So, How Many Hats Do You Wear?

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Pensacola, Florida, United States
Husband. *Dog Dad.* Instructional Systems Specialist. Runner. (Swim-challenged) Triathlete (on hiatus). USATF LDR Surveyor. USAT (Elite Rules) CRO/2, NTO/1. RRCA Rep., FL (North). Observer Of The Human Condition.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Thoughts on the Two-Hour Marathon

Runners, especially recreational ones, focus a great deal on the achievement of personal best times. And it doesn't necessarily have to be races; our weekly or daily courses often fall under the same sort of scrutiny. Even if you're not thinking about it's likely your consumer-grade GPS receiver certainly is.

When it comes to most runs the improvements come quickly and often in great leaps, almost on the order of "tall building in a single bound" stature. But as time - or distance - progresses, the gains are smaller, more hard-won, and often more sweet. Especially if it's a "barrier" mark for mortals like the 40-minute 10K or qualifying for Boston.

Barrier performance times, in most cases, are built on society's shared mental model at that particular time. Many considered the four-minute mile to be impossible based on human physiology; the perception of perfection based on the seamless bond between the second-hand stopwatch in it's circuit around the watch face and the runner's progress on the track surface makes the four-minute mile even now a badge of honor for distance runners. The latest barrier to be discussed since Dennis Kimetto's lowering of the world best time for the marathon has been that of whether a sub-two-hour race is possible.

The two-hour marathon lacks that same romantic punch of the four-minute mile, though. The time doesn't match any aspect of the distance, whether it's spoken in imperial or metric (and for what it's worth, the marathon *is* a metric distance). But it wasn't too surprising to hear that two rival shoe manufacturers have initiated a project to prove in reality what has been theorized over the past ten years...

Is it possible for a human to run 26 miles, 385 yards (42.195 kilometers) in less than two hours?

For most all of us mortals, the two-hour marathon is the stuff of fantasy, kind of like our chances of flying to the moon. Perhaps even more fleeting, since it seems most anything can be accomplished with a lot of know-how, a lot of grit, or at least a whole lot of money and access to someone who's willing to let you try. The marathon still requires its participants (recent tales of Honolulu notwithstanding) to get out there and put one foot in front of the other; only so much performance enhancement can be purchased.

So what if we look at the advancement in human running performance as a mathematical calculation? Well, the difference between Kimetto's world best and two hours is a little under two and-a-half percent increase in performance. Going back to mortals like me - that's like starting with a 5K in seven-flat per mile (21:45) and dropping it to 21:14.

You would have to run 4:39 each mile for 26.21876 miles...just to stay with Kimetto's best. To break two hours you would have to run five seconds faster. For each mile. All 26 and a quarter of them.

So who are the chosen people for this sporting "moon shot?" Of the three athletes, two have personal bests in the single-digit range from a buck-fifty nine. One ran a PB a half-percentage point off the world best, during the same race it was made. But, world best increases over the past decade have been - like personal bests - hard-won, at about three-tenths of a percent on the average. Paul Tergat's 45-second chop being pretty much the outlier.

If I assume that all of the resources of this shoe company are brought to bear to *legally and ethically* prepare this troika to go under 120-minutes, I'll forecast based on single-race improvements of 0.6-percent.  That's using Paul Tergat's 2:04:55 performance difference over Khalid Khannouchi's 2:05:38 mark.

The slowest of the three runners, with a personal best of 2:10:41 (almost six percent slower than the world best) would have to run consistent personal bests for the next seventeen races.
The least experienced - in his sixth year of racing and having placed sixth at the 2010 CCC - is only nine races away from breaking two.
The fastest would have to consistently break his own world-best by 42-to-45 seconds during the next five races to go through the barrier.

A two-hour marathon is physiologically possible, but for it to be credible and ethical I believe it will take a decade, not a year. And I really don't think a shoe company is going to be the prime mover behind it when it happens.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Mindfulness Over Matter

There's no place like home.  The visit with my loving bride (and grandchildren) to parts north provided many memorable moments, sights, relaxation of a sort, and ample time to do what I occasionally miss...observing the (small) human condition.

I should know better, the painfully obvious truth that even when genetics and parenting are (almost) common, that still, no two children are alike.  My two grandchildren are two-and-a-half years difference in age but almost worlds apart in behavior.  Tell my eldest grandkid to take on a personal care task or a small chore and it's most likely going to be done in an efficient manner and without too much oversight.  The youngest, however, is a totally different story.

Blame it on the video game.

If it's time to brush teeth and dress for bed, the controller is dropped long enough to dash up the stairs, throw on an oversized sweatshirt over the denim jeans.

Um, did you brush your teeth?

Zip back up the stairs, return a minute later.  Okay, while the kid has front teeth missing (and actively trying to remove more in order to extort the tooth fairy, I might add), but the breath that could knock over a horse still persists.  Methinks a lack of emphasis is evident, so this old guy (with his own fair share of dental history) goes up to observe the process.

This time included a quick swish of brush under the faucet and swab of the remaining pearlies.  No paste.

Stop.  Squeeze some paste onto that brush.  More.  Brush.  Stop.  Count to ten on each tooth.

Plants Versus Zombies.  Laundry Versus Lounging About.  When it comes to a seven year old I can tell you which one is going to win.  Removing clothing from the dryer and folding seems like a Herculean effort, which takes four times to be done properly.

"Don't know how."  The older kid gently contradicts, confirming the old coach's suspicion.  Just before I considered invoking grandparental authority and blowing up the television, my son took over the controls.

Mind you, I understand a seven-year-old focus of attention is short, but it's made more so by the world of
"other cool stuff."

Even adults are prone to a lack of mindfulness.  Suzanne's lost more credit cards, cell phones, planners, drivers' licenses and other gadgets than any single woman has a right.  It's not that she's forgetful as much as it is that she'e trying to transform her to-do list into a "ta-da" one.  Sometimes I have to bring up the issue of mindfulness, being in the moment, compartmentalizing what's going down until it's done, then going on to the next thing.

When we talk about mindfulness we can look at three primary elements: our attitude toward the activity, the attention we pay to it while we're in it, and our intention.  In the new year the gyms and roads are going to be filled with folks who are doing something about what they weren't doing in the past year.  Good on you, friend.

But are you going into it with the same outlook as a trip to the dentist for a root canal?  The first days of the new workout routine are not always fun, especially when your breathing and heart rate elevate, your muscles, lungs and head ache, and the scale just can't seem to go down.  It might appear that everyone at "Fit-O-Rama" are looking you as a complete freak who shouldn't be there.  No, you do need to be there.  Even when the scale doesn't move and the stretchy  pants continue to strain.  It didn't take you one day, or one mega-burrito, to the state you're at right now, so it might take a few days to see some change.  Ladies, for you it's even more slowly than for guys.

During treadmill time, are you talking to the person on the mill next to you, or looking at the television?  For the love of the Buddha, stop, already.  Keep an eye on that heart rate or the distance, or the calories, but bury your brain into what you're doing.  I know I love to play music when I'm doing my easy runs on the mill, but I'm also taking a close look at the timer so as to know when to adjust the pace or elevation.

Is there a target you're shooting for, a weight goal, a race date, or a little black number?  If there isn't, go out and fix one.  Put it on the fridge, write it on the mirror, stick that calendar on the wall.  Those bad days will be small bumps on the road, and you're going to have many fellow travelers near by.  Take the time to look around...then look within.  And get it done.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Daylight Savings?

Daylight Saving Time.  Wow, what a misnomer.  Well, it pretty much signals the beginning of the "extra" season; extra snacks, extra beers, extra parties.  I've written about the stretch between Hallowe'en and New Years' Day in the past in terms of social life and in terms of weight control.

So I'm not going to go there.

In most parts of the country the first race/s of the year probably won't happen until the middle of spring.  In the southern-most portions, though, we have a flipped-coin season.  Nobody in their right mind produces a running event between June and September.  At least, not one that's going to make a major profit.  We can train almost every weekend of the year down here, with very little in the way of alibi or excuse for not getting in that run.  Our attire doesn't change all that much, either, with the exception for perhaps a couple of weeks where gloves, caps and tights are a good idea.

Those who live in the cooler climes would laugh at our choice, but that's what occurs when your blood thins out.

But darned if folks don't decide to put their running shoes up for nine weeks, or at least replace them with the party shoes.  I can see the logic and reason of taking a few days to a week off every six months or so, just to give your mind and body a little rest.  Rest as in "other activities which are fun," or "long walks at the places where the shoppers aren't..."  Just as starters.  Taking a week isn't going to kill whatever fitness you built up over the summer; hiatuses which go longer than a week are the ones which will bite you in the fanny.

It always drives me up the wall to talk to friends who treat fitness as a zero-sum activity.  If they can't do it full-bore then to heck with it, they aren't going to do it at all.  Really, the only reason to take more than a week away from a consistent workout schedule is - naturally - an injury.  Some of the things I've considered and done to try and be an athlete and a socially-inept citizen with varying success are below:

Keep the Training Impact - If you track the time spent working out and the intensity level of the work you have the elements to measure your training impact.  For those who haven't read any of Eric Bannister's 2004 research, time in minutes multiplied by heart rate or perceived effort provides a score which can estimate how long it will take to recover from a workout or how much work you're doing each day.  So, if you average an impact of 120 points a day (say, 60 minutes at a 70-percent or a seven-of-ten effort level), you could cut off twenty minutes and work at 80 percent/"eight."  Or...

Split the Time - Daylight Savings only means that daylight is going to be GONE in the afternoon. The post-work run is going to be just as much keeping live batteries in your headlamp and dodging drivers as it is putting one foot in front of the other.  Might as well consider breaking up the workouts into two pieces; they don't have to be equal parts but it can give you two chances to get something in.

Something, Something - Dark, gloomy running during this time quickly becomes a near-solitary effort; why is it I'm the only one devoted to this thing!?  This is where the higher-intensity speed-focused workouts suddenly become more fun.  Keep those long aerobic pieces for the weekend when you have the time to adjust the start and get out for longer.  But there's nothing wrong with working on that speed and keeping that speed up over the dreary days.  The great Zatopek even said that there was a need for great runners to be fast and have endurance.  He did lots of short, intense pieces; a 200 here and a 200 there, next thing you know you've got a mile in.  Or two.  Or three.  Turn the classic "endurance first, speed second" train of thought upside down.

You might find with these three concepts, especially the third, that you're not alone during that last week or two before New Years' Day.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Running In The Information Age

The most difficult part of being an athlete in the information age is not the lack but the abundance of information.  Back in the "good old days" the tried and true strategies were passed along from the more experienced generation to the newer crop of athletes.  Didn't matter so much that many of the "truths" passed along were eventually debunked by athletes who either didn't benefit from the "truth," or by scientists who finally asked the question, "does this stuff really work?"

Now, the problem is that there is too much information, and most of it is either wrong or lacking in detail.  Take for example the use of compression wear; I can see a BOLD TYPE HEADLINE on the cover of a running magazine, see an article in a major newspaper's health and wellness section, and receive an e-mail from a sportswear manufacturer about a pair of tights which will (as I've written before) guarantee faster marathon performances, decreased muscle damage and world peace. 

Once I've paid my $7.50 at the local bookseller for the running mag, I find little more than a three-sentence blurb referring to a research article.  Which happens to be the same article referred to by the major paper.  And, worst of all, neither the article or the blurb...or the advertising for that matter, say anything close to what the research really said.

I'm not saying that fitness writers are foolish people, but sometimes I wonder if research articles, and the fine art of gleaning pertinent information from them, are covered deeply enough in journalism schools.  It doesn't take too much, though, to look at the original article copy (which in most cases are hyperlinked to on-line newspaper articles) and see what the researchers REALLY had to say. 

The scientific method, for those of us who might have forgotten it from high school, can be summed up this way: 

Smart people try stuff out.
I wonder if I can duplicate it?
What happens if I change a variable? 
I better write this down so someone else can try it later.

When it comes to the "write this down" part of science, research articles are set up in a fairly standard form:  Title, Abstract, Introduction, Method, Results, and Discussion.  The title is pretty much that 25-words-or-less "what happens" statement.  That's what makes research so easy to find.

The abstract is for those persons who don't have a lot of time to spend reading lots of words or looking at pretty graphs and charts.  Each of the sections are boiled down to one or two sentences each; perfect for search engines and the like.  The introduction gives the researchers time to talk about what inspired them to do the research; any studies they felt like replicating, or what variable caught their attention.  In the case of compression wear, for example, was there a difference between sprinters and distance runners?  This is where the hypothesis is written, the "I think this will happen when I change this variable..." statement.

The method section goes into the details of how the experiment was performed, just in case another researcher months or years down the road wants to test out the theory to see if the same thing happens.  This is where you find out if elite athletes were tested, or if treadmills were used, or the kind of treadmill, shoe, sports drink, etc.  One of the thing to look out for when reading the hypothesis or method of the test is the difference in control and treatment.  If a researcher is testing whether a sports drink is effective, are they comparing to fluid...a different sports drink...or a different dosage.  Sometimes the researcher intentionally or unintentionally skews the difference between control and treatment to favor their hypothesis.  In my humble opinion this is the second piece of the article...but of the most importance.

In most cases the results section of a research paper - unless you've studied statistics - is of the least importance.  If you've studied statistics then you will probably be able to assume for yourself whether or not a researcher uses the terms "of statistical significance," which you'll find mentioned (or not) in the discussion section.  This is the place where the researchers are going to tell the reader, "we tried this and found that."  Even more important, this section is going to tell you the, "if we had it to do all over again, we'd try this," or the "if we can get some more money for research, and perhaps a few well-intentioned undergraduate student assistants, we'd like to look at..." statements.

So if an article's abstract catches your attention, then go to the article's discussion, where the really smart folks can tell you why they think they got the question figured out right.  After that, if you want to know what got them to that point, you can go to the references section at the back of the paper.  Lots of footnotes usually means more refinement on an old question...or another group of folks saying, "it works, and here's why."

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Achilles. Heal.

One of my favorite running couples, Betsy and Aaron, came my way this last weekend, which gave us both a very good excuse to run together.  The run was a rare treat; in the past we've not been at equivalent fitness levels - either I was on the mend or they were.  Okay, Aaron probably would have whipped both of us if not for jalapeno peppers the night before, but that's another topic altogether.

Betsy spent a lot of the run in a state of concern.  In her haste to be packed up and out of town she apparently overlooked the physio tape she uses to support her Achilles' tendon.  I reminded her as I finished off my pre-run coffee that I was not that long out of the woods from my own chronic tendon troubles.  The effort level for the run was going to stay comfortable for all of us; sending the least-wounded and gimpy of the trio back to my house to get the car and pick up the others was nothing any of us wanted to do.

If you've never had issues with your Achilles' tendon consider yourself fortunate.  If I'm not mistaken (I'm not, I took the time to look in the book.), physical therapist and author Jeff Dicharry wrote in his book "Anatomy for Runners" that 80 percent of runners are injured.  It's not only the injury part that is less than fun; add the inability to do anything fun while you're recovering.  That pain in the heel may - or may not - go away after a healthy dose of what my military friends call "Vitamin M," which is another term for one of the more common non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents which can be taken by mouth.

I don't consider taking NSAIDs as my latest (as my loving bride jokingly calls them) "hobby horse," otherwise known as the pet peeve of the month.  I'll say I take far less than I used to, and more for those days when my head - and not the head of my metatarsals - aches.  I learned over time that the prostaglandins and those other hormones and chemicals which would make my heel swell after a run that was too hard in intensity, to long in duration, or too soon for sufficient recovery was trying to, um, encourage me to either rest or take up an activity which was a little less damaging while I figured out what was going wrong.

There are multiple treatment options for this and other overuse problems, most of which I took the time to point out to Betsy.  On those days when my calves feel very tight, usually on days when I've done speed training, I'll make certain to use a self-massage tool like the TP Baller Block or "The Stick."  While it's a pale imitation to the hands of a good massage therapist, you can't go wrong budgeting for a hands-on session once a month...or more often if you're running high mileage.  Make sure, however, that you massage the entire muscle, proximal-to-distal, medially, centrally and laterally.  In plain English, that's from the crook of the knee to the heel.  After you do that, don't forget to roll the arch of your foot.

The zero-drop shoes are pretty much out of the question, from personal experience.  And just to make certain I'm not tugging on the tendon too much I add a small wedge of silicone rubber in the heel of my running shoes.  If I'm on the road doing one of those things I get paid for, which includes a great deal of standing up, I'll even place the wedges in my work shoes.  I've also been fortunate to find black leather walking shoes which don't look like sports shoes.

And say what you want about the treadmill being a piece of machinery sent from the infernal regions, but I'm all in favor of using them for training.  Sure, they're boring as hell and you don't get any of that nice, cooling breeze, but I've done 75 percent of my training mileage since my injuries on them.  I'm only a little slower than I'd like to be, and I'm getting in anywhere from 35-to-45 miles per week (easy running, hills, tempo running and speed repeats) without walking like a guy ten-or-fifteen years older than I am.  Plus I can control how fast I run and how soon I finish; should that tendon decide to act out four miles into a planned five-mile run on the road you've got a sweaty and often painful walk to your car or the house...or wherever the run started.  Should the slightest thing begin to feel wrong on the treadmill, one punch of the "STOP" button calls it a day.

Speaking of calling it a day, it doesn't hurt to have those rest days - or at least "days when I'm NOT running" - plugged into the schedule.  Want to walk the dog or spend the day on the couch, that's fine.  Doing something that isn't aggravating what you aggravate when you run I would count as "rest," too.

I can lay no promises or hard-and-fast timetable on recovery.  Depending on the level of injury and the willingness to LEAVE WELL ENOUGH ALONE, the only thing I can say is "it takes time."  Impatience, stubbornness and hubris will most certainly make an injured runner more desperate, more angry, and more willing to accept "silver bullet" recommendations.  No injury is caused by a single factor, and no single fix is going to take care of it.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Less Is More

Music was a constant in my house while growing up.  My father worked at a radio station and had a large record collection; both my maternal and paternal grandparents performed either on stage or in studio.  Even during his retirement years, my grandfather would pull out his old Gibson, sit on the couch and play the occasional bluegrass tune.  I developed an ear for melody, harmony and an appreciation of structure.  To this day I find live concerts (with extended jam sessions) irritating because I start to compare what was done in the comfort of the studio; a couple of artists get a “free pass,” sure, but I want to hear the arrangement duplicated as close to the original as possible.
I have discs from some big name groups which, once you hear the tracks which didn’t necessarily see the light of day, you begin to wonder the classic question “what in heaven’s name were they thinking when they did that!?”  Why, in the middle of a tune with a crunchy guitar riff and bass groove would you inflict a weenie keyboard solo?  The instrumental would have been better to fade out before that last fifteen second reprise of the tag.  Okay, I’m not a producer and I’ve never played one on television but sometimes you know like you know when someone’s added one too many things to the painting.
Like a hair barrette on the Mona Lisa.
I get the same feeling when someone training for a marathon tells me they have a 20-miler on the agenda.  Training runs of that distance, especially when run by first-time and relatively-inexperienced marathon aspirants, are a closer to four-hour journey than to three.  Add to the mix the low-level orthopedic trauma and the need for recovery – an easy concept to explain to spouses and significant others, difficult to explain to children. 
Hard to hear as Billy Ray Cyrus.  Or Miley, for that matter.
Two and a half hours of running at a pace closer to the desired pace on the marathon day is much better.  It is true that you’ll still be hit like a wrecking ball, and perhaps a little dragged out the following day, but you can repeat the process the following week.  Even better than a repeat is a slightly shorter long run, around two hours in duration which is a little faster, then do another 150-minute jaunt the week after that.  Not only do shorter “long” training runs done on a repeat basis make sense from the physiology standpoint, but more importantly from the mental.
Say you decide to do that twenty-miler and completely "crater" it.  If that training run is half (and in the case of some training plans, more than) your weekly volume and you can’t get it in, or you crash and burn it’s not impossible to imagine the mental state at which you’ll be.  "Soup sandwich" is a commonly-used term in my world.  Of course, it’s no guarantee that your mind will be in any less of a state of freak-out if you were to attempt and fail during two or three two-and-a-halfs.  (I had to bail on two sixteen-milers during my last attempt at the marathon, but it had more to do with unresolved achilles tendon issues – overtraining – than it did a lack of training.)
Shorter quality is better.  Less is more.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

One Star? Really?

"A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing." - Oscar Wilde, English author, playwright, poet (1854-1900)

An article came out last year about "one-star" reviews of national parks; natural wonders in my nation which were panned by travelers and the reasons they were not felt to be worth the entry fee.  Someone in my social media-verse posted it up last week.  After reading the article it's easy to see how, and even why people could easily, for want of a better term, "miss the forest for the trees."

Within these spaces I've made snarky comments about events which I've considered not worth the entry fee because the course was poorly laid out, or the awards were terrible, or the shirts were cheap, or there was no beer.  As a consumer with limited income and endless wants (the first law of economics) it makes perfect sense for me to seek out the events which provide me the greatest utility (happiness), based on the factors I find most important.

When it comes to sporting/endurance events, the best-produced events are the ones where the participant sees little or none of the inner workings.  Stuff magically appears and everybody goes home happy.  Folks who have worked to produce or support the production of a sporting event will tell you that things rarely go as smooth as possible; if you only have a "plan B" in your contingency planning you're likely going to have a bad day,  And when it comes to higher-level events the layers of production and collaboration are at a level which would boggle the mind of the average athlete.

It's like putting up a Disney theme park, training the workers, running the show, and tearing it down in a matter of days.

But let me go back to social media and missed perspective.  I've found the attempt to place additional perspective as an event volunteer, a race organization worker, or a low-level official of a national or international sport federation (Credentials which with $2.25 will get me a cup of coffee at Denny's in my hometown, should I decide to cross the picket line.) is like, as the saying goes, trying to teach a barnyard animal to sing.  Providing clarity in a social media bulletin board wastes my time and energy, annoys the person who's mind is already made up on who to blame, and exposes me to the question, "dude, are you speaking for yourself or for the organization?"  I've learned the hard way that most of the folks who are at the highest levels in the national or international federations - and can speak for the group - have learned to stay out of what might be seen as "kindergarten level" arguments.  Are they concerned about the opinions of the folks who participate in their races?  Sure they are.  But they're also at the level where they have more of the story.

What do I mean?  Well, take for example what's happened today in Thailand.  Today's edition of the New York Times was not printed there. The printer who receives the copy for printing was concerned about violating Thai laws having to do with offending the monarchy.  It's not the individual printer who's going to take the flack for the unavailability of the Times; that's most likely going to be aimed at the Times.  When it comes to big races and big events, while the national and international governing bodies - or promotion companies are the "face" of the event, there's a local organizing committee which actually pulls the levers, much like "Oz, the great and terrible...and by the way, stay away from the curtain."

They're pretty much at the mercy, sometimes, of local bureaucracies.  A city with two professional sporting events happening on a day are pretty much going to tell a local organizer and the federation to compress their schedule, limit venue locations, and so forth.  Unless they're receiving "Olympian" amounts of money, and then they might flex a little.  Add to this a little term called "force majeure," the classic "stuff that happens" that no deity would claim themselves as directly responsible for, and those "Times" parties receive blame for what goes wrong rather than having contingency plans down to "E" and at times "F."

So it's not that I want to recommend everyone who participates in large and high-level events to cower before the projected image of "the great and terrible," but take a moment before exercising what you might perceive as your entitlement as consumer, depositing the burning bag of "yuck" at the front porch of the people whose face is out front.  They might be doing their best to operate within the constraints which have been placed upon them by a higher authority.  It's like blaming the bus driver for the route which got changed because of street repairs.