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.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Hating Goodbyes

Dinner last night at a Thai restaurant with Christian and Petra, our German friends. Normally we would hold off on dinner and do the New Yorker Deli on Friday evening, but they're now temporarily billeted in the Officers' Quarters on NAS.
The bad news is there's no kitchen.
The good news is there are no dishes.
So, we ended up talking triathlon and training over dinner, trading notes and looking forward to future events. For them it's Ironman Germany in Frankfurt. For me, it's probably going to be either a sprint triathlon or a couple of long races in the autumn. It depends on the work schedule and how busy we are at Chez' Bowen.
Since they're doing, we'll be able to keep track of them courtesy of IronmanLive. Christian comes back to finish his tour, then goes back to .de. I have the sneaking suspicion they'll remain close (enough) to us in the coming years. I certainly hope so, for a number of good reasons. A life always benefits from diversity:
The more closely your companions and confidants resemble you, the less likely you are to stretch your horizons or consider differing viewpoints. Without the encouragement (or would that be a dare?) of Christian and Petra, I never would have considered doing a half-iron distance triathlon. No, I would not have run the numbers and considered a half-iron triathlon (or a full Ironman triathlon, for that matter!) as an achievable goal.
Christian and Petra also saved me from tuning in to the BBC to get a diverse take on the news; we could always ask what Deutsche Welle, ARD, ZDF, or BRW were saying about American policies and politics. We were able to clue them in on some of the incomprehensibilities of the American political system, usually with much eye-rolling and humor.
Race, religion, culture, sports icons..."third-rail" topics were always fair game, because we knew we could speak in honesty, truth and candor to each other. And for that we have been grateful these past couple of years.
I hate goodbyes. I do poorly with them. Doesn't matter how much you promise to drop an e-mail to each other monthly, or pick up the cell phone (especially if they're on your network!) to stay in touch, it seems small orbits become large ones; large ones become like the orbit of comets that show once every 75 years. Of course, there's Web 2.0 and Skype and all those other things, but it isn't the same as killing three (four? five? I don't recall...) mini-kegs of Heineken on a Saturday, then going out into the front yard to watch the International Space Station whiz by.
Some people bring joy by their arrival, others by their departure. As for Christian and Petra, it's been a joy to be in their presence. Every time I see a triathlete walking a flat-tired bike on a training run I hear the "don't ever go out on a training ride, no matter how short, without a flat kit" lecture.
We will see you soon, my friends. Until then, I'll do my best to hold the tears.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Revenge of The Fat Lazy B@st@rd

I talked myself into this race about six weeks ago as a tip of the hat to the local running club. Since one/more of their board of directors asked me the 'why don't you race local races any longer?' question, it seemed like a reasonable idea. I figured I was in better shape than I was after my horrible marathon experience in December, and had recovered enough from the half-iron distance triathlon. However, logic and reason began to scream in the back of my mind, 'why would you choose to run a race in the latter part of June, on Pensacola Beach, during the middle of the day!?'
Even my training runs weren't all that encouraging leading into the event. I kept feeling like ten pounds of used kitty litter in an eight-pound sack during my easy afternoon runs; and track work wasn't looking all that great, either. Mind you, most of the efforts were what I outwardly considered maintenance workouts; ideally at an aerobic (somewhere in the 70 percent maximum heart rate) pace. But, when I looked at my heart rate data afterward the efforts were lots closer to 80 percent, which could tell me one of two things:
1. The heat and humidity were worse than I feared, or
2. I was still a fat, lazy b@st@rd.
So, I didn't have too many expectations on this race. All I wanted to do was run as hard as I could for 3.1 miles and not embarrass myself too much.
Saturday's conditions were fairly conducive to racing; a bit of a breeze along the shoreline, partly to mostly cloudy, a little bit of rain (sprinkles) here and there. Since I hadn't raced a short race in a long time I made certain to be a little more ready, taking 30 minutes to walk along the bicycle path, then jogging easy for another 15 to 20 minutes. By the time I finished the warm-up I felt pretty good. Not confident, but good.
The first moments before the race are always hell on square wheels. While I wanted to line up as close to the front as possible I didn't know whether I was going to have the sustained power to keep from getting stomped on by some of the local greyhounds. However, I took my chances and stood one stride off the line. When the start was called it seemed like everyone and their mother went roaring past me; it probably was not so bad (high school runners and the really fast local dudes) as I feared. I tucked in behind five or six of the high school guys and cruised through the first 600 to 800 yards without too much strain. At about 800 yards it seemed like they were dawdling just a skosh (and I was concerned about a couple of my age group staying a little too close this early), so I gently knifed through the middle of their five-abreast formation and started to pick up my pace a little bit.
The time clock was set at about 1450 meters rather than a mile, so I couldn't take the time split or the call as gospel. In fact, when I looked down at my watch I knew the split was off; I haven't run a mile that fast in about four years. As always, the second mile would be the proof of how well I was doing. Got into the rhythm until it was time to turn back into the wind and run back toward the aid station. At that point the breeze seemed to pick up a skosh and reality began to set in. I managed to get past the second mile split before strange things began to happen (loose shoelaces, excessive heart rate, panic, and so on). I tried to stop for a second or two to at least tuck my shoelace into my training flats, to no avail. At that point I lost mental focus and all the bad things started to come into my mind...and when the mind goes the body is not long to follow.
My last mile and tenth was not particularly pretty; well, it was good for a half-marathoner or the run leg of a triathlon but not so good for a 5K road race. I ran a 19:16, which would time out to a respectable 10K or half marathon, and was good enough for a top-20 and age group first place. I groused for all of three minutes, then put it all in perspective as I watched some of my friends and athletes come was warm, humid (not terrible) and not a goal race. And age group hardware is age group hardware no matter how you slice it.
What bothered me more was to see a guy in his early 50s, who uses me as a target for his training and racing, looking much like his life was over. He finished about 30 seconds behind me and looked absolutely despondent. I guess it's worth feeling that way if there's money or honor involved, but with a local race with little more than a beer glass (and perhaps local bragging rights) at stake...I'm not so certain.
I took the time to chat with him, ask a few questions about his training (he works strictly on speed training) and recommended he train with my friend George. I also told him what I felt it would take for him to beat me at a 5K. Dude, it doesn't mean that much to me...if it means that much to you, then here is what you'll have to do.
But, I did tell him the bottom line - you are only as good as your next race. Who knows when mine will be? Hard to tell.
Until then, it's back to training. Being a fat, lazy b@st@rd is no fun.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Feedback, Continued

Someone suggested last week (through the survey/grapevine) I needed to be less ego-driven and more nurturing, less short-tempered. It was a response I kind of shrugged off; consider the source as someone who didn't want to hear me tell them what I felt they needed to do (one of those things a coach - and a person who is in charge - does).
I did get a little reinforcement of the perception the other afternoon: One of my athletes tries to come out once a week and works hard when at the track. They mentioned I got a little cranky during a workout the previous week. Of course, I was surprised at the honesty in bringing the issue to my attention. I quickly explained myself and told them I would make an honest effort to not be so short-tempered.
It was easy to figure out the root cause of the cranky moods. When I'm trying to run my own workout and organize/supervise...or, better yet, coach other runners at the same time I can get a little short, sweet and to the point. When you're training, it's all about me is the mantra; how much sleep do I need to recover, how much time do I need to set aside for this long run, this cross-training, this therapeutic modality (massage and stretching for those of you who hate those fancy words), and so on. It makes spouses, employers, and family members lose their even keel...especially when they are the ones who always have to adjust their (overcommitted) schedules to fit those of the runner.
In performance improvement, we are often told to ask the why question four or five times in order to get down to the real root cause of the problem.
Problem: Coach Mike is cranky.
Why is Mike cranky? Because he feels his workouts (at the same time as his athletes) are interrupted to deal with stuff.
Why are Mike's workouts interrupted? Because Mike is running his at the same time as his athletes.
Why is Mike running at the same time? Because Mike has a work project that keeps him from running earlier in the afternoon. Mike also has an athlete who runs workouts by himself and needs to control his pace a little better.
So, one issue meets one root cause, or two. Coach Mike's real job (which cannot be changed all that much) compresses his schedule. Coach Mike has an athlete who is running faster than he needs to be at this time of the year. Normally, I wouldn't gripe too much, save for the painfully obvious fact running hard during the heat of the Florida summer is going to do a number on your body. I could let this athlete drive himself into the ground, or I could suggest from the sidelines that he back off. When recommending an easing back on the throttle, I get the I only went (blank) seconds faster on this 400 than the last one response. Of course, then I have to mention another painfully obvious fact; multiply those (blank) seconds on that 400 by four and figure the difference per mile. Bouncing around with (blank x four)-second variations per mile of running is not the way to become a good runner.
I tend to set high (and often, unrealistically high) expectations for myself. I have always done this, not to mention projecting those high expectations onto those around me. In educational theory, it's a well-proven fact teachers who set and communicate high expectations for their students find the students will meet those expectations more often than not. So, while it may seem to the outsider I do not care to the persons who don't want to vault over the bar I set, the exact opposite is true. I care a great deal about every athlete who expresses the desire to improve and makes the honest, consistent and continuous effort to improve.
It's all I can ask from any athlete. It's all I'm entitled to ask from any athlete.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Taking A Pulse

Every once in a blue moon I try to take the pulse of the folks who have trained with me at the track at one time or another over the past couple of years (and sometimes longer). I've asked for e-mail feedback, put my phone number out there, and pretty much maintained as close to an open door policy as can be expected. This time, I figured a survey would put numbers out there, or at least provide a degree of anonymity to the folks who felt the need to say something constructive without fear of retribution.
Lessons learned:
1. Anonymity does not guarantee response constructivity. Some enjoy the opportunity to take pot-shots behind the cloak of anonymity. Even if you made changes/improvements it wouldn't change their opinion of you, and they probably wouldn't come back to train.
2. Rick Nelson was (and still is) right. Those of you who are old enough to remember Rick's last hit (in his long hair stage!), Garden Party, know the tag line: 'You can't please everyone, so you've got to please yourself.' Not every coach is a good fit for an athlete. Not every training program is going to work for every athlete. Read a Carmichael Training Systems press release, and they talk about training 5-time IM champion Peter Reid. However, when interviewed by Bob Babbitt and Paul Huddle, after retiring from active competition, Reid mentioned he and CTS were (ultimately) not a good fit. So, you have to figure it out for yourself whether the training plan or the coaching is a fit. If it's not, then move on and chalk it up to a mismatch.
3. Sometimes you might be an influence, but not the influence. Several athletes I coached intermittently (because of outside constraints) have credited me (to my face!) with their recent personal successes (e.g., qualifying for and completing the Boston Marathon, completing one/more Ironman/70.3 triathlons). When they tell me, I am honored and humbled; those moments make the efforts worthwhile. However, I tell all in earshot it was their own hard work making success possible. To paraphrase Paul of Tarsus, when citing successes in his church work in Asia Minor: '...I planted...Apollos watered...God gives the increase.'
One respondent asked (as far as I can tell) how I keep track of athletes with highly divergent ability levels. I try to track where everyone is in their training without micro-managing. I ask for individual goals and goal races every six months or so, but I am past the point of worrying about a lack of administrative detail (e.g., no six-month goal, no goal race, and so on). The athlete who wants to communicate their goals to me, does. Otherwise, it's safest for me to presume their racing schedule is constrained by the local calendar, which means they'll be doing a lot of 5,000-meter, relatively flat road races.
One good reason I don't go micromanaging a particular training plan (unless its my own) is because I've offered to help draw up a plan, including work outside of the track. Lots of folks, especially recreational runners, don't want to commit 9-11 hours of their life each week to running. They like listening to music on the beach on Tuesday nights, going to the downtown concert on Thursday nights, sleeping in on Saturday and Sunday mornings.
And I understand that. I don't want to do it, but I understand it. I try very hard not to consider those persons who choose to have lives outside of running as children of a lesser god. It's possible I will have a life outside of running; for now I choose to live it vicariously through them. And, by golly, they need to do a better job of it (just kidding!).
If Ethan Barron, the XC/track coach at Tufts, were sitting with me over coffee, I think he would remind me, 'respect yourself, then do your best. Acceptance by others should never outweigh those two things.'

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Your Potential - Bring It!

A frustrating day yesterday - no run in the afternoon and a few less yards in the morning swim workout than I would have liked. I started to whine to myself the old 'I s*ck and it's hot and I'll never get back into the shape I was before I broke my arm a year ago and my achilles hurts and so on and so on and on and on...' mantra. Yeah, the kind of stuff I usually hate to hear from the folks I train. I hate it even more when I'm the one doing the whining, because it's more difficult to place a silver lining on your own dark cloud.
However, since the achilles was sore, it was probably a good thing I took the afternoon off. It wasn't like I did absolutely nothing but lay around and drink beer. I did wrestle with a boatload of pharmacy school notes, books, multimedia, entertainment center items, tables, washer/dryer, etc., belonging to Jason and Laura. It was hot. It took three hours to shove it all into a U-Haul. And it definitely s*cked to be Jason; the dude had to drive the stuff back to Tennessee in a day. I definitely felt for him much more than I did for me. I offered him the opportunity to shower and change into some dry clothes before he took off; I was completely soaked and miserable, so I knew he had to be close to that point. Days like yesterday are good every once in a while. It makes you think long and hard about the silliness of moving all your household belongings in the middle of summer. It reminded me just how good it is to have a couple of college degrees and some ostensibly-marketable skills. It reminded me how good it is to have a choice to work in a location where air conditioning works fifty percent of the time (the main office in Norfolk has worse a/c problems than we do). And it reminded me just how good it is to be able to do this as part of my (nearly) everyday routine. Chuckie "V" had this to say this morning:
I propose that if we were all born without worries of survival (financial and emotional stability and such) and all we had to do all day---indeed, wanted to do all day---was train, only then might we start to reach our athletic potential. Potential is impossible to measure, of course. When I lived at the Olympic Training Center, the physiologists tried to measure it through a nonstop series of tests: VO2 max, muscle biopsies, and the like. But yet we know that such tests don't really do the trick. No numbers can. Heart-rate monitors cannot measure heart. Power meters cannot measure will power. Potential is what you make of it. You're close when you believe you are.
Chuckie was inspired by something Kevin wrote, and in turn has inspired me. So I'm going to steal from Chuckie's blog today, in the hope of inspiring you. This isn't plagiarism, even though we shamelessly borrow from each other. It's research...or when you shamelessly borrow from multiple persons rather than just one. At least that's what they used to tell me in college. While we all rejoice and curse the same sun, Solomon reminds me - whether he wrote it or had someone do it for him; the demands of a hundred wives can take away what little time you might have to write profound thoughts - there is nothing new under the sun.
So no number, or means by which we people can measure things will provide the true measure of a person's greatness or of their potential. Maybe that's why all parents think their child will grow up to be president. There's more inside us than viscera, Vicodin, Valium...and in many cases Viagra...that makes us what we are.
See you at the track. Bring your potential with you.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Invisible Man

Suzanne's on the road again this week, so all is not as well in the Bowen household as I would like. Rubin is even more the spoiled brat when she's out. In spite of a walk yesterday morning after my swim workout, and another walk in the afternoon after my 40-minute, 5-mile (well, 5.1 miles in 38 minutes and small change, if you really need to know...) run in 90-degree conditions...he still wanted to go outside, over and over again. Well, it's not the going outside (into the back yard) he wanted, but more biscuits. After a while it became a battle of wills: I'd go to the back door to let him back in the house, and he'd stand there not wanting to come in. All right, stooopid dog. Stand out there and roast. See if I care. Make me explain to your mother when she returns why your carcass is in the veterinary clinic.
I don't sleep well when she's out...and not for the obvious reasons. Once you've developed a pattern and established a certain level of comfort, any sort of change kind of throws your system for a loop. So I was probably a little disoriented at 9:30-something when Jason, the husband of my "zeeba neighba" friend Laura, called. He finally got back into country after a year doing "gee-what" (the Navy is notorious for turning acronyms into words!) things. So, his plan was to take his week off and come get the stuff Laura put in the office, pack it in a U-Haul and get it all set up (eventually!) in Clarksville, Tennessee. Obviously the draw of money for a pharmacist was the primary reason to go there, because Laura says there's not much else to offer.
This sort of stuff doesn't happen too much here. It's more like that in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area, which at one time had some of the most dangerous street crossings in the U.S. I recall fondly my efforts to cross the intersection of Kennedy Boulevard and Ashley (or Tampa) Street, usually in running attire, and often on days when traffic was at its worst. Since it was only half a mile from the U.Tampa campus to the offices where my girlfriend (at that time of life) worked, it was always a good chance to get together for lunch two or three times a week. I never saw anyone get hit at one of those two intersections, but there were a couple of close calls, let me tell you.
Why does summer have to happen to us? Not certain. But I'm fortunate my thermometer and air conditioning unit at home is operational. The on-line resume system for the government certainly isn't. I have resumes submitted all over the government's human resources system, yet when it came time to consider for a program analyst position in the office next door to mine my name was not in the list of qualified applicants.
Exactly the same thing my friend Sam said to the HR person here, which she said supposedly to the HR person in Norfolk. So, now the government HR folks and my granddaughter have something in common; neither one know of me.
Standing on the scales last Saturday, I found I weighed about seven pounds heavier than I did during/after the triathlon. Again, I guess it means no more Mickey D runs on the way into the office after swim practice. Back to bagels and hummus from Mike's (Cafe' Espresso), without the brownie chaser.
Of course, the Navy, in its infinite wisdom, continues to make dietary decision-making difficult. I walked in to see sailors selling Krispy Kreme doughnuts, five dollars for a box of 12. Sure, no problem, let's load folks down with fat and sugar, then watch them crash and burn later in the afternoon...or have heart attacks after twenty years of the stuff.
And I do like the stuff. I haven't had one in a very, very long time. The only problem is that Krispy Kreme doughnuts are like potato chips: It is almost a certainty that you will not be limited to devouring a single doughnut.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Help Wanted

Three weeks post-triathlon. I guess it's pretty much high time to get back on the training. The most difficult part has been justifying what to do. It's a lot like the same feeling (depression?) which marathoners suffer after an event. think about it. You train for, focus your attention on, and live for that one day of activity. In a few short hours (relatively speaking), it's finished. Then, outside of the finishers' medallion and a t-shirt, there's not much else left but finding an eloquent way to tell the tale to your friends, family and anyone else who might stand still long enough to listen.
That's the bad part. The good part is when you have company; at least one person who has gone through the same event with you. At least you can do the social thing. Nothing like getting up to run at 7:30 on a Sunday morning, when the temperatures are 75 and rising, especially when you know someone else is going to suffer out there with you.
Thanks, Ferris, for taking the time to run 8.5 miles with me. It would have been much uglier without your help.
This week, for me, officially begins what I consider a transition period between seasons. We don't have too many running races here (yes, there are some in June...and a Fourth of July race or two...and one in August...) that reach out and grab my attention; anyway, it's hard to race well when the temperature is 90-plus degrees. Oh, and let's not forget the 90-percent humidity, too.
Usually, this means writing workouts with a Plan B. Plan B for a workout shouldn't necessarily be confused with a bail-out option where you pull the ripcord, get back in the car, drive home and crack open a cold brew. Plan B decreases the effort level, or adjusts the location to one with some shade, or utilizes a (convenient) headwind. Planning for nasty conditions like high temperatures, high humidity, or thunderstorm activity almost has to be a given here.
Of course, you can't try to make up for lost workouts. A lost workout is a lost workout is a lost workout. Period. However, you can plan accordingly by setting up a longer base period, a longer build-up and a longer preparation period for racing. How much longer? Well, that's where the art of coaching comes in. There are some aspects where I can juggle numbers, multiply by pi times the radius squared, subdivide by the number of weeks in a month, et cetera, et cetera, and so forth...and still miss the mark; darn it, they were ready to race two weeks too soon!

It's the joy of analysis. You have as much data as you are going to get from a given set of sources during a given time frame. You look for the trends, the philosopher's stone which will turn base metal into gold, and let 'er fly. If you're fortunate everything falls into place and you look fairly smart. However, more often than not you are dealing with human beings. That means you might not receive all of the information you need; or they'll withhold that little sliver of stuff which would help you make the right decision...and then they ask, 'you didn't look at...?' Of course, I didn't look at that particular piece of information. But only because you didn't provide it to me until now.
There aren't many differences between my job as a coach and my job as a program analyst; except the fact right now I seek a job which will pay me after October 1st. In spite of 20 years of federal government experience as an analyst, an administrative person, a go-to guy, a jack-of-most-all trades, a teacher, a seeker of good stuff (research) and a writer, all of it and 85 cents will get me a cup of coffee at Denny's...if I can get the attention of a waitress.
Yes, quite frankly, I am shamelessly plugging for a job. I'll be glad to send my resume to any prospective employer. Just point them in my direction. In the meantime I'll be developing Plan B for my employment life.