1 mile (or longer) and then plug-in the number to the spreadsheet and you know the new CF.

I use the spreadsheet I was referring to in the text above - you can download it from my website. It is very simple and all it does is that it takes your input of the actual distance, old CF and watch displayed distance. I then tells you the new CF and % accuracy of the previous CF. I use it to fine tune my CF over time. If you do this over time you may achieve quite good accuracy. I ran 5 mi race last December in which I had recorded 5.03 miles over quite varied terrain - hills and flats on the road. Now we can discuss whether it was the CF fine tuning or just dumb luck. I'll let you judge it.

Remember that the CF is quite important if you use the software like WKO+ to calculate your intensity factor and TSS as for running. The software uses normalized graded pace to determine how hard the workout was - if your calibration is off you may be working at lower or higher intensity than what the software tells you.

OK so you have determined new CF - what do you do with it? Look at your manual and follow the instructions to change the manual calibration factor. Most Polar HRMs support only one CF at the time so you will need to remember to modify it for each workout. If you have the new RS800CX it allows you to maintain up to 3 pairs of shoes each with different CF. I currently use two pairs of shoes for my running - one is calibration for running outside and the other one for running inside on the treadmill at my house. In other cases like the RS800sd and RS400sd you can define different sports and assign the CF to the sport. When you then define guided workout remember to set the 'Sport Profile' field to Sport-specific settings which will pick-up the pre-set calibration factor from the PPT5.

I hope this helps people deal with the calibration topics. Let me know if you have any questions.

Seeking motivation to train? Here is a good dose of it.

It is the end of the season in the North East and there are no more triathlons where I live. Except maybe the ones organized by YMCA that get you do 10 minutes of each. Which is not really a lot of racing. Anyways the days are getting shorter and there is less time to get your training in. Just yesterday I started a long run at 2:30pm and finished when it was pitch black with no stars. On days like that one may need some motivation boost. The following two videos can give you some - they work for me, they may work for you as well. Check the Kona videos out. It is amazing to see the form these top pro athletes have.