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.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Thanks For What?

This is a post-mortem from an experience I had in late-July. If it sounds like I'm complaining, then you're dead-on right.
I received a small envelope in my mailbox this week, from a gentleman in a nearby burg. I quickly recognized the name to be that of the coach whose Salvation Army-sponsored track team was left in a lurch just prior to the AAU Junior Olympics national meet in Detroit.
'Strange,' I said to myself. 'While this might be a thank-you note it seems a little on the small and light side.' I opened the envelope to find a very small thank you card, with a single sheet note stapled inside.
How nice. I received a 'dear sponsor' letter. Not 'Dear Michael,' but 'dear sponsor.'
Here's what the letter read:
Dear Sponsor: On behalf of the staff and members of the (blank) Track Club, we would like to extend our most sincere gratitude for your generous donation to our club. Your proceeds helped us to make our youth the champions they are today. We would also like to thank you for your contribution in helping us get our youth to the National Jr. Olympics in Detroit, Michigan. We hope that you continue your support with our organization and we will continue to mold our children into positive athletes! With thanks, (blank), Head Coach, (blank), Field Coach & P.R. Specialist
Now, perhaps I should settle for this amount of gratitude. However, as a person who donated money toward this particular program which I could have invested into my household, or to Kids Run The Nation, a RRCA youth running grant program, I want to know the value-added; what was the end result of this particular trip, how did these athletes perform. Simply put: What did I get in return for my investment?
The head coach and the P.R. specialist failed to elaborate beyond the realm of platitudes. As a coach of athletes, I judge value-added by results; I want to know how well these athletes performed, or at least whether they had the opportunity to exceed their personal best efforts.
I could care less about your efforts to mold children into positive athletes. I would rather you mold them into positive citizens, by teaching them to say please and thank you. Setting an example by admitting when you are wrong and apologizing. Giving credit where credit is due. Maybe taking a little bit of effort to personalize your thanks.
I AM NOT JUST A SPONSOR. I AM A COACH.
The first rule of public relations should be to make a positive impact on the people you want to have in your corner for future struggles.
IF I WERE YOUR PUBLIC RELATIONS SPECIALIST: Here's how this letter would have been written to me:
Dear Mr. Bowen: On behalf, blah, blah (I would also make certain the name of the track club was right in the letter...was it "(blank) Golden Track Club" or "Golden Soldiers Track Club?") we would like to extend our gratitude for your check for (total) to support our club trip to the National Junior Olympics in Detroit, MI. We were able to take six athletes to the Junior Olympics meet; three of them reached the semifinal heats of their respective events and five of them exceeded their personal best marks (This is just an example of value-added...tell me what these kids did. I donated for them; I don't care about what you are going to do unless it's something for them, either.). We sincerely hope you will continue to support our team in the future. With thanks...
Now I know why political campaign donors are the way they are. They don't want to be just another face in the crowd.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Warmth of a Few Good Friends

This weekend marks three years since Hurricane Katrina slapped the living daylights out of New Orleans, something I would not have known if not for my fine friends at National Public Radio. I guess the more painful irony might be the fact (at the time of this writing) a tropical storm is in the south Caribbean, with forecast models pointing anywhere from up the eastern coast of Florida to the central Gulf coast of Texas. Of course, both New Orleans and Pensacola are smack dab in the center of that particular cone o' bad things.
I truly don't want any bad things to befall either me and mine or my NOLA friends. During the period of time since our respective cities have been slapped about by cyclonic visitors without so much as a have a nice day, we've been able to compare recovery notes and what-not. Of course, we took the equivalent of a standing-eight count. NOLA got d*mned-near TKO'ed. The city is still not completely back; believe me, you can tell when you go through NOLA East or take a long gander at the watermarks on the exterior of houses near City Park...but it's a step in the right direction.
The first trip back into NOLA for the Crescent City Classic 10K, a little less than a year following Katrina, was like going into Sarajevo. I don't think many of my local friends got a good look at the neighborhoods surrounding the City Park, such as the Lower Ninth Ward, but the sheer expanse of devastation at that time was downright depressing. The hotel I stayed in downtown was serviceable (I'm pleased to say they looked fantastic two years later.) but a little rough on the edges. While racing, you're focusing on the task at hand; that continuous calculus between speed and comfort. That meant my focus was not much beyond the roadway, my fellow competitors and the crowd along the curbside. However, the next day's easy jog on the same course was much the same as seeing a hockey player's mouth during game time; lots of gaps where things normally once had been.
Each year, as I have gone back for one reason or another, I've been blessed with the opportunity to spend time with some resilient, and sometimes just plain tough people. I think James Taylor sang a song (Ananas, French for pineapple) about those folks: Sweet on the inside, rough on the outside. So, NOLA for me is an opportunity to meet new friends and see a side that most turistas don't want or don't care to see.
Take, for example, the 5:20 club. This group meets twice a week to run out along the canal and the shore of Lake Ponchartrain at 5:20 a.m. Sharp. You may consider that particular time (when I went it was before the butt-crack of dawn) to be the height of insanity, but keep in mind that in a city where the elevation is less than sea level, humidity of less than 100 percent is a dry day, and heat can be downright oppressive, running five-to-ten miles without an ambulance trip to Charity Hospital can only be accomplished at 5:20 a.m. The 5:20-ers make the experience as hospitable as possible by providing sports drink, a makeshift shower and dressing facility, as well as space at the table for a post-run breakfast at a NOLA west eatery (I must admit the breakfast was fantastic!).
I never had seen the shore of Ponch, so rolling along at 7:40-to-7:50 pace as the sun was rising was an absolute treat. Sure, there were lake houses in varied states of repair, and you could feel the humidity rise as the sun did, but there is nothing (in my humble opinion) like spending time enjoying nature - and breakfast - with a few good friends.
Here's hoping and praying Gustav decides to take a vacation somewhere very, very south.

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Whole (Hole?) Truth About Bad Days

This last week seemed to be an ongoing object lesson in the holism of training, from Tuesday evening at the track (and the immediate thereafter) on to the Monday morning after the Bushwacker 5K. So maybe it's high time to talk a little about what can (help) cause bad days to happen.
Sometimes they do to you. Often times they do to me. But this is about you.
Your bad day can (or may, or may not...) be the result of a number of short-term and longer-term decisions. Everything from the number of adult beverages you drank in the past few days, to the food choices you made in the past 48 hours, to the effort level of the activities you did (or did not) in that same period of time can either positively or negatively reinforce your energy level.
So, for example, if all of your workouts consist of the same activity, for the same duration, at the same intensity level, it's highly likely you have trained yourself not so much into a groove as into a rut. Keep going long enough and it's more likely going to feel like a grave with two ends missing; 'cause you're going to feel like your running is flat out dead. A friend of mine had a bad day on Saturday (in his own opinion); rather than write it off as a bad day, or take it as a sign he might want to adjust his training, he walked around at the post-race party in a severely despondent state, one step (barely) above suicidal.
Outside stressors can cause your run training to be a little less than fun, too. Look for a job, or try to sell a house, or deal with a familial issue for an extended period of time...that stuff will weigh on your mind and eventually affect your physical performance. Sure, at first the run or bike or swim is a brief escape from the stress, but what I'm talking about are those seriously extended circumstances...the ones that can last for six months or more.
So, I have no magical silver bullet for you today. Sometimes, though, knowing where the problem might lie can be the first step in fixing (better yet, understanding) the bad day problem.