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, December 21, 2009

Easy Days

Sounds like the kind of place I want to spend some time in this time next year. Ah, but that will depend mostly on the wishes of COMNAVWIFELANT, also known as "Mrs. Java," "Coffee-Mate," or..."she who must be obeyed."

Fortunately for me, this years' endurance challenges smoothly segued into:
1. a reasonable level of training, namely the building of a right solid base, and
2. my wife's wish to run another half-marathon after a year's hiatus from systematic training.

So, I took the challenge of being husband and coach all at the same time...again...and got her back into the run training regimen she had a couple of years ago. Suzanne's strength is the ability to (like the Energizer Bunny) go for a consistent pace over an extended period of time. Brute, blistering speed is not her forte.

The biggest challenge for her, unfortunately, is the fact she is one of the few at her ability level who enjoys doing what I like to assign (to my athletes); moderate-distance training sessions of up to an hour two-or-three times a week, with speed work once-or twice a week. Oh, yes, don't forget the run of at least an hour once a week. That means she spends a lot of time doing her workouts alone. At least I can find someone within 30 seconds/mile pace to run with me...most of the time. However, since the middle of last month I've made a conscious effort to run easy with her at least once a week.

Don't know how many of you have ever tried to run a minute-to-two minutes/mile slower than your average training pace, but it can be a little painful. Especially after 60 minutes. I dreaded the prospect of those first runs at such a sedate pace, remembering vividly the damage I did to myself along Waikiki a couple of years back. All right, I have to admit part of the problem had to do with the fact I was in very old running shoes...and had recently done damage to my achilles at the beach half-marathon.

But once I figured out how to do the right thing - run for a period of time/distance, then turn and run back to my wife - everything went well. As it was, she was never really more than about two blocks back from me over the course of a single mile, so I could gently jog back. It also allowed her to know the exact route which we were going to use for a six-mile run, or an eight-mile run, or what the route for the distance she needed to cover was going to be (GPS plus Google Maps equals a very good estimate of how far you've gone.).

This particular attitude persisted over the last month, with other runners who are a little faster than my wife also benefiting from the small change in my training regimen. As they've come out they've had the opportunity to learn the loop we train on & build their confidence.

So, what has it done to my speed? Well, I ratcheted up the pace the other night on the beach, doing a 6.2-mile loop. The first mile or two were in the 7:30/mile pace, after that the splits started to come down between 5-and-7 seconds a mile, until I was running the last two miles in the high-six minute/mile range. Yes, it hurt. But it was a good hurt. I hadn't been at that particular pace for about two, or maybe three, months. But I also hadn't done any real speed work since September, either.

So, if you want to develop speed you need to learn how to run comfortably at speed. But once you've learned how it feels, you can't be hurt by emphasizing the runs which maintain base fitness.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

It's Not Me, Coach. It's You.

Frustration: A common emotional response to arises from the perceived resistance to the fulfillment of individual will. The greater the obstruction, and the greater the will, the more the frustration is likely to be....In people, internal frustration may arise from challenges in fulfilling personal goals and desires, instinctual drives and needs, or dealing with perceived deficiencies....Conflict can also be an internal source of frustration; when one has competing goals that interfere with one another, it can create cognitive dissonance....While coping with frustration, some individuals may engage in passive-aggressive behavior, making it difficult to identify the original cause(s) of their frustration, as the responses are indirect. A more direct, and common response, is a propensity towards aggression. - N.E. Miller (1941)
Until I spent three months in North Chicago, IL I thought seasonal affective disorder - that state of depression which hits folks during the darker, more-gloomy months of the year - was a bunch of hooey. Darned if a solid week of cloudy, damp, miserable days at Great Mistakes didn't cause me to change my tune, & quickly.
I never thought myself to be susceptible to the symptomatology. I figured working in buildings without window access - or windows altogether - and terrible lighting for nearly three decades... there was that brief, two-year period where I worked in an office with a picture window, and a year where I worked from midnight to eight a.m...would provide sufficient protection from the vicissitudes of darkening days.
By the end of that epic just-off-the-shores-of-Lake-Michigan-in-late-autumn period, I was ready, really ready, to return to the Sunshine State. Remember those video clips where the Pope kisses the ground the moment he touches down in a foreign land? That's what I looked like on my return to Pensa-freaking-cola.
So, training with the group during late autumn darkness, dampness & dreariness was great therapy. I could definitely handle the conditions as long as there was one other person suffering with me. I know that's what brought a lot of my training partners at that time out; the fact I would be out there to get that workout in. Doesn't mean I didn't hate the conditions. I had to prove somehow I was badder than the drug. I felt being badder also led to being better on race day.
But, it's completely different when you're coach than when you're the athlete. Especially when you're dealing with adult runners who don't have to be there if they don't want to. As madness begets madness, it's easy for me to shrug off heading out to the track on a night when it's damp & drizzling; I'm already under the presumption well, heck, nobody's going to be out there...why should I even care?

Add to all of this the season - which to me, needs no reason; read some of my earlier postings to understand my religious survival - & you have a recipe for cranky (and sick!) people. I love the plethora of get-togethers, parties, social functions, drunken bacchanalia, shopping, trips, days away from work & so on, but it's a challenge balancing all this stuff. Best way you can deal with it is to take care of things very, very early (as my wife is wont to do) or realize can not do everything. Learning to say 'no, I'm sorry, that's not going to happen' is, to me, the golden mean; the royal road to sanity. The people who are offended by that response aren't going to be the ones you'd spend time with in the first place, & the ones who understand...well, they'll understand.
So, the social aspect of running can be as therapeutic for me standing on the side of the track as it is for the person circling the same. Oh, how I miss the days of ambulating (perambulating? sauntering? shuffling? meandering?) through the holiday light-bedecked neighborhoods, especially after the last 5K of the season & everyone still had their little bell attached to their running shoes. If you can hear the voice of Charlie Brown from A Charlie Brown Christmas playing in the back of your mind, when he's asking: 'is there anyone who can tell me what Christmas is all about?!' Well, that's me right now. This, too, shall pass. Kind of like a kidney stone. Ow.

Monday, December 7, 2009

It's a Rebus, Ya Butthead...

(A tip of the swim cap/cycling helmet/running visor to "Chuckie V" Veylupek. A little more obscure & cryptic than his road sign, but hey! That's the way I am, right?)
So, the end of the calendar year is always great fun for me. Not only does it allow me to scale back the running or cycling I do in order to spend more quality time - running - with my wife, I also get to play my favorite puzzle game, called "What The Heck Did We Do Wrong This Year?"

Well, it's not the official name of the game, but it's the working title for what new twist do we want to try in our training to replace the things that didn't do so well last year? I know, it's not as catchy as Scrambled Eggs, which was the working title for one of the greatest pop tunes of the past fifty years (kudos to anyone who knows the title - I don't have anything special I can give, short of my admiration!), but it will have to do.
Last year I tossed the fairly-well tried-and-true three weeks on, one week off training intensity cycle right out the window for a shorter three/four/five day on, one day off cycle. Unfortunately, I don't control all of the workout factors; I can swim up to six days a week (seven if I wish to engage in open-water!), and I can bike, run or do strength training almost any time I please. But sometimes I like the idea of getting out on a ride, or a social run, with a friend. We're social animals, we humans. While we may not have identical training goals & our physiological make-up varies by chronological & training age, there are times we like to have someone else suffering along with us.
So, this year I have decided to carpe the damned diem...seize the day. There are enough social-like training-like situations where I can get the necessary intensity in without feeling like the Lone Doggone Ranger. Rather than focus strictly on hard mileage/yardage, I've borrowed from a number of guides to gauge the volume & the balance between the disciplines.
The first guide is from Joe Friel's The Triathlete's Training Bible (I have the next-to-most-recent-edition). Since I'm focusing on two IM 70.3 events this year & I'm a middling-to-back-of-the-pack (blame it on my swimming) participant, I'm looking at the middle of Friel's 500-to-700 hours of training per year window. So, when I look at the amount of time I spent this year it's not going to be a big change, time-wise (this makes my wife very happy!). Friel has a week-by-week breakdown through each of the base, build, and prep cycles leading to the event, & the events are far enough apart to give me a chance to re-cycle through base & build in the summer.

Even neater than this, Friel lays out a division of hours per day for each week. Sundays have the most time available; which seems in line with most middle-class triathletes, & the week slowly tapers off in hours for training, with Saturday being the shortest day of the week, where your most intense stuff, or your C & B races, fit in. But there are days where my swim work is 'etched in stone' because of my masters' group, & the twice-weekly Six At Six beatdown is becoming a regular thing there's a healthy chunk of the week taken up. But it's probably a better thing to have a little too little training volume than too much, right? I doubt if anyone ever got injured from undertraining over time.
The second tool is Dan Empfield's aerobic points system. For me to get out & run 8-to-12 miles on the weekend, 8 miles in the middle of the week, & five-to eight miles worth on the elliptical trainer (or treadmill, if I'm not too beat up) may...or may such a good thing, especially in light of how badly I swim. Empfield's point of view, as well as many other coaches is race your strengths, train your limiters.
(If you're strictly running you will be better served by Jack Daniels' points system, which is published in the latest version of Daniels' Running Formula. But if you're a beginner tri-geek you might want to use this guide to keep your training you don't spend too much time working on the stuff in which you are already good.)
Empfield's system works like this:
1 mile cycling = 1 point
1/4 mile running (~400 meters on track!) = 1 point
100 meters (yards) swimming = 1 point
I did a little bit of adaptation because of my tendency to beat myself up on the run: If I use the elliptical trainer (with a heart rate monitor!), I'll divide the time spent on the ET by 2.4-to-3.3 (2.4 if the average heart rate is closer to maximum, 3.3 if the average is closer to 50 percent) and give that score to the ET workout. (In essence, it's a way to equate elliptical trainer with cycle!) So, 25 miles of running might equate to 100 miles on the bike or 10,000m (yd) in the pool.
A hard-core runner might not need to develop strength by hitting the weight room, & some triathlon coaches consider hitting the pool to be better than pumping iron. Empfield prefers weights, so, every five minutes pumping weight (after 20 minutes) earns a point. A one-hour session would give you 12 points, but that assumes no lollygagging, definitely a hard-core weight session.
If there's a weakness in your training or you aren't certain how to balance out life & training, or the disciplines for which you are training, it helps to figure out what some of the good coaches are doing or telling their charges...might work for you; might not. We're all an experiment of one. Don't do the same thing over again if you're looking for different results.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Take A Deep Breath And Read The Fine Print

Some friends outside of the immediate area enjoy borrowing my posts; I guess every so often I manage to transcend the personal & slide right into the universal. Doesn't happen as often as I like, but when a good post is borrowed I really appreciate it.
If you've ever read a piece of literature or an article - or for that matter, a blog post - without looking closely into the perspective or the context under which it was written you might miss the point. Sometimes I have to point the reader to a piece of literature, a song, or a movie in order for them to understand exactly what I'm talking about. I've had friends tell me, or more often, my wife, 'you know, he's a good writer but sometimes we don't have a clue exactly what he's talking about.'
The main page of my blog has a disclaimer I adapted from one on the weblog of two-time Olympic medalist Simon Whitfield. In essence, it says: 'dude, this is my opinion. Take it with the amount of salt needed to be palatable.' My wife is wise enough to ask me to clarify. My father has read enough missives from me in the past three decades to translate (now you know why the Bible can be so hard to interpret?). Most other people only read a piece of what I've written then go off on a tangent, have a conniption fit, & set out to prove me wrong.
My friend Kevin Spain is a sportswriter for a large newspaper. There are certain times of the year he has no lack of material for the on-line & print versions. Other times he looks for something that's a little more out of the ordinary. Occasionally he borrows from me, or asks me to write something on a topic which he feels the need for coverage. I'm not one to deny the request of a friend. A blog post of mine about a Red Dress Run & my observations was decent enough to make the electronic world. I harbor no fantasies of being a big-shot writer, much less a big-shot coach or a big-shot in the running community, as I was once called by a USATF official in Dunedin. To think my opinions & observations of a very large running/social event (frankly, one of the largest of it's kind in the country!) would hold water with the lumpenproletariat is beyond my understanding.
Hey, I'm just a guy telling my story.
Imagine my surprise last night when I received a couple of e-mails: One was from the organizer of the event in question. Another was from a person who did not provide their affiliation, but must have been a member of the same organization, or all-too-emotionally attached to the event.
The rebuttal from the event organizer was gracious; to the point she wished to provide her side of the story, with a press release about the charitable proceeds of the event. The second e-mail was, er, less-than-gracious, & quite typical of e-mails I've received from members of the organization in question when they feel they've been wrongly maligned. I proceeded to tell the event organizer she missed some of the salient points of my blog, & provided some additional information I left out in the intent of putting a best face on the event.
We all have, some preacher once told me, the opportunity to influence 150 people. We have close enough relationships with that many persons; most will not hesitate to speak well of the good customer service situations, or restaurant experiences, or holiday trips, or running events. Same goes for bad experiences - those 150 can be influenced to be a future customer or to never darken the doorstep of your business. I didn't want to tell this event organizer I would be a dissuading influence on her event, but merely a single customer who decided his preferences would lie somewhere else for that particular event in the future.
After the second e-mail, I decided on dissuasion. I can spend the same amount of money in that town; stay at the same hotel, & have as good a time as a spectator...better, actually...than as a participant. And I told the event organizer thus.
That's the joy of capitalism. Sometimes the hired help shoots management in the foot.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Barry White? We're Talking Barry White!?

While R&B/disco great Barry White has no longer been with us for three years, there's still an opus of work which has not seen the light of day. Well, not any longer. His long-time friend & producer saw fit to release a three-disc collection of alternate tracks, unreleased tunes & (to borrow from Steve Taylor) some stuff which initially didn't make the cut...just in time to celebrate what would have been Barry's 65th birthday.
The interview on NPR's Morning Edition brought out some really neat stuff which could relate to your own training:
1. If you're smart enough - knowing your strengths & limiters - you can take anything & make it your own.
One of White's greatest songs was originally supposed to be a country song, called 'My First, My Last, My In-Between.' Expand what comes between the first & last to everything, hey, Barry, this turkey just might fly! NPR's Steve Inskeep & White's producer then went off the rabbit trail & into the weeds, mentioning the potential of taking a song as simple as Mary Had A Little Lamb & Barry Whiting it. I almost had to pull the car over, I was laughing at the sound in my mind.
The smart athlete considers a training plan more as a road map & less as an itinerary, because we are all an experiment of one.
2. Do One Thing. Do It Well.
When you listen to Barry White's songs, they are all about love between two people. There are no break-up songs, no songs about fighting or the hard parts of a one-to-one emotional relationship. Okay, that's why I could never stand to listen to more than one or two Barry White songs at a sitting. It was kind of like doing lunch at an all-you-can-eat pizza joint; the first plate was fantastic, the second one pretty good...after that it's self-abuse.
Focus on a particular range of distances. Try the others if you like, but keep it in perspective. While you can not suck at most everything, you aren't going to be good at everything...all at one time.

So, here's to you, Barry. We can learn how to be good athletes, and good people, perhaps, by listening to your stuff every so often. Oh, yeah...I never thought I'd hear a better version of Billy Joel's Just The Way You Are, but somehow you did it.