Monday, 20 October 2014

Marathons and aging

What's the best age to run a marathon? There are a surprising number of pet theories floating around, anything from young runners are taking over the marathon to older runners are becoming more dominant. To quote from Runner's World:
Kenya's Samuel Wanjiru, 21, broke more than an Olympic record with his 2:06:32 win; he crushed long–held conventional wisdom that marathon performance peaks among runners in their late 20s and early 30s. That conventional wisdom also took a beating when a 38–year–old mother with 10 marathons under her belt, Romania's Constantina Tomescu–Dita, won the women's event.
If conventional wisdom is being upended, i.e. that the age bracket of late 20s-to-early 30s are no longer when runners do their best work, it seemed prudent to find out what the numbers themselves say. Hence I compiled the men's and women's ~2400 fastest marathon times (including repeat performances by individuals) to asses whether there is any temporal trends for fast runners. I chose an arbitrary cutoff point to compare: the 20th and 21st centuries.

Quote from here. Top Race times from here.
Mean age for 1967-2000 group is 28.4. Mean age for 2001-2014 group is 28.3

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Joggling and other things

In no time at all I've seen September come and go. Mind you this was the month I had prepared for months in advance. Four things had to happen in two weeks, none of which were related. But thanks to a series of connecting, non-delayed flights, the segments of my trip fit together like square pegs jammed repeatedly, stubbornly through round holes.

Taking back a step, in the winter of 2014 I had originally planned that one of two things would happen come september: A. Race the 10k Toronto Zoo run (paid in part by winning the Nova Scotia running series) or B, attend the IGAC conference in Natal, Brazil. Seemed at the time I wouldn't do both. But things happen you don't expect.

Email #1, April. Yay!
Email #2, August. Yay!

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Mental Paella

What happens when you wait too long between entries? A backlog of all kinds of dumb, frivolous, unfiltered ideas that need expunging. Get out of my head, thoughts.

As personal penance, I'm retroactively listing 31 observations for the month of August. 

1. Experimenting with my phone's "memo" function for writing notes while I have an idea. Not technically an app, per so. I don't have roaming-based functions for a simple reason: what percentage of my time do I honestly spend outside of free wifi zones? Home: wifi, work: wifi. Running: don't need internet. Walking: rater be thinking. Downtown Dhaka: probably don't have coverage anyhow. [I wonder what percentage of apps are made for single people? ]

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Canadians are slow

I was browsing this year's half marathon standings over at Marathon Canada.

The top ten include familiar names like Eric, Reid, Dylan, Kip, and Rob, much of the same crew that appeared in the top ranks in 2013.

While browsing the current results, the record-setting half marathon time of Florence Kiplagat came to mind; her run of 1:05:12 is faster than all but six Canadian men runners in 2014 (so far) and 2013.

At first glance this seems rather disappointing with respect to the canadian men with so few athletes running anywhere near their potential.

But is it fair to compare the men's time with a world record female run? Consider the CIS standard for the 1000m, which for men is just under 2:25. For those unfamiliar, running below this time automatically qualifies any athlete for the finals. Usually a half dozen or so athlete manage the feat in any given year. But the women's world record time for the same event is just under 2:29 (set by Svetlana Masterova, a non-Kenyan much to my surprise). In other words a National University-level performance for men is 2.8% faster than the world's best female time.

Were the half marathon to be judged by the same criteria (of being ~2.8% faster than the female WR), we might expect a certain number of male Canadian runners to achieve times better than 63:30.

As it happens the fastest 2014 Canadian male time for the half is 63:30. Over the past six years between 1 and 4 athletes have run faster than this time.

If it seems as though I'm picking on the half marathon, consider the same criteria applied to the marathon make matters worse: With Paula Radcliffe's time of 2:15:25 and using the same 2.8% yields 2:11:43. Between zero and two Canadian men achieve this standard each year.

Now keep in mind that men, compared to women, generally get faster as distances get longer (ignore what you may have read in Born to Run). The fact there fewer male runners capable of a "quality" road time that's routinely achieved on the track is troubling.

There are many hypotheses to explain this away. My observation is that Canada is too insulated in the world of road racing. Too many road races and not enough athletes means everyone can win a race without having to truly 'compete'.

By contrast the CIS university circuit is artificially constrained and condensed, which perhaps encourages faster times with the top performers comparing each to the other. The road racing talent is there, but more dilute, and it seems possible Canada -being a large country- is below some competitive critical mass.

I had an idea the other week about a series of road races that had time bonuses, and ONLY time bonuses, as prize money. You still get to stand on the podium if you win, but the money is entirely from how fast you run. I know, every road course is different so sometime it wouldn't work. But the idea is to stimulate the same results as seen in the CIS. There must be ways of improving the top performances among our best, for they can do better.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Work and exercise

As I sit leisurely on my couch at home, I am reading an NPR piece titled What Makes Us Fat. The argument goes (until the next study comes out) that physical activity has been going down faster than potion sizes have been going up.

That very well might be true. Part of the support for this line of reason is that work-related energy expenditures have been going steadily down. To quote the NPR piece:
[Dr.] Church took the findings one step further and calculated how many calories were no longer being burned. He found it was about 140 fewer calories burned a day for men and 120 fewer calories burned a day for women. "That doesn't sound like much, but when it's day after day after day, it adds up," he says.
I found data agreeing with this claim. Dr. Joyner, in a piece titled How the USA Got So Fat incorporated the same data from Church's paper on his own blog:


Thursday, 24 July 2014

Not that skinny


It's weird being normal weight. It feels like everyone who's gained weight assumes everyone else has too. I wear a size small t-shirt, sometimes an extra small. But I'm not small. Body proportion-wise, I'm what a doctor might call "nothing unusual". Mentally it's another story.

Below this is me, my BMI that is. The entire range in which it's existed since the last 10 years.



My height is 5'11", weight ranges between 140 and 155 lbs. I used to weigh about 160 lbs before I ran as much as now, losing about 10 lbs in the process. Now as someone who runs regularly, that's supposed to mean I'm a skinny person. But really I'm not skinny in any clinical sense, just a tiny bit below the absolute middle of the "Normal" range.

But I can understand the misinterpretation. Six in 10 Canadians are well above that mark, so it makes sense standing next to most anyone I look skinny. It's entirely an illusion.

There are underweight runners, but they're easy to spot, and they lose races. Pretty much all track and field athletes are in a rather normal weight range. Don't anyone be afraid they'll get "too skinny" while running.



Sunday, 20 July 2014

Multi-cycle training: outline of a possibly-new training method

It's about time I pin down the thoughts circling in my head over the past few weeks. I've made analogies about how to perceive running training. A fugue was one, arches another. But these are merely analogies to something that I haven't yet fully described. Here and now I will outline a meta training scheme that may -or may not- be useful. My only claim is that I have not seen it before, hence it could be worth considering.

If you'd like to skip ahead, in a few paragraphs I will describe how overlapping different cycles for different training elements could lead to possible added stimuli in a training plan without a strict need to "up the mileage". Just look for the *****text and asterisks in bold*****.

If you are interested in reading the early stuff, let's outline what these training elements are.