Runner’s high

I have been following Pablo’s running accounts with interest and envy.

I envy Pablo for three reasons. The first is that he can run. A lot of us who started running at relatively young ages eventually end up with knee problems that either slow us down significantly or stop us altogether. That’s me.

The second thing I envy is Pablo’s enthusiasm. When I was running well, about 30 years ago, I loved it and couldn’t imagine not running. I miss the enthusiasm as well as the running itself.

The third reason I envy Pablo is that his running is improving. I think that if I had continued the kind of running I was doing at 30, I would be slowing down by now. That thought made me do a little research. I wanted to look at how runners’ capabilities change over time.

There are short distance runners, medium-distance runners, and long-distance runners. I completed a marathon at age 27 in 1977 but never ran another. My running improved from that time to around 1984 when my knees ruined my running. In those days of graduate school, I ran a couple of 5-kilometer races, which I consider just over short distances. I ran some 10-k races, which I think fall firmly into the medium-distance category, and one 15-k race, which I think is a long distance. The marathon is the quintessential long distance race.

Pablo has completed a marathon, which makes him a runner, not a jogger. I’m not sure anyone who hasn’t completed a marathon can really understand what it means to run 26.2 miles. It’s a tremendous accomplishment. The running ability of the best marathoners is almost unbelievable. The best sprinters can run 100 yards in about 9.7 seconds, and then they’re done for. The best milers run at a pace of about 12.7 seconds per 100 yards, slower than a sprinter but not by much. The top marathoners run at a pace of about 16 seconds per 100 yards, only they do it for a little over two hours, or 461 times the 100-yard race. So I picked the marathon as the standard long distance to look at.

I came up with a guess at a plot of maximum theoretical running performance as a function of age. This is it, with running ability on the vertical axis and age in years on the horizontal axis.

Theoretical running ability as a function of age in years

Theoretical running ability as a function of age in years

Researchers at Marquette University found that the average age of the top five finishers from big world marathons, the ones that attract top marathoners from around the world, was 29.8 for men and 28.9 for women. That’s verging on truly aged in the world of extremely strenuous physical competitive sports, but from my perspective, deep into the barren and trackless desert of advancing age and increasing physical disability, those people seem positively callow. I assumed that those ages are the ages at which running ability peaks. So I called that peak 100 on the range of running ability.

I further assumed that there is some kind of physical training program that would result in peak performance at any given age if a runner faithfully followed the program without injury. If you started at the correct age (whatever that age is) and followed the program, you would end up at the maximum (100 on the plot) at age 29.8 for men and 28.9 for women. Before that time, you would be performing at the limit of your own capability, but it wouldn’t be as good as you would reach at your peak. I have no idea what the changing capability would be, but I assumed it would look something like what the plot shows at earlier ages. You would, of course, start out at zero at birth.

A slow decline starts after the peak. There is some research indicating a decrease in ability of good to excellent runners of between a half a percent and one and a half percent per year for a number of years, and then a drop of around 7 percent per year starting in the 40’s. The drop is even steeper after around 65.

I think this would be the envelope for any person running long distances. If a person trained properly from the right age, his or her performance would follow this curve. I assume (without any good reason) that if you don’t start at the beginning, you can never reach the level of the curve for your age, no matter how well you train. So if a theoretical person started running at 22, he might improve dramatically but would never reach the best he could have done for any age if he had started at the “correct” age. That’s my assumption although it might not be true.

That means that Pablo may well continue to improve for years to come, although he will probably never be competitive at the top level of marathoners. If, on the other hand, I had continued to run without injury, at some point in the past I would have begun to follow the downward curve. I would look back nostalgically at the times I had achieved in my youth, while every race I ran took longer and longer.

And still, I miss running. I often think of how nice it would be to run on the course I take when I walk the dogs. I might have had to throw away my running watch, but I would happily trade the best watch in the world for a pair of good knees.


New house update

This is an update on our new house construction project. We have been working on a house plan for some time now, since not much work can be done on the property until all the permits are issued, and most of those depend on approval of a house plan.

We have certain criteria based on desires and the requirements of the lot. We had thought that the view, if there is one, would be downslope facing Lavender Trail. Due south would be about a quarter turn to the right, as seen from the house site facing Lavender Trail. We want a covered deck on the view side, which we will call the front, but no steps to ground level so Leah will feel more comfortable leaving a window or door open on the deck at night. We also want a sunroom on the right side of the house so that it will get as much sun as possible.

Our working plan had the living room on the right and the master bedroom on the left, both opening to the covered deck, and a sunroom to the right of the living room with doors into the room and onto the deck. And then Saturday as I was trying to lay out a line marked in ten-foot increments so we can measure the slope, I wandered away towards the Fouche Gap side of the lot and realized we could probably get a view in that direction along the ridge of Lavender Mountain and possibly down into part of Little Texas Valley. There are lots of trees in that direction, some quite large, but I think judicious clearing would allow a nice view. So now the logical place for the living room is on the corner where the master bedroom had been. Flipping the plan solves that problem but creates a new one. Since we won’t have access from ground level to the front of the house, the main entrance needs to be on the side where the living room is. Before we flipped the plan, it would have been easy to bring a walk from the rear of the house, where the garage will be, to a door on that side. Now, with the living room on the other side, guests will have to walk in a counter-intuitive direction around the garage and then along the side of the house. We may need a sign, but since we almost never get guests, it shouldn’t be too big a problem.

Most of the smaller house plans we have looked at have compromises in things like bathroom size. Some of them actually have a smaller master bath than guest bath, and neither of us will be happy with that. The master bedrooms are also much smaller than our current bedroom. So we are stretching plans to expand bathroom and bedroom size. The good news is that we have now managed to get a reasonable first cut of a floor plan with only a few of our own compromises, like needing a map to find the front door.

The next step will be to measure the slope at the house site. That is going to have an impact on another requirement, which is a way to turn around our travel trailer so we (and by “we” I mean “I”) don’t have to back down a long, sloped, curving driveway. I’m afraid it’s going to mean significant excavation. But we’ll know more in a few days.

I wrote the preceding on Saturday night. After I wrote that we had a “reasonable first cut” for our house plan, I thought more about how the garage roof would fit onto the roof of the house, and I concluded that we had a problem. I’m sure a good framing crew and a good roofing crew could solve the problem, but one of my aims is to keep things as simple as possible, so all Sunday afternoon I worked on a different floor plan, one that would resolve that issue and, at the same time, cut the square footage a little. Now I think I have managed it. There are some compromises; you will still need a map to find the “front” door. But if there’s one thing I have learned from studying house plans, looking at houses, and designing and building our current house, it’s that the entire process is one of compromise. Even if we had an unlimited budget, which, of course, we don’t, there would still be compromises. I’ll eventually build a model of the house, which will let us visualize the layout and how it will work. There may be changes after that. But another thing I have learned is that house plans often change during the construction process. Our current house lost a second story as we built it, and that’s a pretty drastic change.

Dogs in coats

It was quite cold here Thursday night, especially for mid-November. The low up on the mountain Friday morning was 23 F. It had not warmed much by the time I took the dogs out for their morning walk. Lucy, who is small and shivers if she sees the refrigerator door open, wore her fleece-lined coat. Even Zeke, who is too big a galoot to notice things like cold weather, wore his coat.

dogs in coats

It was not only cold, it was windy. Lucy was shivering from the very start, so we walked until Zeke did his business, and then turned around. This was the first time I can remember that we didn’t complete our morning walk once we had started.

Lucy makes a distinction between her raincoat and her fleece coat. She acts like she is paralyzed when we put her raincoat on, but I think she likes her fleece coat. She would probably like to wear it all the time.

Friday Felines

Sylvester came into the office last week to check on what we were doing. It looks like the planter stand was made for a cat to sit under.


It has been two weeks today, Friday, since Zoe disappeared. We haven’t heard or seen anything about him. I guess it’s time to face facts. He’s probably not coming back home to us.

Fall Drive

I had an early dentist appointment Wednesday. I usually drive down the back side of the mountain (back in the sense that it’s down into Texas Valley rather than towards Huffaker Road and town). On the way back home the leaves were so colorful I decided to capture a video.

I used my iPhone to capture the video. It wasn’t as dangerous as it might look. The day was overcast, so there’s no brilliant blue sky like there has been for the last few days.

This vide covers almost the entire walk I do with the dogs, usually every other day since I alternate going down the front and back of the mountain. The area to the right just before the right turn is our new property. The right turn from Fouche Gap Road to Lavender Trail is at the front corner of the property. The dumped deer carcass where I saw the bald eagle was just beyond the turnoff. The video stops near the upper end of the property where our driveway will be. If I had continued the video for a few more seconds, there would have been a left turn onto Wildlife Trail right at our house.