So, How Many Hats Do You Wear?

My photo
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.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Resolved to Not Resolve

"Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it." - Mohandas K. "Mahatma" Gandhi, Indian political and spiritual leader (1869-1948)

What a royal pain in the butt.

We persist in making resolutions: Tell them to our friends once we're over-served on New Years' Eve, then hit the roads & gymnasiums throughout January (much to the chagrin of the year-round exerciser). The worst part of resolution-making, especially to the resolution-hearer (or the year-round exerciser), is knowing most resolutions are dead & gone by the end of February, traditionally buried in an empty Russell Stover chocolate box.

I'm glad I'm not alone in this sentiment. And, as always, great minds think alike. My friend & coaching sanity check person Pat McCrann went into a little deeper detail with his blog in Marathon Nation (http://www.marathonnation.us/long-run/top-four-ways-to-make-new-years-running-resolutions-that-stick), & with his Fueling the Endurance Lifestyle (www.patrickjohnmccrann.com/lifestyle/inverted-goal-chasing-choose-to-be-a-fear-dom-fighter) blog, posted 29 December. Fortunately, he didn't steal my thunder so much as provide a congruent perspective.

I'm not saying there aren't things we can improve in our lives; far from it. But the desire to improve something has to be joined with a specific plan of action. If I say (heaven knows I won't!) "I want to run more this year," or "I want to be a better runner this year," what am I going to do?

Hold myself accountable to a group of people: I can join with a local training group, or a running club affiliated with a national running organization, like the Road Runners Club of America (http://www.rrca.org/). Some RRCA clubs not only have social runs, but training groups & programs administered by certified, experienced running coaches. As a (USA Track and Field) certified coach, I've worked with (and serve as sanity check to) several RRCA coaches; the overwhelming majority of them are distance-runner savvy & passionate about their craft.

Accountability doesn't have to be face-to-face: A dozen runners who used to talk in the Runners' World Letters & Opinions forum slowly evolved into an ad-hoc e-mail network. As time progressed the group moved from e-mail to the social media, & meet up in ones-and-twos when business interests or holidays permit. Some of my closest running friendships have developed in the same way. I have a six-month membership with Marathon Nation, which includes access to on-line forums & a weekly chat session. It's great to have a platform from which to sound your accomplishments or voice your concerns. You only have to find the "neighborhood" which fits your specific needs.

Get a different, fresh, perspective on running: Change can be a good thing. This can be a change in distance from long-to-short races, from competitive road races to "fat-ass" unscored events, road-to-trail runs, or (something Suzanne & I have done) add a certain level of frivolity. Hare & hounds runs & hash house harrier groups, "groups with a running problem," vary in focus from "family-friendly" to "beyond-PG-13" in their approach. Just like any social organization, the personalities in these groups vary in looseness, as well as pace; iron-distance triathletes can be cheek-by-jowl with walk/run fans. A sense of humor, & perhaps an older pair of shoes, are the best credentials to bring with you.

A bit of surprise doesn't hurt, either: Runners can easily get into a rut of doing the same run/course/intensity on a particular day. I downloaded a workout application, RunRoulette, onto my iPod Touch earlier in the autumn. If I ever get too bored with a workout cycle I can punch the application & get one of forty possible runs in five different categories: Endurance, Hills, Mystery, Speed Work, & Tempo. The Lite version is free - less expensive than a fitness club membership the resolutionist will use for a month.

So, this coming year, resolve to NOT make a resolution. Instead, do things...or do them a little differently...or do them with a few others.

Monday, December 27, 2010

This Kind of Crazy

"If ... he could no longer endure the realities of ... life, he found a way out in his mental life– an invaluable opportunity to dwell in the spiritual domain, the one (they) ... were unable to destroy." - "Man's Search For Meaning" - Viktor Frankl (1905-1997)

Sometimes you "have" to do something a little bit out of the ordinary. A little bit on the crazy side. I've often heard talk of persons with multiple personality disorders; the term "crazy" is bandied about with such indistinction. Each of us live multiple lives & have multiple personalities, depending on the role we need to play: As a coach I provide wisdom & guidance to athletes, sometimes through a bit of bad judgement of my own. As a runner I look for a good story to entertain friends & family. Somehow the thought of how to talk about some of this kind of fell together on a four & a half mile easy trot the other morning...

The story really starts a little after two o'clock in the morning last Tuesday; I woke up wanting a soda. This might sound a little strange for a guy on vacation in New Orleans; I hadn't had a soda in over a week. Neither water nor beer was going to help me get back to sleep. However, all I had was two twenty-dollar bills, so I had to get change from the hotel front desk. I took my wallet & rode the elevator down to the lobby. "No change for a twenty," says the desk clerk. Here's where the fun begins:

Rather than return to the room for my shoes & risk awakening my (sleeping) wife, I plan to walk the two blocks - in a pair of baggy shorts, t-shirt & in stocking feet - to a convenience store on Canal, purchase my soda, & walk back. This should take no time at all. A great idea, right? Lesson: Not everything stays open all night in NOLA; what is open late on a weekend is not always the same on a weeknight. Canal Street is EMPTY on a Tuesday morning at 2:15 a.m. I begin to tick off on the map in my head where I can go, & walk another two blocks to a shop which should still be open.

I encounter a guy in Army Camouflage Utilities with a roll-on suitcase. He stares at me like I am truly insane. He tells me he just got off the plane from Afghanistan & trying to make his way home - why his route was by way of the French Quarter makes as much sense to me as my stocking-clad search for soda pop does to him. Actually, I understand him more than he does me.

Every so often you feel compelled...don't ask the logic behind compulsions of this sort; something like this happened about a year ago at the Beachcomber, in Waikiki. The specialist, in exchange for cab fare, would gladly point me in the general direction of a 24-hour soft drink purveyor. Now there are two of us in a modern-day "Wizard of Oz" situation. Lions, & tigers, & bears...

We chatted as we walked the three blocks; talking about family, our jobs, stuff like that. The store, like any place which remains open when most sane people on the face of the earth (not getting paid to stay awake) are normally asleep, has a small group standing outside the door. Naturally, they all marvel at the (obvious) fact I have walked around without shoes. The only answer I can give, naturally, is: "it's a long story." The only ones who fail to look in awe or wonder, strangely enough, are the gentlemen who benefit financially. Gee, you would think a guy carrying forty bucks would be welcome in their place. Not like I'm going to steal anything. Maybe they are concerned because of a recent rash of barefoot runners.

I hand the Guardsman a twenty to pay for the soda; he asks me to wait outside the store. He comes out seconds later with the change. I give him cab fare, which he hands to the cabbie - who followed us over to the store. I quietly snarl at the logic of his action, but the hack driver is not driving anyone who isn't paying, I guess.

I take my soda & walk back toward the hotel. Half way back from the convenience store, I encounter two couples strolling back to their hotel from their evening of debauchery. Not only do they ask the obvious, but begin to take photos, as though I am some kind of freak. Hello? Who is the sober one here?

Sobriety is great, even at three in the morning. The grating & sidewalk, on the other hand, is trying my soles. I was almost certain barefoot running was not for me when that "Born To Run" book came out; now I know. All my friends could say, when I recounted the tale for them that evening, was that I was a little insane. Looking back at the act, a few days later, it was a well-intentioned development of positive karma covering an illogical selfish desire...something for which I would have gently derided my wife had she told me the same tale.

I guess we all are a little bit crazy, here & there. The compulsions we feel can force us to run fifty marathons in fifty states, or do ultra runs on mountains...or to do truly harmful things to ourselves & others around us (I consider marathons only harmful to young or inexperienced runners). I guess the difference between (near-) rationality & lunacy, to the kind which can enable complete strangers (even those entrusted to care for us) to treat us like a lesser being, boils down to our ability to clearly tell the story, rather than letting someone else tell it.

If someone asks why you're crazy enough to run, tell them. Just make certain to keep the message simple.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A "Hit" Of Running

"Now, you're either on the bus or off the bus. If you're on the bus, and you get left behind, then you'll find it again. If you're off the bus in the first place-then it won't make a damn." - Ken Kesey (1935-2001), quoted by Tom Wolfe, "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test" (1968)

A friend of mine recently completed the Honolulu Marathon, so his social network posts have been filled with the "typical" post-event stuff: A breakdown of his mile splits, a description of his delayed onset muscle soreness, & so forth. The most funny thing, however, had to be a cartoon video titled "I'm A Runner," which definitely is worth at least one viewing.

It's difficult to explain marathoning or distance running to a person who has likely never run longer than an hour at a time. The ones who have probably wouldn't do it again unless a loaded pistol was pointed at their head. Some would even tell the pistol operator to pull the trigger rather than face the alternative. Like Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters in Tom Wolfe's "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test," you're either on or not on the bus. Most of the world, except for perhaps once or twice a year, prefer to be not on that bus.

I've tried to explain every facet of running, from the sublime state of the Sunday morning social run to the absolute ridiculousness of beer-miling. Explain THAT to a world which prefers to watch the first two laps of a 5,000 meter track race, as Larry Rawson tells them to go to their high school track & run a 63-second quarter 12 or 13 times. Once again, most of them don't want to know. The socially inept, ham-fisted runner eventually turns co-workers & (former) friends into runners, all right...short sprints in the opposite direction when "that freak runner" is seen. After a while, at least I learned, to do my thing & wait for the questions to come.

Transforming otherwise sedentary people into runners is probably best done like Kesey & the Pranksters did on Acid Tests. Putting people "on the bus" isn't going to do it. But, give a little "hit" of running (like the Pranksters did with LSD) to everyone & anyone who might show interest, that might do the trick. They can't handle too much at first, lest the trip become bad; give them just enough to enjoy it.

With the new year approaching, it's not too hard to encourage the couch-dweller to make a change. So, take advantage of the opportunity. Give them a little "hit" of running from your personal stash. Don't worry, there's plenty left: It might be a hash run. It might be a trail run. It might even be a walk/jog in the park. But, make certain to give 'em the good stuff...they're not ready for "quarters 'til you can't."

POSTSCRIPT - DEC 24 2010

Adam Goucher and Tim Catalano, from Run The Edge (www.runtheedge.com) saw fit to link back to this particular post (or at least the video clip) after one of their readers commented upon it. Nice to know there's more "crazy" people running only fifteen miles because they can, etc., etc. Happy Christmas to you! MB

Monday, December 13, 2010

Miles To Go Before I Sleep

"Sleep: A poor substitute for caffeine." - Author Unknown

Very short topic today. Not that I didn't have longer topics I could approach, but this one was definitely good. My morning ritual used to include getting out of bed at five o'clock sharp & going to either the gym or the pool before work. But I consider myself fortunate this time of the year, in light of my goal event choices. Since I'm training for a late-winter marathon (Rock n' Roll/Mardi Gras), I only need seven-to-nine hours a week in training. Those extra three-to-five hours I spent at the pool or the gym are - at this moment - spent on activities many (including my wife) consider an underrated guilty pleasure. I'll go briefly cryptic here: Think of Robert Frost's most memorable quatrain. If the only Frost you can recall is the poem "Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening," you're halfway there.

For those who don't remember: "The woods are lovely, dark, and deep. But I have promises to keep. And miles to go..."

Sleep is definitely a guilty pleasure around the Bowen house. If I were smarter, I would schedule every weekend workout for high noon & unplug the alarm clock (my greyhound sleeps until he hears an alarm or figures it's past breakfast time). Ah, but then half of the day would be shot. When I wrote about recovery a couple of months back I realized I left sleep out of the equation. Not only is good sleep necessary for mental health, but also for physical recovery. Poor sleep or not enough sleep is not only a sign an athlete may be overtraining, but it can also reinforce overtraining's damaging effects.

How important is good sleep? I've done some foolish things in the past: Come home after a tough day at work & make a beeline straight for the refrigerator. Pull out a 12-ounce bottle of Milwaukee-(or Atlanta, or Abita Springs) brewed goodness. Twist or pry off the cap & take a nice, healthy swig. Breathe sigh of relief. Finish remainder of bottle while watching SportsCenter. Dress for track workout. Run crummy workout.

Going without sleep can whack you cognitively as well as physically. A 1997 study found the cognitive defect from 17 (or more) hours of wakefulness equaled the performance deficit of a person with a blood-alcohol concentration of .1 percent. That used to be the legal limit in many states, I think. Depriving yourself of sleep - even for one day - can change your mood, mess with your immune system, eat at the lean muscle mass you want to keep, & cause you to be more adversely affected by heat & cold conditions.

If you have ever felt like going postal in your workplace, don't be too surprised, but one of the symptoms of workplace burnout had to do with getting ineffective sleep, the type which did not lead to relief from fatigue. Contrary to what Neil Young has sung, it is not better to burn out, friends.

Make yourself a promise - get your miles in, but make certain to get your sleep. Frost - and his neighbor - and the horse you traveled in on - would tell you it was a good idea.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

If "Mama" Ain't Happy...

"Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music." - "The Prophet," Khalil Gibran (1883-1931)

I've talked a little about how much I presently enjoy my marathon training regimen. I like marathon training...to the approximate level as I enjoy being flayed alive with a rusty straight razor. Thanks to John L. Parker, Jr. for writing that particular analogy. There are benefits & drawbacks to marathon training compared to long-distance triathlon & shorter-distance road racing, two recent pursuits of mine which have temporarily taken a back seat. The drawbacks, quite simply, are that the focus is (almost) strictly on running. Cross-training is a way to let the muscles & joints recover from long miles, little more.

The benefits for me & my house, on the other hand, are multiple. The first time I ever thought about training (or life relationships, for that matter) as a form of economics was long before I even considered studying the social sciences. My first aerobics instructor, Dr. Pat Quigley, used to tell me: 'Michael, life is a budget.' However, I never understood the depth of the meaning until Dr. Lee Hoke (economics professor at The University of Tampa) hit us with Stephen Covey's "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People." He didn't go deep into Covey, save for talking about two concepts: Develop a personal mission statement. Consider the emotional bank account.

Covey's emotional bank account is much like a "real" bank account, but you make deposits or withdrawals from family relationships. Meaningful deposits take a conscious effort. Excessive withdrawals can lead to economic & emotional consequences, especially if the apology is not conjoined with a meaningful correction. I have run into three or four relationship situations since I started coaching where the account balance was deep in the red.

It hasn't been me, but it's been close. Even a coach can use a coach.

I've been working with a couple over the past year or few. One, Pat McCrann, from Endurance Nation/Marathon Nation, is a strong advocate of earning what he calls the Spousal Approval Unit. What kills me about the SAU is its indirect relationship to Covey's "Seven Habits."

A baseline training week - the minimum - can be as brief as ten hours. If you think about it that's a little less than 90 minutes a day. Most bosses & family members can hang with that amount of time...in many cases the training needs can be adapted, slid "to the left" or "to the right" on the calendar. During this time of the year, with social functions, parties & holidays, sudden jumps in inclement weather, & so on, a morning on the couch with a cup of coffee & a loved one is an under-appreciated guilty pleasure AND possibly a deposit to the emotional account. Besides, under-training can be more effective than over-training. Especially when ones' spouse/kids/boss are happy.

Two-runner households have special challenges, especially if the pitter-patter of little running shoes also echo through the halls. Some of my friends cycle in & out of "serious" training cycles whose duration depends on the health & success of the partner. In the case of one couple, it's definitely a family affair; even their mother helps out with some of the "mini-thoner" coverage...at least until the little one is old enough to race on her own.

The secret to success in running, in my humble opinion, is that running is a family affair. If you can't remember that truth, remember this:

"If mama ain't happy, there ain't nobody happy."

Monday, December 6, 2010

Feeling Positive About The Negatives

(Sandy - 1st Female Overall, Chris - 1st Master's Male, & MB after the Jingle Bell 10K)
So the plan was for 14 miles this weekend. However, my friend Scott (a.k.a. Knaves) asked if I was going to come over to Ft. Walton Beach, FL for the Arthritis Foundation Jingle Bell 10K. The last time I ran this race - seven years ago - it was 30 degrees colder & 20 miles per hour windier on the day. My friend Sandy was trying to PR at the 10k; her boyfriend Chris, & Brian, another friend, were going to pace her. Chris & Brian left her hanging in the wind for the last two miles, so I ran her in. She got her PR, which lasted for seven years, (which she reminded me the other day!), & I had a great time strutting my stuff in the chill. Of course, I was very (5K & 10K) race-healthy then. Now, working toward a marathon, with questionable achilles' tendons, it might have been a tad stupid to race. But, Suzanne & I like Knaves, & the race was late enough in the morning, so...

Chris warmed up with Suzanne & me before Sandy, Brian, Chris & I jogged the first mile of the course. He said to me: 'you going to do 39 today?' Of course, my answer was, 'Not today. This is part of the long run for the weekend. Just going out to have some fun.' Once the race started, it definitely was fun, all right.

I normally blow past 90-percent of the field at the first mile, after which it's no-man's-land for the remainder of the race; the studs leave me way behind & I'm strung out in between the really good runners & the fairly good ones. But this time, I went easy the first mile with Knaves, then slowly started to ratchet up the pace. Amazingly, I picked off runners here & there on the course between mile three & four. One guy said to me as I went by at mile four, 'nice kick.' I wasn't too certain about the tactics of the day, even at that point; I smiled (Maybe that was a grimace; they both look alike from a distance.) & told him so.

Passing a couple of greyhounds (Real greyhounds - they had a dog walk at the same time.) at the fifth mile, & all I could think was 'how much longer can I do this?' It was probably good I couldn't read my heart rate monitor, only my pace; I probably would have backed off. Fortunately for me there was still about three runners hanging out in front of me; I couldn't tell how cute the female was, but she was definitely working the pace up there. By the time I got to her, & then the sixth mile, I was running a pace about five seconds per mile slower than my half-marathon performance time, & about 20 seconds per mile slower than my "healthy" 10K pace.

Even if I hadn't won my age group I was very pleased with the effort, especially three weeks after my half-marathon meltdown. To top it all off, Suzanne took second place in her age group. It's not often when two Bowens score hardware, so when we do it's cause for celebration.

Now for the rest the story:

I'm going to make a confession. I have a nasty tendency to look at things & see 'opportunities for improvement.' Rarely, if ever, have I said to myself while hanging out with friends, athletes, loved ones & assorted sweaty lunatic friends: 'dude, today you ran a perfect race.' Maybe all of twice in the past decade of racing the 'perfect race' has happened; a PR at the Azalea Trail Run 10K in Mobile, & a consistent pace at a hot, early summer 5K here at home.

While I've always sought out & valued consistency above almost any other quality in life, the only thing which I've considered more difficult (the negativity most every racer seeks!) to accomplish is negative split racing. Why is this so difficult to accomplish?

First, most runners don't exercise discipline & restraint while training. They're more likely to run EVERY workout at the same effort; so rather than following the hard day/easy day, or even the hard day/easy day/easier day dictum, it's (I kid you not, I have a friend who does this:) 5K, every day, all-out. At least until they become injured, but that's another story.

Second, many runners who have the physical fitness don't quite have the emotional or mental fitness to race negative. These are the friends who, when you ask to them about their goal time before the race, will tell you they want to go out at a particular pace. When the horn goes off, however, it's a completely different story. The first mile herd instinct & adrenaline pitches the best laid plans in the rubbish, leaving them to suffer for the last two (or more) miles of the race.

Third, the runners who are smart enough to go out easy early misjudge how much faster they should increase the pace over time; there's either too much 'gas in the tank' when they reach the finish, or they begin to fade in the last mile. Racing negative splits is a trial-and-error process; once you do it right it will be your Holy Grail of sorts.

What do you need to race negative splits?

I cannot over-stress the benefit of training runs at different intensity levels, with & without the aid of GPS, heart rate monitors & running watches. Why do I say 'without' as well as 'with?' You never know when you're going to show up on race day WITHOUT your running watch or your GPS (which almost happened this weekend!), or your battery dies, or the course is marked poorly...so know how a particular pace on the road or track 'feels' to the legs, heart & lungs.

Here's an interesting idea: Toe the line with a solid racing plan - this particular intensity or pace for a particular section of the course, pick up the pace to a higher intensity after this point, & then begin to really push at this point, etc. - follow it as much as possible. Trust your plan; don't go out with the herd. If your plan is solid the odds are very high you're going to catch & probably pass them before it's all over.

And, most importantly: Don't place any stressful or unrealistic expectations on yourself. Face it, the vast majority of us are paying money to terrorize squirrels & cats (followed by socializing!) on a weekend morning when most of our co-workers are still sleeping. For a very small, less-than-one-percent of the population, what SHOULD BE fun & games for you is BIG PRESENTATION DAY at the office for them.

If it's not fun, you probably should be looking for something else to do, right?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Being The Window

"People that are really very weird can get into sensitive positions and have a tremendous impact on history." - Dan Quayle

My wife has been blessed with an interesting skill. She writes a great deal about seemingly incompatible concepts like modern telephony/communications & their relationiship to anything else under the sun, & she does it with a style which highlights the underdog, the underappreciated, & the sometimes unseen members of the telecom world. She writes & markets to a degree which provides her the opportunity to interview or speak at major telecommunications conferences. Her greatest challenge is not always the naysayers or detractors in the industry, more often it is from the persons whose businesses have directly benefited, some to the tune over a couple of million dollars of income per year, by her efforts. It's particularly galling to hear those persons tell her, 'without me, you would not be who you are today.'

Stuff like that really gets under a guy's skin.

When I write about running & coaching, I try to use my foibles & mis-steps as an illustration of what not to do in their training. More often than not, I also provide these 'sea stories' to my own athletes & hope they will take them to heart. It warms my heart - after the initial fear I am about to be pummeled - to be accosted in a local bar & complimented on what I've done for a particular runner. Mark Twain was reported to have said, 'I can live for two weeks off a good compliment.' But, I've told many a person who has complimented me: 'all I do is provide the workouts.'

Regardless of who the coach is, or how much they're getting paid, it's still up to the individual runner to do the work. I can't go out & run the race for them. If I could, in a number of cases, the outcome might have been a little different. In some cases, I've heard friends & loved ones place all of the credit on the athlete, when I've known well how much hard work their coach put into polishing up raw talent & untapped potential.

This morning, as my wife was talking about something business-related, preparing for a virtual conference, I reminded her all she needed to do was be the window. What makes a window most effective is the fact it is there, solid, but allows light to shine through...an especially interesting analogy during the winter holiday season, when many put up twinkling lights & garland. It's not so much the window that is beautiful, but the things which are placed which draw the onlookers' attention. When we draw too much attention to ourselves we can affect the view through...I think stained glass is marvelous & it makes sunlight look nifty, but I've never seen a stained glass window I could see through.

So, if you know of someone who has helped in some way to make you what you are, take the time to thank them. But don't be fooled into thinking it was all them...or all you.