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.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Questions Of Our Age

I'm not quite certain whether I'd freak out over that particular observation. I guess I'd be more jealous over the fact some people have jobs that permit them to sit around a Starbucks' (or any other coffee shop) on 11 in the morning on a Monday. Obviously, some of them are spooling up for an afternoon/evening of work...something I used to do. But there have to be some people with little more to do (I was going to say better, but who am I to judge?) than caffeinate themselves into oblivion, read all 15 volumes of Will and Ariel Durant's Story of Civilization, and ponder their navel.
Where do I get a job like that?
Even the moments when I feel inspired to bore people to death with passages of nothingness I think about how bad it would have to be to be a professional writer. There was a terribly funny cartoon drawn by Shannon Wheeler, which I think I referenced a little over a year ago; in essence, it said Anything You Get Paid To Do S*cks. Sometimes there's no music, no art, no television programming, and no life experience that will provide sufficient inspiration for a writer's blathering.
Here's a good question: Why do electronic devices which can last for years in the hands of other runners of equivalent fitness (and equivalent sweat-producing properties) die on me in the space of a year (if I'm fortunate)? It's not like I go out in the pouring rain with them, or leave them in direct sunlight, dusty conditions, near angry (or incontinent) canines/felines/ovines/bovines, whack them against walls or more-resilient structures, etc. These little boogers will last their warranty, then BRZZAAAP! They croak on me. I complained about this before when my last MP3 player went toes (or in this case, case) up. Perhaps I need to stop buying electronic cr*p from eBay. After my Nike Triax SDM went kaput the other weekend, I decided it was time to go back to what Chuckie V(eylupek) called caveman running. No heart rate, save for fingers on carotid pulsation. No distance measurement, save for Gmap Pedometer or MapMyTri. Go back to running by feel. Yes. That's it, young Skywalker. Trust your feelings, you know I am your father.
Of course, the positives of this decision are that I spend less time dumping cr*p into Excel spreadsheet files on my computer. The negatives are that I have less hard data to look back upon when I overtrain myself into that old iliotibial band stress/achilles' tendonitis situation again.
Maybe if I trust the physiological data, including the way I feel in the morning, I might not work myself into a stiff-legged shuffle five or six days a week...or have the deep, unrelenting need for more sleep...or the irrational desire for junk foods I haven't snacked upon since last spring. Then I won't ask myself that other question of the age: How the #@*% did I gain all that weight!?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

My Motivation, and Some Questions

The Lower Half of (Tom Gilbert's) Six Boxes (Motivation, Skills, Training):
Doggone. The temperature went up two degrees in the space of time it took me to think about how I was going to start this piece (originally scribbled 19 July 2008). For those who need a more objective measure, that was approximately one minute, from 6:48 to 6:49 a.m. And yes, I'm feeling less than motivated to head out to the track this morning.
Wait a minute. Coach Mike, unmotivated?
It's not just the heat or the bugs that makes me think twice. I have no races planned for the next four months, so I'm doing a long (boring) cycle of base training; swimming two or three times a week, bicycling once a week, and running as often as weather and other conditions permit. When you don't have anything on the immediate horizon for which to prepare, the forecast of working out alone (especially when base or maintenance training) can make any athlete reconsider their workout.

Sure, there are times you need to suck it up and go out, regardless of what your friends are doing. But it's nice to know you are not the only one suffering through a workout. Sometimes that's the only saving grace; knowing there is someone else insane enough to get up earlier than the rest of the world, or get out and run a few thousand meters of repeats with you while the rest of the world is at a ball game or concert.
Yes, I know we all need to have a life outside of running (or swimming, or triathlon). So, I do appreciate the athletes I train who take time out of their week (or weekend) to slog along with me. The prospect of seeing them at the track (during the week) or at the seashell (mid-week or on the weekend) gives me one more good reason to get out and run.
Do you have any thoughts on stretching?
I think a lot about stretching (some of my thoughts are printable!), but I don't do much more than work on my achilles tendons. Some runners prefer to not stretch and never have, others do it religiously. If you're going to do it, I would recommend two things:
First, don't stretch unless your muscles are warm, following at least five minutes of activity. A cold muscle will not stretch, and is more likely to tighten up more if you try to stretch it cold.
Second, stretch gently and naturally, with slow, smooth movements. You can stretch without throwing your leg up on a countertop, bleacher bench or trash can. Stretches which keep your feet on the ground are better. Those 'throw-your-leg-on-the-bleacher' stretches are probably going to instigate the stretch reflex, and you'll end up with a muscle that's more tight than when you started.
For this weather, do you have any particular sport drink recommendations? For those of us on a tighter budget, does water work just as well keeping us hydrated?
Water works great for hydration. It has no calories and no evil after-effects, unless you're running for four hours and you run low on electrolytes, but that's another issue. If you're running for no more than an hour and you can stand the taste (or lack of taste), water will do well.
However, once you get beyond an hour of exercise, you need to think about replenishing carbohydrates and electrolytes. Depending on weight and intensity of activity, you'll need between 30 and 60 grams of carbohydrates each hour; that's 16 to 32 ounces of Gatorade (200-400kcal). If you drink Accelerade during that same activity it will take 18 to 36 ounces (150-360kcal) to replenish, and you also get 7-15 grams of protein with the deal.
My recent favorite sports drink is PowerBar Endurance Sun Tea formula; I picked up a canister at Running Wild after a friend’s recommendation. A 16-ounce serving contains 42 grams or carbohydrates (so 12-24 ounces per hour), plus 480 mg of sodium and 25mg of potassium, so I don't have to worry about electrolytes. On top of that, there's 25mg of caffeine and a very light flavor. It mixes well and doesn't leave any gunk in your bottles, either.

Suzanne doesn't like Gatorade or Accelerade at full strength, but she liked the taste of PowerBar Endurance at normal strength. If caffeine isn’t your cup of tea (pun intended), PowerBar Endurance also comes in Lemon-Lime and Fruit Punch.
The best thing you can do is find a drink that meets your needs and stick with it. I can justify spending a little more for a good sports drink when I know it will help me perform well in workouts and on race day.
We've been told to take it easy this summer until it gets a little cooler. How easy is easy, and come fall, how long does it take to recover our strength and get back into racing form?

Just like the workout regimen, easy is in the eye of the beholder. I can tell usually by change in form or footstrike when an athlete is fatigued. Your challenge is to know it for yourself and to be smart enough to back off or pull the plug.
Being in racing form is not a question of how long as much as a question of when. You cannot be at maximal fitness throughout the entire year. You can maintain base through the entire year by running long, aerobic mileage. But the question of racing form is a function of how developed your base is, what variety of speedwork (tempo runs, short specificity, long specificity) you've put in, and how gradual your buildup is intended to be. Longer, more gradual build-ups lead to higher and more extended peak periods of six to eight weeks. Shorter, steeper build-ups lead to lower and shorter peaks.
Ask yourself, 'What is my goal race?' 'How am I going to get there?' 'What am I going to do to make certain I am at my most ready?'

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Hey, Buddy, I'm Tired Of Begging

"...I am uncomfortable lying to a child; it feels like building a trap for something wild..." - David Crosby (2000)

I was on my way out of the office this afternoon to teach my study skills and test-taking seminar when a friend began to ask about the running clubs I associate with downtown. Oh, oh. This can't be good.

So, I took the time to hear his issue, and it was one that seems more amazing and frustrating than anything I've ever heard as an athlete, coach, or "overly officious representative of a national running organization," as some have described me.

I'll borrow from the e-mail my friend sent to Ray Palmer, president of the Pensacola Sports Association, as part of his cry for assistance:

"Six Pensacola youth track athletes, part of AAU-Salvation Army Golden Soldiers Track Club qualified for the AAU National Championship meet to be held in Detroit, MI on 25 July-02 August. The excitement of their accomplishment was quickly demoted (sic) when their Sponsor, local Salvation Army, disclosed that they would not be able to support these athletes for the finals thus leaving them on their own for any continued participation."

"The children were told in the beginning of the season that they would be "flown" to the finals if they made it. According to the (track coaching staff), the Salvation Army's response was that they did not expect the athletes to win."

(EDITORIAL COMMENT - I had a conversation with the local Salvation Army's Athletic Director on this particular topic, after asking whether there was any truth to the above. Sounds like there was a case of "Chinese telephony" at best, "CYA" somewhere in the middle, and hyperbole or outright disinformation at the worst. SA's response was more in line with, "we did not expect them to do so well." There also seems to be a conflict between the SA and the coaching staff, the result of a dressing-down of the coach by SA after administrative shortcomings on the coach's part. MB, Jul 25 2008)

Where do I explode or go off on a Postal Service-esque rampage? The first target, as can be expected, should be the local Salvation Army. Why would you even make the faintest promise to someone, without hope of fulfillment? I would prefer to not go into the theological realm and speak about faith, or the lack thereof, on the part of this sponsor.

(EDITORIAL COMMENT - After receiving clarity from the SA athletic director, they are off the targeting list. The track coach, on the other hand... For me, this may be an expensive lesson learned. MB, Jul 25 2008)

Secondly, why my friend expected assistance of the PSA, a for-profit organization that puts on one running event a year, is beyond me. I'm going to try to not throw stones at one single running group within the Pensacola area, of which there are (at least) five. Why didn't the friend of Pensacola youth sports, as my friend identified himself in his letter to the PSA, know to speak to two or three of the larger clubs, or any of the local running impressari?

(EDITORIAL COMMENT - SA Athletic Director has not been in contact with PSA, nor the "friend of Pensacola youth sports." MB, Jul 25 2008)

I guess it's fortunate he knew my role as a coach, athlete and sometimes officious running bureaucrat. However, outside of a token amount of support from some of the local running community and a down-home version of an economic stimulus package, the six youth are getting squat from the local running community. I could get very cranky and play a few cards, but I'm going to hold them close to my vest for future use.

(EDITORIAL COMMENT - The "friend of Pensacola youth sports" did not know of any other source within the local running community, ergo he went to PSA. MB, Jul 25 2008)

No athlete should have to go hat in hand to the general public in order to participate in the sport they love and in which they excel.

I've gone hat in hand to the local club leaders in order to support RRCA's "Kids Run The Nation." I've mentioned the matching support of the RRCA Vice President David Cotter. I am not certain how many clubs have donated, or whether the word has been passed along to their general membership.

Imagine if each RRCA member, 175,000 strong, were to donate $5 apiece. That's over $850,000 that could be funneled into youth running programs. How many youth, of all ages, of all socioeconomic categories, could be served by a Kids Run The Nation grant?

Running is too much fun to be left on the sidelines, hat in hand.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Swedish Speed Work By Any Other Name

In order to delay inevitable shagginess, as well as the revelation of way too many gray hairs, it was definitely high time to put myself back in the barber's chair. There was a time when I looked at a visit to the barber shop with much the same dread as a visit to the dentist. However, I'm losing my teeth (only a little) faster than my hair.
I did have once upon a time what could be best described as an educated mullet, simply because I was an educated person. I didn't have the Joe Dirt thing going, not quite that serious a mullet. In fact, I never considered it to be a mullet. To me it was simply long hair. It was my thumb in the eye of society to have enough hair to pull it back into a (small) pony tail, put on my white oxford dress shirt and tie, and step into the classroom. There are a couple of photos floating around of me that way.
However, my wife cannot bear the thought of the man of her life having long hair. She considers it unnatural. I've threatened to grow it down to my butt in order to spite everyone...but I do like the regular income. Everyone says there's no such thing as a dress code with the federal government, but just try to get a promotion without being able to wear business attire. I don't care how smart you are, no one will listen to your smart ideas if you're wearing a loud-a$$ Hawaiian shirt and ratty jeans. As of last week I'm ten years out from my pension; after that, however, all bets are off on the hair limit. Of course, I might not be able to grow it that long by then. I wouldn't call the last two workouts fartlek by any stretch of the imagination. If you were or are a music enthusiast, it was probably closer to 30 minutes of rock and roll, followed by 30 minutes of a funeral dirge/death metal mash-up. Not pretty, huh?
It always helps on those days when you are running alone to be mindful of the effort...yes, listen to your body (and not the music in your Oakley Thumps). The music initially was there for entertainment purposes, keeping ennui at bay. I won't use them when I'm running with someone else, because it's unkind to not carry on a conversation with them. Yes, I know we're usually not carrying on a conversation during the latter half of the run, but it's nice to know we could always back off and have one if we really wished. And there have been days we have done so.
Effort is a relative thing, especially when you're five minutes behind the rest of the group at the outset of the run...I knew that second potty break this morning was going to come back to haunt me. However, I consider it better to have been five minutes back and hurrying like mad to try and catch up than to go out with the group and have one eye constantly on the horizon looking (desperately!) for the porta-potty.
And believe me, I don't think the Swedes were thinking about porta-potties when the term fartlek was coined.