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.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

When Your Local "Mom & Pop" Store Ain't Making The Cut

I grew up in a small town in southern New Mexico, 35 miles north of the Mexican border; a solid hour's drive from two university towns & a two-hour drive from a third. When I first moved there in the early 1970s we had a couple of small department stores, a Sears & Roebuck outlet, & a Montgomery Ward outlet to choose from when it was time to shop for clothing or durable goods. By the time I left home there was a K-Mart providing a choice to folks when it came time to comparison shop.



Wanting a big-ticket, major-brand item usually meant either you hoped the local store had it in stock, you took a major (one-day) road trip to Las Cruces or El Paso, or you ordered it through the catalogs & hoped for the Postal Service to do their thing. Thus, I grew up accepting a slightly less-distinguished brand name to support hometown merchants. More often than not, these merchants knew to do right by you, lest you take your business to the catalog outlet or drive to the big city. And you noticed local merchants would keep their business in town as much as possible.

Moving here has been like being in my home town, but with the internet added. I lived in Tampa for 16 years, & had no lack of shopping malls, booksellers & sporting goods purveyors; specialty stores of every type in which to spend my hard-earned dollar. As a small-town guy who never really lost the "spend less if you can" gene instilled during his youth, I would hit the "mom & pop" stores first, then go to the major chains as a next resort...if I really needed the item.Sometimes, a visit into those big stores could make you feel like you were an interruption in their day; if you weren't a top shelf musician or athlete (of which I was NOT) you weren't getting the attention of some clerks, even if you had your AMEX stapled to your forehead. To a lesser degree, some of the "mom & pops" would treat you that way...but if you were smart you knew you could raise your voice, & let them know "I chose to come here rather than go to such-and-such, so you better appreciate my business, damn it."

I've shamelessly plugged stores who have done right by me. I've also shunted friends to alternatives when the stores haven't done right by them. When I've recommended another store it's come with a certain degree of loss to my reputation, because I like to think I know the best place to purchase stuff.

Fortunately for me, and a few of my friends, when the local "mom & pop" decides to not do right we have the internet to back us up. If you're willing to do a little bit of research or play around on a few web sites you can sometimes find what is the best deal...and go back to the recalcitrant "mom & pop" with some ammunition, to say, "I can get this for this much at such-and-such a place, so you better do right by me, damn it."

Four on-line examples I want to recommend:

First of all...there's nothing like eBay. Talk about a place where capitalism is at its best...& its worst. You can find deals there...and you can get screwed there. But you also can find out what comparable items have been sold for in the past, as well as find out how reputable the seller is. If their rating numbers are low, tread carefully. If there's a reserve, odds are good you aren't going to get a good deal. I have several staple items on search, so I receive an e-mail almost daily of stuff for which I show an interest.

Amazon.com has a great search engine, where you can find electronics, books, music, computers, videos, & so on. They were pretty much the first one with "intelligent search" algorithms, which would recommend "stuff" to you based on your interests. A kinder, gentler form of "suggestive selling."

If you're looking for books, especially the ones which are out of print or you're willing to settle for used, abebooks.com has a search engine from hell. I found an Australian reprint of John Parker Jrs.' "Once A Runner" for 1/6th of the cost of a beat-up first printing. Reads just the same.

Shoes of all kinds can be found at Zappos.com. Not only can you find great stuff there at reasonable prices, but their shipping is free...well, I know there's nothing that's really free, but the shipping charge is hidden well within the cost of the shoe.

So, when "mom & pop" have decided to disown you, or at the least treat you like you're a red-headed stepchild, you do have a recourse.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

ManBearPig Has Left The Building...

...I'm super serial! Well, I would have rather started this with a comment; in fact, I think I will. This last fortnight (that's a two-week period for those of you who graduated from a high school in Florida) has made me want to scream the same words I was greeted with by my friend Betsy when we showed up for Jackson Day, some 40 days ago...
Global warming, my @$$.
Of course, I'm certain the recent temperatures haven't cooled the ardor of my NOLA friends for their Mardi Gras celebrations, which would have taken place yesterday. Ever wonder what the difference would have been between if the Saints hadn't won the NFL championship & the way things are? According to what I recall from NPR, the city was going to celebrate, win or lose.

You have to love a city that can plan a parade in nothing flat. Ask my friend Betsy.
Now that we are in the Olympic fortnight there's plenty of sport to watch on the television. This can be a good thing if your training is focused on indoor stuff, like treadmills & elliptical trainers. I don't care what's on...it could be curling & I'd watch. I kind of draw the line at ice skating & ice dancing.

But, if you're doing track workouts & long road runs in preparation for a longer target event, say a marathon or a half-marathon in the next two weeks to a month...you fight the seemingly irrational desire to watch men beating each other with sticks (My joke term for ice hockey, a sport I have loved since I was old enough to watch televised games...thanks, Dad!) or chicks on ice (luge - as Robin Williams joked, let's not even talk about the two-man luge...'boys, get a room...'). I tip my (stocking) hat in the general direction of the folks who get out in the chill to plod out lap after lap on the track at the university...in the dark. Every time I see a jogger step onto the track & immediately go into what I would call a flamingo stretch I wait to see whether they're going to crash @$$-over-tin cup to the surface. There are easier ways to stretch that quadriceps, dude.

There's where the spinning instructors could teach joggers a thing or two; use the bench as a stretching aid, & don't stretch far beyond your range of motion.
Giving up anything for the next 40 days? Steven, Beverly & I started talking a little about it on the way home from Auburn Masters...obliquely. The discussion was more about cutting back on beer intake in the hope to drop a little extra weight. I go from no beer an evening to two or three an evening every couple of days. Perhaps a little consistency - one or two a night rather than zero, then three or more, then zero - might be a better thing. It's hard to say, & difficult to forecast; especially when you have friends who love the hop.

However, there are two things I want to drop off the buffet tray altogether, & this time period might not be a bad on in which to give it a jump start. I talked before about wanting good ab days; the goal was to put french fried anything on the verboten list. So, I'll be mourning for Mickey D's best offering, & Sonic's tater tots, as well as any other french fry-like products, until Easter. I was able to cut out mayonnaise this way a long time ago (I do mayo every so often, but not like I used to!); perhaps I can moderate or elminate my lust for pommes frites. Soda pop is also ix-nay, but it's small potatoes since I drink maybe 24 ounces a week of the stuff...at the most.
So, maybe lenten resolutions are little more than a re-resolve on the part of many folks; a mini resolution, or a step toward the inevitable new years' ones we consistently fail & try (Typed 'tri' the last time...am I thinking about the multisport thing, or what? What would Freud have to say?) over & over again.

What do you think? Is it better to try, fail, & re-try...or remain content with the status quo? I put my money on trial, screw-it-up, & do it again.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

An "Ask Coach" Moment - Can You Hear Me Now?

I usually take a week off or so after running a half-marathon, then start another training plan from the beginning. I was thinking on the long drive home yesterday from the Surf City Half it would make more sense to take off a few days & start where the training plan ended. I think I've told you I had used Hal Higdon's beginner plan, just increasing the speed at which I train.
What if I started back in at week eight or nine instead of going back to week one & starting over? That way I can do more long runs &, most likely, be in even better shape when event time comes around? I also thought about trying the Hanson's training plan you showed me.
Oh yeah, I need to really make an effort to quit going out so fast & burning myself out. I planned to go out at a consistent 9:00/mile pace at Surf City. I looked at my watch at 5 miles & noted I was running 8:15-8:20/mile. Naturally, I felt like $#!+ when I got to mile 10, 11, 12. The "rule of thumb" usually is a day of no running for every hour, & a day of no hard training for every mile for the event. So, a couple of days of walking or elliptical after a half, followed by the next eight to ten days of easy running is usually a good recovery. After the recovery period I would look at what the next target event is going to be & structure your plan accordingly...working from the end backward. If you don't have an event planned, then I would either use the sixth week of a training plan as a baseline, or figure out how much time you can commit to run training without adversely affecting the rest of your life. I bet if you look at all the other aspects of your life you've probably let some work things slide, some family things slide and some other responsibilities go on the back burner. This would be the time to go back and mend those fences. The good thing is that you trained for a half-marathon, which doesn't take nearly the time/effort a good marathon training cycle does.

Reverting to a baseline training week, even at a lower intensity, will allow your body to recover from the past 10-to-12 weeks of training. Remember, racing (especially racing long) is NOT natural; you're putting damage on your body above & beyond normal fitness running. The hardest thing to learn - I've dealt with it way too many times over the past seven years of coaching myself & others - is pace discipline. For an example, I went out 6:05/6:07 for the first two miles of the last half-marathon I raced in Dayton, OH. When I hit mile two I knew it was a choice between backing off a notch or dying a horrible death at mile 10. I managed to back off the pace for the next four-to-five miles. If not for the fact I was just outside of the top-20 I would have maintained that pace & "mailed it in." However, I wanted to finish in the top-20; I hammered (suffered!) the next six miles to catch a couple of guys in front of me - at mile 12 - & stayed strong until the last mile (actually entering the stadium parking lot) where everything went to hell...but I ran a personal best of 1:23:45.
A good way to deal with the "go out hard early, feel like $#!+ late" syndrome would be to do something like the Yasso 800 workout once every couple of weeks...but cut the distance in half for the sake of half-marathoning:
Go out & do the typical warm-up for your workout. I have my folks do a mile easy, recover for a couple of minutes, then another easy mile, recover a minute, then 10x100 striders to warm-up.
The workout is 10 x 400, with 400 jog recovery - goal pace for the 400s should be the target time for your half. So if you want to go 1hr 50min for the half, do the 400 in 1:50. If you go out too hard you're probably going to feel really good for the first five, then friggin' DIE by eight or nine. Jog an easy 400 after, with 10x100 striders to cool down.
You'll learn your lesson after a couple of those workouts. I had one of my guys do a few Yasso 800 workouts in the last month leading up to the FirstLight Marathon in Mobile. The first time he ran them he went 10-15 seconds too fast for the first 800, & everything fell off after that...to the point where his last one was barely on time & he was hurting big. The next time I told him to remain on his goal pace; he felt like the first ones were too easy, but managed to keep all of them on goal. He developed the patience & pace discipline to go out comfortably in the first 10K, & subsequently ran a Boston Qualifying time.
The workouts weren't the key, only part of a good training plan...and a well-executed race plan.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The REAL Priorities

One nice thing about taking a vacation, especially in a place much different than where you live, is the opportunity to look critically at things without having to deal with them immediately.

There you go again, Bowen, failing to make sense.

What I mean is that it gives you a chance to put things into (a more proper) perspective. You realize what is important, what needs to stay unchanged, what cannot be changed, and what must be changed. Oh, and you figure out what isn't so important, too.

While looking at what could be tweaked and what needed to be tossed, I started to read a little more from an Endurance Nation coach. Pat McCrann posted on his blog Five Fit Life Commandments (You don't have to be a tri-geek to appreciate his common-sense approach to training. If you're a time-crunched athlete his ten-hours-a-week approach to endurance sport may save you some grief around the house or the workplace.), which I want to touch on in brief. If you want the details, go to the link I posted above.

#1 — Plan From The Ground Up - Right off the bat, McCrann tells me to toss my copy of Triathlete's Training Bible (at least for calculating annual training hours and trying to divide time over mesocycles) off to the side. There are all those things we are (son, husband, grandfather, worker, friend, coach, race director, course measurer, national organization rep, and so on...) and do outside of the 9-to-12 hours a week (for me, that much; for you, perhaps more...or less) we've set aside for running, cycling, swimming, cross-training. Training for my unsuccessful crack at IM FL last year I found the undivided support of my wife, my friends, and not a small amount of understanding from my boss, to be elemental to me making it to the starting line. I got beat up during the swim and melted down, but I learned what it takes to get to the starting line (and I'll be smarter next time!). Take away the five hours in the emergency department, and I can say it was an enjoyable week with my wife...I believe she would say the same.

#2 — Focus on Fun & Challenging Activities - I had 70.3 NOLA already on the 2010 schedule, and hadn't started the 2009 IM assault. Not the wisest idea looking from the forward, but it was probably the tonic I needed after IM FL. For me, a 70.3 is challenging, and fun; definitely an achievable distance within the constraints of my training and abilities. My wife told me she wanted to start running half-marathons again, and asked whether I would help her prepare for a half in New Orleans. Since the half was six weeks out from the 70.3, I figured it was the perfect training run/trip for me too; we have close friends in the area and it's a two hour-ish drive from our home...close enough for comfort, not so far we have to draw a major itinerary. For giggles, we did a 9K about seven weeks out from the half, also in NOLA. The road and climate conditions were great preparation for the half...and it served as a great excuse to get out of town after the holiday season. We're runners; we like these kind of trips...they beat her business travel.

#3 — Create A Basic Training Week - There are certain things etched in stone; work schedule, runs with other groups, swim practices. Oh, then you have real life, too. After a couple of years, and a year of experimenting with some other activities, I finally have a week laid out that I can accomplish, training-wise, consistently across a year regardless of seasonal and external commitments. McCrann mentioned that this is a baseline - something which seemed obvious. However, he mentions the idea of personal/social/professional capital stored since training has not been a constant drain on other areas of life. Deja vu Stephen McCovey's emotional bank account.

#4 — Integrated Nutrition & Recovery - something I've had a difficult time in learning, but getting better as I age...and recovery takes longer and is more necessary. I might love beer, but I also realize the alcohol in it hampers the development of human growth hormone, and makes me feel like I've been beaten about the head, shoulders, and upper torso with a big stick the next morning. Funny, I did not put this calculation together until the other morning; awakening on a Saturday after Friday night's (beer-free!) dinner with the daughter-in-law and grandkids...and feeling good. Changing my training schedule to place the lower impact activities in the morning and the running in the afternoon also lets me balance work with recovery.

#5 — Well-Organized External Commitments - Changing the workout a couple of mornings a week allows me to shower at home, rather than dragging my work clothes and shower items to work, worrying about where to store the wet, smelly shoes, and - worst of all - forgetting the shoes/socks/belt/skivvies/brush and feeling miserable about my appearance the remainder of the work day. Usually, the first 60 minutes of the day is taken up with e-mail and electronic posting of stuff which lands in my personal in-box and is forwarded; I'm already checking e-mail for work so this is giving me a second read. I spend less time punching up stuff on the computer on my time.

Of course, when you leave vacation world and come back to the real world, you have to execute the plan of action you drafted in your mind, or scribbled on a napkin at Cheeseburger Waikiki, or typed up on your laptop during that (seemingly) endless flight from Honolulu to Atlanta. There's where the trial/error/trust thing comes in. Give it a try...make certain to give enough time to see if things are really working...and adapt accordingly.