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.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Strong Convictions

Listening to a Public Radio International program, The World, a researcher is trying to help reconstruct the voluminous amount of un-shredded (but hand-torn) data left behind by the East German Stasi (state security service) after the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. To this point, the information has been picked out and rejoined by hand; the best reconstructionist on the project to this time can put together the contents of one bag (presumably the size of a full-sized grocery bag) in a single year. Yep, that's a needle in a haystack in a barn full of haystacks. The researcher is trying to find a methodology, using scanner and computer technology, to subdivide the material into smaller piles so reconstructionists can have an easier time.
In the case of a single person's life (if they were considered a dissident) that's probably thousands of pages; probably millions of pieces...and in the best case, all together in the same bag. I guess the first question would be to someone looking from the outside, 'who cares?' But, if you're the person whose life was adversely affected by the decisions of a handful of bureaucrats, you'd probably be screaming for justice, or at least something that resembles closure. It might not make everything better, but it certainly would provide that AHA! moment that would better explain why something went wrong for you, given all of the available information to the contrary.
Basing strong convictions on exceedingly small amounts of data are never really good. Yes, there is that faith thing, but it usually pales in the face of the scientific method. If you're out and running little more than five easy miles at a stretch a couple of times a week, the odds are good you're not going to be able to run a terribly fast five kilometers. Stepping to the line without the prerequisite speed work, the right kind of tempo work, long aerobic running, or sufficient rest in your training plan is like trying to read a smudged, torn-up document...or applying make-up while the bathroom mirror is dirty and smudged. Your results are probably going to be less than stellar; you'll miss the gist of the message.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Looking Past The Right Now

While I'm not the most savvy person on financial matters, I do know when something smart comes past my ears. One of my fellow Toastmasters spoke on long-term investing this morning; she mentioned a little-known fact at the front end of her speech on individual retirement accounts that just might fit the running realm, too. The graph above cites the number of times the word recession was mentioned in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. The gray bars are the periods of time when the economy was really in a period of recession. It either means one of two things: Economic writers are full of unprocessed fertilizer material. Or, economics is more difficult than we all think. Perhaps it means both.
No, what it means (in my humble opinion) is that by the time folks figure out what is happening around them the situation has nearly passed. If I translate this to training for the typical runner, it means without developing a long-term goal and a corresponding training plan that spans at least six months, and perhaps even a year-to-two years, the period of opportunity (where the individual athlete may most benefit from training) may long be past. While (nearly) nobody in their right mind would undertake a six-week training period for a marathon, there are plenty of persons who will jump into a 10k, 15, 21.1k race with little or no training whatsoever to prepare for the distance. Even more amazing is when they race, have a performance that doesn't meet their expectations, and complain the training plan the coach provides is wrong for them.
No. You have to look past the immediate. It's not just the elite athlete who benefits from looking three or four years up the road, beginning to visualize where they want to be at that point. Beijing, and the starting line for the events, were in the minds of every distance runner, sprinter, and triathlete probably from the day after their competition in Athens, or the day after the Olympic Trials if they failed to make the team. That vision, that goal, is probably the main thing that drove each Olympian to get out of bed and onto the bike, the track, the pool when it was too dark, too cold, too hot, too early, too whatever for the rest of us.

It takes more than a pithy bumper-sticker-quality statement, like Maurice Greene's 'to be number one you have to train like number two', to motivate. It's probably why I prefer to save that sort of stuff for myself...usually when I am in the middle of a seemingly senseless repeat workout, or dragging Speedo-clad butt in the pool and not feeling like I'm getting any faster or stronger.
As Coach Ethan Barron says, 'if you don't truly believe what you are saying, then don't say it.'
Of course, there's always the choice of cycling from pool to pool, as Frazz mentions. That's why I am at the track three days a week. There's always the never-ending hope friends will return to (as some outsiders used to say) hard-core training. So, even I have to look beyond past the immediate, the very quiet, very cold and damp right now to the warmer, more cluttered and sunny afternoons of spring.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Winter of Our Discontent

There's something nice about having a short attention span, multiple interests and a supreme dislike of commercials when it comes to television programming. Well, at least now in the age of on-screen information and remote control. I can always hop about from program to program when a commercial comes on. The only time I even want to watch a commercial (especially during a football game, when half of the time-outs are commercial-driven) is during the Super Bowl. Heck, during some years the commercials are more exciting than the game.
I'm back on a treadmill for a couple of miles a day at a pace that stays aerobic for as long as possible; right now it seems to be working pretty well. I'm not concerned about my own fitness or the long, slow run-up to full-speed running, yada, will come back in good time...and I'm vigorously swimming and bicycling four-to-six times a week at this time. You can't rush the recovery process, and you probably shouldn't if you aren't making a living from running; if you are making a living from running you probably have access to all of the help and all the time you need to recover as quickly as possible. The rest of us working class mortals will just have to listen to our bodies and err on the side of caution.
But, while I was in the Y working out on the treadmill and the elliptical trainer the first reports came on about the untimely death of the Australian actor Heath Ledger. Once again, all I could think about was what I like to call spiritual vampirism, the tendency of the broadcast media (formerly restricted to radio and television, but in the internet age you can include print) to lurk about, searching for some more blood to suck up. It's bad enough to hear about B. Spears, P. Hilton, L. Lohan, et. al., incessantly, but you have to feel for the family of a notable person who suddenly dies, especially when the circumstances are sketchy. Hey guys, let's leave the situation the heck alone and go find something worthwhile to do, like send care packages to the Rockefellers...
We're having fun this time of year. The climate hasn't figure out what it wants to do; be bone-chilling cold, have uber-blonde (sorry, honey, please don't take this personal...) dense fog, dump boatloads of rain, blow 20-30 mile-per-hour gusts, etc., etc. It makes the thought of training indoors sound very, very good. Sure, I sound like a wimp, but when you're trying to get 60 minutes of consistent effort in it's always more fun to get it inside an enclosed, slightly heated pool or a gymnasium rather than take your chances with traffic and persons who have no clue on how to drive in conditions that are not perfect, dry and sunny.
The only thing I hate is that when it sucks outside I want to be out there...or I've got something that needs to be done out there.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

No Talking, No Problems

For the last year or so, I have written a newsletter for the club. Often, it's a digest of crazy stuff that goes through my mind during a particular time of the year, or a response to something I've seen or heard in the previous month...tied in with a neat article I've read or have been forwarded, results from local races and a few hey, make certain you get involved with this kind of stuff. Sometimes it goes well, other times I know I've done little more than tick off the masses. Ah, I'm the coach. Sometimes things have to be said that don't sound very nice.
This month, I told the club secretary the responsibility for writing the newsletter would be his. I promised I'd have my moment at the front and do whatever else he asked, writing-wise. I'll toss him a few articles I find and point him towards some of the many sources I've enjoyed reading over the past three or four years.
He sent me an e-mail the other day, which sounds like some of those questions I know get asked out of my earshot. I used to ask them to my coach in the past, too. Usually, when I heard the answer I felt like saying, 'Coach, why don't you explain that to them?!' But, I guess it's kind of like one of those things fundamentalist pastors are taught: Don't Answer Questions Nobody Is Asking, Silly.
Following along on blind faith is not good. Following a training plan or a coaching philosophy on blind faith is not good, either. Asking questions is a good thing.
I think most knowledgeable coaches don't mind answering the respectfully-worded question. It's the ones that sound like challenges to authority that tend to tick them off. Of course, when the question is asked, the athlete better be prepared to hear the plain, unvarnished truth of the answer.
It's not that coaches don't want to tell the truth; they might have a hard time placing the truth in a format that won't emotionally thrash the athlete. Hippocrates of Cos was right: 'first, do no harm.' Like Coach Ethan Barron of Tufts University advised, '...athletes will always sense hypocrisy. If you don't truly believe what you are saying, then don't say it.'
So, if I'm not talking, it's not that I don't love you. It's that I'm trying to find the right way to say what needs to be said.
That having been said, I'm having so much fun at this moment, standing trackside. I hate not being able to train because of this injury, but I like being able to focus my attention on my athletes, almost 100 percent. Having two or three ability levels going at the same time, as well as the occasional straggler or outside conversation, makes it tough...but I think my wife would tell you I'm laughing and smiling a lot at the track as of late.
Laughing and problems. Right?

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Time To Put Out The Shingle

So...looking in the local bulletin board and I find this:

I am a relatively new runner (6 mos). I have 3 5k's, 3 10k's, and 2 4 milers under my belt. In the last month though I have been dealing with terrible lower leg pain after a run no matter what the distance is. I motrin up, take hot soaks, ice bag, and use the various cream rubs to no avail. I am hooked on running but am worried this is more than something that a new runner deals with. Any advise (sic) out there?

IF I WERE YOUR COACH: Eight races in six-months of running might be normal for a well-trained, well-conditioned elite-level runner. However, I think it's too much, too soon for a person who is in their first six months of regular running.
There are a number of root causes for lower leg pain that come to mind:
1. Previous (undiagnosed) injury
2. Lack of running experience
3. Competitive running
4. Excessive weekly running distance
Your injury is probably due to a breakdown. You've run and raced more than your body has been capable of handling, stress-wise. Without looking at your shoes, your mechanics, or your background I cannot say with clarity what the cause may be.
The good news is that most injuries are curable, if you are willing to be patient (the degree of injury you apparently have suggests a three-to-six-month recovery) and correct the root causes:
1. Find an alternative means of exercise that will build leg strength and maintain cardiovascular fitness without aggravating the present injury.
2. Sit down with an experienced running coach and develop a holistic training and racing plan which includes all of the necessary elements; rest, long aerobic runs, speed work and recovery runs.
3. Visit a knowledgeable running store (such as Running Wild) and have their staff look at your biomechanics and fit you for a running shoe that meets your running needs and your individual biomechanics.
You might want to also spend some time and money visiting your general practitioner to let them make certain there is no (stress-related) fracture to the leg.
There's my two cents. Please feel free to contact me; if I cannot help you I can point you in the direction of other coaches and professionals.
I cannot wait to see my response get slammed. :)

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Are We Having Fun Yet?

Last Thursday was the first time I stepped on the track to run since the marathon. I did three miles on the treadmill the week before, which was not only painful but discouraging, especially when my heart rate shot up faster for an eight-minute-per-mile pace than it would be for something, er, a little bit more relaxed. I lumbered through the two mile warm-up, as well as some easy striders, but had to shut it all down during the first 300-meter piece. Too much bang bang.
First thought was well, it definitely is not the right pair of shoes for running. So, I went to see the owner of my friendly neighborhood runninig into a more-cushioned pair of shoes and went out for a quick trot on the sidewalk. Bang bang bang...still not good. After a brief, animated discussion, we figured out my issue is not just shoe-related, but biomechanical, reinforced by the wrong shoe. When an experienced (under three-hour) marathoner tells you he would not run a marathon in the shoes you used, that's not a good sign. Nothing like getting slapped around by a guy who you give a hundred bucks every couple of months, no?

Great fun over the past weekend. Nothing like sitting on your butt for five hours on the highway, followed by sitting on your butt for 20 hours in a college auditorium learning everything you ever wanted to know about track and field coaching but were afraid to ask. Oh, yeah, add another five-hour drive on the return. There are things I probably never will have to do as a teach someone how to pole vault. But, you never know, dude. It could happen. I guess if I were the king of track and field I would divide the level 1 course into the relevant areas (sprints, jumps, throws, endurance) like level 2 presently is. However, I guess if you look hard and long enough you can find common threads in all of the disciplines.
Yes, it was a weekend where there was not enough coffee and too much Taco Bell. After two meals there, and one in a Mexican restaurant (all right, I have to admit I would have gone to the Chinese joint further up the way in the strip mall but I couldn't find a parking spot close enough), all I wanted on the way home was something that didn't look like fast food. I chose the wrong exit on Interstate 10 to pull off for a bite to eat, though; of the four restaurants, three of them were fast food joints co-located with gas stations. The only stand-alone joint was a Waffle House kind of place. All right. At least I can get a cup of coffee and a ham-and-cheese omelet and be certain of its origin being somewhere else than a cardboard box.
I have a love-hate relationship with traveling, yet it has to be done if you want to compete outside of your own back yard or learn anything. Maybe someday I'll get it figured out, how to get the best of both worlds - staying comfortable and going places - while I expand my own horizons.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The Job Hunt, Redux

Well, my quote-unquote vacation is quote-unquote almost over. If I had the brains the Almighty provided to wooden geese, I would have taken the other two days this week for which I hadn't originally planned. I'm extending it just a little bit longer to include a long weekend of education in Jacksonville; who knows, I might even be a better coach when it is all said and done.
However, I am taking to heart something I heard yesterday morning from the wife of the man who owns our local running emporium. She reminded me I trained under a different system than the one/s to which most coaches ascribe, so (in so many words) adding more bricks to my knapsack might not be as beneficial as I think. Thank you, Mimi. Spoken like the maternal figure you are. I still bow in your general direction.
Since I'm back in the office, the active hunt for a new job goes back into full swing. Ideally, I'd like to stay at about the same income and (40-hour) time constraint. I've got resumes out in the abyss, but I have the sneaking suspicion nothing will come to pass until I have a reduction-in-force notice in hand (which places me on the preferred placement listing). The sooner I'm in a new j-o-b, the sooner I can figure out what I can do as a coach and an athlete.
Christmas, however, is over. It's time to get back on the chain gang. I have my own personal training plan writ large, as well as my goals. That's always a good start. Following that, as always, comes the hard part of charting the path to the goals, then tracking the progress along the path. As I've become what I like to think of myself savvy over the last few years, I've graduated from ring-bound logbooks to spreadsheets. Some have been more effective than others. One I liked for many years was developed by David Hays, a physician (I believe). His spreadsheet, which I think is called LogRun, is a neat tool, especially if you want a good, workable, editable way of following your progress...especially when it comes to tracking shoe mileage.
You can keep track down to the mile the distance your shoes have traveled over time, which can save you a load of grief, joint soreness and the risk of overuse injury.
I use it in conjunction with a workout tracker program on the Presidents' Council for Physical Fitness and Sports to estimate what my spinning/indoor trainer and swim workouts would have been if it were a run. It's not perfect, but it beats most anything else I've seen out there. You also can keep track of activity in order to qualify for bronze, silver and gold awards. Oh, yeah, there is a platinum one, too, but I suspect it will take me another four or five years (barring cycling incidents requiring six to eight weeks of hanging out in a sling) to reach that one.
So, take time this week to look at what you accomplished last year, what you wanted to accomplish, and what it might take to bring those missed goals to pass.