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, December 29, 2010

Resolved to Not Resolve

"Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it." - Mohandas K. "Mahatma" Gandhi, Indian political and spiritual leader (1869-1948)

What a royal pain in the butt.

We persist in making resolutions: Tell them to our friends once we're over-served on New Years' Eve, then hit the roads & gymnasiums throughout January (much to the chagrin of the year-round exerciser). The worst part of resolution-making, especially to the resolution-hearer (or the year-round exerciser), is knowing most resolutions are dead & gone by the end of February, traditionally buried in an empty Russell Stover chocolate box.

I'm glad I'm not alone in this sentiment. And, as always, great minds think alike. My friend & coaching sanity check person Pat McCrann went into a little deeper detail with his blog in Marathon Nation (http://www.marathonnation.us/long-run/top-four-ways-to-make-new-years-running-resolutions-that-stick), & with his Fueling the Endurance Lifestyle (www.patrickjohnmccrann.com/lifestyle/inverted-goal-chasing-choose-to-be-a-fear-dom-fighter) blog, posted 29 December. Fortunately, he didn't steal my thunder so much as provide a congruent perspective.

I'm not saying there aren't things we can improve in our lives; far from it. But the desire to improve something has to be joined with a specific plan of action. If I say (heaven knows I won't!) "I want to run more this year," or "I want to be a better runner this year," what am I going to do?

Hold myself accountable to a group of people: I can join with a local training group, or a running club affiliated with a national running organization, like the Road Runners Club of America (http://www.rrca.org/). Some RRCA clubs not only have social runs, but training groups & programs administered by certified, experienced running coaches. As a (USA Track and Field) certified coach, I've worked with (and serve as sanity check to) several RRCA coaches; the overwhelming majority of them are distance-runner savvy & passionate about their craft.

Accountability doesn't have to be face-to-face: A dozen runners who used to talk in the Runners' World Letters & Opinions forum slowly evolved into an ad-hoc e-mail network. As time progressed the group moved from e-mail to the social media, & meet up in ones-and-twos when business interests or holidays permit. Some of my closest running friendships have developed in the same way. I have a six-month membership with Marathon Nation, which includes access to on-line forums & a weekly chat session. It's great to have a platform from which to sound your accomplishments or voice your concerns. You only have to find the "neighborhood" which fits your specific needs.

Get a different, fresh, perspective on running: Change can be a good thing. This can be a change in distance from long-to-short races, from competitive road races to "fat-ass" unscored events, road-to-trail runs, or (something Suzanne & I have done) add a certain level of frivolity. Hare & hounds runs & hash house harrier groups, "groups with a running problem," vary in focus from "family-friendly" to "beyond-PG-13" in their approach. Just like any social organization, the personalities in these groups vary in looseness, as well as pace; iron-distance triathletes can be cheek-by-jowl with walk/run fans. A sense of humor, & perhaps an older pair of shoes, are the best credentials to bring with you.

A bit of surprise doesn't hurt, either: Runners can easily get into a rut of doing the same run/course/intensity on a particular day. I downloaded a workout application, RunRoulette, onto my iPod Touch earlier in the autumn. If I ever get too bored with a workout cycle I can punch the application & get one of forty possible runs in five different categories: Endurance, Hills, Mystery, Speed Work, & Tempo. The Lite version is free - less expensive than a fitness club membership the resolutionist will use for a month.

So, this coming year, resolve to NOT make a resolution. Instead, do things...or do them a little differently...or do them with a few others.

Monday, December 27, 2010

This Kind of Crazy

"If ... he could no longer endure the realities of ... life, he found a way out in his mental life– an invaluable opportunity to dwell in the spiritual domain, the one (they) ... were unable to destroy." - "Man's Search For Meaning" - Viktor Frankl (1905-1997)

Sometimes you "have" to do something a little bit out of the ordinary. A little bit on the crazy side. I've often heard talk of persons with multiple personality disorders; the term "crazy" is bandied about with such indistinction. Each of us live multiple lives & have multiple personalities, depending on the role we need to play: As a coach I provide wisdom & guidance to athletes, sometimes through a bit of bad judgement of my own. As a runner I look for a good story to entertain friends & family. Somehow the thought of how to talk about some of this kind of fell together on a four & a half mile easy trot the other morning...

The story really starts a little after two o'clock in the morning last Tuesday; I woke up wanting a soda. This might sound a little strange for a guy on vacation in New Orleans; I hadn't had a soda in over a week. Neither water nor beer was going to help me get back to sleep. However, all I had was two twenty-dollar bills, so I had to get change from the hotel front desk. I took my wallet & rode the elevator down to the lobby. "No change for a twenty," says the desk clerk. Here's where the fun begins:

Rather than return to the room for my shoes & risk awakening my (sleeping) wife, I plan to walk the two blocks - in a pair of baggy shorts, t-shirt & in stocking feet - to a convenience store on Canal, purchase my soda, & walk back. This should take no time at all. A great idea, right? Lesson: Not everything stays open all night in NOLA; what is open late on a weekend is not always the same on a weeknight. Canal Street is EMPTY on a Tuesday morning at 2:15 a.m. I begin to tick off on the map in my head where I can go, & walk another two blocks to a shop which should still be open.

I encounter a guy in Army Camouflage Utilities with a roll-on suitcase. He stares at me like I am truly insane. He tells me he just got off the plane from Afghanistan & trying to make his way home - why his route was by way of the French Quarter makes as much sense to me as my stocking-clad search for soda pop does to him. Actually, I understand him more than he does me.

Every so often you feel compelled...don't ask the logic behind compulsions of this sort; something like this happened about a year ago at the Beachcomber, in Waikiki. The specialist, in exchange for cab fare, would gladly point me in the general direction of a 24-hour soft drink purveyor. Now there are two of us in a modern-day "Wizard of Oz" situation. Lions, & tigers, & bears...

We chatted as we walked the three blocks; talking about family, our jobs, stuff like that. The store, like any place which remains open when most sane people on the face of the earth (not getting paid to stay awake) are normally asleep, has a small group standing outside the door. Naturally, they all marvel at the (obvious) fact I have walked around without shoes. The only answer I can give, naturally, is: "it's a long story." The only ones who fail to look in awe or wonder, strangely enough, are the gentlemen who benefit financially. Gee, you would think a guy carrying forty bucks would be welcome in their place. Not like I'm going to steal anything. Maybe they are concerned because of a recent rash of barefoot runners.

I hand the Guardsman a twenty to pay for the soda; he asks me to wait outside the store. He comes out seconds later with the change. I give him cab fare, which he hands to the cabbie - who followed us over to the store. I quietly snarl at the logic of his action, but the hack driver is not driving anyone who isn't paying, I guess.

I take my soda & walk back toward the hotel. Half way back from the convenience store, I encounter two couples strolling back to their hotel from their evening of debauchery. Not only do they ask the obvious, but begin to take photos, as though I am some kind of freak. Hello? Who is the sober one here?

Sobriety is great, even at three in the morning. The grating & sidewalk, on the other hand, is trying my soles. I was almost certain barefoot running was not for me when that "Born To Run" book came out; now I know. All my friends could say, when I recounted the tale for them that evening, was that I was a little insane. Looking back at the act, a few days later, it was a well-intentioned development of positive karma covering an illogical selfish desire...something for which I would have gently derided my wife had she told me the same tale.

I guess we all are a little bit crazy, here & there. The compulsions we feel can force us to run fifty marathons in fifty states, or do ultra runs on mountains...or to do truly harmful things to ourselves & others around us (I consider marathons only harmful to young or inexperienced runners). I guess the difference between (near-) rationality & lunacy, to the kind which can enable complete strangers (even those entrusted to care for us) to treat us like a lesser being, boils down to our ability to clearly tell the story, rather than letting someone else tell it.

If someone asks why you're crazy enough to run, tell them. Just make certain to keep the message simple.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A "Hit" Of Running

"Now, you're either on the bus or off the bus. If you're on the bus, and you get left behind, then you'll find it again. If you're off the bus in the first place-then it won't make a damn." - Ken Kesey (1935-2001), quoted by Tom Wolfe, "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test" (1968)

A friend of mine recently completed the Honolulu Marathon, so his social network posts have been filled with the "typical" post-event stuff: A breakdown of his mile splits, a description of his delayed onset muscle soreness, & so forth. The most funny thing, however, had to be a cartoon video titled "I'm A Runner," which definitely is worth at least one viewing.

It's difficult to explain marathoning or distance running to a person who has likely never run longer than an hour at a time. The ones who have probably wouldn't do it again unless a loaded pistol was pointed at their head. Some would even tell the pistol operator to pull the trigger rather than face the alternative. Like Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters in Tom Wolfe's "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test," you're either on or not on the bus. Most of the world, except for perhaps once or twice a year, prefer to be not on that bus.

I've tried to explain every facet of running, from the sublime state of the Sunday morning social run to the absolute ridiculousness of beer-miling. Explain THAT to a world which prefers to watch the first two laps of a 5,000 meter track race, as Larry Rawson tells them to go to their high school track & run a 63-second quarter 12 or 13 times. Once again, most of them don't want to know. The socially inept, ham-fisted runner eventually turns co-workers & (former) friends into runners, all right...short sprints in the opposite direction when "that freak runner" is seen. After a while, at least I learned, to do my thing & wait for the questions to come.

Transforming otherwise sedentary people into runners is probably best done like Kesey & the Pranksters did on Acid Tests. Putting people "on the bus" isn't going to do it. But, give a little "hit" of running (like the Pranksters did with LSD) to everyone & anyone who might show interest, that might do the trick. They can't handle too much at first, lest the trip become bad; give them just enough to enjoy it.

With the new year approaching, it's not too hard to encourage the couch-dweller to make a change. So, take advantage of the opportunity. Give them a little "hit" of running from your personal stash. Don't worry, there's plenty left: It might be a hash run. It might be a trail run. It might even be a walk/jog in the park. But, make certain to give 'em the good stuff...they're not ready for "quarters 'til you can't."

POSTSCRIPT - DEC 24 2010

Adam Goucher and Tim Catalano, from Run The Edge (www.runtheedge.com) saw fit to link back to this particular post (or at least the video clip) after one of their readers commented upon it. Nice to know there's more "crazy" people running only fifteen miles because they can, etc., etc. Happy Christmas to you! MB

Monday, December 13, 2010

Miles To Go Before I Sleep

"Sleep: A poor substitute for caffeine." - Author Unknown

Very short topic today. Not that I didn't have longer topics I could approach, but this one was definitely good. My morning ritual used to include getting out of bed at five o'clock sharp & going to either the gym or the pool before work. But I consider myself fortunate this time of the year, in light of my goal event choices. Since I'm training for a late-winter marathon (Rock n' Roll/Mardi Gras), I only need seven-to-nine hours a week in training. Those extra three-to-five hours I spent at the pool or the gym are - at this moment - spent on activities many (including my wife) consider an underrated guilty pleasure. I'll go briefly cryptic here: Think of Robert Frost's most memorable quatrain. If the only Frost you can recall is the poem "Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening," you're halfway there.

For those who don't remember: "The woods are lovely, dark, and deep. But I have promises to keep. And miles to go..."

Sleep is definitely a guilty pleasure around the Bowen house. If I were smarter, I would schedule every weekend workout for high noon & unplug the alarm clock (my greyhound sleeps until he hears an alarm or figures it's past breakfast time). Ah, but then half of the day would be shot. When I wrote about recovery a couple of months back I realized I left sleep out of the equation. Not only is good sleep necessary for mental health, but also for physical recovery. Poor sleep or not enough sleep is not only a sign an athlete may be overtraining, but it can also reinforce overtraining's damaging effects.

How important is good sleep? I've done some foolish things in the past: Come home after a tough day at work & make a beeline straight for the refrigerator. Pull out a 12-ounce bottle of Milwaukee-(or Atlanta, or Abita Springs) brewed goodness. Twist or pry off the cap & take a nice, healthy swig. Breathe sigh of relief. Finish remainder of bottle while watching SportsCenter. Dress for track workout. Run crummy workout.

Going without sleep can whack you cognitively as well as physically. A 1997 study found the cognitive defect from 17 (or more) hours of wakefulness equaled the performance deficit of a person with a blood-alcohol concentration of .1 percent. That used to be the legal limit in many states, I think. Depriving yourself of sleep - even for one day - can change your mood, mess with your immune system, eat at the lean muscle mass you want to keep, & cause you to be more adversely affected by heat & cold conditions.

If you have ever felt like going postal in your workplace, don't be too surprised, but one of the symptoms of workplace burnout had to do with getting ineffective sleep, the type which did not lead to relief from fatigue. Contrary to what Neil Young has sung, it is not better to burn out, friends.

Make yourself a promise - get your miles in, but make certain to get your sleep. Frost - and his neighbor - and the horse you traveled in on - would tell you it was a good idea.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

If "Mama" Ain't Happy...

"Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music." - "The Prophet," Khalil Gibran (1883-1931)

I've talked a little about how much I presently enjoy my marathon training regimen. I like marathon training...to the approximate level as I enjoy being flayed alive with a rusty straight razor. Thanks to John L. Parker, Jr. for writing that particular analogy. There are benefits & drawbacks to marathon training compared to long-distance triathlon & shorter-distance road racing, two recent pursuits of mine which have temporarily taken a back seat. The drawbacks, quite simply, are that the focus is (almost) strictly on running. Cross-training is a way to let the muscles & joints recover from long miles, little more.

The benefits for me & my house, on the other hand, are multiple. The first time I ever thought about training (or life relationships, for that matter) as a form of economics was long before I even considered studying the social sciences. My first aerobics instructor, Dr. Pat Quigley, used to tell me: 'Michael, life is a budget.' However, I never understood the depth of the meaning until Dr. Lee Hoke (economics professor at The University of Tampa) hit us with Stephen Covey's "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People." He didn't go deep into Covey, save for talking about two concepts: Develop a personal mission statement. Consider the emotional bank account.

Covey's emotional bank account is much like a "real" bank account, but you make deposits or withdrawals from family relationships. Meaningful deposits take a conscious effort. Excessive withdrawals can lead to economic & emotional consequences, especially if the apology is not conjoined with a meaningful correction. I have run into three or four relationship situations since I started coaching where the account balance was deep in the red.

It hasn't been me, but it's been close. Even a coach can use a coach.

I've been working with a couple over the past year or few. One, Pat McCrann, from Endurance Nation/Marathon Nation, is a strong advocate of earning what he calls the Spousal Approval Unit. What kills me about the SAU is its indirect relationship to Covey's "Seven Habits."

A baseline training week - the minimum - can be as brief as ten hours. If you think about it that's a little less than 90 minutes a day. Most bosses & family members can hang with that amount of time...in many cases the training needs can be adapted, slid "to the left" or "to the right" on the calendar. During this time of the year, with social functions, parties & holidays, sudden jumps in inclement weather, & so on, a morning on the couch with a cup of coffee & a loved one is an under-appreciated guilty pleasure AND possibly a deposit to the emotional account. Besides, under-training can be more effective than over-training. Especially when ones' spouse/kids/boss are happy.

Two-runner households have special challenges, especially if the pitter-patter of little running shoes also echo through the halls. Some of my friends cycle in & out of "serious" training cycles whose duration depends on the health & success of the partner. In the case of one couple, it's definitely a family affair; even their mother helps out with some of the "mini-thoner" coverage...at least until the little one is old enough to race on her own.

The secret to success in running, in my humble opinion, is that running is a family affair. If you can't remember that truth, remember this:

"If mama ain't happy, there ain't nobody happy."

Monday, December 6, 2010

Feeling Positive About The Negatives

(Sandy - 1st Female Overall, Chris - 1st Master's Male, & MB after the Jingle Bell 10K)
So the plan was for 14 miles this weekend. However, my friend Scott (a.k.a. Knaves) asked if I was going to come over to Ft. Walton Beach, FL for the Arthritis Foundation Jingle Bell 10K. The last time I ran this race - seven years ago - it was 30 degrees colder & 20 miles per hour windier on the day. My friend Sandy was trying to PR at the 10k; her boyfriend Chris, & Brian, another friend, were going to pace her. Chris & Brian left her hanging in the wind for the last two miles, so I ran her in. She got her PR, which lasted for seven years, (which she reminded me the other day!), & I had a great time strutting my stuff in the chill. Of course, I was very (5K & 10K) race-healthy then. Now, working toward a marathon, with questionable achilles' tendons, it might have been a tad stupid to race. But, Suzanne & I like Knaves, & the race was late enough in the morning, so...

Chris warmed up with Suzanne & me before Sandy, Brian, Chris & I jogged the first mile of the course. He said to me: 'you going to do 39 today?' Of course, my answer was, 'Not today. This is part of the long run for the weekend. Just going out to have some fun.' Once the race started, it definitely was fun, all right.

I normally blow past 90-percent of the field at the first mile, after which it's no-man's-land for the remainder of the race; the studs leave me way behind & I'm strung out in between the really good runners & the fairly good ones. But this time, I went easy the first mile with Knaves, then slowly started to ratchet up the pace. Amazingly, I picked off runners here & there on the course between mile three & four. One guy said to me as I went by at mile four, 'nice kick.' I wasn't too certain about the tactics of the day, even at that point; I smiled (Maybe that was a grimace; they both look alike from a distance.) & told him so.

Passing a couple of greyhounds (Real greyhounds - they had a dog walk at the same time.) at the fifth mile, & all I could think was 'how much longer can I do this?' It was probably good I couldn't read my heart rate monitor, only my pace; I probably would have backed off. Fortunately for me there was still about three runners hanging out in front of me; I couldn't tell how cute the female was, but she was definitely working the pace up there. By the time I got to her, & then the sixth mile, I was running a pace about five seconds per mile slower than my half-marathon performance time, & about 20 seconds per mile slower than my "healthy" 10K pace.

Even if I hadn't won my age group I was very pleased with the effort, especially three weeks after my half-marathon meltdown. To top it all off, Suzanne took second place in her age group. It's not often when two Bowens score hardware, so when we do it's cause for celebration.

Now for the rest the story:

I'm going to make a confession. I have a nasty tendency to look at things & see 'opportunities for improvement.' Rarely, if ever, have I said to myself while hanging out with friends, athletes, loved ones & assorted sweaty lunatic friends: 'dude, today you ran a perfect race.' Maybe all of twice in the past decade of racing the 'perfect race' has happened; a PR at the Azalea Trail Run 10K in Mobile, & a consistent pace at a hot, early summer 5K here at home.

While I've always sought out & valued consistency above almost any other quality in life, the only thing which I've considered more difficult (the negativity most every racer seeks!) to accomplish is negative split racing. Why is this so difficult to accomplish?

First, most runners don't exercise discipline & restraint while training. They're more likely to run EVERY workout at the same effort; so rather than following the hard day/easy day, or even the hard day/easy day/easier day dictum, it's (I kid you not, I have a friend who does this:) 5K, every day, all-out. At least until they become injured, but that's another story.

Second, many runners who have the physical fitness don't quite have the emotional or mental fitness to race negative. These are the friends who, when you ask to them about their goal time before the race, will tell you they want to go out at a particular pace. When the horn goes off, however, it's a completely different story. The first mile herd instinct & adrenaline pitches the best laid plans in the rubbish, leaving them to suffer for the last two (or more) miles of the race.

Third, the runners who are smart enough to go out easy early misjudge how much faster they should increase the pace over time; there's either too much 'gas in the tank' when they reach the finish, or they begin to fade in the last mile. Racing negative splits is a trial-and-error process; once you do it right it will be your Holy Grail of sorts.

What do you need to race negative splits?

I cannot over-stress the benefit of training runs at different intensity levels, with & without the aid of GPS, heart rate monitors & running watches. Why do I say 'without' as well as 'with?' You never know when you're going to show up on race day WITHOUT your running watch or your GPS (which almost happened this weekend!), or your battery dies, or the course is marked poorly...so know how a particular pace on the road or track 'feels' to the legs, heart & lungs.

Here's an interesting idea: Toe the line with a solid racing plan - this particular intensity or pace for a particular section of the course, pick up the pace to a higher intensity after this point, & then begin to really push at this point, etc. - follow it as much as possible. Trust your plan; don't go out with the herd. If your plan is solid the odds are very high you're going to catch & probably pass them before it's all over.

And, most importantly: Don't place any stressful or unrealistic expectations on yourself. Face it, the vast majority of us are paying money to terrorize squirrels & cats (followed by socializing!) on a weekend morning when most of our co-workers are still sleeping. For a very small, less-than-one-percent of the population, what SHOULD BE fun & games for you is BIG PRESENTATION DAY at the office for them.

If it's not fun, you probably should be looking for something else to do, right?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Being The Window

"People that are really very weird can get into sensitive positions and have a tremendous impact on history." - Dan Quayle

My wife has been blessed with an interesting skill. She writes a great deal about seemingly incompatible concepts like modern telephony/communications & their relationiship to anything else under the sun, & she does it with a style which highlights the underdog, the underappreciated, & the sometimes unseen members of the telecom world. She writes & markets to a degree which provides her the opportunity to interview or speak at major telecommunications conferences. Her greatest challenge is not always the naysayers or detractors in the industry, more often it is from the persons whose businesses have directly benefited, some to the tune over a couple of million dollars of income per year, by her efforts. It's particularly galling to hear those persons tell her, 'without me, you would not be who you are today.'

Stuff like that really gets under a guy's skin.

When I write about running & coaching, I try to use my foibles & mis-steps as an illustration of what not to do in their training. More often than not, I also provide these 'sea stories' to my own athletes & hope they will take them to heart. It warms my heart - after the initial fear I am about to be pummeled - to be accosted in a local bar & complimented on what I've done for a particular runner. Mark Twain was reported to have said, 'I can live for two weeks off a good compliment.' But, I've told many a person who has complimented me: 'all I do is provide the workouts.'

Regardless of who the coach is, or how much they're getting paid, it's still up to the individual runner to do the work. I can't go out & run the race for them. If I could, in a number of cases, the outcome might have been a little different. In some cases, I've heard friends & loved ones place all of the credit on the athlete, when I've known well how much hard work their coach put into polishing up raw talent & untapped potential.

This morning, as my wife was talking about something business-related, preparing for a virtual conference, I reminded her all she needed to do was be the window. What makes a window most effective is the fact it is there, solid, but allows light to shine through...an especially interesting analogy during the winter holiday season, when many put up twinkling lights & garland. It's not so much the window that is beautiful, but the things which are placed which draw the onlookers' attention. When we draw too much attention to ourselves we can affect the view through...I think stained glass is marvelous & it makes sunlight look nifty, but I've never seen a stained glass window I could see through.

So, if you know of someone who has helped in some way to make you what you are, take the time to thank them. But don't be fooled into thinking it was all them...or all you.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Juggling (Tasks) and Jogging: Just Jabber No


Somewhere around the second mile of the Turkey Day Five-Miler, I was cruising my way through a very large pack of joggers & walkers. I just passed a gentleman, one of many participants wearing a pair of headphones on the run. A second or two later I heard his voice behind me:

'Hey, I'm in the middle of a race right now & listening to music. Can I call you back later?'

Later that afternoon, our friends Betsy & Aaron invited us over to watch Thanksgiving Day football games, eat a light dinner & catch up on what has happened in the three months since our last visit. Betsy asked how we fared on our drive along Interstate 10; her son "Speedy" recently made his first drive on I-10 without knowing to B.Y.O.B. - Bring Your Own Boogie. The stretch of interstate between Mobile & Slidell can be entertaining & mind-numbing. My first trip eight years ago proved compact discs & MP3 players are necessary to maintain driver sanity. However, the youngster has not yet acquiesced to his parents' taste in music. Betsy said "Speedy" called during the drive on his iPhone, complaining about the dearth of entertainment on the airwaves.

You live; you learn, youngster.

Many persons complain about the need to get away from it all. What surprises me more is when the very same people bring it all (and I do mean 'all') with them by way of their smart phones & music players.

I do not completely disagree with them. The smart phone, nowadays, can be the next best thing to a training partner who knows where to go, what to see, & how to get back to where you left the car when it's all said & done. Don't forget the ability to take photographic & videographic proof of where you've been so as to make friends who decided to sleep in or stay home green-eyed with jealousy. There are hazards involved with listening to music on the run which have mostly to do with volume & situational awareness. But, I wear them in the gym for treadmill work & solo long runs because they keep me from thinking about the pain I'm inflicting on my body. I know the risks of my immediate environment & keep my jams down to a low roar.

On race day, however, I leave them in the car. Having your favorite tunes in your ears from start to finish of a race is one thing, but the multitasking thing - listening to music, checking electronic mail, taking phone calls & texting your friends - is best left for the office. The race course - and the jogging path - is the place to get away from the world's stressors, not to catch up with them because you have 50-to-60 minutes to spare. Because, really, many of us don't do even one thing all that well.

My wife thinks she does a great job at multitasking. I keep telling her she is not among the two percent of what psychologists call "supertaskers," those who are truly able to accomplish two tasks simultaneously with nearly the same level of quality. I'm willing to admit she's able to switch between some tasks in a rapid manner, which is what most people mistakenly identify as multitasking. However, there are unlatched doors, half-screwed-on lids, lost & subsequently replaced identification & credit cards which bear witness to her - and many people's - low threshhold of task switchability.

Once again, an honest admission: My level of task switchability is very low. I've tried to justify it on the grounds of visual impairment, but it's my lack of ability to pick out my wife from a large crowd before or after a race. Any of my running friends will tell you my most common post-race question is not "how did I do?" Most often it's "have you seen my wife?" The executive system in the frontal lobe of my brain, most often, is looking for a strawberry blonde woman in a blue sweat top. Darned if she didn't ditch her sweat top in the car & put on a white hat.

So for me, task juggling is absolutely out. When I train my mind is on the training. When I race my mind is on the race. If I decide to look for my wife before the start, like this last week, odds are good I'm going to be stuck back in the back of the pack. Behind the joggers. Behind the walkers. And behind the multitaskers who decided their wife couldn't cook the turkey without their help via cellular phone.

That should teach me to not worry about my wife's whereabouts until it's time to go home. Besides, I know she'll be close to the beer truck.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Be. Here. Now.

"The message of rock n' roll? Be. Here. Now." - John Lennon (ca. 1973)

Word of warning, this might be a little too cosmic for the average runner. So, top off your coffee & take a couple of deep breaths before you read on.

Okay, I guess I can continue: So, I was running late, as usual, to work his morning. One of the last things I passed on the way out, after telling my wife & dog I loved them, was a little plastic & stone trophy. This little turkey with backward-turned baseball cap & tennis sneakers was the newest addition to what people employed by my (other) employer call an "I Love Me Wall." If you've run consistently enough for long enough you probably have your fair share of gadgets, ribbons, mugs, glasses & plaques. Some of the road race awards I've earned don't have as much meaning as others do; because of the story behind the race, one or two cheap fourth-place ribbons tacked up over the doorway mean more to me than one or two of my heaviest first masters' male plaques sitting on the corner shelf of my "man-cave".

This turkey is one of those emotionally-significant awards, & not just another tchotchke: It's an age group high point trophy from a masters' swim meet. I had the sneaking suspicion my chances of doing well in my age group were good when I looked at the heat sheets. However, you never can tell until the scores are tallied & the results are posted. Actually, my friend - who was the meet director - told me I was going to win my age group just before my second-to-last event for the day. Was I pleased? If you are as swim-challenged as I, you would say "absolutely!"

My friend Brett Hollowell can explain this same feeling. Eight years ago, almost to the day, we ran a 5,000-meter road race together at Great Lakes Naval Station, just north of Chicago. Several things made the experience memorable: First, it was Brett's first (or perhaps second) 5K road race. Second, it was bitterly cold & overcast. Sleet & snow were falling. These were probably perfect conditions for Waukegan, Illinois, but the temperature was definitely thirty degrees to the south of comfortable for two southern-US-based educators-turned-trainees. When the race was all said & done, I finished high in my age group. It turns out Brett won his age group, much to our mutual delight.

As we drove back to our quarters, Brett grabbed his cell phone to call Meredith, his wife. He started to tell her he won his age group, as he was the only participant his age. I immediately stopped him: "Dude, don't tell her - or anyone - how many people were in your age group. You only tell them you won."

I think it was Steve Jones who said something about the difference between winning a race & running a world record: "To win a race, you only have to beat everybody who shows up on the day. To run a world record, you have to beat everybody who's ever run the race." All too often we downplay our accomplishments as a pre-emptive first strike of humility so others won't make light in an effort to bring forth humiliation. Personally, I think adding asterisks to our own results is wrong-headed. It's as silly as looking at results the day after a race you decide not to run & to say, "heck, I would have finished ahead of...'

If you aren't "here," where ever "here" is at that "now" moment; if you decide to sit & let life pass you by, you don't have the right to complain (like the realtor doing an open house in an otherwise-empty subdivision last Saturday, who called the local constabulary). In the case of the realtor, nobody's coming to visit because everyone decided their "here" was not-here (including Survivor H3, who were two blocks away) now.

Find where your "here" is, no matter what it is, & "be" there. Now.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A "Whys" Man Once Told Me...

One of my athletes ran her first marathon this past weekend. She had a fantastic front half of the race, but ran into some trouble (muscle cramps) during the second half & missed her goal to qualify for Boston by seven minutes. We were both disappointed for her, but we knew a qualifying performance was in her future once we got past a few obstacles.

Most coaches talk easily about the physical aftermath of runs & races. They usually are quick to recommend what to do to rebuild the body's systems, replenish fuel stores & recover strength after their charge has crossed the finish line. A precious few will approach the mental or systemic areas with their athletes; the ones who do often work in a mature two-way relationship with an experienced athlete.

When it comes to races of long distance, the smart athlete should look at not only one potential area for improvement, but as many as six large areas. (Noted triathlon coach Brett Sutton tells his athletes to boil down a problem until only three major issues remain.) There might be more, but I usually look at a performance issue as one of six types of deficits:

Three of these deficit areas - feedback & expectations, processes & environment, and incentives & consequences - are (mostly) external to the athlete and are, in many cases, a simpler fix.

The other three areas - motives & preferences, ability, and skill & knowledge - are almost completely internal to the athlete.

Most coaches of adult, post-scholastic amateur runners don't have to worry much about the internal deficits; if a coach gets to those root causes it's much like the old light bulb joke:

Q. How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb?

A. One. But the light bulb has to really want to change.So, I tell folks to take time within the first hours after the race, usually when they have time to quietly think about things. I ask them to write down what went well and what could have been improved in the race performance. Once those problem areas are identified, then it's time to do what is known in Performance Improvement circles as the "five whys." Here's an example:


Problem: I finished my half-marathon 15 minutes later than I hoped.

Why (#1:) did you finish your half-marathon 15 minutes later than you hoped?

I had to walk much of the last two miles.

Why (#2:) did you have to walk much of the last two miles?

Because my right achilles' tendon swelled up.

Why (#3:) did your right achilles' tendon swell up?

Because the course conditions, specifically the hills & concrete pavement, strained my achilles.

Why (#4:) did the course conditions strain your achilles?

Because I didn't allow my achilles' enough time to heal from the last injury.

Why (#5:) didn't you allow your achilles enough time to heal?

Because I thought I could get fit in time for this event.

Why (#6:) did you feel the need to rush getting fit for this event?

Because I was using it to prepare for a spring marathon.

Once a performance issue can be boiled down to the simplest reasons (usually at the third or fourth "why,"), you can look at the root causes & figure if they are external or internal. So, if I take the "whys" & align them to the causes - I've placed a question you can ask yourself to consider where the answer or deficit falls - I can then start to think of potential solutions.


Feedback & Expectations:
Did I know what was expected of me? Could I tell how well I was doing?


Processes & Environment:
Did I have the conditions and tools to do what was expected of me?
1. Hilly conditions and concrete roadways aggravated achilles condition.


Incentives & Consequences:
Did I stand to gain anything by succeeding - or by failing - at this activity?


Motives & Preferences:
Did I decide to do this activity for the right reason/s?
1. Attempted fall half-marathon rather than early year half, then spring marathon.
2. Unwilling to back off training because of injury.


Ability:
Did I have a chance to succeed, even if all the factors were in my favor?


Skills:
Did I know how to do the activity?



"It is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail." - Abraham Maslow, The Psychology of Science (1966)

So, then I can look at the big root causes & say, "okay, here's what I think you need to do." The one thing you don't want to do is start thinking of the solution before you get to the genuine root cause. More often than not when a person - coach or athlete - does this sort of exercise they look at the issue in light of their preferred answer. For example, a friend of mine loves Pilates, so everything in his mind can be remedied with a modicum of Pilates training. If I were to present an issue to my friend, the gym proprietor, he would likely recommend training his gym provides.

Because the achilles' tendon issue is aggravated by hard surfaces, hills & hard training, I can recommend easy running on softer surfaces as much as possible, minimize hard speed work on the track, minimize or discontinue hill repeats, recommend adding heel lifts to shoes, & work on strengthening the achilles with some stretching & light resistance training. . .and to be patient. There's some unfinished business to be taken care of in New Orleans next February.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ticker Time - Heart Rate Monitors For Run Training



An old friend of mine (now a tae kwon do instructor in Texas) asked the other day how I felt about heart rate monitors. Naturally, his take is from a strength, speed & power standpoint, so his question was framed from the viewpoint of a guy who looks at running or aerobic activity as "cardio." Like I mentioned about a month ago ("S'weat's New?", October 23, 2010), if you intend to use a cardio machine to help melt adipose your heart rate needs to be anywhere from 50-to-60 percent of maximum heart rate. Cardio fitness requires a level of intensity somewhat closer to 75 percent of maximum heart rate.

If you've ever been on a cardio machine at your local YMCA or fitness studio which has seen its better days, the odds might be against you getting an accurate heart rate reading. Working out at the wrong intensity can be as effective as dieting without portion control; too much (food) can be as bad as too little. I like using heart rate monitors for run training, both for encouraging an athlete to run at an easier pace during training runs when the effort ideally should be lower, as well as for tying a number to a feeling of intensity. Most experienced athletes, I've found, can provide a good ballpark figure of where their heart rate is based on the intensity level of their activity. The heart rate monitor can also help determine whether more recovery time is needed after a hard workout; if the resting heart rate first thing in the morning is as few as five beats higher than normal (depending on the baseline) it might be a signal to forego that early morning jog.

I've played around with, purchased, used, beat the daylights out of, & discarded half a dozen or more different heart rate monitors, including units by some of the major players in the game, namely Nike, Polar, Suunto and Garmin. Depending on the information an athlete needs, their comfort level with technology, brand of computer, willingness or desire to slice-and-dice (export) data, & level of sticker shock they're willing to undergo, there is a model from a maker which may fit nearly every athlete.

One of the first monitors I owned was the Suunto G6, which was pretty much a high-end monitor, with a frightening level of expandability; I purchased an ANT+ compatible footpod which tracked speed & distance by a battery-powered accelerometer. The G6 could do nearly everything imaginable, save for order me a beer at the end of a training run, but it could & would not (at that time) play nicely with my Apple MacBook computer. Since then, Suunto has developed an on-line, fairly user-friendly workout tracking program called MovesCount, but with the MacBook I had to purchase a Windows emulator program to crunch my workout numbers. I had difficulties with the G6 receiver unit's battery life, compounded by minimal U.S.-based technical support (California, if I rightly recall...). Since that time, Suunto has expanded its presence in the U.S., especially in the major metropolitan areas, & may still have a package deal with Carmichael Training Systems, a company owned by Lance Armstrong's former coach Chris Carmichael.

Most good-quality HR monitors will tell you how long you were exercising in a particular target heart rate range. Others will tell you how long you spent in particular heart rate zone. If you want to know whether your workout was effective or if you're on the edge of overtraining, again, look to Suunto monitors. The monitor & accompanying software programs will show you progress over time and the training effect of the workout you completed - measured by Exercise (Post) Oxygen Consumption (EPOC). EPOC measures the "calorie burn" which persists after the workout is completed...kind of like measuring how long the hood of your car will scald your bare legs should you decide to sit on it in shorts after driving all day.

If you decide to keep a HR monitor for a long period of time (read: send it in for repairs when it breaks or the batteries die) I still consider products by Nike & Garmin to be the best bet, since they have regional service centers. When I owned the Suunto there was only one place - San Diego, I think - to send the monitor for TLC.

Nike's C8 monitor had software & components which were easy to use & fairly user-friendly, with on-line "set-and-forget" (or "set-and-regret") functionality. I could also use the strap on spin bikes & Life Fitness equipment at the local YMCA; I never thought there was a downside to having a non-coded transmitter strap, but my wife was always a little less-than-enthused when her elliptical trainer workout would suddenly change intensity...it would pick up my heart rate & adjust accordingly. But...get that thing near any amount of water & you could guarantee a bad day...a guy who sweats a great deal should never use electronics which are not waterproof.

My most recent acquisition is the Garmin Forerunner 310 XT, which is a GPS unit with ANT+ compatible footpod for treadmill running, ANT+ wireless cadence meter for power estimation on the bicycle, & has, in my humble opinion, the most comfortable HR strap I've used. Oh, & I guess I should mention since it's built specifically for triathlon, it's waterproof. It has a battery life of about 20 hours, but how many people wear their HR receiver the entire day?

My wife will use gymnasium cardio machines, & keeps track of how hard she works by the pulse pads, but she absolutely hates the thought of having anything rub her chest or wrist...it irritates her (She rarely wears her ring, but we don't mind...) to no end. Even the Mio, which uses two finger pads on the monitor, was out of the question...definitely no good for cycling. I almost had her talked into trying out a Polar HR system a couple of years ago; it seems as though enough women complained about how difficult it was to wear a sports brassiere AND a heart rate monitor strap. The fine folks at adidas developed a running top which provided a modicum of support & a means for attaching the chest strap. But, as my wife likes to remind me, support wear is a personal thing, & one size does not fit all...it only fits one size.

Back to Polar, I've seen mostly their more inexpensive HR monitors, which tell the HR. Since my spin class had a bunch of these & my most recent HR monitor is not Polar compatible, I ended up using their strap. Functional, simple. Friends of mine have higher-end units: Polar is good at providing products with incremental increases in quality, features (and price). Their highest-end HR set-ups will tell you nearly everything you would need to know, work with programs like TrainingPeaks, & can help the individual athlete set up training plans.

But, if you're not going to figure out what that flashing number means you only have a couple more ounces of plastic, glass & gadgetry strapped to your body. Like I said before, the data is only as good as what you do with it, & what decisions you make because of it.

Monday, November 8, 2010

NPR Mornings

"...every day on the street I study their faces; the ones who rush on through the crowd, towards their own quiet worlds, their separate places, somewhere I'm never allowed; 'cause I've always been one to say what I need, then the next thing it's done and I'm watching 'em leave, and I'm thinking, 'I wish I could be alone but not lonely...'" - Mary-Chapin Carpenter (2001)

...so, a week out from what initially was to be my target fall half-marathon, I decided to take what I like to call an "NPR morning." Now, for me, NPR means two different things: National Public Radio, or No Planned Run. Depending on the weather conditions it can be both, but it definitely means a large part of the morning spent with coffee, thick tomes of "mindless reading," & Suzanne. If the weather is beautiful there can be a run plugged in on the front end. If not, then I climb into my sweats or warm-ups, make a large pot of coffee & turn on the stereo to listen to our local public radio station. This time the weather was pretty, save for the sudden drop in temperature. We decided to go to the coffee-and-baked goods joint at the mall.

Minutes after we settled into our booth I saw a local runner/coach walk in, bundled up post-run in his warm-up outfit. I got up to refilll my coffee as he ordered a pecan sweet roll at the counter. I walked up & said: 'you realize that stuff will kill you, right?' He responded with much the same kind of retort I would have given in his position: 'since I ran 6.8 miles this morning I think I'll be fine, thanks.' We chatted for a few moments, then I went on to get my coffee.

A couple of minutes later he stopped by our table, presumably on the way home. My wife asked how the Sunday morning run group he headed up was faring; he mentioned the past couple of weeks were good, but that this week was a little on the light side.

She said, 'how light?'

He said, 'one. It was only me this morning.'

I can sympathize with his situation. I've run with large groups of people & I've trained solo. I cannot say I like one state more than the other; depending on the day, the weather, my mood, & my physical state, I can absolutely dig a group run...or a group run can be akin to nineteenth-century dentistry. It's kind of the reason I keep my iPod charged up & ready; in spite of the potential dangers of blasting Kanye West into my skull at half-volume while cruising the road behind the local airport, the music does what a good running companion would also accomplish.

"Iron sharpens iron, So one man sharpens another." - Proverbs 27:17, New American Standard Bible (1995)

While Suzanne has learned to suck it up & run solo, she often wishes for my own sake that I had a regular training partner. I could & would gladly accept a runner who runs anywhere from my pace to a solid minute per mile slower, if nothing else but for the "easier" effort days. If there's someone running with you, especially someone a little slower, you're more likely to back off the intensity to meet their effort. Since the end of the summer, I've been blessed with a couple of good athletes during my twice-weekly track workouts. Their efforts keep me honest, & mine theirs. But they have their own weekend training & work schedules, so I don't have company on the long run I would truly enjoy.

There's plenty of opportunity to make excuses - want to go to the beach, for a drive, to sleep in, to spend time with family - when the days are perfect. Then, before you know it, you've got a bunch of those "too-days." "Too-days" are those days when it is too hot, too cold, too windy, too dark, too early, too late, etc., to go run. The best way to not get sucked into those "too-days," I've mentioned before, also has to do with two - train with an additional two persons. A training triad of three accounts for the inevitable need to take care of something else which has suddenly popped up in one person's life, yet keeps the remaining two members accountable to each other.

Those "NPR mornings" are a nice way to earn what my friend (and Marathon Nation coach) Patrick McCrann calls "spousal approval units" (more on this topic at a later date) & treat your body to a little extra (planned or unplanned) rest, both of which which can make all the difference in your training regimen.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Beware of Human: Winter Training Tips For Drivers and Driven (Runners)


I enjoy the autumn - comfortable temperatures, dry air, pumpkin & spice everything - but I also have to be on my best behavior as a motor vehicle operator & as a runner on the roads. My wife often points out pedestrians for me; the ones crossing in the center of the roadway, half a block from a lighted crosswalk, by calling out "human being, human being..." Nine-to-ten times out of ten I notice them before she does, & cannot help but marvel at the abject foolishness of a human pedestrian, jaywalking in darkness, doing their finest "stealth bomber" imitation. What is it about wearing black or subdued gray that makes otherwise seemingly sensible pedestrians want to do something stupid, like not use a signal-lit crosswalk at night?


These thoughts crossed my mind again yesterday evening after a truncated tempo run on Pensacola Beach. If not for the overcast conditions we probably had fifteen minutes of daylight; it was definitely past twilight once I began to walk a 600-meter cool-down back to my car. A running friend, Walt, chatted about the quickly-darkening conditions as I changed into a long-sleeved t-shirt. We both considered ourselves lucky; traffic on the beach was light because of the weather conditions & darkness. We knew it was high time to adapt some of our favorite mid-week running. "I guess it doesn't matter whether you're in the right as a runner," said Walt. "Even if you are, the car always wins on account of sheer weight."


My wife and I have been in a twilight automobile collision, on the way to a track workout, which injured both of us; her more so. The accident taught me a hard lesson about defensive driving. Why is night driving so dangerous? Insurance companies & motor vehicle bureau statistics say one obvious answer is darkness. We have a harder time judging distance, color, & objects in our periphery, add to this our need to adapt to growing darkness during twilight hours (maybe even the stress of work & a rush to get home)...danger, danger, Will Robinson. Honestly, I can tell you my vision isn't what I'd like it to be...disorders like macular degeneration, which come as a result of aging, can wreak havoc on night vision. If you're over forty it's probably affected you, too.


As a result of that one accident, I've adapted many of my driving routes from work to home, from home to workouts, & even the routes on which I train. Ample street lighting is almost a mandatory item for me if I'm in an area where motor vehicle traffic can be accessed. I also try to avoid routes where darkened side streets, blind corners, parking lots which are situated lower than the running or training surface can cross my path. My mid-week run is on a barrier island with relatively few cross streets, so I don't have to adapt much there.


Sometimes, though, your workout may need to be moved to a time where there is ample daylight. If you can't move the workout, and it's dark, be certain to run either on a path or on the edge of the roadway which faces approaching traffic.


Autumn runners (or cyclists, for that matter) should take advantage of clothing items which have large reflective patches, stripes, spots - or are completely reflective on their own accord. Some clothing manufacturers have materials which are neon bright & cannot be missed...unless the driver of the motor vehicle wants to miss it. Also think about flashing clip-on lights, headlamps, & small flashlights. If you don't want to wear reflectorized or lighted items, light-colored clothes are a nearly-acceptable alternative...but I like something which sends light back in the general direction of the driver. Some people may disagree with me on this, but I used to wear yellow or amber-tinted glasses during darker conditions - it helped not only to keep down some of the glare of high beams (we'll talk more about that) but also to keep wind & grit out of the eyes. It's difficult to see in the dark when your eyes are closed half of the time.


While you're thinking about how to be seen as a runner, you might want to consider enhancing your ability to see as a driver on the road. Clean headlights, tail lights, signal lights & windows at least once a week, and replace them as soon as you learn one is out (Is that a motorcycle or a large truck? You can only answer that one wrong once.). Make certain your windshield wipers & any rear wipers are in good condition. I would even recommend using window defogging/rain repellant products, such as Rain-X. Turn your headlights on at dusk to help other drivers see you. Don't drive with the high-beams on unless you are in a very dark area & you're driving at high speed. And please, don't flash those high-beams at an approaching runner.


I've often complained, ranted, railed & beat the drum about the dangers of running with headphones, especially at races. I do wear headphones - when running solo, in broad daylight, out of the general path of automobile drivers. When I do, I keep my volume down & my head on a swivel for approaching bicycles, pedestrians & hazards. A large dog once joined me on a run while I was wearing headphones. I had no clue until I looked off to my right and saw him. Big dog. Very big dog. Thank heavens he was "friendly," taught me a lesson. So, if you have to have music while running, keep the volume as low as possible. If I can hear your music 12 feet away from your head, the volume is probably too loud. But that's another rant altogether.


For drivers, it's painfully obvious that to drink & drive borders on insanity. However, drinking & driving is a leading cause of accidents – including night driving accidents. The next big culprit to add to the list of hindrances & distractions which can cause an accident would be cell phones. Military bases have forbidden the use of cell phones without hands-free operation, so I learned early on to check messages or make calls while sitting in the parking lot. I can almost justify a brief "I'm at this location & on my way" phone call while driving, but I've seen animated ten-minute-plus conversations going on in the heart of town, while driving thirty miles per hour. Scared me to death. I shouldn't even have to complain about how dangerous text messaging, e-mailing & web surfing is on some of the newer smart phones. It's not smart phones which cause accidents, just dumb drivers.


So, as the leaves turn brown & the sky becomes gray, begin to think about your fellow man, whether they are a pedestrian, a runner, or a motor vehicle operator. It's all karmic - doing right by your fellow road user can lead to safe & sane road use for everyone.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Sock It To Me - Where Should I Use Compression Wear?


"...don't criticize what you can't understand..." - "The Times, They Are A-Changin'" - Bob Dylan (1964)


I am a late adopter. I hold a particularly wary attitude toward the newest, brightest, & latest. It's not that I prefer to be the grouchy curmudgeon who "just won't get with the program." More often than not I'm the guy who calmly stares at the smoldering ruin of the next "greatest thing since the invention of sliced bread" & like the young man in Rudyard Kipling's "If," 'stoops to build them using worn-out tools.' When it comes to technology I wait for the second model year, the 2.0, the next version. That second year is always a plus; the (inevitable) "bugs" from the initial release have been worked out & the degree of sticker shock is often much lower and less painful.


I first saw compression stockings, sleeves & hosiery during my initial fling with triathlon. I couldn't wrap my head around the idea of people running 13.1 miles in the 90-degree heat of Panama City, FL, in black knee-length stockings immediately after riding 56 miles, immediately after swimming 2215 yards. I didn't know anybody who could explain the benefits; none of my closest (Ironman) triathlon-participating friends wore the stockings (but, after reading the research, I'm wondering whether I needlessly endured post-race trauma). Therefore, I made the conscious decision to speak neither well nor ill of wearer or garment until I had ample opportunity to try them out for myself.


Thank you, Road Runners Club of America. Thank you, Sigvaris. The Sigvaris/RRCA study was simple enough: Receive a pair of compression socks, run a 10k, wear the socks as part of the recovery protocol, write down your findings. In return I'd receive a second pair of compression socks.


Amazingly enough, as bad as I felt after the 10K (a week after Ironman 70.3 New Orleans), my legs did not feel all the worse for wear while I wore the socks. I now wear the socks during Sunday afternoons sitting around the house, or under a pair of jeans or slacks if I go out on Sunday. Sorry, I draw the line at tackiness during recovery, so no long socks with shorts (unless a pair of German "lederhosen" & I'm going to beer fest) in public. In fact, with a couple of weeks left in my training cycle for a target half-marathon, I've pulled the socks out for workplace wear. Everything feels good this afternoon.


My gosh, I've become my grandfather.


But the jury is still out - at best inconclusive - on running in compression stockings. One of my athletes, a 28 year-old male, started to wear his 2XU calf compression sleeves at track workouts. Again, the "speak neither well nor ill" tactic works best when one wears the "Coach" hat. If they work for Allan, then so be it. It appears that many runners who wear compression sleeves or socks while running feel more comfortable with them on, even if there are few notable benefits during the run.


But researchers in Europe & the US have seen the benefits of compression clothing once they are worn during recovery. The compressive wear decreased the amount of exercise-induced muscle damage, which probably continues during the immediate post-exercise period. Garment wearers were less likely to complain of perceived muscle soreness, & there was less incidence of creatine kinase in the blood (a marker of muscle damage) during the 48-hour period following a run. While there was only one study which alluded to improved run performance with compression socks, the majority of studies did find an improvement in follow-on run performance after recovering with the socks.


So, I've come to see the light about compression wear, but it's going to take a little bit of time before I'm brave enough to be seen in public in a pair of compression socks. Perhaps they won't be so easily noticed if I wear them with a pair of long tights instead of shorts.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

I Got A Feeling Somebody's Watching Me



I think it was a Thursday evening about a week ago. I had crawled off the couch & headed to bed after an evening at the track & my late-week recovery protocol of rehydrating, eating dinner, and watching Travel Channel's "Man vs. Food." I love "MvF": Some of the items Adam Richmond encounters can be enough to make me want to eat...or not. More often than not, it's eat. Suzanne hates the show, however; she believes the challenges glorify gluttony. However, I consider Richmond an object lesson in how NOT to live my life - on the edge of a heart attack. I do keep a mental checklist of the dining establishments he visits for future business travels.

Suzanne was watching YouTube videos while I engaged in vicarious voraciousness. She pointed out an interesting video analysis of the running form of American and Kenyan marathoners a mutual friend of ours sent her. I took a look at it the following weekend, after another friend sent me the link via e-mail. The front end of the video explained a sub-two-hour marathon could be run by an American marathoner if they were to become more biomechanically efficient, specifically in the amount of vertical travel taken during each stride, the range of motion of the hips & the angle of the foot as it strikes the road surface.

I'll agree to a certain degree that biomechanical efficiency (an observable variable) is a very important aspect of good road racing, but it's not the only important aspect. Cardiovascular fitness, thermal regulation, hydration, nutrition, mental conditioning - some measurable & observable variables, others hypothetical constructs - can all be included as necessary cards in a "winning hand" for distance runners.

But the greatest runners in the world can be sidelined by poor nutrition or hydration; Anthony Famiglietti, for example, was literally shut down by years of lousy diet & had to do a complete work-over in order to regain his competitive mojo. Steve Prefontaine didn't have the highest VO2 max score, but was still a dominant track runner, in the U.S. I bet you can probably think of a fellow runner who "crushes" workouts, yet folds like a house of cards when they toe the line on race day.

But, back to the video:

Later, a gentleman is administered a muscle manipulation, stretching, & massage treatment modality, after which he is sent out on the track to run 400 meters. He runs eight seconds faster than his personal best time for the 400. I don't want to "throw stones" at the company who developed the video, but an inquiring mind like mine thinks there are some confounding variables here. Did the gentleman in the video run faster directly because of the muscular and myofascial manipulation, or was this perhaps because someone was paying attention to his effort?

I'm no genius, but I vaguely recall from my Educational Psychology course/s back in college a little concept called the "Hawthorne Effect." For those who might not be familiar, there were some industrial psychology experiments done during the 1920s & 1930s which had to do with changing the lighting (brightness) in a Western Electric plant. The Hawthorne Effect suggests workers were more productive & more motivated because someone was taking an interest in their activity. I bet that little effect exists even within my own athletes.

For example, I cut my track workout short the previous Tuesday because my achilles' tendon & heel were began to ache. However, I had my athletes do the last two repeats of the set. One of them has the tendency to tighten her shoulders up & swing her arms a little wide; we work to relax & drop the shoulders at speed on a regular basis. As she came midway into the turn, about 125 meters into the repeat, she looked at me walking the opposite direction at the outside lane of the track. Immediately, her arms & shoulders relaxed & her pace increased slightly. I couldn't help but chuckle as I watched. I asked her about her form change at that point. She said, "yes, right about the time I saw you and heard your voice I knew to relax the shoulders."

"In fact, during the middle of the 5K we raced in late September I could hear your voice inside my head telling me to relax...especially during the first mile when you were still close by, & when I was approaching the turn-around on the course & could see you."

Sometimes it's the training, the technique, or the modality that helps the runner to improve. Other times it's the coach - or knowing the coach is nearby. And watching.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

S'weat's New?

Every once in a while I write something that upsets the few - outside of my immediate family and some close friends - who actually take the time to read this blog. Many of them overlook the caveat I shamelessly adapted from the blog of Canadian triathlete & two-time Olympic medalist Simon Whitfield: "Whatever is said here - as with any blog/"tweet"/mountain top announcement - is an opinion, a perspective, a rant, a cry for help; some innocent chest-thumping, painfully-inane humour, useless/useful banter and/or all of the above. Take all that is written within with the amount - grain, shake, shaker or entire box - of salt to make it palatable. Heck, you can even apply that to this disclaimer..." Today's thoughts may do exactly the same. However, these are my thoughts, supported (on many occasions) by reading, research & - at times - trial & error.

My body loves working out twice a day but my joints & tendons are too old to handle the cumulative stress of running on pavement for 60-to-70 miles a week. When I lived in Tampa I could drive 15-to-20 minutes from my home and run on dirt trails. However, I haven't seen trails like those where I now live, & I only get to run trails now when I travel up north. Thank heavens for Jay Yanovich at the gym on the base where I work, as well as my wife, Suzanne.

Jay is an ultrarunner & served as my strength coach in years past - he suggested using the elliptical trainer as a way to get that second workout without beating my achilles' tendons to death. My wife managed fitness centers in her younger days, she also knew the benefits of ellipticals. So when I've done a little too much on the pavement & I'm eating ibuprofen like candy I take a couple of days to do the elliptical at our local gym.

There are some people in this world who have high sweat rates. I'm one of them. The easiest warm-up leading into a workout or race can have me soaked within five minutes. When the comments begin, I often inform the source, "I sweat when I think." Naturally, when a person with a high sweat rate works out indoors on an exercise machine, all that sweat stays in one confined area. And when the workout is over the majority of my cool-down before going home is taken up by toweling down the machine & the area immediately surrounding.

The other day, the gym owner stopped to talk to me; I had just started my workout on one of the machines. "Mike, some folks have commented to me about your dedication & your effort, but they complain that you leave the machine soaking wet when you're done." I told him, "Ed, I wipe off the machine after every workout, believe me. I know what my sweat can do to machines...and electronics..." I - pun intended - stewed in my own juices for the 40 minutes of my workout, then walked to the office to get Ed's attention. I then showed him my exact post-workout wipe-down of the elliptical trainer. When I finished, I pointed to the footpads, which were still damp, & said, "This morning, the footpads were a little less damp than that, but everything else I showed you was the way I just wiped." Ed smiled, shook his head, & said: "Yes, I guess this is a gym, right?" The tone of his voice told me we were on the same page of sheet music.

I guess people look as critically at the way I work on machines as I look at the way they, um, don't work on the machines.

I marvel at elliptical trainer users who never get the RPM count above 60 per minute. I also marvel at users who never get their heart rate any higher than 50 percent of their maximum rate. And what really gets me spinning like a top is the user who decides to use the reverse pedaling workout. Really? Do you, when walking or running, go that slowly? Do you spend 15 to 20 minutes of your life continually walking or jogging in reverse? Unless you're an offensive lineman or a defensive back for the Saints I can't see any need for going in reverse on an elliptical trainer.

The objective of an elliptical trainer is to simulate the act of running without the potentially damaging impact. The most efficient runners, according to research done by Jack Daniels, Ph.D., & other coaches, have an average footstrike of 160-to-180 steps per minute...that's 80-to-90 RPM on the elliptical trainer.

I know the objective of most elliptical users is to burn fat rather than to maintain or build cardiovascular fitness, but most fat burning programs on the elliptical trainer are assuming a heart rate at least 50 percent of maximum heart rate. Ellipticals, for dinged-up runners like "yours truly," are used both to burn off that excess fat & to maintain or build the cardio. In that case, getting to 50 percent is not so much the issue...cardio enhancement needs a heart rate closer to 70 or 80 percent of maximum.

So, if you see me sweating all over an elliptical trainer, don't worry: I promise to wipe down everything that might potentially be touched by your skin. Now, let's talk about this time you're wasting on the machine, shall we?

Monday, October 18, 2010

One Toe Over The Line...


I went out and ran my first 5K road race in many months a couple of weeks ago. I needed to run a test 5K to assess my fitness level & adjust some of the training intensities, & the weather was just beginning to feel less like Florida. 'Why not?' I said to myself. I didn't perform anywhere near as well as I hoped, but it proved some things I already knew:

A four-week training vacation at the beginning of the summer is never a good idea.

Ten excess pounds does add an extra minute of time to an estimated 5K race performance.

Change...and inertia...can coexist.

Over a cup of coffee & breakfast with my wife & Walter, a local running friend, I took a thirty-minute analysis of what needed to be adjusted in my training & began to make a few small repairs (some of which are in earlier blog posts).

While running a tempo workout the other Wednesday, I passed an old friend. He caught up with me at the bar where we meet after the run & complimented me on how well I had been running lately. Randy loves racing 5K events; he'll not hesitate to jump in his truck & drive an hour so he can run for 25 minutes, then drink light beer for two hours.

From Labor Day to Thanksgiving, here in the Panhandle, there can be anywhere from one up to to three 5K races for a nearly unbroken string of weekends. It then eases off a little into the holiday season & kicks back into swing just after New Years' Day. Randy asked me where I planned to race this weekend. I had to tell him, 'nowhere, my friend.' Not that I don't like racing 5Ks.

When I first started racing, a 5K road race could leave me napping in the recliner for the remainder of the day. As I've matured...all right, aged...I've become more functional. Slower in my walk, but more functional.

About five or six years ago we had a large group of guys & gals who would meet to run at 6:00 a.m. on Sundays. The first mile usually would be kinder & gentler; most of the group were still waking up during that time. Inevitably the pace would pick up a little by the first incline. You could sometimes tell who had raced the day before. One of the guys, a fellow by the name of Gary, once told me it was not good training to race the day after a race. He used to tell me, "Mike, the day after a good race I like to go easy. The day after a bad race I like to go easy." Gary's "easy" the day after a race was often tougher than his race pace. Looking back at that statement & the source; it was one of those "things that make you go 'hmmm...'"

Once the guys (and the occasional chick!) forgot we left our bib numbers on the coffee table the previous afternoon & would begin to string out the group, my coach would have to remind me to not get "happy feet." It was a historical inevitability the front-running pace would eventually slack off. The group always reformed before the water stop at 40 minutes into the run.

Racing, when done right, is painful business. Even if you don't have a number on your chest.

What is it about pinning a bib number & toeing a line with a herd of runners that makes otherwise sane persons suddenly become brain-dead about how hard they need to run? I've often warned my athletes an "easy effort" on race day is almost impossible unless they're truly disciplined. Too many good potential 10K, half-marathon or marathon performances have been spit-canned by jumping into a 5K "just for fun."

The occasional race is a good thing. It serves as a social outlet, sharpens up a runner's skills, & lets them know exactly where they stand in the grand old pecking order of runners. But sometimes too much of a good thing can be harmful. My friend Betsy decided to run four...or five...marathons in a year about two years ago. When she asked what I thought about her running the fifth one that year I had to take a very deep breath and stifle the urge to shriek in horror: "Are you out of your mind!?"

There are several rules of thumb which ought to be followed, more or less, when it comes to recovery or hard training after a race:

1. A day of non-impact exercise or rest - I prefer rest - for every hour of racing.

2. A day of easy training efforts for every mile raced.

If you have developed a good base of training & love to do half-marathon distance races, you can probably segue into a 12-week cycle after a week or so. Marathoners can probably segue into a new 12-to-16 week cycle after two to three weeks.

As always - like Jiminy Cricket - let your conscience & your body be your guide.

Because it will tell you when you aren't following the rules.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

How Much Time To Run?


If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about the answers. "Gravity's Rainbow," Thomas Pynchon (1973)


Sometimes when an athlete comes asking a question, or makes a comment about something lacking in their training, they tend to present the question in the form of their own desired solution. People who love long runs will frame their question so the answer is more likely to be "long runs." People who like intemediate-to-long distance repeats will frame the question, hoping I will answer with their preference. However, there are more important questions which need to be asked when it comes to training.


I like to start by asking the person about the amount of time they can comfortably set aside for run training without drastically affecting their work, their personal life, the interests of their fellow family members. Available time also affects the body's ability to recover from training stress.


Work is the most obvious limitation when we talk about time constraints. Since our town has several military training bases I occasionally work with semi-accomplished post-college runners. Most of these young men & women don't need me to deal with the small details; just provide a few good workouts while they're in student status. Some are good recreational runners who want to stay fit and train for a few races. I usually remind them the life of a military student is well-filled once they start their course of instruction, but I've always made myself available to their needs. As for civilians, some employers are more willing to flex work hours than others - depending on the workplace, the interest of the boss, and the runner's work ethic. But then, sometimes the person works a specific shift or has to open or close the shop. It is what it is.


"Life," John Lennon said, "is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." There are things which are outside of the box of your control; traffic on the commute home from work, weather conditions, just to name two. There are things which you can plan for within reason, like school activities, religious observance (if you are so inclined), time for bonding with the family. And family, in my humble opinion, trumps (nearly) everything else, save for medical conditions. You, ideally, will be a runner for quite some time, but you will always be a parent, spouse, child, sibling. Your family members will be your first line of support in whatever you do, long after your coach or training partners have gone down the road.


Once the athlete can say how many hours they have available during the week to train, I can multiply by seven to give an "optimal" baseline number of miles/week. The optimal baseline, in my humble opinion, lets me recommend the longest distance the athlete should race as their goal event/s. I've been of the opinion runners can target three-to-six 5K races on a training volume of 25-to-30 miles a week. Training volume for two-to-three 10Ks per training cycle would be somewhere between 30-to-45 miles. Half-marathons or marathons would require anywhere "north" of 45 miles a week.


An important caveat: Just because a person has enough time to train for a race as long as a marathon does not mean they will have the physical ability to train for it. This is the dirty little secret many "Couch-to-Finish Line" programs don't enjoy speaking about. A friend of mine once coached a well-known program, and he saw too many first-year, really, just-off-the-couch, runners injure themselves during the program. I personally believe a runner should, if they are coming off the couch, race no longer than 10K during their first year. I wouldn't recommend anything longer than a half marathon until after at least two years of solid, consistent, injury-free training. It takes that long for the body to assimilate the stressors which come with run training.


So, what do I think needs to be part of a typical week of training?


Rest needs to be placed in the weekly training schedule, at least one day. There are some coaches who recommend a day of rest for every decade of life, starting with the 40s. So a guy like me who has been running for 16 years would probably benefit from 1-to-2 days of rest every week. I usually have at least a day or two days worth of cross-training during the week, but I listen to my body & sleep in or take a complete rest day when I'm feeling a little too beat-up.


Once a week, there should be a long run which takes up 20 percent of a runner's training mileage/time. Running coach Jack Daniels' recommends the long run to be no more than 2.5 hours, even as part of his marathon training protocols. I've always done my long run on Sunday morning, but some coaches, like Patrick McCrann of Marathon Nation, schedules his training plan long runs for Saturday, with a 40-minute run which focuses on skill & form for the next day.


I've tried the easy run on Sunday after a hard Saturday run & think it's pretty nice. That "kinder, gentler" run gives me a chance to run with less-experienced runners at a relaxed pace, socialize, & focus on my form.


During the middle of the week I schedule a "semi-long run" if training for half-marathon or marathon, or do a tempo run to work on race-day speed. This workout is usually sandwiched by a once-a-week speed workout which can be anything from fartlek, track repeats of 200, 300 or 400 meters at efforts ranging from just above aerobic to "See God" pace (that's a pace where if you took one more stride at that pace you would probably see God), or tempo run. The last piece I try to add works on strength. These can be hill repeats/bounding of 150, 200, or 300 yards at varied effort levels, or track repeats of 500-to-2400 meters.


There are important pieces of the training puzzle which need to be put into place, but you should first ask yourself honestly how big the puzzle can be before you begin to set the edges.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Big Plan B

*BEEP*

That was the low battery warning signal from my (formerly) trusty Garmin 310XT GPS receiver. The sound was immediately followed by a slight buzz, silence as the receiver shut itself off, & an unprintable comment from my mouth. I guess it wouldn't have been such a bad thing if not for the fact I was driving out to run a tempo run with a group on a Wednesday evening.

My wife asked, 'do you have a charger in the car?'

'My charger, unfortunately, is attached to my computer back at the house,' was my reply. As we continued the 20-minute drive I was stewing in my own juices of stupidity. I know I put the receiver on the charger the previous evening, so how could this be? I resigned myself to the thought of going out for what former triathlete (now triathlon coach) Chuck "Chuckie V" Veylupek calls a 'caveman run.' This would be an acceptable compromise. I took a deep breath, let it out, & returned to conversing with my wife about life, the universe, & everything. You know, the kind of stuff married couples talk about when there's nothing else to do...wink, wink, nudge, nudge...

My wife then pulled out her new smart phone to check her voicemail & realized her phone had been off all day. She had a little trouble turning the phone on & assumed the battery was dead. I managed to reset it, & then realized, 'hey, these smart phones have GPS. If I download a run mapping program (like iMapMyRun) I should be able to keep track of the pace I'm supposed to do for this tempo run.' So, with precious few minutes left before the group was scheduled to leave on the run I tried to download the software. However, I couldn't get WiFi or set up the phone in time to download. That's where the ability to "Plan B" a workout is a valuable skill.

When talking about training I repeatedly have borrowed the John Lennon song line: 'life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans.' This is so true as a runner or as a coach. I can lay out a training schedule in macro for 16, 18, 20 weeks out from a race, but more often than not it's going to get adapted, truncated, or...worst of all...pitched in the wastebasket as life takes hold of the stick & throttle. Even the micro level of an evening's (scheduled) track workout gets adapted; heavy cranes & lighting equipment, soccer matches & "facility fascists" can take up part or all of the track & leave an inexperienced (or unprepared) runner - or coach - wondering what to do as a "Plan B."

While in a two-year internship with the Navy I spent periods of time ranging from two weeks to two months at training commands. The assignments had the obvious drawbacks of living out of a suitcase, with access to hotel treadmills, & so on. But I learned how to adapt my training to the conditions. During a two-week assignment to Orlando I learned that light poles along this nice long stretch of road near my hotel were set at approximately 50 yards. So, all I had to do was count the number of light poles for my interval workouts; run three at 5K pace, walk one to recover, repeat six times, jog eight poles...I'm certain you get the message.

Frank Shorter once was quoted as saying 'hills are speed work in disguise.' So, running up a section of hill or bridge for a period of time (or distance, if you know it!), then jogging easy or walking down can provide a great workout. A 300-yard hill near the track facility where we train has three points marked on it; if a soccer match is going to keep us off the track for most or our entire workout I can always go down the hill. Sometimes the soccer matches are not interrupting; I'll do a set on the hill just to break up the monotony.

Training by perceived effort for a long enough period can help a runner develop a sense of pace; after a while you know what a nine-minute per mile pace feels like, as well as an eight-minute pace, & so forth. The most important thing in understanding pace sense is to know how a particular pace FEELS. I always marveled at my coach's pace sense when we would go out on easy runs during the weekend. I had purchased my first heart rate monitor/foot pod combination & was geeking out checking our pace during one run. He asked me at one point what my heart rate was; I looked at my wrist, then told him, to which he replied, 'yeah, I figured that. We're at the right pace.' Sometimes, it is safer to not ask how they do it. They just do it. I've got a few paces pretty well nailed down after eight years of training by perceived effort, so I can tell how hard I'm working give or take a few seconds now.

But I don't have a good sense of time, with the exception of swimming in a pool. I can tell you exactly how long it takes me to swim 50 or 100 yards, even though it feels like forever, give or take a second. (It must have to do with that love of oxygen.). So when it comes to running a particular period of time at a particular pace I'm doomed if I don't have a watch. So rather than the planned tempo workout of eight minutes at the pace I need to run a half marathon, two minutes easy, eight minutes at threshold, two minutes easy - repeated twice - I had to adapt. I decided to count telephone poles; eight at moderate effort, two easy, eight at hard effort, two easy, repeat until the end.

Adapting a workout to meet life's demands: So simple, even a caveman - or a smart runner - can do it.