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DOE-ing Myself: Using design of experiments to run more efficiently

So this is me: I am a fairly healthy 36-year-old male living in Austin, Texas, USA. While somewhat active throughout my teens and twenties, post-marriage and kids has seen me become a bit too sedentary, a bit too lazy, and much too easily winded. In May 2019, my wife and I took our kids for a hike, with me bringing our youngest (at the time) in a backpack carrier. After 2+ miles of fairly level terrain, I was exhausted. This precipitated a sea change in my activity.

On 27 May 2019, I started running. It was terrible. I hated it, yet I loved it. Three months later, I was talked into running a 10K trail race (at night), and I was hooked! Four months later, I heroically and quite stupidly ran a 50K trail race. It took me over an hour longer than I’d anticipated. I couldn’t walk for a week, and when I crossed the finish line, it took every ounce of self-control to not openly weep.

Kilometer 27-ish of the Bandera 50K. I completely tanked about 2 kilometers later but still managed to (barely) finish the race.Kilometer 27-ish of the Bandera 50K. I completely tanked about 2 kilometers later but still managed to (barely) finish the race.

Fast-forward to today: I am ramping up for a series of four races longer than 60K over the next 10 months. Time to train is at a premium. So as I am running, I am continually asking myself this question: What is the most efficient way to improve my running economy in a minimum amount of time? Enter design of experiments (DOE).

DOE is a mechanism to most efficiently use selected input variables to draw conclusions about pre-determined output variables. If it’s good enough to design top-of-the-line semi-conductor components, it ought to be good enough to help me run faster without running longer. So, what is my plan?

Well, there are some variables that I cannot control but I know are important: weather, mileage (I am using a prescribed training plan), hours of sleep, my weight, etc. These parameters are being tracked, just not controlled. But there are parameters I can control:

  • Warm up — a 5-minute warmup on a rowing machine (I never warm up.)
  • Caffeine — drinking coffee right before my run (I prefer my coffee after I run.)
  • Timing of run — first thing in the morning or afternoon (I love morning runs.)
  • Shoes — trail or road shoes (Usually it's road shoes on the road and trail shoes on the trail.)
  • Diet — Did I eat meat in the previous 24 hours? (I’m very curious to see if this has an effect.)
  • Running hydration — water or electrolyte (I prefer water.)
  • Apparel — 7”, 5”, or 2” inseam shorts*

*A fellow JMP Systems Engineer (and endurance runner) and I have a pet theory that shorter shorts make you run faster. It’s time to test this theory once and for all.

I will be completing five runs a week for three weeks (see the table below). Through all my runs, I will try to maintain a Zone 2 heart rate to ensure the effort I put into each run is quantitatively consistent. For me, this means I will try to maintain a heart rate between 139 and 144 beats per minute (bpm), while trying to stay as close to 144 bpm as possible. I will also temporarily sacrifice my love of trail running and keep all my runs on roads/sidewalks to maintain consistency.

The JMP-generated DOE trialsThe JMP-generated DOE trials

 

So how will I track progress? In addition to recording variables I cannot control, I will specifically track these three parameters:

  1. Grade adjusted pace (GAP) — pace in minutes per mile normalized for topography
  2. Average heart rate — while trying to maintain an average heart rate of 144 bpm, variability is sure to occur
  3. Perceived exertion — a subjective 1-10 measure of how I felt immediately after the run

An improvement in these three outputs is how I am gauging an improvement in efficiency — can I run faster, with a lower heart rate, and upon completing a run, do I feel like I exerted less energy. 

Now, if I complete 15 runs over three weeks I will hopefully improve my running efficiency even without controlling these inputs, just by the sheer fact that I am running regularly. To account for this, my design uses week as a blocking variable. As a result, when I build the model upon completing this experiment, JMP will account for week-dependent impacts in running efficiency and subtract them out of the model. This will allow me to better estimate the impact of the factors am trying to study. 

If you will excuse me, it’s time to hit the road!

14 Comments
Staff

@peter_polito This is great thanks for sharing.  I had a couple of questions.  And maybe a suggestion 

1. What is your distance for these runs are you ramping up or are these all roughly the same distance?

2. How do you calculate GAP?

 

I think it might be worth throwing in an uncontrolled factor of the outside temperature.  I would imagine this will be correlated with the running start time but might explain some variability.

 

Don't want to taint the results, so you can justify wearing 2-inch inseam shorts, which sounds like the true goal of this.  I am guessing @wendytseng would agree.

Staff

As long as you are tracking apparel, can you also track your top? I know you have a strong tank top game. Do you improve performance simply because the guns are out? 

Staff

@phersh I am tracking all that information (temp, humidity, amount of sleep the night before, weight, etc.) and will model  just the DOE variables and all variables at the end. Ultimately I hope to get feedback from the community (runners and JMPers) at the end on ways to augment the DOE and continue. 

@anspen On it.

Staff

@Jordan_Hiller will advocate for the coffee pre-run. 

 

I like the idea of you being the guinea pig for DOE running.  As it sounds like you have many runs to come.  Hopefully, you can look at a few other factors in the future.

 

Alcohol consumption in the previous day

What are you listening too during the run?  (Music vs. Podcast) @ruthhummel and I discussed this.

 

Staff

Mileage varies from 3-17 (ish) miles for the three weeks, I am trying to hold heart rate at 144 to account for variations in distance but I'm sure there will be some effect. I am not logging alcohol, there is some data I don't care to know, lol, suffice it to say it is probably fairly consistent. I am not listening to music for the three weeks as I was concerned upbeat songs would make me run faster and vice versa. Keep it coming @phersh!

Staff

Others that come to mind

Amount of cloud cover

Sock length (I noticed the knee highs in the picture)

Total beard area (wind resistance)

Headcover (hat, doo rag, nothing)

Specific to Austin # of BBQ joints passed

I would not imagine many of these would have much of an impact, but you never know. 

 

Staff

@phersh -- Coffee should be liberally applied both pre-run and post-run to optimize performance!

Staff

I’m impressed ... very curious to see the end result. 

Staff

Hi Peter,

again, I love this! I do play around with my trainings and the stuff around but never thought about DOE-ing my performance. 

 

A few things I was wondering, when looking at your factors:

 

- Nutrition:

-- Why do you consider meat to be important, but not carbohydrates? I would not exclude meat to be important but would suspect that the amount of carbs in your diet have a stronger impact.

-- I also found that different carbohydrate sources (the day before) work differently good for me (I love pasta, but with potatoes my gut feels better during exercise). Maybe future factors.

-- As you do Ultras, I assume you consume carbohydrates during your race as well. Why don't you consider this in your training/DOE?

-- I have tested many different types of carb sources for during the exercise. Maybe also a future factor.

 

- Hydration:

-- I played a lot with different mixtures. Two things come to my mind. 1. I expect the impact of hydration in general to be higher for longer runs. 2. I especially expect the impact of electrolytes to be significant only for longer runs (> 10 miles). 

-- Also here I would have expected carbohydrates as a third category.

-- Weather you can't control, but for sure hydration is more important during heat. So maybe, hydration also has more impact on runs in the afternoon, when temperature is higher.

 

Further factors

- with/without compression calf sleeves

- of course, variation of training zones

- overall exertion before the run, maybe (wow, you have four kids )?

 

I'm curious to see the results!

 

Best,

Florian

Staff

@Florian_Vogt what a load of good questions/comments. Let me go through them and elucidate some of my logic and see where that leaves us. 

 

Nutrition

  • I've been slowly trying to cut back on my meat intake (for a whole host of reasons) but before I made a permanent feature of my life I wanted to know if meat plays any role in my running, either a benefit or detriment. I'm sure a better experiment would be a month of no meat and a month with meat but I didn't want to spend that kind of time. 
  • I intentionally didn't want to put pressure on myself to log every food I ate and my carb intake doesn't fluctuate that much. Pasta maybe once a week, rice once or twice, potatoes a couple times, and flour tortillas about 5 days a week (I can't quit tacos).
  • RE carbs in racing. I am spending the six month period from March to August trying out a controversial method of training called the Moffetone Method. It's controversial because some think a) it is way too conservative and/or b) it just does't work. In a nutshell, you train exclusively in your aerobic zone (heart rate of 180-your age). In theory, if I train at or just below 144 bpm my body will learn to fuel itself on fat rather than carbs. Once your body learns this, you can run until mechanical exhaustion as nutritional exhaustion will no longer be an issue (I am generalizing a lot). I've been doing this for six weeks and I've found on longer runs I get hungry, for a meal, but I don't get the fatigue I used to get when my carb reserves ran low and I haven't had to refuel my carbs at all mid run. The other day on a 14 mile training run I actually refueled on hard boiled eggs, which I would have laughed at before doing this (Note: it's really hard to chew and swallow an egg yolk while running). So the goal is to get to a point where I don't really need carbs (after 6 months I will ramp back up into speed/hill training and carbs will be nominally more important). 

Hydration

  • With the aerobic method described above and carbs not being as important, water for hydration has been just fine on longer runs whereas before I needed an electrolyte. For this DOE I'm sticking with a 10 oz water bottle filled with water or water + 1 scoop of Tail Wind powder to see if it actually makes a difference. So far, short run or long, it doesn't seem to matter.
  • In the Texas summer water is life or death. I will usually have to also take salt tablets to keep from cramping. This is more important if I'm NOT using an electrolyte drink. We'll see how this method carries into the summer months. So far it's been hard to keep my heart rate down on really hot days but again, the hydration solution doesn't seem to have much of an effect. Hopefully the data will make this clear.

Other factors

  • I use calf sleeves on >20 mile runs but I won't be running these distances for a few more weeks so they won't make it into this round of DOE but I'm really curious if they will make a difference. Anecdotally I think they do. 
  • Come this fall I will start varying my training zones a lot more but I want to give the Moffetone method a legitimate try before adding in higher intensity runs.
  • I'm using a 5 minute row in the DOE as a workout, it's a equivalent to rowing about a km. We'll see if it has an effect. I've also started tracking a Strava calculation called "fatigue" to see if high fatigue corresponds to slower runs. TBD. I prefer to run before my kids are awake, so they don't play much of a roll in the pre run workout

At the end of August I have a 60k race in the Texas summer heat, if I can finish feeling stronger than I did during my last ultra (a 50k where I ran/walked the last 20 km), I'll feel as thought this summer in Zone 2 was worth it. The ultimate goal is a 100 mile race in Feb 2021. We'll see if I make it...

 

Thanks for giving this so much thought Florian! @wendytseng, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Staff

@peter_polito thanks for the response. I get what your saying.

 

Two more comments

For my fat metabolism I do starved workouts which I found very effective. But they are tough to get going and you have to take more care not to get sick.

Another factor, which is also rather longterm but effective is functional strength training and/or stretching. It helps, but it also takes additional time to do.

 

I love your long term build strategy - which race is it?

Good luck!

 

Best Florian

 

Staff

There is clearly much we can talk about @Florian_Vogt, you can expect I'll be reaching out to you directly to learn more about starved workouts! This August I'll be running a 60k night race, this and several others I'll use to prepare me for the Rocky Racoon 100. From there, who knows...

Staff

@peter_polito I was thinking this might actually be a good opportunity to use a functional response or two for your DoE.  As trying to summarize the run into a mean GAP, and mean heart rate you are throwing away a lot of that data you are collecting.  @Ross_Metusalem gave a nice presentation on setting up Functional Design of Experiments or functional DoEs during a recent JMP on Air episode.

Staff

@phersh @peter_polito indeed FDE should be very useful. I'm currently in touch with Suunto to get the detailed record of my runs (every second or so). For the moment I'm able to get the speed, vertical speed, distance but not the Hearth rate yet which I think should be very informative. Let see.