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.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Baby, It's Cold Outside

Hear that thump? If you didn't figure it out that's the sound of the mercury hitting the floor. Most of my friends & loved ones live in less-temperate climes; they are not showing any love. I can guess why; we don't get near the cold they get, & definitely not the snow.
As much as I hate the dark & cold this time of year, the colder temps mean we get to change our favorite meals from salad to stews & soups. Much, much easier to prepare, even for a culinary-clueless clod like me. Stop by the local grocery & grab up some more vegetables for chopping, or stew beef, or chicken breast filets...nothing like a nice hot stew with a large chunk of Panera asiago cheese bread (and a cold beer!) after a workout.
A couple of weeks ago when the first real cool morning occurred, we heard thumps every few minutes on the window of the pool where I train. At the end of the workout, I saw the lifeguard walking outside with a stick or something, trying to pick up the birds who managed somehow to commit suicide by flying into the window. Flying toward the warmth? Not certain.
The other evening, our 'hound decided to climb up on our bed while we were in a state of repose. If the dog were a small breed, like a pekingese, it would not be such a bad thing. However, we're talking about an 80-pound greyhound. All right, I know he has zero body fat. He also learned the behavior from his "uncle" Steve; when Rubin stays over for the weekend, Steve lets the dog share the bed with him. In light of the $90 gas bill from this last month, the dog might spend more time at the office. Now, though, we have to keep more blankets at the house, think about a better dog bed, or break the dog of this new habit. Or perhaps just suck it up & fire up the furnace. Perhaps after Thanksgiving.
I almost have the missus sold on the benefits of cycling arm/leg warmers. She borrowed a pair of mine the other evening at the track, & did like them save for the painfully-obvious fact my arms are a little larger than they kept slipping down. Beats carrying extra long-sleeved garments & the need to stop and pull the suckers off, in my humble opinion. Just wear a good short sleeve, & pull the arm warmers down to the wrist when you get too warm.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

My Thanksgiving

(With a little bit of help from Don Henley, circa 2001...)

"A lot of things have happened since the last time we spoke; Some of them are funny, some of 'em ain't no joke; and I trust you will forgive me if I lay it on the line; I always thought you were a friend of mine..."

Over the last couple of months I've seen my high school classmates attaching through Web 2.0 modalities like Facebook. It's cool to see some of us have changed over the nearly three decades since graduating high school. Some of us haven't changed a bit. Some haven't left the old home town; some of us are sitting on the far side of the world, in places we would have never imagined being in when we were 17, 18, 19 years old.

"...Sometimes I think about you; I wonder how you're doing now and what you're going through..."

It's a d*mn good thing I'm married & I had no social life in high school. No old flames to fear re-kindling. Well, it'll be uncomfortable next year & I have little to recollect upon but the occasional band or track bus trip...compared to some of the parties my friends engaged in that seems pretty d*mmned lightweight. And since there was no Web 2.0 to speak of back then there won't be any incriminating evidence to dig up.

"...The last time I saw you we were playing with fire; We were loaded with passion and a burning desire; for every breath, for every day of living; This is my Thanksgiving..."

I'll be looked at with a certain degree of admiration, or pity...haven't figured out which. How many people get to re-make themselves 15 years after high school? How many want to re-make themselves? I think I can name at least one or two who would, but I'm not going there at this moment. Well, maybe I will.

"...Now the trouble with you and me, my friend is the trouble with this nation; Too many blessings, too little appreciation;and I know that kind of notion-well, it just ain't cool; so send me back to Sunday school; because I'm tired of waiting for reason to arrive; It's too long we've been living these unexamined lives..."

Getting married & divorced in the course of two years is a blessing in disguise; it showed me the superficiality of some people's religious faith, how fleeting their emotional support can be. It's a harsh wake-up call when you find the people you most hope to stand in your corner when the stuff hits the fan are the first to bail on you. It's provided insight on religion, on faith, & on the painful revelation the two often are not mutually inclusive.

"...I've got great expectations, I've got family and friends; I've got satisfying work, I've got a back that bends; for every breath, for every day of living; This is my Thanksgiving..."

Thank God for those years of solitude & searching in the early-to-mid-1990s. I would have never taken up running, never asked questions of the truths dropped in my lap on a weekly basis, & never thought about doing little more than a seven-to-three, five-day-a-week, working class existence. No college, no job potential, no relocation, no second marriage, no athlete-coach relationships...probably on the fast-track to fat, dumb & happy-ville.

"...Have you noticed that an angry man can only get so far; Until he reconciles the way he thinks things ought to be with the way things are..."

Coaching, here & now, has taught me the need to be less concerned about people who disagree. Most make their case known behind your back, with little or no evidence. They don't want to prove you made a mistake, they want to humiliate you in public. When you're the target of ad hominem attacks, there's not a lot you can do to defend without looking foolish...face it, some knucklehead is bound & determined to drag you down to their level.

"...Here in this fragmented world, I still believe in learning how to give love, and how to receive it; and I would not be among those who abuse this privilege; sometimes you get the best light from a burning bridge..."

So, I take my joy from making a difference in a small handful of lives; by motivation, by encouragement, by counsel, by setting the best possible example. The joy comes on days like today, when I can help someone run a personal best at a race...just talking them through the process...not screaming & yelling until it's all said & done (the right time to scream, no?). To those who decide to cross & burn the bridge behind them, all I can do is smile, watch them march into the darkness. Then I'll sit down to roast weenies in the embers.

"...And I don't mind saying that I still love it all; I wallowed in the springtime, now I'm welcoming the fall; for every moment of joy, every hour of fear; for every winding road that brought me here; for every breath, for every day of living; This is my Thanksgiving..."

This time of the year, with the darkness & damp & cold, is a strange time for running. You spend lots of time in solitary pursuit if you stick to the road or the track; treadmills only isolate us from each other through music players & headphones. Sometimes it helps just to break the rut; if you've been treadmilling regularly, get out on the track or the road. If you run in the dark under the streetlamps, get inside every so often. Break the monotony.

"...For everyone who helped me start; and for everything that broke my heart; for every breath, for every day of living; This is my Thanksgiving."

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Law Of Diminishing Returns

Okay, a survey link on the front page of Yahoo! asks what I consider a rhetorical question: What's the key to having the happiest job? Part of me thinks back to the physician/ultrarunner Timothy Noakes' 14 Laws of Training, hidden in plain sight within his weighty tome Lore of Running. (if you want to be a serious runner or effectively guide runners, this text is probably the philosopher's stone of running texts) One of the laws says something to the degree of try to achieve desired athletic performance on the minimal volume of training possible.
Most runners I encounter, however, want to achieve great gains in performance on less than optimal training, or on no training whatsoever. That's like doing no work & expecting a paycheck mailed to your home...even better, direct deposit to your bank account, as a reward. Crazy, no? John Parker, in several of his books, reiterates a painfully obvious fact on performance gain; there is no secret outside of the often heart-rending process of wearing down the outsoles of your running shoes, one molecule of rubber at a time. Really, if there were a pill, potion, powder or plan that could guarantee performance gains 100 percent of the time, it would have been outlawed by now. Even (so-called) performance-enhancing drugs can't replace desire & discipline. Or plain dumb luck.
So, sometimes you have to experiment & find out how much training is too much, & how much training is the most effective...for you. Not everyone has the time or work schedule, or the physical desire to get up at oh-dark-thirty & run six, eight, ten miles, day in & day out. Perhaps they have found their fastest performances were the result of long, easy runs in the afternoon, with one or two speed workouts laced in during the week. Sometimes this also means taking a rest day or an easy day here & there...planned or unplanned, it makes no difference.
I don't think this is necessarily limited to male athletes. I've trained with a couple of female runners who would literally run themselves into the ground & not give an inch during a workout. One was definitely the type that if I were to mention there was a bone sticking out of her leg she would have likely asked me 'and whose bone might that be?' Regrettably, she is Once A Runner, a recreational runner now, as is her husband. Proof sometimes that madness begets madness? No. Birds of a feather? Perhaps.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Kipling As Coach

Every so often I like to take a look at the local bulletin board postings, especially after a race, to hear what participants are asking - or complaining - about. Most of the time the questions are 'where can I find results to a race?' But every once in a blue moon a person complains about stuff that often can be resolved by either individual participants taking time to know the rules & read the fine print on the application, or by individual race directors taking the time to educate before, & enforcing on race day.
I have my own pet peeves about what should & should not be permitted on the race course, for a number of reasons usually codified in a rule book somewhere. That might be the part of me that's much like my late uncle; my mother claims I harbor a lot of his here are the rules, d*mn it, so follow them until someone in authority decides to change them point of view. If my father & my uncle had worked on the same law enforcement agency together any longer than they did, they would have made the perfect good cop, bad cop (by bad cop I mean playing by the rules 100-percent of the time) combination. My father knew letting my school friends' borderline infraction of the speed limits slide would lead to peaceable relations with their parents, many of whom were upstanding citizens in the community, business leaders, & the like. Uncle Ernie, on the other hand (bless his heart, as my wife would say), knew only one way other than the highway...the rulebook, statute or law. That was it. Suffice it to say my father probably has more friends outside of the law enforcement community than my uncle did while he was alive.
As coach, I have certain statutes & rules by which I have to abide. The national governing body under which I (voluntarily) labor says so. The other national running organization under which I voluntarily labor asks me to act in an ethical manner & work to help educate the local running community. Naturally, like every play by the book law enforcement officer & teacher, there is the feeling you're standing & shouting into the abyss. The persons who appreciate you let you know in private, the persons who would rather you stay the hell away are more likely to do it in a public manner.
My wife continues to remind me my labors are not completely in vain. That's a fortunate thing, because if I didn't hear it from her I probably would have packed it in years ago; more time to be spent with her, the d-a-w-g & the people I enjoy the most, as well as some flexibility in my own personal training schedule.
Every so often I pick up one of my college literature textbooks and thumb to a dog-eared page of poetry or two. Some times it's William Henley's Invictus when I feel the need to feel ten feet tall & bulletproof. But Rudyard Kipling's If often does the work. Kipling, with his prototypical British stiff upper lip reminds me to get up, or stay up, when the public smack talk comes a little too thick or hits a little deeper than a civil disagreement would/should:
If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs & blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, yet make allowance for their doubting, too.
If you can wait & not be tired by waiting, or being lied about, don't deal in lies;
Or being hated, don't give in to hating; yet neither look too good, nor talk too wise.
If you can dream, & not make dreams your master; if you can think, & not make thoughts your aim.
If you can meet with Triumph & Disaster, yet treat those two impostors just the same.
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools;
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken & stoop to build them using worn-out tools.
If you can make a heap of all your winnings & risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, & start again at your beginnings & never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart & nerve & sinew to serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"
If you can talk with crowds & keep your virtue, or walk with kings--nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you; if all men count with you, but none too much,
(N.B. My wife, the English major, paraphrases the previous couplet to remind me to "care, but not too much.")
If you can fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth & everything that's in it, and--which is more--you'll be a Man, my son!
So I'll head back to my corner & put some ice on the bruise. See you next round.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Three Is A Magic Number

Fresh in my home e-mail in-box...good stuff from PowerBar and Carmichael Training Systems, which I'll shamelessly borrow for your benefit. (My editorial comments will be in italics.)
Exercising with partners provides additional motivation and adds an important social component to keep you engaged in your exercise program. There are days when it's easier to do something other than exercise, or you'd rather sit on the couch than go for a run. It's not that you don’t want to exercise; you just need a little nudge from a buddy. Even highly motivated professionals benefit from training partners because they make you accountable for your workouts: Someone waiting for you at the park or the gym will make you shut down the computer or drag you out of bed.
In our household I have little trouble getting out the door to the pool or the bike, at least when my wife is home. When she is on the road, however, the positive motivation to get up and get out begins to wane. This autumn I found the motivation loss kicked in about three weeks into her last business trip. Mind you, I still managed to get my afternoon run workouts in, with varying degrees of (perceived) success, but the cross-training sessions which enabled me to loosen up tight muscles went by the wayside.
Optimal performance often depends on involving the perfect number of people. In business, a team that's too big struggles to make decisions, and a team that's too small doesn’t have the brain power to cover all the angles. Likewise, for training groups, involving too many people makes it too complicated to coordinate schedules and preferences. But training alone makes it too easy to put exercise on the back burner.
Even Saturday morning track workouts during the late summer got scrapped because there were no fellow participants. I'd show at the track, see no teammates, and say 'stuff it.' Well, I'd use the YMCA cardio machines (elliptical trainer or treadmill) and/or the pool for lap swimming in order to fill in the check-box for the day...kind of the 80-percent solution to physical training.
I’ve found that three is the perfect number for forming a reliable training group. A triad ensures that if one person can’t make it, there’s still one person depending on you to show up. It’s not imperative that all three of you meet up to do the same workout, just that you commit to starting and finishing together.
Sunday morning runs are a good example here. In fact, I changed the Sunday morning route from a loop course to an out-and-back, based on time, in order to allow everyone to (nearly) finish together. All each person has to do is keep track of their time and turn at the right moment. When/if the pace on the return trip is the same as the outbound, just about everyone encounters each other at the last mile at the worst, the last five minutes at the best. This way no one is left alone on the course, and if someone has a very bad day we can help bring them in.
The importance of a third person is evident even in a (pro-exercise) environment....I noticed that several of my employees were struggling to stick with their fitness programs, so I encouraged them to establish training triads....signing up for endurance events, like the Leadville 100 mountain bike race, and then completing a fraction of the necessary training. He went and completed the events anyway, but he suffered more than he needed to in the process. When he (had one) training (partner), ...only had a little more success sticking with his training. Whenever (one) had to miss a session, (the other) missed it too. But adding (a third athlete) to the team created a training triad, and the chances that at least two people were available for a training session increased by 100%....Training triads work. Even for athletes of differing fitness levels and disciplines because they keep everyone engaged and committed to training.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Blip On The Horizon

Been home for eight hours from Panama City, a trip originally planned to take an extra day. Quality time with my wife (in spite of the previous week in Dubai) comes few & far between.
We talked about going to Ironman Florida as spectators. As most participants will tell you (once the DOMS fades) it's nothing like the telecasts on Versus or many ways it's better, in my humble opinion. I'll have a couple of (phone camera) photos posted in the next day or so, fleeting glimpses of things I saw during the first six hours of the day. I did not take any shots of the run or the finishers because of my (poor) vantage point in the finishing chute, however.
I volunteered to work a three-hour shift at the finish line, handing out bottles of water to finishers, but was placed a little further down the finish chute, to help hand out finisher shirts and hats. Let me tell you, the range of emotions displayed by nearly all of the finishers (not just first-timers) ran the gamut of shock & numbness to emotional overflow. Who would have thought a man would weep like a seven-year-old child at finishing under ten hours?
No, I truly enjoyed seeing & experiencing...& being a part of the experience...over two thousand brave souls test themselves against the Gulf of Mexico, the roads of Bay County, & the streets of Panama City Beach. Of course, there wasn't the heat, hills & winds of Kona, but for many, this was as good as it got.
And, as my wife knew, I was stoked to be there, & be a small part of the equation. I knew I had to become, somehow (as Faris Al-Sultan said), part of the family. Which, outside of the $500 entry fee, meant a year (technically a year & six days) of commitment to a goal.
Well, the decision was 90-percent made before I left the house on Friday afternoon, but I made certain Suzanne completely bought in to the ideal & the plan. I did have a 30-second moment of what am I thinking? the minute before I provided my information...& a 30-second moment the minute after.
My friend Steven stepped out of the tent about three minutes after I had my confirmation sheet. 'I guess there's no turning back now, is there?' I asked.
So, like watching a tropical storm on the radar screen you know is going to put you into the hurt locker soon enough...and soon enough for Steven, myself, & another 2,000 of coming on November 7, 2009.
Bring it on. Well, maybe that's not such a wise statement, given the track record of it's previous speaker. :)