TITLE: Continuous Feedback on the Track AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: July 15, 2004 12:07 PM DESC: what I learned about continuous feedback while running ----- BODY: While out on a run recently, I realized that I was practicing the agile software development principle of getting continuous feedback -- without even trying. Most mornings, I want to control the pace I am running. Maybe I am doing a tempo run, on which I want to average my 10K pace for a few miles. Maybe I'm doing a speed work-out and need to run several repetitions of a particular shorter distance at a faster pace. I have to be careful when trying to run fast, because it's easy for me to overdo it. Then I run out of gas and can't finish comfortably, or at all. And it's even easier to run too slowly and not get the full benefit of the workout. Or maybe I *want* to run slower than usual, as a way to recover from faster work-outs or as a way bump my mileage up. On days like this, I have to be careful not to run too fast, because my body needs the break. So I need a way to pace myself. I'm not very good at doing that naturally, so I like to use landmarks to monitor my pace. One place I can do that is on a recreation trail near my home. This trail contains a 6.2-mile loop and has four 1-mile segments labeled. When I try to run a steady pace on this route, I used to find that my miles varied by anywhere between 10 and 20 seconds. These days I do better, but sometimes I can't seem to get into a groove that keeps me steady enough. I do my weekly speed workouts on the indoor track at my university's wellness center. This track requires me to do 9 laps per mile, and it has signs marking 200m, 400m, 800m, and 1200m splits. Running on this track I get feedback every 1/9th of a mile, and I can synchronize myself at the longer splits, too. Not too surprisingly, I pace myself much better on the track than on the trail. And more frequent feedback is the reason. When I get off by a second or two for a lap, I make can make a small adjustment to get back on pace -- and I can tell if the adjustment was successful within a 1/9th of a mile. Doing my Yasso 800s on the small track has been invaluable in helping me get faster. Even better, they have helped me learn to pace myself naturally. Now when I run mile repeats on the trail, I find that my pace rarely varies more than 10 seconds per mile, and sometimes I can clip off several miles in a row all within 3-7 seconds of each other. Getting continuous feedback as I've learned has helped me to develop better "instincts". I recently took my speed workouts outside to the university's 1/4-mile track, to enjoy the summer weather more and to lengthen my repeats. Running consistent 1200m repeats on the longer track is tougher, because I don't yet have the instincts for racing fast at a desired pace and because the track gives me feedback less frequently. But I hope that a few weeks of practice will remedy that... My goal is eventually to be able to find a groove where my pace is steady, comfortable, and right on the mark for a particular marathon time. Continuous feedback plays an important role in training by body and mind to do that. I think that this story may be a good way to illustrate and motivate the idea of continuous feedback in my Agile Software Development course this fall. -----