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, August 30, 2007

Benchmarks

Listening to the radio this morning on the way to the pool, I couldn't help but think about the difference between the present administration's take on Iraq, compared to the General Accountability Office. The GAO says that 13 of 18 political and military goals have not been satisfactorily met.

If you're doing the math, that's a little under 28 percent accomplished. A baseball player with a batting average of .277 might be nearly an All-Star, however, if that's their fielding percentage I can guarantee you he's not taking the field on my team.

If you're doing repeats on the track, say, 18 of them, and the goal is to hit them in 90 seconds, and you only hit five...I think I'm going to tell you your goal of running 13 of them (that's a 5,000-meter race for those of you doing the math) in 18:40 is not likely; a 20:06 is more realistic. Or, we might start to take a look at whether you need to deal with a longer distance, where a slower pace and greater endurance are going to trump sheer foot speed.
Maybe you, like the administration, cry out in anguish, saying 'but that's not fair to place an all or nothing measurement on a benchmark; just because I didn't make it in 90 seconds doesn't mean a 94-second quarter is a bad thing.' Racing is the purest benchmark of all. Either you make it, or you don't. If you get beat by three persons, and the awards are three-deep, there's no 'close, but no cigar' award for fourth place. You get to stand by and clap.
Hm...beer-drinkers at post-race parties are rather Zen, don't you think? Choose between putting down your beer or providing the sound of one hand clapping. Oriental thought meets western philosophy in one hot, sweaty, alcohol-induced conundrum.

Love of coffee, digestive functions, and...yeah...that sounds like 30 minutes into our old Sunday morning runs. I have a love-hate relationship with them right now; since there's no one at my level I spent most of my run by myself the other weekend. Payback is going to come this Sunday, since Christian, Petra and I are going to ride instead (partly because of the three-day weekend, partly because it's too d@mned hot to do otherwise).

Tomorrow is the last day for my runners to commit to doing/going to Jacksonville in December. What's been maddening this time is the obvious fact that marathons are not something you just jump into for giggles. You have to train. Many of the team are focusing on shorter distances and local events, so there's no problem there. Really. What has been the most galling is the lack of direct communication between some folks and me. If you wanted to go on a road trip and someone was taking care of the reservations, etc., etc., wouldn't you have the decency to say, 'hey, dude, I would love to go on that trip. Can you save me a space?'
Not this bunch. Well, not one or two...they obviously missed the memo with all the instructions, especially the one telling them to contact me directly...no excuses, no exceptions, no whining.

Aarrgghh...enough of this. I need a cup of coffee.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Labor Day, Approaching

I've been opposed on general principles (read: money) to purchasing a satellite radio receiver. It's like purchasing a computer and having to pay for the internet. Oh, you mean I do that!? Never mind.
However, after five years in this town, I've learned a few things:
1. Most, if not all, of the radio stations are owned by a single entity. That means you better like a playlist loaded with country, or contemporary (read: corporate, mindless, tasteless, talentless) music genres. Oh, let me not forget the three religious radio stations.
2. What I used to understand about radio still holds true. Advertising pays the operating expenses for commercial radio. HOWEVER, there are more ads and less "entertainment" on the airwaves. When I turn on a radio I want to hear music or conversation. You can toss a shameless plug in between segments for all I care, but DON'T INUNDATE ME with bull-cr@p.
Memo to self...or memo to spouse: HD or XM for birthday. Or, let's get that inexpensive bike took kit.

Labor Day is this weekend, and I'm far from the nostalgic state of mind I was last year. I guess if the temperatures were closer to 80 degrees than 90 I might begin to think about the approach of autumn. But we're much closer to infernal than autumnal. Track workouts on Tuesday and Thursday evening (ideally) finish at 7:30, which is about the same time the sun goes down.
Positive: Temperature drops nearly ten degrees between start of workout and finish.
Negative: Still warm enough for small bugs to live.
The track's lights did not go on at 6:45 last night, either, which meant dusk approached as we were finishing our last set of repeats. Probably a one-off situation; something I hope doesn't become a more-frequent occurrence.
I'm waiting to tighten up the list of athletes who are training to run the marathon in December...but only for another two days. I mentioned on several occasions via e-mail, in the newsletter, everything but a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night that it is their responsibility to contact me personally (phone, e-mail, face-to-face), and yet, I STILL GET SECOND-HAND COMMUNICATIONS. Once again: Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot, Oscar?

While we're going insane here in the office getting the last of the interviews and daily activity logs collected and beginning to make sense of the numbers, the presence of one of the staff from one of our more-northern detachments has made it fun. I like working with persons who have a sense of humor and aren't constrained by artificial bull-cr@p. Yep, give me a WYSIWYG kind of co-worker, any time.

Monday, August 27, 2007

All About Soul


Had to juggle a boatload of stuff this morning on my way out the door...of course, those mornings where I meet the man with the rubber stick mean a longer stay in bed, and a shorter window of time to get to the gym without p!$$!ng someone off because they are on the last spinning bicycle with Look pedals...and they're wearing running shoes...and there's another bike they can ride. As always, another story. Actually, it wasn't the moment of getting out the door to the car that was entertaining. It was getting from the car to the locker after the spinning workout. Clean clothes, water bottles, Snickers Marathon bars, eyeglasses, sunglasses, wallet...and the hits just keep on coming...
"This life isn't fair; it's gonna get dark, it's gonna get cold. You've gotta get tough, but that ain't enough; it's all about soul..." - Billy Joel, "All About Soul" (1993)
TLC's spin-off to Miami Ink featuring Kat Von D, LA Ink, started this last week. Great program. One of the artists Kat recruited to work her shop - Corey Miller - is an absolute genius...not that the other two artists are that bad in their own right. However, Miller's work is completely original. He did a design on a guy's arm, sketching with a ball-point pen and working forward...then with the tattoo gun. No xerox machines, computer-generation, light tables for this guy, no sir. I marveled as I watched this man work, comparing his craft to the advertising campaign of a local tattoo parlor (touting computerized designs, templates, and the like). In comparison, Miller's work is so soulful - the man's essence was put into the labor.
I couldn't help but think about the similarity between tattooing and coaching. Each person has a background story, a reason for coming to me. I can use the myriad of tools available to everyone (computer programs, books, calculators), but if I don't put my soul into it I'm doing no more than a tracing of someone else's work. All the research, prior workouts, races (both good and bad) and life experience will have gone for naught. In the same vein, an athlete who comes to the track with strong preconceptions of how their training should go (usually based upon something they've read in Runner's World, "Galloway's Great Big Honkin' Book o' Stuff," etc.) usually has missed a big portion of the story.
It's like going to a tattoo artist with a photo of something you've seen on someone and asking for the same d@mned thing.
As the late runner-philosopher/author George Sheehan said, we are all an experiment of one. Taking a cookie-cutter approach to training may - or may not - be effective. Downloading a list of workouts, paces, distances and times can be all well and good, but it's all in a vacuum. While I may write a training plan (in macro) weeks or months in advance, the last two hours leading into the workout are fraught with deep thought: How do I (or my athletes) feel today? What are the weather conditions? Is there a race in the coming weekend? As always, if I had a dollar for every time I've planned a workout and did something completely different once I got to the track, I'd have enough for at least another coaching book...ha, ha, ha...
The training plan, writ large, months in advance may be the heart, but the two hours of thought spent on the couch, walking through the kitchen, and especially the last half-hour during the drive to the track...are the soul of coaching.


Saturday, August 25, 2007

Changing Hats

A little out of character for me to write on a Saturday. However, I wanted to ensure the few who read my pithy (lisp not intentional) commentaries as they post that I am still alive and have all my body parts in near-optimal working order. Honest. The orthopedic consultant said so. Yep, he says I'm at 95-percent of normal, and the last five percent will come in the next couple of months.

The mental health, however, is always going to be questioned.

It's not often that my real job gets in the way of what I like to do; coach, train, write and ponder the mysteries of the universe. This week, however, is an entirely different story. I've been spending more time interviewing classroom instructors and entering their responses into an on-line database in support of a major, high-level (we're talking admirals here, baby!), high-visibility project which will provide my co-workers and me a vastly-increased sense of job security, regardless of what the Navy does to my organization 14 months from now.

If they do what we think they'll do in October 2008, I'll be changing hats...either from a performance consultant to an analyst/education specialist or from a civil servant to a retired government worker, depending on the amount of incentives provided. I don't suspect a great voluntary retirement incentive to be given to a guy who is five years out from the calculated minimum retirement age-plus-years of federal service thing.

But that's another story.

Being an athlete who also coaches, I place my confidence in several others to have my best interest at heart...especially in the realm of cross-training. If I were strictly running there would be no issue at all; I'd get on the phone with my coach and go through the 'here's what I think about this bit of training, here's how training so far has affected me...got any comments?' kind of conversation. But, I also swim and ride to prepare for triathlon. That means I have to balance the commitment level they want from me with the commitment level I want from my athletes (which in turn is demonstrated by my own commitment). Lots of communication; most of it frank, occurs within 24 hours of the workout.

I can tell my swim coach, with all honesty, 'dude, I am seriously beat up today. I'll push through to this point in the workout, but beyond that point it's time to crawl to the office.' Of course, he does the same with me when he's at the track.

Lately, my regular spinning trainer has moved down the road to another training gig, which means one of the other gym staff has taken over the class. No big deal to me; I'm there to get my workout in and I'll put forth the effort necessary (give or take a few pedal strokes or percentage points of effort) to get out what I've intended. However, there are some newer guys in the gym who don't really want to be there to work hard. They want to punch their 'I did my 45 minutes of physical training today' box on the checklist for their unit and go on from there. I don't particularly like lazy people screwing with my trainer. I don't like any person screwing with my trainer, because then they are expending their energy on dealing with the asshole and not on me, the person who really wants to be there.

I went to talk with her a couple of days later...just to make certain everything was all right. The guys in the class said they had trained with me (that I was their instructor) before, which was a f...ing lie. Well...that has my hackles up now. I almost told her I'd love to take them for a class...better yet, for a little sprint triathlon, just so I could see them drag @$$ through that. That's evil. And right now, I don't particularly care.

The worst thing you can do is lie to your trainer or your coach on how you're feeling. If you feel bad, I mean, really feel bad, then you should take the day off, or cut the workout short and tell the trainer or coach. If you're feeling lazy and you don't want to work out, don't waste your time going into the gym. Take the day off, start up fresh again the next day.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Does This FuelBelt Make My Butt Look Fat?

Hot air is one thing when you're training...an obstacle you just have to deal with and move along. Add humid conditions and you begin to need gills. If you're fortunate your training runs will have a mix of shade and sun, variations in terrain and - most importantly - many places to hydrate.
Okay, porta-potties are also important, but that's for another time.
Lately, our heat index has been in the triple digits; yes, that's above and beyond 90 days of 90 degrees and 90 percent humidity. Think higher, my friends. There's not enough cooling you can do to yourself, internally or externally, over the course of a training run. Why is it folks don't have their lawn sprinklers on at the time of day when you want to run through them most?
My Sunday morning training run is nearly optimal; a hilly, moderately-shaded loop around a large body of water. The down side is that there are only two places (three if you count the park where I begin and end) to take in water. Both of these are on the same side of the bayou. If you're in a situation where your training run goes through a residential neighborhood, make friends so you can borrow their garden hose or leave a container of fluid there. I've heard horror stories of friends leaving gallon jugs of water in front yards, only to find some local nosy-nut has taken them away.
You CAN carry water with you, though. I don't like the idea of doing it, though, because there's not a good way to carry fluid without affecting your run. Carrying a bottle in the hand is all right for some, but I feel like Quasimodo as the run approaches the first mile. Okay, so the weight is decreased after the first ten minutes or so, but in the meantime... Some gear makers have built straps that make it easier for you to grip the bottle, but the issue is still the same. If I wanted hand weights, I'd have brought two of them.
I have a Camelbak waist-mounted hydration system, which is a 36 ounce bladder in an overgrown fanny pack with elastic straps to keep everything snug at the waist. This, I think, was developed for cross-country skiers and not runners. They don't have a lot of up-and-down motion as part of their sport; two extra pounds of weight strapped to my waist is not good for the knees...as I learned a couple of years ago after my last marathon.
What I'm going to start looking at, however, is a belt-mounted system that will allow me to either carry four 6-ounce flasks and gels, or holster a bottle. The flasks are starting to sound like a very good idea, since I can carry water, electrolyte or carbohydrate in the amounts I feel are necessary. The only other options are to hope for the goodness of my fellow man (being a glass half-empty AND glass needs cleaning kind of guy, I don't hold much hope) to not borrow/steal/discard fluid bottles I cache.
Of course, if I can't find my bottles I can always "borrow" their bushes.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Naked, Flag-Waving, Tour De France Fan Crazy

It's not the day-to-day activity of the typical coach that drives them insane. No, the driver for that John Daly-esque, seemingly-irrational desire for a fifth (or two) of single-malt whiskey is stuff that goes on outside the environment of the gym/pool/track/road. Newsletters, uniforms, parents/family members, travel/lodging/incidentals...you know, trying to make everyone friggin' happy, happy, happy is enough to make you look for that Borat-styled thong-like thing and wear it in public. Of course, I can't find the damned photo, but if I do it'll be here for your pleasure. Promise. It got my attention while I was watching the Tour de France.
And when you get to that point you have one of three choices:
a. Stay the course and set aside the money for the single-malt, or margaritas if you prefer. I am a hands-on kind of guy; something I think I learned this from my father. His mentality was one of 'If You Want The Job Done To Your Satisfaction, You're Going To Have To Do It Yourself.' His car always ran well, his garden was always growing, and whatever carpentry or electrical projects that were done around the house were PERFECT. He made certain of it. That's probably why I can't do carpentry, tune a car or wire a room. That's okay, Dad. I know what I am good at.
b. Delegate and prepare to chew some @$$ on a regular basis. Often, I try to be prescriptive in my instructions: 'do this part of the workout in this manner and this pace, life will be good and we'll have world peace...' It's the curse of being a former teacher-type. I want to teach so my athletes can eventually do some of the hard work themselves...then, all I'll have to do is the small details, right? Every coach has a butt monkey. I was my coach's butt monkey. That's how I learned to coach; by trial and (lots and lots of) error. Sometimes I can still see my coach's tooth marks. He still tried to take a nibble here and there now, but I give him regard and go on to do things (more or less) my way.
I have started to delegate details more often to an athlete I've trained with for the past two years. He's a personable, likeable guy, not a complete @$$ like me. Usually means he tries to think about how people will react to what he says, where I say it and deal with the fallout later. Sounds like the old good cop, bad cop scenarios, no?
c. Drop the issue and wait for the inevitable question, 'Coach, what happened to...?' The same folks who complain the loudest about how things are done are the ones who provide the least support in the first place. If there's no money for team trips, a possible root cause is a lack of dues being paid. No t-shirts or singlets available? Well, no one has a demand for them. E-mail, newsletters? Same thing; I can talk a lot about my point of view, because I live there. However, the laws of physics (an inability to be at more than one location at a single time) and economics (unlimited demands never equal limited supplies) tend to override lots of things I'd love to do...however, I only have one brain, one income, and 24 hours in a day. And this is not a full-time, salary-paying vocation. If it was, I'd be more (or maybe I'd be less) in control of all the factors. Or would I?
Since there are a handful of new athletes training, most of them female, it seemed like a good idea to let them look into a crop-style (or jog bra) top for races and runs...most of them aren't fond of the present singlet. The guys usually don't wear them, either, prefering to go shirtless. However, it's cheaper for me to screenprint women's tops than to take all the guys down to the local tattoo parlor and have the club logo slapped on their chest...besides, most of them would have to shave...hm...now there's an idea...

So, the missus sent out an e-mail to all the women about a shopping trip/lunch visit just over the state line. I told her that all I wanted was a single color/style top for all of the women; if they could do that I would take club funds and print the logo on there. There I go, delegating. I'm hoping they can agree on one top, but I have the sneaking suspicion they won't be able to agree.
And that's enough to make a guy like me - or any coach - go naked, flag-waving, Tour de France-fan crazy. Anyone got a margarita?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Set The Bar Too High?




Okay, so it's not strictly a coaching thing. But sometimes the role of a coach isn't necessarily limited to kicking the athlete's @$$ around the track or the road, trying to get them to work out, or ease up. Sometimes you have to get into their mind...which is almost as strenuous as the workout the athlete endures.
One word for all of you frustrated athletes out there: Communicate.
Clairvoyance is not a gift provided to the men and women who decide to coach. What we as athletes thought was omniscience or clairvoyance on the part of our own coaches (after we farted them off and did our own thing, then came limping back...) was actually prior experience, bumps and bruises. To qualify as a coach doesn't require (well, some coaching qualifications are based on...) a bachelors' or masters' degree in psychology, physiology, exercise science, and so on. The school of hard knocks often is tuition enough. I've limped along on the sidelines enough over the past decade to have a good idea whether a particular training modality is going to injure. I might not be perfect, but I feel I'm able to perhaps keep you from falling down a storm drain.
Roch Frey, Paul Huddle, and Jimmy Riccitello were discussing the role of a coach during a multisports.com podcast two months ago. The relationship between coach and athlete is dynamic, based on the need of the athlete. Ideally, the coach will impart enough sense to the athlete that their role will be less at the forefront...there'll be less of that '...hey, coach, you think it's a good idea if I...' discussion and more '...coach, I think I need to do (blank) in order to work on (blank).' Sometimes, even letting the coach know what the individual goal is would be a step in the right direction.
Case in point: I fervently disagreed with one of my team members running 12-15mi runs in the middle of August, in triple-digit heat indices. She mentioned that my old coach told her it was all right. I basically gave her the 'love you anyway, but I strongly disagree with your plan' comment. Finally, I found out that her goal race was the half-marathon in the middle of October and not the full marathon in December. 'Gee, if you had told me this a couple of weeks ago I would have understood. Duh...' Of course, when she told me her rationale for not doing a marathon I was a little incredulous...but that's all right. Funniest thing is that she's also a member of an international organization that focuses on education and communication skills. Uh, hello, McFly?
If you don't tell your coach what you're planning, he's going to plan for something that might not be good for you.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Someone REALLY Needs A Mental Health Day

Yes, I've seen that look before. Lately, I see a lot of it when my wife comes through the door. Most of the time she can get past a tough day (or several tough days) at work by going out for a run, taking the d-a-w-g for a walk, or slurping on a few cool beverages in the evening. However, yesterday's look took the cake. While she was looking forward to getting out to the beach for a little while last night, she was going to settle for a walk, instead. At first, I was wondering why a walk and not a run. However, the meterological conditions were, as some would say, gawd-awful.
It's difficult, if not impossible, to train hard in triple-digit heat indices. Well, you can train indoors on the treadmill, the spinning bicycle, the elliptical trainer, or hit the swimming pool. Depending on the air conditioning capability in the place where you're at, even a tough workout can be almost tolerable. However, lots of (average) folks don't have access to pools, workout studios, or indoor tracks (memo to self: build an indoor track facility when you hit the lottery.). That tends to turn a planned six-miler into a four-miler, or a sprightly four-miler into a more relaxed-pace (George says, '...this is relaxed pace!?') four-miler, with a short walk at the end.

The saving grace of all this is the fact I have all these training options. Getting back into the pool after weeks away from it has been wonderful. I'm almost back to the fitness level I was before I broke the arm; not as fast in the water, but I think the mechanics are more relaxed. Give or take a couple of seconds, my reps in the pool have not changed for the worse from early June. While swimming might not transfer much to running, it helps me to learn to control my breathing when at speed...if you can come up on another competitor without them hearing your heavy breathing, you just might be able to put a stride or two on them before they can react.

If Thomas Paine were alive today, writing a pamphlet on training in Florida in the late summer, he would begin it: '...these are the times that fry men's soles...' He could still entitle it The Crisis if he wanted. He could talk about the conflict between the conscious and the subconscious mind; it's a little over five weeks until the first late-summer/early-autumn 5,000-meter road race...and the panicky state of affairs that the very competitive local runners may be feeling. Hell, I'm feeling it, and it's only a stepping-stone race toward my main races; a half-marathon in October and a marathon in December. I've also planned a 10-kilometer road race in early November, but...

I haven't run any chunk of distance beyond 400 meters at near race pace for, oh, about two months to be exact. I did some 400s a couple of weeks ago at 95-second pace, but that was a slow ramp-up from the first ones, which were closer to 110. However, we will see how things go tonight. The plan is 8x400 at 95-97sec pace, with 100m walk breaks in between. This will be the first test of fitness. I might tell everyone to extend the 100 to a little closer to 150. We'll see.
Maybe I'm thinking too much right now. Maybe it's me who needs the mental health day.