So, How Many Hats Do You Wear?

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Pensacola, Florida, United States
Husband. *Dog Dad* Training Specialist. Runner. Triathlete (on hiatus). USATF LDR Surveyor. USAT (Elite Rules) Certified Official, Category 2. RRCA Representative, Florida (North). Observer Of The Human Condition.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Myth America


As the holiday season nears its end, I have no doubt whatsoever the track facility where I train will be filled with well-meaning persons trying to undo the damage inflicted upon their bodies since the end of October. I hold out hope (however fleeting) they will keep at it long enough to develop a healthy habit of daily (or near-daily) exercise.
I'm not certain what is more frightening, the pile of fitness, health and dietary myths printed on a regular basis in the public media...or those that are not only printed in the media, but repeated by medical professionals...with no scientific evidence whatsoever.
The British Medical Journal traditionally carries light-hearted features in its Christmas edition. Two U.S. researchers took seven common beliefs and searched for evidence to support them.
Despite frequent mentions in the popular press of the need to drink eight glasses of water (in fact, repeated on the health section of Yahoo!), they found no scientific basis. The lack of evidence is recorded in a study published in the American Journal of Psychology.
So, let's take a look at the other six "myths" (and my editorial commentary):
1 - Reading in dim light ruins your eyesight - unlikely to do permanent damage, but may make you squint, blink more and have trouble focusing. (If you're reading Runner's World, some of the articles will make more sense.)
2 - Shaving makes hair grow back faster or coarser - no effect on thickness or hair regrowth, but stubble gives the impression of coarseness. (So if I let my mustache, beard and head and leg hair grow long, I can slick it down for aerodynamic effect. What do you think, dear?)
3 - Eating turkey makes you drowsy - tryptophan is involved in sleep and mood control, but turkey has no more than chicken or beef. Eating lots are probably the real cause of sleepiness. (Not to mention slowness and fatness.)
4 - We use only 10 percent of our brains - imaging shows no area of the brain is completely inactive. (The jury is still out on the effects of skull thickness.)
5 - Hair and fingernails continue to grow after death - the skin dries and retracts after death, giving the appearance of longer hair or nails. (Hm...there's an untapped market for manicurists...)
6 - Mobile phones are dangerous in hospitals - studies found minimal interference with medical equipment. (People using mobile phones in public, not only hospitals, are more a pain in the @$$ than anything else. Mobile phones are still dangerous in airliners and while driving on the roadways, however.)
So, go ahead and use that cell phone (quietly) in the hospital, back off your dietary intake a skosh if you're feeling sleepy, and drink when you're thirsty. If you're one of those persons who believes all the stuff you read in the newspapers, stop, already. Always, but always go to the source documents. And don't believe everything your physician says, especially when they tell you that running is bad for the knees. :)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Simple, Simple, Simple...

I'm back in the office after a week away...all right, I did come in once to check the e-mail. However, as quiet and uneventful as it seems things will be this week, I could have stayed home and limped about there instead of in here. Hey, you never know.
Christmas around Chez Bowen was simple and relatively unadorned. Rubin received a boatload of treats from well-meaning friends; most of them rawhides processed in China. It was with a great deal of regret we tossed them into the wastecan. However, he got some more stuffies from "Dad;" I wasn't certain whether he was going to play with them (Suzanne was waxing biblical, talking about putting away childish things), when, lo and behold, he heard the squeak of one and took it to the floor. Okay, so he wasn't wagging his tail to beat the band like in years past...
Practical was the operating word for our gifts to each other. I got Suzanne a massage/heat pad; she got me skivvies, a movie and fruitcake - I must be the only guy on the planet who really likes the stuff, in spite of it breaking one of my teeth a year ago. For us, the trip to Jacksonville was Christmas. Well, she got the presents; I got the coal. Time with good friends and more coffee in a weekend than most guys put down in a year...works for me.
We had to get the check in the box. I was in no mood to run (I'll get some time/mileage in tonight, but it was Florida miserable out there), but felt the compulsion to do something, so I walked for about four miles...Suzanne ran and walked while I just walked and pondered the mysteries of the universe and all those other things young coaches do when there's nothing fun to do. We got hungry about 1:00 in the afternoon, and I really didn't want to go to the Chinese joint again for lunch...so we did a little driving to see who was open. Just so happens that one sports bar downtown was; playing some football re-broadcasts since there was only the basketball games going down. Let me tell you, there's nothing like a Guinness and a big cheesesteak sandwich, especially on Christmas. Hits the spot every time.
Playing with the dog, and the computer, and checking the e-mail started to get very old. First we thought about hitting a movie, then decided to sit in and watch videos. Suzanne went to the Chinese carry out, grabbed a six of Guinness, then came back to stir-fry after calling our friend Laura to invite her over...the first reaction would be to say misery loves company, but we all were just keeping it simple. I heard lots about the movie Dogma from friends who recommended the Showtime series Weeds, but wow... Screaming hilarious. A great mix of comedy and thriller. I'm afraid I'll have to check that one out again for commentary material.
Who would ever thought of casting Alanis Morissette as God?
Now, I'm ready to get back to training. See you on the roads.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Live To Fight Another Day

Up this morning to make my way to the swimming pool...the hammies were oinking, the quads were multiplying their pain response somewhere closer to octaves, and the calves were definitely mooing. The cacaphony of catastrophic proportions - muscle and joint pain at all-time highs - encouraged me to turn back to the (relative) warmth of my bed. Humor notwithstanding, both the missus and I were in a world of pain two days after our marathon experience. I felt guilty for not doing anything today, but if you follow the rule of thumb; no activity for the number of days equal to the number of hours you race, no hard training for the number of days equal of miles you race, well...I still owe myself a day...or two...
The marathon is a humbling experience. I've said this before. Fortunately, I still can smile about what happened on Sunday.
We had conditions on the warm and humid side; not good for marathoning, but nice for Florida in mid-December. My athletes and myself, not to mention 2,000 friends, blew off the line at a couple of minutes after seven to run the full and the half marathon.
I had both my heart rate monitor and my running watch to keep track of my mile splits and my effort. Well, I also wanted to keep track of Suzanne's performance (she had the goal of beating Katie Holmes' NYC marathon time of 5:30) for her own record-keeping. Ah, but enough about her. This is all about me.
The first half-marathon was good for the first eleven miles with splits of 7:30, 7:16, 7:14, 7:24, 7:06, 7:15, 7:12, 7:20, 7:24, 7:26, and 7:29. At that point, I hit a section of the course I had not seen and didn't take the time to look at on Google Earth; I'm usually anal about studying courses because I need to know exactly where I'm going and what to expect on the trip back. The splits went to 7:44 and 7:35.
I hit the half-marathon point with eight minutes to play with on the return trip. The calf cramps began at 14 and stayed to mile 20. I never had them bilaterally, but they would swap off; one would tighten up and cause me to walk for about 30 seconds, after which I could run for a couple of minutes...in time for the other calf to join in the fun. My splits went from 7:30-ish in the front 13 to 7:51, 8:41, 10:25, 9:23, 8:46, and 9:36. I then tried to adjust my stride to keep the calves from firing too much, and had taken in all of my fluid and gels to get glucose to the muscles. After a 12:25 mile at mile 20, I did the math and knew the eight minutes I had at 13.1 had been spent. My right achilles' tendon was swollen and sore from the change in stride mechanics.
At that point I had three choices:
1 - drop out of the race.
2 - push the pace and try to get back on the good side of 3:30.
3 - walk the last 6.2 miles.
None of the three are emotionally or psychologically satisfying, and one of them could have led to some serious long-term consequences. So, in order to pay respect to the course and the other participants who were slogging it out in various stages of ecstasy and pain, I decided to walk it in. I wasn't going to get my Boston qualifier, but it was still a nice day for a walk.
I did learn some lessons from the weekend:
Regardless of how well you think you have trained, 26.2 will beat you senseless if one little thing goes wrong. In my case, I was racing on borrowed training; a base shortened by six weeks because of a fractured humerus, a peak performance months too soon, and a few too many bad training days near the end. I toed the starting line gimpy and fragile, and paid the piper.
However, I was smart enough to quit trying to race when I felt the first danger signs. I'm hurting today, I got lit up by the marathon. I may not do another marathon, but I get to live to fight another day.
You be cocky and arrogant, even when you're getting beat. That's the secret. You gotta play this game with fear and arrogance. -- Crash Davis (Kevin Costner), in "Bull Durham" (1988)

Monday, November 19, 2007

What A Difference A Day Makes, 24 Little Hours...

After Saturday morning's race, where three of my athletes ran personal bests and two (or three) earned age group awards, I was a fairly happy guy. Winning hardware in my age group or running a personal best isn't bad, but I'm enjoying it more from the outside looking in. The only thing I dislike about spectating at local running events is the inevitable question of whether I'm injured. Having an arm in a sling is usually a low-stress clue of injury, but the personal decision not to race (because of an upcoming event - a marathon) seems harder for folks to swallow. (I'm a little bummed, though - my videotape was f.u.b.a.r., so no training video for the team folks.)

I only have a few truly good races in me each year. Even in this, a "selective" year (not counting a practice race) I've run ten events, with one more to go. I cannot say I've performed to my satisfaction in all of them; one or two, actually, three...were efforts which made me unhappy.
But, if you hang out at the post-race and you haven't run, you feel like the kid with the banana saddle, butterfly handlebars and coaster brakes when all of your friends have the motocross-style bikes with caliper brakes...a little bit out of place. I take the time to stand by, chat with a few friends, cheer for the ones I know who won awards...and then it's time to get out of there. Sometimes the sooner the better. Sometimes the friends who ran will come by and shake a hand, other times they'll stay clear. I don't think it's personal.
Talk about an unhealthy time of the year. The stretch beginning the week before Hallowe'en and going right into New Years' Day...and perhaps even into St. Valentine's Day, are probably the worst time to be an athlete. Well, maybe it's just me, an athlete with a sweet tooth. From the office candy dish at Hallowe'en (which around here is restocked by my supervisor the day after) to the Thanksgiving pot luck (some offices are noted for the quality of their confections), it's like walking through downtown Beirut during the 1980s...you don't know what's going to get you. After Thanksgiving, though, it's a World War I-style no-man's land, with a barrage of everything fattening, sweet and addictive.

I used to marvel at the restraint of my coach, who worked out of his home, until I learned of his love for chocolate-covered Oreo cookies. Of course, he also had the option of jumping on the treadmill in his garage for an hour during the day should the need arise. My wife has the option of getting up and going for a quick trot around the park with our dog. I manage somehow to shoehorn 45 minutes of exercise in most mornings before I go in to work and feel like I'm cheating myself.

After I looked at the times for my particular age group, I did briefly kick myself in the butt. The chances of earning hardware were quite good, even if I had run comfortably. The race director for last weekend's race has a flair for doing something a little different (printed towels instead of t-shirts), even along side the comfortable and familiar (such as the turkey chili and light beer). The overall, masters, grandmasters, senior grandmasters still received their Butterballs to stuff, but the age groupers received their own stuffed turkey. How cute.
One more long run (16 miles, next weekend) to prepare for the marathon. If it feels anywhere as bad as I felt during the front end of this weekend's ten-miler, I'm not going to be looking forward to it. Every time I looked down at my heart rate, it seemed to be at least ten beats higher than I would have liked. Even if the pace was closer to 30 seconds slower than I estimated, that either means I've been working too hard or I'm overtraining. One of my athletes intimated that St. Nicholas may be showing up with a gift of increased fitness just in time for December 16. I certainly hope so. This week will be one of those where the work will be just hard enough to keep the body recovering.

I cannot wait to take the time over the holidays and dig through my training logs to figure out what worked and what didn't so I can start laying out what I want to do for the spring. Now that I'm done here I'll get the coffee started. I need more of these three-day weeks.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Finding Religion On (Or After) The Run

"Not forsaking the assembling of yourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as you see the day approaching" - Paul of Tarsus, 'Epistle to the Hebrews', ca. 1st century BCE.
Mid-November. Second of three long training runs, preparing for a marathon. Let me tell you, if I had to do this all by myself I'm not certain I would have gone through with it, at least not the second or the third of three long runs. While I know it was truly nuts to do two hilly 8.2-mile loops as part of training for a (relatively) flat marathon, as I used to tell my coach, 'it seemed like a good idea at the time.' So, this time we split the hilly 8.2-mile loop into the front and back half of the training run, joining a relatively flat 6.9-mile loop to it by a smooth, shaded .6-mile stretch of road we used to use for tempo workouts. While it made the logistics of hydration a tad more challenging, it did have some conveniences (water fountains, bathrooms) which made up for the hassle.
We still were able to maintain our 'Blackhawk Down' policy, the idea of leaving no runner behind during training; the ladies were running at pretty much the same pace, and while one of our group went off the front, no one fell behind. By the time the girls showed up from their run we were nearly dry and very ready for coffee and bagels. There weren't any tables available inside the local bagel joint, but once the sun had come out and the temperature had risen into the high-60s or low-70s it was relaxing to sit outside, crack jokes and enjoy each others' company for an hour or so.
I rarely search for parallels between running and faith, but the Pauline exhortation makes more and more sense, especially if running takes on religious overtones for you. Long races, such as marathons, and competition periods that consist of several races can be seen as a test of ones' belief in their training, as well as the works (long runs, speed work, tempo runs, cross training, and so forth) that dovetail into the individual's 'faith'. Sometimes the best we can do for one another is be around to encourage our fellow runner, especially on those days when the run is little more than a slog and we begin to ask ourself, 'what the hell am I doing!?'
I guess you could go back and look at the letters in the New Testament, the schisms based on personality more than doctrine, and then look at groups of athletes and see, for lack of a better term, denominations. I keep thinking about Paul's statement of how each worker has a small role to play in the big picture, and then I can say, borrowing from Paul:
Igloi, Schul, Daniels, Hanson & Fox planted; DeFoy & I watered, & God gives the increase.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Do What You Love (So Long, Ryan Shay)


Ka mate, ka mate - Ka ora, ka ora - Tenei te tangata puhuruhuru - Nana i tiki mai whakawhiti te ra - Upane, upane - Upane kaupane - Whiti te ra. (If I die, I die - If I live, I live - This is the hairy man - Who caused the sun to shine again for me - Up the ladder, up the ladder - Up to the top - The sun shines.) - "Te Rauparaha Haka (ca. 1820)"

While I feel great sorrow at the death of Ryan Shay, who apparently collapsed and died from a heart condition at the 9K mark of Saturday's Olympic Trials Marathon, I cannot help but also feel a certain degree of joy...maybe jealousy. It sounds morbid, I'm certain, but I cannot think of a better way for an athlete to go out but while doing the thing they love. It sounds trite and of little weight, but you hear this statement all of the time from family and close friends of many athletes and adventurers who meet their end in the middle of exercising their passion.

Once upon a time, when I was a cyclist (recreational) I joked about wanting to leave this physical existence while descending a mountain slope somewhere in Europe; breeze in my face, pavement under my wheels, sun warming my shoulders, the whole click, it's over concept. Lance Armstrong said it a little better (with the help of Sally Jenkins) in his first book, It's Not About The Bike:
"I want to die at a hundred years old with an American flag on my back and the
star of Texas on my helmet, after screaming down an Alpine descent on a bicycle
at 75 miles per hour. I want to cross one last finish line as my stud wife and my ten
children applaud, and then I want to lie down in a field of those famous French sun-
flowers and gracefully expire, the perfect contradiction to my once-anticipated poign-
ant early demise."

Perhaps Shay's death should remind us all to (oh, no, here's the typical pithy statement) live our lives to the fullest. Better yet, live our life like we might pass away during the first thirty minutes of it, without a warning. Hey, man, take a chance: Michael Wardian held two marathon world records (running on a treadmill, running with a stroller) but was seeded 102nd on Saturday. He went out and blasted the first five miles of the course in a pace that was somewhat faster than the rest of the field, got himself some serious television time during the first half-hour. After that, who knows where he was? I'm certain the finish listing has him somewhere. But he did what he felt was the best thing for the day.

Know what you want to do. Do it. And if it isn't making you happy, isn't making your life complete, find what it is that will.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Needs of the Many...

...outweigh the needs of the few...or the one. - Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), "Star Trek II - The Wrath of Khan"

If there's anything I hate, it's saying goodbye. I've never been good at it. Usually it comes with a promise to keep in touch, which rarely happens. Well, now it's easier to do with the advent of e-mail, instant messaging, Skype and cool stuff like that.

Most of the time I've had to deal with good goodbyes, where everyone parts on the greatest of terms and say glowing things about the relationship. Then, you get bad goodbyes, where everyone saves their final, hurtful parting shots for the final salvo of bile, then circles their wagonload of close associates near to hear them say, 'yeah; you're right, they suck bilge.'
So, why can't people who don't see eye-to-eye and don't want to be associated with each other just agree to disagree, say adios, and get on with life? I sometimes wonder what Ron Warhurst, Mark Wetmore and Chris Carmichael do - or did - when their athletes decide to work with another system, another coach, a different location, or go a different direction.
It used to irk me to have someone no longer train with me without providing a reason. Now, I think I'd rather have them not provide one, that way I can still consider them a friend. As an athlete, I tied so much of my self-image and self-esteem to how my training was progressing and how my racing was going. Not much changes when you move over to the other side of the track; now I tie so much of what I am into what I think is good training for an athlete at a particular point in time. Disagreeing with me doesn't make me feel like I'm being personally attacked as much as it used to; a good solid reason for the disagreement might even make me think twice about what I believe...and adapt accordingly.
It hurts, though, to be blamed for everything that is going wrong in the perception of a single athlete. While I can look at it and say, 'consider the source, it's a disgruntled former athlete,' I guess it takes a while to develop a nice, thick skin.
In the meantime, I guess I'll find a Teflon warm-up suit and some Kevlar shorts. I've got a dozen others who depend on me to do the coach thing; guess I cannot stop at this moment to over-analyze the whole sordid situation. As I tell everyone else what the Maori say, I'll have to:
Kia Kaha. Stand Strong.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

You Can't Always Get What You Want

First, a funny: I was getting to leave my work area yesterday afternoon. I picked up my gym bag, then reached over to my desk to grab my warm-up clothes and my swim trunks, which were on hangers and drying. The lieutenant sitting across the office asked, 'what's that?' I replied, 'Speedo.' She said something like, 'well, I've never seen them like that before...'
One of those responses that will leave you (occasionally) scratching your head.
I don't think there's anything humorous I could have shot back, but everyone else in that four-person office responded in a way which was enough to make her blush. I've done it once or twice before to her, usually as a joke. After a year, though, it's almost a form of sport to see how innocent the response can be that will turn her a shade that would make Crayola jealous. It's always a little bit cerebral; leave the innuendo far, far underneath the surface.
Okay. On to my secondary topic.
While I try to work with each individual athlete who comes out to train; find out their goals, determine their limitations, strengths and weaknesses, there are some things that are absolutely non-negotiable.
1) There is one person in charge of the workout.
2) While there are individual preferences, the workout plan is not a rerun of Let's Make A Deal.
3) The workout is voluntary, which means you can leave at any time.
I do have athletes who are experienced, who know their bodies well enough, and take the time to talk with me about what they plan to do. That's a mature athlete. In their case, I listen and throw my two cents in there. Most of the time I've been fairly well in my estimation; there have been times I've been wrong, too.
One of my favorite podcasts; one that I've listened to at least once a week since it popped up on my iTunes account is produced by the staff at Multisports.com. They were/are/coach top-shelf triathletes and have loads of experience...not to mention a serious sense of humor. The coaches corner is only 25 minutes long, but filled with great insight. My job is to teach athletes to think for themselves...then step back and serve as an advisor during those moments when they are not so certain.
I guess the choice comes down to two. I can treat athletes like rational adults who know what's best for them. I can treat them like kids who need to be led by the nose. Frankly, I prefer the former...and every little piece of rebellion and isolation just makes me more certain I'm right.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Single Is Free Verse, Married Are Sonnets, Animals Are Tech Manuals

Suzanne's in Boston this week, taking care of more business at VON 2008. While I hate the thought of being alone in the house, every so often it's kind of nice to not have to worry about whether we have everything we need to go out for a long run, track practice or race.
Before she or any of you think I don't love my wife, please understand what I mean by this. I only have to make certain I have one water bottle, one towel, one spare shirt, etc. When the workout is over, I can leave or stick around as long as I want. No need to close a conversation in order to get back to the car/house and clean up a little before a bite and a beer. While being single truly sucks bilge, it's a simple, one-hose form of suck. Being married has it's share of suck, too, but (in the words of Jimmy Red Dust, one of Jimmy Buffett's characters from A Salty Piece of Land) it 'sucks less.' It's a more complicated form of suck; a multifaceted, multidirectional, multi-flow version that varies in quality over time. When you're young it's emotional, when you're middle-aged it's physical, when you're older you toddle away from the hoses and say 'to heck with it.'
My wife has taken on the role of primary caregiver to our five-and-a-half year-old greyhound. So when she goes on the road, whatever temporary respite I might have received from the multi/multi/multi suck goes right out the window. I feel so guilty leaving him home during the workday (he usually serves as security for my wife's office) I do my afternoon running near the house and come immediately home to keep him company. He still wants/needs attention, food, biscuits, walks, and to be let outside (especially while I have my dinner in hand!), above and beyond the amount Suzanne normally gives him.
Rubin's not one to buy the 'oh, Dad's going out for an easy six-miler, after which he'll take you for a walk around the park' line. He knows:
1) Dad's NEVER gone out for an easy six-miler.
2) When Dad comes back, all he'll want to do is rest on the couch, watch television/movies and sip on one or more beers.
So...he'll stand in front of the front door and stare into the wood in the hope of boring a 'hound-sized hole through it with his doe eyes. And it doesn't matter whether you already took him on a three-lap jaunt around the park (well, two laps would make him sleep all day!); he wants more. Doesn't matter, just more. I have not figured out more what, either. In spite of my best efforts to try and understand the d-a-w-g (and his best efforts to communicate with me without pawing my leg off), we're as uncertain as we were the last time I looked at a technical manual, like the ones written in the Far East for those pre-fabricated office furnishings.
So, dear, if you read this. . . your dog is fine. I am surviving, thanks to Wolfgang Puck and Anheuser-Busch. And we both look forward to you coming home. P.S. Don't mind the remains of the wing delivery guy you'll find in the driveway. He mistook our address for someone who ordered from his shop. The dog decided to eat him. . . Okay, so I let him. It was 11:30 p.m., and nobody should beat on our door at that hour.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Our Own Cross (Training) To Bear

Here on the Gulf Coast, autumn temperatures and conditions don't show until the end of October, and when they do show they make themselves known quite readily. My northern friends consider me a sissy for pulling out knicker tights when the temperature drops below 60 degrees, but once your blood has thinned out from two decades of sunshine and warm, humid conditions there's no turning back. Even rainy evenings (which during the summer present precious comfort to us until the sun returns and we feel like we are in the world's largest sauna) can be a tad uncomfortable, pretty much because we get those 15-20 mph gusts cutting through the dri-fit gear we've chosen for our run.

These conditions can motivate you to very strong workouts, like last Thursday's mile repeats. I won't say they were heroic by any stretch of the imagination, but they were pretty darn good. I think my training partner and I would have been 15 (well, maybe 20) seconds per mile slower if not for the ungodly amount of rain dropping on us. Frankly, we both wanted to get that workout over with...even our warm-up was a little on the warm side.

I wrote an article last year about winter running; something I feel thoroughly unqualified to talk about, since I can count the number of times I've run in snowy, slushy or icy conditions on the fingers of one mittened hand. However, it was more about dealing with darkness, decreased visibility, drivers in a hurry to get from point A to point B, and a thumb in the eye of all those folks who love to run with headphones. It's a love/hate relationship, but we're not going there today.


One of the things that most runners do not think much about is cross-training. Perhaps they do more in the northern climates because they are in snow and snow-related products for months at a time. Down here, we race from September until May, with a little bit of a break over the holidays; for us it's more of a time where training has to be focused because of the lack of daylight. Cross-training does some wonderful things, in my humble opinion. It keeps you from getting burned out over running; that variety is the spice of life thing, you know? You have the opportunity to do some of the lower-intensity training indoors, saving your quality work for those times when it's light enough to get out there and hammer. Perfect for guys like me who haven't completely learned the benefit of easy days. Didn't say I wasn't learning, but it's usually by necessity. And, if you have a spouse, partner, friend or significant other who isn't into running or doesn't run as fast (or runs faster) than you, cross-training can also give you both some quality time, depending on the activity.


When I talk about cross-training, I'm talking exercise activities that can be done indoors, such as spinning, elliptical trainer, treadmill running or swimming. There's also basketball, racquetball, aerobic exercise of all sorts and weight training that can be done, but I'll limit myself to the first four I've mentioned.

Spinning - think of a spectrum of exercise spanning an exercise bicycle and the Tour de France.
Positives
: controlled conditions (no traffic), minimal equipment hassles (no flat tires), and the ability to work out at your own intensity level and still be in the vicinity of your fellow exercise enthusiasts. Oh, there's also the motivation of high-energy music (my instructor has played everything from Al Jarreau to ZZ Top in the past two years) and an instructor who tells you what you need to do, such as get up out of the saddle, hands at a particular position on the handlebars, pedal at a certain pace/heart rate intensity.
Negatives: doesn't help your bike-handling skills. Some instructors are less cycling-focused than others; while most Spinning instructors have a certification through Madd Dogg sports, they may (or may not) understand the focus of a cross-training athlete. You also have to find a place with a spinning class (local Y, fitness center, gymnasium, health club), then hope a bike is available. In my case, I like to use my road bike shoes, so I have to find a spinning bike that has Look-compatible cleats, or settle for platform pedals that accept workout shoes and aren't as efficient.
Burn: a 40-minute class will burn between 300 and 400 calories, depending on the intensity.

Elliptical trainer - lets you go through all of the motions of running or cross-country skiing, without the jarring of a treadmill. These are especially good during taper periods before a half-marathon or a marathon, when you absolutely feel the need to put a check in the got a 60-minute workout block of your daily to-do list; they're also great for rehabilitation from injury, say, when you break your arm and can't run for eight weeks.
Positives: most good machines have a variety of programs which allow you to work at a fat-burning or cardiovascular-stressing intensity, as well as hill climbing, interval and random programs. All of the information (distance, pace, calorie burn, heart rate, terrain) is right in front of you, so you are not left in the dark. You can let your legs and lungs feel the burn without beating yourself to death.
Negatives: most gyms don't have enough elliptical trainers, or the ones that are available have broken pulse monitors. A good solution for that problem is to take your own heart rate monitor strap with you to the gym. Also, without a television, music or other diversion, using elliptical trainers can be about as much fun as watching paint dry. When I do use an elliptical I'm always stuck in front of a television that has The Jerry Springer Show, or Fox News (now there's an oxymoron...) on...making my workout even that much more uncomfortable. You don't get the mileage in that you would cover on a treadmill or on the road. Also, if you have knee issues, some programs will trash your knees long before you stress your heart.
Burn: 40 minutes in fat-burning mode, without going too far over the line, will burn between 600 and 700 calories. You could do another 20 minutes, but the antidepressant use may outweigh the calorie burning benefits.

Treadmill - the original, and probably the most commonly used piece of indoor cardiovascular exercise equipment. I don't have to say much about this that you don't already know.
Positives: infinite variations on a theme. The ability to walk, jog or run on these things are a plus. Add the hill, interval, heart rate, and random programs to a good treadmill and you would wonder why any of us would ever go outside. The feedback on most treadmills is pretty much the same as elliptical trainers.
Negatives: doesn't replicate road running as well as most runners would like. Why is it I can run a 5:47 mile on the track and I cannot run a mile on a treadmill at 10.8 miles per hour? The shock absorbency of the treadmill deck varies from model to model, and a good model costs serious money. Also, while treadmills have ways to carry your fluid bottles and your music player, I've only seen one that has a ventilation fan...and even it isn't all that good. Watch me sweat all over a treadmill and you'll understand why I think fans are a great thing. And again, while I don't want to complain, treadmill choice at most gym facilities are like men and parking spaces at the mall: the good ones are all taken, the rest are way out there or damaged.
Burn: running an eight minute mile, you can burn about 500 calories in the space of 40 minutes.

Swimming - the one cross-training activity that I believe really transfers over to running.
Positives: no jarring, no pounding, and (relatively) easy on your muscles and joints. You know when you're improving in the pool, and when all of the techniques are falling into place. The discipline of breathing (inhaling especially) at the right time pays back dividends during that hard second mile of a 5K run. Also, there's not much you need to get into the pool, outside of a swimsuit and a pair of goggles. Everything else; kickboards, pull buoys, fins, caps, and so on...it's all optional.
Negatives: large learning curve. Technically a complex activity, unless you plan to limit yourself to easy breaststroke. Time your breathing wrong and you're likely to end up with a mouth full of pool water rather than air. Certain times of the year, especially in this area of the country (where lightning is a near-daily occurrence) can pull you out of the pool in a flash...pun intended. And most swimming facilities around here are very strict on pulling folks out at the first flash of lightning.
Burn: an hour of good, vigorous swimming can burn up to 600 calories.

So, it's a good time to start thinking about what to do other than just running during this fall and winter. The fitness and strength you can maintain over the dark months will shorten the time it takes for you to get back into form once spring arrives...especially if it keeps you from gaining those five or ten pounds that somehow jump on our bodies between the end of October and the beginning of January.

Kia Kaha. Stay Strong.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

How Are You, Where You Been?


Sometimes I wonder about the folks who come out, train for a while, then suddenly "fall off the face of the earth." I understand what I call (for lack of a better term) parentism, as well as juggling jobs, home lives, spouses, other commitments, and taking up new and added challenges (Golf!? We're talking golf!?). I've said 'we're not getting paid to do this, so don't make it a job.' One of my newer runners mentioned to me the other night about scout meetings and ball practices that would keep him away. I told him, 'no problem. Make it out when you can; run on your own when you can't. Even one good track workout a week is better than none, as long as you get some easy runs in the meantime.'

What gets under my skin:


First, the assumption I should chase people down. I guess I would be more active in this endeavor if my livelihood were based on their attendance/dues. But I'm not making a living from it. My first few months were about keeping up with everyone, trying to keep them coming out. Now, I try not to take it too personally when they decide to not show for a time. Doesn't mean I don't love them, but I've got business to take care of.

Second, the assumption I should phone/e-mail/visit in case I don't see the athlete once a week. While I maintain a religious undertone when talking about running, I'm not a pastor. Athletes missing practices are not committing a mortal sin. I usually send out an e-mail every week-to-ten days about races, workouts, social functions, so I can be reached by punching the reply key on the e-mail. My voice mail works pretty well, as well as my four e-mail accounts. And with three track workouts, one long and two short road runs during the week, and the Friday night dinner/social, the only way to keep from communicating with me is - like my junior college American History professor said about how to fail his course - with great difficulty. The only way to do it is by avoiding me on purpose.



Third, the assumption I should laud or applaud an athlete's return. I'm pleased to see anyone who's been away a while, but unless the rationale for absence is parentism, work/school or injury/recovery, it's 'glad you're out here, now it's time to get with the program.'




I love each and every person who shows up to train with me; while they may not be the toughest or fastest runners in the area, they all show great potential. And it's neat to see them improve. As they say in Maori: Kia Kaha. Stay Strong.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Like Christmas, Without The Bills


How neat. I have this bright, shiny, new Dell workstation where the old Dell used to be. Every couple of years the Navy decides to do a technical refresh of their computers; I believe this is part of the contract with EDS or something like that.
Oh, and a more-modern operating system, too? Quick. Someone pinch me.
I'm certain I'll be in a honeymoon period with this particular workstation for at least two weeks. After that, when NMCI decides to exert its influence by locking me out of Lets Run.com once again I'll probably be a screaming maniac once again. But in the meantime life is not too bad.
I only wish I was as happy with my running shoes right now.
When I started to lace up the training shoes at the track last night, there was this humongous gap between the sole of the shoe and my forefoot. Yes, humongous is a technical term...let's say probably somewhere between 1/8th-and-1/4 of an inch gap, with the left shoe larger than the right. I won't mention the specific brand of shoe, but it's one I haven't used in a long time. And the worst part, in my humble opinion, is that I have less than 300 training (or racing) miles on them. So, at around $85 a pair, give or take $10, that's about 90 cents per mile.
Could be worse. I haven't had to buy too many pairs of shoes this year because of the injury in the summer. But it kind of puts a bad taste in my mouth about that particular shoe, which I have to admit I did like...but not at that price.
No use b!tch!ng and moaning about the problem, though. Shoes die. Perhaps I did some things in these shoes I don't normally do. Just provides me a viable excuse to visit my local running store again this week.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

ECRT/Snickers Marathon Team Log: Dayton River Corridor Half

Just got through the last of Thursday's, Friday's and yesterday's e-mails and made my boss copacetic again...ha, ha, ha... Now I can pass along my weekend in Dayton.

I'm not a big fan of air travel; well, flying is fine, it's that dehumanizing stuff that goes part-and-parcel with homeland security that bothers the heck out of me. But enough of that. This year, we were smart enough to NOT go out for a seven-mile run in Clifton Gorge the day before the half. HOWEVER, we did do a couple of nice long walks on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning...perfect...just enough to keep the brain happy and not ruin our races.

This ended up being a dining extravaganza for the group; we did most of the places that we hit last year, save for Saturday night. Instead of Spaghetti Warehouse in Dayton, we got together with the RD and his wife and did Beef O'Brady's; Ray (RD) had a great time needling me, as I was cheering for LSU and the whole joint was rooting for Louisville. Well, the reason we didn't do SW this time (I think) was because we did Giovanni's on Friday evening and nearly all of us were trying to detox from the garlic; Giovanni's house dressing was loaded with the stuff, as well as their calamari.
We worked the pre-registration and race-day packet pick-up again. Fortunately, this year the race started an hour later and we had some very smart Univ. of Dayton kids working our table, so all we had to do was train them, then sit back and help clear up any problems. If it had been a repeat of last year we all would have had a crappy morning.

Temperature/condition at race start was about 58 degrees and high overcast; for those of us from Florida that's nearly perfect conditions. Most of the local participants are good at self-seeding, and maybe perhaps a little too good, because there was a big space between the front line and the crowd. Nice problem to have.

First mile was a 6:04. I knew as I made the first turn onto the bridge on Stewart St. that it was going to be a fast start pace. I worried a little bit: 'did I just sacrifice my race for a suicidal first mile?' Second mile split was called at 12:12; I still was not pleased and knew something screwy was bound to happen. I didn't feel good at all from the get-go, really; my right hamstring was tight at the junction of the lower glute (sounds like something strength-related, but I cannot tell).

Rather than deal with the hassle of taking cups of fluid on the fly (an issue I've had in the past), or not drinking altogether (another issue I've had) I carried a small 8.5 oz bottle of water with a (whole) Nuun tablet dissolved. Half a tablet is good for 8 oz of water, but I had no clue what to do with the other half and I didn't want to put it back into the tube with the other ones. So I had something to take a hit of every ten minutes or so. A warning for those of you who might think about using Nuun as part of your hydration plan: It's mildly carbonated and it will fizz up in a hand-carried bottle; so don't use a twist-off cap or it will spray you in the face. I had a sense of deja vu every time I opened the bottle, it was like what happened to me every time someone else stuffed a lime in their Corona on Friday or Saturday evening.

Last year, there were several guys who were running near my pace for the first three-to-four miles, so I had plenty of company as we went down toward the UD boathouse and toward the bike path. This year, however, either I was going faster than my contemporaries or the field got much stronger...a great majority of the race felt like a time trial from the first two miles or so. I got the pace issue worked out on the front half of the race, fortunately, and managed to go through the first 6 miles in the low 38 range.

The first signs of 'dude, it's time to pay for those first two miles' came once we got on the bottom side of the loop (turnaround) in West Carrolton. We got onto the street (very narrowly coned off, here - barely one person wide) and off the corridor bike path at that point; I could hear the breathing and footsteps of someone behind me. I must not have been hurting as badly as I thought, because he stayed right there until we got back onto the bike path and the bridge at about 7.5 miles. Even then, the guy was not putting any big distance on me. I saw Suzanne on the bike path, running relaxed and smiling. She cheered as I went by; I looked at her with that 'I'm hurting, can you tell?' look. At the bike path, Coach Rich Davis (my coach's friend) was coming from the opposite direction (a few miles back)...looking quite relaxed. He told me 'you're 19th.' About that point, all thoughts of backing off and "mailing the return trip in" went out the window.


I changed my hydration schedule from taking a swig every ten minutes to taking a swig every mile, not that it was mattering much. I quit trying to do the 'what's my pace?' math after mile 10; at that point it gets to be too much mental. Eever try to do that stuff when you don't have enough oxygen to go to your muscles, much less your head? Pace bands or GPS are probably required or highly regarded at that point, if you're not mathematically gifted.
I was getting worried about whether four or five runners were going to roll up on me like last year. Didn't happen. In fact, I was the one who managed to roll up on about three or four, including the guy that got me before mile 7. I swung wide to the right side of the path as I came around him; he tried to slide in behind me, at which point I put in a five second surge and a slide to the left side of the path. I was not going to let anyone ride me in to the finish area.

I had one last guy who was about ten yards ahead of me from mile 12 (where I finally ditched the bottle) on. I could see he was rigging too, but there was nothing left in the tank. At the turn down into the parking lot, about 800 meters from the finish, Dale was telling me to 'get that guy.' I almost told him, 'trip him, then I can...' There was zero left for anything that looked like a kick. When we got 200 meters out from the finish, the guy pulled whatever he had left out for the kick...I had little left but fumes. I finished in 1:23:44, taking third in my age group and finishing somewhere in the top 20. For a few seconds there I was disappointed at running a one minute personal best for the half and STILL getting stomped on by two guys in my age group, until I looked at the names: John Agnew and Mike Michno. John's a three-time winner of the DRCC. Mike also is a three-time winner and has a sub-four-minute mile (or more) to his credit.

So, the DRCC was a good mid-season tune-up and test of fitness for Jacksonville. I think I'm on track for a decent day in December, once I get the hydration down pat. The long runs that are scheduled for this next six weeks and the longer mid-week tempo efforts should help. Biggest issue of all is developing pace discipline; if I go out at a low six-minute pace for the first two miles of a marathon I will be so totally screwed.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Wait! Didn't I See This Before?

For those of you who take the time to read my (sometimes) unfocused rants and ramblings, thanks. I've been a little delinquent over the week, mostly because I've little to say. I'd be delusional if I began to think that there are people in this world who wait on my every word. Maybe if I were an elite athlete, a celebrity, or a real writer it would be a different story.

With three months left before the end of the calendar year, I have to take a closer look at my own leave and earnings statements. Scariest part is not so much that I have vacation time, but trying to fit it in somewhere. Since my wife has a nasty tendency to work all those holidays that most government workers (there I go using oxymorons again) it's more a day I can sit at Panera Bread, reading my latest acquisitions from the book store, or Amazon.com...I can feel the caffeine coursing through my veins as I write.

Next week is the closest thing we will have to a vacation before the Christmas holidays; we're going to Dayton to visit my coach and his wife, stay for a couple of days, and run the Dayton River Corridor Half-Marathon. I want to go out for a little schlep the day before in the area around Yellow Springs, Glen Helen Preserve, John Bryan State Park, and the like. There are some wonderful paths out there, as well as some really nasty ones, that put almost everything I've ever run in Florida to shame.
The word is out on the beer mile. According to my business partner/swim coach, the first on-line registrant went through Active.com and did the deed. I've received a couple of phone calls about the event from folks who appreciate the fact the proceeds are coming their way, but a little concerned about being associated with an event containing beer.

Bummer.

I guess most of them never read what Benjamin Franklin was reported to have said: 'Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.' I once stated my belief that coffee was proof of the nature and existence of God, but I think Ben could be right, too.
It's probably much too early to start thinking about Hallowe'en, but I can start thinking about Kona. Next weekend, my friends, is the high holidays for triathletes and masochists; the Ford TM Ironman World Championship. My choice for the haku at the end...going to be either Germans Faris Al-Sultan or Normann Stadler, or the Belgian Rutger Beke, with Australians Luke Bell and Chris (Macca) McCormack possible dark horses. Macca can talk trash all he wants, but unless he has THE perfect day it's not possible. I'm going to be massively bummed, because we are in Dayton during the day and I won't be anywhere near a computer with the time to sit and watch the event stream.

Friday, September 28, 2007

MB's Gumpian Moment For The Month

'They just couldn't believe that somebody would do all that running for no particular reason.' - Tom Hanks, as Forrest Gump, "Forrest Gump" (1994)


Sometimes as we head into the university track facility, a parent or walker or jogger who has seen one of our three-times-a-week workouts asks the inevitable question, 'so what are you guys training for?' At first, I flippantly told them, 'life,' and left it at that. Now I think to preface my comment with, 'this may sound a little flippant, but...' It tends to win friends and positively influence people a little more, I guess. Perhaps I'm starting to become more coach and less athlete.

I hope not; I love being an athlete. In spite of the fact I pay for my running habit; right now I get $500 worth of Snickers Marathon Bars, a singlet, a couple of technical fiber shirts, a hat and a pair of shorts per year, my goggles, glasses, shoes, bike stuff, sports drink, race entry fees and all the other stuff comes right out of my pocket. I am 90-percent certain that I like it that way. Snickers Marathon Bar asks me to race six times a year in their gear. That's not a lot of races, unless you're a marathoner. Since I'm a 10,000-meter to half-marathon specialist, who also dabbles in multisport, with a conservative training/racing schedule I can do six races a year.

However, it's a sign of weakness around this town should you decide to be conservative in your racing. Fail to show up at every little podunk, rancid possum (approximate) 5,000-meter road race and people start to talk about injuries. Since I only have to race six events a year to please my sponsor, I can be selective on what I want to do and when I need to be ready to race. And, in order to encourage my sponsor to keep me on their rolls, I choose larger regional and national-level races outside of town. Because probably 70 percent of my races are not local, people who don't know when/where I race think I do a whole hell of a lot of running for no particular reason.
I did a local 5,000-meter road race two weeks ago as an early-season fitness test. It wasn't great, but it wasn't a bad start to a season delayed by six weeks of no running whatsoever because of injury (fractured humeri heal slower when you run at the same time they're trying to heal). I managed to stay seconds ahead of a local runner who tattooed a bulls-eye on my @$$ this summer. He told me, straight to my face that his goal this fall was to beat me - why I was his goal I have no particular clue. Actually, I do; the guy is in his early 50s and focuses strictly on 5,000-meter races, which (to paraphrase Sam Mussabini, in Chariots of Fire) is "tailor-made for neurotics." He trains strictly for local events. He's become stronger since he started training with this focus. He's also wound up like a cheap freaking watch, the way I used to be before I got married.
Last weekend, I filmed my athletes at a 'relatively competitive' 5,000-meter race. The guy who has been gunning for me ran a decent race, but was beaten soundly (a minute or more) by a runner who came from New Orleans, who drinks Budweiser like it was iced water (I had a great time the next morning as we all ran an eight-mile run on the Bayou, after which he killed off three Buds.). And boy, was the guy p!$$ed.
Hello? McFly?
It's an object lesson I've provided to my athletes in the past two years, and one thing I spoke of often with my coach in the last year he worked with me:
Sometimes you have to find a new challenge; whether it's a different location, doing races outside of your home turf, a different distance (such as going from the 5,000 meters to the 10,000 meters and up...), a different discipline (from cross-country to track or road racing), or a different sport altogether...in my own case, multisport events. A change of scenery and a change of competition is almost always a good thing. It provides you the opportunity to find out where you truly stand in comparison with the rest of humanity. Oh, sure, we all can be heroes in our hometown. But there are races where I can run a personal best and be fortunate to get third in my age group, after the top-three are awarded in the masters' division. Far be it from me to get arrogant and say I think it's not fair. If there are guys out there who are my age that are training more consistently, are blessed with better genetics, and run smarter, faster races...more power to them. I want to know what they are doing in order to see how I can improve myself.
I've started to think seriously about whether I can run for no apparent reason other than the love of the sport, the visceral pleasure that comes from propelling myself up a hill or around a track. If nothing else, perhaps to pull others along to a fast time. It doesn't seem like a lot of sense in this 'I placed fourth in my age group in this 5K race; all I have to show for it is this stupid ribbon which I'll now use to wipe my @$$ and drop in the rubbish bin' society. Beer glasses break. Medals tarnish. Ribbons fade. Tattoos can be lasered off. Sometimes all we have to show for our sport is what we show up with in the first place.
Desire.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

You Can't Sugar-Coat Bad News

This e-mail arrived in my account this morning as I was settling in to figure out a collection plan for a project I'm starting. I guess you could say we saw the handwriting on the wall about a month ago, but there were still some (irrational?) hopes for a rescue on the part of a resource sponsor with large pockets (and perhaps the ability to tolerate a top-heavy organization).

Hello Everyone, As I head out...this morning, this is a particularly difficult email for me to draft; I am just not certain where to begin....Just last month I was made aware...had been cut from...budget schedule. Soon after, I heard there was the potential to disestablish...entirely in FY09. Since that time, I have been seeking other options (and funding sources....Despite the...support from many of our customers, I was informed this week that all funds..., starting in FY09 have been zeroed out....This means as of 01 Oct 08, ...will be gone. As most of you know, we have a good number of influential supporters, and several have been speaking up on our behalf, but I am fearful their words are falling on deaf ears....I have talked several times..., and made alternative proposals..., but none has had any traction--except one. In desperation, I made a proposal to maintain a group that would only work...projects and lean heavily on the Science of Learning. This group would be comprised of a smaller number of people....I have been asked to put a brief together and brief the...Governance Board of Directors (GBOD) this Thursday. My hope is that the...support...present at the GBOD, will continue to push to ensure...existence. We all understand that...budget cuts are necessary to offset...costs...; however, I have a hard time understanding how a small...relatively inexpensive to operate and consistently delivers positive cost benefits...(our cost $17m return $450m+) can be placed on the chopping block without undergoing any formal business process reviews. I can't easily accept the decision to cut...funding, and I will continue to work with our Sponsors and Customers, as well as our...leadership, to find ways to negotiate both sides...out of this stalemate. The fight isn’t over yet, hang in there with me for a while...very respectfully...
Sometimes, when you are a coach, you have to learn the best way to say a bad message. There's three methods: hard-and-fast, diplomatic, and sugar-coating. Before I talk about them, let me be honest and say that there's no coach on the planet who likes passing on bad news. As an athlete, I certainly felt the opposite, let me tell you.
Hard-and-fast is the most painful for the athlete to hear, and the least painful for the coach to provide. "You're never going to get any faster in the five-thousand meters." That's a good example. Hopefully, the coach will be smart or insightful enough to say something like, "however, you do have great endurance and might be able to run some great half-marathons" as a salve for the wound they just inflicted.
Then, there are coaches like me who would much prefer to be diplomatic in our tack. Rather than say, "are you freakin' out of your mind!? You've been running all of three months. A marathon is going to turn you into a non-runner," we try to say, "let's try a few 5,000-meter races first, then move up to the 10K, and so on..." However, rather than listen to our voice of reason, most athletes who will make that particular decision either go do the marathon and get injured so badly they never want to run more than a mile a whack ever again, or they go to one of those "four miles a day, three days a week, and don't forget to walk every ten minutes" training programs. Then I see them on crutches in the local running emporium and all I want to do is sidle up to them and say, "see? I told you it was a bad idea..."
Sugar-coating does neither the athlete nor the coach any good. The message never gets across clearly, and the intent is lost. Invariably, the blame game occurs and both sides lose.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

End Of The Month Blues

'She keeps a toothbrush at my place; as if I have the extra space. She steals my clothes to wear to work; I know; her hairs are on my shirt...' - "City Love" (John Mayer)

I'm certain this scenario would happen around my house if we were a little farther north; there wouldn't be a flannel shirt available...of course, I couldn't wear a flannel shirt into this office, anyway. For my wife and I, it's more like borrowing my running clothes. Since she works out of a house converted into an office, a mere 200 meters around the corner from our own, she's in the catbird seat. She has no commute, the option of taking our big rude d-a-w-g (a retired racing greyhound) to keep her company (and scare the bejeezus out of door-to-door lunatics stoopid enough to stop by), and (should she decide), even better, the option of stepping out the door for a 30-minute run without offending anyone with her schvitz.


Sometimes, having that 7-to-3:30 in the cubicle farm is little more than a royal pain in the @$$. However, there are days when the 'other lives' I lead can be more painful. Approaching the end of the month can be that way, since I'm looking to (at least) one set of officer meeting minutes, one newsletter, and putting the first touches on the next month's article. Add on top of that the need/want/desire of some clubs to have me do things (many of which can be done well enough by them - which means reverting to teacher once again)...and the last few days of the month can be as hectic or depressing as a week of Mondays. Sometimes they sure feel like a week of Mondays, let me tell you.
Because I lead two lives, which take up 13-15 hours of my day - I know some of you who read this have no sympathy; that's all right, I wasn't asking for any - my finger on the pulse of the world occurs usually in one-hour chunks; listening to NPR on my way to and from work, reading the print media's offerings on-line, and lunch time with what I like to call the independent, semi-corporate media. Yes, I'm blissfully ignorant, but it's been that way for a good five years. And it probably won't change until I decide to move to a town where the most entertaining portion of the newspaper is not the daily letters and opinions section.

Since when did editors feel the irrational need to allow a once-weekly religious food fight to occur on their pages? If I were a potential advertiser I certainly would not spend my money to market there...unless I was selling alcohol, tobacco or firearms.

Okay, so each one of us has our vice. Mine is physical activity and recreational chemicals...but I repeat myself. I felt much like Bob this morning after my swim workout. Thank God for my wife; she made a pot of coffee this morning when she finally got out of bed to prepare for her work (usually after I've departed to swim/spin and work). Of course, today she had to suffer without her foo-foo, the flavored and mildly sweetened non-dairy creamer she purchases by the pint. I'm a straight, hot, strong black coffee kind of guy (tubinado sugar and skim milk is for the weekend); foo-foo is for road trips, especially if I've made the supreme mistake of buying coffee at Krispy Kreme (where it's burned and reconstituted, beyond the darkest roast Starbucks could imagine in their wildest dreams) or Krystal (where half the cup is filled with grounds, as I learned in New Orleans)...and I won't even mention Circle K.

Mickey D's puts the milk and sugar in for you. Of course, the rhetorical question, WHY!? Outside of the obvious fact they are cheap b@$t@rd$ and want to minimize waste I think it's so you don't know just how flippin' lame their coffee is in the first place. Sorry, I'll be like my German friends and suffer for another half hour on the Interstate until I can get to a Starbucks (or in the case of that particular road trip, Community Coffee in Slidell, LA).

We started getting in the longer road runs on Sunday, starting last week. One of my athletes planned to do 16 miles, and I probably would have joined her, save for the fact I actually felt good and didn't want to kill myself this early in the autumn. Fortunately, she was stoopid enough to think she could handle two hours of Tae-Bo and follow it with 5,000 meters of jogging. I see a new workout video; remember Buns of Steel, Abs of Steel and all those? A two-hour Tae-Bo workout, followed by 5,000 meters of jogging, will be titled Skulls of Steel. Sorry, Stacie. I love you, kid, but I had to give you just a little more grief. I'm your coach. That's my job.

At the three-mile mark on the course we usually run, there is a long downhill, followed by a long uphill, which usually whacks all of us squarely in the @$$ and reminds us we're all stoopid. At the bridge over the bayou in between these hills there was the highly-flattened carcass of an animal; I'm not certain what species, breed or size it was (it was a big truck, though), but it reminded me of two very important things:

1. Life is short. You're dead a long time.
2. Speedwork is underrated.

Today is my last day in this particular age group (well, USA Triathlon already moved me up, since they consider your age on December 31 to be your competition age). I'm not freaking out too much about aging; usually I have a lot of introspection during this month. I tend to think long and hard on things during September because of the High Holy Days, the change of seasons, the end of fiscal years, and strange stuff like that which is out of my control. This time, however, it's been more, 'time to get moving, Coach.' And so I think I will.
As the Maori say: Kia Kaha. Stand Strong.






Friday, September 21, 2007

End Of The (Summer) World As We Know It

My dog, Rubin, is a little more subtle. But not by much. I've talked about how I've learned to be an athlete by observing him; run when you feel good, sleep when you can, eat when you're hungry, and always be on the lookout for someone who's willing to rub your back. Lately, he and I have been much alike; he's recovering from some strange chip fracture in his heel bone. The veterinarian and I are uncertain as to the root cause, which could have been anything from a bump in the bedroom to a bad step in the back yard. So, now he's on a daily course of an anti-inflammatory much like Celebrex and getting gentle walks in the park on a near-daily basis...mostly in the grass, if I have my way about it. Suzanne was always good about having him in the grass beforehand, so I was the one who had to adjust my surface of choice. Lately he seems to be getting better, but I think it's going to be quite some time before he's one-hundred percent.
Maybe autumn is the end of the world for persons living in areas further north than Ft. Walton Beach, FL, but for those of us who live (sometimes fearfully) in the FL panhandle, the end of September marks the beginning of a more comfortable time of year. Okay, so there are persons here who will dress up like Nanook of the freakin' North once the mercury dips below 60 degrees. I'm not one of them, thank you. Yes, I own tights and long-sleeved tops, and use them on training sessions. But getting temperatures that are closer to 80 degrees than 90 means I can get my longer runs in outside.

I didn't do anything last night at the track because I did a little too much the previous evening out at the beach. I had the chance to run for an extended period in the afternoon, doing a tempo run of nearly eight miles in a little under 50 minutes. A little faster than I needed to be going, but boy, did it feel good for the first five or six. The hot spot on my left heel from the thin socks and the lightweight trainer wasn't so good; I had a blood blister the size of a half dollar coin that made wearing street shoes at work and running last night's workout out of the question. No problem. It was time to play coach for a workout...something I don't do as often as I'd like for the team.

The boss is back in the office today, fresh from her trip north to brief out the project we were in the middle of for the past two months. No new revelations for them, but a lot of data to support their suspicions. And now, one of the organizations involved in the analysis is complaining, stating the data is wrong. Wait a minute, fellas. You're the ones who developed the reporting tools and the spreadsheet.

It's final performance appraisal time for this year. Since the mid-term appraisal was all right (I'm considered a valued employee, just like everyone else who's not in management) and there's nothing additional I can put in the write-up that hasn't been said up to the past two or three months, I just sent the same write-up to the boss. She won't whack it any lower, and the pay pool is still going to give me the minimal pay increase all the other valued employees are going to receive. It's the next worst thing to communism; at least my possessions are mine.


I've got my more subdued Hawaiian-style shirt on this morning. Ties are definitely out of the question, since I don't do a lot of briefings. Once the temperature drops, I'll move to what I like to call my winter uniform: collared shirts with sweater/vests or sweatshirts. I probably need to make a road trip to my alma mater in order to get a couple more sweatshirts; think I gave the last one to my mother a few years ago.
I used to get the advice from my mentor, telling me to wear the same kind of attire I saw the incumbent whose job I wanted was wearing. Well, around here, it's flowery Hawaiian stuff. Go figure.



Thursday, September 20, 2007

Hammer Time!

Tempo run of seven miles yesterday at the beach. The group - which includes most of our team officers, several of our active membership, and not a few of our former members (who I graciously classify on my nicer days as alumni) meets every Wednesday evening at 6:00 to run anywhere from four to six miles, then eat, drink and be merry until they can't stand it any longer...or the management kicks them out.
I've used the treadmill for the majority of the summer because it has been too d@mned hot to get any quality mileage in otherwise...at least while I was healthy enough to run (so maybe there was a good side to breaking my arm!). Two weeks ago I went to the beach to do a six-mile tempo and completely exploded in a blaze of glory at the three-mile point. BRAAP! Back to the treadmill for a couple of more weeks, Coach Mike. I bumped up the pace on the treadmill runs to ~6:44/mile, taking a three-minute cool-down cycle between each mile. Then, I decided to extend the tempo repeat from 1 mile to 1.2 miles, so I got the mileage in five pieces, vice six. That's three less minutes of easier running/jogging/walking, too.
We were talking about the beach loop the other night, and Scott, my assistant and club secretary mentions something in passing about the six-mile loop being only 5.8 miles. I almost asked him, 'says who?' We've never really measured a course out there, and I have little love for GPS wearers and their complete dogmatic trust (dependence?) on that gadget. I have to admit I'm not as violently opposed to them as I was in the past, and I would use one if it were given to me (Note to my loving wife: no, I really do not need a GPS, not unless it does the street navigation, too.) by a company wanting someone to wear-test. Dude, if there's anyone who can destroy a piece of technology with just casual, everyday use, it's me. Ask Nike; that's why they are no longer in the MP3 player market.
I probably could have used one last night, though, to run the tempo run. I have a good idea where the two-mile point on the course is located, so I figured what I would need to add on in time duration (ten minutes) to lengthen the 5.8 mile loop run into a 7-mile tempo run. Hammer ten more minutes (five out, five back), on top of what I guessed would be a 40-to-41-minute run normally and voila! Done.
Well, I went out at a comfortable (7 minute/mile) pace for the first two miles. Who knew I would pick up the pace that much after two? Who knew I would race the sun coming back? Who knew I'd run 49:34 for 7.8 miles!? That's a little bit fast (ya think, Coach?) for a tempo run. That's about 20 seconds faster than my average pace for a half marathon.
However, I tend to run on feel, not on gauges. When I had a Suunto POD and heart rate monitor, I spent a lot of time looking at the data rather than running more by feel. That's the liberty of going by physiological markers, especially after you've done enough training. Translates well into racing and you don't have to worry about if or when the technology bites the big one (like the Suunto did)...Murphy's Law...and it goes wrong after you become dependent on the technology.
Working that hard makes it interesting the morning after, especially if you're doing any kind of cross-training or you have a real daytime job. When our organization provided employees the option of working flexible work schedules; the kind where you do your 40 hours of weekly work over the course of four days, or your 80 hours of a pay period over the course of nine, I decided immediately it was not for me. Sorry, boss. I'm a creature of habit, and I coach. I have places to be in the early afternoon, and I like having not to worry about taking two hours of annual leave in conjunction with a federal holiday.

Besides, I'd rather do 80 percent of the something my boss and my other 'eight days a pay period' co-workers are doing each day.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Getting There is Twice the Worry

I think I b!tched and moaned about six weeks ago about the joy of air travel, concurrent with our trip to Key West. But, since I'm getting ready to go north in about four weeks for the CW Dayton River Corridor Classic Half-Marathon, I think I'll do it again. Come on, you know you love it.

I've complained long and loud about spending time in the Atlanta airport, which is the nearest hub to where we live. We've gone on occasion through Houston or Dallas-Ft. Worth, but more often than not, it's ATL. If you don't mind spending copious amounts of money on food and beverages in order to speed your wait, which for ATL is a given (I'm suspecting a conspiracy between TravelHost, Aramark, or whoever the catering company is, the FAA and the airport authority to get more money out of travelers, but the data is still a little thin.), the time in terminal can be almost comfortable. If I were to travel more often I would seriously entertain membership in one of those airline frequent traveler lounges. When I was offered an American Express/Delta Skymiles card, I thought 'all right, I've made the big time as far as travelers go...'
Little did I know that AMEX card-holding would have nothing to do with being able to get Crown Room membership. Talk about sucking bilge. Since Suzanne travels much more than I do, it would make her life much more comfortable. However, even her travel schedule occurs in fits and starts; she can be on the road for six weeks in the autumn, four in the spring, or two months in November...all at the whim of her company. Hell, with the only place I've been permitted to travel in the past year being Norfolk, VA, I've decided staying home is much more convenient. Unless the trip is some place like Honolulu, HI. Hope those guys at PTC decide to do mid-January again.
As an athlete, it's hard to get comfortable in an airline seat, especially in coach. The Key West trip had the worst of all possible scenarios; not only were we shoehorned in the back of the plane, but I had bulkhead seating. I used to like being able to look out the window when I was younger and flying from point A to point B in Texas and New Mexico, but now what I really want is leg room. I'll even suffer the indignity of having to listen to special instructions from the flight attendant in order to have an exit row seat, if there's more room for me to stretch my legs.
This time, I set up the seating arrangements for Dayton.
Rather than sitting the two of us directly next to each other in the same row, on the same side of the plane, I made certain we both got aisle seats, especially for the trip south. She might not appreciate it so much on the trip north, but I think she will on the trip home.
What if airlines required a BMI measurement in order to determine seating? We could place all of the hefty (and invariably sweaty during summertime) passengers into their own special section. Better yet, they get the side of the plane with the two-seat rows, so they can wrestle with each other over who gets the armrest.
Beats telling them to go Greyhound.