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, February 24, 2009

Recovery Is Underrated

"Recovery. That's the name of the game... Whoever recovers the fastest wins." - Lance Armstrong
Locals haven't seen a lot of me lately; some assume it's because I'm injured or quit running/racing altogether. Nothing is further from the truth. I'm spending more time doing something I could have done better in the past. In order to perform well at my goal events this autumn I'm spending more time on the treadmill, on the elliptical trainer, on the bike, in the pool and - believe it or not - easier efforts on the road. It isn't as fun as road racing. You don't get any awards for doing base training. Maybe that's why it's so overlooked. However, this isn't about me as much as it is about you.
If you participated in every area race since the beginning of the year (Here in Pensacola the first race is not long after New Years' Day, goes until early May, then stops over the summer. Racing then resumes in earnest around the middle of September & reaches it's crescendo right before Thanksgiving.) it might be too late to talk about whether it is time to recover; that time might have been long past. While hard work - long runs, speed work, tempo runs, terrain/event-specific workouts - are important, what is more important (I'm reminded by reading the thoughts of coaches & physiologists) is what Alan Couzens calls "the intelligent distribution of work."The first time we encounter a particular stress during training (say, a workout of 800 meters four times, with 100 meters walk recovery, at "up-tempo fresh" pace) our body becomes alarmed at the assault. Once the body adapts to that stress it compensates to deal with it, making you more fit...for a time. However, extended exposure to the same stress (say, due to a lack of variety) eventually leads to exhausting adaptation; you could end up worse off than when you first started doing that particular workout. That's what makes a variety of training stressors important. The same (4 x 800 in this case) workout that provided a 100% performance benefit at New Years', if done without any change, would provide, if you’re lucky, only a 3% benefit by Memorial Day.A season of hard training - or racing - that is too long leads to a performance plateau, or to fatigue. If you don't ration your efforts wisely over time, you can expect a relative plateau after three months & a decline in performance in five. Backing off the efforts by 1/3 of the normal volume one week each month, & one month each year won't hinder performance a bit.Each athlete needs to know the best length of training period, volume of training, & intensity of training for their goal. This means taking time to quantify not only how far/fast you went, but how intense it felt, & how you felt during the next workout period. You can do this by Borg (perceived effort) scale, average heart rate during the workout, resting heart rate each morning, hours of sleep, relative fatigue...I think you get the picture.Recovery, as the smart people say, is underrated.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

It's The Journey, Not The Destination

Every once in a while I get e-mails from running friends with questions about training. Most of my closest friends are either runners, swimmers, cyclists or triathletes. If they aren't they have some sort of connection to the sport or they've known me from my former life as a musician or a preacher wanna-be. Yes, I know it seems pretty strange to hear that last one, but I did aspire, once upon a time.

Mike, I am a runner again and feel a need to improve. I think back to before my body rebelled and I get a little anxious to return to those days. I know impatience can lead to injury if I'm not careful. I am really asking an opinion on when to start pushing the envelope. I think I have made a breakthrough in the pace department without really trying. Since I have started back again my pace has been VERY slow in the beginning and I worked it down. Now suddenly in the last couple of runs I have made a colossal jump in performance. I am not sure how this happened because I do my best to just run efficiently and not wear myself out. So I am making improvements without consciously trying to. Recent runs blew me away, because the splits dropped from what I have been doing for that distance and my recovery was much the same as any other run. When do you think I should start doing some sort of speed work? I'm doing good and making my mileage goals but am still apprehensive - I don't want to break myself again. In any case I am ecstatic to be able to call myself a runner again even if I never get back to where I was before it all went south. Any suggestions?

First let me give you the good news. Consistent, steady-state running works as well as speed work to improve your speed, at least at the start, and for runners at our age. Now, I'll ask a rhetorical question: Why do you think you need speed work? If you are looking for a change in your training, you probably don't need as much speed work as you suspect. However, it's a nice change of pace (no pun intended) from doing the same route at the same pace day after day.

If you're looking for a change of training focus, then you can do a number of good speed workouts without depending on a track. All these assume an out/back route, but you can adapt for a loop course:
Progressive Tempo Run - run at an easy pace for the first half (time), then slowly increase the pace for the same period of time for the second half.
Intervals - run easy for the first half, then pick up the pace for 30sec to 1min, with equal-to-twice the time back at the easy pace for recovery; if you pick up for 30 seconds, then run easy for a minute, pick up for a minute, run easy for two... This is kind of like fartlek (speed play) workouts, but a little more structured

Your jumps in performance are probably due to the patient manner by which you have progressed so far. You won’t be hurt by continuing what you're doing for two to three more weeks before trying a 5K. Once you've done that you might think about either another three-to-four weeks of steady runs, or adding in one speed workout a week; do the progressive tempo one week, do the fartlek-type the next. If you plan to focus on speed for a specific distance, I would use both of those workouts two times a week, or split it up with a weekly tempo run (75% effort for 20-30 minutes). Add one long day (no more than 1/5th of your total mileage for the week) and easy runs during the other two or three days during the week. Oh, and one rest day a week is a must!

Make certain your form is good throughout your workouts; erect posture, “plumb line” from the top of head to the shoulders, spine, and hips; relaxed shoulders and hands, with your elbows bent at no less than a 90-degree angle. You should propel yourself across the running surface as smoothly as possible, with no “bounce” of the horizon, and as quiet a foot strike as possible. If you place an earplug in one ear you can listen to how hard you are pounding on the running surface. When talking about distance running, quieter is always better and more efficient.

After three-or-four weeks of that, then consider another 5K as a test to see how you're doing. After a second 5K test you might want to add an additional speed workout during the week. Let your conscience be your guide. As my coach has told me in the past, running is a sport of PACE and PAtienCE.

I haven't felt much of a need to blather on about my masters' swim meet experience at Auburn this past weekend. Probably the best thing I can say is that I did some things I never had tried before and made it through without injury, or worse, death.

I had, however, an unusual phone conversation the afternoon after I got home. My ex-wife decided to call me after a 14-year hiatus; nothing better to do than to say hello and find out how my life was progressing. Before you think this was a less-than-civil conversation, let me stress that the last phone call we had, around Christmas of 1995, was, er, interesting. Interesting, in this case meant: 'boy was I a fool to run off rather than work out the marriage.' Sometimes the old phrase time heals all wounds is absolutely true. I was glad to hear her life had taken a turn for the positive; she had married a good man in her home town, earned her GED & was working for a major banking firm in the southeast US.

While I told her a lot about what I was doing here, I don't think she understood much of it. I definitely developed a different life in the 17 years since we divorced, one even more foreign to her than the one I had when we were married. As I hung up the phone, I realized something: Our intersection, while brief, was an important one in my education about life, women, leadership, and more. She's on her path, I'm on mine, and I hope she finds her happiness during the journey.

May the trail rise up to meet you
May your heart rejoice in song
May the skies be fair above you
As you journey ever on
Ever on, ever on
Ever on, ever on
In this planetary circle
We are but a single stone
Spinning on our fragile axis
Through the endless night alone
Ever on, ever on
Ever on, ever on
May your love be there to guide us
May it always keep us strong
May we walk within your footsteps
As you lead us ever on
Ever on, ever on
Ever on, ever on
Ever on, ever on
Ever on, ever on
Dan Fogelberg (1951-2008)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Temperature Rising

I hold the faint, fleeting hope that winter has completed its onslaught here. All right, before those of you who live in more arctic climes laugh derisively at my wimpiness, I will honestly admit two things:
First - twenty-plus years of living in Florida has thinned my blood to the consistency of a Pat O'Brien's Hurricane.
Second - I've probably thrown out every piece of true winter-weight clothing suitable for wearing to work or running.
If I lived in Chicago, or worked at Great Lakes it would be necessary to have good stuff. Yes, that leather bomber jacket was barely functional without a sweater/vest underneath. Seriously microwaved cup of coffee makes a good handwarmer...for a time.

However, it's 60-something degrees this morning, and I hope it will stay like this for at least a few days. It makes everything a little more tolerable; the walk from the car to the pool at 5:30 for swim workouts, the walk from the car to the office for work, even the evening track workout. When the local university is on spring break like it was last week - okay, what school decides to place it's spring break period in the beginning of February? I digress again. Everything was shut down, minimally-lit & barren. Makes it difficult to keep motivated, & that doesn't include the issue of the bathrooms.
We were leaving our workout as a friend, an ex-university cross-country coach/national-class marathoner was coming in to get his workout. How shocking to hear he hadn't run more than a dozen miles a week since the beginning of the year, but his focus has been on academics. I bet his 12 quality miles were more effective than my 40-50 junk miles...junk being a relative term.

Don't know if he could run a marathon, or a half-marathon on 12 miles a week. I know I probably couldn't. Heck, I'd think twice about marathoning on 40-to-50 a week. Maybe I could do it, but it would probably be ugly like an ape.
It's not just a question of quantity, but also of quality, when you're talking about mileage. I'm a firm believer in cross-training to maintain aerobic fitness. It's not running, but you can get the heart rate up without taking the pounding the equivalent running miles would produce. I haven't figured out the proper blend of cross training-to-easy running-to-to hard running yet, but I'm working it. Probably, like most everything else in life, it varies from person to person.

What works for me doesn't always work for the athletes I coach. But it's usually a good range.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Getting To Know Me

I've been fortunate to learn a lot about the athletes I coach from the period of time when I was in an apprenticeship of sorts; my coach was still here and running the majority of the workouts. I had the time and opportunity to ask many questions of my coach about coaching and training, and I had many opportunities to learn what made many of my fellow athletes tick during the trial of miles...Sunday morning runs of 8-13 miles, followed by hanging out in the parking lot trying to cool off and rehydrate.
There are times a simple questionnaire would do just the same. It's not as fun as learning over the course of miles, but... So for the benefit of the less-experienced athletes I encounter, here are a few slivers of information about me. (You can sing the song from The King & I, if you see fit!) Enjoy!
DO YOU LIKE YOUR HANDWRITING? Not at all. Suzanne asks me to write in a book she's compiling for our grandchildren; block letters look so un-cultured.
FAVORITE LUNCH MEAT? Anything close to real meat, e.g., corned beef, pastrami, etc.
DO YOU USE SARCASM? When good advice and counsel fails.
DO YOU UNTIE YOUR SHOES WHEN YOU TAKE THEM OFF? No, They're not tied in the first place.
FIRST THING YOU NOTICE ABOUT PEOPLE? I am one of the first people to compliment or comment on a friend's hairdo/haircut. Women love it.
LEAST FAVORITE THING ABOUT YOURSELF? Unable to prove I'm serious; I used to be a class clown.
WHO DO YOU MISS THE MOST? A couple of friends from my past, between 1992 and 2002. Christian & Petra in Germany, Laura & Jason in TN. Coach & Pat in OH.
FAVORITE SMELL? Hair that has been recently shampooed. Honorable mention: Swimming pool.
FAVORITE SPORTS TO WATCH? Hockey, Triathlon, Cycling, Swimming, Track & Field.
FAVORITE FOOD? Chinese. But most anything is good.
SCARY MOVIES OR HAPPY ENDINGS? Happy endings. I hate horror flicks.
SUMMER OR WINTER? Summer during the evening, winter during the daytime.
FAVORITE DESSERT? Any, as long as I've had my workout.
WHAT ARE YOU READING NOW? Will/Ariel Durant's History of the World, Volume 10(?): Rousseau and Revolution. Also reading David Maraniss' Rome 1960: The Olympics Which Changed Everything.
FAVORITE SOUND(S)? Opening of a beer bottle. Joyous whining of Rubin, my greyhound, when I come home. Ring tone of my cell phone when Suzanne calls.
ROLLING STONES OR BEATLES? The Beatles. That's like asking "Bach or Vanilla Ice."
FARTHEST YOU'VE BEEN FROM HOME? Dubai, UAE (7865mi); Busan, S. Korea (7330mi).
SPECIAL TALENT? Ask my many admirers. Some would say near-photographic memory.
HOW DID YOU MEET YOUR SPOUSE? We met through Yahoo! First date at Hub Stacy's.
CUP HALF FULL OR HALF EMPTY? In need of a refill!
CHOOSE FIVE DINNER GUESTS: Paulo Freire (Brazilian educator/social activist), Thomas Jefferson, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Siddartha Gautama (Buddha), Saul (Paul) of Tarsus. Honorable mentions: Bill Bowerman, Percy Cerruty, Henri Desgranges, Steve Prefontaine, Mohandas K. (Mahatma) Gandhi.

Any questions you would ask of an athlete which would help you get into their head? Any facts or information you would want your coach to know before they started messing with yours? Let me know.