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.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Night Is Drawing Nigh, 2008 Version

Well, it took a couple of days longer than I hoped. But I finally got my fruitcake. It might sound insane for a guy who values physical fitness, exercise, & prudent dietary choices to like...even long for...something as inherently unhealthy as a fruitcake. However, I'm the type of person who looks at the dietary information posted on the back of the package: 'Hm...if this fruitcake is four servings, and each serving is 400 calories, then I can have...' So, I justify my personal snacking habits as long as my total calories per day, less the number of calories I've burned (boiled?) in the workouts, is right around 2,000.
And my snacking goes in cycles, from good snacking to bad snacking. If I can limit myself to the once-monthly bag of gummi bears, things are fine. It's when I start jonesing after those apple pastries I find near the coffee section of convenience stores I find the chubbiness factor begin to rise.
Suzanne & I spent our Christmas holiday in the "traditional" Bowen manner; sleeping in (a challenge in itself, since the d-a-w-g awakens to the alarm on my running watch), taking a long morning walk, reading, drinking coffee, watching classic flicks on the toob or going to the movies (a doubleheader - Lawrence of Arabia and Marley & Me), and...a recent and new tradition...going out for Chinese.
I almost congratulated myself for getting through this year with a minimum of illness & beat-down, but the holiday @$$ kicking bug caught up with me not once, but twice. I ate something I had absolutely no reason to be scarfing out on at a holiday luau. Enough said. The bad news was it meant two (possibly three) days of no training. The good news was I didn't feel like eating too much outside of very simple foods; half a turkey sandwich here, a bowl of soup there, a couple of bagel chips...blah, blah, blah.
Back to work...not too much excitement around here at the end of the year. Probably will spend more effort blowing excess stuff out of my computer...probably something I should do to the one at home, too. It's amazing how much stuff we accumulate; with computers it's not only paper-based, but also digital. Could someone please slow down the madness?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Help Wanted

MB comment: A little something written for my friends in New Orleans. The Times-Picayune (www.nola.com) has a running section in the on-line version of the paper...blogs and all...have to love a city that loves running. Happy Chanukkah and Happy Christmas to you, also. See you guys soon.
Six times a year I receive phone calls from race directors. While they may not know it, the call’s an advertisement that sounds like:
“HELP WANTED – Fearless, anal-retentive, detail-oriented person/s to ensure running course accuracy. Skilled in problem-solving, math calculation, line-drawing, detail elaboration. Bike-handling skills & lack of fear a must. Track, cross-country or road running experience highly recommended. Must own bicycle, CPSC-certified helmet, & RRTC-approved measuring device – no GPS users! Must memorize simple mathematical calculations, exact metric & English course distances. Know capabilities & limitations of GPS/alternative measuring systems. Can communicate USA Track & Field definition of ‘accurate course’ to general public. Skin thickness, selective hearing, & love-of-travel, able to adapt courses at whim of race directors/police necessary. Compensation varies by difficulty of job, prior experience of applicant. Hours: Flexible; highly-dependent on auto traffic. Resume to (850) 867 5309.”

In Florida, there are over 30 of us listed with USA Track & Field (USATF) as course measurers. Some have been measuring courses for decades, others for a handful of years. We do it because we love the sport of running; we understand the need for accurate courses, & in many cases, because very few others will do the job.
When I tell people I am a runner I receive two questions immediately afterward: ‘Have you done a marathon? Have you done Boston?’ To do Boston, you have to qualify on a certified, accurate course. USATF, the national governing body for the sport of running, defines an accurate course as one that is NOT SHORT. It’s important to know the course you run on is not short; you need to know how well your training is progressing. You want to compare your race performance to others in your age group, another town, or around the country…even year-to-year in your town. If you think of a race director like the manager of a Subway shop, you want to make certain the five-dollar foot-long you paid five dollars for is really 12 inches in length. Any smaller would upset you, & you would go some place else to eat lunch. So, the race director wants you to come to their race rather than somewhere else. One good way to ensure this is by having a USATF-certified course.

Just because you get a USATF course measurer to measure your course doesn’t mean it’s certified by USATF. But having a USATF course measurer measure the course will ensure the job is done properly. The measurer does this by use of several tools and a simple protocol.
The first tool is a bicycle with a counter mounted to the front wheel hub, which provides a fixed count for each turn of the front wheel. The earliest model of counter is accurate to within three inches, more accurate than the GPS receivers used by fitness enthusiasts. The measurer does a series of calibration rides to determine the number of counts (turns of the wheel) per miles/kilometers. These rides are performed on a calibration course, measured out using spring tension & steel surveyor’s tape; most measurers have one or more calibration courses in their area.
Once the count (wheel revolutions) per mile/kilometer is determined, the measurer adds a 1/1000 factor to the count to help prevent a course from being shorter than the actual distance. So, a ten-kilometer (6.213172 miles exactly) run, such as the Crescent City Classic, is actually closer to 6.219925712 miles in distance.
The measurer, once on the course, begins to act like a runner. They ride the shortest possible distance from start to finish; riding 12-inch tangents on curved sections of the course. If runners are going to be restricted from part of the road, these are noted. Distance splits are made at multiples of each count per mile/kilometer, marked (temporarily) & noted relative to fixed points. The counts at the finish are also noted. During a second ride of the course, the count from start to split points & finish are noted again.
The total counts between the first & second rides are divided to ensure the difference between the two rides is no more than .08 percent (26 feet, 4 inches for a 10-kilometer race). Once the course rides are complete, the measurer returns to the calibration course to repeat the calibration done before the measurement rides. The calibration rides before & after the measurement are compared, with the smaller count used to measure course length. The smaller count per mile/kilometer is used to compare the shortest course measurement to the desired distance. If the course distance varies from the desired distance, the measurer adds or subtracts distance – if necessary – to make the course distance accurate.
The measurer then draws up the map, showing detailed location of start, turn points, and finish. Each of the distance splits are noted, as well as places where runners are restricted by cones or barriers. This map, the calibration form, the measurement form, & an application for course certification is sent to the USATF state course certifier, along with a check (in FL, it’s $30). The certifier reviews the paperwork, certifies the measurement met USATF protocols (sometimes after asking for more data), then prepares the certificate. The certificate number & map is placed in the USATF course database, where it can be found by the general public. The race director is asked to place the certificate number on all documents related to their event, both before & after the event. Course distances are valid for ten years from the date of certification, after which the course needs to be measured again & submitted to the certifier.
So, racing on accurate certified courses benefits the individual athlete because they can truly compare their performance to other days or other persons. Accurate certified courses benefit the race director because it’s another proof to market to potential customers of their event’s quality. In fact, USATF and Road Runners Club of America championship races are required to be held on certified courses. So, think twice before you take that GPS receiver-wearing runner’s opinion of the course measurement as gospel – look it up on the USATF web site. If it isn’t there, it isn’t accurate.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Give Me The Fruitcake And Nobody Gets Hurt

Rather than not try to make amends for the morning's weather conditions (light rain), which put the kibosh on not only the marathon course measurement but the Sunday kinda-long run, Suzanne and I took a couple of walks during the course of the day. The first one was the more enjoyable endeavor, around the park outside of our house...taking our greyhound on the last circuit. She wears her iPod to listen to techie podcasts, I wear my Speedo Aquabeat to listen to tunes...we chatter when the spirit moves us...which is usually often during these strolls.
The second one, we decided, would be at the mall. We did want to make a brief trip to a couple of our favorite shops, and we did indulge in some of that four-dollar coffee, too. As always, the mall provides lots of commentary material, so we usually don't take any music player with us.
Why do people lumber through shopping malls in an absolutely overloaded state? There is no way, given the fitness level of the typical American consumer, their stamina is going to withstand a three-hour stroll in an overheated, crowded mall...especially when they are carrying fifty pounds of cr*p IN BAGS WHICH WERE NEVER MEANT FOR CARRYING OVER EXTENDED DISTANCES/PERIODS OF TIME. Suzanne mentioned seeing a couple earlier in the week as she was taking care of some business; the woman was carrying ALL of the stuff. When a bag (inevitably) failed to hold up and shopping items fell to the floor, her husband berated her...of course, he was NOT carrying a d*mned thing. As my friend Christian would say, 'what the heck, over...'
I did mention, during our stroll, the fact I was still not completely in the holiday spirit. For me, it is not the Christmas holiday without not having at least one piece of fruitcake. This has been a painful decision in years past; it was two years ago when I broke a molar while eating a slice of fruitcake, starting a very expensive string of dental appointments which has lasted until the middle of last year. Still, I like candied fruit, nuts, raisins, currants, dates, and all the junk that should never pass the lips of a serious athlete...at least one slice during the holidays, just to say I've had it.
Gingerbread, German lebkuchen, other European delectables of the sort; those are the next-best things I've ever had to fruitcake, frankly. And I'm certain a good gingerbread cake or a couple of good gingerbread cookies are less damaging to the diet than their equivalent weight in fruitcake. However, that's what I want, and I'm still on the hunt for it, d*mn it. If it takes me until Christmas Eve, and I find one of those cheesy single-slice packages at the local Circle K, I'm going to have my piece. Then I'll have some peace.
Ah...it was so good to get back into the groove of working out after three days of being a sick doggie. I didn't get the yardage in the pool I hoped for on Saturday, but it was a check in the box...definitely better than the morning's spinning class. I fail to see the merit in playing holiday music as background visualization to a indoor cycling workout...unless you're playing the Trans-Siberian Orchestra's Christmas Eve, Sarajevo...if it's that piece, I'm going to grind big gears. Still, I can't get up for (young) Michael Jackson singing Santa Claus Is Coming To Town. I can't see Crowie, Chuckie V, Chrissie, spinning to it, nor would Michael be caught dead with it in his iPod.
But I guess the most important thing is to get something done so you don't add something on. This time of year I guess we do work out in order to eat. I'm going to work out until I find my fruitcake...then I'll stop long enough to eat it...then I'll work out some more. Hm, memo to self...recommend fruitcake-flavor to makers of Clif Bar...
In case I don't post between now and later this week...but I probably will...Happy Chanukah, Happy Christmas.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Saint Nick Has Strange Timing

A second attempt at measuring the half-marathon/marathon course shot down the tubes. The RD called me 15 minutes before I was scheduled to head out the door and get my calibration rides. "You looked at Weather Channel yet?" I saw the forecast for the day didn't look all that good, with a band of showers preparing to roll through...followed by a healthy drop in the temperature. The rest of the week isn't looking all that good, either. Ironically, Friday morning seems to be the only good day for the week. I've got it off, but I bet good money it's not the best of days to be on any of the roads, especially near the mall. Of course, given this economy that might not be the case.
While Suzanne was taking care of details for her little soiree last night I had the opportunity to get out and shop. Part of the rationale was painfully obvious: I hadn't done a lick of real shopping without her. Well, I needed to get a bite to eat and recover from the morning's spinning class so I could turn around and do my swim workout...and I had just a sliver beyond the four-hour window my body likes between food and workout. Good enough reason to hit the mall, go to the World Market and see what cool stuff was hiding in there...followed by Bed, Bath & Beyond. Not terribly romantic, but practical & helpful...when it comes to my wife, helping her life is as good as I can get.
I've purchased some books on-line, too, but they might not arrive in time for Christmas...how embarrassing would it be to have to say 'happy Christmas, honey...sorry you don't have any gifties...it's all the Postal Service's fault.' In the case of this wanna-be IM guy, it would be just one more justification for me to see legal papers. Never a good thing. I also bought a book for me, so there's more mindless reading during the down days.
Suzanne got me some stuff I really needed this year...which is not all that difficult, because she could gift-wrap a bag of gummi bears and I'd be overjoyed. So far it's a pair of Gap jeans (yay!) and the biography of Michael Phelps I almost bought for myself on Amazon.com. Talk about a massive sigh of relief on both of our parts; Suzanne thought I already had a copy. I don't always jump on the celebrity biography bandwagon, because I hate having a bio on a luminary, then find out more dirt occurs to them later in life. Call it the Lance Armstrong Syndrome, if you like...more grist for the follow-on biographer, I guess. More money for the celebrity, too.
But I have a great deal of admiration for Michael. Why does it seem (rhetorical question follows:) that the great athletes - or many of them - come from sh!tty childhood situations, where their fathers were either absent or a$$holes? Okay, there are world & Olympic champions, great athletes, who had the continual love & support of both of their parents, so it's not a broad brush stroke.
All right. Enough ranting. I need to go for a walk and burn off some of the excess beer I took in at last night's holiday/cancer remission celebration/karaoke-thon...as well as the previous evening's holiday party.

Friday, December 19, 2008

A Certain Cure For Wimpiness

All right. I made it to Friday, a day I decided (once I figured I had leave hours to burn before end of year) to take off. The original plan was to take next Friday, the day after Christmas...and the Friday after that, the day after New Years' Day...but since the Pres'dent graciously permitted us to have December 26th off...
I somehow managed to throw a big, honkin' monkey wrench into my holiday season training schedule (which at this time consists of maintaining a schedule!), catching a bug at work. It's not often you can tell the exact moment you catch that infection or cold...but I was sitting in a meeting with a bunch of other training personnel. I tend to gnaw on wooden toothpicks at meetings; it helps me to keep my mouth shut & provides me something with which to stimulate my gums...if not my mind...during the mindless moments. I suddenly felt this tickle, like that when you swallow something you probably shouldn't have. After that, it was all downhill.
By the time I got off work I was draining like a tap, sneezing & miserable. I had to go to the track for the workout, but there was no way I was going to be able to run. Ever have one of those days when you prayed for a massive torrential downpour? That's how I was feeling. I did not want my athletes to see me in the state of misery I was in. I gave them their workout, then drove back home to curl up on the couch with a bowl of soup & some drugs.
The next morning felt no better. In fact, I searched in vain to find the man who spent the entire night beating me with a rubber mallet. If not for the fact my time card had been processed I would have taken a sick day...because I don't have a dead day.
If not for the visit of a friend of mine, the unit chaplain, at 10 o'clock, I would have been miserable for the entire day. However, sometimes the proverb (a merry heart does good, like medicine) does have full effect. My agnosis was temporarily shelved by Ed's (self-described) ministry of presence. Thanks, Ed. You are a true mensch.
After that point in time, the recovery seems to have begun. I'm still a little wobbly on the pins; better today than yesterday...perhaps enough to do a very easy swim (think I'll work on my flip turns, since I found a good instructional clip on viddler.com).
I've added a link this morning to a video I found on viddler. I've seen it also on YouTube, but viddler has better picture quality, in my humble opinion. Once again, I'm not one to harbor a great deal of religious belief, having much to do with recovering from ten years in a fundamentalist (near-cult) church. But two things stand out in this video: The love of father to son, & the will of both father and son to succeed somehow. Ironman? Who Knew?
The video of Dick and Rick Hoyt is filed in my list of favorites & stands as a certain cure for my wimpiness. I'm almost together; give me one more day before you tell me to suck it up & drive on.
See you at the track, on the road, & in the pool. Oh, Happy Holidays.

Monday, December 15, 2008

You Have Some "Splaining" To Do

Some numbers are more daunting than others. Take the iron-distance triathlon. Even some of my closest friends have a difficult time wrapping their head around the 140.6-mile (total) distance. After you translate/transform it out to the metric system for the benefit of metric-system-using friends up in Canada, 226 and change (kilometers) sounds even the more insane. To make it sound more round, my metric-speaking friends call it "220."
17 is a more-simple number; that's the number of hours you have to complete the entire event. However, the race organizers make that more complicated by instituting cut-off times for the swim & the bicycle portions. You have to finish the 2.4-miles of open water swimming in 2:20. That means you have to swim 100 yards in a little over three minutes...42 times. I consider myself a poor swimmer, and my distance swim time averages right on the ragged edge of 2:05 for 100 yards.
If you manage to get through that, then you have the privilege of jumping on your bicycle and riding 112 miles, with a cut-off time of somewhere around 10:30 from the start of the race. Oh, the clock doesn't stop after the swim, either.
Let's presume you make it out of the water by the slimmest of margins (sometimes the participants do not), you have to average a little under 14 miles per hour to make the bicycle cut-off. Attaboy.
Now it's time to put your running gear on and do a marathon. Once again, assuming you finish right before the cut-off, it's 6 hours and 30 minutes to travel, under your own power, 26.21875 miles, or 14 minutes & 48 seconds per mile; a rapid stroll...albeit on legs powered by long-depleted energy sources.
Now think about this; there are professionals who are doing this in less than nine hours, and strong amateurs doing it in less than ten. Lots of the finishers could care less about making it in ten; most want to just simply finish.
So, once you run the numbers in a brutally-analytical manner (a friend of mine has completed three Ironman events; we talked about this calculus one night over dinner), where is the challenge? Is it in trying to get through as quickly as possible? Is it in trying to get through it faster than the last time you did it? Or is it in trying to get through it, period? I believe much of it has to do with the mind; having to wrap your head around the concept of distance & of time. Being strong enough to continue forward, yet smart enough to know how fast (or how slow) you need to go in order to make it to the line. Being able to live in the immediate moment & compartmentalize the activity.
Perhaps Desi Arnaz was right: '...anyone who goes to (do this) needs to have their head examined.'

Friday, December 12, 2008

Can You Hear Me, Doctor Wu?

This morning's title has absolutely nothing to do with my intended rant. I came in this morning to the office, turned on Radio Margaritaville, & one of the first songs on was straight from the files of Steely Dan; Walter Becker & Donald Fagen...what were those guys thinking about when they wrote those tunes? I would like to think they were considering the poor schmucks who had to get up & occupy a cubicle for eight hours with little else but coffee to look forward to.
While I don't like to remain uninformed about what is going on in the world, the more I hear about the big business meltdown & our government's efforts to forestall what many C (blank) O's would probably classify as the big one, the less I want to hear. How is it that corporate leaders have the brass to go hat-in-hand to Congress for a government handout, but when push comes to shove they are unwilling to accept government oversight?
A friend of mine at the local coffee shop asked whether I would get her a new Camaro for her birthday/Christmas. I told her the gift would wait until GM declared bankruptcy, after which I would purchase her Camaro for pennies on the dollar. Actually, we might get her the Camaro the Johnny Cash way...one piece at a time. Starting with the easiest part - the key. That ought to drive her insane.
Swimming workouts have been a challenge as of late. My coach is willing to provide me workouts to focus on the specific endurance needs of triathlon swimming. However, there aren't enough lanes at the pool to segregate the endurance swimmers from masters' swim prep. Most of my masters' swimming lane-mates focus on events of (much) shorter-length, where raw speed is the coin of the realm. Or is that coin of the realm better defined as shorter duration of discomfort?
I caught some instructional requests from lane-mates: 'someone please teach that guy to flip-turn?' Guys, I'm a tri-geek. When am I going to flip-turn during the course of a 600-meter, 800-meter, mile, 1.2-mile or (gasp!) 2.4-mile swim? Before you counter with 'when are you going to open turn in a tri?' realize there are no black lines on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. I'm going to have to sight every so often, and I'd rather not depend on the (atrocious) sighting skills of swimmers who are at my (atrocious!) ability level.
Besides, my best stroke when it comes to pool swimming is probably the breaststroke.
This year's running group Christmas party is Beach Casual. Love it. Perfect. The missus and I made a brief pilgrimage to the local surf shop to find (ideally) matching island print shirts. None in stock. Bummer. So, we decided on Plan B, a couple of matching Old Guys Rule shirts. The logo looked like a couple of beers we've had at one time or another...perfect. Probably toss a couple of collared short-sleeve flowered tops underneath for some dignity. Might (still) be a little too chilly for shorts.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

I Can't Get No Satisfaction

In my professional (defined in this venue as for which I am paid a regular salary) line of work, we are regularly under the gun to prove our worth to our customer. In most cases, the question is fairly well rhetorical; it would cost our customer far beyond our pay & benefits to contract for an equally-qualified (foolish?) worker, or hire a replacement should we be made redundant. However, we are under the thinly-veiled threat of contract replacement, as well as a pay-for-performance system...which has the unintended consequences of scaring off the highly-qualified potential employees.
It doesn't mean the process of knowing how your customer feels about your work is coals to Newcastle...or what I like to call (when describing some days) a complete waste of make-up. However, the greatest challenge is making certain the customer has the ability to be honest about their opinion...with the hope they will continue to use your service in the future should you make what changes you feel are necessary. It doesn't take a doctoral degree in rocket science or sociology to tell a coach when their athletes are happy or unhappy with the program. If they're happy with the end-results of your training they'll stick around...if not, they'll go off to someone else. When (or if) a coach resorts to survey instruments, especially to ask the opinion of former athletes, it's much the same as if they were invited to drop an atomic weapon at the coach's front door. Merry freaking Christmas, 'Coach.' Once again, I borrow from my wife, who now is a member of the Professional Organization of English Majors (POEM, for those of you into acronyms), and her dictum: '...care, but try not to care too much.'
I swear, one of these days I'm going to retire and let her coach runners like me. :)A report on NPR's Morning Edition this morning mentioned research which proves non-primate animals have a sense of fairness, and react when things don't seem fair. When trained dogs responded to a command, saw another dog receive a treat, and received none of their own they initially questioned (hard look) the trainer's response. After a while they tried another behavior to get the attention (and the treat) of the trainer. As they realized there was no chance for treats to be had, they had to fight their instinct and look away to not gain hope of a treat. Eventually, the dogs refused to listen to the trainer's command.
My strange sense of schadenfreude comes every so often when I participate at a local race or encounter a former athlete from my training group. I like to see former athletes do well, regardless of whether I coach them or they resort to a book. I hate to see former athletes sustain overuse injuries, though...it's as though I could have done something to keep them on the right path and not on the injured list. The hardest encounter comes when I see them frustrated at their lack of progress. How do you say, 'well, I could help you with that issue if you wish,' without sounding like an arrogant jerk?
Again, I have to listen and repeat my wife's dictum: 'care, but not too much.'
At least not for the ones who have gone down the road.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Lost In Translation

Last night was the local triathlon club's general membership meeting, holiday party, eat, drink, merriment-a-thon, or drunken bacchanal, depending on your particular point of view. Coming two days following the swim group's (post-workout) holiday breakfast & five days following the local running group's mid-week run/social...there were ample opportunities for "translation." Well, more of opportunities to look at the similarities, differences & idiosyncracies of three completely different groups, some of which have intersecting membership sets.
First, swimmers can discuss almost any topic at a conversational tone in a group of people, because they are more likely talking to the closest three or four persons around them. The next lane, or the next four chairs on either side of them might as well be an entire world away, because it is. I'm only concerned about someone in the next lane if their kicking gets as strange as mine is once fatigue sets in...or if they're doing the backstroke (of course, my lane-mates are more scared of me during the backstroke section of a workout than they are any other lane).
Runners are going to speak at the top of their voice, especially because everyone else is. That's usually a side-effect of alcohol, I realize; give a runner a couple (or a couple too many) beers & they feel the irrational desire to announce all sorts of embarrassing stuff to the entire world. Most of the time they are fortunate & nobody hears a thing...once again, the rest of the room is all at a near-bellow to their closest companions. The only time anything really scandalous is revealed is if someone with the lack of impulse control hears it & passes it along to their group of fellow curiosity compulsives...that's how mass communication (and unearned reputations) happens. The only other time is when something is blurted out as the volume wanes in all the other groups. Happens every once in a while, with humorous (if you're the hearer) or disastrous (if you're the speaker) consequences.
If you're a leader, forget having announcements at the meetings of either one of these two groups. The former group wants to save their oxygen; the latter group would prefer you not shout & utilize more than your fair share of the same.
The announcement portion of last night's triathlon group meeting was done at a good time; all of the meeting participants had enough time to consume at least one adult beverage. But we weren't three sheets to the wind, nor in a room where we couldn't hear each other converse. Pragmatic conversation. Of course, there was also good food at hand, so we wanted to get our fill before the main portion of the meeting; the white elephant gift exchange. Probably the most civil game of "dirty Santa" I've ever experienced.
I guess when half of the white elephant items are alcoholic & the other half are practical items for the average triathlete (yep, a pragmatic bunch!) civility will abound. That's probably the joy of dealing with most triathletes...the drafting rule from most event bike legs often carries over into the other aspects of their lives. It would be interesting to see how a triathlete drives to the mall or deals with the struggle for a parking space. Bet they take the space nearest the exit.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Baby, It's Cold Outside

Hear that thump? If you didn't figure it out that's the sound of the mercury hitting the floor. Most of my friends & loved ones live in less-temperate climes; they are not showing any love. I can guess why; we don't get near the cold they get, & definitely not the snow.
As much as I hate the dark & cold this time of year, the colder temps mean we get to change our favorite meals from salad to stews & soups. Much, much easier to prepare, even for a culinary-clueless clod like me. Stop by the local grocery & grab up some more vegetables for chopping, or stew beef, or chicken breast filets...nothing like a nice hot stew with a large chunk of Panera asiago cheese bread (and a cold beer!) after a workout.
A couple of weeks ago when the first real cool morning occurred, we heard thumps every few minutes on the window of the pool where I train. At the end of the workout, I saw the lifeguard walking outside with a stick or something, trying to pick up the birds who managed somehow to commit suicide by flying into the window. Flying toward the warmth? Not certain.
The other evening, our 'hound decided to climb up on our bed while we were in a state of repose. If the dog were a small breed, like a pekingese, it would not be such a bad thing. However, we're talking about an 80-pound greyhound. All right, I know he has zero body fat. He also learned the behavior from his "uncle" Steve; when Rubin stays over for the weekend, Steve lets the dog share the bed with him. In light of the $90 gas bill from this last month, the dog might spend more time at the office. Now, though, we have to keep more blankets at the house, think about a better dog bed, or break the dog of this new habit. Or perhaps just suck it up & fire up the furnace. Perhaps after Thanksgiving.
I almost have the missus sold on the benefits of cycling arm/leg warmers. She borrowed a pair of mine the other evening at the track, & did like them save for the painfully-obvious fact my arms are a little larger than hers...so they kept slipping down. Beats carrying extra long-sleeved garments & the need to stop and pull the suckers off, in my humble opinion. Just wear a good short sleeve, & pull the arm warmers down to the wrist when you get too warm.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

My Thanksgiving

(With a little bit of help from Don Henley, circa 2001...)

"A lot of things have happened since the last time we spoke; Some of them are funny, some of 'em ain't no joke; and I trust you will forgive me if I lay it on the line; I always thought you were a friend of mine..."

Over the last couple of months I've seen my high school classmates attaching through Web 2.0 modalities like Facebook. It's cool to see some of us have changed over the nearly three decades since graduating high school. Some of us haven't changed a bit. Some haven't left the old home town; some of us are sitting on the far side of the world, in places we would have never imagined being in when we were 17, 18, 19 years old.

"...Sometimes I think about you; I wonder how you're doing now and what you're going through..."

It's a d*mn good thing I'm married & I had no social life in high school. No old flames to fear re-kindling. Well, it'll be uncomfortable next year & I have little to recollect upon but the occasional band or track bus trip...compared to some of the parties my friends engaged in that seems pretty d*mmned lightweight. And since there was no Web 2.0 to speak of back then there won't be any incriminating evidence to dig up.

"...The last time I saw you we were playing with fire; We were loaded with passion and a burning desire; for every breath, for every day of living; This is my Thanksgiving..."

I'll be looked at with a certain degree of admiration, or pity...haven't figured out which. How many people get to re-make themselves 15 years after high school? How many want to re-make themselves? I think I can name at least one or two who would, but I'm not going there at this moment. Well, maybe I will.

"...Now the trouble with you and me, my friend is the trouble with this nation; Too many blessings, too little appreciation;and I know that kind of notion-well, it just ain't cool; so send me back to Sunday school; because I'm tired of waiting for reason to arrive; It's too long we've been living these unexamined lives..."

Getting married & divorced in the course of two years is a blessing in disguise; it showed me the superficiality of some people's religious faith, how fleeting their emotional support can be. It's a harsh wake-up call when you find the people you most hope to stand in your corner when the stuff hits the fan are the first to bail on you. It's provided insight on religion, on faith, & on the painful revelation the two often are not mutually inclusive.

"...I've got great expectations, I've got family and friends; I've got satisfying work, I've got a back that bends; for every breath, for every day of living; This is my Thanksgiving..."


Thank God for those years of solitude & searching in the early-to-mid-1990s. I would have never taken up running, never asked questions of the truths dropped in my lap on a weekly basis, & never thought about doing little more than a seven-to-three, five-day-a-week, working class existence. No college, no job potential, no relocation, no second marriage, no athlete-coach relationships...probably on the fast-track to fat, dumb & happy-ville.

"...Have you noticed that an angry man can only get so far; Until he reconciles the way he thinks things ought to be with the way things are..."


Coaching, here & now, has taught me the need to be less concerned about people who disagree. Most make their case known behind your back, with little or no evidence. They don't want to prove you made a mistake, they want to humiliate you in public. When you're the target of ad hominem attacks, there's not a lot you can do to defend without looking foolish...face it, some knucklehead is bound & determined to drag you down to their level.

"...Here in this fragmented world, I still believe in learning how to give love, and how to receive it; and I would not be among those who abuse this privilege; sometimes you get the best light from a burning bridge..."

So, I take my joy from making a difference in a small handful of lives; by motivation, by encouragement, by counsel, by setting the best possible example. The joy comes on days like today, when I can help someone run a personal best at a race...just talking them through the process...not screaming & yelling until it's all said & done (the right time to scream, no?). To those who decide to cross & burn the bridge behind them, all I can do is smile, watch them march into the darkness. Then I'll sit down to roast weenies in the embers.

"...And I don't mind saying that I still love it all; I wallowed in the springtime, now I'm welcoming the fall; for every moment of joy, every hour of fear; for every winding road that brought me here; for every breath, for every day of living; This is my Thanksgiving..."

This time of the year, with the darkness & damp & cold, is a strange time for running. You spend lots of time in solitary pursuit if you stick to the road or the track; treadmills only isolate us from each other through music players & headphones. Sometimes it helps just to break the rut; if you've been treadmilling regularly, get out on the track or the road. If you run in the dark under the streetlamps, get inside every so often. Break the monotony.

"...For everyone who helped me start; and for everything that broke my heart; for every breath, for every day of living; This is my Thanksgiving."

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Law Of Diminishing Returns

Okay, a survey link on the front page of Yahoo! asks what I consider a rhetorical question: What's the key to having the happiest job? Part of me thinks back to the physician/ultrarunner Timothy Noakes' 14 Laws of Training, hidden in plain sight within his weighty tome Lore of Running. (if you want to be a serious runner or effectively guide runners, this text is probably the philosopher's stone of running texts) One of the laws says something to the degree of try to achieve desired athletic performance on the minimal volume of training possible.
Most runners I encounter, however, want to achieve great gains in performance on less than optimal training, or on no training whatsoever. That's like doing no work & expecting a paycheck mailed to your home...even better, direct deposit to your bank account, as a reward. Crazy, no? John Parker, in several of his books, reiterates a painfully obvious fact on performance gain; there is no secret outside of the often heart-rending process of wearing down the outsoles of your running shoes, one molecule of rubber at a time. Really, if there were a pill, potion, powder or plan that could guarantee performance gains 100 percent of the time, it would have been outlawed by now. Even (so-called) performance-enhancing drugs can't replace desire & discipline. Or plain dumb luck.
So, sometimes you have to experiment & find out how much training is too much, & how much training is the most effective...for you. Not everyone has the time or work schedule, or the physical desire to get up at oh-dark-thirty & run six, eight, ten miles, day in & day out. Perhaps they have found their fastest performances were the result of long, easy runs in the afternoon, with one or two speed workouts laced in during the week. Sometimes this also means taking a rest day or an easy day here & there...planned or unplanned, it makes no difference.
I don't think this is necessarily limited to male athletes. I've trained with a couple of female runners who would literally run themselves into the ground & not give an inch during a workout. One was definitely the type that if I were to mention there was a bone sticking out of her leg she would have likely asked me 'and whose bone might that be?' Regrettably, she is Once A Runner, a recreational runner now, as is her husband. Proof sometimes that madness begets madness? No. Birds of a feather? Perhaps.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Kipling As Coach

Every so often I like to take a look at the local bulletin board postings, especially after a race, to hear what participants are asking - or complaining - about. Most of the time the questions are 'where can I find results to a race?' But every once in a blue moon a person complains about stuff that often can be resolved by either individual participants taking time to know the rules & read the fine print on the application, or by individual race directors taking the time to educate before, & enforcing on race day.
I have my own pet peeves about what should & should not be permitted on the race course, for a number of reasons usually codified in a rule book somewhere. That might be the part of me that's much like my late uncle; my mother claims I harbor a lot of his here are the rules, d*mn it, so follow them until someone in authority decides to change them point of view. If my father & my uncle had worked on the same law enforcement agency together any longer than they did, they would have made the perfect good cop, bad cop (by bad cop I mean playing by the rules 100-percent of the time) combination. My father knew letting my school friends' borderline infraction of the speed limits slide would lead to peaceable relations with their parents, many of whom were upstanding citizens in the community, business leaders, & the like. Uncle Ernie, on the other hand (bless his heart, as my wife would say), knew only one way other than the highway...the rulebook, statute or law. That was it. Suffice it to say my father probably has more friends outside of the law enforcement community than my uncle did while he was alive.
As coach, I have certain statutes & rules by which I have to abide. The national governing body under which I (voluntarily) labor says so. The other national running organization under which I voluntarily labor asks me to act in an ethical manner & work to help educate the local running community. Naturally, like every play by the book law enforcement officer & teacher, there is the feeling you're standing & shouting into the abyss. The persons who appreciate you let you know in private, the persons who would rather you stay the hell away are more likely to do it in a public manner.
My wife continues to remind me my labors are not completely in vain. That's a fortunate thing, because if I didn't hear it from her I probably would have packed it in years ago; more time to be spent with her, the d-a-w-g & the people I enjoy the most, as well as some flexibility in my own personal training schedule.
Every so often I pick up one of my college literature textbooks and thumb to a dog-eared page of poetry or two. Some times it's William Henley's Invictus when I feel the need to feel ten feet tall & bulletproof. But Rudyard Kipling's If often does the work. Kipling, with his prototypical British stiff upper lip reminds me to get up, or stay up, when the public smack talk comes a little too thick or hits a little deeper than a civil disagreement would/should:
If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs & blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, yet make allowance for their doubting, too.
If you can wait & not be tired by waiting, or being lied about, don't deal in lies;
Or being hated, don't give in to hating; yet neither look too good, nor talk too wise.
If you can dream, & not make dreams your master; if you can think, & not make thoughts your aim.
If you can meet with Triumph & Disaster, yet treat those two impostors just the same.
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools;
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken & stoop to build them using worn-out tools.
If you can make a heap of all your winnings & risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, & start again at your beginnings & never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart & nerve & sinew to serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"
If you can talk with crowds & keep your virtue, or walk with kings--nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you; if all men count with you, but none too much,
(N.B. My wife, the English major, paraphrases the previous couplet to remind me to "care, but not too much.")
If you can fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth & everything that's in it, and--which is more--you'll be a Man, my son!
So I'll head back to my corner & put some ice on the bruise. See you next round.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Three Is A Magic Number

Fresh in my home e-mail in-box...good stuff from PowerBar and Carmichael Training Systems, which I'll shamelessly borrow for your benefit. (My editorial comments will be in italics.)
Exercising with partners provides additional motivation and adds an important social component to keep you engaged in your exercise program. There are days when it's easier to do something other than exercise, or you'd rather sit on the couch than go for a run. It's not that you don’t want to exercise; you just need a little nudge from a buddy. Even highly motivated professionals benefit from training partners because they make you accountable for your workouts: Someone waiting for you at the park or the gym will make you shut down the computer or drag you out of bed.
In our household I have little trouble getting out the door to the pool or the bike, at least when my wife is home. When she is on the road, however, the positive motivation to get up and get out begins to wane. This autumn I found the motivation loss kicked in about three weeks into her last business trip. Mind you, I still managed to get my afternoon run workouts in, with varying degrees of (perceived) success, but the cross-training sessions which enabled me to loosen up tight muscles went by the wayside.
Optimal performance often depends on involving the perfect number of people. In business, a team that's too big struggles to make decisions, and a team that's too small doesn’t have the brain power to cover all the angles. Likewise, for training groups, involving too many people makes it too complicated to coordinate schedules and preferences. But training alone makes it too easy to put exercise on the back burner.
Even Saturday morning track workouts during the late summer got scrapped because there were no fellow participants. I'd show at the track, see no teammates, and say 'stuff it.' Well, I'd use the YMCA cardio machines (elliptical trainer or treadmill) and/or the pool for lap swimming in order to fill in the check-box for the day...kind of the 80-percent solution to physical training.
I’ve found that three is the perfect number for forming a reliable training group. A triad ensures that if one person can’t make it, there’s still one person depending on you to show up. It’s not imperative that all three of you meet up to do the same workout, just that you commit to starting and finishing together.
Sunday morning runs are a good example here. In fact, I changed the Sunday morning route from a loop course to an out-and-back, based on time, in order to allow everyone to (nearly) finish together. All each person has to do is keep track of their time and turn at the right moment. When/if the pace on the return trip is the same as the outbound, just about everyone encounters each other at the last mile at the worst, the last five minutes at the best. This way no one is left alone on the course, and if someone has a very bad day we can help bring them in.
The importance of a third person is evident even in a (pro-exercise) environment....I noticed that several of my employees were struggling to stick with their fitness programs, so I encouraged them to establish training triads....signing up for endurance events, like the Leadville 100 mountain bike race, and then completing a fraction of the necessary training. He went and completed the events anyway, but he suffered more than he needed to in the process. When he (had one) training (partner), ...only had a little more success sticking with his training. Whenever (one) had to miss a session, (the other) missed it too. But adding (a third athlete) to the team created a training triad, and the chances that at least two people were available for a training session increased by 100%....Training triads work. Even for athletes of differing fitness levels and disciplines because they keep everyone engaged and committed to training.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Blip On The Horizon

Been home for eight hours from Panama City, a trip originally planned to take an extra day. Quality time with my wife (in spite of the previous week in Dubai) comes few & far between.
We talked about going to Ironman Florida as spectators. As most participants will tell you (once the DOMS fades) it's nothing like the telecasts on Versus or NBC...in many ways it's better, in my humble opinion. I'll have a couple of (phone camera) photos posted in the next day or so, fleeting glimpses of things I saw during the first six hours of the day. I did not take any shots of the run or the finishers because of my (poor) vantage point in the finishing chute, however.
I volunteered to work a three-hour shift at the finish line, handing out bottles of water to finishers, but was placed a little further down the finish chute, to help hand out finisher shirts and hats. Let me tell you, the range of emotions displayed by nearly all of the finishers (not just first-timers) ran the gamut of shock & numbness to emotional overflow. Who would have thought a man would weep like a seven-year-old child at finishing under ten hours?
No, I truly enjoyed seeing & experiencing...& being a part of the experience...over two thousand brave souls test themselves against the Gulf of Mexico, the roads of Bay County, & the streets of Panama City Beach. Of course, there wasn't the heat, hills & winds of Kona, but for many, this was as good as it got.
And, as my wife knew, I was stoked to be there, & be a small part of the equation. I knew I had to become, somehow (as Faris Al-Sultan said), part of the family. Which, outside of the $500 entry fee, meant a year (technically a year & six days) of commitment to a goal.
Well, the decision was 90-percent made before I left the house on Friday afternoon, but I made certain Suzanne completely bought in to the ideal & the plan. I did have a 30-second moment of what am I thinking? the minute before I provided my information...& a 30-second moment the minute after.
My friend Steven stepped out of the tent about three minutes after I had my confirmation sheet. 'I guess there's no turning back now, is there?' I asked.
So, like watching a tropical storm on the radar screen you know is going to put you into the hurt locker soon enough...and soon enough for Steven, myself, & another 2,000 of us...is coming on November 7, 2009.
Bring it on. Well, maybe that's not such a wise statement, given the track record of it's previous speaker. :)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Winter Running, Florida-Style

And yes, that is snow in there. That's Ski Dubai, the only place in the UAE where you might find the (once again, a John Parker quote) white stuff that falls from God. You have to see it for yourself to believe it really exists, namely an indoor ski slope, toboggan run & refreshment lodge in the middle of the desert...all right, how about in the middle of a shopping mall in the desert...with a Krispy Kreme on the ground floor. But I digress from the topic on which I really wanted to write. Returned home from Dubai last Sunday, where the average daytime temperature was closer to 85 than it was 65, the average here in the Redneck Riviera. Before I am accused of complaining about the lack of culture or temperature here at this particular time, let me say I like running in the autumn & winter here in the Florida Panhandle. Most of my friends from around the Northern Hemisphere, in the continental US and Canada, would give their eye-teeth to have nearly year-round training which we here take so much for granted.
Most of the locals here, from my own observation, tend to shut down their training when the conditions are too hot or too cold for their taste, which leaves a window of about two weeks in the year where they get any quality time in. Ah, but that's a personal problem and an unintentional dig. Those of you who feel offended can get in line because I have many persons to which I owe mea culpas.
It's much like my work place...I prefer to have the air conditioning working in full effect because I can always add clothing if things get too cold...which to me beats sweating like a pig. But again I digress. The challenge of running during this time of year is knowing how much clothing to have on, the ability to adjust on the fly for conditions, and portability. I have written on this particular topic before; marveling at the locals who dress more like Nanook of the North at a road race when the temperature drops below 60 degrees...and subsequently overheating at the first mile. Never pretty. After taking a few dollars to invest in cycling arm and leg warmers, I would highly recommend them for running use. Especially the arm warmers. They can be rolled down around your wrists when the conditions are more temperate, or pulled back up when you begin to catch a chill. The use of bicycle-style tights (4-to-8-inch inseam) and removable knee warmers, or knicker-style tights are a happy alternative to worrying over whether to wear running shorts or long tights. Once again, around here, the need to use long tights only comes probably about three to four weeks through the deadest part of winter. Hats (almost a must, as you can retain more heat from your head this way) and gloves are also helpful, especially if your hands and ears get cold easily. Let your conscience be your guide.
Two more items to consider, make that three: Lights/reflectors, glasses, and hydration. Few of us have the opportunity to run during the middle portion of the day and use that decreased amount of daylight, so most of the runs are going to be in conditions that are dark, or near-dark. An ounce of lighting and reflection is worth a pound of pounding from a local driver heading to or from work who is not paying attention to what's going on around them. Pay close attention to drivers, and prepare an escape plan at all times during your run. A pair of sunglasses with interchangeable or photochromic lenses, preferably polarized, will also help cut down the glare of headlights and the effects of sunlight (different from summer conditions). Lastly, don't forget to hydrate, especially important as you won't feel the need to do so like during summer time. However, you still are losing water to perspiration and water vapor from breathing. Just because you're not sweating like you did during the summer doesn't mean your body isn't regulating its core temperature any less.
See you on the track.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Dubai Observations, Part One

If I had not seen this with my own eyes, & had one for myself, I would have called the person who said, 'dude, have you seen this at Mickey D's?' a bald-faced liar. However, at Mickey D's in the Arab world, there is an honest-to-Allah flatbread sandwich called the McArabia. I actually had this as my first meal in the Emirates, minutes after being picked up from the airport...but I had the Chicken rather than the Kofta. Actually, it was rather tasty; certainly beat the daylights out of any McRib I've ever tried here in the States.
My loving wife goes on the road about 20 weeks out of the year, often to these telecom conferences & IT shows. I've seen the contents of her bags before she leaves as well as when she gets back, & it amazes me to see the amount of stuff she lugs along with her...especially in her backpack. One more piece of paperwork and I swear that bag would have been much too heavy to carry...what a way to get your abdominal work in. There were six cases of coffee mugs shipped over, as well as what is affectionately known as booth in a box. There's a couple of hundred pounds worth of stuff...most of which needed to be given away before the last day. Either that, or we'd have been playing the old Rolling Stones tune as my personal song: '...I'll never be your beast of burden...' Again.
Sometimes, business conference travel can be as physically arduous as athletics...once you take away the late-night (over) eating & the short/disturbed sleep cycles. I turn into a pumpkin at 9 p.m. during the training year, which in my case is almost all year long. We couldn't get into a restaurant before 7:30 p.m., & service most of the times was glacial at best, because we were going to places that were more frequented by locals than turistas. That meant most nights ended at 2:00 a.m. if we were fortunate. Normally I would not have complained much, but I was trying to fit something that resembled a workout in each morning before we had to be at the conference expo at 10 a.m. After two or three instances of this I felt like turning into Rain Man...Judge Wapner's on at 11.
If this election cycle were a running event, we would be at the point on the course where the riff-raff barriers on the side of the road are starting. I have to admit I will look forward to seeing it end. I don't make any bones about my political point of view in front of my athletes or my friends, & some of us pretty much agree to disagree for the time being. However, it's interesting to see the stuff (junk, in my humble opinion, & that is being polite) that gets thrown up on social networking sites, such as Facebook.
One of the folks who is slightly associated with my training group never fails to pull up some of the most outlandish videos, straight from the colons (oops, columns) of Fox News (They Distort, You Decry). After a while you just want to find a way to put them on ignore, or the next closest thing to block. As I said, I'll provide my opinion, but I'll also try to present it in a manner that's reasonable & rational.
You don't have to agree with me...just make certain to listen when it's time to work out.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Red Whiten Blues

"It's kind of fun to do the impossible." - Walt Disney
Just in case my (semi-) chubby form or the photo details are not clear enough, the quote on the highway overpass (in English and Arabic) is from Disney. I'm not terribly surprised the development company Emaar (builder of some of the big malls and towers in Dubai, including the Emirates Mall, where Ski Dubai is located) didn't take Walt's dictum to heart.
If you ever want to have an OZ moment (your line: '...you know, Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas any more...'), just take a week for a vacation to the United Arab Emirates, namely Dubai. It's the kind of place where architectural historians, or at least mechanical engineers, would scratch their heads in wonder. I modified the Field of Dreams tag line if you build it, they will come to describe the building madness that is going on there: If You Design It, They Will Build.
Take a city like Chicago, or New York. Add financial incentives. Blend with varying degrees of Islamic and Western Asian culture. Drop it into the Arab world. There's Dubai.
Before you begin to think that I have an infatuation with the city, let me balance it out. It's not a town where runners or athletes would feel particularly safe, at least not in the newest sections. The traffic pattern is hideous, the traffic insane, and the drivers very aggressive. Perhaps out toward the older districts of the city and the surrounding environs it might be more tri-geek, runner or cyclist friendly, but even then I have my doubts.
Eating in Dubai for the Western European/North American is a no-brainer. Well, it's actually quite challenging, because you can have either every major restaurant chain known to man or local cuisine, cheek-by-jowl. Once you get out into the suburbs, cities like Sharjah for example, the food is more adventurous and the people a little more fun. Where else can you walk into a coffee shop and be offered some of the best baklava outside of Beirut and wash it down with an absolutely awesome Turkish-style coffee, all for much less than what you would pay at the local Starbucks? If there's a place, please let me know so I can go there.
I didn't get enough exercise in during the week, but this trip was not so much about exercise as much as it was about adventure, about extending a few horizons and (in some cases) hanging on for dear life until the bumpy sections were through...in order to laugh about your own fear.
I hope I figure out before the next visit a good place to go running. Somehow, treadmill workouts in a place like Dubai, or Sharjah, just seem to be a really bad idea.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Aquatic Alchemy

How do you know when you're fatigued & would benefit from an easier easy day, or a day off? If you have an easy day scheduled and the effort seems hard, or you have cross-training scheduled and the effort seems hard...you understand where I'm going here, I hope. Case in point: I hadn't raced in three months; so I jumped into a local, low-key 5,000-meter road race last weekend to show good-will (the race organizer serves as public safety coordinator on the island where we produce a couple of events) & to test my fitness. At the worst I could call it a hard workout without too much shame. While I ran 15-20 seconds slower than my typical 5K result this time of year (blame that nasty little headwind on the outbound) the rest of the performance was pretty much to my satisfaction.
Sunday morning's eight-miler was a trudge. No worries; a couple of years back, one of the guys I used to run with always said: 'the day after a hard race, run easy; the day after a good race, run easy.' Naturally, it was more difficult to run easy after a good race; you were stoked over your fitness, blah, blah, blah... But I think every one of us were a little beat from recent efforts, so it wasn't a bad morning...if you look past the ten pounds of used kitty litter in an eight-pound bag feeling in your legs.
The one place I always find out how badly beat down (beat up?) I am in the physical sense is the pool. You can fake the track or the road by altering the course to make your effort easier. The pool, however, is another story. Well, I stand corrected. You can fake the pool if you're swimming a solo workout by lengthening the intervals, or in my case, use the entire interval. If you're not training alone and you have a bad day you either pray for them to be hurting worse than you, or hope like hell your lane-mates won't water polo (for those of you who haven't seen water polo, it's a legalized form of the dunk tag you used to play as a kid in the neighborhood pool, with a volleyball added to make it look like a sport) your sorry @$$ when they catch you on the fourth of six 150s or 200s.
A bad day in the pool can be told by how the water feels. For me, the water becomes the consistency of peanut butter; you're getting a good catch on the strokes, but man, that pull is a complete and utter bee-yotch. Maybe I would have benefited from taking Friday - my normal rest day - off, rather than putting my Speedo Aquabeat MP3 player through its paces. I decided, since we had a non-training day (and a 59-minute hit) to make up for missing Tuesday morning's swim; (refer back to my comments in You Love The Thunder...Not!) disregarding my own dictum...to hit the pool for an hour. I decided to do 60 x 40yds freestyle on the 60. For those of you doing the math, that's 2400 yards of swimming. I averaged between 44 and 47 seconds for each repeat. For those of you who coach swimmers or swim well, you know that's not impressive. When you extrapolate that workout out to a 50yd pool, it was probably 40 x 50yds on the 1:15, averaging between 55 and 59 seconds for each.
Ah, but it was fun. Now we can get back to the schedule the way it should be. I'll get a rest day somewhere. Probably while I'm flying to Dubai.

Friday, October 10, 2008

You Love The Thunder...Not!

Sometimes the weather is too nasty to run a workout on the track but you feel like your training is going to slip without an interval workout. Assuming you already have your aerobic base built, the good news is missing a single workout because of weather or life issues which suddenly arise is not going to destroy your fitness. The bad news is many runners feel the need to tack on a second workout, or do one the next day at a higher intensity than they originally planned.
Listen very carefully to me. Don’t do it. A day without a workout is a day without a workout. It’s not a character failure or the first sign of the apocalypse. Just do the next day’s planned workout & be happy for the extra rest you probably needed in the first place.
If you have access to a good treadmill on those days when the weather is nasty or dark once you get away from work, or you know you’re going to miss a track session because of a social/work function, here’s a good 60-minute substitute workout. I've used this on several occasions, especially in the late winter, when almost NOBODY wants to be out in the dark, wind & cold hammering out repeats on the track:
Start the treadmill on the manual program with a flat elevation; to simulate the resistance of road running, you can set the elevation for 0.5 to 1.0 percent. Set the speed for a pace with which you can comfortably run for an hour; I like to use about 0.5 of a mph slower than my long run pace (for example, if you’re running 8:00 miles (7.5mph) on your long run, set the treadmill speed to 7.0-to-7.1mph. A 9-minute miler (6.7mph) would set the TM to 6.2 or 6.3mph).
Warm-up (15-20 min) – 2.0 miles at starting speed.
First set (10 min) – increase speed 0.2 mph – run 30 sec, rest 30 sec x 8.
Second set (10 min) – increase speed by 0.2 mph – run 1 min, rest 30 sec x 5.
Third set (10min) – increase speed by 0.2 mph – run 2 min, rest 1 min x 3.
Cool down – decrease speed by 0.5 mph, run for rest of hour.
I’ve done variations of this workout (.1 mi/25 sec, .18 mi/30 sec, .22 mi/40 sec & .25 mi/60 sec repeats), but 30-second & minute time intervals are much more simple, especially if you’re math-challenged to begin with.
This is just a simple, 80-percent solution to take care of business when either Mother Nature or Father Time (Constraints) places undue (negative) influence upon that well-laid-out training plan of yours.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Mother... of Invention

Absolutely the best possible reason for owning and using an iPod or a good MP-3 player. I've always fervently and vehemently opposed the use of those gadgets while running races or track workouts, but given personal experience, I can understand why some will use them. One thing the MP-3 player does do is protect the user from earworms, such as seen above. However, the song above is not the worst breed of earworm. I think Bobby McFerrin's Don't Worry, Be Happy is the most dangerous of earworms. Just ask Jeffrey Crane. I shoved that one deep into his head during a track workout years ago, and I bet he still hasn't got it out of his head. In fact, the last time I saw him at a race (a little over 19 months ago) I started whistling DW, BH and watched his Marine Corps-trained butt run away in horror.
HOWEVER, I learned this weekend of what obviously has to be the most fantastic invention provided by the Almighty to man since the inspiration to brew beer. You have to love a shoe-maker who designs a slide (sandal) with a church key (bottle opener) embedded into the sole. If someone had told me such a device existed I would have thought them a little crazy. However, I saw one for myself during a swimmer potluck this weekend.
Some of the gang brought in classic (non-screw-top) bottles to the party, myself and my wife included. I keep a fold-up church key on my keychain, and a larger church key on an insulated bag we take to social functions. I thought I'd be helpful to one of my fellow swimmers, until someone called out to Mel and asked if he'd loan out his sandal for a second. Mel took the sandal off his foot, popped the top, then returned the slide to his foot. Those of us who didn't know anything about the device were in awe, and rightly so.
As John Parker would say, necessity is the mother______ of invention. Some dude saw a need and invented. We can now bow in the general direction of Reef sandals and surfer Mick Fanning. You, at least for today, are our hero.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

"You are the way you are because that's the way you want to be. If you really wanted to be any different, you'd be in the process of changing right now." - Fred Smith
The weather has not taken a complete turn toward autumn-like conditions, but the mornings have been absolutely glorious this last week. The afternoons, however, are more like summer. I figure another week or so will pass before we have autumn across the board.
Before running at the beach last Wednesday night, my friend George & I were trading training notes. We use the same training regimen as when we trained together under our coach, but with adjustments to fit our own idiosyncracies & ways of thinking. Funniest thing, though...when we compare notes we seem to be fairly well in synchronization. Who would have known? We both harbor the same degree of concern about folks who used to train with us & now have gone their own way, but wish them well & (almost always) leave the door open for their return. If not for the encouragement of my wife I probably would focus & fixate more on trying to draw them back; she reminds me there are still (6-to-8) persons making it to workouts at least once a week, & my energies are better served there than chasing after the ones who are off doing something else.
Of course, I always run into the ones doing something else at local races or other running venues. They say, 'oh, I'll be back out at the track soon, Coach, I'm not racing as well as I could be...' I used to get hyped up over the prospect, then disappointed when I figured the words were hollow. This month's Track Coach magazine had the Smith quote, which pretty much said it all. Change is a process, a continuous one, & one that requires a rational decision to be made.
That having been said, I didn't feel bad about not seeing anybody at the track last Saturday morning. '...that means more time for me to do what I need to in the gym.' So I hit the YMCA for a little treadmill/swim workout of two hours, during which I did some stoopid things for which my left hip is paying the price today. Nothing major. Just a good reason to take a day or two off from running or racing (I was going to run a local 5K this weekend as a speed workout...), maybe even do something around the house...
It did give me time to observe the track workout of one of my guys last night. I assigned 12 400s; first 8 at 75-80% effort with 100 walk (1:00) recovery, last 4 at 80-85% effort with 125-150 walk (1:30) recovery. He hit consistently two-to-three seconds faster than goal pace throughout the workout, but I shut it down after 11 because I could see his form deteriorate. He's been playing it smart; listening to his body, laying down a great base fitness, & it shows...especially on those days when I'm running cr*ppy & he's kicking butt.
Track Coach also had the obligatory 'here's why the Kenyans are kicking our butt' article, this one by an engineer-turned-evangelist. Not much different from Toby Tanser's thesis in his book, Train Hard, Win Easy: Running The Kenyan Way. Some of the reasons I took away include:
1. We don't build a sufficient aerobic base.
2. We don't structure our training toward a particular event.
3. We run on the wrong surfaces.
4. We fail to exercise patience.
5. We depend on (heavy, motion controlling) shoes to counter our biomechanical shortcomings, and...oh yeah,
6. Our diet s*cks.
Whether we really want to do anything about our weaknesses as athletes lies within us. Odds are good most of us would prefer not to, but if we're smart we can try. Even an eighty-percent solution would simplify our personal lives, allow us to live longer, run longer & (maybe even) run stronger.