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.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Juggling (Tasks) and Jogging: Just Jabber No

Somewhere around the second mile of the Turkey Day Five-Miler, I was cruising my way through a very large pack of joggers & walkers. I just passed a gentleman, one of many participants wearing a pair of headphones on the run. A second or two later I heard his voice behind me:

'Hey, I'm in the middle of a race right now & listening to music. Can I call you back later?'

Later that afternoon, our friends Betsy & Aaron invited us over to watch Thanksgiving Day football games, eat a light dinner & catch up on what has happened in the three months since our last visit. Betsy asked how we fared on our drive along Interstate 10; her son "Speedy" recently made his first drive on I-10 without knowing to B.Y.O.B. - Bring Your Own Boogie. The stretch of interstate between Mobile & Slidell can be entertaining & mind-numbing. My first trip eight years ago proved compact discs & MP3 players are necessary to maintain driver sanity. However, the youngster has not yet acquiesced to his parents' taste in music. Betsy said "Speedy" called during the drive on his iPhone, complaining about the dearth of entertainment on the airwaves.

You live; you learn, youngster.

Many persons complain about the need to get away from it all. What surprises me more is when the very same people bring it all (and I do mean 'all') with them by way of their smart phones & music players.

I do not completely disagree with them. The smart phone, nowadays, can be the next best thing to a training partner who knows where to go, what to see, & how to get back to where you left the car when it's all said & done. Don't forget the ability to take photographic & videographic proof of where you've been so as to make friends who decided to sleep in or stay home green-eyed with jealousy. There are hazards involved with listening to music on the run which have mostly to do with volume & situational awareness. But, I wear them in the gym for treadmill work & solo long runs because they keep me from thinking about the pain I'm inflicting on my body. I know the risks of my immediate environment & keep my jams down to a low roar.

On race day, however, I leave them in the car. Having your favorite tunes in your ears from start to finish of a race is one thing, but the multitasking thing - listening to music, checking electronic mail, taking phone calls & texting your friends - is best left for the office. The race course - and the jogging path - is the place to get away from the world's stressors, not to catch up with them because you have 50-to-60 minutes to spare. Because, really, many of us don't do even one thing all that well.

My wife thinks she does a great job at multitasking. I keep telling her she is not among the two percent of what psychologists call "supertaskers," those who are truly able to accomplish two tasks simultaneously with nearly the same level of quality. I'm willing to admit she's able to switch between some tasks in a rapid manner, which is what most people mistakenly identify as multitasking. However, there are unlatched doors, half-screwed-on lids, lost & subsequently replaced identification & credit cards which bear witness to her - and many people's - low threshhold of task switchability.

Once again, an honest admission: My level of task switchability is very low. I've tried to justify it on the grounds of visual impairment, but it's my lack of ability to pick out my wife from a large crowd before or after a race. Any of my running friends will tell you my most common post-race question is not "how did I do?" Most often it's "have you seen my wife?" The executive system in the frontal lobe of my brain, most often, is looking for a strawberry blonde woman in a blue sweat top. Darned if she didn't ditch her sweat top in the car & put on a white hat.

So for me, task juggling is absolutely out. When I train my mind is on the training. When I race my mind is on the race. If I decide to look for my wife before the start, like this last week, odds are good I'm going to be stuck back in the back of the pack. Behind the joggers. Behind the walkers. And behind the multitaskers who decided their wife couldn't cook the turkey without their help via cellular phone.

That should teach me to not worry about my wife's whereabouts until it's time to go home. Besides, I know she'll be close to the beer truck.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Be. Here. Now.

"The message of rock n' roll? Be. Here. Now." - John Lennon (ca. 1973)

Word of warning, this might be a little too cosmic for the average runner. So, top off your coffee & take a couple of deep breaths before you read on.

Okay, I guess I can continue: So, I was running late, as usual, to work his morning. One of the last things I passed on the way out, after telling my wife & dog I loved them, was a little plastic & stone trophy. This little turkey with backward-turned baseball cap & tennis sneakers was the newest addition to what people employed by my (other) employer call an "I Love Me Wall." If you've run consistently enough for long enough you probably have your fair share of gadgets, ribbons, mugs, glasses & plaques. Some of the road race awards I've earned don't have as much meaning as others do; because of the story behind the race, one or two cheap fourth-place ribbons tacked up over the doorway mean more to me than one or two of my heaviest first masters' male plaques sitting on the corner shelf of my "man-cave".

This turkey is one of those emotionally-significant awards, & not just another tchotchke: It's an age group high point trophy from a masters' swim meet. I had the sneaking suspicion my chances of doing well in my age group were good when I looked at the heat sheets. However, you never can tell until the scores are tallied & the results are posted. Actually, my friend - who was the meet director - told me I was going to win my age group just before my second-to-last event for the day. Was I pleased? If you are as swim-challenged as I, you would say "absolutely!"

My friend Brett Hollowell can explain this same feeling. Eight years ago, almost to the day, we ran a 5,000-meter road race together at Great Lakes Naval Station, just north of Chicago. Several things made the experience memorable: First, it was Brett's first (or perhaps second) 5K road race. Second, it was bitterly cold & overcast. Sleet & snow were falling. These were probably perfect conditions for Waukegan, Illinois, but the temperature was definitely thirty degrees to the south of comfortable for two southern-US-based educators-turned-trainees. When the race was all said & done, I finished high in my age group. It turns out Brett won his age group, much to our mutual delight.

As we drove back to our quarters, Brett grabbed his cell phone to call Meredith, his wife. He started to tell her he won his age group, as he was the only participant his age. I immediately stopped him: "Dude, don't tell her - or anyone - how many people were in your age group. You only tell them you won."

I think it was Steve Jones who said something about the difference between winning a race & running a world record: "To win a race, you only have to beat everybody who shows up on the day. To run a world record, you have to beat everybody who's ever run the race." All too often we downplay our accomplishments as a pre-emptive first strike of humility so others won't make light in an effort to bring forth humiliation. Personally, I think adding asterisks to our own results is wrong-headed. It's as silly as looking at results the day after a race you decide not to run & to say, "heck, I would have finished ahead of...'

If you aren't "here," where ever "here" is at that "now" moment; if you decide to sit & let life pass you by, you don't have the right to complain (like the realtor doing an open house in an otherwise-empty subdivision last Saturday, who called the local constabulary). In the case of the realtor, nobody's coming to visit because everyone decided their "here" was not-here (including Survivor H3, who were two blocks away) now.

Find where your "here" is, no matter what it is, & "be" there. Now.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A "Whys" Man Once Told Me...

One of my athletes ran her first marathon this past weekend. She had a fantastic front half of the race, but ran into some trouble (muscle cramps) during the second half & missed her goal to qualify for Boston by seven minutes. We were both disappointed for her, but we knew a qualifying performance was in her future once we got past a few obstacles.

Most coaches talk easily about the physical aftermath of runs & races. They usually are quick to recommend what to do to rebuild the body's systems, replenish fuel stores & recover strength after their charge has crossed the finish line. A precious few will approach the mental or systemic areas with their athletes; the ones who do often work in a mature two-way relationship with an experienced athlete.

When it comes to races of long distance, the smart athlete should look at not only one potential area for improvement, but as many as six large areas. (Noted triathlon coach Brett Sutton tells his athletes to boil down a problem until only three major issues remain.) There might be more, but I usually look at a performance issue as one of six types of deficits:

Three of these deficit areas - feedback & expectations, processes & environment, and incentives & consequences - are (mostly) external to the athlete and are, in many cases, a simpler fix.

The other three areas - motives & preferences, ability, and skill & knowledge - are almost completely internal to the athlete.

Most coaches of adult, post-scholastic amateur runners don't have to worry much about the internal deficits; if a coach gets to those root causes it's much like the old light bulb joke:

Q. How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb?

A. One. But the light bulb has to really want to change.So, I tell folks to take time within the first hours after the race, usually when they have time to quietly think about things. I ask them to write down what went well and what could have been improved in the race performance. Once those problem areas are identified, then it's time to do what is known in Performance Improvement circles as the "five whys." Here's an example:

Problem: I finished my half-marathon 15 minutes later than I hoped.

Why (#1:) did you finish your half-marathon 15 minutes later than you hoped?

I had to walk much of the last two miles.

Why (#2:) did you have to walk much of the last two miles?

Because my right achilles' tendon swelled up.

Why (#3:) did your right achilles' tendon swell up?

Because the course conditions, specifically the hills & concrete pavement, strained my achilles.

Why (#4:) did the course conditions strain your achilles?

Because I didn't allow my achilles' enough time to heal from the last injury.

Why (#5:) didn't you allow your achilles enough time to heal?

Because I thought I could get fit in time for this event.

Why (#6:) did you feel the need to rush getting fit for this event?

Because I was using it to prepare for a spring marathon.

Once a performance issue can be boiled down to the simplest reasons (usually at the third or fourth "why,"), you can look at the root causes & figure if they are external or internal. So, if I take the "whys" & align them to the causes - I've placed a question you can ask yourself to consider where the answer or deficit falls - I can then start to think of potential solutions.

Feedback & Expectations:
Did I know what was expected of me? Could I tell how well I was doing?

Processes & Environment:
Did I have the conditions and tools to do what was expected of me?
1. Hilly conditions and concrete roadways aggravated achilles condition.

Incentives & Consequences:
Did I stand to gain anything by succeeding - or by failing - at this activity?

Motives & Preferences:
Did I decide to do this activity for the right reason/s?
1. Attempted fall half-marathon rather than early year half, then spring marathon.
2. Unwilling to back off training because of injury.

Did I have a chance to succeed, even if all the factors were in my favor?

Did I know how to do the activity?

"It is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail." - Abraham Maslow, The Psychology of Science (1966)

So, then I can look at the big root causes & say, "okay, here's what I think you need to do." The one thing you don't want to do is start thinking of the solution before you get to the genuine root cause. More often than not when a person - coach or athlete - does this sort of exercise they look at the issue in light of their preferred answer. For example, a friend of mine loves Pilates, so everything in his mind can be remedied with a modicum of Pilates training. If I were to present an issue to my friend, the gym proprietor, he would likely recommend training his gym provides.

Because the achilles' tendon issue is aggravated by hard surfaces, hills & hard training, I can recommend easy running on softer surfaces as much as possible, minimize hard speed work on the track, minimize or discontinue hill repeats, recommend adding heel lifts to shoes, & work on strengthening the achilles with some stretching & light resistance training. . .and to be patient. There's some unfinished business to be taken care of in New Orleans next February.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ticker Time - Heart Rate Monitors For Run Training

An old friend of mine (now a tae kwon do instructor in Texas) asked the other day how I felt about heart rate monitors. Naturally, his take is from a strength, speed & power standpoint, so his question was framed from the viewpoint of a guy who looks at running or aerobic activity as "cardio." Like I mentioned about a month ago ("S'weat's New?", October 23, 2010), if you intend to use a cardio machine to help melt adipose your heart rate needs to be anywhere from 50-to-60 percent of maximum heart rate. Cardio fitness requires a level of intensity somewhat closer to 75 percent of maximum heart rate.

If you've ever been on a cardio machine at your local YMCA or fitness studio which has seen its better days, the odds might be against you getting an accurate heart rate reading. Working out at the wrong intensity can be as effective as dieting without portion control; too much (food) can be as bad as too little. I like using heart rate monitors for run training, both for encouraging an athlete to run at an easier pace during training runs when the effort ideally should be lower, as well as for tying a number to a feeling of intensity. Most experienced athletes, I've found, can provide a good ballpark figure of where their heart rate is based on the intensity level of their activity. The heart rate monitor can also help determine whether more recovery time is needed after a hard workout; if the resting heart rate first thing in the morning is as few as five beats higher than normal (depending on the baseline) it might be a signal to forego that early morning jog.

I've played around with, purchased, used, beat the daylights out of, & discarded half a dozen or more different heart rate monitors, including units by some of the major players in the game, namely Nike, Polar, Suunto and Garmin. Depending on the information an athlete needs, their comfort level with technology, brand of computer, willingness or desire to slice-and-dice (export) data, & level of sticker shock they're willing to undergo, there is a model from a maker which may fit nearly every athlete.

One of the first monitors I owned was the Suunto G6, which was pretty much a high-end monitor, with a frightening level of expandability; I purchased an ANT+ compatible footpod which tracked speed & distance by a battery-powered accelerometer. The G6 could do nearly everything imaginable, save for order me a beer at the end of a training run, but it could & would not (at that time) play nicely with my Apple MacBook computer. Since then, Suunto has developed an on-line, fairly user-friendly workout tracking program called MovesCount, but with the MacBook I had to purchase a Windows emulator program to crunch my workout numbers. I had difficulties with the G6 receiver unit's battery life, compounded by minimal U.S.-based technical support (California, if I rightly recall...). Since that time, Suunto has expanded its presence in the U.S., especially in the major metropolitan areas, & may still have a package deal with Carmichael Training Systems, a company owned by Lance Armstrong's former coach Chris Carmichael.

Most good-quality HR monitors will tell you how long you were exercising in a particular target heart rate range. Others will tell you how long you spent in particular heart rate zone. If you want to know whether your workout was effective or if you're on the edge of overtraining, again, look to Suunto monitors. The monitor & accompanying software programs will show you progress over time and the training effect of the workout you completed - measured by Exercise (Post) Oxygen Consumption (EPOC). EPOC measures the "calorie burn" which persists after the workout is completed...kind of like measuring how long the hood of your car will scald your bare legs should you decide to sit on it in shorts after driving all day.

If you decide to keep a HR monitor for a long period of time (read: send it in for repairs when it breaks or the batteries die) I still consider products by Nike & Garmin to be the best bet, since they have regional service centers. When I owned the Suunto there was only one place - San Diego, I think - to send the monitor for TLC.

Nike's C8 monitor had software & components which were easy to use & fairly user-friendly, with on-line "set-and-forget" (or "set-and-regret") functionality. I could also use the strap on spin bikes & Life Fitness equipment at the local YMCA; I never thought there was a downside to having a non-coded transmitter strap, but my wife was always a little less-than-enthused when her elliptical trainer workout would suddenly change would pick up my heart rate & adjust accordingly. But...get that thing near any amount of water & you could guarantee a bad day...a guy who sweats a great deal should never use electronics which are not waterproof.

My most recent acquisition is the Garmin Forerunner 310 XT, which is a GPS unit with ANT+ compatible footpod for treadmill running, ANT+ wireless cadence meter for power estimation on the bicycle, & has, in my humble opinion, the most comfortable HR strap I've used. Oh, & I guess I should mention since it's built specifically for triathlon, it's waterproof. It has a battery life of about 20 hours, but how many people wear their HR receiver the entire day?

My wife will use gymnasium cardio machines, & keeps track of how hard she works by the pulse pads, but she absolutely hates the thought of having anything rub her chest or irritates her (She rarely wears her ring, but we don't mind...) to no end. Even the Mio, which uses two finger pads on the monitor, was out of the question...definitely no good for cycling. I almost had her talked into trying out a Polar HR system a couple of years ago; it seems as though enough women complained about how difficult it was to wear a sports brassiere AND a heart rate monitor strap. The fine folks at adidas developed a running top which provided a modicum of support & a means for attaching the chest strap. But, as my wife likes to remind me, support wear is a personal thing, & one size does not fit only fits one size.

Back to Polar, I've seen mostly their more inexpensive HR monitors, which tell the HR. Since my spin class had a bunch of these & my most recent HR monitor is not Polar compatible, I ended up using their strap. Functional, simple. Friends of mine have higher-end units: Polar is good at providing products with incremental increases in quality, features (and price). Their highest-end HR set-ups will tell you nearly everything you would need to know, work with programs like TrainingPeaks, & can help the individual athlete set up training plans.

But, if you're not going to figure out what that flashing number means you only have a couple more ounces of plastic, glass & gadgetry strapped to your body. Like I said before, the data is only as good as what you do with it, & what decisions you make because of it.

Monday, November 8, 2010

NPR Mornings

"...every day on the street I study their faces; the ones who rush on through the crowd, towards their own quiet worlds, their separate places, somewhere I'm never allowed; 'cause I've always been one to say what I need, then the next thing it's done and I'm watching 'em leave, and I'm thinking, 'I wish I could be alone but not lonely...'" - Mary-Chapin Carpenter (2001), a week out from what initially was to be my target fall half-marathon, I decided to take what I like to call an "NPR morning." Now, for me, NPR means two different things: National Public Radio, or No Planned Run. Depending on the weather conditions it can be both, but it definitely means a large part of the morning spent with coffee, thick tomes of "mindless reading," & Suzanne. If the weather is beautiful there can be a run plugged in on the front end. If not, then I climb into my sweats or warm-ups, make a large pot of coffee & turn on the stereo to listen to our local public radio station. This time the weather was pretty, save for the sudden drop in temperature. We decided to go to the coffee-and-baked goods joint at the mall.

Minutes after we settled into our booth I saw a local runner/coach walk in, bundled up post-run in his warm-up outfit. I got up to refilll my coffee as he ordered a pecan sweet roll at the counter. I walked up & said: 'you realize that stuff will kill you, right?' He responded with much the same kind of retort I would have given in his position: 'since I ran 6.8 miles this morning I think I'll be fine, thanks.' We chatted for a few moments, then I went on to get my coffee.

A couple of minutes later he stopped by our table, presumably on the way home. My wife asked how the Sunday morning run group he headed up was faring; he mentioned the past couple of weeks were good, but that this week was a little on the light side.

She said, 'how light?'

He said, 'one. It was only me this morning.'

I can sympathize with his situation. I've run with large groups of people & I've trained solo. I cannot say I like one state more than the other; depending on the day, the weather, my mood, & my physical state, I can absolutely dig a group run...or a group run can be akin to nineteenth-century dentistry. It's kind of the reason I keep my iPod charged up & ready; in spite of the potential dangers of blasting Kanye West into my skull at half-volume while cruising the road behind the local airport, the music does what a good running companion would also accomplish.

"Iron sharpens iron, So one man sharpens another." - Proverbs 27:17, New American Standard Bible (1995)

While Suzanne has learned to suck it up & run solo, she often wishes for my own sake that I had a regular training partner. I could & would gladly accept a runner who runs anywhere from my pace to a solid minute per mile slower, if nothing else but for the "easier" effort days. If there's someone running with you, especially someone a little slower, you're more likely to back off the intensity to meet their effort. Since the end of the summer, I've been blessed with a couple of good athletes during my twice-weekly track workouts. Their efforts keep me honest, & mine theirs. But they have their own weekend training & work schedules, so I don't have company on the long run I would truly enjoy.

There's plenty of opportunity to make excuses - want to go to the beach, for a drive, to sleep in, to spend time with family - when the days are perfect. Then, before you know it, you've got a bunch of those "too-days." "Too-days" are those days when it is too hot, too cold, too windy, too dark, too early, too late, etc., to go run. The best way to not get sucked into those "too-days," I've mentioned before, also has to do with two - train with an additional two persons. A training triad of three accounts for the inevitable need to take care of something else which has suddenly popped up in one person's life, yet keeps the remaining two members accountable to each other.

Those "NPR mornings" are a nice way to earn what my friend (and Marathon Nation coach) Patrick McCrann calls "spousal approval units" (more on this topic at a later date) & treat your body to a little extra (planned or unplanned) rest, both of which which can make all the difference in your training regimen.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Beware of Human: Winter Training Tips For Drivers and Driven (Runners)

I enjoy the autumn - comfortable temperatures, dry air, pumpkin & spice everything - but I also have to be on my best behavior as a motor vehicle operator & as a runner on the roads. My wife often points out pedestrians for me; the ones crossing in the center of the roadway, half a block from a lighted crosswalk, by calling out "human being, human being..." Nine-to-ten times out of ten I notice them before she does, & cannot help but marvel at the abject foolishness of a human pedestrian, jaywalking in darkness, doing their finest "stealth bomber" imitation. What is it about wearing black or subdued gray that makes otherwise seemingly sensible pedestrians want to do something stupid, like not use a signal-lit crosswalk at night?

These thoughts crossed my mind again yesterday evening after a truncated tempo run on Pensacola Beach. If not for the overcast conditions we probably had fifteen minutes of daylight; it was definitely past twilight once I began to walk a 600-meter cool-down back to my car. A running friend, Walt, chatted about the quickly-darkening conditions as I changed into a long-sleeved t-shirt. We both considered ourselves lucky; traffic on the beach was light because of the weather conditions & darkness. We knew it was high time to adapt some of our favorite mid-week running. "I guess it doesn't matter whether you're in the right as a runner," said Walt. "Even if you are, the car always wins on account of sheer weight."

My wife and I have been in a twilight automobile collision, on the way to a track workout, which injured both of us; her more so. The accident taught me a hard lesson about defensive driving. Why is night driving so dangerous? Insurance companies & motor vehicle bureau statistics say one obvious answer is darkness. We have a harder time judging distance, color, & objects in our periphery, add to this our need to adapt to growing darkness during twilight hours (maybe even the stress of work & a rush to get home)...danger, danger, Will Robinson. Honestly, I can tell you my vision isn't what I'd like it to be...disorders like macular degeneration, which come as a result of aging, can wreak havoc on night vision. If you're over forty it's probably affected you, too.

As a result of that one accident, I've adapted many of my driving routes from work to home, from home to workouts, & even the routes on which I train. Ample street lighting is almost a mandatory item for me if I'm in an area where motor vehicle traffic can be accessed. I also try to avoid routes where darkened side streets, blind corners, parking lots which are situated lower than the running or training surface can cross my path. My mid-week run is on a barrier island with relatively few cross streets, so I don't have to adapt much there.

Sometimes, though, your workout may need to be moved to a time where there is ample daylight. If you can't move the workout, and it's dark, be certain to run either on a path or on the edge of the roadway which faces approaching traffic.

Autumn runners (or cyclists, for that matter) should take advantage of clothing items which have large reflective patches, stripes, spots - or are completely reflective on their own accord. Some clothing manufacturers have materials which are neon bright & cannot be missed...unless the driver of the motor vehicle wants to miss it. Also think about flashing clip-on lights, headlamps, & small flashlights. If you don't want to wear reflectorized or lighted items, light-colored clothes are a nearly-acceptable alternative...but I like something which sends light back in the general direction of the driver. Some people may disagree with me on this, but I used to wear yellow or amber-tinted glasses during darker conditions - it helped not only to keep down some of the glare of high beams (we'll talk more about that) but also to keep wind & grit out of the eyes. It's difficult to see in the dark when your eyes are closed half of the time.

While you're thinking about how to be seen as a runner, you might want to consider enhancing your ability to see as a driver on the road. Clean headlights, tail lights, signal lights & windows at least once a week, and replace them as soon as you learn one is out (Is that a motorcycle or a large truck? You can only answer that one wrong once.). Make certain your windshield wipers & any rear wipers are in good condition. I would even recommend using window defogging/rain repellant products, such as Rain-X. Turn your headlights on at dusk to help other drivers see you. Don't drive with the high-beams on unless you are in a very dark area & you're driving at high speed. And please, don't flash those high-beams at an approaching runner.

I've often complained, ranted, railed & beat the drum about the dangers of running with headphones, especially at races. I do wear headphones - when running solo, in broad daylight, out of the general path of automobile drivers. When I do, I keep my volume down & my head on a swivel for approaching bicycles, pedestrians & hazards. A large dog once joined me on a run while I was wearing headphones. I had no clue until I looked off to my right and saw him. Big dog. Very big dog. Thank heavens he was "friendly," taught me a lesson. So, if you have to have music while running, keep the volume as low as possible. If I can hear your music 12 feet away from your head, the volume is probably too loud. But that's another rant altogether.

For drivers, it's painfully obvious that to drink & drive borders on insanity. However, drinking & driving is a leading cause of accidents – including night driving accidents. The next big culprit to add to the list of hindrances & distractions which can cause an accident would be cell phones. Military bases have forbidden the use of cell phones without hands-free operation, so I learned early on to check messages or make calls while sitting in the parking lot. I can almost justify a brief "I'm at this location & on my way" phone call while driving, but I've seen animated ten-minute-plus conversations going on in the heart of town, while driving thirty miles per hour. Scared me to death. I shouldn't even have to complain about how dangerous text messaging, e-mailing & web surfing is on some of the newer smart phones. It's not smart phones which cause accidents, just dumb drivers.

So, as the leaves turn brown & the sky becomes gray, begin to think about your fellow man, whether they are a pedestrian, a runner, or a motor vehicle operator. It's all karmic - doing right by your fellow road user can lead to safe & sane road use for everyone.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Sock It To Me - Where Should I Use Compression Wear?

"...don't criticize what you can't understand..." - "The Times, They Are A-Changin'" - Bob Dylan (1964)

I am a late adopter. I hold a particularly wary attitude toward the newest, brightest, & latest. It's not that I prefer to be the grouchy curmudgeon who "just won't get with the program." More often than not I'm the guy who calmly stares at the smoldering ruin of the next "greatest thing since the invention of sliced bread" & like the young man in Rudyard Kipling's "If," 'stoops to build them using worn-out tools.' When it comes to technology I wait for the second model year, the 2.0, the next version. That second year is always a plus; the (inevitable) "bugs" from the initial release have been worked out & the degree of sticker shock is often much lower and less painful.

I first saw compression stockings, sleeves & hosiery during my initial fling with triathlon. I couldn't wrap my head around the idea of people running 13.1 miles in the 90-degree heat of Panama City, FL, in black knee-length stockings immediately after riding 56 miles, immediately after swimming 2215 yards. I didn't know anybody who could explain the benefits; none of my closest (Ironman) triathlon-participating friends wore the stockings (but, after reading the research, I'm wondering whether I needlessly endured post-race trauma). Therefore, I made the conscious decision to speak neither well nor ill of wearer or garment until I had ample opportunity to try them out for myself.

Thank you, Road Runners Club of America. Thank you, Sigvaris. The Sigvaris/RRCA study was simple enough: Receive a pair of compression socks, run a 10k, wear the socks as part of the recovery protocol, write down your findings. In return I'd receive a second pair of compression socks.

Amazingly enough, as bad as I felt after the 10K (a week after Ironman 70.3 New Orleans), my legs did not feel all the worse for wear while I wore the socks. I now wear the socks during Sunday afternoons sitting around the house, or under a pair of jeans or slacks if I go out on Sunday. Sorry, I draw the line at tackiness during recovery, so no long socks with shorts (unless a pair of German "lederhosen" & I'm going to beer fest) in public. In fact, with a couple of weeks left in my training cycle for a target half-marathon, I've pulled the socks out for workplace wear. Everything feels good this afternoon.

My gosh, I've become my grandfather.

But the jury is still out - at best inconclusive - on running in compression stockings. One of my athletes, a 28 year-old male, started to wear his 2XU calf compression sleeves at track workouts. Again, the "speak neither well nor ill" tactic works best when one wears the "Coach" hat. If they work for Allan, then so be it. It appears that many runners who wear compression sleeves or socks while running feel more comfortable with them on, even if there are few notable benefits during the run.

But researchers in Europe & the US have seen the benefits of compression clothing once they are worn during recovery. The compressive wear decreased the amount of exercise-induced muscle damage, which probably continues during the immediate post-exercise period. Garment wearers were less likely to complain of perceived muscle soreness, & there was less incidence of creatine kinase in the blood (a marker of muscle damage) during the 48-hour period following a run. While there was only one study which alluded to improved run performance with compression socks, the majority of studies did find an improvement in follow-on run performance after recovering with the socks.

So, I've come to see the light about compression wear, but it's going to take a little bit of time before I'm brave enough to be seen in public in a pair of compression socks. Perhaps they won't be so easily noticed if I wear them with a pair of long tights instead of shorts.