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, 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 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.