So, How Many Hats Do You Wear?

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Pensacola, Florida, United States
Husband. *Dog Dad.* Instructional Systems Specialist. Runner. (Swim-challenged) Triathlete (on hiatus). USATF LDR Surveyor. USAT (Elite Rules) CRO/2, NTO/1. RRCA Rep., FL (North). Observer Of The Human Condition.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Run - The Smallest Part Of Training

Two evenings. Ninety minutes. As a coach that's how much time a week on the average I have to influence the training of my athletes. I have to trust them to do the right things on the other five days of the week; run a long run, run a semi-long run, run some easy runs, rest, listen to their body, and so on. The training regimen of every athlete, whether elite or amateur, boils down to two states: The Run, and The Recovery.

When you're not running you're recovering. It's that simple. Even if you're busy at your "real job", if you're not running it's recovery time. Simply put, recovery begins the moment you finish the run. Some of the smartest things you can do to aid in the recovery process has to start within the first 30 minutes of the finish.

First things first: let's refill the tank. A blend of carbohydrates & protein (3-to-1 or to 4-to-1 is optimal) will help to repair micro-torn muscles & jump-start the process of glycolysis (simply put, the making of glycogen, the fuel muscles use to burn for energy). You can either take this in solid or liquid form; your body will accept it either way. If you don't like to eat soon after a hard run or a race, then you can use a commercial recovery drink, like (Pacific Health Labs') Accelerade, (Aijinomoto's) Amino Vital, or (Cytosport's) Muscle Milk to get those necessary elements in that 30-minute window. Why 30 minutes? Physiological research finds muscles are more ready to accept those elements during that first 30-minute period. Besides, I can think of few things better after a hot, sweaty long run than a nice cool drink.

Low-fat chocolate milk has been the latest recovery hero; an almost perfect blend of carbohydrates & protein, and without the hassle of measuring and mixing; every little local convenience store (no matter where you are) has 16 ounce or half-liter bottles of the stuff in stock. If you can eat during that half-hour window, low-fat yogurt, a sandwich or pasta with meat sauce will also do the trick. Does it have to be both carbohydrates & protein? While carbohydrate-only refueling is better than no refueling at all, a recent study concluded runners taking carbohydrates & protein together reported less soreness compared to runners who took only carbohydrates.

At the finish of my ten-miler this morning I stepped into the porta-potty near my car. I felt like I needed to void my bladder, but all I could void was a small amount of dark yellow urine. Yes, I was definitely dehydrated; probably even before I started the run. The eight-to-ten ounces of water I took in at the halfway point of the run was a weak holding action at best in the struggle to remain hydrated. I wrung out more than that amount from my technical shirt at a mile-and-a-half to go. There are multiple schools of thought on rehydration:

Weight change - weigh yourself naked before & after the run. Rehydrate with the same amount of water or sports drink you lost in weight.

Weight change/150-percent - weigh yourself naked before & after the run. Rehydrate with 150 percent - one-and-a-half times - the amount of water or sports drink you lost in weight.

Weight - weigh yourself . Divide the number (pounds) by two. That number is the amount of water (in ounces) you should take in. This school of thought is good for those no training run days.

Urine color - drink enough water/sports drink to ensure the color of your urine is straw-colored/light yellow. The problem with this method is it's subjectivity; one person might consider their urine to be sufficiently light in color, also, vitamin supplements can color urine a bright yellow.

I run with several friends who consider beer to be a beverage with multiple benefits; post-run carb replenishment, post-run analgesic, lubricant. One out of three is correct. Apart from killing pain (and brain cells!), alcohol affects reaction time, accuracy, balance, eye-hand coordination, & endurance. Even the night-before "barley pop carbo load" can screw up sleep cycles & hurt the next day's performance.

A 12-ounce can of beer has only 14 grams of carbohydrates, as compared to 40 grams in a can of soft drink. Athletes who drink regular beer end up running - to the bathroom - more than those who drink low-alcohol beer or alcohol-free beer. And drinking alcohol forces your liver to focus on breaking down alcohol rather than on glycolysis. So one 12-ounce can of beer can delay your body's recovery & refueling by an hour. When you have real life to accomplish outside of the run or the workout every hour counts.

If you're trying to drop a pound or few (one pound of excess weight can add two seconds per mile to a race performance) calories in alcohol pile on top of regular caloric intake. Alcohol also stimulates the appetite & makes it harder to feel full. So if you like alcohol, limit the drinks to two per day (for men; one for women). And don't forget to swap between one glass of non-alcoholic beverage for every drink.

I know several local massage therapists; I train one of them. I'd use their services on a weekly basis if I didn't have a real daytime job. My employer understands my occasional training & coaching-related absences to a certain degree, but I'm not willing to push the envelope on this account. So, outside of the occasional weekend "fit into the schedule" visit, my use of massage as a means of recovery is a do-it-yourself project. Some massage therapists teach self-massage to their clients as a value-added service: A smart LMT will have to work less hard on an athlete who keeps their muscles & tendons happy in between visits. The founder of Trigger Point Performance Therapy considers self-massage like tooth-brushing; you still go to the professional (like a dentist) for a thorough job or an emergency situation. Some popular self-massage items include foam rollers, therapy & sports balls for pinpoint massage, knobs; there are also at least half a dozen books on athletic & therapeutic self-massage. Check with your local health club, therapy spa, massage therapist, or athletic specialty store - not necessarily in that order - for lessons, items & recommendations on what works...and what should be avoided like the plague.

Yoga can be used as a cross-training or therapy tool - the core strengthening, relaxation & flexibility aspects can be used either after or in between workouts; even on those days when you're beat up or injured. There are stretches & positions which will work on the legs, core & balance.

Lastly, compression wear - tops, tights, & socks - can help ensure blood flows from the extremities back to the heart, lungs and digestive system. They provide gentle pressure and support to the muscles, as well as retain warmth, which will allow the muscles to remain supple for a longer period of time. There are several companies which produce compression clothing, at varying levels of affordability, so every runner can take advantage of their benefits. Oh, and while there are many runners who swear by the use of compression sleeves or compression socks while racing or training, the jury is still out on the benefits; so far all they seem to do is make runners look a little geeky.

So, the best way to prepare for the next workout is to aggressively approach the recovery process immediately after the present run is completed.

Monday, September 20, 2010

If At First You Don't Succeed

Got up at oh-dark-thirty a couple of mornings ago to run a ten-mile race simulation workout. If that statement coming from me does not provide a deep sense of foreboding, then stick around; the sense progresses from ankle-to-knee depth in nothing flat. Even on the most-industrious of training days, save for the ones when I visit my New Orleans friends (I have to justify my dietary indiscretion!) I don't get out the door any earlier than 7 a.m. Yes, race days are a different story, hence the simulation workout being so darn early. So, I began my early morning ritual: Feed the dog, fire up the coffee pot & await the, er, signs which tell me my body is completely awake. After dressing & stepping out the door it was time to start; why stand around thinking about what needs to be done? The sooner I start the run the sooner I can get on with breakfast & the rest of the day.

I figured the first two miles would be a bit of a slog; my body is usually in a state of denial, or shock, at the thought of running. After two miles my heart & lungs figure out what is happening & join in on the "fun." However, at two miles I began to feel some sharp pains in both of my heels. I decided to see if I could continue through the discomfort; perhaps the plantar tendons would loosen up enough to let me finish the run. At two-and-a-half miles my gut decided to join in on the chorus of complaints. Game over. Shut it down. Walk it home. Call it a day.
The law of cause-and-effect rings true in running: For every action we take, there is the opportunity for the body to exert an equal & sometimes opposite reaction...which it will if certain laws are not followed. Running places stress on our body, which it learns to adapt to over time. After a while, the stress which caused us to lay on the couch all afternoon only tires us for an hour or so; eventually we get stronger because of the stuff we first thought would kill us. See? Nietzsche was right! This is essence of training - we throw our body little curveballs to make it stronger.

The problem when we start running is, we feel too good about the first stresses & overestimate how much the body can take. That's why new runners eventually get dinged up, & old runners (like me) occasionally nurse overuse injuries - plantar fasciitis, achilles tendonitis, iliotibial band syndrome & patellofemoral joint pain, just to name a few - when we make a few too many changes in our training plan before thinking about the effect. Add some hill repeats or bridge running when you're used to training on the flats, or increase the intensity or mileage beyond the level your body can stand, & the next thing you know you are gobbling ibuprofen like it's candy.
Here's a list of some of the most common running-related (overuse) injuries, causes & treatments:

Symptom: Swelling & pain around joint (i.e., ankle).
Possible Diagnosis: Sprain.
Possible Cause: Applying weight to foot in a rolled position, while running or jumping on an uneven surface.
Treatment: Rest, ice, compression & elevation for 7-10 days. Anti-inflammatories to reduce pain and inflammation. Gradual progress to weight-bearing exercise as tolerated. See a doctor if injury does not respond to treatment in two weeks.

Symptom: Pain at back of ankle.
Possible Diagnosis: Achilles tendinosis.
Possible Cause: Tight or weak calf muscles. Too much training, hill running or speedwork. Excess stretching can aggravate the problem.
Treatment: Reduce/stop hill/speed work. Gently stretch calves after exercise, & ice the tendon area. Strengthen the calf muscles (toe raises, balancing on your toes, wall stretching). Cross train on some “easy” days.

Symptom: Muscle pain, soreness or stiffness.
Possible Diagnosis: Delayed onset muscle soreness.
Possible Cause: Microscopic tearing of the muscle fibers from exercise. Eccentric muscle contractions, like downhill running, going down stairs, and squats cause this most.
Treatment: Rest, ice, compression and elevation for 7-10 days. Anti-inflammatories to reduce pain and inflammation. Drink more fluids.Symptom: Pain along the outside of the knee and lower thigh, especially when going down stairs or getting up from a seat.
Possible Diagnosis: Iliotibial (IT) band syndrome.
Possible Cause: Common in runners who run only on one side of a crowned road. Biomechanical abnormalities, muscle tightness or lack of flexibility in the gluteal (buttock) or quadriceps (thigh) muscles.
Treatment: Rest, ice, compression and elevation. Anti-inflammatories to reduce pain. Decrease mileage. Consider a physical therapy visit for leg strengthening exercises.

Symptom: Pain under or around kneecap, worsening with activity, while descending stairs, etc.
Possible Diagnosis: Patellofemoral pain syndrome.
Possible Cause: Likely the way the patella tracks along the groove of the femur, depending on muscle strength and balance, use, & tracking. This means the cause may be from a variety of different factors, to include muscle imbalance & shoe breakdown.
Treatment: Rest. Non-impact exercise, like swimming. You may want a physician or physical therapist to coordinate your treatment with additional strengthening & stretching.

Symptom: Pain under the glute/buttocks.
Possible Diagnosis: Piriformis syndrome
Possible Cause: Shortening of the muscle and compression of the nerve. Overuse of glutes & other hip muscles can also cause piriformis muscle spasms. Other factors include gait problems, poor body mechanics & posture.
Treatment: Stretching & strengthening of the core and glutes & the best treatment for piriformis syndrome.
Symptom: Pain in the heel, especially during the first steps in the morning/of a run.
Possible Diagnosis: Plantar fasciitis
Possible Cause: Flat feet, high arches, excess pronation, weight gain, tight achilles’ tendons, sudden changes in workout intensity/time/type/surface, poor shoes.
Treatment: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Stretch the achilles’ tendon. Massage the sole, achilles’ tendon & calf with a roller. Walk/run in proper footwear – no barefoot walking or running.

Symptom: Pain at front of lower leg, along shin bone.
Possible Diagnosis: Shin splints.
Possible Cause: Improper stretching, lack of warm-up, hard surfaces, improper footwear, biomechanical problems.
Treatment: Rest, ice, compression & elevation for 7-10 days. An anti-inflammatory can help reduce pain & inflammation. Gradual progress to pain-free weight-bearing exercise. See a doctor if injury does not respond to treatment in three weeks.

So when it comes to increasing the amount of mileage or time you spend running, the best rule is to not increase by more than ten percent; and that ten percent should be stretched across the week as much as possible. When looking at pace and effort, the percentage of maximum heart rate multiplied by time can provide a training stress score which can be tracked over time. Lastly, when dealing with hill/bridge repeats, err on the side of caution; easy paces and cautious increase in volume.

If at first you don't succeed in learning how to wisely increase your workout volume, don't worry. Your body will let you know it's time to try, try again.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Size Of The Dog In The Fight

"It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog." - Samuel Langhorne Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain (1835-1910)
My personal best at the 5,000 meter distance on the roads came at the tail end of a great season of training & racing with a couple of really good guys, guys who would definitely be on my short list of favorite training partners in the past. As I think about them, one guy definitely stands out from the others; he brought out the best (on rare occasions the worst) in me at the track & on the roads.
Mike was one of those guys who did not look like a "typical runner". Really. Think about the folks you see when you show up at a local road race; most are milling about in their singlets & shorts doing their stretches, jogging their striders. Everybody's tense, as if their self-image depends on running a personal best. Well, everybody except for Mike. To see him before the start of a race, (or hanging out at the track before a workout, for that matter) you would scratch your head in wonder: Did this guy miss the turn to the softball field & somehow end up here? So, right off the bat you would discount this guy's ability to be at the front of the field, or at least in front of you.
That is, until the gun went off. Mike was the kind of runner who could blow your doors off at the first mile; he could lay back & wait patiently until the three-mile point, then kick past you as you're "dying". Either way, you would gasp in wonder at the finish: "how can a BIG guy run so quickly?"There are factors involved in running which cannot be easily measured, such as motivation, discipline & mental toughness - some or all of these qualities can make the difference between a person being a good runner & a very good runner. But, there are measurable factors which can help determine potential running performance, or determine the level for potential improvement.

The first measure I've talked about in the recent past, VO2max. VO2max is defined as the maximum capacity of an individual's body to transport and use oxygen during exercise; the more physically fit you are, supposedly, the higher your VO2max. A person's VO2max can be affected by age, gender, fitness, training, altitude change, & action of the muscles involved in breathing. It's a measure lots of runners strive to improve - I've had runners come to me to help them improve their VO2max - the first thing I tell them is that VO2max is a relatively poor predictor of running performance.
The most recent example I have encountered is a young lady training for her first iron-distance triathlon. She wanted to improve her VO2max (which I translated as "I need to get my running speed up") but I soon found she was lacking in running economy. She had a very loud footstrike, which I reasoned was due to overstriding & a low cadence. So, even the most physiologically gifted runner can be hampered by poor running economics, & the intangibles of mental toughness & motivation can either help the runner resist fatigue...or to give in to it on the day.
I was recently reminded by Coach Patrick McCrann from Marathon Nation of the relevance of body composition - weight, literally - to running performance. He reminded me of research which alluded to an increase of two seconds per mile, all other factors being equal, for every excess pound of body weight. It's fairly simple to realize - especially in the case of persons who have too much weight on their frame - how excess weight makes it difficult to run (or even walk, in some cases). But it's a little harder to explain to a five-foot, eight-inch runner who weighs 165-to-170 pounds (depending on the time of year) those extra 10-to-15 pounds could mean the difference between a 1:35 and a 1:29 half marathon time.

Guys like my buddy Mike - who is now what John L. Parker, Jr. described as "Once A Runner" because of knee injuries - & a lot of my contemporaries are confounded in their efforts to drop those few extra pounds by the very nature of their lifestyle. Believe me, I'm preaching to myself on this one, too; my love of beer & pizza has to be continually moderated with a (renewed) love for lean meats & veggies.
There are certain cross-training activities for which I need to be careful. I know there's a solid ten pounds of muscle in my upper body which come from swimming for triathlons. I can still fit into the same size pants I did when I started running, but several of my favorite shirts have had to be sacrificed. Naturally, there's a fine thin line under which your weight probably should not go. Keeping track of your running performances & your weight at the same time is a good idea; there will be a certain weight at which you begin to feel more fatigued & less swift...that's the weight floor.
In closing, a good way to be (to borrow from a few of my favorite songs) "bigger than your body gives you credit for" on race day is to become less of a person than you used to be. Dropping a few pounds may be the edge to give you those extra seconds you need to make that personal best.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Time For A Few Small Repairs

"...days go by, I'm hypnotized, I'm walking on a wire; I close my eyes & fly out of my mind..." - "Sunny Came Home" (Shawn Colvin, 1996)
The thought didn't cross my mind until my last dental appointment. The dental hygienist who works on my mouth has done so for the past two and-a-half-years. She knows a great deal about me, seen me come in with my shoulder & arm in a sling, limping, or tired after a race. She knows me well, & the sudden decline in my dental health told her things she did not like.

"There are a couple of bad spots back there, & it's starting to look like it was during one of your first visits." She gently tapped on a couple of my molars and asked, "have you had any pain in these areas?"
I told her there wasn't anything out of the ordinary, but that my sinuses had been acting up all summer; it seemed like every time I hit the pool for a workout I'd end up hacking for two to three days. She didn't say much but provided a topical treatment to the area, scheduled me for a follow-up visit in two weeks, & suggested a few small changes to my care plan: Hydration, mouth rinsing, a different toothbrush, to name a few.

But, as always, that was only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Waking up to a mild case of otitis externa (swelling of the ear canal) - or "swimmer's ear" - on a Monday morning three weeks after the dentist's visit made me think about whether the problems I had with sleep (bed at nine, up at five, back to bed until seven...), diet (why won't this weight come off!?), infections, & motivation (in all areas, not just athletics) this summer was more than being sick, more than being tired, but perhaps overtraining. Perhaps it was closer to overreaching back in the spring, as I approached 70.3 NOLA. But even at that point, a week out from the event, I could sense something was very wrong. I'm not a strong swimmer, & the thought of getting back in the open water after a disastrous day last November in Panama City - triggered by a discussion about swim courses at a race director training course - took me to a state of sheer, physical panic. Thank heavens for the "no-swim" choice on the day, a (very thin) silver lining to the black cloud of trying to get through a very warm day - including an open water swim - under your own power.

The following week was a road trip down into central Florida for the Road Runners Club of America convention. I felt pretty good for a couple of morning runs; nothing stellar, but good...good being defined as state of fitness a week after bicycling and running 69 miles. A swim at a local pool showed the fatigue was still there, though. And then, reality set in after the second mile of a 10K on Saturday. I was reduced to alternating walking & running sections, in the same manner I got through the 70.3 run course. After finishing in a time which was nearly a minute slower than my average performance, I knew it was time to take some time away. A month of easy workouts on the elliptical trainer & swims in the pool were good, but the aches & pains I had getting up every morning were disconcerting. Feeling like a person who is much older & much slower than you prefer to be is not fun. So, Vicki's concern about my dental health, added to the state of mental health - burned out - were possibly little more than manifestations of a greater problem of overreaching or overtraining.

As I've started looking at the training plan for Rock n' Roll/Mardi Gras 2011, the mantra less is more is making sense. I guess at 48 we take a little bit longer to recover from our indiscretions than at 28. Ibuprofen is no substitute for the occasional rest day. And there's no nutritional supplement that can help you perform when your mind just isn't into it.So far things seem to be going well. An extra day of rest, & listening to the need of my body to do only the amount of training necessary for the next event (why train for 14 hours a week if you're 9 weeks out from a half-marathon?) has felt wonderful, both during the two-or-three cross-training sessions I'm doing each week, as well as the workouts. I'm not eating ibuprofen like candy, either.

Every so often, like Shawn Colvin's "Sunny," we have to sit down, take a hard look at what we're doing to ourselves, & make a few small repairs.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Not Enough Of A Good Thing

Wow...just when I thought it was safe to (go back into the water?) say we were in comfortable late summer conditions, a couple of sources reminded me otherwise the other day.
I'm in the second week of a 24-week training plan through Marathon Nation, & life so far is pretty good. I think I mentioned a little bit about this training last week, but I'll recap my take on it so far. I'd like to call it a blend of Daniels' & Hansons' methodologies. Pat McCrann, the main guy behind Marathon Nation (and it's slightly-older triathlon-related group, Endurance Nation) has a very no-nonsense philosophy. He likes the idea of getting the work done in the shortest amount of time possible. If you've read any of my earlier posts you know that's also one of Timothy Noakes' Laws of Training.
A MN workout pretty much consists of a main set of work at intensity levels based on prior race performances. Warm-up & cool-down? Whatever amount of time you want to take care of it, my friends. Variety? Definitely a blend of tempo runs, strength work, skill development & a weekly long run. There's even downloadable guides to help prepare the race day plan, core workouts, pacing charts, and a number of good videos out there. If you know your best race performances and can click your way through a computer web site you can tailor a plan which ideally should get you to the starting line in good shape and ready to run a good race. It's so easy, even a stubborn coach like me can use it.
I originally planned to take a two-week look at the program to see what I could learn from Pat, but when he offered a few six-month memberships to folks who follow the group I figured I'd throw my (running) hat into the ring. It's not always simple for a guy who coaches others to be objective about his own training. Rare is the guy (or gal) who can see the mistakes they are making & adjust accordingly in mid-stream. Sure, I can tell you all the goof-ups I made after I crash & burn. But I'm scared the number of good marathons I have in me are small, so I want to get this marathon thing right, & soon, so then I can go back to being a tri-geek. Fortunately for me, Pat was kind enough to take me on as a member.
So, I got out yesterday morning to do the planned skill run out on the Bayou Loop. Boom, right off the bat I can tell it's going to be a challenge, because I was running at least a minute per mile faster, on the average, than I should have been going. Uh huh, the adrenaline thing & the solo run thing reached out to bite me on the behind. Fortunately the heart rate was looking a little closer to a reasonable effort, even on the climbs. Stopped to kill off half my bottle of water at the 3.5-mile mark on the course, then continued for the last ten minutes of the assigned workout.

I got to the point where I suspected I would make it to, then turned back to catch back up with my wife. Once she caught up with me I turned back around and decided it might be a great idea to get the striders from the assigned workout in at half-mile points; eight 20-second striders over the course of four miles? Should be no problem, right?
The first four or so were wonderful. But once I got to the last two miles of the loop, number five and six reached out to grab my attention. Wasn't that I couldn't get the cadence as high as I needed to...far from it...but I could tell I was starting to get very DRY. Not so much my clothing, but the fluid on my outside wasn't helping my insides a bit. Most everyone who knows me knows I have a heavy sweat rate; I kill unprotected electronics on a regular basis. Ziploc baggies are required uniform items for me...if you can double bag it, so much the better.

I stopped at the dog beach at the bottom of the park - it's a sad state of affairs when your city parks only have working water fountains in the dog areas - to try & rehydrate before walking back up to the car at the top of the hill. Even then, I was in no mood to dawdle at the car. Next stop, the nearest convenience store for a pint of lowfat chocolate milk & a bottle of ginger ale.
Yep, too much of a good thing can be bad. But definitely, not enough of a good thing - water - can be worse. I've read articles written by nutritionists & coaches which cite the fact most Americans exist in a state of dehydration...maybe under-hydration. That's an issue which can lead to having a very long recovery period after a workout - if you make it through the workout.
Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good. Keep those water bottles in circulation, amigos.

So if you don't mind, I'll be heading off to the water fountain now.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Coach Don Corleone Meets Coach Donna Reed

I recently wrote about the need for honesty between athlete & coach. Really, the relationship between athlete & coach is not much different than between friends, family members or lovers. Honest interaction is essential. Nobody wants to associate with a dishonest person, even if they are blood relatives...some families are more rigid about honest & ethical behavior than others. But sometimes, even in the tightest of families, small variances may - & often do - exist.

My father & my (late) uncle both worked for many years in law enforcement, encountering many of my contemporaries during their late adolescence & on into adulthood...occasionally I heard the "war stories" from my father; sometimes I heard them from my buddies. While my father & my uncle both worked to enforce the law, they differed in one aspect: My uncle was a "black-and-white" kind of person, whereas my father often saw in shades of least until the vulgarities began to fly.I know they disagreed on many fronts during their time together in this existence, but there still was a clearly understood truth: They were definitely family.

I have to (sheepishly) admit I lean more toward my uncle's "black-and-white" worldview when it comes to the issue of honest communication between athlete & coach. The "shades of gray" side I picked up from my father comes to the fore when I look at approaches to training; some come out a tad more gray than others. But, since every athlete is an experiment of one, the training approaches are gray none the less. So, what is the goal of a coach? During a discussion between three well-known triathlon coaches in the summer of 2007, one considered the goal of a coach to "enable athletes to make decisions for themselves." The three considered the ideal coaching scenario to serve in an active, hands-on role in training the athlete for one year. After a year, the athlete could work more on their own. The coach would then serve as a support rather than a crutch.

I like the idea of being a hands-off coach for an athlete after a year or two. But, like almost every other idea, it's not quite so smooth or comfortable when the reality arrives. Most people are not good at communicating the "why" when it comes time to leave, mostly because they don't like the conflict or wounded feelings which follow. Makes perfect sense to me; because the departures & separations have been traditionally more permanent than temporal I'm the type of person who hates goodbyes of any sort. Even my mother considers me the kind of person who would rather have everyone as my friend. Keep your friends close & your enemies list short.
Every so often I get to listen to what I like to call "Exercises in Conflict Resolution." My wife works as upper management for a small company & often has to deal with uncomfortable business issues. When she tells me her intended response, or drafts a written communication I often advise her to be more like Don (Michael) Corleone (in The Godfather) & less like Donna Reed (in It's A Wonderful Life). Think about how each have dealt with a sticky situation...

Donna Reed: [trapped naked in a bush] Shame on you! I'll tell your mother!
Jimmy Stewart: [thoughtfully] My mother's way up on the corner there.
Reed: I'll call the police.
Stewart: They're way downtown. Anyway, they'd be on my side.

Corleone: Where does it say that you can't kill a cop?
Hagen: Come on, Mikey...
Corleone: Tom, wait a minute....I'm talking about a...crooked cop who got mixed up in the rackets & got what was coming to him....
[Hagen nods]
Corleone: And the newspapers might like a story like that.
Hagen: They might, they just might.
Corleone: [to Sonny] It's not personal, Sonny. It's strictly business.So, you have the choice of emotionally responding to conflict, and hope the antagonist responds in a rational manner. Or you can emotionally detach yourself from what might be described as an unsavory response to a conflict...

But, clear & honest communication between athlete & coach can head off potential conflicts at the pass. It's strictly business.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Whatever Doesn't Kill Me...

My retired racing greyhound trotted in from his morning visit to the backyard after his Sunday morning breakfast. On most days, Rubin likes to come back into the kitchen, check to see whether he can mooch a little bit of peanut butter, then heads back to his sleeping blanket at the foot of our bed. This last Sunday, he stopped by a small pile of clothing neatly laid on the back porch table & proceeded to engage in a lengthy sniff-through. While the clothing & shoes of a typical running enthusiast like me would normally interest my dog, he seemed a touch more interested in the clothes I wore the previous evening.

The reason for the increased interest? Perhaps it had to do with the information he gained. A suburban dog can learn a lot of new stuff when perusing clothes worn while running over (through?) trails and a few drainage ditches choked with low-hanging branches, fallen limbs, standing water, thorn bushes, and so forth. He learned standing water & plant material has a smell which is not like perspiration. Why did "dad's" clothing smell like swamp, & not sweat?

I have several friends who, while not hard-core road runners, enjoy the challenge of what is known as "hare & hounds" running. While the sources which explain the history of this activity, the traditions which surround the activity & the groups which engage in varying frequencies...vary in quality and quantity, these facts which appear to be to be most true:

- A group of people meet in a location.
- One or two are sent off to lay a trail, with a brief lead time before the rest are sent in pursuit.
- A social gathering begins at trail's end, where songs are sung, beverages are consumed, & general runner-like fellowship occurs.

I've run with a couple of groups which play the "hare & hounds" game over the past year or so, & the one unique quality you can say is common among all of the groups - like Wesley's take on the non-essentials of any religion - is diversity. Two groups are active where we live, with several others in a one-hour radius of our home:

- One considers themselves a "family-friendly" group.
- The other has a t-shirt which says, "if the devil doesn't make you do it, we probably will."

I wouldn't say they're "night & day" in their approach totally across the board, but...I've been to the exact same number of runs with each group, & they do vary in their degree of challenge. I'm one of those who can hold my own on a semi-urban course of roads, parks and sidewalks, but reality sets in when we get out in the country. You can guess where I have acquired more scars on my legs. The nickname I earned is fitting for my "life" as a coach, as well as my attitude about running through thorn bushes, branches, brush, standing water, and more-challenging terrain. It's humbling when a "semi-accomplished road racer" is falling on his back side in three feet of standing water. I've destroyed a pair of perfectly decent training shoes in the past month, for which I'm less than enthused.

But it's a chance for my wife & I to spend "quality time" together; she's only a minute away, in front or behind, depending on the course. The mental aspect of problem solving, cooperation & communication sharpens us both, too. We like both of the groups in varying degrees, for a really good reason: doing the "paper chase" every couple of weekends breaks the "race Saturday, long day Sunday, easy run Monday and Wednesday, speed work Tuesday & Thursday, rest Friday..." mentality. We meet & run with some really cool people, have some good laughs, & we never quite know what the terrain is going to be like with either bunch.

But we've learned a pair of good knee-high socks is worth it's weight in antibiotic ointment.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Necessity Is The Mother Of Adaptation

Some of the athletes I work with remotely have their own special set of constraints, having much to do with maternity or Mother Nature, both of which are a force stronger than E.F. Hutton. The good news for me when I begin to lay out a training plan for them is they usually have a treadmill for running purposes close by. The only place treadmills are used as a clothes valet, as far as I can tell, is Florida.

The difficult part, however, is how to figure the proper training intensity. I can spend thirty minutes in an e-mail discussing what some call Coach Mike-speak, a variant ot terms used by my former coach, Dale Fox, his coach (1964 Olympic 5,000 meter Gold Medalist) Bob Schul, & his coach, Mihalyi Igloi...which works great when the individual athlete is on the track with me over the course of five or six weeks, because they'll catch the understanding eventually. But when dealing with remote coaching situations I can get a good effort approximation from some other really good coaches; Jack Daniels or Greg McMillan. Daniels' run intensity calculations are easily figured out through a table in the front end of his seminal work, Daniels' Running Formula (which I consider one of the three absolute must have running books), or you can find calculators and reference charts on many different web sites on the Internet ( has what I would call Daniels In A Nutshell). I've encountered a fantastic spreadsheet you can use ( to determine the training effect of a particular workout, given the heart rate & run duration, but I recommend it for calculation's sake. McMillan also has a web-based chart, located at which aligns closely to Daniels'. I'm more familiar with Daniels, so I'll use his terminology to talk about run intensities here.

To determine your VDOT score, which Daniels explains is an estimate of a runner's VO2max at velocity, you'll need the results of your races (1,500 meters, mile, 3,000 meters, 2-mile, 5,000 meters, 10,000 meters, 15,000 meters, half-marathon or marathon) from the past year or so; if you have a variety, so much the better. Find your time for the particular race on a Daniels VDOT Values Table, then look at the number under the VDOT column. A list of best performances over more than one race distance will provide a more-accurate calculation; if you race more long events, focus on the findings based on those results and not so much on the shorter races. I'm one to err on the side of a lower VDOT score, personally, as your body can adapt to a training intensity that is a little too low better than it can an intensity which is too high. Once you have a VDOT score, a second table shows the training intensities based on that particular score for distances from 200 meters up to the easy/long run for the week, depending on the intensity level. For example, the athlete I talked about when I wrote about heart rate monitors has a VDOT score of 44 based on her recent 5K racing. She's training for a marathon in November - given the right conditions, a VDOT of 44 equals a 3:32 marathon performance prediction, but that's another story. Based on that performance I recommended she run her easy runs & her weekly long run at a sliver over nine minutes per mile. Her runs to prepare her for the pace she'll need to run in the marathon would be a little over eight minutes per mile, & the pace I recommended for tempo runs on the track is a little slower than a 7:30 mile. Once the runner knows their specific paces, they can use one or more of a few good 60-minute workouts for the treadmill-bound runner. I recommend one long run, one tempo & one repeat workout per week, with easy runs filling the remainder of the time available. If the athlete finds the workouts a little difficult based on perceived exertion or heart rate, we adjust the pace/s downward or extend the recovery period a little:

Progressive Tempo - 30 minutes at Easy/Long pace, increase speed by .1 mph every four minutes until Marathon Pace is reached. (Runners training for half-marathon or shorter races can continue on to Threshold pace.)
Marathon Tempo - 2 miles at Easy/Long pace, increase speed by .1 mph every two minutes until Marathon Pace is reached. (Runners training for half-marathon or shorter races can continue on to Threshold pace.)

Long Repeats (improve lactate threshold) - 2 miles at Easy/Long pace, increase to Threshold pace for up to five minutes, followed by Easy/Long pace (recovery) for up to two minutes.
Medium Repeats (improve velocity at VO2max) - 2 miles at Easy/Long pace, increase to Interval pace for up to three minutes, broken up by Easy/Long pace (recovery) for up to two minutes.

Short Repeats (improve economy and speed) - 2 miles at Easy/Long pace, increase to Rep pace for 30 seconds to one minute, broken up by Easy/Long pace (recovery) for up to two minutes.

How do you know when you're ready to move the intensities higher? Daniels says race performances are the test of when you're ready to move up...under no circumstances does he recommend trying to beat the training intensities for specific efforts.

While many persons will say a treadmill (simulation) workout is not as good as getting out on the road or the track, I consider it an "eighty-percent solution" for those days when the weather conditions are less than optimal or the runner has a limited amount of time available to train.