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, May 28, 2007

Lazy Heathen Days

As I've said before, everything I needed to know about being an athlete I've really learned from my greyhound. That says nothing about training, planning or racing, mind you. Just about being an athlete. Rubin has taught me the benefit of resting when I can get away with it, begging for attention, enjoying the physical comforts when they come about, and eating simple as the day approaches.

Suzanne has been working all weekend on little things, trying to catch up (of course, I've told her the chances are slim and none) on all the stuff that's piled up at the office while she was out. Yes, it's a federal holiday, which makes it a well-earned day of rest for me. Have to remember to schedule those races for the week after a three-day weekend.

We had a nice run yesterday on the Bayou (8-mile or a little more) loop, taking 10-15 minute run pieces, then walking back to let Suzanne and John (and Sheila later on...) catch up. They had the benefit of a two-minute breather every 20 minutes and we still got our eight-ish miles in a little over an hour...on a warm day. It's to the point where morning workouts are going to have to be early in order to not kill us all with the heat and humidity.

Since we're in maintenance mode right now, we really don't have to work overly hard. It's not an excuse to be a complete "lazy heathen," a term I borrowed from my father for that occasional weekend day where doing absolutely nothing productive sounds like a great idea. We've had so few of these lately, because of Suzanne's travels. It looks like the next one won't be until some time right after mid-December.

Slept in today for two and a half hours longer than my typical weekend wake-up time, and four hours longer than my typical training morning wake-up. I felt a little guilty when I saw Suzanne out on her bicycle taking a mid-morning I was on my way to do my "coffee and mindless reading." However, she has her occasional "no guilt" day...while I'm mumbling vague obscenities as waves crash down on my head.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Bug Bites

As a runner for over 15 years, I reveled in the simplicity of the sport. It doesn't take much to get started, nor to stay in. If you run 25 miles a week, you'll probably go through three pairs of shoes a year ($300), two pairs of shorts ($60), half a dozen socks - that sounds like a lot, but let me tell you, the dryer eats more running socks than dress ones ($50) and a couple of tops ($60). Toss in a race or two and you probably spend $500 a year on a healthy recreational/fitness running habit.
Now, here's where the small print comes in: Your mileage and desire to race can seriously increase the amount of time, energy and money invested in this sport. If you're a fanatic like me, the total purchases per year goes up another $200 for shoes, and perhaps $200 for races, not counting incidentals such as travel, meals, other expenses. Still, that's pretty small cost compared to NOT being a runner and having the risk of all those nasty chronic health issues resulting from a sedentary lifestyle.
Triathlon is a totally different story. Of course, you can start out with a $20 pair of goggles and a $20 Speedo for the swim, use a $200 steel-framed Sears-Roebuck special, a $20 helmet, then add the single pair of running the healthy recreational/fitness running habit can get you through the door of a triathlon.
When you see all the slick, sexy gear that the top shelf tri-dudes and tri-chicks are using, and you watch just how quickly some of them are getting from swim to bike and from bike to run... Well, actually the bug bites not long after you do your first tri. After you revel in the joy of finishing all three disciplines without drowning, crashing or bonking (too badly!), you start to realize that getting faster is a result of two functions.
The first one is obvious. Gear. The wetsuit is great for flotation (the first time you get into one and into the water you'll be shocked at how buoyant you are), add another $100 at the very least. A tri-friendly (road racing or triathlon-specific) bike can cost as little as a couple of hundred dollars used. Tri-suits can cost up to a couple of hundred bucks, but usually are less...unless you're looking for a specific brand and aren't willing to settle for less.
Training is the second, and less obvious function. A $5,000 triathlon bike won't make up for a lack of biking skill, cardiovascular fitness or mental toughness. As my friend Robbie Mott says, it's all in the engine. Swimming with a masters' group can cost you in the lowest three-digit range per year, you have to get up in the morning and get it done. Membership with a triathlon group is also inexpensive and can get you hitched up with training and great advice...or at least words of warning on what NOT to do.
Let me tell you, when the triathlon bug bites, it bites hard. Exhibit "A" is posted at the top, a 1998 used triathlon/timetrialing bike...purchased for $770 on eBay. I tried to hold out for Robbie's order of a new Cervelo P2C triathlon bike, but the temptation was too great. Now I feel bad I couldn't hold up my end of the bargain. The only way I can make it up to him is by perhaps getting another set of wheels, I guess...there we go, more money...I am not certain there is a known cure outside of burnout or traumatic injury...maybe finishing an Ironman. Probably not, that's not like marathoning, where some folks say: 'been there, did it, received the t-shirt, no more.'

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Sleep, Definitely NOT Overrated...

Certain days of the week are etched in stone. Mondays, Wednesdays...these are days I can't screw around with staying up after 9:30. Thursday through Sunday, and Tuesday are a little more flexible, but you're more likely to see me hitting the rack no later than 10. Gone are the days of staying up until all hours of the night and waking bright-eyed and bushy-tailed eight hours later. While I'm religious on my seven-to-nine hours a night, I'm truly affected by anything that affects my pattern. My wife, God bless her, calls it discipline. I tend to think it's closer to obsessive-compulsive behavior.
I've joked about this once before, but I believe that everything you ever need to know about being an athlete you can learn from your dog...especially if they're a greyhound. My 'hound, Rubin, is up (like a jack-in-the-box, I might add) at the stroke of five every morning. He's excited at the beginning of a new day...another bowl of kibble...another romp in the yard...another walk around the park...another day of napping on the cool tile of my wife's office.
Dogs are masters at the art of energy conservation. Why run when you can walk? Why walk when you can stand and sniff butts? Why stand when you can sit and scratch yourself? Why sit when you can lay down? I never hear Rubin complain about going for a jog around the park, or that he's tired and sore when he gets up in the morning. He tolerates the same kibble, twice a day, with a daily Milk-Bone supplement when he can "talk" his "mom" and "dad" out of one.
There have been Friday or Saturday evenings where my wife have been sitting on the couch, drinking beer and watching Monty Python...Rubin will get up from his blanket on the floor in front of the couch and stand between us and the television. I'll get a little perturbed at first, then realize what the time says on the clock. "It's 9 or 9:30," he 'says' with his big brown 'hound eyes. "You have to train in the morning." Sometimes he'll walk off to the bedroom and his large sleeping pillow, other times (if we ignore him) he'll stand directly in front of us until we get up to go to bed.
There's nothing like the sigh of the 'hound as he settles into his pillow..."mission accomplished. Dad'll thank me when he PR's."

Friday, May 18, 2007

Long Days, Longer Nights...

I like the fact the days are getting longer; it provides more time to work out, or to socialize at the track (or other running venue) after the workout is over. Of course, the more time I spend hanging out and socializing means the less time I have to take care of errands or talk to the dog. I've been shocked to find I have (if I'm lucky) 30 minutes from the time I get home to my (arbitrarily-appointed) bedtime.
Sure, I could stay up later in order to drink another beer with my wife and watch my dog stare at me from the center of the living room floor (I'm lousy at translating greyhound facial expressions into English, so don't ask me what he's trying to say.) but the consequences are tragic. I end up feeling like someone parked a large truck on my body the next morning. If I can get up out of bed (99 times out of 100) I'm sore as hell. That hundredth time is when I beg my wife to bring me the phone so I can call work and let them know I'm not feeling too well.
Monday and Wednesday bedtimes are absolute, now. I made the supreme mistake of getting up at 1:00 in the morning this week in order to hit the bathroom and get something to drink. Of course, once I was up I felt the irresistable urge to try and catch up on some of the e-mail I can't get done earlier in the day.
Bad idea. For me, it takes a solid hour to digest someone's comments and write something that sounds: a) literate, and b) diplomatic. I've shot off notes right from the hip, especially at 1:00 a.m., and succeeded in doing little more than p!$$ing people off. Okay, so they probably deserved it, but then my wife hears from other folks during the following week how much of an @$$ I am.
Another reason it's a bad idea for me to answer e-mails at that hour of the morning is that I end up stealing an hour, and sometimes two, of the eight hours of sleep I absolutely need in order to be able to swim the next morning without falling asleep on my keyboard here at the office. And since I work part-time with my swim coach, he read his courtesy copy while sipping on his first cup of coffee in the morning...he's had his eight hours of sleep. Jerk.
At first, I felt cheated by not being able to answer outside e-mails on my work account, but it's not so bad...I don't get wound up about outside issues until I'm safely home. Now if I could only learn to instill "office hours" on my off-duty time...

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

X and Y: When Men and Women Run Together

One of the things I like about triathlon is the (relative) evenness of the playing field. While men and women don't necessarily compete against each other, the physical challenges of triathlon (endurance) narrow the gap to a degree that is smaller than running. The women are closer to the front of the pack here than in running events. I've also seen a more-even balance of women and men in the transition areas. If I'm wrong, please feel free to correct me. This is an observation from my experiences so far.

Still, when it's time to train, it's ideal for men and women to remain separate...unless it's an easy day for the guys and the women are in the mood to hammer. One of the Carmichael Training Systems coaches wrote about the hazards of men and women training together; she mentioned that while she was looked highly upon by her male training-mates, she was more fatigued and in danger of overtraining because she was hammering all of her rides.

I was listening to an interview with Desiree Ficker (BTW, is that her on the Inside Triathlon mag cover?) on a Competitor Radio podcast; she talked about "dropping the bomb" (ramping up the pace) during a workout or a race, as well as her male training-mates' fears of "getting chicked." I started to laugh when I heard the term, but it seems she's not the first person to use it.

So, are men fearful of getting beaten by women? I can say yes, beyond a doubt. Men don't want to be beaten in a race, much less in a training run. And it doesn't matter if the woman is a better athlete; the male (highly-fragile, easily-bruised) ego REFUSES to accept the (often-painful) fact that a woman, or any woman, can or will be better than him at anything. On the other hand, I've had one or two female athletes who didn't know the meaning of "this is training, not a race..."

One was truly a mentally-tough athlete who refused to quit, ease up or slow down. My coach and I had a lengthy talk about it once, where he reminded me that I am much the same: It would take realizing a bone was sticking out of our leg before making the decision to quit. Funniest thing, though, when I talked to her about it we both agreed that we would have asked a question on realization: "Whose bone?" Checking her heart rate in between sets was always entertaining...I could NEVER, ever, ever get her to think about recovery. However, she would be one of the first persons I'd call upon if I were putting an event team together, because I knew she'd give 110-percent without fail.

Some guys just are not smart enough to accept feminine advice. My wife is the kind of runner who can go for miles and miles at a nice, steady, aerobic pace and rarely fluctuate from it. I can't run with her because she's slower than I, though. I've tried before and hurt myself too badly. However, she's gone out on long runs with a couple of older gentlemen, who immediately drop the Fickeresque "bomb" at the beginning of the run, then die at six miles...not a good sign if you're preparing for a marathon. I've tried to tell the guys to go out at Suzanne's pace in order to get those eight to ten miles in without dying prematurely. I have the feeling I sound like John Belushi in Animal House every time I hear how hard they went out at the start and how bad they died at the end: ' think they'd listen to me, but noooooooooooooo...'

Monday, May 14, 2007

ECRT/Snickers Marathon Team Log: St. John's Sunset 5K Run

Welcome to my job. I've had a workplace with windows only a couple of times. Enough to make people think I'm a vampire. Hey - people joke because I wear sunglasses when I'm outdoors; if they spent even half as long in the environments I've been in they'd be the same way.

I didn't schedule a practice Saturday because I knew some of the guys would want to run the St. John's Sunset 5K. I told everyone they were on their own for the day. I went to the Y and hit the rowing machine for 40min (original intent was to do 60min, but my butt couldn't take more than 40min on the seat!), then relaxed in front of the computer and read most of the afternoon. Suzanne came in at 3 after doing her days' errands and announced she wanted to run St. John's; she had two entry forms. This didn't sound good. I told her I was going to run, but as a Kenyan...she quashed that idea and chewed me out for even thinking about it. So, I pulled out my 'Kiwi black kit' and got suited up.

I've never run this race because the conditions have always sucked bilge - very warm and humid. My 2M warm-up didn't do a thing to allay my concerns. Rather than get aggressive and be on the line at the start, I decided to stand in the second row. I ended up elbowing a guy right at the start as I was trying to get out with the greyhounds (and there were a couple of them!). Kenny (the young guy I got at mile five last weekend) went out like he was shot out of a cannon; I figured I'd try to get up with him and hang on for as long as possible. At 800m I started to hear hard breathing and footsteps behind me. Off my left came a tall, fast guy - Gary Smith - he's a very good runner, but he's been off the radar for the past six months. I'm not used to seeing him back with me at the beginning of a race. Went through the first mile split at 5:30 and had a sneaking suspicion that one of two (maybe even both) things were going to happen: a) I was going to die, or b) I was going to run a good time. Normally, if I've gone out that hard at the first mile it becomes ugly fast. However, I was still seeing at least two of the four guys who were ahead of me, so I had someone to key off.

I hit each of the water stations like a man possessed - grab the cup/s and dump. As I hit 1.5 miles, I'm starting to see a runner I normally don't see ahead of me...and he's rigging badly. I caught him finally at the 2 mile point, where he gives the classic "good job, I'm just going easy from here" line. Bull$#!+. He was dying; he paid dearly for going out at a low-5:00 first mile.

After two, it's back on the winding road where the people are having their party on the front lawn...their cheering and ringing of the bell was fantastic. It also let me know how close the next guy was when I heard the bell again. I was in some good pain by this time, but it looked like I was gaining real estate on Kenny with every stride. I knew if I could get up with him by the bridge with a tenth to go it was going to be a "throw your head back and grit your teeth all of the way to the line" kind of finish. However, once we got to the end of the bridge I knew there was too little real estate to let me catch him. I hit the finish at 18:17, which is one of my fastest 5Ks in the past year. Fourth overall, second guy over 40...which makes me first in my age group. Not bad for a guy who's been focusing on 10K and longer this year.

The guy who won, Matt, must have decided before the race to not run this one easy with his wife, Jamie. He paced her to her 5K PR last weekend at Fiesta. Matt just got (re)married, and he looks very happy...not that his running has changed all that much. The kind of guy you love to see do well; very gracious and approachable.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Speaking The Truth To Power

Nearly recovered from last weekend and the fallout. That's a good thing. Another two or three days of that, and I probably would have resorted to either a) taking up drinking a single malt by the bottle, or b) going postal.

Had a great lunch meeting today with the owner of the local running emporium. He wants to know our business goal and direction. In spite of my first consideration; putting the local running group out to pasture, he helped me to understand the possibility of a synergistic relationship between his business, our company, the local running group and others within the local sporting community - if we want it.

I want to be able to have an honest discussion with the persons who produce events here. Really. The problem (as with anything that you put your heart, soul and effort into) is that we all tend to take things way too freakin' seriously. Strike that. Too personally. Just because one or more persons don't like your course, your awards, or your choice of beverage for the post-race shindig doesn't mean they think you, your family and your children should be exiled to some Third World country.

I run and participate in less local events because a) I only have so many good races in me per year and b) there are only so many beer glasses you can keep in the kitchen cabinet before you have to start throwing something out.

Usually the first thing to go are the shirts. Rare is the local race t-shirt that cries out for storage. I've heard some folks complain they don't like a lot of sponsor logos on shirts because they then cannot swap the shirts when they travel and meet up with other running groups. Heck, if I saw the designs I have seen I'd not want to swap either.

I'd love to see better awards. Too many races resort to stamped pot metal and nylon ribbon. We do lots of beer glasses around here, sometimes coffee mugs. I thought the embroidered towels for the age group winners at the TMBS/A were very cool...better than the screen-printed version we got last weekend. This weekend is a very hot neighborhood run - they give what someone derisively called "t-shirt on a stick" awards. That, for those of you who have never seen it, is a framed cloth version of the t-shirt. It's not too pricey, I guess...five bucks for the shirt, five bucks for the "wally world" frame, ten minutes with a pair of scissors to trim the excess.

My bike "pusher" is having a women's cycling seminar in a coule of weeks. I almost wanted to know whether he thought about calling it "chicks in slicks." One of his bike suppliers has begun to focus on womens' specific bike frames, clothing and gear. It's a good thing, too. I like seeing hot pink bike shorts and knowing they won't be stretched across the fanny of some high school dropout waddling barefoot through the local Winn-Dixie frozen food section.

If that doesn't scare you, I don't know what will.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

If I Were Your Coach: Empty Spaces at the Table

One of the things I love about my team is our ability to socialize at the drop of a hat. We're not like some of the other groups in town where the primary focus is alcohol intake. We train hard (enough), race hard and play hard (enough)...but not so hard as to not be able to train the next day.

I might not be able to line up a team for an event in two e-mails or less, but I can get a party scheduled.

Since my coach decided to spend a week on holiday down in Destin, just an hour away from here, we decided it might be a good enough reason to have a little get-together. Beats waiting for funerals; what's the use of dressing up for a person who can't appreciate the fact you wore a tie that matched your suit for once?

Plan "A" was a cookout at the club president's house. Oops, his step-daughter graduates this weekend, and her grandmother is coming from Mississippi. That means no drunken bacchanal there. Plan "B" was telling them to show for the traditional Friday evening "spill American beer all over each other" meeting at our favorite pizza joint. However, driving through Gulf Breeze (even while over-served) is never a good idea. Since the club's VP has a nice house and a pool in the backyard, it was only logical to ask whether she could or would step up to the plate.

The original plan (and the wish of my coach) was to invite the inner circle of the team; club officers, regular Friday-nighters, and the like. However, the VP didn't want to be put in the position of "not inviting" people. For once it couldn't be just about (without!) them.

We had a wonderful evening, with a decent crowd. Most of the folks I suspected would be there showed...with one notable exception. Sometimes, you wonder whether people who didn't show chose to or just had something else going down. I've caught flak for not making a presence at a race when my athletes were participating, because I needed the training session. But that's more an exception than a common occurrence. Many of my athletes (and their spouses) have spectated - and volunteered - at events they were not doing, like the Three-Mile Bridge Swim/Aquathon.

I know that during the Passover seder a space at the table is set aside for Elijah, in the hope of his (imminent) return. In our workouts, and our social life, we (at least I) always feel there is room for at least one more person. We can always pull in another chair, we can always find another glass, we can always buy another pitcher to share.

It wouldn't be family without 'em.