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.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

How Do I PR?

If you're a relatively new runner personal best times come in large portions of time. As time progresses & your new-found fitness starts to plateau to the level where you will stay (hopefully) unless injury strikes, those personal bests come at a higher price & in smaller increments; a second here & there. Doesn't make the later personal bests any less sweet.

Consistent, systematic training will help you to maintain fitness, combat boredom & burnout, & reduce the risk of injury. You probably can chant - whether or not you follow my advice - my thoughts about training by now:
- Develop a consistent pattern of workouts, which should include long runs of at least one hour once a week, speed work on the road or track once or twice a week, tempo running once a week, & easy runs during the remainder.
- Train all year, with an easy week per month & an easy month per year.
- Rest, as well as cross-training with an elliptical trainer, bicycle, swimming, or light weight training, is underrated.
- Listen to your body.
- Wear the right equipment.
- Learn to pace yourself without being dependent on the watch or the GPS.
But do you train like you want to race? Do you think about drafting, passing, tactics, running tangents, starting & finishing pace, & overall strategy for your goal event when you train? Who do you want to be near or ahead of at the end of the first mile, the second mile, & so on? What is your plan for the entire race; what will you do different on a hilly course than a flat course? What are you going to do if things go bad?

Every workout, every run you do must have a purpose. Every repeat you do on the track needs to be done at the right intensity. Your attitude, & how you perform your road runs & speed work directly correlate to how you will perform on race day.
For example: I ran the 6.2 mile beach loop on my easy night last night. We took the pace out hard(er) through the first mile, including guys I knew were going to run only 4.5. I warned my training partners about getting "happy feet," Coach Fox's old catch phrase for taking a pace out too quickly on an easy day. At each split I was checking my watch, doing the math & correlating with a GPS user; I knew if we backed off our pace the "flyers" would eventually come back to us within the next three miles.

How did I know? I was familiar with the others & their tendency to go hard the first one-third & hang on for dear life at the end. Guess what? It happened exactly the way I figured. Two of the four slowly came back to us with a mile to go; another was reeled in with half a mile left, & we ended up dropping one of them at that point. There was no panic, & no valiant efforts, just a patient, steady, smart (training!) run.You have to run with your brain as well as with your lungs, your heart & your legs.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Things Aren't Always As They Seem

"There's one guy we don't have to worry about." - Gordon McKenzie, American marathoner, thinking about Abebe Bikila (standing shoeless), before the Rome Olympic Marathon (1960)
The nice thing about sports is it's loaded with irony. The media are not the only ones who tend to get the predictions wrong more often than not (think Bode Miller in Torino rather than Michael Phelps in Beijing), coaches & individual athletes do so, too. While you can make an educated guess as to how well a person is going to perform from the exterior view it's much harder to tell what lies underneath the flesh, dwells within the muscle, bone & nerves of the individual. You cannot measure drive - heart - of an athlete by their physiological data.
One of my favorite training partners in the past five years, if you looked at him before a workout or a race, you would not be a bit impressed. In fact, he always looked more like a misplaced softball player than he did a road racer. I think nearly all my best workouts/races always had something to do with him...and many of his with me. Before a knee injury cut short his career about two years ago, he went on a tear...ended up winning a local half-marathon, ran some great trail ultra-distance races, and such. I miss not having him around to sharpen me up.
Not every athlete exudes what my father once desctibed as bad-ass in three easy lessons. A great case in point can be found in the realm of masters' swimming. A (relatively) slender, cardiovascularly efficient young(er) guy can be on the blocks at a masters' meet next to someone ten years older with a serious case of dunlap disease (the disorder where ones' midsection has done lapped over ones' belt line)...yet the paunchy, hoary one might be the one handing back the @$$ of the younger, relatively svelte, technically less-efficient swimmer at the end of the event. Trust me on this one. I've stood on the deck trying to find a way to graciously stuff my butt cheeks back down into my Speedo after having them handed to me by one of my adipose-enhanced training mates.
Our favorite local beer/bite hangout didn't quite go all-out last night for St. Patrick's Day; they did offer corned beef & cabbage, but we avoided it. It's not that I doubt the uniqueness or the genuine-ness of a place with the last name of O'Brady's, but I knew it would not sit well in my tummy either last night or this morning...especially this morning, in the pool... They did surprise us with some new appetizer items, one of which is a fried calamari, something we don't see much of unless we assault an Italian joint, a place I eat at only under extreme duress. My friend Paul doesn't do calamari, but Suzanne & I will try anything on the menu there at least once to make certain it's not bad. It wasn't the classic overly-chewy squid rings, though. A tad more on the crunchy side, as though they had been fried a little longer than the average bear. However, there was no overwhelming garlic smell/taste (and I like garlic!), nor serious grease...not bad with a side of marinara.
We're approaching the mid-term for our performance system, which means it is high time to do what is better known around here as brag sheets. Unfortunately, with this system, you might be in the walk on water, talk to God realm in all of your duties, but if your duties don't exactly line up with the standards, you are screwed. Yep, you can do all the good things for your fellow employees, your instructors, your courses & the service at large, but if you can't justify it, it's like you did nothing for the past six months but sit on your butt, drink coffee & write blog entries. Oops, I did it again, didn't I?
Is any one else as offended as I by the audacity of big corporations, ostensibly owned now by the federal government (& hence owned by the taxpayer), giving millions of dollars to executives for driving the business into the ground during the previous year? And then, my co-worker tells me some of the executive recipients are people who left the company. Well, I guess that blows the if we don't pay them their bonuses they might leave argument right out of the water, doesn't it?
Oh, & for those of you who don't know the rest of the story: Bikila destroyed the Olympic & world best times for the marathon; McKenzie finished 18th. As Chuck Berry sang: C'est la vie...most days you never can tell...

Friday, March 13, 2009

Swiss Army Coach

“The truth is that running hurts. No one gets faster without meeting their personal pain barrier straight on. No amount of junk miles, fun runs or affirmations are going to get you over the hill at the five-mile mark in a 10k. However, what will pull you through is solid prep...”- ManciataNot everyone who calls me Coach sees me at the track two-to-three times a week. There are some runners who believe enough in my approach to training, my research and my work ethic to consult with me on a near-daily, weekly or monthly basis. It is in those relationships I probably receive the greatest level of reward; they are the ones who most consistently laud my role to friends, fellow competitors and colleagues. They are the ones who make me a more cautious training planner.
What makes the distance coaching relationship such a challenge? Communication. While I can scribble up a six-month half-marathon training plan for a friend in Canada I also have to take into account their life barriers; the obvious limitation of family, sleep, work, & realistic (performance, training) expectations. Not everyone is going to rearrange their life schedule to meet a training plan. Then, I have to teach them the language of my training, which my local 2-3x/week athletes learn in the first months.
Others don't necessarily need or want a plan drafted out for them, but desire a sounding board, a sniff test, if you like, of what they're going to do or how they're going to do it. Once again, we're talking about busy persons who have little time to spend dealing with the trial and error side of training. Since I have more time than most to surf the internet, read articles, research & occasionally try out stuff...yep, sometimes I'm little more than an athletic crash test opinions occasionally count for a little more than the average bear.

The other sounding board aspect is the facet I most enjoy; working with the mental state of otherwise gifted, decent, humble athletes. I love nothing more than to be the guy out on the Sunday morning long run, dissecting, re-wiring & re-attaching the mind of people who need no major training revelations...but just a little bit of 'hey, remember you've done this, this & this...' perspective. I think my wife would call me the memory tank...because I can refer back to some race performance or some past conversation or injury episode & explain the possible outcomes or the root causes.
So, not every athlete needs the same thing from their coach...much like not every coach will have the same kind of athlete.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

I Will Not Lie Down. I Will Not Go Quietly.

A gentleman was upset at being slowed down on his church commute by the Pensacola Marathon (Feb 22, 2009), and wrote this letter to the Pensacola News-Journal:

"Is it fair to promote one business, sport or industry at the expense and inconvenience of the community? This issue has been an ongoing traffic problem in our city for more than 20 years; but it is not a traffic problem. The city police block entire roads for hours, even in the rain, inconveniencing hundreds of people going about their business. Our area has 15 or more nice running tracks that were designed for running. These tracks have never been used by cars or trucks. We use city streets for cars and trucks. What would the response be if we drove our cars and trucks on running tracks? Just my point. Keep runners off streets that were designed and made for cars and trucks, and these motorists will not drive on running tracks that were designed for running. Common sense is not common at all, especially when it involves planning."

Here’s my take, submitted to the PNJ today:

"Running is the simplest of sports. It requires relatively little equipment for the first-time participant. It requires no club membership, specific venue, opponent or pre-requisite qualification. Running demands only what the individual participant cares to give & provides a great number of benefits, which include cardiovascular fitness, weight control, stress reduction, & for many persons, socialization (RRIC State of the Sport, 2008).
Mr. Xx Xxxxxx ("Running the Streets,” 10 Mar 2009) complains about “hundreds” of persons being inconvenienced by runners as if the entire local running population participates en masse in a fitness demonstration of sorts on a near-daily basis. The blockage of “entire roads for hours” Mr. Xxxxxx describes - more often than not - lasts closer to 90 minutes during a 5,000-meter road race, the most common race distance in Pensacola. And, to my recollection, the 5,000-meter road race - the most common road race distance, according to the Road Running Information Center's research - is mainly held on Saturday mornings in Pensacola, & contested between 15 and 20 times per year.
Mr. Xxxxxx provides a deal of sorts by promising not to drive on running tracks in his car if we will hide ourselves away on nice, safe, secure running tracks...far from the exhaust belching behemoths of the roadway. It's not a deal Mr. Xxxxxx can enforce for his side...and not one I think any of my fellow runners, whether here in Pensacola, or in the 980 clubs & events which make up the Road Runners Club of America would accept.
Not all of the tracks Mr. Xxxxxx wishes the local running community would relegate themselves to have been designed for running or run training. A good example of this "planning" exists at the main campus of Pensacola Junior College. The 440-yard track at PJC used to be populated by walkers & runners of all ages, shapes, races, socioeconomic statuses & fitness levels, until it was taken up this year & replaced with a 300-meter, irregular-shaped, single-lane width walking path. Other tracks are situated on school properties which may not be accessible during nights or weekends. Not every person who wishes to run has access to a track near where they live; that leaves no other choice than running on sidewalks, more often than not it means running on the shoulders or the edge of the road where sidewalks do not exist.
Mr. Xxxxxx may not realize runners are not just an ignorant (93-94% possess a college degree, according to a 2007 survey conducted by the RRCA), impoverished group (average income of $50,000-$75,000/year according to RRCA survey). We tend to make economic choices on the basis of which business/business owner is willing to support our running habit by sponsoring an event. We purchase & sell homes (of which Mr. Xxxxxx's business might no longer be required), & we also pay taxes to pave & maintain the very streets on which we also travel to tracks to train, to events in which we will race on the roads, & on which we sometimes have to train. We pay for the police to protect us during our races, as well as during our training runs, which may or may not occur on the sidewalks & shoulders of local roadways.
Until the taxes we pay for local infrastructure are used to develop good running paths throughout the entire city, & not just in one little corner, walkers, fitness enthusiasts & runners of all stripes will continue to be at the mercy of automobile operators exercising the same sort of common sense, of which Mr. Xxxxxx seems to possess in abundance.

Michael S. Bowen
N. Florida State Representative
Road Runners Club of America

Friday, March 6, 2009

For A Few Dollars More

This past week, my loving wife closed our membership to the local YMCA & opened an account with the local World Gym franchise. Our reasons for the change-over were more for practical reasons and less for economic ones, despite the nearly-equivalent charges. Well, we got a good deal because she's marketing-savvy & I'm willing to provide coaching services to runners. When you take away my wife's tanning it was only a few dollars more than the Y.We gained 24-hour, seven-day access to the facility; definitely outweighing any economic disadvantage. While it's been a solid decade or more since I felt the irrational desire to work out at 1:30 in the morning, there are stretches when my wife would rather put her infrequent insomnia to good use. It also takes away any of the weather-related excuses I could use (to quote my coach, one excuse is as good as another...) on those recovery run or track workout days. Even the beat-up days, when I'd be better off working on the elliptical trainer or the stairmaster, are easier to fit in the schedule...even more so when you live four blocks from the joint.

Okay, I do miss the spectator aspect of working out at the Y near my home; mamas & chitlins playing around on the weight equipment or pedaling at slow/no speed on the exercise bikes. The unattended kids were more of a hassle. I do not miss the little booger whose father was watching the other kiddo wrestle...decided to have a little Eddie Murphy-esque Let's See What We Can (Mess) With Next moment with the weight-assisted pull-up machine. The crash of metal parts summoned the father back into the room, where he proceeded to give my wife & me the stink-eye. Hey, buddy, not my d*mned kid, but yours. If he was mine his @$$ would be sitting down on the floor, or whooped on by now.Of course, at WG I have the privilege of working out on good quality equipment. Well, most of the time. I've learned which exercise machines are useless as breasts on a boar hog in the past week...which would include nearly anything aerobic in nature built by Cybex. There are certain bells & whistles every athlete or fitness enthusiast loves, there are others which are nice to have. Sometimes there's too many bells & whistles, which invariably ring/honk every time you turn around. Not so good. And, regrettably, there is a right way & a wrong way to display exercise data for the enthusiast. Scrolling through data is never a good thing. And the Cybex treadmill I used last night had that particular function. Worse yet, it would not allow me to hold the scrolling on the total distance, but kept jumping back to my heart rate, calories, METs, etc., etc., & so forth. As I mentioned to my running friends in my daily missive to them: Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot, Oscar?
So everything works itself out, or seems to. I'm certain to rave about how nice it is to have all that equipment once the rainy season kicks into full force.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Right Tool For The Job

When you're working out there are three important things to keep in mind about nutrition and/or hydration: First, there are things that should never be taken in to your system, regardless to the John Parker-esque quote about if the furnace is hot enough it will burn anything. Second, there are certain things which can be taken into your system at any time of the training day. And third, there are certain things which should only be taken in after training.
Naturally, in the do as I say, not as I do category of most coaches/athletes, I strongly suggest you avoid anything wrapped in a cellophane wrapper with the name Little Debbie on it. Not only because of the you are what you eat dictum (Eat enough of those things & you too will be round, filled with a thick plaque-like substance & wrapped in plastic...), but because of the economics factor. I mean d*mn, I remember when the lowly oatmeal cake - the least offensive of Little Debbie's siren-like offerings - could be purchased for 25 cents. Now you can't even look at the bee-yotch for less than 75! One of those & a Faygo cream soda could give you enough sugar to get you through a rough morning run; all you had to carry was a single dollar bill in your running shorts.

Hydration of nearly any sort - especially non-alcoholic - is good throughout the training day. In most cases. The closer I get to the hours before a morning or evening workout I try to ease back on what sugary stuff I'm taking in. Caffeine for me is always good, whether it's straight coffee (my beverage of choice!) or unsweetened tea. And since tea usually has less caffeine for the amount of fluid taken in I can get plenty of water in at almost the same time. Some sports drinks, such as Hammer Nutrition's HEED, are becoming more subtle in their flavoring, which means you can take it during those two a.m. wake-up calls when you really feel the need to drop some fluid before the 5:30 swim.
I've engaged in the rare after work/before workout beer, but have found it - as you can guess - to be a bad idea, performance-wise. Better to save the beer for at least an hour after the workout is through. I've tried specialty recovery drinks, also, but they don't seem to work as well (when you go by bang for the buck) as chocolate milk. Even a Starbuck's Frappuccino in the bottle will do, but it's more expensive than the other two options...but you cannot beat the blend of caffeine, chocolate, sugar & plain, unadulterated milkfat.

As for the beer, once the last month I've become a born-again believer in moderation. Having a knucklehead decide to leave a tavern by the path of most resistance through your paid off automobile will reinforce that decision. Two beers, of the relatively light sort, during the period of two hours after the enough for me. I don't have problems sleeping when I do that, any more than if I were to drink a pot of coffee. I just don't like practicing my drunken driving and putting my family's life at risk all in the name of socializing. If I feel the desire to have more, I'll do what the Germans call radler, that's a blend of lemon-lime soda and beer. It's light, refreshing, and much lower in alcohol content than the beer. Oh, and I get to have some sugar with my alcohol.
There's always the right tool for the job. The challenge is knowing what the job is & whether the tool is right for you.