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.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Make Yourself A Good Noise

Now we all got the hand for the gimme, we all got the mouth for the much obliged
But when it comes down to the giving back we give the eye to the other guy

Oh, it seems that so much trouble is simply caused by the angry word
Although silence can be a virtue I say it's a good noise that's preferred

Now you've got every right and reason to be down in the dumps today
Aren't you just adding to the problem if you've got nothing good to say?

Sure there are wars, disease, injustice, rich men walking on your hands
But tell me how can you ever take a breath of hope talking down your fellow man?

("Good Noise," John Gorka, 1994)

A friend I was stationed with in Germany back in the 1980s, one of my karate instructors, used to eat kimchi. Kimchi, for those of you who have not encountered the Orient, is Korean pickled cabbage and other vegetables. The closest thing I can compare it with is a cross between sauerkraut, wasabi and perhaps horseradish. You could tell when Joe had recently eaten kimchi, especially on warm summer days. Joe didn't have to sweat all that much for you to tell the last time he had eaten a jar. There was no denial on his part, either; Joe would make no bones about the amount of high-octane Korean kraut he took in. It seemed to do him well at karate tournaments (fortunately for him there was no rule against eating rotten veggies); but it limited his odds of dates, too.


We all have heard the chestnut: "You Are What You Eat." I've joked in the past that if I were to limit my dietary intake to the Little Debbie snack cakes I rarely eat now, I'd look like a Little Debbie cake; round, filled with junk, probably wrapped in plastic and stuffed in some box. But I had a bit of an object lesson the other day about the social, mental and emotional dietary requirements (both intake and output) of an athlete/coach/race director/organization guy.

It's not so simple as taking a precautionary sniff in order to tell the physical, emotional and spiritual diet of a person. I have met people who gave me a serious case of the heebie-jeebies before I ever really tried to know more about them...sometimes things just don't seem right with the guy/gal. And we all have dealt with people who made us feel uncomfortable or dirty or wary with the first words spoken; what can you do but suck it up and get through the conversation, then run for the Brillo pad and bleach or hope like mad the person proves you wrong in the future.

But there's only so much you can take of a dose of negativity from someone around you until you want to avoid them, because they're a Doug/Debbie Downer.

I had an all-you-can-eat-negativity-salad-bar moment earlier this week. While the person with whom I was chatting had some good points and perhaps a justifiable beef I knew it was in my best interests to not over-agree with them. To borrow from a former Mossad agent, Victor Ostrovsky (his book: "By Way Of Deception"): 'when I am sitting in conversation with my friend, I know that I am not sitting in a conversation with his.' To wit: While I might withhold the sources of my conversations within these spaces in the interest of protecting their identity, I know if I were to talk smack about someone...even within these spaces...even if it were truth, I'd be the recipient of an unmitigated scheissesturm.

But, the conversation made me think about how I am when I'm in a critical mood. If I had been smart I would have backed the pace off to a much slower one than I was going, or taken a cut-off for a shorter course to get out of the conversation. I mentioned to my wife (and another friend over a beer) that evening: 'my God in heaven, is THAT what people have to put up with when they talk with me!?'
So, now it's time for me to watch the emotional and spiritual food I dole out to my friends, athletes, cohorts, and members of the running/multisport community. I would much rather be a source of encouragement and nourishment than one whose negative funk can be smelled yards away.

Tell me the truth - what are you living for? Tell me why, why are you near?
'Cause if you cannot make yourself a good noise then tell me what you're doing here?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The End Of Sports Fashion As We Know It

I'm certain there are people who will disagree with me, but in many cases, I believe more textile is not always a good thing. Take triathlon, for instance. The first triathletes competed in little more than a Speedo & an itty bitty singlet, with maybe a pair of high-cut running shorts for the run leg of the event; this might have been because the first really good tri-geeks were swimmers or lifeguards. Then came the first compression wear, an offshoot of cycling shorts. These have been a blessing & a curse. It seems the compressive nylon lycra cycling shorts decreases the amount of muscle vibration on the run, thus decreasing the amount of fatigue & perhaps even thwarts the onset of muscle cramps in the later stages of the run.
But the next thing you know, there are athletes participating in triathlon in full tights, near-full tights, calf sleeves, arm warmers, & so on, & so on. My heavens, whatever happened to the travel light, travel fast dictum? Okay, so the compression wear is light, but it sure as hell doesn't seem all that fast to me. In many cases I'd worry like mad about the chance of heat stroke from all that coverage. I don't care about the fact Paula Radcliffe wears compression stockings when she races marathons; she looks like a dork, or whatever the female version of dork is. FloJo is dead, ladies (& gentlemen); get past it.
But, in much the same way I am with technical stuff - a semi-late adopter - I took the time to try & read some of the research on the benefits & drawbacks of using compression clothing; when, why, how long, & so on. Most of the researchers who have written for triathlon magazines say the jury is still out on the overall benefits, but believe there's a place for compression tops, tights, & stockings in the recovery from hard workout efforts. They don't see much benefit to racing in them, however.
Still, I am a (cheap) skeptic. I almost picked up some 2XU compression wear while at the IM 70.3 expo, but there was still the little bit of sticker shock; what if this stuff was all bupkus? When Sigvaris, an RRCA corporate sponsor, was looking for a population at the recent national convention who would be willing to try a pair of their athletic recovery socks, I figured this would be the perfect time to give stockings a shot. Sigvaris is in the medical compression wear field, but their latest stuff is a far cry from the TED hose or the Jobst stockings I encountered when working at the VA hospital.
First, the stockings I was given for the study are for athletic recovery. They went up to just below the knees & provided anywhere from 20-to-30 millimeters of pressure. But I have to admit the eight hours I spent in the stockings were a fairly comfortable experience. What's more, I didn't feel (too) beat up in the evening, or the next morning when I awakened after the evening's banquetizing & socializing. My right achilles tendon was a two-to-three on a one-to-ten scale of soreness, with ten being "shoot me now." But that's pretty much par for the course, especially the week after riding 56 miles, then running 13.1 miles in succession.
I wasn't looking for miracles from the Sigvaris stockings, so feeling good the next morning was definitely a positive outcome. My response to the use of the stockings seems to align with the referenced studies (Ali, Caine, & Snow, 2007; Engineering of Sport, 2009) on the Sigvaris website (http://www.athleticrecoverysock.com/medicalstudies.php). And naturally, you get what you pay for...as a thank you for participating in the study I'll receive another pair of stockings for personal use.

But don't expect to see me wearing them on the road during one of my long training runs. I'm not ready to become uber-geek. Or would that be uber-dork?

Monday, April 26, 2010

If It Ain't Broke But You're Still Going Slow, Fix It

Rare is the opportunity I get to sit in on a coaching continuing education seminar at the RRCA Convention. Many of them are sequestered far from the rest of the business going on; most of the good ones occur when I'm in a session where the RRCA rep better be taking care of RRCA business for their state. However, this years' convention at Lakeland left me a good opportunity to sit in on a gait analysis seminar.

I was taught by my coach not to screw around with a runner's gait...one of those things which could lead to serious biomechanical breakdown and turning a runner into (as John Parker called it) once a runner. But, I ran into Tim Hilden, an exercise physiologist/physical therapist-type from Boulder on Friday evening (at the Terrace hotel, where we were staying) who was scheduled to speak on Saturday afternoon. Once I found out the major bullet points of his talk my interest was more than piqued. Three things I took away from the seminar I'd like to pass along. All of these are from what Tim called a "top down" approach to gait analysis.

First: An erect carriage is still pretty much good to go. You don't have to be perfectly erect, but between zero & five degrees of forward lean is acceptable. Don't kid yourself; five degrees is less than you think. So if you're close to erect, you're probably good.

Second: Arm carriage & shoulder swing should not be over-emphasized. A little shoulder roll is all right, but those "big" shoulder & arm movements lead to twist of the trunk, drop or misalignment of the pelvis & stress on the lower extremities. Also, the 90-degree or the "Kenyan" arm carriage is good...don't let those arms hang.

Third: Narrow "trail" of foot to foot. Ever see a person running who has a wide stance (big lateral distance between where the left foot & the right foot lands)? The "ideal" trail has the slightest bit of overlap at the centerline.

There were a few other minor tweaks Tim mentioned, but if you are mindful of your major form areas not only will you be able to minimize the chance of biomechanically-caused aches & pains but you will become a more efficient (and maybe even faster) runner.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Multisport as a Metaphor for Life

Just back from a long (and often seemingly-lost) weekend in New Orleans. I don't go to NOLA for no special reason; nearly every time (like almost any trip away from home) has something to do with running or multisport. Nice way to go through life, in my humble opinion.

While I'd love to say the weekend was a complete & utter success it was not. I'm still dealing with a serious fear of open water swimming, something which has affected me since last year in Panama City. I had the strangest feeling of panic earlier in the week as we were discussing swim courses & initially attributed it to one-too-many cups of Starbucks. Unlike a twelve-step program, realizing you have a problem is probably not the hardest step.

A couple of things I learned this weekend which might even parallel life:

Bargaining does not work with every adversary. I went out to do the traditional Saturday morning run along Lakeshore with New Orleans' 5:20 club. At the 3.5-mile point, I backed off my 7:30-per-mile pace, looked out toward the calm (at that moment!) waters of Lake Ponchartrain & began to make peace with her. The next morning's conditions were (supposedly) as placid as the day before...but conditions became more challenging in the two hours between arriving at transition & the wave start. I remember someone saying a phrase some time back about running being eighty percent mental & the other half physical. Triathlon, however, is not running. It's one-hundred percent mental & the other half physical. If your head isn't all there it's not going to be a good day.

Always have an eighty-percent solution. Since the IM70.3 NOLA event has attracted many first-time triathletes, the race director left an opt-out option. A great idea, in my humble opinion, especially when nearly 30 persons were either taken from the water or bailed on the swim before the finish of the 1.2-mile leg. I'm not certain how many took the opt-out, but in hindsight, I might have felt worse about the day if I had. Getting in the water & getting my butt kicked was better than not getting in at all.

Attitude is everything. After the obligatory 30 seconds of oh, cr*p, not another day like Panama City...the race staff told me I could still do the opt out. Suh-weet! I hadn't ridden my Softride time trial bike since IM week in Panama City, & really wanted to know how much benefit my new (F.I.S.T.) set-up & new (Gray) aero helmet would provide on what I initially perceived as a wicked good bike course. I was half correct; the bike course definitely had its share of wickedness, two bridges to climb - one right after the other - within the first ten kilometers...this course is an out-and-back, so the same challenges in the first ten would be there for the last ten, when we were fatigued. At first, the wind on the course was relatively light & in our face, but began to increase in strength & shift in direction, leaving few places on the course where a racer would benefit from it. I noted after a slight sluggishness in the bike's handling after the 50-kilometer mark, just a few miles after the mid-point. As the ride progressed, the sluggishness increased, & I knew from looking down at the tire patch that a flat was in my near future. Finally, at 48 miles, I realized the road conditions of the next eight miles plus the mushy tire could possibly lead to a very bad day. So, I stopped to try & repair the leak. After attempting to refill the tire, I found the issue was, er, something deeper...a cracked valve stem extender, literally something I could not repair. Fortunately, the trooper protecting the course was able to call bike technical support...who didn't show for an hour & a half.
When you're in a situation like that you can either become Eeyore & bemoan your fate with a face long enough to eat corn out of a pop bottle, or you can channel Normann Stadler in Kona, circa 2005 ("another flat $&#*^% tire!"). But since I was feeling fairly good to be alive & not in an emergency department, I decided to laugh at my fate. Come on, how many guys run the risk of pulling what I would call a "double DNF" in one days' racing? Not many. Of course, if I had been more smart about the issue I would have pulled off the road at the overpass where there was shade, but I was thinking more along the lines of communication & not so much speed of response at the moment. If I had known it was going to take at least 90 minutes for tech to show, I probably would have ridden up to the overpass & taken advantage of the shade. So, silly me, I stood in the sun & nearly dehydrated myself. Tech, once they caught up with me, got me back on the chain gang again very quickly, with a couple of bottles of water to boot. My buddy Dixie came past about five minutes before tech did, so my goal was to catch him some time before the finish line.
Patience IS a virtue. The one thing I did not want to have on the run was a repeat of Augusta, where I hammered the first three miles & struggled the next ten. I knew if I was aggressive with my hydration & electrolytes during the bike & continued with it as far into the run as possible I might not have a bad day, or at least wouldn't have the kick me to the curb cramping I had from mile seven to the finish at Augusta. The plan was to run ten light poles, followed by walking one, plus I would walk as I took fluid at the aid stations on the course. Since there were stations every mile I did not wear my hydration belt, but took hits from my gel/electrolyte flask every second aid station.
I encountered Dixie at the only bridge on the run course, somewhere between the second or third mile, & passed him like he was tied to a tree. However, he was close enough behind throughout the run we saw each other on every switchback through City Park. Nothing like unadulterated fear a buddy is going to catch up with your butt to make you keep moving as quickly as possible. After the ninth mile there was just about nothing left in the tank, which seemed to be a good a time as any to engage in a brisk walk & see what strength I could recover. Amazingly, I was able to get back on the groove at mile ten, just before the exit of City Park...and just in time for the roughest patch of pavement on the entire run, Esplanade Avenue. I've run up & down Esplanade many times in the past ten years or so; knowing the best of the worst conditioned road I've ever raced upon was going to be a benefit. Again, it was the ten-to-one ratio, & things seemed to work fairly well until mile 13 when whatever reserves I might have had in store were depleted. Of course, by that time you have a new fuel source, namely loud music & cheering spectators. Most of them don't have a clue how bad you feel by that time, & I think they'd gladly give the functioning half of their liver to you if they could.
So, all you can do is suck it up & look like you're really STRONG when all you want to do is sit by the side of the road on the curb & drink two or three beers. Repeating as tolerated.
There's NOTHING like a finish line. But you want to look good for the photographers & the friends who finished hours before you did, so you tighten up the loose fasteners & set yourself up for a strong finishing kick which tells people: 'yeah, I did this, & if they asked me to do it tomorrow I probably would...as long as you're out here waiting for me again.'

Monday, April 12, 2010

Gurus, Gimmicks, Or Good Ol' One-Foot-In-Front-Of-The-Other Running

Someone asked on the local running club bulletin board the other day if there were any coaches in the area who worked within a particular running program, because his (insert program name here) running needed work. Well, I knew what the program name had to do with outside the realm of running, but little else...so I did what any curious coach-type would do...a brief search on the internet. It did not surprise me much the program had a website, a book, & a couple of DVDs to offer the masses.
DISCLOSURE MOMENT FOLLOWS:
I'd be a bald-faced liar if I said I wouldn't do the same thing - market what (little) I've learned by selling a couple of training e-manuals, how-to e-guides, leading weekend web-based seminars, pay-for-video feeds, & so on (electronic coaching is much less expensive than postage & handling, right?). If you do it right you make a couple of bucks & ride the gravy train for as long as possible. When the train barely makes the last stop because you've run out of "coal," however, it's time to write a new(er) manual & re-market yourself. I looked briefly at the program's focus, it's underlying philosophy, & then saw the opportunity to become a program-certified coach posted on the front of the website. In many cases - this comes from the mouth of a person with a coaching certification - 85 cents & a coaching certificate will get you a cup of coffee at Denny's, if you can get the waitresses attention.

A great deal of what coaches learn which are of genuine value does not come as the result of a two-day or three-day sit-down or semi-hands-on seminar. It comes from a lot of trial and error. Even certified coaches can have a case of the stoopid, especially when it comes to their own training. Coaching doesn't occur in a vacuum, it includes observing how well or poorly an athlete reacts to a training plan, from asking questions of other coaches, & from doing a little bit of solitary research.
If you take the time to purchase the manuals from program coaches, make certain your b.s. detector is turned on. An essay by Steve Myrland, posted on traintoplay.com, titled Guru-ism and the Decline of Coaching, speaks volumes on this argument. Just because the manual was published doesn't mean the publishing company has a clue about exercise science, coaching, or what is going to make you a better athlete. It means someone at the publishing company thought, 'gee, we haven't put out a (insert sport here) training book in (insert time frame here).' Obviously, something different about the book (mental aspect, democratizing aspect, financial aspect, & so on) caught their attention.

Frankly, I have seen few books which were heavier on science/research than they were on fluff, because most athletes don't want to purchase a 700-page tome like Lore of Running, which includes training plans & the physiological research supporting them. At least one of the plans Timothy Noakes outlines within the book has developed an entire cult of personality behind it, & somehow manages to dodge one of the great little unspoken secrets (according to a coaching friend of mine); the number who injure themselves as a result of using the plan. It's not because the plan is bad, mind you, nor the personality behind it. It has more to do with a simple violation of the basic rules of exercise physiology:
Induce stress as tolerated, then rest/recover.
Increase stress in very small increments over time.
Repeat until desired outcome is achieved.

But, nobody questions the message, or the messenger. Nobody asks where the messenger learned the message they proclaim, nor do they realize things do change over time. In essence, there will be a second, third, or fourth (perhaps later!) edition of the "flavor of the week." There's the joy of being a 'good ol', one-foot-in-front-of-the-other' on the one hand, & 'keeping an eye on the latest & greatest' on the other hand kind of person. Borrow from the smart persons, because they tend to borrow from the smart persons around them, rather than state their revelation came ex nihilo (just suddenly came to them!).

So, thanks, Bob, Dale, Jack, Jerry, Mihaly, Tim, Pat...I'm glad you guys are smart.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Tell Me What You Eat, And I'll Tell You What You Are

Today's title is a quote from French politician & gastronome Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (which I remember fondly from the beginning of the Fuji Television Japan series Iron Chef). It fit well with a note written the other day by triathlete podcast producer & NZ pro triathlete Bevan James Eyles. I felt strongly about what Bevan had to say, especially in light of my effort to limit my french fry intake over the past six weeks or so. Frankly, I'd call the effort a success, since I had all of three eight-ounce servings (if that!) of french fried potato-related products during that period of time. In the last week, I've had less than three servings...& a good amount of guilt with the ones I've had.

Meanwhile...here's Bev's piece.

Something has changed about me lately, it’s based around my busy traveling habits. Because I like to eat healthy, which can be tough at airports, and I hate paying the inflated airport prices for food I use to always pack as much food as possible for the trips. This has always worked well for me. But around this time a year ago I forgot to pack my food. When I was hungry at the airport I decided to have Burger King. I have to admit that I did enjoy this meal, so much so that on the return flight home I decided to have it again.

I have to let you know that I never buy fast foods when I’m in Christchurch. McDonalds, KFC and Burger King have made no profit from my stomach. But for some reason over the last year I’ve created this rule in my head that states “when I’m at an airport traveling, I’m allowed to have fast food”. I’ve justified to myself that because I’m going through the stress of traveling I’m allowed to eat these types of foods. I woke up to this behavior on a trip that I did last week. I discovered that I had created this unhealthy rule and by giving myself justification around it and it became a habit.

The point of this piece isn’t to pick on fast foods, I choose not to eat them myself but I think they are fine in moderation. The point is - have you created some little unhealthy rules for yourself? Are there times when you justify unhealthy habits just because it is habit? Something like: every time you go to the movies you have to have a large popcorn and coke, because that’s “what you do” at the movies.

Have a look at your life and try to identify the times when you have little unhealthy rules and see if you can replace them with a healthier option. When you identify these times ask yourself one of these questions; Can I make the portion size smaller? can I choose a healthier but still enjoyable option? or can I go without this? These questions will help to start winning on the smaller decisions that make big change.

I know I’m going back to packing food for when I’m traveling, it’s just better for me.

Bevan James Eyles

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A Little Is Better Than Nothing

Ever have that sneaking suspicion, especially a couple of weeks out from your target event, that EVERYTHING is bound & determined to keep you from doing those last few killer workouts you KNOW are going to give you that very good day when it's all said & done? If it isn't the work schedule, it's the house. If it isn't the house it's the spouse. If it isn't the spouse it's the dog. If it isn't any of those things it's going to be something completely out of the ordinary...say, alien abduction, radical sex change operation of a best friend, or...well...I think you get the picture.
Yep. Same goes for me. But now as I've become older, perhaps a bit more fragile, I've almost learned to accept those less-than-planned interruptions as the Almighty's way of asking me, 'dude, aren't you supposed to do something like a taper before your event?'
Those of you who have a more formal conversational tense with heavenly occupants can add King James-style suffixes as needed, so the phrase would be more like: 'Dudeth, wiltst thou not taketh a fortnight of relative leisure, lest the conditions of thy coming triathlon smite thee in the manner which didst nearly taketh thy life from thee in Panama City?'
But then I find the Almighty can be a runner's or a triathlete's best friend. Sometimes those unplanned-for days, or those little interruptions which encourage you to do a 30-minute session when you had 60 minutes inked-in on the training plan, make you cut out the unnecessary junk & get right to the meat of the work.
And you never know, it might even score you points with your spouse, your boss, your dog (well, what I've learned, not the dog) and even save you from injuring yourself.

"I, like God, do not play with dice & do not believe in coincidences." - "V" (Hugo Weaving), in "V For Vendetta"