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.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Recovery Run? No Such Thing.

Yeah. I thought it might be a nice thing to do an "easy peasy," relatively-flat, straight, out-and-back six-miler last night (when I was typing the status this morning on FB I inadvertently missed the "I" and typed a "U". What Would Freud Say?), but my knees gave me a completely different message. I ended up spit-canning the run after a couple of miles and made a command decision to walk the two miles back to the house...which Suzanne enjoyed, also.

There were a lot of factors which I could lay blame on for the bad day, but it stood to reason I should not have tried to do six miles on a warm, humid day after doing three workouts in the preceeding thirty hours. Hm...ever think of the concept of, uh, recovery, coach? Then, I read Pat McCrann's advice and think...'perhaps a walk would have better served me at this point in the game.' So, here's what he has to say, part 16 of 30 from Marathon Nation.As I mentioned in an earlier tip, run recovery needs to be one of your highest priorities. Our sport is an endorphin-filled journey of fun...until something goes wrong. And as the veteran runners/readers will tell you, it's only a matter of time until something happens to you (sorry!). Left to their own devices, however, the running-addicted runner usually comes up with the most suspect of recovery protocols...the recovery run. Only in the world of running would this make sense...if you are tired/beat up/run down from all that...running, there can be only one solution: a short, easy run. Clearly, the majority of us runners are seriously lacking creativity here, so Coach P is going to have to crack the whip...
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A RECOVERY RUN. Period.Think about it from the perspective of your body for a second. Your legs and back and feet have conspired with your heart and constitution to send a message to your brain that you need a break. Your brain gets that info and settles on this "recovery run" strategy. Sounds good to the brain but man aren't your calves surprised to find they are running again! Didn't your brain get the memo???
My point here is that while your brain knows the nuances of "types" of runs, your body only really speaks in very short sentences. In this case: ON (Running) or OFF (Not Running). In order to really demonstrate that you get what your body is saying, you need to physically not run. That's right...Take a real, bonafide day off. Sleep in. Do a project around the house. Stay late at work (or go in early). Find a new hobby. I care about you, but I don't really care about your days off...make them off.Believe it or not, you are probably addicted to running. On some level. And if not running then perhaps to the concept of an active lifestyle. Trying to force something that isn't working to work...never works. Running is no different. A lot of really unique things have to intersect for you to have a great run session...and sometimes the easiest way to get things to sync up is to stand down for a bit.
You will go crazy...most people do on a day off. But since you know you can't run today, then you have to fill that time. This leads to the importance of planning your day off. Most of us obsess over gear, food, route, etc, for our workouts....but then have zero planned for our down time.Make this time off easier for you by actually planning other activities. Whether it's chilling with the kids, doing chores, or heading out for some errands is up to you. But if you don't plan for it, it won't happen.
At the end of the day, the best type of recovery run is...not running. Do your mind and body a favor and take the day off. A tiny, well-placed break now can really help you over the long haul!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Don't Make Me Change My Routes!

My loving wife and I have had differences of opinion about our solo runs. I have an out-and-back (10K) from the house I enjoy. It goes through (relatively quiet) residential neighborhoods until the last block or so at the mid-point, which is near a major thoroughfare. There aren't many turns; it's a fairly straight shot there and back, which means I can kinda-sorta shut the mind off (yeah, I know, not that it's working in the first place, right?).

Suzanne, on the other hand, likes little three mile-to-five kilometer loops with the house as the beginning/end. She enjoys trees, shade & scenery. We don't agree on what to do, but every once in a while she'll humor me and go on my out/back run. In return, I'll either run one-mile pieces, then toddle back to where she is at the time (usually no more than 150 meters back). If I don't do that I better be prepared to buy dinner.
I read her Patrick McCrann's latest (day fifteen of thirty) tidbit from Marathon Nation; the issue of boredom with the "same old run loop" made perfect sense to me, but she couldn't agree with the idea of physical & mental burnout being a root cause. The post is below...see what you think.
Repeat after me: Repeat Routes Are Not Evil. Are Not Evil. Not Evil. Evil. Really they aren't. In fact, I think having a handful of key loops is actually critical to maximizing your training time and run performance. Here's why, with a bit at the end on the types of routes you should consider.

At some point in time, regardless of where you run, you won't like it. It'll feel stale, the same, boooooring! Know that this is less a function of where you are (on your run) and more a function of your physical and mental state. In other words, you are dreading your local run for reasons other than the fact that it's the same loop. Maybe you are tired, maybe you are burned out, etc. Whatever the reason, your loop is getting a bum rap and for all the wrong reasons.
Running similar routes really let's you zone out. No need to stress on distance or where to turn. You can just plug into the route and let go. Sometimes just having a run where your mind wanders is the most important thing. Sometimes not needing to pay attention to where you are going means you can focus instead on how you are getting there. My best "technique" runs are those where I have nothing else to think about.

One of the biggest issues we "average people" face is getting in a good run with the time we've got. In other words, we all start the month/week/day with intentions to execute all of our workouts, but life inevitably gets in the way. With repeat routes, you can easily pick the right option given your workout goals and allotted time.
Constant benchmarking is a plus and a minus, so take it as you see fit. I think there is some value in being able to categorize your current run against previous runs using the feedback of time: "I usually get to this corner in 27 minutes, today it took me 28 minutes." Note that I am not talking about judging the times, I am just saying it's valuable to be able to compare. I have had plenty of runs where I felt awful...but was on or ahead of schedule...and others where I could have sworn I was part Kenyan...and I was running like I had cinderblocks on my feet!

I like to have a solid variety of running routes. In my personal arsenal, I have the following routes lined up. Of course, it's possible to connect/stack any of these as need be to make a create route that's very local to me instead of running into oblivion (and back again):
5k Loop: Great for a short hard run or some really quick intervals. Can be run as a warm up for longer efforts or multiple times for TT efforts or water stops.
5-Miler: Solid mid-distance run. This is my default run. Takes me about 35 minutes.
Hill Run: Shortest distance from my house to some hills. Great to get work done and come home.
Off-Road Run: Some or all of this route is on trails or dirt or something. Great way to take care of your body and work on agility, etc.
What's your favorite repeat route like?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Bow That's Continually Bent...

I vaguely recall a story which ( believe) was written by Eusebius, Origen, or one of the early writers of the Christian Church, about St. John (please keep in mind this is from a text I read back in my former life as an aspiring pastor). (I guess) there was a philosopher who went (in disguise of an outdoorsman/hunter) to visit John later on in his life, & was amazed to find him sitting in relaxation stroking a partridge. He asked John about the frivolity of his present activity, to which John responded with a question of his own. 'I see you have a bow in your hand. Do you always carry it about unstrung?' The philosopher replied, 'yes, if I were to keep it continually strung the tension would weaken the bow & I would be unable to use it to down stronger prey when the time came.'

John replied, 'worry not about my present state of relaxation. As you have rightly said, "the bow that is continually bent will cease to shoot straight."'
So, I guess it's necessary for each of us to take time away from our pursuits in order to recharge, redirect, reevaluate, & sometimes even reacquire a perspective we once had or discarded. The hard part is what I like to call a painfully obvious fact: The more time we have away from working out, training, running, bicycling, swimming, just plain flat-out doing, usually provides us time & opportunity for stoopid things...those things which get us in trouble.
And if you're not careful, you can burn up those spousal approval units during down-time, when you probably should be earning them by doing those quality time things. I've found a few of those QTTs can also provide some much-needed perspective on how other people see us...us being defined as athletes, coaches, & athletic event participants...I guess even athletic event providers can be fit into the definition. And I have to admit the first week or two of I'm not getting up early to... is pretty nice, but after a while it does become a nasty little habit. Sleep, as my wife has told me, is one of her guilty pleasures in life. In the past month I've probably increased my sleep time to nearly ten hours a night, much to my d-a-w-g's displeasure.

But worry not...this is the end of the month & I truly intend to be back on the chain gang.Honestly, it has been nice in many ways. Unfortunately, it also means I've spent lots of time on activities which are simple, but much higher in impact (more running, less cycling or swimming). So my body has really had a tough time adapting to a decreased, but different form of stress.

On top of all that, the temperature has gone not so much through the roof as much as it has increased a minor amount. But, the humidity in our area has definitely gone up. Much harder to breathe when you feel like you need gills. Must scale back effort levels or move indoors for a time. That means more boring. I know many who take the entire summer to unbend their bow. While it might work for them I'd rather loosen the string some rather than take it off completely. That way I'm not looking for the notch when September arrives...believe me, it cannot arrive too soon.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Humiliation as a Means of Teaching Humility?

Well, lately it's become painfully obvious to me people (Other than my family - thanks, Dad, for the compliments! I guess you've read enough stuff in the past seventy years to know what you're talking about...) do follow what I write here. So what if the blog is dull? Just because I write here doesn't mean I possess expertise or claim accomplishment at ANYTHING. (There are plenty of self-absorbed bloggers in this world who use their space as a cathartic. why should I be less worthy of that opportunity?) I have no corner on deep secret wisdom with regard to swimming (as my swim coach could tell you!), cycling, or running...it's my way of thinking about what a lot of smart(er) people have theorized, hypothesized, analyzed, pasteurized & cannibalized...trying to boil it down into a (hopefully) more entertaining format. If I could do it in as witty a manner as Chuck (Chuckie V.) Velyupek I might have a few more friends, or at least fewer detractors.
That having been said, it was interesting to read Shane Bacon's article in Yahoo Sports this morning:
"There are times to be competitive. Moments when all you want to do is humiliate your opponent as you defeat him. It's the nature of sports, and what our internal competition meters usually read. That, we all know, is how athletes feel most of the time. But, at times, and these are few and far between, we see acts that defy wins and losses. A moment when a girl is brought in on crutches to score a layup to break a record or someone being carried around the field after she twisted her ankle rounding the bases. Opponents coming together to transcend the game. That is what happened between two collegiate golfers, vying for a spot in the NAIA National Championship. A sophomore at the University of St. Francis had locked up a spot in nationals with his team, which won the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference Championship, but was in a playoff against an Olivet Nazarene golfer for individual honors. As championships go, both the winning team and winning individual are asked to move on to nationals, so if the St. Francis golfer won the playoff against the Olivet golfer, he'd be honoring both spots. What happened next is the type of stuff movies are made about. The St. Francis golfer stood over his tee shot on the first playoff hole, looked down the fairway and back at his ball, and hit it 40 yards right of the fairway, out of bounds by a mile. He made double bogey, the other golfer made par, and Olivet Nazarene had a man in nationals. What makes it so incredible?
The St. Francis golfer felt his opponent had earned a spot in the next round.
"We all know him very well, and he not only is a very good player, but a great person as well. He’s a senior and had never been to nationals. Somehow, it just wasn’t in my heart to try to knock him out. I think some people were surprised, but my team knew what I was doing and were supportive of me. I felt he deserved to go (to nationals) just as much as I did. It was one of those things where I couldn’t feel good taking something from him like this. My goal from the start was to get (to nationals) with my team. I had already done that."
Too many times we read about cheap shots or fights or cheaters, and it is stories like this that make it all seem petty. A golfer simply knew his place, was comfortable with where he was, and thought that a senior, playing in his final tournament as a collegiate golfer, had done enough to earn one more week with the game he loved. I'm not a big believer in karma, and I'm sure the story won't end the way it should, but if the St. Francis golfer somehow won nationals, it would make for a really nice screenplay. He did what most of us would never do, and although he is short a trophy in his case, he earned respect from anyone reading this story." One thing I will never be accused of is sugar-coating my own foibles. I lay out my mistakes & weakesses, my warts & battle scars, all to hopefully save some other well-intentioned runner or entry-level triathlete from falling down the same storm drains from which I continually extricate myself. I think some of the more critical followers of me & this blog fail to read (the same way we mindlessly sign the waiver on race entry forms...but that's another topic altogether...) the disclaimer I shamelessly adapted/borrowed from Canadian Olympic/ITU 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.
Even the title of this blog is a proviso: I've had many runners ask me questions about training specifics, injuries & events; the first words out of my mouth have always been, 'if I were your coach...' Some even follow & appreciate the advice; a few have even had some success (Ironman finishes & Boston qualifications)...every once in a blue moon I even receive a public thanks...which means a great deal to me.

What I write here is not the sum total of all my foibles, weaknesses & shortcomings. If I were to do that people would mistake me for a negative whiny-butt...& then nobody would ever read it, including my parents. So I really don't feel the need to be more humble, & those who consider it their mission in life to publicly humiliate me...save your efforts.
My friendly neighborhood swimming pool is humility-check enough.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Wasting Our Time Running?

I have a coffee mug...well, actually my wife has a coffee mug she allows me to borrow...which has the face of a lady in her early-to-mid-thirties on it and the phrase: 'today was a complete waste of make-up.' I've taken it on many occasions to my work place, where the sentiment is all-too-notable. Never fails to draw a laugh, especially from my manly-men-slash-ultra-conservative co-workers...not certain yet whether the laugh is one of nervousness at me taking a good long hold of my feminine side or at me having the chutzpah to say right out loud what they are thinking.

But, heaven forbid that when we begin to look at our running we feel that at many times it's a waste. If we're doing the wrong type of training at the the wrong time of the training (or racing) year, however, this could be true. Today's Coach Pat McCrann installment, the second of thirty from his Marathon Nation site, talks about how we can more effectively spend the time we have available to run...doing something which will improve our running.
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Setting the tone for a great run starts well before you hit the pavement. A great run requires the alignment of many things, some of which are even out of our control. Here's what you can do to set the stage for a great run effort:
* Know Your Workout & Goals -- One of the biggest reasons why folks fall into a running rut is because they have no idea why they are running. Could be they have no plan; could be that their plan is poorly written. Regardless of the cause, this higher level understanding will enable you to place your workout - and your mind - into the proper context (hard intervals or endurance day, etc.).
* All Geared Up -- Have all of the proper gear laid out and ready to go well before you need to run. Nothing saps my energy like wasting 15" looking for a pair of running shorts...as that only means 15" less of running time.
(COACH MIKE'S COMMENT: I LIKE TO FOLLOW THE TRIATHLETE'S DICTUM; TRAVEL LIGHT, TRAVEL FAST. THE LESS GEAR, THE BETTER.)
* Know The Conditions & Terrain -- Simple enough, but many folks pay little to no attention to the weather forecast. In addition to the weather, the type of run I am planning helps to dictate where I want to run (the what first, then the where). Having a few options for each "type" of run can go a long way towards making running fun.
I start thinking about the average run workout about an hour before I am due to hit the start button on my Garmin. This is when I take the final steps to make sure my body will be ready to run the workout I have scheduled. From eating to stretching, here are my personal steps (in order of execution):
* Turn the Phone Off -- This is the only thing that has the true potential to end a run before it starts.
* Last Meal -- I spend most of my day grazing, which means I frequently make the wrong food choices before my runs (hummus anyone?). To help counteract this habit -- and to prepare my body for the demands of the workout, I make sure I have a solid meal/snack about 1 hour before the run. This is predominantly carbs with a little bit of protein for good measure.
* Water Replacement -- If you are even remotely like me, you drink too much coffee (or tea, or pop). That's not really going to make your run very enjoyable, so about 45 minutes out I make the switch to drinking water only as a means of Critical Task and/or Email Sweep -- With hydration taking place, I have a few minutes to check in on critical work areas to see if there's any big issues still pending. If so, filing that into my head on a long run really helps me review and analyze the issue. I typically return with some really good insights.
* Final Pit Stop -- Of course, we don't want to spend 50% of our run searching for a place to go to the bathroom...
(COACH MIKE'S COMMENT: SOMETIMES RECONAISSANCE ON THE WAY TO THE RUN COURSE START FOR PORTA-POTTIES ARE A HELP. EVEN BETTER ARE PARKS WITH ACTUAL TOILETS!)
* Light Stretching/Yoga -- I wouldn't call it stretching as much as I'd call it loosening up. Just a light routine that targets your hips, lower back, glutes, hamstrings, quads and calves will be great.
Proper running is an amazing thing to watch. Catching a glimpse of a great runner is much like watching poetry in motion. Regardless of their speed, a great runner seems to effortlessly glide across the landscape. Spend the last 15" before your run focused entirely on your run. If you have your gear ready and your schedule is clear, you can devote these last few minutes to getting your mind -- and body -- ready to run with greatness. Here are a few images I use to get ready:
* A Horse At Full Gallop -- It's no secret I am a bigger doode, and for some reason the image of a horse flying along at full speed strikes me as both powerful and smooth.
* A Waterbug Skipping Across A Pond -- Watching these little guys on the Nature Channel really stuck with me. Seeing how these creatures were made to skim (literally) across the surface of the water is just awesome. This image helps me remember to stay smooth and focused.
* A Stream Flowing Down A Mountain -- This really helps me when running trails or downhill sections. In particular, how smooth the water is despite the speed and any resistance. This image helps me avoid pounding my way to an uncomfortable workout.
What about you? What do you do in your last hour? What's your double top secret mental image? Let us know!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Feel The Rhythm, Feel The Rhyme

Coach Patrick McCrann's Endurance Nation (and lately, his new Marathon Nation) sites have provided me some great common-sense hacks to pass along to folks I advise, coach or mentor. If you feel like you're spending way too much time training, not achieving any positive outcomes, and more likely ticking off everyone around you (family, friends, co-workers, employer) because you spend too much time working harder rather than smarter...well, I'd definitely recommend giving any of the two sites, or his personal site - http://www.patrickjohnmccrann - a long look-see.

This month, Patrick is providing 30 marathon (I'm going to borrow and read "distance running" where he says "marathon") tips over the next 30 days...of which you might run into on any of the three blogs (here, or North Florida RRCA, or F.A.S.T. Pensacola) on which I post. I might punch them in verbatim...I might provide some editorial comments, which will be duly noted:


I picked this tip as the first tip because I think it's that important. After years of doing run clinics and gait analysis sessions, I have learned that if a runner can get her cadence into the right spot, almost every other running technique variable takes care of itself. In other words, if you ignore the next 29 tips but nail this one...you'll be in a pretty good place. Repeat studies and performance reviews of elite athletes have shown that 180-190 steps per minute is the golden standard of cadence. In other words, taking approximately 180 steps per minute (or 90 for each leg) is an excellent way to:

move your stride length into the optimal range;
vastly improve your running economy;
reduce your chance of running injury;
and...all of the above without unduly placing too much focus on running "form."
For many people, this 180 steps per minute is much faster than what they are used to doing. While it will take time and focus to ensure that you can properly make the transition to a higher run cadence, since you can actually control (and measure) how many steps you take, this is a very easy way to implement a positive change in how you run. At the end of the day, running with a good cadence can help keep you going stronger, faster, and even help protect you from many common injuries. Let's get started...

Step 1: Assess Your Cadence
Step 2: Practice + Feel 180 Cadence
Step 3: Implement + Score Your Running

Step 1: Assess Your Cadence in :15 Increments
While it's tempting to just start tweaking...you shouldn't. Before we can make any changes, we have to know where you are starting from. The next time you go for a run, make a mental note to count your steps during the warm up, warm down, and main set portions of your run.

Try counting the strides of one leg for 15 seconds and see how close you can get to 22. Alternately, you can also count arm swings if that's easier. If you're a stickler for details, you'll want to multiply the number of steps by "4" to get the number of steps per minute for that leg, then again by "2" to get the total number of steps taken.

Regardless of your effort level / speed, your cadence should be very similar. By the end of the run, you will have a ball park number for your current "default" number of foot strikes.

Step 2: Practice + Feel 180 Cadence
Now that you know what your default cadence is, it's time to begin working on the 180. Following the same target of 22 steps per 15 seconds, begin your next run at this higher cadence. Check in every minute -- or as needed -- to assess. From experience I suggest you keep this run relatively short in duration (no more than 30 minutes) as the mental focus will really consume the workout.

In addition to counting steps, there are many other cues that you can focus on to help maintain this optimal cadence. As Jack Daniels, elite running coach and renown author advises, optimal stride rate should feel like you are running "over the ground, not into it." Here are a few other things to keep in mind:

Stay relaxed.
Land on the balls of your feet.
Keep your knees slightly bent.
Work on being light-footed / reducing friction.
Concentrate on turning your feet over as fast as you can.
Don't put too much emphasis on pushing off the ground. Instead, work on gliding across it.
Step 3: Implementing The Cadence Habit
With a quality run under your belt at the target cadence of 180 we can now go back to your regular running schedule -- i.e., whatever you are training for. As you continue running, make note of your cadence when you feel great and when you feel, well, not-so-great. Check in on the numbers during your intervals and your longer runs. If you notice a decline in steps -- or related running form/performance -- then get back to those quicker steps! Before you know it you'll be hitting 22 steps every 15 seconds like a well-oiled running machine...leaving the old you (and some of the competition) in the dust.

Notes...
Making the cadence change, like any other new element to your running, takes time and practice. At first you will need to repeat the workout in Step 2 rather frequently, but over time you will begin to gravitate to this more natural rhythm. You will also notice a slightly higher heart rate than usual for the same (or slightly slower) pace. This is not uncommon and is evidence that you are, in fact, making a change to how you run. Awesome! Give yourself until the end of the Project and you'll find that as your cadence evolves, your higher heart rate will simply fade away.
COACH MIKE'S COMMENTARY:
While I'm not a fan of running with music, especially on race day or during track workouts when acceleration drills might be on the agenda...there are times when having the right tempo music can help you to groove in that 85-90 left/right foot strikes per minute. I'm one of those guys who loves to know exactly what tempo the tunes in my iTunes are...not only for the benefit of those days when I might be on the treadmill, but also on the elliptical trainer or in the pool (I have a waterproof MP3 player). I have playlists of tunes in five-to-ten beat windows (to borrow from Foghorn Leghorn...), just for such an occasion.
If you prefer to not wear an iPod or MP3 player you can do a search on the internet for song tempos, or purchase a little metronome to clip on your hat or waistband.
There are some folks who can be their own jukebox as needed. I used to memorize entire albums of music and could pick tracks out of thin air. Strangest thing was the tune I picked out for my first road race, across the Gandy Bridge between Tampa and St. Petersburg, was in that 85 left/right foot strike per minute sweet spot...A Thousand Years, from Sting's Brand New Day release (a staple of my late college years). When I went back through my Sting collection in iTunes, I found a few other tracks which fell in that window:
Brand New Day-
-A Thousand Years (88)
-Perfect Love...Gone Wrong (90)
Bring On The Night-
-Low Life (90)
Dream of the Blue Turtles-
-Love Is The Seventh Wave (85)
-Shadows In The Rain (92)
Fields Of Gold: Best Of Sting-
-When We Dance (90)
-Why Should I Cry For You? (84)
Mercury Falling-
-All Four Seasons (88)
Nothing Like The Sun-
-Fragile (84)
Sacred Love-
-Dead Man's Rope (88)
-Forget About The Future (88)
The Soul Cages-
-Mad About You (90)
Ten Summoners Tales-
-Love Is Stronger Than Justice (85)
-She's Too Good For Me (90)
-It's Probably Me (90)
If I had to pick three tunes to channel in order to work on my pacing/rhythm/tempo/footstrike from the tunes above:
3. Fragile - a great tune for those long runs when you want to go to your happy place.
2. Why Should I Cry For You? - perfect for tempo work; the groove just goes.
1. A Thousand Years - race day tune, pure and simple, at least in my opinion.
Take the time to look at the tunes which are your running favorites and see how many of them fall into that 85-90 footstrike/minute pace...I bet there are more than you care to admit.