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.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Excuse Me, I Swore There Was A Box Here...

My friend, Steve, & I read training advice & counsel from several different coaches. Some of these we apply into our personal training plans, some we set aside for later testing, proof or adaptation. While we might not use the recommendations ourselves, the objective is to keep an open mind to sound advice. Naturally, it's good stuff to know when we're dealing with questions...that ol' here are some alternatives stuff.
One of the concepts we've both ascribed to we borrowed from Patrick McCann & the Endurance Corner coaches. It actually is a four-concept process:
1. Race day is about execution more than fitness. Execution is defined as the ability to run well off the bike in triathlon. Conservative bike pace strategy can be corrected on the run, but riding too fast will bite you in the behind.
2. Everyone will reach a line where running, or running at the same pace you started, will be very hard. Focus on execution is critical to not slow down.
3. To execute & create conditions for success you have to define what you can & cannot control; what you cannot control you can only adapt to.
4. We all hit the line eventually. That's where the goal or the reason you're doing what you're doing becomes critical, or else your day becomes very long.
Steven Covey talks about the circle of influence & the circle of concern in his Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, & it's much like EC, except EC calls it the box. Stuff you can influence or control are inside the box, stuff for which you have to adapt, adjust, endure or get around are (of course,) outside the box.
Approaching the half-way mark in this training cycle, things are beginning to become...interesting. I've started to see the box because the week's training volume is slowly increasing, both mileage & time (mileage more than time) spent. As you start moving closer & closer to the target event & the longer swims, rides, & runs start popping up on the calendar, you're praying like mad that nothing else infringes on the time you're going to have to spend training, recovering...or working at the real j-o-b.
The j-o-b usually can be worked around if you have an understanding boss and/or a reasonable amount of holiday time at your disposal...for which I am fortunate to have both. (It's always a good idea to tell your boss you registered for an iron-distance triathlon. Easier to explain those mornings when you're walking around like a person ten years older than yourself.) Sometimes, the j-o-b stuff requires you to be there. Those are the box things you just have to deal with.
When companions, contemporaries or loving friends start throwing unprocessed fertilizer base material in your general direction, either intentionally or unintentionally, then you have to figure out whether it deserves to be in the box - & controlled - or thrown out of it & either adjusted around or plain flat out ignored as an inconvenience.
Telling your boss about your event goal is probably an inside the box action. Dramatic situations initiated by factional groups in the local running community...more likely outside of the box.
Lately, there's been a little too much drama for my own taste. I prefer to keep my box as small as possible & hope like mad the rest of the world doesn't begin to drag the boundaries of said box outward.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

My Name Is Pain

What's your name, my name is Pain - Where do you live, I live anyplace - Where were you born, in the state of fear - How old are you, nineteen hundred and ninety four years ... ("Pain," Elton John, Bernie Taupin - 1995)
What's your plan, my plan is pain - When will you leave, I'll never go away - How will you breathe, you'll give me life - How will you see, sitting in the temple right between your eyes...

This morning was one of those infrequent ones, thank goodness, where I find my body has failed to adapt to the amount of stress I've placed upon it. I had also occur about a month ago, not long after adding a few more workouts and a few more miles to my training. But this morning is a little different. Rather than the subtle, gentle ache of fatigue, I am enduring what I would definitely classify as pain.
My name is Pain, you belong to me - You're all I wanted, I'm all you'll ever be - From the beginning in a world without end - I am the air, I am Pain...

Yes, that very "far on the right hand side of the pleasure-pain scale" feeling Hume wrote about. He probably didn't use a continuum like I tend to, but he talked about how we as humans gravitate toward pleasure and avoid pain. I can understand why. There aren't any good drugs that will deal with pain and still leave you able to drive your automobile, sit at your computer, or be anything close to functional.
Pain is love, Pain is pure - Pain is sickness, Pain is the cure - Pain is death, Pain is religion - Pain is life, Pain is television...

And while we definitely know the difference between physical and emotional pain, we're less able to differentiate between physical pain and discomfort. I'll take for example one of my athletes. After the second set of Tuesday night's track workout, she mentioned that her calves were burning and in pain. I told her, 'don't worry, you're good.' 'You have one more set to go.' She managed to plod through the third set at more or less the same pace as the first one.
Before she went to do her cool-down jog and striders, I explained the difference between discomfort/fatigue and pain: Discomfort is generalized, diffuse, surface level, and decreases almost immediately after you stop exertion. Pain is focal, intense, deep and remains without regard to exertion level. A brief discussion of Noakes' Central Governor Model of Fatigue soon followed. All I'm trying to do with my athletes is get them to "turn the thermostat up" another notch.
However, for me today, it's more C.S. Lewis' megaphone of God. I think the message is: Rest.

Friday, July 17, 2009

In Essentials, Unity

'In essentials, unity. In nonessentials, liberty. In all things, charity.' - (att.) John Wesley & St. Augustine
The more you read any of the training books or magazines, regardless of the sport, the more likely you are to ask yourself, 'dude, are these guys (gals) all saying the same thing, or am I imagining it?' News flash: As a whole there's not a whole lot new underneath the sun...regardless of that 12 Weeks To Your First Ironman or Five Weeks To Your 5K Personal Best book (the former) or magazine article (the latter)...and the article always has the title in BIG, HONKING LETTERS so you can't miss it on the news stand.

In the same fashion that a religion (or church) has its major handful of tenets which ideally everyone holds in common, nearly every coach who has spent enough time in classroom study or real-world experience knows there are some basic fundamental laws of training. Some find a way to write books & magazine articles about them, or based upon them; the really good writers find a way to put it in an entirely new & different language so the casual observer/layman/prospective book/magazine buyer will snap it up. Think of Pringles. It's still a potato chip, no matter how you look at it. While it has a uniform shape, size & texture, it's still based on a potato that has been cooked & seasoned. It was just packaged differently & made to look prettier.
Face it. Base-building isn't pretty. There's no way to gloss over speed work. Time trials are always going to be time of discomfort. And nobody ever talks about recovery or rehabilitation. And heaven forbid you even discuss injuries. So we're always going to deal with semantics, with trying to sell some aspect of training that no athlete particularly likes by giving it a mystical name.

There's nothing mystical about it. The secret is there are no secrets.
'I am of Paul...I am of Cephas...I am of Apollos...' - Paul of Tarsus (1st Century CE)
When I look at books written by Bingham, Daniels, Galloway, Glover, Henderson, Higdon, & so on, most of them try to say the same thing. Don't take this is a stab at my friends (John, Hal...) who have written these books. There is a degree of discipline & sacrifice involved to be a runner (or a triathlete!), but when it is all said & done, the proof of the pudding is on race day, & very few of the runners will wear their allegiance on their sleeve, er, singlet. Even fewer will put credit where credit is due; their own hard work, trusting the book writer's guidance & counsel & translating it into meaningful training & successful execution on the day when it did count.

The most successful runners & triathletes are not products of the program of the month club. Very few of the most successful running or triathlon coaches write best-selling books. Why? Because they understand two things:
There are physiological essentials which must be achieved in a certain order, lest the whole house of cards come down.
Every athlete is an experiment of one. But it's not the article & book writers who are the most dangerous, but their adherents (of which I might be called by some). There are athletes & group leaders who possess a sense of parochialism, to the point of orthodoxy. 'If you don't follow this to the letter you aren't going to be successful,' say some. Or worse yet, they will guarantee unqualified success in their prescribed training endeavor.

The one-size-fits all coaches can make for lousy prophets. The adherents can make for lousy judges.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Mahatma On The Track

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” - Mohandas K. "Mahatma" Gandhi (1869-1948)

"...when they have to walk that 20-pound, flat-tired bike back to Quietwater. Oh, they had no water bottle?" - MSB (7/12/09)The challenge of coaching often comes as the result of collaboration with other coaches. I help coach a beginning triathlon group which meets every Sunday morning for three months leading up to a couple of mid-autumn sprint distance events. While everyone knows who the head coach is, sometimes it's not clearly communicated the advice of his well-meaning and highly-supportive assistants might be taken with, at the most, a single grain of salt.

I know my limitations quite well. When it comes to swimming I provide very little advice & counsel outside of body positioning & technique when it comes to breathing, because (so far) that's the only thing I have down pat. Yep, I know how to breathe...it's more by necessity than anything. Probably the first thing I got schooled on. I am the land-based, air-breathing aerobic animal, no doubt. Throw my leg over the top tube of a bicycle, or strap me into a pair of racing flats & I am in my element. I've had the perfect days & the not-so-perfect ones, & after this long, I know most of the root causes of the not-so-perfect days, too. But, the problem that presents itself is that of 'well, what the hell do you know' attitude which comes from (often) a female of the 25-35 year-old demographic, first-timer, who prefers to listen to the half-baked advice of her friend (who may have completed one event) rather than that of the collective wisdom of people who have raced more mileage in one year than they have trained. The bottle cage on that bike, honey, are not for your cell phone. That's for putting a water bottle. I don't care that you can't reach it while you're riding. You can stop, grab a drink, then start up again. You also have no flat kit. What happens if there's no sag wagon to help you put a new tube on your bike? What if you have to walk back to transition? That one-and-a-half-hour ride in 75-degree weather you planned just turned into a two-and-a-half hour ride/walk, in 85 degrees.

But, there's nothing like the hard lesson of walking five miles (or more) with a flat tire in 90/90 (degrees/humidity) conditions in Pensacola Beach on a big holiday weekend...with no water bottle in the cage...to teach perhaps either a little humility or a little preparation. Ah, but sometimes you have to pay the tuition before you learn the lesson.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

One Excuse...

"...is as good as another on any given day." - Coach Fox, multiple times between 2002-05

Every once in a while I have athletes who decide to engage in 'summer,' a strange season of the earthly year, a time filled with many outdoor entertainment activities, including a very strange concept called vacation. During this vacation, the athlete gets into an automobile & drives for several hours to a place where they spend the majority of the money they saved over the previous year on lodging, food & the exact same outdoor entertainment opportunities which they could have enjoyed at home had they decided to stay.

Also, during this vacation, the athlete usually makes a conscious decision to do NOTHING. As a result, they return back to the track on a Tuesday evening after one of these vacations having lost every bit of the hard-won fitness we attempted to develop from their previous vacation, during the period between the autumnal equinox & two weeks after the winter solstice. Following that vacation, they stepped on their bathroom scale & realized they weighed much more than they suspected...as if their jeans couldn't have told them the same message some time in late November.
How these athletes became conditioned to believe a vacation was meant to exclude exercise is beyond my understanding. If you were to ask every single one of them what they used to do throughout their summer vacation as a child, I would wager nine of every ten would tell you they were involved in some sort of unstructured physical activity, like swimming, bicycling, walking, hiking, climbing, & all that good stuff...on a daily basis.

So, how did we go from doing stuff on vacation to not doing a thing on vacation? Mind you, one or two of my athletes actually perform physical labor during the week, so for them, physical exercise is probably more fun than chore. A vacation for them would probably not be harmful. However, the rest of you (myself included) are still on the hook. If you're going to go on one of those vacation things, there's a very good reason for the "take half the clothes and twice the money" advice provided by every travel consultant...it's so you can add at least one pair of running shoes & three outfits, silly. Your employer will thank you. Your co-workers will thank you. And yes, your coach will definitely thank you...not nearly as much as you will, though.
During this time of the year, it's difficult to get fired up about food. Well, unless it's fired up on a grill & sitting beside a cold beverage of choice. Otherwise, most indoor dining is boring. Hardest part about being a person in training at this time of the year is this: You need to get nourishment back into your body, at the least some nourishment within 30 minutes of finishing a workout, but other times during the day, too.
But when the day is divided up into workout, clean-up, commute, work, commute, workout, clean-up, sleep (with a few other small pieces in between), it's a challenge to get the right food in the right amounts into you...especially if you're one of those people who hate eating first thing in the morning, or don't have a stable enough work schedule during the day, or don't have access to a kitchen/refrigerator, or have knucklehead co-workers who raid the fridge. The key is to get what your body needs. Keep it simple.My wife recommended I take a big ol' salad into the office so I could scarf on throughout the day. Nice, but there are days when I'm not exactly sitting in front of my desk doing office things. I could have something a little smaller every so often, though. She made a salad the other morning, which was sitting on the stove next to a couple of bagel halves. I couldn't tell at first what the contents were, so I opened up the lid. Instantly I smelled onions & knew there was no way I could take that in to work.
I don't eat (raw) onions, period. End of story. I can tell if there's one on a sandwich or in someone's lunch across a crowded room.So, I try to get a little something on the way in, but balance it with the wisdom of knowing that eating McBarfle's five days a week is going to make me fat as a pig. My recent screaming about weight & the need to get back down to fit weight made the cartoon above stand out. For those of you who don't know me too well, my dog is below:
...I think you can guess who represents me in the cartoon above. Ah, but it's a temporary phase, one which can be remedied by smarter eating, judicious workouts, & resting as needed.
See you at the track.