Friday, July 12, 2013

Aedificamus: Maximizing a Constraint: What Can You Do In One Mile?

As I have been getting out of the house, removing the bandages, and assessing my situation in earnest, I am coming up with some simple facts. First, I need a lot of work. I'm at my all time heaviest, and that's not a way of saying I have a muscular frame with a bit of "pudge". Nope, I'm classically overweight, no qualifier necessary. I'll be narrowing in on the truth of these numbers in future posts, so you'll have to wait for the gory details. Second, I'm fighting a battle with time. I know very well how long it takes to burn deficit 1000 calories each day and the effort that goes into actually making that happen (I'll explain that particular magic number in a later post, and why it's my target).

I'm now getting into a place where I can start building endurance once again, and that's going to take time. Extended running bouts are not in my immediate future, but I started thinking about a different approach... what could I do with a set distance used each day? How could I use that set distance and train efficiently and effectively. Could my tester chops help me come up with something interesting.

On one hand, a mile is a distance. It's not very far, nor is it terribly impressive a feat, but it's a starting point and as effective a focal point as any that I can use.  For my immediate reality, one mile is  a convenient loop around the development of houses that I live in. My mile loop doesn't have steep hills, but it's not perfectly flat, either. As I mentioned a few days ago, I did my first run around this loop in over two years (my first extended run of any kind period, actually), and it took me 13 minutes to do it. Part of me could say "well, pretty soon I'll duplicate that loop, and make it two miles, or three, or four, or whatever… but how could I make that one mile a challenge? How could I take a single mile, and make it more intense? Can I be efficient yet still be extremely effective? If so, how could I take advantage of that?

With that in mind, here's some thoughts and some training ideas around leveraging that one mile.

Daily Shaving

This is the idea of running the same mile each day, with the goal of improving your time. The process is simple. Bring a stopwatch with you, start at a designated point, and go. When the mile point is reached, stop. Write down the time. The next day, do it again, and write down the time. The goal is to see how much time you can shave off progressively. Sure, I could sprint for a bit to shave off time, but that's not the goal. What I really want to do is see myself pick up the speed of my overall pace, and do it over time so that I see the time drop consistently. If it takes me 13 minutes today, how long will it take for me to get to 6 1/2 minutes. To five minutes? Is it even possible? If not, how low can I go? How long will it take for me to get there?

Helping Hands:
I find that a music track helps me a lot. To that end, I like to see if I can push myself a bit by upping the intensity (and speed) of the music I use each day. I also like to gather together songs of a similar intensity and time my pace to the drum beat. If I wanted to be super nerdy, I could probably get Garage Band, make some drum and bass loops or sequence some stuff together, and then up the tempo a few clicks each day (think the scene w/ Kaspar Weiss in The Red Violin). Personally, I prefer having a variety of songs that I can use to build up to, since I get bored easily ;).

Gravity Kills

As someone who hikes and backpacks, as well as carries a few machines daily in his walking commute, I know the value of being able to move quickly while carrying a load. In this mile example, an approach to use would be to provide a progressive overload to the mile run. For me, this is easily done by putting on a Camelback backpack I use when I snowboard, and adding some small weights to the bag. This could be combined with "Daily Shaving" but ideally, the option should be to try to keep a consistent time while adding a bit more weight each run. The goal is not to add a lot of weight (typically boosting from 0 to 30 pounds with a similar time), then go back to zero, improve the time and then try to hold to that time while adding weight. Again, using music as a pacer helps with this, too.

Helping Hands: 
There are companies that make workout vests that you can add weight to so that it's distributed all over the body and with less jostling or movement to have to compensate for. I'm not sure if it's really worth the price to do that, but some may feel more comfortable with a close to body approach. Also, there are some who will say this is a terrible idea and that your joints will suffer, especially in the hips and knees.  For longer runs, I'd agree. For a mile, I'd be willing to risk it. Your mileage may certainly vary. As for me, thirty pounds extra is the max that I will carry on a run, since that corresponds with a full gear backcountry bag when I snowboard.

Interval Creep

The idea here is that, for key areas, you run at a steady pace (like you would if you wanted to run a consistent mile) and then for key intervals (15/30 seconds or 50/100/150/200 meters, etc.) the goal is to sprint as fast as you can. Early routines may start with just two or three intervals in a mile, and over time, add more intervals, or increase the duration of the intervals, which will also increase the distance.

Helping Hands:
Using music as a pacer, it's easy to mentally "double time" to the beat of the music. That may be too slow or two fast depending on the pace you are using, but it can mentally help you reach an interval speed that is appropriate (you may want to build up to full sprints over time, for instance). Making mental checkpoints on the route helps key the individual in as to when they should go all out and for how long/how far. Because of traffic and cross streets, it may make sense to go to a more isolated location to be consistent (we have a soccer field across the street, and a 400 meter track just a couple miles from my house.

What these all have in common is that we can create three distinct workouts that can leverage a consistent variable (one mile), but make for plenty of variety and approaches to leverage that one mile. At some point, and for other goals, it will make sense to jump up to two miles or five, or ten, or just focus on sprinting 100 or 200 meters with long breaks between bursts. The mile isn't important beyond just being a consistent thing to do and measure around. The end goal, of course, is better condition, better performance, better health, and OK, let's face it, I would not mind looking a way that, were I to take off my shirt in public, I would not elicit guffaws or requests to "cover up". First things first, though.
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