An Experiment of One

As a scientist, I’ve always believed in the power of numbers, data, and statistics.  With running though, it’s impossible to make any solid conclusions based on any one individual’s stats.   To me, that’s both wonderful and extremely frustrating.  Wonderful in that the possibilities are endless, and therefore, a better result is just “around the corner”. However, it’s also extremely frustrating because if running were more straightforward, we could adopt a universal set of rules to train by and thereby reach our full potential.  Instead, we’re left to keep tweaking with variables until we’re blue in the face (hopefully not literally) and still not come up with all of the answers.

As an example, in just this past week, I listened to 2 podcasts — with one guest proclaiming that marathoners should never do speed work, while the other featured a guest who declared that speedwork, even 200m intervals, is essential for improvement at the marathon distance.  Another example are the many proponents, especially in the ultramarathon community, who swear by fat burning – and that sugars and carbs are the devil.  They’re countered by dietitians and sports nutritionists who still abide by the paradigm that carbohydrate is king when it comes to fueling during races.

In the midst of this information, who are we to believe?  For me, I’ve taken the stance of “An Experiment of One.”  I’m my own lab rat, and I’ll see what hypotheses work best for me.  So far, I’ve taken well to zero drop shoes, not eating breakfast before my morning runs, MAF training, and fueling with gels and chews.  The things that haven’t worked for me are certain sports drinks and Margarita-flavored Clif Bloks.

Then, there are number of things I’ve filed under “Inconclusive”, stretching and foam rolling to name two.  Last year, when I was really starting to tackle my hip issue, I stretched religiously.  I was often found in pigeon pose on the floor of our apartment, hoping to find some relief for the ache in my hip.  While the stretching felt good, it never cured my ills.  However, I don’t think all stretching is useless.  I do a very brief stretching routine right after each run, which always makes me feel more limber, and I think that deeply stretching my right Achilles a couple of months ago opened up some range of motion that wasn’t there before.  I’ve concluded that stretching is useful (in the context of running) when it helps with your range of motion.

As for foam rolling, I think it’s interesting that I was very earnestly foam rolling 5-6 days a week for 15 minutes a day for almost this entire year.  (This includes all types of sports-related self massage — e.g., the Grid roller, lacrosse ball, and the Orb.)  As my injuries got worse, the more I dedicated myself to it.  However, I stopped foam rolling about 2 months ago — not really intentionally, but because with a new job and a long commute, I no longer had the time or energy for it.  And you know what?  I haven’t had any problem spots at all.  I do think that these self massage tools have their place, but I doubt they’re meant to be used so routinely.  It seems like they could easily aggravate the problem, or mask deeper issues that can only be addressed through proper physical therapy and strength work.

Anyway, these are just some issues that have been floating around my head for a while.  What about you — have you experimented with any fads or techniques that proved to be useful or useless?

A quick summary of this past week’s runs:

Tuesday: It was raining pretty hard, so I headed to the gym before work.  I was proud of myself for packing a gym bag the night before with my work clothes and toiletries and not forgetting a single thing!  It was the first time I used the shower at the gym, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but everything worked out great.  The run was okay too.  I even threw in some faster intervals at the end of the workout.  5.45 treadmill miles at 11:00/mile.

Thursday: A very low-energy run, even though my heart rate (HR) was just fine.  I realized that it must’ve been cumulative fatigue in my legs from running hills on Sunday and then adding some faster miles at the end of Tuesday’s run.  I had intended to run about 5 miles, but ended up cutting it short.  3.7 miles at 11:35/mile.

Saturday: Hills, hills, and more hills!  It was a really nice day out on the trails of Lake Chabot. I was pretty happy that my pace was similar to last week’s trail run despite adding ~450′ elevation gain for a total of ~1170′. HR was pretty consistent also.  6.9 miles at 13:19/mile.

Oh, and I played a bit of tennis in the afternoon.  It was my first time in years, and it showed! Oh well, at least I provided some comedic entertainment for our group.

Sunday: Easy run at Hayward Shoreline. 6.4 miles at 10:46/mile.

Total for the week: 22.45 miles.  Just a smidgen more than last week = progress! (Hey, I’ll take anything I can get.)

And here’s your random photo of the week:

So this came in the mail on Thursday.  My goal for 2015 is to run a 50K.  I haven't picked a race yet, but I hope that this book will be a useful resource during training!

So this came in the mail on Thursday. My goal for 2015 is to run a 50K. I haven’t picked a race yet, but I hope that this book will be a useful resource during training!


Howdy! My name is Jen and I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. I like to eat, run, and blog, but not usually at the same time.

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11 comments on “An Experiment of One
  1. Cathryn says:

    Yes yes yes!! Were you listening to the Marathon Talk podcast with the old skool British guy who talked speedwork?? I listened to that as I slogged round my long SLOW run and nearly cried from confusion and bewilderment! I find the same thing about food advice – so many conflicting views out there. I think trying things out and making your own decision is the only real way forward. Ref foam rolling, I TOTALLY agree,,,it def has its place but I can also it inflaming and aggravating injuries if done to any excess.

    Jealous of your hill training. I haven’t run up a hill for months, Saturday is going to be a sufferfest!

    • Jen says:

      Yes! I was referencing that Marathon Talk podcast. The other one was a Trail Runner Nation podcast, featuring my old friend Phil Maffetone. I guess we’ll both see soon enough whether this run slow to run faster thing has any legs.

      I’ve stopped thinking of this Saturday as a race — it’s going to be an obstacle/mud run! And at the very least there will be loads of goodies afterwards. 😉

      • Cathryn says:

        TOTALLY agree, there’s no way we’ll be racing this thing. I’m in it for the giggles. I’ve downloaded that MAF podcast, haven’t listened yet!

  2. Jan says:

    Very interesting about the foam rolling! I think you are right-on that everyone has to figure out what works for them. If there was one thing that worked, we’d all be doing it.

  3. Angela says:

    So true. It doesn’t help that there’s new research every few years so you never really know what you’re doing that’s right or wrong. (Though I guess it kind of DOES help, really; it’s just annoying.) All you can really do is use your best judgment & see what seems to be working or not for you!

    • Jen says:

      Yeah, I think what annoys me the most is the bandwagon phenomenon — people who are more concerned about being part of a trend, rather than figuring out what works for them.

  4. heatherihn says:

    I agree, there’s so many conflicting ideas out there, that I really had sort out what seemed to be prominent and made most sense to me scientifically. A lot of the things I’m experimenting with are things that have been around for a while, and several sources seem to agree with it’s effectiveness. 😛 As far as nutrition, each person’s going to be different, but I AM a big believer in taking out a lot of sugars, and eating more fats. One thing that I do find annoying is how everyone is selling something! It makes me feel really skeptical, but I know they need to make a living. Even Maffetone…the fact that you have to sign up to his website to see everything makes me a little uneasy. Stretching and foam rolling is a big question mark for me. I end up never doing it out of laziness so I guess we’ll see where that road takes me. 😉

    • Jen says:

      I also get annoyed/skeptical that “everyone is selling something”. I wish that there were more rigorous studies, but for now, it looks like have to rely mainly on anecdotes.

  5. alicias2013 says:

    I agree with you about the conflicting info everywhere!! It’s driving me crazy. At times I feel the best thing for me to do would be to put on blinders and ear plugs and just do my thing. What really broke my heart the other day was when I saw Dr. Maffetone was a guest on The Paleo Solution podcast. I personally can’t leave out certain food groups because it triggers me to go into super restrictive crazy food mode.

    When I started MAF in October, I did the really low carb thing. I wasn’t happy so I read up on Nancy Clark, and did high carb! I was so happy someone (Nancy) was giving me permission to fuel my body! Now I am right in the middle, with about 160 grams per day.

    I was doing a lot of foam rolling a few months back too, but I believe my muscles/body is getting used to running and I don’t feel the need for it. Mostly it just feels good if I’m sore, a day or so after lifting weights. I don’t stretch either. 🙂

    • Jen says:

      Yeah, one of the podcasts I was referring to featured Dr. Maffetone. While I think his arguments for low HR training are legit, I very much disagree with him about speed work. He was saying that no one should ever do speed sessions during training. My personal opinion is that race-specific speed work makes sense once to twice a week, in the weeks leading up to an “A” race. I also disagree that one has to switch to paleo or a high fat/low carb diet to become a better runner.

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4/28/19: London Marathon

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