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, May 29, 2009

Hanging On Coattails, Standing On Shoulders

As part of my wife's present employment, she has the opportunity to meet & collaborate with several of the smartest people who work in the telecommunications industry, both here & abroad. Sometimes it means a great deal of travel for far away locations. After last year, where she spent 25 weeks somewhere else other than in close proximity to her adopted greyhound, she decided to be more selective as to the places she would travel for business.

Face it, in the 21st century, we have the technology to take care of most business functions virtually, with varied degrees of face-to-face interaction. We can conference call, have web-meetings, share document storage spaces, & so on. However, just like virtual coaching requires an agreed sharing of communication, and individual responsibility, but can be a pale substitute for in your face coaching, virtual business operations sometimes are not as good as that face time, too.
So, it wasn't too much of a surprise when the organizers of a womens' business seminar in Malaysia learned my wife was going to be relatively close by (Singapore) when their seminar is convening. They graciously offered to fly the missus over for the day so she could make a presentation, then fly her back. A mind-blower for Suzanne, because more often than not, she's offering to go places (on her company's dime) to talk about her role in the industry, how she's managed to learn so much tech stuff (as a non-techie), & so on.

Her business partner said, in so many words: 'cool. How about you take my wife over with you, so she can talk about her point of view?' When I heard this, I was appalled at the chutzpah of my wife's business partner. In my mind, my wife has not busted her @$$ for the past ten years developing a reputation in the telecom industry & made all these her business partner can justify sending wife-number-two on a junket by hanging on the coattails of my wife's hard-earned reputation. How dare he?
Sometimes a coach (or athlete) has to let their reputation stand on its own & not hang on that of a better-known partner. After a couple of (coaching) generations it's almost silly to attach a program or an individual coach's reputation (directly) to that of the forebears; Lydiard, Cerruty, Igloi, Daniels, Henderson, Higdon, Pfitzinger, McMillan, Galloway...

Once you move out a couple of "coaching generations"; say, your coach's coach is even two generations out from the theorists, you (or I, as a coach) have to be smart enough to say 'here are my influences' for a number of reasons: First, the layman may or may not have the first clue of the "genealogy", & probably doesn't care that your coach's coach's coach trained world record holders, world champions, Olympic medalists & Olympians. Second, almost every coach collaborates or rips off from more than one coach throughout their career. Third, the individual coach's success may...or may not...have to do with other factors which could (or could not) have been under their control; individual athletes, facilities, technologies, just to name a few.
As Karl Marx was reputed to have said near his death, 'I am not a Marxist.' Lots of people claim paternity, but how many of the fathers are willing to claim the progeny in return?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Ask Coach: What Do I Need to Change To Stay Injury-Free?

I have been suffering from an overuse injury. What do I need to change to stay injury free?

Overuse injuries are caused by not listening to your body (or to your coach). You need to be smarter than your ego. You can do this by:

SETTING A GOAL that is specific, measurable, achievable, reasonable, & time-specific (in this case, performance in a particular race). Every training plan, regardless of the author, begins with a specific end in mind (which, by the way, author Steven Covey says is the first habit of highly effective people).
DEVELOPING A PLAN once you have the goal set. This means walking backward from the target race week anywhere from 18 to 24 weeks; 18 for 5K, 24 for marathons. Divide the plan into four phases. The first phase, Foundation, is where you establish the training routine, with lots of easy (aerobic) pace running. The second phase is where you begin to work on the mechanics of faster running; learning to run as efficiently as possible with a minimum of stress. Phase three is where you begin to stress different energy systems (the anaerobic & ATP/CP) & begin to challenge yourself with hard(er) efforts. The final phase is where you take care of the final details which prepare you for that goal race.
FOLLOWING THE PLAN but adapt your training as necessary. When I talk about adaptation, usually I mean to the more kind & gentle…rarely, if ever, does a workout get ramped up in intensity. It’s more likely to be scaled down. If you’re beat-up, take a day off. I CANNOT OVERSTRESS THIS: IF YOU ARE BEAT-UP, SORE, OVER-TIRED OR INJURED, TAKE A DAY OFF.
RECOVERING FROM THE GOAL RACE (or any race, for that matter) is included. The rule of thumb is a day of no activity for every hour of racing, followed by a day of easy running for every mile of racing. A person who runs a 40-minute 10-kilometer race should take the next day off completely, followed by six days of easy running. If it’s the goal race, it’s time to set a new goal & develop a whole new training cycle from the beginning. Plugging in periods of easier running, active rest or complete rest altogether between training cycles will keep you from getting injured, & from getting burned out.
Specific goal-setting & laying out a plan in macro will keep you from going out & running on the wrong surfaces, or the wrong terrain, or at the wrong intensity for too long a period of time. Even if your race focus is on early September 5Ks, the first week of aerobic-paced running in an 18-week training cycle would commence this week.

I’ve been working on “plug & play” training plans which focus on specific distances, which I can adapt to the individual athlete’s personal schedule. Talk to me so I can help you fill in the details.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Things Which Make Insurers Go Hm...

Every once in a while you feel fortunate to be not in the position of an event director. While driving from Pensacola to Gulf Breeze after the aquathon portion of the Three-Mile Bridge Swim I had the pleasure (or misfortune) to be behind a pack of cyclists who were participating in a veteran's "freedom ride" from Pensacola to Pensacola Beach & back.
Riding 18-to-20 miles is not a difficult task if you're on a road racing or triathlon bike, wearing proper equipment & taking the necessary preparation. It's a tad more challenging on a mountain (fat-tire) bike because of the weight, increased tread contact patch, & stuff like that. Of course, clmbing isn't so bad because of the granny gear; that's the 19-to-25-tooth small, small ring on the front of the real serious mountain bikes which allow the rider to climb most any hill. BUT: If you are on a P.O.S. single-speed Wal-Mart special, without water bottles...riding in baggy cotton bermuda shorts, a t-shirt, & a baseball cap...two words come to mind: Long Day.
As an event director-guy, I nearly shrieked in horror at the sight of nearly a dozen riders in what the Italian cycling commentators would call the grupetto, and what the French would call the autobus...helmetless, plodding away at a cadence guaranteed to blow their knees off at the start of the Three-Mile Bridge's hump. One of the grupetto dismounted from the bike at the beginning of the hump in order to walk it to the top. 'What's that person going to do when they get to the Bob Sikes?'

Exactly the rationale for signing waivers.
I've always wondered why event waivers were not printed in clear, simple language. Why would an event director allow a person who obviously had not prepared for a 20-mile bike ride, much less a 10-miler, to participate in such an event? When does the event director take the participant aside & say, 'while I appreciate your service & I want you to participate & enjoy yourself, I don't believe you've prepared sufficiently for this?' Certainly, I know this was a military appreciation month, veteran-focused event, but you have to set a floor-level standard.

Of course, what would have been even more cool would have been to see the spandex-clad, hard-butt bike monsters at the front of the peloton, who were traveling at 15-20 miles per hour without any effort whatsoever, slow up and ride along with these poor souls. Perhaps teach them a little rudimentary bicycle operation (something my old boss would have called Gear Shifting For Bears of Little Brain); encourage them on the climbs which were soon to come. Perhaps, even, remember the realm from which they escaped.
I've read a few comments about the enmity between bikies and tri-geeks. Bikies think triathletes have no bike-handling skills, & tri-geeks think bikers are a bunch of elitist snobs who prefer to wheel-suck. I'm perhaps painting with too broad of a brush.

But way too often the people who have developed a certain degree of knowledge, skill & ability in their particular sport are less than willing to share what they know with the newcomer. Often the newbie looks at the proficient athlete & believes they are unwilling to share knowledge...perhaps there needs to be more rides like the one the other weekend to get the gung-ho bikers & the I'm only riding my bike to the grocery store bikers together. Hey, it's all the same type of equipment. Perhaps then the average automobile driver wouldn't consider every cyclist as a person who lost their license or can't afford to drive a car (in many cases the economic facts might be true but it's not completely across the board).

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

It's Inevitable. Seriously

The other week I talked about the birdhouse hanging in my backyard; the sudden increase in pine straw poking out the entry hole as well as the bottom of the house. As Karl Marx probably would have said on observing the situation, the first nestlings were a historical inevitability. I had a sneaking suspicion the other morning when I saw more birds flying and landing around the porch roof, which was reinforced after I saw something that looked a lot like an open mouth peek out from the entry. Lots more chirping going on, plus lots more bird flights, plus at least one opened mouth, definitely equals little birds. While I love my d-a-w-g, I have an affinity for birds. To me, they're humans with very funny feet. We all have to have a soft spot in our hearts for something, I guess. Some old curmudgeons, like my paternal grandfather, transmogrify into peanut butter-like substance in the sight of their grandchildren. Well, that's what my mother once told me. (I occasionally saw the softer side of my grandfather, but it seemed more common in the years after my grandmother was gone.) There's the challenge of coaching; sometimes you want to let your guard down in order to prove you are as human as the athletes you coach. But then it becomes hard to remain consistent in your communications. Seriousness does have its place in the coach-athlete relationship, especially when it comes to communicating fatigue, pain & injury. Most athletes don't want to let on how badly dinged up they are; some harbor the compulsion to exercise. Not like I've ever been in that situation, personally...When I'm asking about what & how badly something - or more than one thing - is hurt, I have absolutely zero time or tolerance for long, drawn-out tales. I want, no need to know in an objective manner what hurts, where, for how long, & to what degree. And while that 'one to ten scale; one means "what ache?" & ten means "shoot me now"' comment may sound flippant to the casual observer, I know how many points to add or subtract for the individual athlete.For example, one of my teammates was the kind of athlete who would run until you told her a bone was sticking out of her leg, at which point she would ask, 'who's bone is this?' Tough little gal. Shame she's once a runner now.
Once I can troubleshoot or diagnose what needs to be done, then I can become more nurturing, caring & concerned. It is not simple by any stretch of the imagination to balance the 'my job is to make you a better machine' aspect & the 'my job is to make certain you can continue to do this for a lifetime' aspect of coaching.The main thing is to not be bad @$$ in three easy lessons or dumb @$$ about running & physical fitness. It's to teach people how to be a smart @$$, at least smart enough to know when and how to back off so they don't spend the next year sitting on their @$$ watching it get fatter because they are injured & cannot exercise.

Friday, May 8, 2009

K.I.S.S.-ing To Be Clever

The middle of May, here in the FL panhandle, is kind of the tail end of the spring road running season & the height of the triathlon season. So, for the runners it's usually time to back things up & either build the base that should have been built in the chill, dark months of January & February or to recover, maintain & build a tolerance to the heat over the summer so the autumn race season isn't nearly as painful.
And I stress the need for easy-paced runs throughout the summer's heat & humidity. Even the track workouts I assign over the summer are based on perceived effort. This week we ended up with some partly cloudy, humid but not overpowering conditions, which is a good start for adapting. But I have one or two athletes who own Garmins and click them on & off on every repeat. That's not so much the maddening thing as much as when they check their pace during the warm-up.
'So, what's the proper pace for warm-up?' I asked one of the Garmin users last night at the track. He rattled off a pace about 30 seconds off what I try to run on one of my easy days. 'Let me walk you further down this train of thought; is there a single, right pace at which you should warm-up?' I think he got the message after that statement.
While I like GPS gear for the benefit of knowing more-or-less how far you've traveled, I think it places an undue dependence on technology. Don't we run to get more in touch with the inner workings of our bodies? While I can do the simple mathematics on my regular running courses to determine how fast my pace is, there are days when I am more labored at running an eight-minute mile-pace easy run; that's probably too fast for the day. Actually, that happened a couple of evenings ago out at the beach. While it was not much warmer than usual, it was a little breezy & humid (conditions that make my exercise-induced asthma kind of kick up).
'You're breathing heavy tonight. Usually I don't hear you that way for at least another mile when the pace picks up,' said my Garmin-guy. Considering the conditions & the fact I raced two races four days earlier, it was not supposed to be a sprightly-paced run. I mentioned what I thought the pace was, at which he told me, 'no, it's...'

Some days the "fresh" pace is slower than others. I'm trying to keep it simple.

Once we got about three miles into the run I began to feel a little better & the pace dropped; a few seconds here, a few seconds there. It probably didn't hurt to make an unscheduled boxen-stop (potty break!) at the 2.5-mile point. Give my training-mates 20 seconds to get up the road & I'm hell-bent for election to catch them. It's that simple.

Too much technology leads to too much dependence on numbers - useless data - in training. If you don't know what the numbers mean, or you can't figure out what a particular effort (pace) feels like on the day, what's the use? It's little more than mathematical self-abuse.

(I was going to use a more-adult term starting with the letter M, but in order to keep this blog post at a PG rating...)

Scarier, even, is if the technology cr*ps out on you on race day. Or you find your pace/power/HR isn't where it should be. At that point what do you do? Do you panic, bail out of your race, or do you (as Clint Eastwood in Heartbreak Ridge said:) 'adapt....overcome....improvise?' Batteries die. Satellites go down unexpectedly. Connections become disconnected.

That's why it's always best to keep things as simple as possible, but, as Albert Einstein was reported to have said: 'but not simpler.'

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Doing Doubles

Nature, who for the perfect maintenance...of her general equilibrium, has sometimes need of...this impulse, now that one, in accordance with what she requires. - Marquis de Sade

Since the beginning of the year I've done, in varying degrees of frequency, two workouts a day. I first did doubles during the summer before my last semester of college, because I was running cross-country. Your body goes through a multitude of feelings and responses during a period where you're doing two workouts that range from good ol' garden variety fatigue to unending hunger/thirst, to depression, to (if you do it correctly) a sense of feeling, as Travis Tritt once sung, Ten Foot Tall & Bulletproof.

Triathletes, especially the ones training for long distance events, do doubles almost by necessity. Heck, if anyone who took up triathlon were independently wealthy they'd get up at 8, swim from 9 to 10, then go for an easy one-hour ride or a 30-minute jog, followed by a long, lazy afternoon in front of the tube talking to the dog. HOWEVER...most tri-geeks (and some of their coaches) have real jobs. We would much rather talk about the trip we've just returned from or the next event we're going to do; it's lots more fun than talking about your doughnut-munching co-workers (or cow-workers, as one of my athletes likes to call them...) or the last batch of paperwork you had to turn into smaller batches of paperwork for the benefit of your company.

The challenge comes in balancing the morning effort & the evening effort. In order to make double workouts most effective, so I am learning, is to ensure there is enough time to recover so you're not completely wiped out or on the fast track to an overuse injury. Even if you decide to separate your run workouts with a cross-training effort (for triathletes, the non-impact sports of triathlon, swimming & cycling) it's still important to adjust between hard efforts, easy efforts, long durations & short ones. If doing the same workout at the same intensity over the same duration twice a day doesn't bore you to the point you decide to not get out of bed after the first will certainly beat you down so you end up overuse injury.

Nutrition & hydration are also important, before, during and in between workouts. Extended endurance training may burn off fat, but too much can break down muscle. So, you want to make certain to eat good food throughout the day. Someone like Don Kardong might recommend you avoid a diet that discourages the use of ice cream (okay, at least you can have dessert in moderation); your body ends up chasing down anything it can burn after a certain point in time...and you don't want it to be muscle.Oh, and there will be times when you have to listen to your body to shut down a workout when pain arrives. You'll know pain, it feels much different than discomfort. There'll be days when you absolutely have to rest. Do it. There's a good reason. Sometimes you have to do the one-mile test: Go out for one mile, or perhaps the first half mile out & back on your planned run. If you still feel bad call it a day & rest. If you feel fine after a mile, go right ahead & continue...but take an extra easy workout or two.

As you approach the target event, you might want to cut back to one workout a day during the week or two weeks just before...your body won't know what to do with the extra energy come race morning.

Monday, May 4, 2009

The More You Complain...

...The Longer God Lets You Live. - Bumper Sticker

One of the first things I love/hate to do immediately after a local running event is to read the bulletin board for the local running organization. I am amused & appalled, all at the same time, by the commentaries. Traditionally these are the posts you end up seeing:
1. Looking For Results. - This person may (or may not) know the event was produced by someone other than the organization who hosts the bulletin board, & doesn't check the web site for the race management company who did time/score the race. Diagnosis: Benign lack of knowledge. Treatment: Education on who scored the event, taken every six months. Prognosis: No known cure.
2. Where's My Award? - this person couldn't stick around for the age group awards because they had to work, didn't want to spend time around a bunch of people drinking light beer at 9:30 in the morning on a Saturday, or knew if they stayed and had beer at 9:30 in the morning they would be completely useless for the remainder of the afternoon. Doesn't matter the award is a nondescript beer glass with no specific year, age or place information (I used to complain about that before, but now, as a race director I learned it's a way to keep the award costs down.), or worse, a nylon ribbon with no race information on it...they want that piece of swag; they need that piece of swag for their I Love Me wall. Diagnosis: Low-grade isolationism. Treatment: Proxy award recipient, taken as needed. Prognosis: Curable, usually by attending evening events or events where beer is not served.
3. You Timed/Scored Me Wrong. - When the individual participant's time doesn't match exactly with their Timex Ironman. I've seen some discrepancies of 10 seconds for every three minutes it takes to run a mile, on average, for which I have no clue. Sometimes I think it's human/computer interface, sometimes I think it's 50 cycles versus 60 cycles of power...again, something for which I have no clue. I once thought bandits were the reason, then I figured 'dude, there'd have to be a lot of banditry to put an ever-increasing margin of error across the board...' Of course, in my humble opinion, as long as you get my score correct (first master, first age group, second age group, whatever...) I'll can accept my own timing & overlook yours. Diagnosis: Multifactorial time-space-training continuum dysfunctionality. Treatment: Popsicle stick/three-by-five card scoring system, take for next three mid-summer races. Prognosis: Presumably non-fatal, but replacement of wanna-be professional chip with amateur chip may be needed in two years.
4. Race Organizer Done Me Wrong. - This could be something as simple as not announcing a name correctly during the awards, to a perceived slight, to not getting the right sized t-shirt...not enough beer...stale bagels...cold chicken chicken wings...and the list goes on...and on...and on... Diagnosis: Sub-acute Nominally-Anonymous Running Know-It-All Yahoo B@stard (abbreviated: "SNARKY B@stard"). Treatment: IP search, followed by clumsy bludgeoning until apology elicited.
The postings become more & more anonymous, & more inflammatory as you move further down the spectrum from 'can you help me find the results?' to 'why was so-and-so (in my humble opinion) acting like a jerk?' I haven't figured why someone with an axe to grind (all right, that's me on some occasions...) takes their frustrations out on someone in a bulletin board without having the decency to either say it constructively or to identify themselves positively.
I guess it's always more fun for the knucklehead who posts anonymously on a bulletin board to be the one who throws the grenade into the crowded conference room. Rather than saying: 'dude, this race s*cked because this wasn't done; where can I help out to make the event better next year?' they say, 'dude, this race s*cked.'
In defense of most race organizers, they're trying often to do the right thing; make certain nobody gets hurt, then make certain people have a good time...usually in that order. Usually the people who are posting derogatory, anonymous posts are a very small minority, the ones you would not mind not showing up to your next race because they'll never be happy & you'll never be able to encourage them to help out with an event...see the other side of the fence.


Happy 69th Birthday, Dad. I'll do 69 minutes on the treadmill in your honor tonight.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Comfortably Numb

This weekend is what I would call "Anaerobilooza" in most civilized areas. Two events in the course of 10.5 hours. My original plan was to NOT participate in the morning's 10K race because I was going to participate in the 5K that night.

Reason for my choice?

A 10K road race in the morning on the first weekend of May in N. Florida is NEARLY GUARANTEED to be warm & humid. No matter what the conditions are in the two weeks leading up to the event it's going to happen. In fact, the thermostat in my house the afternoon prior to the race was in the 80-degree range; high time to fire up the A.C. Shucks. At that point you know it's going to be UGLY.

I had my goal split times with the (suicidal) hope of running sub-40 written down on a strip of pull tab. However, everything went to hell-in-a-handbasket at the first mile split (16 seconds off from the word go). At that point, I should have tossed the strip, relaxed and had fun. However, I did continue to push the issue for what it was worth...finishing a solid minute slower than my Crescent City performance weeks earlier. I was disappointed for a good 30 minutes, then took a pragmatic look at everything:

1. Too warm/humid.
2. Too little base training in the early year.
3. Tough course.

So you go on from there. Since there are no major races for months around here it's back to base-building. Nice, comfortable long(er) runs.

So, home to relax on the couch, talking to the dog & fold up the abundance of clothes piled up in the clean clothes very good reason to not have more than a single beer after the race. Well, two or three beers after a 10K on a Saturday is fine if you have nothing better to do for the rest of the day, however...

I almost shut down the idea of running the 5K in the evening...while running an easy warm-up over the first mile of the (out/back) course. The shut-down then almost happened at the first two strides off the starting line...but I talked myself into it. Hit the first mile at the pace I should have run in the morning's race. Probably top 15 to top 20.

As a course measurer, it's difficult if not impossible for me to go to local races. If I go to a race the first question I receive is: 'Hey, Mike...did you measure this course?' If I don't go to a race I get asked: 'Hey, accurate was that course?' Once I get through with measuring a course it's up to the race director to communicate to the race organization (volunteer workers) exactly where the start, finish, turn-around & split points need to be. I've been at races where volunteers placed splits & turn points at locations where they always had been rather than at the correct location, without knowing the course had been changed/re-measured. The measurement & certification process, done for the benefit of the individual athlete, at the cost of several hundred dollars to the race, is derailed by something so simple as ignorance & lack of communication.

Turn off to the secondary road and I see cones in the middle of the street. Since I measured the course I knew exactly how the course should have been set up. No worries, it only made the course a tad longer than the certified length.

As I was running up the road I knew we were approaching the turn-around point, but it looked like the cones were going on for another 200-300 yards. At that point the ethical dilemma comes to pass: do you run the incorrect course because everyone else did, or do you turn in?

I ran a 10K earlier in the day. I was beat up. I saw the turn point & turned. I'm certain everyone freaked out when I was at the front of the field...going from 15th to first in a matter of moments is NOT NORMAL.

I ran the course I measured. I didn't do the course the RD laid out. It was the wrong decision for the right reason. I won't go into the end of the story in detail, but the RD & I had a chat after the race, & I told him to go ahead & scratch my performance. Better to have one or two people upset than 300.

Of course, then I have persons coming up & telling me I measured the course incorrectly. Damned if I do. Damned if I don't. Guess that happens when you're a guy doing your job.