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.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Give Back

Fresh back from the third of three trips this month; one good reason why I stayed home last weekend rather than going to a local trail run. It was a wonderful time for my wife and me; her first opportunity to meet my (closest) family, my first opportunity to see family in about four years. The last time we all got together like this, my nephew was graduating from high school. This time he was graduating from the Naval Academy.
There was no lack of social activities during Commissioning Week; a pace which, while dizzying for graduates and families, provided many opportunities to say thank you. Dan (now Ensign Dan!), his mother, and his sponsor family managed to organize a couple of barbecues and dinners (and yes, there was no want for beer!) to thank each of the far-flung constituents for sending themselves to Naptown for a few days at a time each year, and sending their youngsters to Canoe U. for four years.
Small price to pay, I guess, for a taxpayer-paid technical education.

So, what does this mean to the individual athlete, especially the one who might care to read this?

How many times have you been at a running event, or participated in an open-water swim, or a triathlon, and complained about the lack of volunteer support at the event, such as 'not enough persons to tell you where to turn on the course,' 'under-manned or - worse - unmanned aid stations,' and the like?
Have you ever thanked the nameless volunteer who handed you those iced sponges on that 80-plus-degree day? Have you wondered why posting the results took 30 minutes longer than the race director originally intended, or why the award ceremony was delayed?
It's so simple to look at an event and figure out the shortcomings, complain, and tell your friends how fouled up the organization is...it's more challenging to offer your help to a race, especially when there's no chance you will be recognized...more likely you'll receive somewhere along the lines of one to three sharp kicks in the backside from the participants for your perceived incompetence.

Even running and triathlon clubs (and probably lots of other civic organizations, for that matter) suffer, at a larger level, from this challenge. They ask their members to give back a small bit of themselves to the community, but fall prey to a number of organizational pitfalls:
Data and Feedback - Most clubs call for volunteers through newsletter appeal, but few utilize an active approach to draw them in, track the amount of time they labor, or (worst of all) recognize their efforts on a regular basis. It doesn't have to be a gold watch; a public thank you can be worth its weight in gold. I think it was Mark Twain who said something to the extent of, 'I can survive for two weeks on a compliment.'
The RRCA has a volunteer thank you program that ranges from a certificate of recognition for 2,000 hours of service, to national awards for president, editor, club writer, and members whose work focuses on womens' running, youth running, road race of the year...and the list goes on.
Processes - I served on a club board with the goal to ensure local race courses were all USATF-certified. Once on the board, I found myself tangled in what seemed to not have much to do with running; the board was approaching the same issues every month without resolution. And any kind of suggestion to change something needed almost a complete consensus of the board members in order to withstand the withering flame of disagreement from club officers. (NOTE - PERCEPTIONS, WHILE NOT NECESSARILY REALITIES, WERE REAL ENOUGH FOR THIS WRITER) Board members were also expected to volunteer at every local club race. There were precious few volunteer jobs to be accomplished immediately before or after a race for athletes who wanted to run and were willing to volunteer.
Sometimes there needs to be a freedom for willing volunteer workers to spread their wings and make a few mistakes...there are areas where long-standing, experienced members can mentor and teach some tricks of the trade or provide lessons learned. But, in order to develop future leaders, sometimes you have to let them lead.
Incentives - It's possible to burn-out volunteer crew by calling on them to work every race in the same job, providing the same reward of many kicks in the behind...as well as the race t-shirt, bagels and beer after the race and nothing else. Club program can unintentionally operate at odds with each other: If a club has a grand prix series consisting of all its races and does not take volunteer activity into account or requires all of its races to be scored, athletes are more likely to value the incentive of a grand prix award higher than that of the race shirt, bagels, beer, etc. And, going back to the data and feedback, if the club is not honoring or recognizing volunteer workers, then there's little incentive to sweat out on the roadside.
Everyone wants a pat on the back. Some race directors and clubs are better than others in this area. But it might help to keep in mind whether you're crippling your club's education and leadership development focus by not providing some kind of incentive.

The first three are things that fall squarely on the shoulders of a club. The next three are focused more on the individual member:
Motives - This is the classic 'what's in it for me' area. There are persons who want the roar of the crowd, the desire to tell people what to do, or the love of the game. Just as every individual is unique, so are their motivation. A club volunteer coordinator might be able to tap their friends or acquaintances on a weekly basis for about a year, maybe two, but after that it's possible the potential volunteer will run the other way when they see their friend, the volunteer coordinator coming. The volunteer coordinator has their motives, too...the one who taps their closest friends without thinking about the new guy/gal who just moved into town might want to keep the party to themselves.
A smart club will find a way to check the pulse of their club; who has latent or unused talents, who knows someone who knows someone, who has the neat idea or a passion for something that hasn't been tried in years because nobody wanted to take it on, also.
Skills - There are folks who won't volunteer to serve on the board of a club or work a race because they don't feel they have the talents necessary to do anything other than grunt work...and they don't want to be put to work all of the time as labor of opportunity. These are the folks...once you hear them say 'you know, I'd love to help out with (fill in the blank), but I don't know how to do it...' Hook them up with one of the elder statesmen of the club, start a mentoring program. Many hands do make light work.
Education - In case you didn't know about any of this...now you do.

I'm not saying we as athletes need to all quit running races, but it is our responsibility to give something back to the sport. Because eventually we are going to have to stop...I hope it's not for a very long time...and I want to know there's still going to be a place for younger persons to play.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

You Should Be Dancing

Yesterday was the first two-workout day since the triathlon. At first, I was impatient about waiting for Suzanne to get off work; she wanted to run while I jogged. Since hindsight is not only perfect but magnified it wasn't such a bad idea: I'd have hammered six to eight miles in the mid-80-degree heat and hated myself this morning, rather than jogged four miles at 10-minute-per mile pace...and hated myself this morning. For me, yesterday, the operating word was easy run. Man, the term 'easy' anything is hard to deal with. I've tried to amble, ramble, saunter, shuffle, jog at Suzanne's pace before, with disastrous results. It hurts to run much slower than you're capable of running. But it was fun.
As a form of gratitude, she took me to Beef O' Brady's for a bite and a beer. We ended up chattering about family stuff, both her side and mine, while keeping an eye peeled on the hockey and baseball. She saw Dancing With The Stars briefly on the toob, but then the fine people at Beef's changed the channel. I'll admit I've watched all of one episode of Dancing, while Suzanne was out of town. It was one of those lost-weekend-sit-with-the-dog-make-noises-and-channel-surf moments I get so few of...thank God. Doesn't matter who is on there...I don't want to watch another installment. One more piece of evidence that makes my pet project, The Endurance Channel, seem like a good thing.
Kind of how I felt after the MSNBC thing this weekend. Once again, I loved watching the womens marathon trials, but I had my heart set on the mens triathlon trials. All I could sense was a warm drizzle, and it was a sunny day where I was sitting. Ugh.
If you're into road racing, any track and field event longer than 800 meters, or triathlon of nearly any length, I think you can get behind my complaint. It doesn't matter whether it's college, professional or Olympic sport, the commercial value seems pretty well nonexistent. More often than not, you get commentary from Al Trautwig, telling you 'go out to your neighborhood school track and try to run 12 laps, at 64 seconds for each lap'. Dude, most of the American teevee-viewing public would rather down 12 cans of light beer at 64 seconds a can. I do like Al Trautwig, though. He gets better every year through working the Tour De France with Bob Roll, Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen. American broadcasters would do well to spend some time working with the European networks in order to learn the finer points of sports commentary, especially vis-a-vis endurance sport. Who knows, we might learn a little something about endurance sport; other nations do this too. Wow. What a concept.
Ah. It's probably good I don't have any of those skills. I do get the occasional coach me for a month before I have to run my physical fitness test so I can drop five minutes off my 1.5-mile run time requests, but no offer of kissing as compensation...thank God.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Life is Full of Something

I was all prepared yesterday morning to sit down in front of the toob, turn on MSNBC, and watch the highlights of the mens' Olympic triathlon trials. Lo and behold, what did they have on? The womens' marathon trials. What added insult to injury was the seven minutes (all right, more like three-and-a-half) of commercials right at the top of the hour, then the race from the ten kilometer mark. Yo, dude, what is up with that? Must have been the networks' way of surprising me. I did enjoy watching Deena Kastor kicking butt and taking names at mile 24; throwing her sunglasses off to the side of the road at the last mile for the benefit of the photographers and television cameramen. She's a gutsy runner and deserves a better finish in Beijing than she earned in Athens.
This is the beginning of the hardest part of the year here, at least for me. The weather conditions on the Gulf Coast usually encourage what I find to be two racing seasons. When I lived in Tampa, there were races through the summer; Wednesday evenings at Al Lopez Park, Friday evenings on Clearwater Beach or St. Petersburg, and a few monthly races up near Brandon. But here, the races come few and far between; a couple in June, one or two in July, and one in August...unless you're willing to 'commute.'
So, the training goes into maintenance mode, and the intensity level gets dropped down a notch. The biggest challenge is holding your motivation when you're dealing with 90 days of 90 degrees and 90 percent humidity. Goal-setting tends to go by the wayside, or lowered to 'get through the summer without dying of heatstroke.'
But it is a good time to start looking ahead to what - and how - you want to be running in September, October, November, and even December. So, the to-do list is empty, and the possibilities are as limited as your imagination. Don't stop getting out and running, but think a little harder about cross-training (swimming, bicycling, elliptical trainer, weight training) to supplement or augment what mileage (or intensity) you might not be getting on the road.
KUDOS:
First, to my friends Steven and Beverly Fair for completing the Ford IM 70.3 at Walt Disney World. Steve, it looks like Beverly has the company bragging rights, since she whipped on both of us.
Second, to Scott Gregory and Beverly Boege for making it through the ING Bay to Breakers 12K last weekend. Scott, the liver will be ready for transplant when you come back.

Friday, May 16, 2008

A Certain Cure For Depression

The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled that Oscar Pistorius (above) is eligible to race against able-bodied athletes, overturning a ban imposed by the International Association of Athletics Federations (that's the international governing body for track and field, of which USATF is a member). Pistorius wants to run the 400 meters at Beijing, but hasn't met the qualifying standard yet. However, he can be picked for the South African 4x400 relay team, but the squad has not yet qualified. If he doesn't get to compete in 2008, his goal is to qualify for the 2012 or 2016 Olympics.
In January of this year the IAAF banned him from competing, saying his carbon fiber blades gave him a mechanical advantage. Pistorius was born without fibulas, one of the two bones between the knee and ankle, and was 11 months old when his legs were amputated below the knee. Personally, I don't consider that a mechanical advantage, more like a biomechanical equalizer. Dude, he didn't have OEM body parts in the first place.
So, when I hear a person complain how it is too hot, cold, wet, dry, sunny...whatever convenient inconvenience (or excuse, as my coach might say - one is as good as another) exists to keep them from training (outside of the ones I absolutely understand, such as parenthood, domestic tranquility, work or recovery), they need to take a good, long look at Oscar Pastorius. This guy has been fighting for years for the privilege to compete against able-bodied athletes at the highest levels of competition. Now he gets to. Isn't that what sport is really about?
I felt quite bummed out last night, standing around at the track waiting for athletes to come work out...and nobody came. Most of the regulars, I then realized, were recovering from the triathlon last weekend, or were heading out of town this morning. On top of that, yes, there was the first Thursday evening of music downtown. I've wondered what folks would think if I were the one who didn't show up. Then again, that's the reason I guess I am where I am. I'm not bucking for martyr or saint status, and I shouldn't be complaining...much. Ah, but an hour in the pool should take care of this depression. If not I can always run the risk of self-drowning. ;)

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Energy Conservation

The most dangerous time in event preparation lies during the tapering period. Coaches like Forbes Carlile learned that a tapered decrease in effort before an athletic event permitted the athlete to regain energies lost during extended bouts of hard training. Even an enforced time away from the pool, or track in the case of Emil Zatopek in 1952, can help. Often times the energy restored is physical; sometimes it can be mental.
One of the things I missed the most during the two months I walked around in a sling after my humeral fractures was the smell of chlorine in the humid pool air, & the aroma of the blossoms in the bushes along the trails near the track where I train. My body knew it would be time & time & time before I could get in/out, but my mind was the most injured part of the equation. It had energies to spare, as you can tell by going back into those months...I was writing every day, & not all of it was quality.
The mind is a terrible thing to waste. It controls the emotions & works to parcel out the needed energies; sometimes it helps to do what the Red Hot Chili Peppers & Robert DeNiro do (at least they said it in interviews) to prepare for their labors...steer clear of people, places & situations that suck out your energy & upset you emotionally. The Kenyans are masters of spending time doing nothing. When they work, they work. When they rest, they rest. Maybe that's how more developed running nations can defeat the Kenyans & Ethiopians; send every last one of them a high-definition television & two seasons' worth of American Idol, Dancing With The Stars & Lost. Plus wi-fi internet access.
As the individual athlete grows older they have to become more attuned to how their body works; how many times they can race hard, how long it takes to recover. In my humble opinion, I'd rather race well at three or four races, compared to toeing the line every weekend & nursing a boatload of injuries. Hey, it's my money I'm paying. If I want to stay healthy & race until I'm like that old guy who ran the London Marathon at 100 years of age, I'll have to pace myself.
I owe it to my achilles' tendon & my wife. Not necessarily in that order.