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, December 21, 2009

Easy Days

Sounds like the kind of place I want to spend some time in this time next year. Ah, but that will depend mostly on the wishes of COMNAVWIFELANT, also known as "Mrs. Java," "Coffee-Mate," or..."she who must be obeyed."

Fortunately for me, this years' endurance challenges smoothly segued into:
1. a reasonable level of training, namely the building of a right solid base, and
2. my wife's wish to run another half-marathon after a year's hiatus from systematic training.

So, I took the challenge of being husband and coach all at the same time...again...and got her back into the run training regimen she had a couple of years ago. Suzanne's strength is the ability to (like the Energizer Bunny) go for a consistent pace over an extended period of time. Brute, blistering speed is not her forte.

The biggest challenge for her, unfortunately, is the fact she is one of the few at her ability level who enjoys doing what I like to assign (to my athletes); moderate-distance training sessions of up to an hour two-or-three times a week, with speed work once-or twice a week. Oh, yes, don't forget the run of at least an hour once a week. That means she spends a lot of time doing her workouts alone. At least I can find someone within 30 seconds/mile pace to run with me...most of the time. However, since the middle of last month I've made a conscious effort to run easy with her at least once a week.

Don't know how many of you have ever tried to run a minute-to-two minutes/mile slower than your average training pace, but it can be a little painful. Especially after 60 minutes. I dreaded the prospect of those first runs at such a sedate pace, remembering vividly the damage I did to myself along Waikiki a couple of years back. All right, I have to admit part of the problem had to do with the fact I was in very old running shoes...and had recently done damage to my achilles at the beach half-marathon.

But once I figured out how to do the right thing - run for a period of time/distance, then turn and run back to my wife - everything went well. As it was, she was never really more than about two blocks back from me over the course of a single mile, so I could gently jog back. It also allowed her to know the exact route which we were going to use for a six-mile run, or an eight-mile run, or what the route for the distance she needed to cover was going to be (GPS plus Google Maps equals a very good estimate of how far you've gone.).

This particular attitude persisted over the last month, with other runners who are a little faster than my wife also benefiting from the small change in my training regimen. As they've come out they've had the opportunity to learn the loop we train on & build their confidence.

So, what has it done to my speed? Well, I ratcheted up the pace the other night on the beach, doing a 6.2-mile loop. The first mile or two were in the 7:30/mile pace, after that the splits started to come down between 5-and-7 seconds a mile, until I was running the last two miles in the high-six minute/mile range. Yes, it hurt. But it was a good hurt. I hadn't been at that particular pace for about two, or maybe three, months. But I also hadn't done any real speed work since September, either.

So, if you want to develop speed you need to learn how to run comfortably at speed. But once you've learned how it feels, you can't be hurt by emphasizing the runs which maintain base fitness.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

It's Not Me, Coach. It's You.

Frustration: A common emotional response to opposition....it arises from the perceived resistance to the fulfillment of individual will. The greater the obstruction, and the greater the will, the more the frustration is likely to be....In people, internal frustration may arise from challenges in fulfilling personal goals and desires, instinctual drives and needs, or dealing with perceived deficiencies....Conflict can also be an internal source of frustration; when one has competing goals that interfere with one another, it can create cognitive dissonance....While coping with frustration, some individuals may engage in passive-aggressive behavior, making it difficult to identify the original cause(s) of their frustration, as the responses are indirect. A more direct, and common response, is a propensity towards aggression. - N.E. Miller (1941)
Until I spent three months in North Chicago, IL I thought seasonal affective disorder - that state of depression which hits folks during the darker, more-gloomy months of the year - was a bunch of hooey. Darned if a solid week of cloudy, damp, miserable days at Great Mistakes didn't cause me to change my tune, & quickly.
I never thought myself to be susceptible to the symptomatology. I figured working in buildings without window access - or windows altogether - and terrible lighting for nearly three decades... there was that brief, two-year period where I worked in an office with a picture window, and a year where I worked from midnight to eight a.m...would provide sufficient protection from the vicissitudes of darkening days.
By the end of that epic just-off-the-shores-of-Lake-Michigan-in-late-autumn period, I was ready, really ready, to return to the Sunshine State. Remember those video clips where the Pope kisses the ground the moment he touches down in a foreign land? That's what I looked like on my return to Pensa-freaking-cola.
So, training with the group during late autumn darkness, dampness & dreariness was great therapy. I could definitely handle the conditions as long as there was one other person suffering with me. I know that's what brought a lot of my training partners at that time out; the fact I would be out there to get that workout in. Doesn't mean I didn't hate the conditions. I had to prove somehow I was badder than the drug. I felt being badder also led to being better on race day.
But, it's completely different when you're coach than when you're the athlete. Especially when you're dealing with adult runners who don't have to be there if they don't want to. As madness begets madness, it's easy for me to shrug off heading out to the track on a night when it's damp & drizzling; I'm already under the presumption well, heck, nobody's going to be out there...why should I even care?

Add to all of this the season - which to me, needs no reason; read some of my earlier postings to understand my religious survival - & you have a recipe for cranky (and sick!) people. I love the plethora of get-togethers, parties, social functions, drunken bacchanalia, shopping, trips, days away from work & so on, but it's a challenge balancing all this stuff. Best way you can deal with it is to take care of things very, very early (as my wife is wont to do) or realize can not do everything. Learning to say 'no, I'm sorry, that's not going to happen' is, to me, the golden mean; the royal road to sanity. The people who are offended by that response aren't going to be the ones you'd spend time with in the first place, & the ones who understand...well, they'll understand.
So, the social aspect of running can be as therapeutic for me standing on the side of the track as it is for the person circling the same. Oh, how I miss the days of ambulating (perambulating? sauntering? shuffling? meandering?) through the holiday light-bedecked neighborhoods, especially after the last 5K of the season & everyone still had their little bell attached to their running shoes. If you can hear the voice of Charlie Brown from A Charlie Brown Christmas playing in the back of your mind, when he's asking: 'is there anyone who can tell me what Christmas is all about?!' Well, that's me right now. This, too, shall pass. Kind of like a kidney stone. Ow.

Monday, December 7, 2009

It's a Rebus, Ya Butthead...

(A tip of the swim cap/cycling helmet/running visor to "Chuckie V" Veylupek. A little more obscure & cryptic than his road sign, but hey! That's the way I am, right?)
So, the end of the calendar year is always great fun for me. Not only does it allow me to scale back the running or cycling I do in order to spend more quality time - running - with my wife, I also get to play my favorite puzzle game, called "What The Heck Did We Do Wrong This Year?"

Well, it's not the official name of the game, but it's the working title for what new twist do we want to try in our training to replace the things that didn't do so well last year? I know, it's not as catchy as Scrambled Eggs, which was the working title for one of the greatest pop tunes of the past fifty years (kudos to anyone who knows the title - I don't have anything special I can give, short of my admiration!), but it will have to do.
Last year I tossed the fairly-well tried-and-true three weeks on, one week off training intensity cycle right out the window for a shorter three/four/five day on, one day off cycle. Unfortunately, I don't control all of the workout factors; I can swim up to six days a week (seven if I wish to engage in open-water!), and I can bike, run or do strength training almost any time I please. But sometimes I like the idea of getting out on a ride, or a social run, with a friend. We're social animals, we humans. While we may not have identical training goals & our physiological make-up varies by chronological & training age, there are times we like to have someone else suffering along with us.
So, this year I have decided to carpe the damned diem...seize the day. There are enough social-like training-like situations where I can get the necessary intensity in without feeling like the Lone Doggone Ranger. Rather than focus strictly on hard mileage/yardage, I've borrowed from a number of guides to gauge the volume & the balance between the disciplines.
The first guide is from Joe Friel's The Triathlete's Training Bible (I have the next-to-most-recent-edition). Since I'm focusing on two IM 70.3 events this year & I'm a middling-to-back-of-the-pack (blame it on my swimming) participant, I'm looking at the middle of Friel's 500-to-700 hours of training per year window. So, when I look at the amount of time I spent this year it's not going to be a big change, time-wise (this makes my wife very happy!). Friel has a week-by-week breakdown through each of the base, build, and prep cycles leading to the event, & the events are far enough apart to give me a chance to re-cycle through base & build in the summer.

Even neater than this, Friel lays out a division of hours per day for each week. Sundays have the most time available; which seems in line with most middle-class triathletes, & the week slowly tapers off in hours for training, with Saturday being the shortest day of the week, where your most intense stuff, or your C & B races, fit in. But there are days where my swim work is 'etched in stone' because of my masters' group, & the twice-weekly Six At Six beatdown is becoming a regular thing again...so there's a healthy chunk of the week taken up. But it's probably a better thing to have a little too little training volume than too much, right? I doubt if anyone ever got injured from undertraining over time.
The second tool is Dan Empfield's aerobic points system. For me to get out & run 8-to-12 miles on the weekend, 8 miles in the middle of the week, & five-to eight miles worth on the elliptical trainer (or treadmill, if I'm not too beat up) may...or may not...be such a good thing, especially in light of how badly I swim. Empfield's point of view, as well as many other coaches is race your strengths, train your limiters.
(If you're strictly running you will be better served by Jack Daniels' points system, which is published in the latest version of Daniels' Running Formula. But if you're a beginner tri-geek you might want to use this guide to keep your training balanced...so you don't spend too much time working on the stuff in which you are already good.)
Empfield's system works like this:
1 mile cycling = 1 point
1/4 mile running (~400 meters on track!) = 1 point
100 meters (yards) swimming = 1 point
I did a little bit of adaptation because of my tendency to beat myself up on the run: If I use the elliptical trainer (with a heart rate monitor!), I'll divide the time spent on the ET by 2.4-to-3.3 (2.4 if the average heart rate is closer to maximum, 3.3 if the average is closer to 50 percent) and give that score to the ET workout. (In essence, it's a way to equate elliptical trainer with cycle!) So, 25 miles of running might equate to 100 miles on the bike or 10,000m (yd) in the pool.
A hard-core runner might not need to develop strength by hitting the weight room, & some triathlon coaches consider hitting the pool to be better than pumping iron. Empfield prefers weights, so, every five minutes pumping weight (after 20 minutes) earns a point. A one-hour session would give you 12 points, but that assumes no lollygagging, definitely a hard-core weight session.
If there's a weakness in your training or you aren't certain how to balance out life & training, or the disciplines for which you are training, it helps to figure out what some of the good coaches are doing or telling their charges...might work for you; might not. We're all an experiment of one. Don't do the same thing over again if you're looking for different results.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Take A Deep Breath And Read The Fine Print

Some friends outside of the immediate area enjoy borrowing my posts; I guess every so often I manage to transcend the personal & slide right into the universal. Doesn't happen as often as I like, but when a good post is borrowed I really appreciate it.
If you've ever read a piece of literature or an article - or for that matter, a blog post - without looking closely into the perspective or the context under which it was written you might miss the point. Sometimes I have to point the reader to a piece of literature, a song, or a movie in order for them to understand exactly what I'm talking about. I've had friends tell me, or more often, my wife, 'you know, he's a good writer but sometimes we don't have a clue exactly what he's talking about.'
The main page of my blog has a disclaimer I adapted from one on the weblog of two-time Olympic medalist Simon Whitfield. In essence, it says: 'dude, this is my opinion. Take it with the amount of salt needed to be palatable.' My wife is wise enough to ask me to clarify. My father has read enough missives from me in the past three decades to translate (now you know why the Bible can be so hard to interpret?). Most other people only read a piece of what I've written then go off on a tangent, have a conniption fit, & set out to prove me wrong.
My friend Kevin Spain is a sportswriter for a large newspaper. There are certain times of the year he has no lack of material for the on-line & print versions. Other times he looks for something that's a little more out of the ordinary. Occasionally he borrows from me, or asks me to write something on a topic which he feels the need for coverage. I'm not one to deny the request of a friend. A blog post of mine about a Red Dress Run & my observations was decent enough to make the electronic world. I harbor no fantasies of being a big-shot writer, much less a big-shot coach or a big-shot in the running community, as I was once called by a USATF official in Dunedin. To think my opinions & observations of a very large running/social event (frankly, one of the largest of it's kind in the country!) would hold water with the lumpenproletariat is beyond my understanding.
Hey, I'm just a guy telling my story.
Imagine my surprise last night when I received a couple of e-mails: One was from the organizer of the event in question. Another was from a person who did not provide their affiliation, but must have been a member of the same organization, or all-too-emotionally attached to the event.
The rebuttal from the event organizer was gracious; to the point she wished to provide her side of the story, with a press release about the charitable proceeds of the event. The second e-mail was, er, less-than-gracious, & quite typical of e-mails I've received from members of the organization in question when they feel they've been wrongly maligned. I proceeded to tell the event organizer she missed some of the salient points of my blog, & provided some additional information I left out in the intent of putting a best face on the event.
We all have, some preacher once told me, the opportunity to influence 150 people. We have close enough relationships with that many persons; most will not hesitate to speak well of the good customer service situations, or restaurant experiences, or holiday trips, or running events. Same goes for bad experiences - those 150 can be influenced to be a future customer or to never darken the doorstep of your business. I didn't want to tell this event organizer I would be a dissuading influence on her event, but merely a single customer who decided his preferences would lie somewhere else for that particular event in the future.
After the second e-mail, I decided on dissuasion. I can spend the same amount of money in that town; stay at the same hotel, & have as good a time as a spectator...better, actually...than as a participant. And I told the event organizer thus.
That's the joy of capitalism. Sometimes the hired help shoots management in the foot.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Barry White? We're Talking Barry White!?

While R&B/disco great Barry White has no longer been with us for three years, there's still an opus of work which has not seen the light of day. Well, not any longer. His long-time friend & producer saw fit to release a three-disc collection of alternate tracks, unreleased tunes & (to borrow from Steve Taylor) some stuff which initially didn't make the cut...just in time to celebrate what would have been Barry's 65th birthday.
The interview on NPR's Morning Edition brought out some really neat stuff which could relate to your own training:
1. If you're smart enough - knowing your strengths & limiters - you can take anything & make it your own.
One of White's greatest songs was originally supposed to be a country song, called 'My First, My Last, My In-Between.' Expand what comes between the first & last to everything, hey, Barry, this turkey just might fly! NPR's Steve Inskeep & White's producer then went off the rabbit trail & into the weeds, mentioning the potential of taking a song as simple as Mary Had A Little Lamb & Barry Whiting it. I almost had to pull the car over, I was laughing at the sound in my mind.
The smart athlete considers a training plan more as a road map & less as an itinerary, because we are all an experiment of one.
2. Do One Thing. Do It Well.
When you listen to Barry White's songs, they are all about love between two people. There are no break-up songs, no songs about fighting or the hard parts of a one-to-one emotional relationship. Okay, that's why I could never stand to listen to more than one or two Barry White songs at a sitting. It was kind of like doing lunch at an all-you-can-eat pizza joint; the first plate was fantastic, the second one pretty good...after that it's self-abuse.
Focus on a particular range of distances. Try the others if you like, but keep it in perspective. While you can not suck at most everything, you aren't going to be good at everything...all at one time.

So, here's to you, Barry. We can learn how to be good athletes, and good people, perhaps, by listening to your stuff every so often. Oh, yeah...I never thought I'd hear a better version of Billy Joel's Just The Way You Are, but somehow you did it.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

When Things Come To A Head

Feels like the end of the tunnel has been reached, so to speak. In the past I've always managed to survive the stretch from Thanksgiving to right around Christmas without catching whatever nasty cold or flu or creeping crud was circulating. However, this year was a major change in the immunity, or susceptibility to the stuff, I guess. I don't think my training volume changed all that much this year, & it's not like I was over-fatigued from IM FL. But I got something before the holidays, pretty much the same cold/flu bug/crud (more like upper respiratory infection, head cold, low-grade fever kind of stuff) I have visit days after Christmas.
The timing was nearly perfect...and not so perfect; it all hit like a ton of bricks last week when I was scheduled for a general practitioner's appointment. Unfortunately, it stuck around & became more noxious through the weekend's tri club party/meeting - if the photos taken showed I looked like I rolled out of a sickbed to quaff a couple of beers, well, that's because I did. The bad news is I don't feel like doing anything that resembles exercise. The good news is I didn't have any major plans for this month, anyhow.
At least that's what my body is telling me. My mind, on the other hand...wanted to jump in on the weekend's masters' swim meet a couple of days back. Hey, it would have been warmer in the water than on the deck, but I doubted hacking a six-pound loogie at the end of the 800-yard freestyle would have been a pretty sight. Some times you have to be smarter than your desire.
So, other than a couple of brief walks around the park with the wife & the woofer, my exercise regimen has been limited to a single set of 12-ounce elbow bends each evening.
Plan out your holiday period as judiciously as you would plan any other training period. It's a time to spend with family, friends, co-workers, but make certain you don't run yourself directly into the ground. I make a conscious effort to decline invitations...as nicely as possible...if I feel the schedule has become too hectic. All the same, I try not to become too bunged up if I can't get everyone to show up at a single social function.

As for the training, it's a great time to run, bike or swim with people you normally wouldn't train. We've got local runs which occur at the same time as our track workout; I'm not one to give carte blanche & say, 'go ahead and run with that group,' but if the change of pace gives you a new perspective on your training...

Thursday, November 19, 2009

ISO A Guy With Initials After His Name

(EDITORIAL COMMENT: MY USE OF THE MASCULINE FORM DOES NOT MEAN I AM A MALE CHAUVINIST - USE OF MALE FORM ONLY MAKES FOR EASIER WRITING.)

Spent a few minutes after getting my weekly Six at Six beat-down talking to Mark. He asked me what I knew about chiropractic, & whether I had ever been treated by a doctor of chiropractic. I had to admit a certain degree of ignorance about the benefits of chiropractic; while I've read much in the running world about athletes being adjusted on a regular basis, I also had to look past some formerly/deeply-held (religion-based) convictions. I'm not in the mood to get into the theological side of this, so I'll stay with the semi-scientific side.
I spent 14 years working in the medical field, as an administrative person (transcribing doctors' orders), a file maintainer/receptionist & a transcriber (history/physical examinations, ER visits, progress notes, discharge orders, treatment notes, and so on). During that time I had close working/personal relationships with most of the relevant medical professions (doctors are willing to engage in some back-scratching to get their work expedited), which gave me the chance on many occasions to ask 'what's the difference between...?'
So, if I were to place the three forms of medicine on a spectrum, I would consider osteopathic medicine (practiced by doctors of osteopathic, or D.O.'s) at the center of the spectrum. Chiropractic, Homeopathic, Chinese and Ayurvedic would be on the left side; allopathic medicine (practiced by doctors of medicine, M.D.'s) would be on the right.
A V.A. friend of mine is a D.O. I would visit him on occasion in the Rehab Medicine department when I had an issue, or just to ask 'what would you do in this situation?' I always found his approach to medical issues to be pragmatic & holistic. He was more likely to try something outside the box than fall back on more traditional methods of treatment. I decided to see what Wikipedia had to say about osteopathic medicine, and whether I had gone far afield with my description to Mark.
Wiki says: "...osteopathy has been considered a form of complementary medicine, emphasizing a holistic approach and the skilled use of a range of manual and physical treatment interventions in the prevention and treatment of disease. In practice, this most commonly relates to musculoskeletal problems such as back and neck pain. Osteopathic principles teach that treatment of the musculoskeletal system (bones, muscles and joints) facilitates the recuperative powers of the body."There's a time & place for pharmaceuticals in the treatment of medical issues, but I'm always amenable to something a little more on the natural side. Mind you, the most important issue is not so much the type of initials after the name as much as whether they are compatible to your needs.
I have spent more time over the past two years in dental offices than doctor's offices, so it wasn't that important to me. However, after my episode in Panama City I knew I did not want to visit the general practitioner near my home. There's nothing worse than being an athlete who has a medical issue; a physician's visit usually leads to the typical 'stop running/cycling/swimming altogether' advice. I also could tell from the first visit the practice would not be compatible; contemporary religious background muzak & copies of Christianity Today are not preferred waiting room material for a recovering fundamentalist.

Fortunately for me, I was able to get the contact information for the physician my friend Steven sees. The guy's a masters' swimmer & does some of our long swim events, so he recognized me right away when he came into the examination room. Right away, I knew this would be a fairly comfortable fit.

And when it comes to your life, your health & your avocation, comfort is darn near everything.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Things Which Make You Go "Hmm..."

Thing 1 (...which has nothing to do with The Cat In The Hat...):
A brief trip to the men's facilities in my office building reminded me of something I observed last week, but didn't have the chance to talk about. So, I'll talk about it here.

It's nothing off-color or bad. Just something to make you scratch your head in wonder, or say to yourself: 'dude, why didn't I think of that?'

I think it was in the men's room of either the Mellow Mushroom or Pineapple Willy's in Panama City Beach. In fact, it was the 'Shroom, because I didn't hit the 'head' anywhere else I can recall...Senator.

Okay. The urinals in the mens' room (I don't think there are urinals in ladies' rooms, but if there are, I don't want to know...) had the rubber/plastic screen to keep cigarette butts & various/sundry debris out...imprinted with the name & phone number of a local urological practitioner.

Whodathunkit?

Thing 2 (...still, nothing to do with TCITH...):
Went to the local running emporium yesterday afternoon to have a chat with the proprietor about stuff, provide a post-mortem of what went awry, talk about the way forward, & assure him I had not fallen off the face of the earth. Darned if Mark wasn't setting up a bike fit, & John Murray, a local swim impressario (who did an open-water swim seminar a month ago at the store) was up taking care of business.

John has an understanding of cardiac issues, so when I told him the tale he shook his head knowingly. Something he said made perfect sense. Actually another one of those things which make you go, 'hmm...'

"No athlete minds having an event named in their memory; the hard part is you have to die to earn it."
Thing 3 (...which has much to do with Thing 2, but nothing to do with the aforementioned Cat...and how many card-carrying, hat-wearing cats have you met?)
While discussing the way forward, event-wise, I started to mention my thoughts about doing a marathon in eight weeks, just down the road in Mobile. However, as the words began to come out of my mouth, I realized the unrealistic expectation I would place on myself. I then said: 'y'know, John...I'm worried that if I set myself up for failure on the marathon; have a bad day, get injured, or whatever...it will be impossible for me to train for the events I know I can accomplish.'
So, today, I'm reading an on-line article from some Ironguides cat (well, a coach!) by the name of Vinnie Santana, who's talking about letting your competition beat themselves rather than you doing the deed. What I borrowed (okay, stole!) from Vinnie was this:
"Training too hard too close to your big race is a mistake. If you really want to perform on that specific day, you should be training “hard” for months and months before it - even years depending on what your goals are (N.B.: Okay, I've told my athletes this in the past...). Doing a six-week training camp will only create a load your body is not used to. And those...tend to get back into training too soon & train too hard....It is extremely difficult for a working age grouper, in many ways, to do...in such a short time bracket....athletes put too much pressure on themselves, which kills their confidence & they just quit the race before they have even started. Athletes might compare their training performance...realize they are going slower which can be a result of deep fatigue instead of a lack of fitness per se or life circumstances that are not 100% optimal & think it is better to just wait for another opportunity."
Waiting for another opportunity. Sounds simple, but very few listen to that simple advice. And as Tom Petty sang, the waiting is the hardest part.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Get Up And Do It Again, Amen...

(PROBABLY SOMEWHERE NEAR FIRST YELLOW MARKER BUOY, UPPER CENTER)
I received an e-mail (one of many from friends and family, wondering what the hell happened and whether I was all right) the day after IM Florida from a friend of mine, Mark Sortino. Mark's an experienced triathlete; he's finished multiple IM events & qualified for his first trip to Kona at IM Louisville last August. He's one of the smarter tri-geeks I've met in the past few years. He has never hesitated to provide advice, counsel, a pat on the back or a dusting off of the bike shorts to less-experienced wanna-be tri-geeks like me. He's a F.I.S.T.-certified fitter who does bike fitting on the weekends at the local running emporium; our initial 90-minute fit session turned into a two-plus-hour discussion on nutrition, technique & the mental side of triathlon.

Mark's blog is always insightful & a lot of fun to read, because he's not talking about the nuts & bolts of training & racing all the time. He likes to look at the lifestyle part of being a tri-geek, too. When I say lifestyle I mean the balance of work, family, training & competition. He's got it fairly down pat from what I can tell, & has no problem putting things into proper perspective. The video clips taken by his wife Andi after he finished Kona said much more than thousands of words of written commentary; the mix of joy in achieving something that very few people do (complete IM Hawaii) & disappointment in not being able to give the performance he really wanted to on the day (because you never know if you'll make it there again) was palpable.

So when Mark's e-mail came into my inbox I took the time to really read through it. Not only did he knock the dust off my bike shorts but provided a little nudge (in the direction of my swim gear, mind you!) to get back on the horse that threw me.

It's hard to think about the existential 'now what?' when you're five or six hours out from sitting on the tailgate of an EMS truck on the beach with a tech worrying over you with a heart rate monitor, pulse oximeter & stethoscope. The perspective doesn't exist there...add a few more hours of hearing Mike Reilly welcome someone else into the IM family as you're going to pick up your crap in transition. That's something which hurts like a punch in the ribs. Even then the perspective is still far down the road.

I stood out on the run course outside the Mellow Mushroom, after my beer & salad, watching the athletes come through on the first - some on their second - loop. I had the privilege to see my friend & (part-time) business/training partner come through the first loop:
Steve - 'What are you doing here? What happened?'

MB - 'Bad day, dude. Now, go finish this thing!'
The perspective usually comes as a result of the same cycle a'la Elisabeth Kubler-Ross' death/dying/grief cycle: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance. Kubler-Ross' stages don't progress in any particular sequence, which is a good thing...'cause I think I shot right past Bargaining. IM doesn't allow you to bargain after you are on the shore, the side of the road, or in a medical tent/emergency room.

No. There is Bargaining: 'Get me out of this alive & I'll do it right next time.'

Denial: 'I cannot believe I busted my chops for all these months & still got my butt kicked.'

Anger: 'I hate myself for not putting in more open water time. I still can't swim!'

Depression: 'I don't want to be near anyone; I'm ashamed of my failure.'

Acceptance: 'IM is not easy. If it were everyone would do it. This year wasn't your time.'

The beginning of the closure from my bad day came as Steven finished. His family, my wife & I were standing at the beginning of the finish chute & cheered like crazy people. Hey, the company had a fifty-percent success rate on the day.

I had a brief thirty-minute temper tantrum the next morning as I saw all the finisher shirts/hats/acoutrement & thought to myself: 'dude, that should have been you.' But it was balanced with the ER physician's comment: 'you probably made the right decision today.'

Today. It all boils down to today. And today. And today. And today.

So, I feel much better today. I've got a few hundred more of those on the way to the next stop on the journey.

And maybe I'll have a better today in the Gulf of Mexico on a November morning two years from today.

Thanks, Mark. Thanks also to my long-suffering wife, Suzanne...you didn't panic or freak out through the whole ordeal. We'll do it right this next time.

Friday, November 6, 2009

...Months Which End In "R"

Steven and Beverly arrived yesterday afternoon and checked in to their condo...which is way down along the run course. For pre-athlete meeting dinner, we all decided to meet at a local oyster bar. I'm happy to say the oysters were delicious, even though I had only three...maybe four.

Naturally, there was nothing new in the athlete meeting a seasoned triathlete probably doesn't know...drafting rules, penalty tent locations, warnings against littering and public...well, let's just say I won't be trying to make a new meaning out of the old phrase void where prohibited by law. Good stuff to hear, if nothing else, to remind you what you're really here for.

Suzanne and I went for a very easy jog the other morning on the front three miles of the run course, which weaves (now there's an apt description!) through the rows of condos and through the residential neighborhoods along Front Beach. That sense of deja vu, all over again. The IM FL run does the Gulf Coast Half course twice, how nice. Of course, without about 10-to-15 degrees of excess temperature as compared to May.

Roch (Frey) and Heather (Fuhr) sighting on the road which goes northeast (the other side) of Signal Hill Golf Course. I kind of smiled and waved...and they did back...after which I told Suzanne, 'Roch and Heather...' Yeah, like she's going to know who the heck those folks were. Of course she would...she reads my magazines. She knows the guys in the goofy costumes.

But you still have to do the miles, no matter how nice the weather is.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

...Of Course, There Was A Line

Brief observations from yesterday's arrival & check-in:

1. Never, ever trust an elderly gentleman who says he's never been to a particular place in the world. Odds are very good he's pulling your leg. I had the supreme good fortune to have my check-in nerves soothed by a couple of Johns. Really, both of these gentlemen were named John. After signing my life away to WTC and promising I would never even think of the phrase lawsuit at the same time as I participate in IM FL, I sat down with these two gentlemen to receive my numbers, my chip, my cap and all the other good stuff. John asked where I was from, to which I replied: 'Pensacola, just up the way.'

"Never heard of it."

"You're kidding," I said. As I began to mention the relative distance from PCB, Destin, FWB & other locations on Planet Earth, I saw the slightest twinkle come to the eyes of both Johns. At that moment, I laughed and said, 'ah, so THAT'S why I feel that tugging sensation at my ankle...pull my leg, will ya?' We had a great conversation which lasted probably about ten minutes after that, got the necessary business completed, and went on my merry way.
2. Wal-Mart is the same no matter where you go, except for the layout. After a late luncheon at Pineapple Willy's we made the command decision to acquire some light snacks, social beverages and ibuprofen, and quickly. A four-buck Abita Amber will do that to you every time. Fortunately for us, there's a Wal-Mart approximately a stones' throw from the hotel.
Nothing changes from store location to store location. Trust me on this one. Go to the web site People of Wal-Mart.com and you'll understand what I mean. I swear I've seen each of those people in each location I've ever visited. Well, it was a little different for this trip, as you had pre-race triathletes going through the grocery and personal care sections, too.
The dichotomy was pretty funny. There was a lean, hawk-faced, serious-looking gentleman in front of Suzanne and me (was in the 10 items or less line) with six bottles of PowerAde, two packages of lettuce hearts, two packages of tomatoes, a package of frozen chicken filets, two sweet potatoes, and a few other salad makings here and there. There we were with a box of ibuprofen, a box of Clif Bars and a 12-pack of Corona. The Brasilians behind us, I think, were somewhere in between the two extremes, well, at least they were smiling. Suzanne asked if they were here for Ironman...of course, they spoke little English. I held up my wristband and smiled. They held up theirs. Suzanne wished them luck...which they didn't catch. I told them Bom Suerte, pidgin bastardized Spanish/Portuguese for good luck, to which they smiled.
"...every body every where smiles in the same language..." - Wooden Ships (Jefferson Airplane)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Following Your Bliss

It's definitely "beer o'clock" here in the P'handle. Been up since four a.m. & in a state (fairly much) of "on-the-go" since five-ish. Not much difference between the wake-up time for participants of a triathlon & the workers & volunteers who make it possible.

There's always (so it seems) some sort of crisis, some kind of "oops, we gotta get this issue worked through" moment...and we had a little bit of it this morning, but it was all right...once we got the solution. While it's tiring, maddening, frustrating, and sometimes even boring, it's also rewarding. I think every race participant should work with a race promoter at least once a year, & I'm not talking about one of those 'two-hour, packet pick-up' cushy, beer-in-one-hand, marker-in-the-other jobs. Ride the back of a rental truck setting up & picking up cones. Hand out water at an aid station of a marathon, or a 70.3. Tear down & put away speakers, tables, & various/sundry supplies.

It makes the thank you of the back-of-the-packer that much more sweet...if you hear it. It definitely warms the heart of the race director, just in case you hadn't figured.
FOLLOW-UP, Monday, Oct 26:
The need - or my need to rant - about volunteerism is as much aimed at myself as the next person. More often than not, people are in the throes of training for a long-distance triathlon are predisposed toward selfishness & self-centeredness. I used to have a t-shirt that summed it up precisely: 'as a matter of fact, the world does revolve around me.' It might still be tucked away in one of my dresser drawers.
I guess last week was either National Volunteer Week, Make A Difference Day, or one of those marketing ploys to get people off their behinds to do something they probably should be doing anyway...helping their fellow man. You'd have thought I'd have caught the message through the weeks' comics. It took until some time around Thursday for me to figure it.
To follow on to the 'marathoning' post from a few days back, someone posted a comment about how much different the triathlon community is from the running community. In many ways I cannot help but agree. Many tri-geeks are personable and approachable...a couple are grade-A type-A...ain't going there right now... But, some are tightly focused on their own training, & can't/won't take time to teach newer tri-geeks some of the tips & tricks which make racing less painful and more fun. In the back of my mind, I think it would solve some of the 'on your left, on your left, oh, $#!+...' moments you hear about, especially on the bike course.
(I can't help but feel grateful to a number of local tri-geeks who I've managed to corner at local shops...they've provided great advice/counsel and helped me get past the intimidation factor of the long-distance event up to this time. Thanks again, dudes & dude-ettes...you know who you are!)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Do I Consider You A Marathoner? Why Not?

Some of my running friends are in a bit of an uproar over this morning's New York Times article.
There are a number of runners who chafe at the thought of slow, plodding penguins having the nerve to call themselves marathoners. They believe slower participants have diluted the challenge of the marathon distance & lessened the cachet of their identity as - gasp - a marathoner.
Once you read the article, you'll realize something seriously missing. There are no 'elite' marathoners quoted in the article. I think in their case a marathon is "another day at the office." To the elite marathoner, slow participants are a non-issue. It's the folks who are slightly more slow & plodding than they - John Bingham calls them "slightly fast runners" - who are kvetching like a bunch of whiny, wounded animals.
While the trend is for marathon finish times to become more slow, as cited by Running USA, that may be more due to the democratization of the marathon than anything else. Remember that concept of selectivity we all learned about in college psychology? That was the same reason more students in graduate school scored no lower than a "C." Grad school was more selective to get in, & the grades reflected that very fact.
So, when Mr. or Ms. Marathon Race Director opened their event to the lumpenproletariat, the great unwashed run/walking masses, they spread out the total range of the bell curve a bit more. Of course, I don't think all of the race directors are pleased with the unintended consequences of larger fields of slightly slower participants...it means more time for the course to be closed off for safety reasons. Some events have taken to instituting cut-off times. Which is all right, in my opinion. If you can't make the cut-off, you'll look for another event where your chances of finishing is better. If I were a penguin looking for a marathon & saw a cut-off faster than my best effort, I'd find another event & say, 'their loss. Sucks to be that RD.'

Frankly, I haven't mastered the marathon yet. My best effort is in the high-threes, my worst in the mid-four range. I marvel at the elites as well as the three-hour folks. I'm not going to think any less of a person who wants to go out & do a marathon. But, what I'd like to see is running programs/coaches work over an extended period of time with their charges.
First, coaches need to be honest with the athlete about the social stigma which exists about plodding/walk-running/penguining...whatever the faster people want to call slow-paced participation.
Then, work with the person; get them off the couch doing 5Ks for six months-to-a year, then 10Ks, then half-marathons. After a couple of years of consistent training and racing shorter distances, then put them on a conservative, mostly run-based training program focusing on a marathon that has entry-level marathoner-friendly conditions...preferably a small one.
I'd personally recommend something as small as the Tallahassee Marathon, (next years' RRCA Southern Region Marathon Championship) which has about 250-300 participants, or Melbourne's Space Coast Marathon, which is on a very flat course. I'm not saying they can't do Chicago, New York, Honolulu, Disney, Marine Corps or any of the big name ones, but I'd rather see them get their first marathon in on a course where they can learn the art of marathoning, rather than be treated like children of a lesser god by wanna-be elites, fairly fast runners, & Runners' World/Slowtwitch/Let's Run.com forum posters, the gatekeepers of marathon/road running purity.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Thought On Tapering

...or two. I guess this train of thought started last Wednesday evening during our "easy" 60-minute run on the beach. Quite frankly, it felt like a bit of a slog for a good portion of the run; just couldn't get comfortable. The heart rate wasn't going sky high...in fact, it seemed quite reasonable. Just a little bit of lead in the legs. When we got back to the start I had to admit I was glad we kind of went off the beaten path; heaven knows I'd have been tempted to slap it into B-for-boogie...and might have felt like ten pounds of used kitty litter afterward.
That kind of feeling has persisted for this past week, & almost two. I'm certain lots of it has to do with a subconscious effort to conserve energies for the day. But it's not like I'm really going into taper mode. Friends who know I'm (about) three weeks out from the Ironman have hinted, 'yeah, you should be starting your taper next week...' Trouble is, I am not certain what I'm supposed to be tapering from.
The bicycle crash, by necessity, forced me to back off about 30-percent of my intended training volume. I've had to limit my swimming to twice a week, & at an intensity which is just comfortable enough to not strain the trapezius, deltoid, or latissimus muscles on the left side...unfortunately, life has managed to make up for the lost efforts. If you've ever tried to get out of a Mercedes sedan on the passenger side, it requires a certain degree of assistance from the left arm to help roll you out. So, when I whine about wanting to drive it has as much to do with physical comfort as it does with personal autonomy.
I managed to do well through the long bike ride on the IM FL course, so there's little to worry about there. Even running, when the shoulder feels good & hasn't been over-stressed, is all right. The heart rate is good. And now, the weather has become almost nice. So it's not like I'm really going to cut back on volume that much...or intensity...not until next weekend.
At that point it's going to be little more than a single hour of a single activity. Spend a little more time with the feet up, with the coffee pot, with the good book, with the light jazz or baroque music. Definitely. I'll revert back to one of the things I said before...just kind of be like my greyhound: eat when I can, go out when I want, & rest otherwise.
So, I'm not really tapering as much as maintaining.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

It's Your Fault. Trust Me. I'm A Doc.

Before becoming a "documentarian/running bureaucrat/anal-retentive measurer/backyard shade-tree coach" I worked as an analyst in the human factors, medical, education & communications world. Until seven years ago I hadn't developed any real taxonomy by which to break down root causes to things. I just worked by feel.
After I entered my (Navy) educational internship I was enrolled into a human performance technology course track at a local university. One of the first documents I read was based on the work of Thomas Gilbert, considered to be the father of human performance technology. Gilbert was a disciple of B. F. Skinner, the human behaviorist. Think pigeons pecking metal plates in response to a flashing light in exchange for seed. Think Walden Two. Fortunately, Gilbert was thinking more humanistically.Gilbert believed all barriers to worthy performance (not just doing something, but doing something of worth to society) could be broken down into six areas; three at the organizational level, three at the performer level. Other theorists borrowed the Pareto (80/20) principle; 80 percent of performance deficiencies were caused by 20 percent of possible root causes. They believed 80 percent of performance barriers were organizationally rooted. In other words, as Gilbert wrote in his 1978 book, most workers go to work wanting to do a good job. Management screws it up by unclear communications, inefficient processes, & disincentivizing worthy performance. If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail. - Abraham Maslow (1908-1970)I've always had the tendency to look more at the organizational - in my own case, coach-rooted - barriers to an athlete's performance first, and then the worker - or athlete-rooted - barriers...or I've left them alone entirely. Unless the athlete places 100-percent trust and confidence in me there's not much I can do to control an autonomous, adult, post-collegiate, recreational athlete. (I prefer to think I was more accountable to my coach; he might beg to differ.) Sometimes we want to say to the athlete, 'I don't think you want to work that hard...you don't want to train to perform that well...' The coach's job is to do what it takes to prepare the athlete to execute the plan, given their state of fitness, on the day.Lately I've been reading & noting the guidance Brett "Doc" Sutton provides to amateur age-group as well as professional triathletes he trains as part of Team TBB. He's had some great success in the ITU, 70.3 & IM world, has coached swimmers, trained racehorses & world triathlon champions. He's able to read the athlete & see through the b.s. His brand of coaching blends tough love & stoking the inward fire, for want of a better term on my part.Doc's way of looking at a problem is simple:"...in every thing, we break it up into three steps. We don't believe in making it more complicated than that, what ever it is. You come with a problem that has five or six points? "The Doc" sends you back to the corner & says 'bring me back three & we will find a solution.'"Let's take a day where an athlete doesn't perform up to their expectation. Rather than blame the coaching, the weather or the course, what about the pace they ran in the first mile, where they staged themself in the starting corral, or the warm-up that was not done? As "Doc" says, 'no discussion...we reap what we sow.'Timing or scoring issue? Get scored fourth place in your age group when you know you were third? Some sports don't allow the opportunity for 'argument, no pity-partying , or you get your head punched off by the opposition within the next ten seconds.' Sometimes you need to 'make the very best out of a...hand that is dealt. That is your hand; how you play it is up to the individual. Some get inspired, some crack.' Don't place yourself in a position to be vulnerable to the frailties of human judgment. 'Don't like it? Don't race. This is your sport; can it be done better? Well of course. But that is not on the table on race day.'

While the vast majority of us are recreational athletes & not making dollar-one from our pursuit, we can still borrow the mindset & adapt the mental toughness of the professional. Sometimes that means looking in the mirror for the first cause, then going on from there.