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, August 27, 2009

Living and Learning

"Let's call all the fun we've had living, living; Let's call all mistakes we've made learning, learning..." - "Living and Learning," Mel Tillis (1971)
(Note: Today's weblog title & the reference lyrics are in honor of my late grandfather, who used to sing & play little ditties like this one, so long ago.)In the business world, perhaps in the last decade...maybe a little longer back than that, there was a focus on transforming businesses into "learning organizations." Training & education managers, formerly the red-headed stepchild forced to share a bedroom with human resources, suddenly became a C-level (or sea level, if you wish to look at it that way, especially if you're at the water's edge...) entity all its own. It was one of the important disciplines in business, especially if you believed what you read in Peter Senge's The Fifth Discipline.

Ah, those were the good old days. Now, in the age of shrinking (shrunken?) budgets, training & education, as well as the CLO (Chief Learning Officer) have been forced to come back home & share the room with manpower & personnel...human resources. But, it doesn't make learning any less important a part of living. John Dewey once said: 'training is not preparation for life. Training is life...' or something to that extent (shame on me, an education guy, for not knowing the exact quote).
That's the most fun about coaching & training, I think. In order to be as efficient with my training as I possibly can...even more important as I become older & less efficient in recovering from races and workouts as I used to be...I have to read, research, re-read, & re-research what coaches, scientists, & even athletes have found to be the most effective means of training, fortifying, supplementing, recovering, & so on. I like it, it fits well with my personality. It provides me the opportunity to try something a little bit different, or adapt to what I'm already doing, before I try it on any of my athletes.
Doing this involves what I guess the Zen masters might call beginners' mind. You have to wipe out any preconception about a particular topic in order to listen clearly, lest your Charlie Brown filter be engaged. We all have that filter; the one that turns plain, simple language into waah, waah, waah-waah, waah...waah in less than 3.2 seconds, leaving us stupider than before. Turning on that filter not only makes you more stupid, but makes your life much less enriched.
I've kicked myself in the butt on many an occasion for not listening more closely to friends who read an article in Runners' World, Triathlete, Geezerjock, & wanted to share their insights with me. Usually that kick in the butt came after remembering, 'hey, didn't so-and-so tell you about a particular piece of equipment, or a particular exercise that would have kept you from crashing & burning in that event?' Then I have to go back, reclaim beginners' mind, & listen to what I should have listened to before. Well, C.S. Lewis once wrote, 'pain is the megaphone of God,' so maybe it was the Almighty's way of telling me...'(WHACK!) Stoopid...what were you thinking!? Wait, were you thinking!?'

So, there I was, standing in my local running emporium, sweating my behind off, listening to one of my advisors talk to a marathon training group about hydration & nutrition. Normally, I would have shrugged off the vast majority of the information; turned on the Charlie Brown filter. But this time, well, you can blame it on Nikki...she handed me an outline of the lecture. What else could I do but stand at the back of the store and listen in. 'Who knows, dude...' I said to myself, 'you might even learn something.'Since the marathon has been my weakest running event, & the one which will probably determine how well or poorly I do in November, I figured it couldn't hurt. No worse than doing the walk of shame for ten kilometers to keep from blowing up my achilles, which I did in 2007.

It was no surprise to hear the obvious: 'we are in two & preparing for training.' But it never really clicked until then. I learned a good possible root cause for my weight plateau & a few other nutrition specifics. Gee. What a concept.

So, by allowing myself to go to beginners' mind I was able to learn a few things which could make the difference between a bad day & a good day, or a good day & a very good day...both now & in the near future.

"And we'll go on through life together living and learning..."

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Why, Why, Why, Why, Why?

Last week, I saw a Facebook status for my friend Jean Knaack. She serves as executive director for the national running organization I represent. On top of this, she has a husband & two young children & has done several Ironman triathlons. Jean & her husband recently returned from Ironman France in Nice. She posted her race report on Facebook & said something along the lines of ‘hardest race I’ve ever done...not certain whether I’ll do another…’ I responded by congratulating her, & added, ‘I bet you register for another IM in a few weeks.’
When I saw Jean's 'registered for another IM event' status on Facebook I could not help but let out a solid guffaw. There's no way she could duck the challenge of another cycle of training and travel which makes directing a non-profit, or being a wife & mother, any less simple. But, when you see someone’s eyes light up about the journey to the starting line, like Jean's did when Suzanne & I talked with her last spring, you know they are the type of person who continually needs a challenging, yet attainable goal before them. Probably that little extra oomph to get them out of bed in the morning.I know; sometimes even a big event or two on the horizon might not be able to get you out of bed (like me this morning). But...we set goals to guide what we should be/do (daily or twice-daily workouts, rest, recovery, massage, etc.), & sometimes even to remind us what we need to avoid (junk food, stressful situations, etc.) so the vision becomes our reality. Like intermediate points on a long journey, our big, audacious end-state goal should have short-term points (short races, key workouts) so we know we’re on the right path...and if we're not, they should be early enough in the training cycle that we can adjust accordingly and still benefit from the change.
Jordan Metzl, MD, recently wrote in Triathlete magazine about a benefit of goal-setting: ‘What I tell my patients is to set a goal and work toward it. I generally find that it doesn’t matter what the sport or level of athlete is; from triathlon to ballroom dancing, everyone needs a goal. Athletes who exercise just to exercise, without a specific goal in mind, are much less productive than those who set goals.’
Not only are we more productive, we’re less likely to overtrain or over-race. If our focus is on a long-distance triathlon, we work on our endurance by engaging in steady state runs & bike rides; swim longer intervals & do what it takes to toughen ourselves mentally in order to go anywhere from 4-to-17 hours...depending on the event. Marathoners will run up to 150 minutes on those long run days, just to get time on the feet. Some pros do what is known as a metric marathon (26.2 kilometers, or 16.2 miles) late in the training phase. All they want to do is simulate the event by doing 60 percent of the distance. And we can probably say without a doubt recovering from an effort of a particular distance is easier than the distance plus 25-to-50 percent.

If you want to know what the real reason for something is, or a real root cause for a failure, take the time to ask why five times, at the very least. For example:

Runner: I want to train for a marathon, but I want to do 20-milers as part of the training plan.

Coach: Why do you want to do 20-milers as part of marathon training, when most of the good programs I've studied & coaches I've consulted consider 16-mile long runs long enough?

Runner: I don't think the 16-milers I did training for my last marathon were sufficient.

Coach: Why do you say the performance in your second marathon ever was insufficient?

Runner: I didn't run the marathon as well as I wanted to. (Never mind the warm/humid weather conditions on race day & other factors out of his control.)

Coach: Why do you want to improve your marathon performance?

Runner: I want to finish in a time which will qualify me to run the Boston Marathon.

Coach: Why do you want to run Boston?

Runner: I don't want to run Boston. I just want to run a time that will qualify me for Boston.

When you look at the underlying reason the runner wants to train in a particular manner, is the goal relevant? Did the runner set the bar too high?

When the coach asks the fifth why, about the goal event, then walks backward 20-to-24 weeks, he finds the athlete has three one-week holiday trips during which the coach knows no trainng whatsoever will occur. And that's just a best-case scenario. At that point, the athlete either needs to think about another goal event, adjusting his training cycle further out to make up for the lost training opportunity, or lowering his expectations.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Coach Hat, Husband Hat

So, there I was, minding my own business on a sleepy Sunday afternoon...sleepy because I was busy recovering from the morning's training and trying to not psych myself up for the evening's. My loving wife Suzanne looked up from her laptop, checking Facebook, and told me she was going to register for another half-marathon. This time, however, she wanted to go some place a little different. We've visited friends in Ohio in the autumn & participated in the Dayton River Corridor Classic; we've stayed home & run a couple of half-marathons in Pensacola & her beach. Hardest of all, she's allowed me to coach her through the Jacksonville Bank Marathon - in fact, my spectacular achilles tendon meltdown put my finishing time much closer to hers than my fragile male ego will admit.

She learned that day that she likes the half marathon distance. I learned I hadn't figured out the marathon I moved right up to triathlon. Go figure.

Her friend Laura is an accomplished marathoner (anyone who survived the infamous Chicago Marathon from a few years back is accomplished in my eyes), she suggested we all do the Mardi Gras/Rock n' Roll Half in NOLA, tie in a visit to all of her Gulf Coast friends, all that good stuff. Suzanne & I have always been of the opinion that racing-related travel, especially to a city which we'd visit for no other reason than because it is there, makes race prep that much less daunting. So it seemed a low-stress decision to register for the event.

This year is Suzanne's year to support me in my endurance endeavors: Ironman 70.3 Augusta, Ironman Florida, & Ironman 70.3 NOLA next year. We segue into my year to support Suzanne right around February/March time frame. So, she wants to do a half? No problem. Call me Coach one more time, honey...I've got your training plan right here.

There are some athletes who absolutely cannot be coached by their spouses. I know, because I advise a couple. One is a certified coach, like me. Another is married to a certified coach, albeit in a different sport - boy, you should see them on the race course.

Coaching your spouse is fraught with peril, not much different than the peril of the self-coached coach. That may sound foolish, but hear me out. When I go to the track for a speed workout, my focus is 138 percent on what I need to do, what speed I need to hit on those repeats, what rest intervals I get in between. Coaching other runners - especially if they are not at the same ability level as I - at the same time leads to frustration...either theirs or mine. Since they're paying a small sum for the training I provide, it's only fair I provide their hard-earned money's worth of attention, somewhere around 138 percent. I can subjugate my own personal needs for their 90 minute sessions two-to-three times a week.

You still with me? Okay. Now imagine one of those athletes sits in the passenger seat of your car going to & from the track workout, prepares dinner in the kitchen, sits on the couch next to you watching T.V., and so on. I have to remember Suzanne's goals are a little less intense (but no less important to her) than my own; I have to communicate with her a little more gently than I do the guys, understand she's as much my support as I am hers. When I leave the track the coach hat has to come off & the husband hat has to be put on. Trust me, karma happens.

It's not just the obvious physiological differences between men and women, but the emotional & sociological differences, too. Sometimes, even if I think I know the answer, I have to let Suzanne do what she feels is best, & stand by when the little tweaks need to be administered. She's learned in the past five years almost as much about coaching athletes as I have, & sometimes has given the exact same answer to friends I would have given. I marvel, then realize she's been through a five-year unintentional apprenticeship...standing in the background, absorbing it all in. She plays the coach card every so often with me, too. Boy, do I hate when that happens.

So, don't be too surprised if you see me at the end of February standing quietly by while my wife runs Mardi Gras/Rock n' Roll Half. I know she'll be enjoying herself; it's the place where she won't have to hear me pontificate about running. How will you recognize me? I'll be the one with the two hats...not knowing which one to wear.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Is It Dark In Here Or Is It Me?

This past weekend was not only an epiphany of sorts about the insanity of excess, but a prelude to moving over to the dark side. I've written in the past about my love/hate relationship with technology; everything from the MP3 player to the heart rate monitor has lasted for an all-too-brief lifespan, mere days beyond the one-year warranty most manufacturers will honor. It's something that keeps me from jumping on the newest bandwagon, whether it's the newest Macintosh/Windows operating system or the smoothest-looking GPS gadget.
It's not just because I'm frugal, but I know the sum-bee is going to DIE AT THE WORST POSSIBLE MOMENT. Like race day.
My Speedo Aquabeat MP3 player decided to act up during the past week. I'm not certain whether it has to do with some of the music files I had becoming corrupted or some of the music files I found which might have had uninvited guests on board. Since I'm a Mac user, most of the viruses (viri?) & malware which malcontents use to terrorize the computing poulace are of little concern. Of course, I loan files to my non-firewall-using PC-owning friends at their own risk. Might have much to do with the recent bad scene. I had to literally reformat the player this weekend, but it seems the same outcome has happened. So, there are probably a handful of bad files on the player.
Then, on Monday, not long after that the strap on my heart rate monitor decided to go toes up. I only use the inexpensive analog strap to communicate with the cardio machines at my local gym, or when I do a spinning class. After inserting a fresh battery I found the same bad thing happening...nothing. It was bound to happen sooner or later.
So, in order to really track all the mileage/yardage I say I do, the efforts I put in, & even have an estimate of where a mile might be on an unfamiliar course, I've stepped over to the dark side. I ordered the Garmin 305XT wrist-mounted GPS, which can be used while swimming. Cool. I'm not so certain how the heart rate strap will work when in water, but that's a different concern altogether.
One of the things which kept me from going to a system like this, where I can track workout data on a PC, was the fact most programs which help determine physiological trends over time were not Macintosh-friendly. I remained a (smug?) Mac afficionado for 15 years, developing the ability to move from Mac to PC with little difficulty. However, in the last year the software I need to develop road race events, triathlons, training schedules & the like have left my G4/OS 10.3.9-equipped Powerbook behind. I thought about moving up to the latest & greatest Mac, even took a good long look at what a local electronics superstore had to offer. My pathological frugality & fear of having the latest/greatest for once in my life made me tell my wife we'd wait a little while longer.
Doggone if my wife didn't have to purchase a laptop for an office intern a couple of weeks later. When the internship ended there was an extra laptop around the office with no real need to keep it. Seemed like a good time to sell the thing off and recoup the expense. Ooh, ooh, pick me...
So as of today I have a new laptop. It doesn't mean the end of the Mac, however. Maybe we'll set it up as a home e-mail/entertainment station so we don't have to mix business with pleasure. I guess I really haven't gone completely over to the dark side. But I'm at the point where it might be good to keep a flashlight handy.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Post-Bushwacker...Keeping It Real

It's the middle of a Monday morning & I'm sitting at my home office desk. A temporary situation, due to the fact my loving wife is going on the road again - please, no Willie Nelson music. Thank you. I'll drop her at the airport, then go in to my real office & commence to do my real work.

This last weekend was the running event which (kind of) kicks off the autumn racing season for a lot of local runners; a point-to-point 5K from Gulf Breeze to Pensacola Beach. Most of the folks who participate in the event do so because they know the post-race event is really good. Hey, when you can get over a thousand people (not counting bandits) to run in (EDITORIAL COMMENT: Hyperbole follows) a billion degree heat & near-maximum humidity conditions, you know it isn't for the medals or the race shirt. It really has to do with the post-race party. In my humble opinion, the Capt'n Fun group does the post-race as well as any other large club in the country.

But, talking to my friend Aaron...or at least with Betsy, his wife...the next day, one thing we don't do real well (the same goes for a lot of local events) is racewalking. Aaron racewalks because he's had one of his hips replaced; no running for him, to say the least. It doesn't mean he's slow, though...he's a ten-minute per mile (perhaps faster than that!) kind of guy. The only way you're going to beat him in a racewalk is either work at it - or cheat by running.

How can you tell when a racewalker is running? Simple enough...if you take the time to look closely. I've seen racewalkers with both feet off the ground before - definitely cheating.

Here's the problem. USA Track and Field controls racewalking. They train judges/officials in the technique & lay down the rules. Road Runners Club of America supports recreational runners, as well as walkers who do so because they are unable to run. RRCA clubs & many events - at least the ones here - get themselves in a real kettle of fish because they decide to set up a 'racewalking' division and provide awards for those people who consider 3.1 miles too far (There are some days when I consider 3.106856 miles too far.) to run.

So what do you do, Mr. or Ms. Race Director? If you have an event that's big enough to attract real racewalkers from out of the area...the ones who have seen USATF officials & participated in real racewalking events where improper technique is disqualified, do you tell these folks to suck it up and drive on? Do you make the effort to get USATF judges to officiate your racewalk division, or perhaps restructure & rename it a fitness walker division?
(I would love to use an inflammatory, pejorative term here, but I worry about the ability of my hips, knees, & other joints to carry me at my speeds for the rest of my mortal existence! Hubris tends to bite me squarely in the backside.)

It's kind of a shame to hear we do wrong by a number of people in the community...especially the ones who decide to travel three hours one way, spend a week of holiday time, beaucoups of dough, etc., etc., etc. There are people within the local community who know enough about the sport to judge an event or two, perhaps even enough to teach proper technique.

If we're going to do it, let's keep it real. If not, tap the kegs before the start & have a fun run.