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, 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.

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