Long Run Quantification
metabolism | sports & fitness
Matt Beard, a diabetic, talks about using self-quantification to help him train for an ultra-marathon. With a limited time to train, he would like to do more of the things that work and less of the things that don't.
Blood glucose monitor
So I thought I’d start out by saying what an ultramarathon is, and really anything that’s ultra is longer than a marathon, and they can get really quite extremely long. I’m doing one that’s towards the shorter end of that spectrum. The Dartmoor ultra is 32 miles and to give you some context that’s pretty similar to the distance, the straight line distance between where we are here and where I live in Ailesbury. It’s a long way and it’s going to be a big challenge for me.
The furthest I’ve run so far is a normal marathon; I’ve done that a couple of times. That’s 26.2 miles, which is this blue line straight distance, and that extra six miles that equates to I’m expecting roughly an extra hours running time. Quite a long way still to go once I finish the marathon distance.
So why am I tracking? Well as I said, I’m hoping it’ll make it a little bit easier for me to achieve this, and I think of tracking as really serving two strands. The easiest one for me to understand is utility. That is to say I think I’m going to realize some advantage by tracking. I’ve only got a limited time to train, and what I’d like to do is more of the things that work and less of the things that don’t, and I’m hoping that tracking matrixes of fitness, maybe I’ll see my fitness moving as I do more of certain types of training.
Also some of the tasks themselves have training values. A lot of the fitness test to test your exhaustion, so when you do one of those you’re getting a bit of training as well as getting some data.
But there’s this other strand, which I’ve called story here, and I’ve noticed this in a lot of the talks I’ve heard at these meetings. That encompasses things like motivation, sense of progress, but I think it’s more than that. I think there’s an element of trying to weave the things I do every day into a tapestry of my life, some kind of a bigger picture that I can maybe match my experiences to those of others or to previous experiences I’ve had, and I certainly see elements of that in the things I track as well.
But here’s one example of that kind of story element is that the running app I use is an app called Strava; there are lots available. I just like this one. And one of the things I like are these little maps of the runs that it gives me. And I find that I look at these sometimes and when I go to a new place if I’m on holiday or something I like to go for a run and that’s primarily because I like to collect these little maps as little souvenirs of places I’ve been.
This one for instance is a conference I attended in Vienna in February this year and went for a run. And when I look at this and I remember the run kind of reminds me of that trip and I like that element. Sometimes I post these on Facebook as well, and as my friend Matt who will test, and sometimes I force visitors to look at them with me.
The other thing this app gives me of course is the information. So there’s the course, where did I run, are there hills, what distance did I cover, what speed did I do. And these are really the main metrics that I look at when I’m assessing whether or not my running’s on track.
So I pull that information out of the app, and I just put it out with a pen and paper and sometimes use Excel, and I like to reformat that data to help me get some more insight into it. So I like to turn my numbers into pictures, and then hopefully the process of doing that and the act of looking at those pictures will maybe give me some insight to what is going on.
Right now I think about my runs as sort of four rough boxes divided by distance, so I’ve got this scale on the x-axis, which is just divided into miles and finishes at the marathon distance just to give me some kind of perspective of how far I’m running. And I think of the short runs that’s about 4 miles, really I’m training for speed there so I’m really looking to go all out.
Then I’ve got this other tranche which is where I’m currently doing my run, most of my running between about four and 10 miles, and I think of that as training for general fitness. And then I get into the long runs where I’m really training to build distance, build endurance. And particularly in these long run ends as I’m approaching a marathon or a long run, I’ll expect to see more runs showing up down here, and really there I am trying to get used to that feeling of running; how it feels to be running for a long time.
So here’s some examples of runs I’ve done over the past couple of months, really since I started planning to give his talk I started pulling these out. The little men are just how far I ran on that occasion, and I can pull data out of this and I’m showing that on this kind of Speedo that I drew. So this was about three and a half miles and my speed was okay; I was running around the 8 mile an hour pace so I was quite pleased with that.
I’m recovering from an injury at the moment and my speed is gradually building, so the other thing I expect to see is as I go up this y-axis of the date, I would like to see my distance generally getting longer and I would like to see my speed getting faster.
Looking at the longest run I’ve done recently that was a 14 miler. I was pleased with that distance. I didn’t really feel any effects of the calf injury that I’ve been recovering from, so that’s good news. And you can see here that my speed was starting to pull off, something like nine minutes over a mile which I’d like to see improving.
So I collect some other stuff about myself as well, and I don’t really use many apps for collecting this. The running app I use quite a lot. Most of the other stuff I like to collect in a fairly low-tech, low-cost kind of a way; a tape measure is very useful to get your height and your weight, a pair of scales to get my weight.
I use an app to track my sleep because that’s more convenient than noting things down. I just put my smart phone under my pillow at night. This is telling me I really ought to get more sleep really.
Reaction speed is a good one. It’s just a ruler drop, so I’ve got a meter ruler, you get a friend to drop it for you, how quick you catch it and you just do the equation to calculate the velocity. What I find here is if I get my wife to drop the ruler I’m much faster, and I think I’m better at guessing when she’s going to drop it.
This is a good one here, BO2 Max; this is an estimate of course and it’s a measure of how efficiently your body can use oxygen. And the way I estimate it is by a test called a bleep test, which is just a series of shuttle runs, 20 meter shuttle runs, and the bleep gets faster and faster and the number that you can do before you start missing the bleep consistently is there are tables you can get on the Internet that will give you an estimate of your bO2 Max.
I like this one because it’s a pretty good measure of overall fitness, and I like doing the test because really that’s pushing you up into the top of your aerobic performance, so I believe I’m helping to train my lactic threshold, where I start to leak a lot of lactic acid into my blood is really where you start to miss those beeps. So I like that one, and again that’s a pretty decent score. I’ve checked out benchmarks, and I’d like to see this improving but I’m not too unhappy where that is at the moment. And again it seems to be fairly consistent. I’ve done this test a few times over the last few months and it’s fairly stable, which I guess it means I’m not improving my fitness at the moment.
I haven’t actually no, that are some other simple ones, I could do an estimate for my 10k time for instance, which may be more accurate for a long distance runner but that’s the only one I’ve used so far. And I kind of like it and it’s working for me at the moment.
So then when I was testing all that I got to thinking, as I get tired when I’m running what is that feeling of tiredness reporting? What am I feeling when I feel tired? And I got to thinking well if I could measure my blood sugar may be that tired feeling is maybe my blood sugar dropping. I have a colleague who is diabetic and she was kind enough to lend me her spare blood glucose monitor for a weekend, so I decided to take it on a run with me.
First of all I decided to figure out how to use the thing. And I’m glad I did because collecting the blood. It’s only a pinprick on your finger and this is capillary blood I should mention, so the glucose will be slightly higher with being this blood.
So the first thing I did was to get used to using it, and I did a standard NHS oral glucose tolerance test. So you fast overnight about 10 hours, and then you take a dose of 75g of glucose, which conveniently is the amount contained in 410ml of original Lucozade. This is what the NHS will use as well if you go and do an oral test there. And then you just set your glucose at time zero and then at various time points afterwards, and the important one is the 120 minutes time point, which you can see from my graph I missed because I fell asleep! But I got it slightly after that at 150 minutes.
And this told me two things. It told me that I knew how to use the machine, and I was also pleased to see that I’m not diabetic so that’s good news.
So then I decided to go for a run and it was that 14 miler that I showed you earlier, and as I said I was thinking what’s this tired feeling that I get, and I can tell you I did feel tired by the end of that run but it wasn’t the blood glucose, that’s basically unchanged throughout the run. It goes up a little bit when I started running, that’s maybe an increase in glycogen breakdown as you start to exercise and you release more glucagon and that mobilizes your liver glycogen. So that might account for this slight rise or it could just be noise of course in the assay, but by 7 miles definitely no drop, and by 14 miles if anything my blood glucose was higher than when I started.
So although I was feeling tired, not lacking blood sugar. That was a bit of a surprise to me, although when I think about it measuring your blood glucose is maybe a bit like measuring the petrol in the carburetor of your car, and perhaps it’s the petrol in your tank that you should be more interested in. So maybe that feeling of tiredness is some kind of feedback saying my liver and muscle glycogen storage is becoming released, and may be increasing pyruvate in the blood for instance is a possibility. And thinking about looking for ketones, you can get pretty simple test for blood glucose that I might have a try to see if I am going into ketosystem at all.
So this is my final slide as it shifts to really reiterate what my goals are and really why I’m doing this tracking at the moment. My goals are to run the ultramarathon next June, June 7, and I’m building up. I have a half marathon coming up in October, and then I would like to do fairly reasonably spaced long runs on the run-up to that to just build my distance.
I’m hoping by the time that October rolls around I’ll be able to see that half marathon about the nine minute mile pace, and that should bring me in just under the two hour mark. And then I would like to start seeing 10 miles being about my standard run by the start of next year. And then I’m looking to build speed and distance in the long run. And really I’m hoping to be able to do some 10 minute miles over what for me are fairly long runs, so 18 miles plus.
And importantly, just get used to the way it feels to be running for a long time. That feeling of being very tired, whatever is causing it blood glucose or not and just get used to the fact that it’s okay to carry on running when you feel like that.
So that’s it from me, and I would just like to thank the organizers for giving me this opportunity and thanks to all of you for listening.