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.

Monday, June 29, 2009

First Really Crummy Day

"...I recommend biting off more than you can chew to anyone; I certainly do.
I recommend sticking your foot in your mouth at anytime; feel free.
Throw it down; the caution blocks you from the wind. Hold it up; to the rays.
You wait and see when the smoke clears. You live, you learn; You love, you learn;
You cry, you learn; You lose, you learn; You bleed, you learn; You scream, you learn..." - Alanis Morissette (1995)
Steven, can you relate to this after your weekend, bro?

This weekend was the first for a 12-week entry-level triathlon training program sponsored by the local tri club. Great to see over three-dozen of my soon-to-be closest friends sitting on the benches; some were truly first-timers, others first-timers this year, & a few making their triumphant return to multisport. The session was originally intended to be a welcome aboard, with the race director of the sprint triathlon this program focuses toward chatting a little about their race, some individual swim pointers, and on to the water.
Of course, that was the plan, filled with assumptions. The reality saw a more-brief swim brief, covered by Bev, Steven's better half. Brian, the club treasurer & guy in charge, took care of pointers & technical stuff from the dock, while Bev was down in the drink with the neophytes. We keep telling her she's got what it takes to be a good coach...but she's a lot more humble about her abilities.The water was comfortable enough for me to get some wetsuit familiarization time. Did about ten lengths of the sound, worked on sighting, & just kept everything comfortable.
I did say this was the first really crummy day, didn't I?

My weekend plans (remember assumptions from the earlier paragraphs?) went south quickly, as we needed/wanted to get some errands taken care of. I did get two hours in on the elliptical trainer, the equivalent of 16 miles, on Saturday afternoon. Hm. Think that might have been a little too much there, Coach?
Au contraire, mon freire. Or, for those of you who live in less cultured areas of the country that's another way to say, 'think again, moose breath.' I ditched my goggles & wetsuit, then pulled on my running stuff (including a belt holding four eight-ounce plastic bottles of sports drink) to go hit the road for 45 minutes-to-an hour. The first two to three miles were all right, & then reality set in. Or, as some would say, 'the man with the hammer' showed up.
Oh, did he show up. The first three miles were at a very comfortable eight-minute-per mile pace. The last three & a quarter were much slower. We (I say we, because Bev decided to hang out with me.) ended up running a couple of blocks, then walking a block on the return trip. While I was a little disapppointed, there was a sense of perspective:
This was the first true brick (well, one discipline into the other) workout in some time.
The weather was very warm on the beach by 9:00a.m.
I had nothing in the tank, & forgot to eat anything that morning.
As Alanis (Morissette) would say: 'you live, you learn.' So, today's a rest (-like) day. Tomorrow we're back on the case.

Friday, June 26, 2009


"...We don't train to accomplish any of what these other coaches have tried to coax you into believing. We train to IMPROVE, and to do our best. We train to perform and to win. And while triumph is no doubt defined differently for each of us, it is far easier to comprehend than anything you've heard here... Sure, it's imperative to understand what training does to your body, but it is far more important to know why you are training and what your training is leading you toward, and to have 100% belief in the process. Simplify!" - Chuckie "V" Veylupek (at some nameless coaching conference, way back when)
Not only local runners use me as their coach. I also coach two or three runners by what I can only describe as remote control or belief coaching. After enough research into what makes a good training plan work (periodization) & a little trial/error on my own (candor), some of my friends have asked me to help them achieve their running/triathlon performance goals. So far it has been effective.

What makes it effective is this: Describing my own workout regimen (these repetitions, at this pace, with this recovery) is enough to boggle their mind, but I've been able to simplify it for their benefit. Without spending a month of three workouts per week trying to learn the language, they've been able to improve & progress forward in their training, strictly because I have simplified it for them.
I'm not training anyone to improve their VO2max score, training stress score, magic mile or any of that stuff. Simply put, I try to help them be (in the words of Daft Punk) harder, better, faster, stronger. The nice thing is that there's only one measure that will honestly prove that on race day...the clock. The SRM won't do it. The HRM won't do it. And no matter what WKO says when all that GPS stuff is uploaded into your PC, the (four or) six numbers that really count are xx:xx:xx. Outside of (to borrow from Disraeli) numbers, d*mned numbers & statistics, the only other thing that matters is whether they make it across the finish line in one piece. If they make it across in a better time than they hoped for, all other controllable factors being equal, so much the better.

Seems pretty simple to me.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Get Some Changing Done

"You've been saying for the longest time that the time has come; you've been talking like you're of a mind to get some changing done..." - Mary-Chapin Carpenter (2001)
The hardest decision to make comes when there's a big change involved; new job, new relationship, new commitment, new routine...I think you get the picture. Most times, these decisions aren't made capriciously, but after soul-searching, counsel & balance of the possible positive & negative outcomes. It's hard to continue to stay the course for sake of staying the course, especially when you know something different can be done. However, it means being honest enough with yourself to say: 'what I've done up to this point in time has not been successful. It's time to take a different approach.'
"...No one knows where they belong; the search just goes on and on and on, for every choice that ends up wrong another one's right..."
So, you have to be pragmatic when the potential remedies cross your desk, so to speak. I had a friend ask me 'so, what do you want to do?' when I first began looking at the options. Once I developed enough clear thought about what was really happening, it was simple to know the what.
I enjoy coaching & providing sensible guidance to runners & triathletes. Some even appreciate the advice & counsel - imagine that. And that's the fun part of coaching; collaborating with an athlete to see how they can prepare for best performances. But to get that level of interaction, there needs to be a certain degree of trust and confidence - both on the part of the athlete and of the coach.

Sometimes the relationship comes naturally over the course of time. Sometimes the relationship is built by money changing hands.
Once the relationship is developed, expectations on the part of both parties follow, especially in the areas of communication & discipline. I've wondered what people would think if I did not show up for a track workout (even after the car accident in January of this year, my wife & I called the cell phones of at least three training group members to let them know what happened). 'Ah, but you're the coach,' you say. 'You're supposed to be there. That's why you were chosen.'

So, why do I coach? Ah, it must be for something. My coach & his coach say it's for love of the sport. And I love the sport, too. But shouldn't the people I coach have that same love? If they don't have it, is it because I haven't instilled it in them? Does love of sport come intrinsically, or as the result of some pot metal/nylon medallion or glass/ceramic beer mug?
"Call it chance or call it fate, Either one is cause to celebrate; Still the question begs why would you wait and be late for your life..."

I guess I coach for the same challenge the athlete has: To make them better on the day. The athlete is the weapon & the battleground. And I am just another guy with a map.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Making Good on Threats

Run races for long enough, & eventually there are several risks which can become clearly apparent:
First, the risk of over-racing.
Second, the risk of over-partying.
Third, the risk of having too many race t-shirts.
The first two can hurt you really good. The third is much less of a physical threat, unless you try to carry out the entire ten-year race shirt stash in one fell swoop. I've talked about over-racing & over-partying in the past, but I don't think I've ever talked about the serious problem of having too many race t-shirts.
The problem is not so much having too many shirts as much as it is having too many plain white, generic-design race shirts. What is it with race directors who think they can get away with a minor - or no - variation of the same race logo every year? (All right, we were guilty of the same thing with our triathlon shirt, but they were colored & it's only the second year for the event.) As you approach the Fourth of July/Independence Day holiday season you can guarantee something that has some cheesy flag motif splashed all over the son of a gun. Death by overdose of red, white & blue...bleah...
Come on, guys. Let's use a little bit of imagination here. It's as bad as sponsoring a womens' exposition & calling it something like Sisters For Life. Sorry, I know my sister would barf at the thought of some of the girly-girl stuff displayed at such a shindig. Even the name would probably send her into an apoplectic fit.

Some of the guys I know who are also race directors would tell me, 'Mike, it costs too much to use a shirt that isn't cotton/white/plain print/(fill in the blank). We would take a major loss.' I've also known races which were awful courses, in awful conditions, during awful times of the year...had great shirts, good post-race parties, and efficient scoring. Now a great shirt might not make up for a crummy race, but the individual participant is more likely to wear the son of a gun out in public. Don't tell me anyone wears those white cotton wife-beaters I've seen given for local summer races.
You can only do two things - perhaps three - with a shirt like that. One is use it for bicycle maintenance. Or you can save them for those foreign mission trips...but then, I can hear the cries of the poor souls out in the mission field: 'what is this!?' So, rather than inflict undue punishment upon some poor souls out in the developing world, I think I'd rather use the plain white shirt as a pallette for the use of my imagination.

We had threatened to do something like this a couple of years ago when we first moved into our house. The pile of plain white cotton race shirts were growing exponentially and the no shirt option had not become popular. I joked about how we needed to do something cool with the, say, tie dye them so we could stand to go out in public in a shirt that had a little character.
My wife decided the best way to do something like this was to make it a social thing. She's the kind of person who doesn't mind going out in public in a shirt with character, like a tie-dyed one...but she likes being a trend-(re)setter, too. Give her the chance to start a mini-revolution & she is all over the idea. She wanted to get rid of some of the excess stuff around the house, so it seemed only logical to her to have a yard sale/tie-dye party. She knew she could talk a few of her close friends, as well as my training partner & his wife, into joining in on the fun.

So, we sat out under a canopy in the driveway, basking in the warmth, socializing between customers & turning our excess into eccentricity. Nothing like a little bit of arts & crafts to bring out the inner hippie in everyone...without the threat of upcoming drug testing to dampen our spirits. If you're smart about the process of tie-dyeing, after a little trial and error, you can use the shirt design to your advantage. If it doesn't work, it's not like you have lost anything either...more bike maintenance cloths, right?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Intolerance Over Intolerance

With a tip of the hat to Stephen Stills & the rest of CSN&Y...

"I lost my innocence over intolerance - All the indignities heaped on the black man - We went to church they all prayed for the white man - The cops and the preachers - Were most of 'em in the Klan - What's a kid s'posed to think when the adults - Are all such hypocrites impossibly smug..."

I work for a very conservative organization, but harbor a great deal of left-leaning (some would even say leftist) thought...rare to find in this organization. Not so much the left-leaning as much as thought. The most frightening part is I used to harbor many of the Manichaean light v. darkness, good v. evil, black v. white, sheep v. goats, go to hell, go directly to hell, do not pass Go, do not collect $200 opinions of my immediate co-workers.

And, frustratingly, I try to remind them there is an entire world beyond filled with people who (gasp!) have the ability to think for themselves & make rational, conscious decisions about their lives without the express written consent of their pastor or the guidance of Dr. Laura Schlessinger. Oh, yeah, and the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution still are valid.
Thinking for ones' self is a good thing. It makes coaching much more entertaining when the athlete has an idea of what they think needs to be trained.

As a guy who likes to solve problems, or at least look into the possible root causes of them, you learn early on to ask the why at least five times. If you can get a person to explain the why to the why to the why to the why to the why of a problem, the odds are really good you'll either find out what the problem truly is...or the person you're asking will become so frustrated they pour your coffee in your lap. The frustrated ones are usually addled by religious dogma, prejudice, or philosophical restraint that cause them to completely refuse to change their mind in spite of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
Naturally, this is also true in the athletic world, with VO2max still held forth as the determinant of athletic performance, lactic acid as an evil, and stretching completely good. Fortunately, there are still researchers who like to prick those big balloons, in spite of the shrieking at the pop by the nekulturny.

"You got powerbook potentates - Pointedly obviate - Every opinion - They have about anything - Even if they don't know $#!+ - Stay in the limelight - Got your own website - Got all the answers, ain't got a lick of sense - Practicing psychiatry without a license..."

First you get the doctor in Middle America who gets shot at church because he's performing medical procedures permitted in many states as a result of Roe v. Wade, which leads to a screaming fit about the government financing things in which they fervently disagree. As a person who will never need to undergo such a procedure I shouldn't have a dog in the fight...makes it a lot easier for me to look at the economic and sociological root causes, reinforced by research and statistics. Wow. Who would have thought. But you might as well forget about presenting cold, hard facts when you're dealing with a shrieking co-worker. I wonder if she watches Bill O'Reilly, too?
I've talked about the divide between what is said and what is followed by many folks . Telling someone who has a hard time losing weight they can benefit from changing their diet, avoiding certain fast food restaurants and engaging in a regular exercise routine is one thing...listening to them tell you why they can't do it is another.

"So you got overfed - Talking heads on television - Ignoring the obvious with pained expressions - Ask the ones that sell the d*mn guns - By the truckload every day - Fast as they can make 'em - What's a kid s'posed to think - When the adults - Refuse all accountability - When they $&#* up..."

The cherry on top of this sundae of silliness had to be the e-mail sent out from one of my senior shipmates, which contained a press release from my big boss, the POTUS. I guess the month of June has been established as LGBT Pride Month. For those of you who are not familiar with the acronyms, that has to do with what my co-workers would call sexual deviants or perverts. Since I, on the other hand, know quite a few deviants and none of them were of the strictly non-hetero nature, then lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender will have to do.
A close friend and mentor told me that until the advent of the 20th century (1895, when Oscar Wilde was placed on trial) there was no joining together of one's identity with one's sexual activity. After that, if you engaged in buggery you were a bugger.
Today's piece o' advice: Think about the things you believe and ascribe to within your lifestyle, your training and your goals. Make certain that it's what you believe and not what someone has necessarily shoved down your throat. Heaven knows, history, culture and science are continually changing. We never step into the same river twice.