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, March 25, 2010

Two Runners Go Into A Pizza Joint...

...and were in one of those moods you get in after an entertaining week in the world which surrounds us. Yep, only more proof of the existentialist assertion we live in a world gone mad. So, right off the bat my (out-of-town runner) buddy & I are discussing health care, especially the lack of civility which crept into the debate, & definitely has shown in the aftermath of the bill passage. We're both pretty well aligned in the socioeconomic realm, in spite of our divergent belief structure (We've both taken the same side of a religious argument or two in the past couple of years, too - one of His Chosen People & one of His Red-Headed Stepchildren, tag-teaming...who knew?).
His solution to a contentious issue relating to womens' health was fairly entertaining; a variation of an old friend's recommendation for people who failed a basic civics examination (My friend was willing to limit to that and revocation of ones' right to participate in the electoral process. I would have added a mandatory two-year C-SPAN and PBS-only cable package in the mix, just to provide remediation somewhere.). Of course, the veterinary term (used in the comic above) was the term we both used as the solution...which when you're dehydrated, glycogen-depleted & fairly well stoopid after a mid-week run...sounded humorous to us & probably offensive as heck to the rest of the public immediately around.Ah, but what do they know? Most of 'em were busy on their cell phones, trying to find answers to trivia questions. And perhaps some day the name/s of some of the screaming pundits will be little more than the answer to a trivia question for my grandchildren.

So there's no real variation from settlement to settlement along the Gulf Coast, huh? I would have never thought Port Aransas looked anything like our barrier island. Of course, when I was in Texas I had no desire whatsoever to be near the beach or a large body of water. I was in the Air Force; if I wanted to be near lots of water I would have joined the Navy, right? The irony is that now I've been with the Navy longer than I was with the Air Force...thanks for the reminder, amigo. But he's been working with the Air Force for the past two or three years...high time for him to get back on something big and gray and... And then, there was that thing on ESPN last night...saw it briefly...and I have to agree with the cartoon below.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Keeping Track Of "Stuff"

MEMO TO SELF: Make certain to finish Census paperwork. Yes, I know it only consists of ten questions...at least according to the government propaganda (sorry, advertising). But there are so many other things I have to do...and I thought my wife completed one for us the other day. Alas, it was not so. So, in order to spare some part-time government-worker (now there's a double oxymoron!) the potential pain of seeing me in-between workouts, dripping sweat or pool water (Which is more frightening, all: me in race-cut running shorts all sweaty, or me in a Speedo? Personally, I'll take me in the Speedo.), I guess I better take the time to (as in the classic Cheech & Chong routine) zign ze paperz, olt mahn...
Seriously, who has time to keep track of all the important stuff which needs to be accomplished? It's bad enough I spend up to twelve hours a week running, swimming, bicycling, or elliptical training...add to that the amount of time it takes to get there & back (unless on the indoor trainer), make myself presentable to the rest of the human race (my aging but loving d-a-w-g cares not whether or not I stink; my ageless & loving wife a little less so), & then...keep track of what I did, how long I did it, what shoes I wore, how high my heart rate was on average...you know the drill.

Then my wife wonders why I spend so much time on the computer.
I'm glad much of the stuff (nearly) automatically downloads from my go-go-Garmin 310XT gadget. So far it has been rather reliable; a couple of hiccups here & there, but after you provide the obligatory thirty second blue-streak-o'-questionable language & reset the booger you're pretty much good to go.

The challenge, however, is to know what all those numbers you're collecting really mean in the grand scheme of things. Does knowing your average heart rate for bike rides over 20 miles provide you any insight into how you're going to perform on race day? Or, does your average run pace on the Wednesday evening run foretell your half-marathon time? It may, & it may not. Sometimes when race day arrives you have to put the unimportant data off to the side & look more closely at the important stuff: How far do I have to go? How much harder can I go? Have I gone too hard already?
Yes, we can suffer temporary (or permanent) paralysis by analysis because we're too busy crunching numbers to race or train like a Jedi: Trust your feelings, young pad'wan learner. Get too tightly tied up in the minutiae of the training plan; go this duration at that power, then follow it with...aarrgghh. What in heaven's name did we do before heart rate monitors, power meters & other technological training wheels?

There's a place for all this good stuff, as long as you know the physiological feedback which equates to the number: What does an eight-minute mile on the run, or a 1:30 for 100 yards in the swim, or a 20-mile-per-hour speed when you're in big ring/small cog feel like? 'Cause, what do you do on the race day when your battery dies, or the numbers aren't matching up with the ones for which you were hoping?
At that point you have two choices: panic, or have fun. For most of us this was never meant to be work, & it never should be. In my own case, the day endurance sport begins to look, smell, feel, act or taste like work...that's the time to find something else with which to fill the void in my personal calendar.

Why should being a tri-geek or a runner, or a swimmer be like work? There are times my father has marveled at the stuff I do (writing & all that good stuff), because the best stuff gets done during the moments I manage to shoehorn (or crowbar) out of the middle of my work day. Yes, I do get "stuff" done there...probably because I don't spend as much time keeping track of it.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Please, Sir, Should I Have Some More?

Again, this is going to start with one of those 'so, there I was...' moments.

It was my first day back in the pool after taking about three days off...hacking up hairballs which would make my veterinarian friend's herd of cats (not necessarily the ones her husband herds on a daily basis) jealous can make you strongly consider that...and reconsider it after a hairball makes you shut a track workout down 30 seconds into your sixth 600-meter repeat the evening before...you think strongly about taking a few moments to breathe every so often.

So, there I was, catching my breath at the same time as a friend of mine in the next lane. She turned to me and said, 'I need to get you to help me get faster on the run. I have a 16-miler this weekend.'

I said, 'I take it you're about six weeks out from a marathon.'

She said, 'Yep! Good guess.' I'm a coach. I usually can figure this out.

Her concern is that she lacks raw speed for the marathon. Naturally, her point of view is that she needs more mileage & more volume in order to ensure a stronger finish to the marathon. Since she's finished a couple of marathons she understands fairly well what works for her.

At that point, I played devil's advocate, or better yet...voice of reason.

'There has to be a balance. And when I talk about balance I mean it in several areas: What you're looking for is not necessarily an increase in speed as much as not slowing down in the later miles of your marathon - beyond twenty - compared to the former ones. That means a balance of a long run at desired marathon pace, what I like to call a semi-long run at desired marathon pace, & a 50-50 mix of shorter pieces at higher tempo or recovery pace...easy, peasy, lemon-squeezy stuff. That's the easy balance.'

'The more challenging balance is three-fold: First, longer distance races are more about strength, not raw speed. If you are going to focus on speed, then number two, you have to train hard enough to bring about the physiological adaptations which lead to faster running but not so hard you beat yourself up & end up injured.'

At that point she said, 'that's what the pool is for,' to which I nodded my head in agreement.

'Gotcha. Recovery is also a key, eating the right food at the right time, in the right quantity. Third, and I think most importantly, you have to take in account all the other responsibilities you have in your life. We are guilty of laying out a training plan in pen-&-ink rather than in pencil. You're a mother, a wife, a pathologist, & have other responsibilities which I don't know but can bet are fairly time-consuming.'

I then mentioned Coach Pat McCrann's book, Train To Live, Live To Train: The Ultimate Insider's Guide To Building The Ultimate Fitness Lifestyle, & explained to her she needed to think in terms of a baseline training week, as well as the amount of time she could squirrel away during a four-to-six-week build-up toward a goal event...whether it is a marathon or a triathlon, I don't think it makes much difference...


'Bottom line is that you need to do the right things without feeling guilty about being a bad mother, a bad employee or a bad person altogether. Let's begin by thinking about how much time a week you can train without checking your baggage for an extended guilt trip and move forward from there.'


She then thanked me and said, 'we should run Chicago together. I think you'd enjoy it.'


Just what every coach needs. Another woman to torment them over 26.2 miles.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Turn 8 Inches Into 10, Or 12, Or More...

One of my (recent) favorite establishments is a pizza bakery located near a movie theatre about four miles from my home. I've eaten at a few other franchise locations while on the road for triathlons, & became very excited when the local franchise opened up here. Okay, so it doesn't have the funky oeuvre the local joint (of which I am a FB fan) has. In fact, it's a little too bright, too colorful, & too television-laden...holy cow, I cannot believe I said that...for my taste. The music & the attitude of the wait-staff is fairly good, though. And they do have a 115-beer club (I think by now we're half-way there!); most of the beers are good stuff, too.
But naturally, if you're going to go to a pizza bakery, it's fairly well likely you're going to go after pizza, right? This place, like lots of other pizza joints, has varying sizes of pie. My loving wife & I can kill a 10-inch with no trouble; 14-to-16 inchers are a bit more of a challenge, & expect a couple of morning's-worth of Coach Mike post-swim brekkies if we foolishly decide to order something closer to 24...like the Philosopher's Pie.
Last Monday we had dinner & a couple of beers with a friend (& her son), a follow-up to some of my wife's business travel. I recommended the Philosopher's, & I think they ordered a 16. When the pie came out I noticed 12 ample slices of pie. As Maria & her son commenced to nosh on a couple of slices, they offered up also to Suzanne & me...who were nibbling on a salad & a meatball sub. Their pie was definitely big enough to accommodate all of us, with plenty left over. It got me to thinking about the relative size of pie slices; when our 10-inch came out the other weekend there were four slices...which I bet were probably equal in total surface to the slices on the 16. So, perhaps the 16 could feed six people as ably as the 10 could a couple?

This is not necessarily a mathematical dilemma but more of an economic one...and maybe even a sociological one, too. Events, clubs, coaches & retailers are seen often to compete for the same, small market share. I'll take as an example a recent look at my local running event calendar; I have at least two examples of two road running events of the same distance taking place in the same metropolitan area at the same time on the same day, with the same post-race fare & targeting the nearly-identical population of runners outside of their own constituents.
The challenge, if or when there are multiple providers in an area, is to figure out the niche population each provider best services. A good choice would be to then either leave that niche population be, or refer them to the provider who can best service them. This collaboration among competitors not only builds a sense of community, but might even lead to a Newtonian equal & opposite reaction. Each party has access to materials (customers, capital, community) which "make up the pie", so rather than squabble & fight over "pieces of the pie" becoming smaller because of another resource, why not collaborate and MAKE THE PIE BIGGER. If done correctly, there can be more than enough for every player who is willing to give-and-take with others rather than look out solely for their own interests. I'm not saying a business or a club shouldn't do what is in their best interest first, but if you work to not step on the toes of others, the chances are good you might get a little goodwill in return...and then some.
Of course, I'm probably looking at the world through idealistic, utopian spectacles. It's something I've done over the past (nearly) five years. This sort of thinking doesn't have to be strictly between not-for-profit groups; it would make things a lot easier for many if they were to work this way, but there can be healthy collaborative efforts between not-for-profit groups & for-profit providers. The worst thing a not-for-profit can do is to completely abdicate portions of their mission to the tender mercies of a for-profit group. Remember, the for-profit is in the endeavor to make a buck, either directly or indirectly. If it helps the community as a whole at the same time, then that's nice.
But giving up, or standing by silently as a for-profit adds another arrow to their quiver because the non-profit handed it to them is just plain bad business. Not being able to choose between a non-profit provider & a for-profit provider - whether it be coaching, a race, or even a financial institution - because the non-profit has decided to no longer engage in the activity with which it was once charged, is no choice at all.

No pizza for you. Not even eight inches.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Greeter of the Pack

Another weekend in the great out-of-doors has ended. While there's still a bit of a chill in the air, there's no doubt spring is just around the corner. While it's still difficult to get myself motivated and out the door some mornings, at least I don't feel so badly about it once I'm on the move. Suzanne managed to somehow talk me into a near-instant replay of last Saturday's run: Do three miles to a coffee joint, stop for a cup & a bite, then do three miles back to the house. Seemed like a lousy idea at first; Weather Channel had the conditions listed as in the low 40s with a wind chill in the high 30s. While I had my Garmin & my HR strap on to keep track of the important data it wasn't the be all, end all for the morning. Suzanne wanted to get out of the house for a run & she wanted to have coffee. So be it.
Fortunately, the sun was bright, the air was slowly warming up & the sidewalks even seemed like a welcoming environment. It wasn't Esplanade Avenue to Community Coffee or the 5:20 Club, but it was close enough. The very combination of ingredients, including the presence of my loving wife, was just enough to make the morning's first effort seem like just enough.
Once we got back to the house the trials of real life, such as they are in Chez' Bowen, reared their head once more: Walk the dog, get the last-minute business accomplished, fit the swim workout in & go work packet pick-up in Gulf Breeze for Sunday's Midway 8K.

Sunday was just as nice, but the solo 10-miler hurt like hell. Perhaps it was still too soon since the half-marathon to do that many miles as a long run, but I can never tell when I'm going to have a nice Sunday morning...so... Home to walk the dog, then clean up & get some breakfast before heading over to the race to set up. Okay, so I forgot my laptop & had to go back home for it; I owe the company a round of brewskies for that transgression. I never forget my "coach hat", my "RRCA rep hat", and my soapbox. And I got to use them all yesterday at the event.
A young lady asked the inevitable question about headphone use at the registration table. Beverly was almost dead-on accurate with her response; I think she's heard my sermonizing as much as Steven has. We mentioned to her that as a RRCA event club, & because our event was covered by RRCA's event insurance, we were obliged to strongly discourage her from using the headphones. However, we were only going to strongly discourage her because of the inherent safety risks; she was going to run on a course which was not completely closed to traffic. While we did have volunteer workers at as many intersections as possible (another topic for future rumination - volunteers...) we could not completely guarantee her safety in the event an insane (or even sane!) motor vehicle operator decided to suddenly overtake her.

As a small event we want to develop a clientele. We also want to help educate runners & triathletes on safe practices. The first baby step we can do, & intend to do, is mention the hazards the headphones can cause...especially if the volume is jacked up so high the wearer cannot hear. (I still laugh at the comment of the masters' winner: He was doing a cool-down on the course with his phones on, & heard my car's stereo blaring about a quarter mile away from where he was. I thanked him for keeping the volume down low enough to hear his surroundings.) It's not like we have a means to enforce such a policy right now. But if we begin to tell participants it's hazardous to use those things, perhaps when we put a prohibition statement on a race flyer they'll abide by the request.
Okay, I'm off the soapbox for now. My wife has always told me I should participate in a race from the rear of the field in order to see (as Jacob Riis might have put it:) how the other pack lives. Since the local constabulary sent only one patrolman to cover the course, the race director & I were responsible for the lead & follow vehicles. George took the lead vehicle; I had the follow. There's a whole different dynamic when you're following walkers, compared to the elbows-&-a$$#@(@s pack you see at the front end of a race. I suspected I was going to spend the next 60-to-75 minutes following along with the walk division. Close, but not close enough, moose-breath. The last participant took a little over 90 minutes. That was the bad news. Was there good news? Kinda-sorta.
The weather was wonderful. We're talking roll-the-window-down,-lean-your-elbow-out-the-window-because-hanging-your-whole-head-out-would-look-silly wonderful. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a good radio station to play outside of the local NPR stations. Ah, one of those moments where I kick myself in the butt for leaving my favorite CDs at home...& not snagging up Suzanne's iPod to plug in the accessory jack, Jack. Oh, and this lady wanted so badly to give up at the first half-mile. She turned to look at me and wave me on forward, but I told her I was the follow vehicle, & while she was the last participant she was going to make it just fine. I didn't want to tell her how badly it would bite to not finish an eight-kilometer walk. So, I rolled along just behind her with the flashers flashing, plucking up course signs after she passed.
When she got to the last half mile to go, her husband came out to walk along with her. I continued to do my thing & she continued to do hers. At the last 100 yards before the finish, I rolled along side her & called out: "You know what that feeling is right now? What you're feeling is accomplishment!"
After that, I rolled into the parking lot & made a beeline for a beer & some italian bread. My day was pretty much complete. I can't say I picked up any observations from the @$$-end of the field, save for the fact that sometimes it's just something to finish...which was more than I could say for the two teenagers who turned off the course a block ahead of the woman an hour before her finish.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Handicapper General Has Determined...

Not one of the typical threats we see on the road. Bart Yasso in Indonesia, I believe...

One of my wife's favorite science fiction short stories is a satire on social equality written by the late Kurt Vonnegut. In the story, "Harrison Bergeron," the more intelligent, athletic or beautiful a member of society is, the more they are handicapped so no one person will feel inferior to another. The main character, Harrison, is exceptionally intelligent, strong & attractive; the Handicapper General forces him to wear eyeglasses designed to give him headaches, black caps over his teeth, forty pounds of birdshot around his neck, another 300 pounds of weight strapped to his body, a rubber ball on his nose...& headphones which play distracting noises.
At first, we laugh at the thought of a society which forces each of us to be equal by handicapping the more gifted; if we were better than someone else we would never willingly submit ourselves to such a regime. If we were less gifted we wouldn't mind being enhanced some, but we wouldn't feel right about the more gifted being handicapped.
Would we? On either account?
I was at a Rock n' Roll Marathon event & heard about a conversation between a Rock n' Roll staff member & an out-of-town participant asking about headphone use. The participant asked if headphones were going to be allowed on the course. The staffer decided, rather than give a yes-or-no answer, to find out exactly what made this participant tick:
Staffer - "Okay...let me ask you something. Do you know the name of this event?"
Participant - "Yes. It's the Rock n' Roll Marathon."
Staffer - "And you're from out of town?"
Participant - "Yes. Philadelphia."
Staffer - "So you flew here to run this event?"
Participant - "Yes. We've been here all week."
Staffer - "Did you use the discount registration code for the event?"
Participant - "No."
At this point, the staffer quickly estimated what the trip cost the participant & said: "...so, you're willing to spend thousands of dollars for a week at the Rock n' Roll Marathon, an event with some of the best live music this city has to offer, & you would prefer to listen to your own music...?"
How many times have we run races in headphones, never listening to the cheering of spectators, the sound of our own labored breathing as we run, the music playing from stereos in houses or on curbs or corners, or, if we spent a few (more) bucks at an event like RnR, there are bands playing local music for our pleasure at every mile? Running closer to the middle or back of the pack at races can often sound like a silent movie without the piano background; every runner is tuned into their own little world. No one talks to any one.
Yet, we tell our non-running friends we go to races to meet people.
So, we willingly handicap, isolate, ourselves on the course with 100 decibels of sound blaring into our ears, enough to drown the siren of the emergency vehicle taking the unfortunate runner who "crashed & burned" a mile away from us to the hospital...we might have passed without knowing they were in distress because we were in our own little world. Those same 100 decibels are only a little less damaging to our ears than standing next to our mother's Electrolux vacuum cleaner...right now. Over time we handicap ourselves more permanently; wrecking our hearing with long-term exposure to loud everything, until we can't hear even the most sublime of sounds.
Why? Because we seek pleasure & avoid pain. We want to go to our happy place. We want to detach ourself from the message our brain is sending. Timothy Noakes' Central Governor Theory of Endurance says the brain tells us to stop or slow down because our brain wants the glycogen our muscles burn as fuel for itself, as well as the heart & lungs...it wants to keep us alive, even if we cannot run. Our brain is greedy. But when we detach ourself from the brain's "message center" which warns us of the damage we "might" do if we keep running, we also detach ourself from the same message center which warns us a threat (overtaking runner, bicyclist, mugger, automobile, etc.) is approaching from behind.
I hear the often rhetorical question, "well, what about folks who are deaf?" There are folks who are unable to hear, but as a result the senses of sight & touch have become more acute. Not so with those of us who still retain the ability to hear until we place headphone in ear. We can't see behind us & probably don't even think about looking because our happy place is better than anywhere we want to be at the moment.
We don't need a Handicapper General. Most of us do it to ourselves. Rather than be a Harrison Bergeron, willing to die as an unfettered person & release people from long-tolerated handicaps, we'd rather wallow in our equality & accept when others are shackled.