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, July 30, 2010

Running Legends and Urban Legends

Here goes one of those posts which is guaranteed to infuriate some, aggravate others & most likely reinforce my status in the eyes of some as a complete flaming...well, you can fill in the rest of the statement.

I recently read a former Olympian described by someone as a running & coaching legend. As I read the statement I sat back & gave what my old coach would have described as the classic 'oh? Really?' response. First thing I had to do is pull out my reference materials, especially what I consider the mack daddy of all running texts, Lore of Running.As a guy who coaches runners (some face-to-face, some remotely) & sometimes has the chance to answer questions about physiology, training, & injuries, this 700-plus-page text could be the answer to the 'if you could only purchase & use one running-related book, which would it be?' question.
So, rather than buy into anecdotal evidence, assertions & claims of improving a marathon time between 15 & 45 minutes by a particular training plan, I looked at the science. When Timothy Noakes, a physician & ultramarathoner, uses your training plan & the word heresy in the same sentence, well, Sarah Palin would possibly say your plan was refudiated.
So I show this information to my wife. She begins to tell me, 'well, he's doing something good for the running community. He's gotten a bunch of people off the couch & onto the roads.' Yes, but how many people are buying the lie that if you can walk 26 miles you can complete a marathon without hurting yourself? You mean there aren't people who don't get injured by that particular plan?

Noakes, in his tome, (which in the section on training commonalities between the legends and experts of the sport) refers to research refuting a relationship between a high/low volume training plan & an improvement in marathon performance. Frankly, the first challenge of marathon training - for each individual - is finding the plan which works best for their lifestyle, gets them to the starting line on the day ready to do their best, & allows them to - as he mentions in his 15 laws of training - get the best performance on the least amount of training possible.
I've done three marathons in the past two decades. In fact, my first marathon was my first road race of any sort, so I might have been a forerunner of the follower of urban legend number 783: anybody with enough guts (and a lack of intellect) can finish a marathon. I did my first marathon on a low-volume plan of 35-to-40 kilometers a week, hit the wall at 14 miles & dragged myself in under four-and-a-half hours. Ignorance is bliss.

My other two marathons were done during periods of higher training volume, with a blend of long runs, speed work, tempo runs & recovery efforts. I fell ill during the last month of training for marathon number two, & injured myself on my last long run preparing for marathon number three.
Not everyone is built to handle the stress of marathon training, regardless of whether the plan is high-volume, low-volume. Not everyone is meant to participate in marathons. And, I firmly believe, anyone who gets off the couch to run should think about training for shorter distance events first. Find the distance you love to race - balance the challenge with the amount of volume needed to properly train. And move incrementally up the distance chain - 5k, 8k, 10k, 12k, 15k, 21k, etc., if you are going to eventually try a marathon.

Even though there are 20 books out there which say you can, you don't have to.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Timothy Noakes and the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition

There was a time, just before I started college, that I started to watch Star Trek: The Next Generation & (to a lesser degree) Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. It came on just after the local news; this gave me the chance to unwind after an evening run. Since my friend John (and his wife Terri) had a nice television (Anything larger than the 12-inch diagonally-measured black-and-white I had at that time in my little apartment met the definition of nice.) at their apartment, they would graciously invite me over for an O'Doul's or a white zin spritzer, & we would watch one or both of the ST series episodes, depending on the day of the week.

I thought ST: TNG was the better of the two series, but there was something entertaining about ST: DSN.
As a guy with an all-too-rigidly-defined sense of right-and-wrong, I found the Ferengi both abhorrent & attractive. For 18 months between my sudden social shake-up & going to college, I had a former roommate, a one-time grad assistant/fervent left-winger/lecturer/small-time con artist/educational fraud-enabler at the University of Arizona. We spent evenings discussing ethics, philosophy, economics, history & political science over coffee or dinner, either at the local Shoney's or on the back porch of my apartment. I absorbed the equivalent of a freshman-year education during that time, for free...it cost his share of the rent.

Discussion topics ranged from existentialism (once you understand it you see it in everything) to what can best be described as the economics of the street. Of course, when you've had a Manichaean black v. white, good v. evil mindset drummed into you from childhood & further beaten into you by fundamentalist preachers, there are certain moments which can be quite liberating. Nietzsche's beyond good & evil, master mentality v. slave mentality, for example. However, you don't have to read Nietzsche to understand Nietzsche. Just look for old Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episodes. The Ferengi are Nietzsche reincarnated.
I used to love the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition. My buddy used to laugh at me because I had a rigid, methodical approach to everything in life. (I was a Methodist for many years. Sue me.) He used to joke about the Tao of Bowen: Follow sidewalks rather than cut across grass, stuff like that. Even my wife figured I have this tendency to calculate, & try, much like Emanuel Kant, to live my life as though a universal rule should be written by it (what Kant called the categorical imperative). Until this morning I wondered if ANYONE wrote down or collected the ROA for the benefit of fanatics (lunatics?) like me.

So, I was at the track last night...we were finishing a particularly ugly workout when my friend Larry S. finished his warm-up jog. We chatted about training, & he asked my opinion about a particular long-distance training program. (Naturally, I've got opinions. If I didn't I wouldn't be writing here, right?) I told him what I thought was the dirty little secret about the plan, then provided him a recommendation of my own, based on his goal...which I learned was completing an international distance (otherwise known as Olympic-distance) triathlon. Larry trains with me when his work schedule permits, & he's a good soul, so I do not hesitate to give him my wisest counsel...which, of course, he can ignore at his peril or use...& more than likely do well. Ferengi Rule of Acquisition #284: "Deep down everyone's a Ferengi."
Larry was going to use a marathon training plan as the run training portion of his triathlon prep. Since Larry's doing an international distance event, I felt a marathon plan would put too much run training volume into his training. After doing a quick crunch of numbers, I estimated he would do 50 minutes for ten kilometers of running, 75 minutes for 40 kilometers on the bike, and 18-to-20 minutes on the swim. So, nearly two & a half hours at race effort? I believe he needs little more than to be able to run a decent half-marathon at the worst. Maybe somewhere less, but definitely more than a typical ten-kilometer training plan, and definitely less than a marathon, since he's going to be fatigued from the bike by the time he starts the run.

Why did I provide Larry that counsel? Timothy Noakes' Law of Training, #6: "Achieve As Much As Possible on a Minimum of Training."
Too many athletes, especially ones whose goal is to finish the event, do too much training. The law of diminishing returns, especially in run training, has sharp teeth. It doesn't hurt to know your own physical limitations: If you try to run marathons & the training volume kicks your @$$ (which it has done to me two times out of three), it might be the Almighty's way of trying to tell you to try half-marathons instead...or to find a training program with less volume.

Yeah, there are other factors, too, but you have to know what your body can - & cannot - handle. And in closing, let me remind you of Ferengi Rule of Acquisition #44: "Never confuse wisdom with luck."

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Let Me Hear Your Body Talk

One of the most common phrases which come out of my mouth when chatting with an athlete who feels beat-up, or when we're at the track during an infernal workout - and one which has come from many of my own coaches in the past - is "listen to your body." What do coaches mean when that pithy and somewhat nebulous phrase comes up? More often than not it means "dude, you're not getting enough rest; it's quite likely you are overreaching, and you're not adjusting your workout efforts to reflect the prevailing conditions."

At local run events and social gatherings I've talked to folks who train with other groups at the same time I train my athletes. They've asked what our particular workout was on a given day, and said something along the lines of 'I should probably come work out with you, because your workouts appear to be a little easier.' When I hear that I'm not certain whether to be honored or offended, because I know we're also working our butts off. But, after taking a minute or two to read the unspoken message, I figure I'm doing the right thing.


When there's no major racing in the immediate future it's silly to be blasting 800-meter repeats at six-minute-per-mile pace with a quarter-mile jog recovery...on a day when the heat index is in the triple digits. That's why, I think, my coach never had a workout written down on paper for us...and I find my drive to the track is the best time for me to figure exactly what I'm going to assign. I have a good idea as far as what I'd like to do, and then I adjust accordingly given the weather and health of the athletes. Is it hot? Humid? Are we beat up? Is there a race coming?

I coach on perceived effort. What an athlete feels is 60-percent of their maximum ability on one day can be faster...or slower...on another, depending on weather conditions, stress, diet, and so on. And during this time of the year, when the conditions are about a degree shy of suck, the statement 'make your fresh fresh' is not just idle chatter. I wear a Garmin 310XT, with a heart rate monitor strap, when I run. I want to know how my heart reacts to the effort the rest of my body is putting out.

Contrary to popular belief, the heart is a demand pump...it reacts to demand signals from the brain and muscles, pumping blood to nourish, fuel, and maintain stable internal body temperature. A particular pace can have my heart beating at 145 at one time, and 185 at another time...once again, depending on stress, heat, humidity, hydration, and so on...even from one point in the workout to the next can show a variation. Since I know I'm a little less fit than my athletes, I'll look at my recovery...or lack of it...and use it to extend recovery intervals or pull the plug on a workout altogether. I've run with athletes who thought there were extra points for being the toughest in the workout. Unfortunately, many of them are now once a runner. For me the goal is to stay running as long as possible.

Heart rate monitors...nice tools, especially for guesstimating the effect a particular workout had upon your heart. Since the heart is a demand pump you can "kind of-sort of" get an idea how the rest of your body reacted to the workout's stress. The better-quality heart rate monitors often come with software, or will provide feedback on how long your heart rate was in a particular range...some will help you track how long your heart rate was in each training zone or ten-percent range between minimum and maximum heart rates (talking about max heart rate is another entertaining topic altogether).

I've borrowed and adapted a training impact score calculation which was developed by Dr. Eric Bannister in 1975. Each minute of "work" in a ten-percent window of predicted maximum heart rate between 50 and 100 percent is given a score: 50-to-59 gets 1, 60-to-69 gets 2, 70-to-79 gets 3, and so on. Those numbers are then added up to get a training impact score.

For example:

60-minute workout. The HR monitor data downloaded reveals:

3.5 minutes at 50%

15 minutes at 60%

12 minutes at 70%

6 minutes at 80%

5.2 minutes at 90%

So...I punch the numbers into my little Excel spreadsheet which does all the ugly mathematics I show below...
TRIMP = (3.5 x 1) + (15 x 2) + (12 x 3) + (6 x 4) + (5.2 x 5), or...

TRIMP = 3.5 + 30 + 36 + 24 + 26, or...

TRIMP = 119.5

Now, a 119.5 training impact score for a 60 minute workout means I averaged just a little below 70% of maximum heart rate (119.5/60 = 1.9916), probably 69%. I could probably deal with a workout at that level on a regular - near-daily - basis. Things get a little silly when, for example, you do a 60-minute workout and the TRIMP is near or above 150. Some times if the impact score is two times or more the total number of minutes, I'll either rest or cross-train - easy, peasy, lemon-squeezy in the pool, or walk, or elliptical trainer at a very low resistance.
Naturally, n = 1. What works for one person might not, or probably won't, work for another.
But Bannister's TRIMP score provides me a way to gauge not only the amount of work expended over a single workout, but also over the course of a week. I can add up the total impact in an effort to incrementally increase workload (following the classic 'ten-percent rule') without going overboard.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Motivation and Motives

Several close family members have been in a state of transition, or flux. Their decisions on who, what & where they want to be have been made in close proximity to my wife & me. Some decisions have been made which made us ask the classic 'what were they thinking?' Other moments has made us wonder, in the words of the old Paul Carrack tune 'how long?' However, it "ain't" us having to live with the direct consequences of the decisions...only the indirect ones.

Been thinking a great deal about motivation and motives the past few months, especially since my experience in New Orleans last April. I had a few people make derogatory comments about my swimming ability (or the lack of) in the period almost immediately afterward, but it hasn't affected my motivation for getting into the pool...too much.

But I will be honest that motivation waxes and wanes over the course of the year, depending on the weather conditions. The holiday season at the end of the year is, naturally, a challenge in and of itself because of the social functions which fill time. Summer, on the other hand, are filled with many other outdoor activity opportunities which can fill the calendar. Balance between training schedule and social calendar - especially folks who run more for entertainment and personal fitness - is a necessity. Their motivation is often external...compare your fitness to that of your friends. Or "frenemies."

Serious runners have another challenge. Depending on your definition of "serious." Motivation for the serious runners is more internal.

The motives? Those are as personal as the runners themselves.

SO, if you're beating yourself up right now because of the present conditions, take a moment or two to think about whether you're just trying to put a check in the box or if there's a good reason to get beat down...right now.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Sometimes You Just Have To Say...

...the statement I was going to use (borrowed from an old friend, Christian Beine) can have positive & negative connotations. This weekend, it's a little bit of both.

It is not often I go to New Orleans in a month which is not spelled with an "R" somewhere within or at the end. Sure, there's the August trip to do the NOH3 Red Dress thing...that's a situation where I kick myself while pulling funky, nasty sweaty red dresses out of the back of my car, asking the un-askable question: 'What in the world was I thinking when I registered for this?' Then I realize I added a few too many words to the front end of the sentence & should have started the question with: 'Was I thinking...?' Naturally, my wife reminds me it is all in good fun.

This time we went, not to commemorate a hasher hook-up (I never knew that was the story behind the RDR!) but to take part in a variation of a ritual steeped in lore & tradition, immortalized by Papa Ernest Hemingway in the last three chapters of his novel, The Sun Also Rises. Seems someone felt like there was a need for another reason to party in New Orleans & the Fiesta de San Fermin seemed like as good a reason as any. I never knew the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona was part of a religious festival, but I guess when you're in a nation as Catholic (with a capital "C") as Spain, nearly everything has religious undertones.

And when you have the amount of spare time to research stuff I do...in between doing real work...you do have the opportunity to learn the history & significance of things. I think it makes the experience that much more meaningful, personally. The San Fermin web site, http://www.sanfermin.com/, not only had photos & commentary about the history, but even a little bit about Hemingway's visits there through his middle age. Even better, the site was set up in Spanish, Basque & English...with links to an on-line store for shirts & stuff. Hey, even the Euros feel the need to be capitalistic. Every so often.

But I digress.

Bulls are deeply tied into Spanish culture, long before even the Umayyad (sic?) Caliphate took over the Iberian peninsula. That much I recall from some multimedia thing I watched while I was studying Spanish in college. Somehow, I guess there was some machismo thing going on in the ability to avoid getting stomped or gored by some bull being taken down the main drag to it's eventual death in the bull ring. Not quite certain where San Fermin falls in there, save for the fact he's the patron saint of Pamplona, in the province of Navarre.

I guess during the seven or eight days of the festival these bull breeders in the region send eight of their fighting bulls to die for the pleasure of Spanish aficionados. And the last 800 meters or so of the trip is through the center of town to the bull ring. Barricades abound. Oh, & did I mention the very slippery cobblestone surface & the hard ninety-degree turn near the end? First time I had the chance to see this was not long after I first moved to Pensacola; Outdoor Life Network (now called Versus) would show it in the afternoons...guess Craig Hummer & Al Trautwig needed something stranger than cycle racing to commentate upon, huh? Bizarre thing to watch a ton of angry hamburger try to take a hard right on cobblestones...slide like he's on ice, & BANG! Into the barrera.

All right, so New Orleans' San Fermin is a little more kind & genteel. At least for New Orleans. First year's encierro had a few hundred participants & maybe a dozen "bulls," well, roller derby chicks with horned helmets & whiffle ball bats. This year, the third, had around five thousand participants & probably a hundred "bulls" from all over the southeastern U.S. And the blend of tradition & whimsy is perfect.

The start of the encierro is at the northern end of the Vieux Carre', winds through the Quarter, and finishes in the Warehouse District. The event started officially at eight o'clock, but if you weren't at the corner near the balcony at 7:05 the odds were good you were not going to have a good spot for the beginning of the festivities.

At (probably...I haven't worn a watch in six months, so time is relative!) 7:55, the caretakers of San Fermin's statue marched up Rue Conti, led by a squad of drummers. San Fermin was then followed by a flight of rolling Elvi on mini-motorized scooters. Once San Fermin was installed in his proper place, the Padron stepped out onto the balcony of the Three-Legged Dog & gave his welcoming speech. This was immediately followed by the kneeling & invocation of the participants to (who else?) San Fermin, asking him to guide them safely ahead of the bulls. Immediately afterward, unlike the real encierro where a rocket is launched to send off the runners, we were sent down the course.

The pace for the run was closer to a dawdle. Enough for us to think, 'heck, no worries...this is going to be an easy little Saturday morning jog in the FQ.' No sooner did that thought cross my mind than we made a left-hand turn through what appeared to be a barrier of spectators standing in the middle of the street. At that point I looked to the right.

Ever watch those old movies where Godzilla, or some fifty-foot tall, radioactivity-enhanced thing rises out of a body of water and begins to stomp its way into a major metropolitan area? Think about the people (who have screams of terror dubbed in) as they look back at the creature about ready to turn them into a grease spot on the sidewalk. That's the look we all had. Why? We just turned onto the point of the course where the "bulls" were waiting to be released. Screaming? Absolutely. Like a seven-year-old girl, I was.

We began to run like Kenyans at the Classic. And behind us we could hear the plastic 'whonk' sound of whiffle ball bat meeting body part, which only made us more panicky. My wife took the smarter plan of action, and stepped off the course onto the sidewalk. She told me while she thought this was all in good fun she was not in the mood to be whacked in the fanny with a plastic bat. So, she managed to come through the day un-bruised.

On the other hand, I received the beating of a lifetime, the sort I hadn't received since nearly failing middle school English grammar so long ago. It could have been a grounding, but noooo... These hits weren't just gentle 'whacks.' Some of these girls were out to make up for ex-boyfriends or something...one of them had a forehand which would make Serena Williams proud. I still have the mark.

Of course, with all that humidity & sweat flying around someone's going to lose a bat, & someone's going to lose control. One bull & I ended up in the San Fermin in Nueva Orleans version of a Mexican Standoff; she lost grip of her bat, which fell to the ground at my feet. I picked it up: Any other situation would call for payback. However, the second rule of the run, 'Do Not Touch The Bulls,' applied. So, I shook the bat at her with a small amount of menace, then smiled and handed it back to her. No good deed goes unpunished; she responded with a swat in the keister & a blown kiss for my reward.

While some of the NOLA roller girls were probably familiar with the terrain, it's hard to say whether the imported "bulls" were as well-prepared. The pavement can be rather unforgiving if you don't keep your wits about you...while the cobblestoned last two blocks of the encierro provided payback to the "bulls," there were a few places on the course where I watched "bulls" succumb to the laws of physics or crash into "innocent bystanders." If you're standing on the side of the road for the express purpose of watching this particular spectacle, the term "innocent" does not apply, in my humble opinion. Some guy complained about a bull causing him to spill his drink all over his shirt. Neither bull, nor runner, nor fellow spectator felt the least sympathetic.

The bulls quickly realized trying to roll over cobblestones would lead to accidents which could put this years' Tour de France to shame, so they lined up in a gauntlet formation & proceeded to beat upon the runners who had the temerity to run behind them on the course. The sound of whiffle ball bats could on that block from Tchopitoulas to Julia leading to Ernst Cafe' for blocks around. I rejoined my wife, who was standing at the entrance of Ernst Cafe cooling off. We watched for a few minutes the spectacle of runners staging photographed whacks with imported & domestic bulls, then retired, like Hemingway & his companions once did, to our hotel room to prepare for the next stage of our Fiesta experience.

Monday, July 5, 2010

"Coach Dog"

...and I'm not talking about Dalmatians, those spotted coach dogs.

On more than one occasion I've lauded the simplicity of lifestyle of my retired racing greyhound-cum-household companion, Rubin. Given his inherent limitations - lack of opposable thumbs, inability to communicate in the English language, and occasional bouts of selective hearing - he's taught me a great deal about how to train, a good amount about how to coach, and a little bit, even, about how to maintain relationships.

Lesson one - consistent lifestyle. Rubin awakens at five o'clock every morning to take care of his immediate needs, determines whether extra rest is necessary, and continues his plan of the day accordingly. I've never heard him complain that he feels guilty about postponing a workout (in his case, a morning walk) in favor of a little extra rest, or deciding to settle for a trot around the back yard in place of a walk in the park. There are cases where his decision leads to a less-than-desirable outcome, but those are few and far between. Sometimes the weather conditions factor in, sometimes what he had for dinner the previous evening, sometimes even the availability of his "training partner." Still, his ability to adapt to the infrequent vicissitudes of greyhound life are a lesson to me.

Lesson two - sometimes a look says enough. Greyhounds are not known for barking unless they perceive a threat, so facial expressions and posture make up for the quiet nature. I've told friends on occasion: 'when an 85-pound greyhound stands between you and the television screen, you listen.' There are a number of different looks I've learned to translate, from the 'gotta go out' stare to the subtle look toward the box of Milk-Bone biscuits sitting atop the refrigerator. He's a tad more physical with Suzanne when she moves through the hall or works in the kitchen; a look with me often works where velcro dog is the preferred means of communication with my wife.

Lesson three - trust never sleeps. Greyhounds have two time contexts: Now, and forever. Really. Any dog owner can tell you. When do dogs want attention, food, walks, pets, ear scratching, belly rubs and the like? Now. How long has it been since the last treat, walk, bit of attention, or your departure from the house? Forever. They trust you're going to do the right thing, all the time; even if you fall short of their expectations (if dogs have expectations...) they still love and honor you.

So, for me? What do I think this means for individuals/athletes?
First - lifestyle consistency cannot be stressed enough. Rest if you're beat up; back off the effort if you're less than beat up, listen to your body and the conditions.
Second - communication between two people in a relationship (even between coach and athlete) is an individual matter. Some prefer lengthy chats a'la James Joyce; others prefer succinctness a'la Ernest Hemingway. No matter how you decide to communicate...
Third - do the right thing...be honest with everybody. It's simpler than trying to remember what story you told to what person.

Thanks, Rubin. Take two Milk-Bones out of petty cash.