Monday, September 30, 2013

The unusually bad or good

Much is said, discussed, and written about the variables that contribute to or result in an unusually bad run or race. I was thinking about this the other day and I brainstormed a list of potential factors:

  1. Fueling (what you've eaten before, during, and after)
  2. Hydration
  3. Sleep (or lack thereof)
  4. Injury (can include anything from the traditional runner's injuries like plantar fasciitis to blisters/skin chafing)
  5. Training
  6. Weather (includes everything from sun, wind, humidity, temperature, and precipitation)
  7. Hills
  8. Terrain (asphalt versus trail, etc.)
  9. Gear (e.g. shoes)
  10. Crowdedness (are you trying to weave in and out of other runners, dodging cars/bikes/stoplights, etc.)
  11. Altitude (are you at sea level or at 12,000 feet above sea level?)
  12. Course (e.g. straight line vs. lots of hairpin turns)
  13. Time of day/night (6 AM versus noon versus 6 PM versus midnight)
  14. Hormones (women, but possibly men also to a certain extent)
  15. Mood (are you feeling happy, sad, angry, scared, etc.)

(This picture would be a great Demotivational Monday submission, no? Rachel, are you hosting another round of Demotivational Monday this week?)

All kidding aside, it seems that there is less frequent discussion about the variables that contribute to or result in an unusually GOOD run or race. I started thinking about this last night.

Very specifically: I had an 11-miler on the docket for this past weekend in preparation for my next half marathon coming up in two weeks. I was planning on taking a stepback week next weekend. However, due to work commitments, lack of time, and lingering soreness from a new fitness class that I took last Friday (more about that another time), I had to change up my plans. I will be doing the 11-miler next weekend instead and therefore took this past weekend as my stepback, as all I had time for was a 5- or 6-miler. 

I don't usually take these "stepback" weeks very seriously. So I went out yesterday late afternoon with an attitude teetering on reckless abandon. And wouldn't you know it - I felt really, really good yesterday. It was one of the best runs I've had in quite some time. My legs and lungs both felt great, and unintentionally my pace ended up being about 45 seconds per mile faster than I usually train at. It figures that an unplanned stepback-week run is the run that feels fluid and effortless, eh? Ah, the irony.

Now I am trying to isolate the variables that contributed to yesterday's unusually good run. I want to do what I can to replicate them again in the future! As far as I can tell, there are three potential variables:
  1. I squeezed in a 3-mile run on Saturday. I almost never run consecutive days, especially on long run days. But things were so busy over the weekend that the 3-mile run was the only thing I could muster on Saturday. I know some folks like to get in an easy shakeout run the day before a big race in order to get their legs going. Perhaps following this practice made an impact for me?
  2. With the exception of bananas, I usually wait at least 45 minutes after eating anything to go running. Yesterday I was so pressed for time that I scarfed down some Greek yogurt and then left for my run just a few minutes afterwards. This seems more questionable/risky as a positive factor (I don't usually have GI issues, but I know that doing something like this certainly tempts fate). But perhaps it helps to have something with some substance/protein in my stomach right before I leave?
  3. I do almost all of my long runs first thing in the morning on weekends. Maybe I operate better in the late afternoon? When I was in college I used to love doing my workouts around 4:00 or 4:30 PM because that was when I felt most energetic. Perhaps on a fundamental basis, that hasn't changed?
I'll be experimenting more with these three variables in the coming weeks. This is going to be fun!!!

In the meantime, I would love to hear about any other practices or rituals that any of you have stumbled upon that mysteriously contribute to good runs? Any superstitions? Please share your secrets!


  1. Yogurt before a run?!?!!?!! You crazy, lady!

    1. I know, I know, LOL. I like to live dangerously on the edge. ;-)

      Btw - I wanted to mention to you that I haven't been able to access your blog because I get a warning about some kind of Malware issue?!?!? Not sure if it's just my computer but you may want to make sure that everything is okay!

  2. I agree that the shakeout run of 1 to 3 miles is a great way to get the legs craving a fast run the following day. Also, negative splitting my long runs is a way to get fast overall results. Running in cool weather after a hot summer makes my long runs faster. Oh yeah, I am also faster in the afternoon than in the mornings, just like you. I think my legs have had ample time to get loose and "wake up" by the afternoon. They are kinda tight and "sleepy" in the morning! :)

    1. It's nice to hear your succinct analysis of how the shakeout runs can help! And your tip on negative splitting long runs is very helpful. I do try to do so in general, but I think I am going to put forth more focus on doing so in the future. It's a bummer that most races are held at such ungodly hours of the morning, no? If there were late-afternoon races imagine how well us afternooners might be able to do!!! And ahhhh, I am LOVING this cooler fall weather! I think it provides an automatic boost and reward to all of us for our training efforts during the summer heat. =D

  3. What a great surprise! I almost never run on consecutive days either. Maybe I need to give that shakeout run a try??

    1. Marcia, if you do give the shakeout run a try, please let me know your thoughts on your experience and how you like it!!!

  4. If I run multiple days in a row I'm always faster on the second run. Heck, even if I run twice in one day the second run is always faster. I don't know what it is! It's like muscle memory kicks in or something.

    1. Wow! I know that you are one that likes to get in a run the day before a race, but didn't know that you had a lot of experience running more than once per day. (I've only run twice in a single day a handful of times back when I was in college, but never any time in recent memory!) It is really, really interesting to hear that your second runs are always faster. So if you ran, say, five days in a row, do you know if you keep getting faster with each subsequent day, or would you reach a point after a few days where things plateau?!?!?

    2. I concur with Erin. My second run in a day is usually faster than my first run. Well, except when I do a long run in the morning, then my legs are so stiff by the afternoon then I can't get the turnover that I did when they were fresher in the morning! :) It's hard to tell if you would get faster each day if you ran multiple days in a row. In order to test this, you would need to run the same distance under the same conditions every day. I bet it might work for me for short runs, but probably not for longer runs. However, if you were able to do this injury-free, you would likely be pretty speedy overall by the next week! :)

    3. Ah yes, you bring up a really good point about doing a long run versus a shakeout run as your first of consecutive runs. You also bring up a great point about isolating all the variables on different days and how they may have contributing impacts. I feel like we're conducting a chemistry experiment - I love the scientific considerations!!! I think this is part of the reason that running performance can be so hard to pinpoint - it's fascinatingly difficult to try to perfectly isolate any given factor at any point in time (although I will sure as heck do my best to try, heh heh!!!)

  5. I'm with Erin and Pete - it's rare that I do run more than once in any given day, but the second one is always a lot faster. This is also true if I do a strength/cross workout before running. It's like my legs haven't yet realized that they're tired, like they do if I run on back-to-back days :)

    And yogurt before a run???? I avoid dairy all together before any workout, since that's not gone well for me in the past.

    Time of day is definitely key! I do most of my running over my lunch hour, and that's definitely when I seem to do the best. So it would make sense that afternoons are still your best time.

    1. Oh my gosh - I have never tried doing a strength/cross-training workout before running. I have tried to do some strength work AFTER a run, but the thought of doing so beforehand blows my mind. But I am all about any way possible to trick my legs, LOL.

      I actually didn't know that you did most of your runs at lunchtime! That must be such a nice respite from the workday routine (although it must also be tough during the summertime in the heat of noon, no?)