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, December 30, 2011

If Mama Ain't Happy

So far I've been fortunate. The holiday season usually finds Suzanne and/or me nursing a bug of some kind by the week after Christmas...and by the first week of the new year at the latest. The difference, I think, is we followed a different schedule; spent time with people we normally do not see, did less than we felt we had to.

I used my mildly sociophobic tendencies as a lame excuse to try and keep myself healthy this season. My wife considers my sociophobia a load of bologna; I'm not so much sociophobic as I am socially-inept. The one edge of the proverbial two-edged sword was I did less social functions, saving me from needless exposure to stress and illness. The other edge was Suzanne was occasionally a little less-than pleased.

However, it's easier to make her happy when I decide to "hide." It's not always cheaper than the drugs, but it's easier on me than spending a miserable week on the couch in my warm-ups watching ESPN.

So, when Eric and I talked running during a Christmas social I had to remind him of the old Southern dictum: "If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy."

Why would I bring up something so simple, especially when talking about running?

Most folks, knowingly or unknowingly, make some sort of commitment for the new year. Some call them resolutions. Others call them goals. Eric's goal is to complete a marathon in the future. He runs a few miles here and there, and we hit the trails once or twice a month with the local hash, so he's not a couch potato.

I first applauded Eric's ambition and his moxie, then began asking (like any good coach) a few gentle questions. "So, how many hours do you have free to train?" Eric deals with a full-time job, occasional travel demands, and Ashley. Ashley is Eric's wife. She works and is a college student. When he told me the (small) number of hours he had available I recommended he set a few interim goals, based on a shorter distance event or two, considering the time at his disposal.

How many persons train for endurance events at the risk of strained marriages, missed family functions, irritated and infuriated employers, and frayed friendships? Does a marathon finisher medal or tattoo mend broken fences and burned bridges? Not hardly.

Some coaches use the term "spousal approval unit," which is a lot like the "emotional bank account" Stephen Covey writes about in his book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. If all the time we have available to train without adversely affecting those relationships which make the rest of our life rewarding is small, there's nothing in the world that can increase that period of time.

There are some efficiencies which can help us to recoup time:

We can sleep less. At least to a certain point; there's that fine thin line where we hinder our body's ability to recover from workout efforts.

We can cut back on time-wasting activities, either at work or at home.

We can maximize the time we have available to train by cutting back on "junk miles" and focus on quality efforts.

It's less expensive, physically, financially and emotionally, to "keep Mama (or Papa!) happy" than it is to press forward with an unrealistic training plan or goal event. What do you do to keep your family members happy when you're training for an event?

Thursday, December 29, 2011

So How's That Integrity Thing Working For You?

Доверяй, но проверяй. (Doveryai, no proveryai. - Trust, but verify.) - Russian proverb, frequently used by V.I. Lenin, borrowed by Ronald Reagan

Over the past several days I've chewed, digested, regurgitated, held down, subsequently thrown-up and (like my dog) returned to fallout from a personal and professional (measurement) misadventure which has taught me a great deal about my own personal integrity as well as that of others. Explaining the source of the mistake to the parties most-affected by it has helped, providing a possible solution set a little more so...but outside of a few family members and a business colleague I expect no more in the way of comfort.

I'm not certain if my grandson Simon knows how much help he's been in the past four hours. He and his "Grammy" went to the movies last night. He asked her to give me his bag of one of my favorite candies. I absent-mindedly tucked them into the cup-holder of my vehicle and forgot about them until this morning...after I spent sixty minutes of mea culpa-ing to a very concerned race director. For the second time. Over the course of three days. Sometimes unconditional love for a part-time coach/part-time measurer/full-time curmudgeon can be a little hard to come by. Sometimes you have to consider the source; a person who considers another's humor to be caustic might be lacking in a sense of the very same quality.

'So. How's that integrity thing working for you?' you might ask.

Pretty darn good. Painful in the short term. But sleep comes a little easier with it than without.

Perhaps that's why it's good to have a second (or third) set of eyes/ears around; why we always ask "who is checking the checker?" When our labors, our workouts, and our decisions stay within that easily-maintained comfort zone they can easily become sloppy, lazy and complacent without having someone available to ask the accountability questions. We soon cut corners and round up (or round-down, depending on what makes us look better) the numbers. Then when the big job, the big race, the big project comes along we get caught shorting the course, fudging the budget, doing the walk of shame. Our number gets posted on the big, public penalty sheet with a "disqualification" after it - or worse, our story gets printed in section A of the newspaper of record with the words "fraud," "deception," or "cheating" attached.

Reputations have been tarnished as a result of terribly small errors, spread wide. Ask any politician who had the brass ring slip from their grasp. Ask any Olympian who had to return a medal. For every person who "came clean" about their transgressions, paid their penance and were permitted to return to their profession there have been that many and more who denied the accusations and were finally found out...those are the persons who are never able to regain their reputation.

It's easier to point to a bad piece of meat (in more ways than one), but, my parents used to tell me: 'when you point a finger (at someone else) there's three still pointing back at yourself.'

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Courage to Change, The Wisdom to Know

I looked at the runner's watch face, moments after he finished his marathon. He made his goal of under three hours. But to me something felt very wrong.

Late-December clouds, drizzle, and mist might have affected the ability of his Garmin 310XT (the same model I use to measure, train and race) to communicate clearly with the constellation of satellites; it's happened in the past.

Chuck depended on the 310XT for feedback and pace guidance because he was running solo, without benefit of escort vehicle or bicycle on which to gauge his effort. He told me he tried to do the mathematics throughout the run in order to figure out whether he'd make his goal of seven sub-three-hour marathons in seven days. I could see he was not confident of repeating the feat over the next six days, not without accurate feedback outside of his own physiological data.

I drove home and began to walk through the interrogation points I normally give to a GPS user after a race on a course I've measured:

Was he at the exact start line when the horn went off? Yes.

Did he run the shortest possible distance for the entire run? Outside of six-to-eight stops at the outside edge of the track for fluids, he "bloodhounded" the inside lane line.

Did he stop his unit at the exact finish? Most likely; at the worst he stopped it no more than ten meters past the finish mark.

The issue wasn't that his GPS unit registered a distance that was longer than the standard marathon of 26.21876 miles, or 42.195 kilometers. I knew that was going to happen. It was that the GPS unit registered a distance that was much longer than the standard marathon.

An error rate that approaches five percent definitely exceeds my comfort zone. At that point all I could do is start interrogating myself. I've made a mistake, but WHERE?

Maybe on the mathematical calculations? I've been caught with bad calculations in the past, which can cost a day to two days' worth of work, depending on the race distance. I used to use a hand calculator and word processing document in the past to complete my measurement paperwork but quickly learned the joy of Excel spreadsheets. Once you develop a good spreadsheet formula the paperwork turns into "plug and play."

Also, I've had the pleasure of a second measurer in the past two months, as well as the course certifier, looking at my calculations.

The only thing left was to take a look at my calibration. When I first planned the job I was going to do it in kilometers rather than miles; the track was a 400-meter track, so 42.195 was (so I thought!) going to be more simple than doing feet and miles.

Boy, was I wrong.

Back home, I chewed hard on the data, even going out to take a look at my calibration course. It took only an hour of walking up and down the way for me to realize how badly I screwed up.

I punched up the correct data, went back to speak with the race director, and told her I owed Chuck an apology. She understood it was an integrity issue; it took courage to come out and admit the mistake and to fix it as quickly and efficiently as possible. And I guess she was right. I could have let ego, arrogance and even fear force me to keep my mouth shut.

Small-scale misjudgments - whether as a measurer, a coach, or as a runner - may not drastically affect short-distance races, but can be disastrous when it comes to races like the marathon. Think very carefully about all of the training details, because it's the small one that's most likely going to be the most costly.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Treadmills - We're Talking "Circus Animal Stressful"

One of my fellow running bloggers from the New Orleans area, Jenny, asked me this question:

"A friend and I were discussing road vs treadmill running and wondering why we can run at 6mph on road but on the treadmill run at 5.2mph and get tired much quicker? Have you ever done a blog on that phenomenon ? LOL :) I figured you would be the one who knew best."

When my friends Betsy and Aaron Boudreaux come visit and we go out for a run, I swear she can tell the slightest elevation variance on what I would consider a fairly flat road. I guess that's what happens when you live in a city which is laid out like a soup bowl. What I see as normal near-level terrain she notices as a rise in elevation.

Dr. Jack Daniels talks about the difference between TM and road in the most recent edition of "Running Formula." In fact, he has a series of charts which equate TM pace/elevation to road pace. From what I can tell, most of the possible reasons for this phenomenon all seem to boil down to variation, or the lack of it.

Pace - If you refer back to the comment by Jay Dicharry, PT, which I shamelessly ripped out of that "Running Times" video, It might have to do with the fact there's no pace variation to speak of when you use a TM. We might 'average' 6 on the road it might vary from 5.5 to 6.5.

Equipment - Some TMs are more accurate in their measure of a "mile" than others. If you take a wheel and measure the TM belt, then run it for a minute at 7.5mph, ideally, you should get APPROXIMATELY .125 miles.

Environment -It's harder to stay comfortable running indoors on a TM compared to running outside on your favorite pathway. While we can control (to a degree) the elements in which we run on a TM, especially if it's bitter cold, raining or freaking windy outside, but what we lose in nasty weather we also lose in that cooling airflow we experience in the great outdoors.

Add to that controlled environment the joy-killing factor of boredom. Even though some of the best-equipped gyms have televisions/DVD players/music, the unnatural act of running on a moving belt is mentally stressful. Think circus animal stressful. There's only so much a guy/gal can do to dissociate, so mental discomfort soon leads to physical discomfort.

Now that you've got me to thinking about a run, it might be a good idea for me to grab my stuff in the bag by my coffee pot here at work and get out on the chip trail before the weather turns nasty again.

Happy Christmas to all of you!

Monday, December 19, 2011

What's the Frequency, Kenneth? Quantity v. Quality Speedwork

During the "good old days" of speed workouts on the PJC or UWF track, before the rise to coach-dom (coach-dumb?) I gave little or no thought to the ratio or hard efforts to recovery. Well, it wasn't necessarily my job to think about it. That's why I had a coach, right? Over time, as I started to look at stuff like total mileage per workout, relative intensities, and my (decreasing as a result of the aging process) ability to recover from the workout, I began to ask "what is the right ratio of 'fresh,' 'good build-up,' 'good,' and even 'hard' efforts to recovery running?"

Of course, the ratio of each type of effort isn't etched in stone, but dependent on the individual runner's level of fitness - or tendency toward injury, their ability to recover from hard efforts - a function of fitness level, and race focus. Some coaches, like Arthur Lydiard, were all about the base training first, then adding speed. Others feel the other way around is best; work on speed once the initial race fitness is built, a fast short distance runner can become a fast long-distance runner over time. Once again, each runner is an experiment of one. I like the structure of base-building followed over time with a modicum of speedwork.

Still the question presents itself: How much speedwork is a good thing?

I first went back to my books to see what Jack Daniels' had to say. Daniels earlier plans in his first edition of the Running Formula broke things down into four cycles, for which I won't go into detail. If you want to read it I recommend a copy of his book, either in paperback or on e-reader.

I borrowed from his four sets of six-week training cycles to draw up my training for the next six months leading into a half marathon in late May. The first six weeks were mostly easy aerobic-paced runs. Once the second six-week cycle began, I plugged in runs at threshhold (what I used to call "fresh") pace, either as 400-meter, kilometer, or mile repeats with brief recovery periods, or as something Daniels called "cruise intervals," another nice term for tempo runs. Threshhold running, Daniels recommends, should be no more than about ten percent of the training volume. At this point that's only one speed workout a week.

The faster paces Daniels uses to work on VO2max, his "interval" and "repeat" paces, are also only small portions of the total training volume, that of eight percent and five percent, respectively. So, an experienced runner using any of Daniels' training plans would be doing not much more than ten miles a week in speedwork. Three-quarters of the time is spent running at either "easy," "long," or "marathon" pace.

I guess where I'm heading to with this is this:
There's a time and a place for the speed, but it's probably not as much as wethink we need.

Monday, December 12, 2011

One Excuse Is As Good As Another

Even coaches suffer from demotivation, especially coaches who like bright, sunny mornings. I used to think seasonal affective disorder was a bunch of bologna until I spent an autumn in Chicago. September was great, the first half of October was pretty good. The last four weeks I spent in a deep blue funk, praying for sunshine that never seemed to come. So I guess that's one of the reasons I sat, grumbling, over a cup of coffee and a slice of toast with Nutella the other morning. Was I ready to go out and run with my wife and a couple of our friends? Not necessarily. The gray skies had me wishing for a pot of coffee and a thick book of mindless reading.

On top of this, my mood was not helped by the gentle, persistent ache in my ankles and feet. I raced a 10K the previous day. I commented about the previous day's exertions, saying something like "a tale of two 5Ks, one good and one bad." I ran the first half at my desired 10K pace, then realized my (5K) fitness did not transfer well to the (10K) distance. Rather than risk regression, or worse, reinjury, I shut down the effort on the return trip, adjusting the pace to a minute slower per mile.

Most "hobby joggers" (as some would judge by my performance) would be pleased with a 46-minute 10K. Most people (still) recovering from injuries would call it a good day. However, the ghost of race performances past can trouble the aging and rehabilitating runner. Really, I should be happy to be out on the roads and still running, right?

How many times do runners use a variety of excuses - some lame, others less so - to justify a performance that did not quite meet up to their expectations?

Some of the better excuses I like to hear sound a lot like these:

"I wore the wrong shoes." - In my humble opinion, one of the best and most valid. This excuse is more common with guys who keep half-a-dozen pair of running shoes, in varying states of life, around the house. I've put my singlet, extra socks, race belt, dry post-race clothes, and so on, in my bag the night before, left the house on the morning of the race with all my gear in my bag, but forgot the shoes in which I was going to race. So, I had to wear the pair of retired "kick-around" shoes which had no cushioning left. That's one of those 5Ks I wanted to get over with quickly; one that felt like it would take forever.

The only situation worse than to show up to the race with the wrong shoes is to show with no shoes.

"I wore too much clothing." - This is particularly true for less-experienced runners taking on longer-distance events. I've stood at marathon finish lines, five (or more) hours after the start, with temperatures twenty degrees above the optimum race day temperature. It scares me to see participants layered in tights and warm-up suits staggering toward the chute.

Less often heard is the converse; very few runners under-dress for the conditions. I'm one of those crazy persons who will race in a singlet, high-cut racing shorts, and a hat or gloves. This last weekend I used a pair of arm-warmers and felt good until the end...a little on the warm side because of the knit cap, though. And, strangely enough, there were at least two guys out shirtless in the 40-degree weather.

"It was too (hot/cold/windy/humid)." - Weather conditions happen. And in many cases, unless you're talking marathons, the entire field contends with identical factors. There's not much a runner can do, except train when and where the weather dictates. And don't forget to take advantage of tactics which involve the climate. There's no law that says you have to not draft behind a runner when you're traveling into the wind, right?

"I didn't hydrate/eat properly." In many ways runners are like charcoal grills. You can pile fuel for the burning and light a match, but sometimes, in order to burn fuel you have to have some tinder or an accelerant. Some runners can eat as little as a candy bar before a race; others have to hit the buffet table.

Then comes the issue of hydration, which can be screwed up in quantity or quality. Ask any runner who's had a "barley-based liquid dinner" the night before a race how they performed. Most - after a couple of aspirin - will tell you they would like to have had the previous evening as a "do-over." Beer has fewer carbohydrates than most of us care to admit.

"The course was too long/short." - I measure courses, so I hear this one more often than I care to admit. The fallacy behind this complaint lies in a couple of factors: First, the length discrepancy is most often described in terms of time, rather than in distance. Second, the persons who complain in terms of distance usually gauge it based upon a consumer-grade GPS receiver.

If I hear 'the course was (number) seconds long,' my hearing shuts off. If I hear 'my GPS said the course was...' I patiently explain to them the limitations of consumer-grade GPS receivers, the exact distance of the race course, and the protocols (often) used to measure. For thirty seconds. At which point their hearing shuts off.

"This was a training run." - This is not necessarily a bad excuse, in my opinion. At least, if you're a top-shelf runner in training for a big race somewhere down the line.

If you are in a situation where you pin a bib number on your shirt/top, or attach it to your race number belt, it's a race. I've always been of the opinion that one should not race unless one is race-ready.

Which is probably why I shouldn't have raced the other weekend. But sometimes we have to get out among our fellow runners and blow the carbon out of the exhaust pipes. Maybe the best thing we can do is be honest with ourselves and say, 'I'm out running, and whatever happens, happens.'

Certainly sounds a lot better than all the unsavory alternatives of not running, right?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Resolution? No. More Like Goals.

Back in the days of the old Emerald Coast Racing Team, our group would get together on Thanksgiving morning for a six-to-eight mile easy run. It was a nice way to kick off the season of feasting and sharpen up a little for the last 5K race of the year. Some time in the middle of the run we would chat about goals for the coming year; what marathon or half-marathon we wanted to run, what 5K goal time we wanted to beat in the spring...stuff like that. And even now, years after that group's dissolution, I still like to think about the accomplishments of this year and the challenges of the next, especially in the realm of running.

Not surprisingly, the topic of New Years' resolutions came to the surface while "chatting" with a few friends on a common social media site. Most of the resolutions seemed run-of-the-mill and typical for citizen athletes, with some ambition here and there. And that's a good thing.

I wrote a post about a year ago, titled "Resolved Not To Resolve," in which I swore never to engage in the overambitious, somewhat nebulous and somewhat self-defeating gesture of proclaiming a New Years' resolution. Suzanne, my wife, would probably say she's perfect as she is and wouldn't change a thing about me. The fact love is blind is good. Very good. I often hope, as a coach, friend, writer, co-worker, teacher, and supporter of all things endurance-based, to live a life that makes my fellow man see me the same way my dog sees me.

However, I'm still not going to make a resolution for the coming year, because that would suggest the fact I've failed at one or more things, slacked-off in a particular area, and decided to redouble my efforts to return to a former state of grace. Instead, I'm going to consider them as publicly-declared goals for the coming year. I hope each of you can find inspiration in one or more of the following categories:

1. Find an event, a race distance, or a venue beyond the familiar. Some places are notable for the (over-)abundance of a single event distance, or the same course every month. A friend is directing an event which consists of seven marathons in seven days between Christmas and New Years; she told me all of her participants are coming from outside the immediate area. The 5,000-meters (more or less) is king here.

When Suzanne plans a business trip, she now checks race calendars and hash kennel web sites with the same level of scrutiny as she does hotel accommodations and airline fares. If she can fit in a race, it's all that much more worthwhile. If I can't go she tries to bring me back a race shirt. If there's a really good race she asks me to consider taking time off. This year, for me, the trip race is a half-marathon in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada's capital city.

2. Give back to the community. Running is fun. Running clubs are fun. Running club politics, not so much. But that doesn't mean you can't help fold t-shirts at a packet pick-up for a race, or hand out water at an aid station. There are jobs so far back in the shadows that you may never hear someone complain, but without it the race director ends up with a half-dozen additional gray hairs.

This autumn I've taught a friend to measure courses; he gets a progressive percentage of the proceeds. If the race is for a non-profit we donate a portion of the cost back to the beneficiary (Thank you, Suzanne, for suggesting this!). Our second serious measurement job together was for a non-profit, which led to a race sponsorship, and our company's logo on the event shirt.

The national governing bodies for road racing (USATF) and triathlon (USAT) are always in need of volunteer officials to support their efforts. Nobody who gets into this makes a lot of money, much less a living, but it's - again - one of those jobs which someone has to do to give everyone else the chance to run.

3. Take care of unfinished business. A triathlon in Panama City Beach sent this writer to the emergency department for five hours a couple of years ago. The experience was enough to get into my head (not to mention my wallet) and stay there until the same time I was about 400 yards into a certain lake some five months later.

We all have one race or more that's kicked us in the chops. This year could be the year for payback. What do you have to do to make it happen? What kind of focus is it going to take? Might it involve an investment of time or a small amount of money? What's it worth to you?

4. Bring someone into the fold. I've always considered running to be the most democratic of sports. Even the most biomechanically-inefficient of us can participate, given a pair of shoes which does not damage us. The vast majority of elite runners I've met have been gracious and kind; there are jerks in the community, but no different than in "real life."

As human beings we're all social creatures. While there are people who prefer to train alone, there's still a need to be considered part of a community, even if on the periphery. Most running clubs can be selective, if they wish, about their membership, but I prefer to think the deepest circle of hell is reserved for those (social running groups) who willingly exclude others from their rolls...for no good reason.

(Forgive me, that was a "soapbox" moment.)

It might mean taking a walk with someone who doesn't run much. It could be running farther back in the pack at a 5,000-meter race. Or something drastic and out of the ordinary. Let your imagination, er, run wild. If I can accomplish all four of these goal areas I have no doubt there will be at least a few more happy people in the running community. Perhaps even in the community as a whole. What "big, hairy, audacious" goal have you slated for the new year?

Here's to a safe, mileage-filled, healthy and successful 2012!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Open Season on The Roads

I almost ran into a runner as I drove from my home to a local run group gathering last night.

Well, the term "almost" might be a little bit of a stretch. I was a couple of feet closer to him than I felt comfortable. I had my low beam driving lights on and cannot say I was distracted by anything. In fact, it wasn't until I was about 50 feet away from the guy that I saw anything.

I know my nearly fifty-year-old eyesight isn't the greatest, even at baseline. Top that off with the twilight conditions and the poor lighting on this stretch of road along the bluffs just off Pensacola Bay, it's amazing more runners (and bicyclists) are not injured or killed there.

In my own defense, when a guy runs out along the side of the road at twilight wearing dark gray and black thermal compression wear, with nothing light-colored, lighted or reflectorized he is not doing himself any favors.

The period between Thanksgiving and the New Year might best be called "open season" on runners, walkers and cyclists. Motorists are in a hurry to get from home to work, from work to shopping, from shopping to social function, and from social function to heaven knows where. Multitasking is something most humans do poorly, yet they do it regularly. That leaves the responsibility to the person not cocooned in a motor vehicle to either stay clear of where the distracted motorists are, or to make themselves very, very visible.

Lots of runners loathe the treadmill because of its boring nature; the same surface step after step. The same pace minute after minute. Are we talking about the same runners who go out for a run with headphones? Dude, wear them on the treadmill. Make a game out of the treadmill run; go hard for a song, then easy for a song. Sing along with the jams - I bet that will encourage everyone to steer clear.

Reflective clothing can be bought in a variety of styles (vest, belt, top), (bright) colors, and fabric weights. I recommend pairing reflective clothes with clip-on lighting; the more the better. At the least if you don't feel like wearing lights or reflective stuff, then a light-colored long-sleeved top is better than nothing. And definitely better than black, dark gray or dark blue.

And, most importantly, don't forget that cell phone with the camera, just in case things do go south on the run. You never know when you might see someone who needs assistance...or when you might need it yourself. If changing the time or the location of the daily run or ride to get away from traffic is not possible, then do what you can to make yourself seen out on the roads.

Taper Time - Overeat, Overtrain, or Over-Plan?

A friend of mine shot me a note the other morning:

"Michael - everything I'm reading about the marathon taper (3 wk) says do NOTHING in week three. Do you have any particular suggestions for this week? My marathon is Sunday. My last run was a half marathon at marathon pace this Saturday past."

From my own marathon training foibles, most know I consider the actual act of standing at the starting line of a marathon a major accomplishment. If the volume of training during the "typical" 18-to-24-week plan doesn't injure the self-coached runner, the "traditional" three-weeks of insanity known by many marathoners as "taper madness" can derail the marathon performance.

The biggest problem with the three-week taper is that many runners either overeat or over-train, mainly because they have too much time on their hands. Neither one is good.

While the volume of mileage in the taper ideally should ultimately decrease - some like to bring the mileage down to 65 percent of the baseline, others like to bring it as low as 50 percent...or a little lower. But the mileage which needs to be subtracted from the total volume needs to come more from the easy, peasy, lemon squeezy, not from the "quality" speed work. It's still important to do short efforts which are faster than marathon goal pace during the taper.

Which workout is going to be "just enough" for the runner doing 50-to-60 miles a week for the previous 18 weeks?

1. One-or-two miles at long training run pace, four-to-six 400 meter repeats at a pace 10-to-20 seconds faster than their marathon goal pace, with full (or 400-meter walk) recovery, followed by a mile at the long training run pace.

2. Five miles at long training run pace.

I believe workout number one is more likely to make the runner a little bit tired but not completely wipe them out. The mind is satisfied by the effort. Workout number two, after a bunch of 50-mile weeks, is one that quickly turns into "a few extra miles."

With all that time, it's surprising that many runners do not think about race execution. Rather than consider where they'll stay, what they'll do, when and where they'll eat, what they'll wear, they allow way too many factors which can adversely affect the race to be out of their control. How many runners mindlessly wander through the race expo who could have spent that time preparing shoes, socks, clothing, BodyGlide, nutrition, and getting off their feet? Got a "Plan B" for that restaurant you were going to do dinner at? Now you have a 45-minute wait, a surly waiter, and a poorly-prepared meal. How about a pacing plan? What's the guarantee against going out with the herd during the first five kilometers...and paying for it at mile 18?

The two-or-three weeks which lead into a target event, used prudently, can allow the self-coached runner's body to heal, and the self-coached runner's mind to prepare for the day.

Friday, November 25, 2011

What To Do With That Damned Bird? Take Stock

There are two types of people in this world: Those who run to eat, and those who eat to run. I am probably more the former than the latter, even more so during the colder and holiday-filled times of the year. One thing I am not is a great cook. I claim no expertise when it comes to being in the kitchen. I possess rudimentary cooking skills at best. Boil water, cook meat, prepare rice, pasta, or veggies; these things I can do. I'm not EVER going to be mistaken for the second coming of Emeril Lagasse. So, I'm definitely not one of those folks who, before undertaking a two-hour run, plan to scarf on a breakfast of egg, potato, cheese, meat, toast with Nutella, multiple cups of coffee, and so on, before heading out the door. A bagel (or two) and Nutella is going to be my pre-run nosh...with coffee, of course.

Like any other learned skill, the act of cooking can be improved upon and perhaps made more tolerable by simply following the rules, over and over again, until it becomes second nature. Once the person has mastered the skill, then they are usually free to improvise; this is the area from where innovation or invention springs. Turkey carving is another one of those "ten-thousand times" practical skills I never caught; we had three very senior males in my family as I grew up, so I never had to figure out how to turn a 30-pound turkey into a decently-sliced mountain of meat for a ten-member delegation.

One thing I have learned to do, however, is make turkey stock. The process of transforming a turkey carcass, which may or may not have meat-like remnants attached to it, into a meal which is NOT turkey a'la king is pretty damned simple, even for a ham-handed guy like me. All it takes is a good knife or two, plenty of counter space, a good stock pot, and the willingness to wrestle with a nasty hunk of poultry for a couple of hours.

I cannot recall where I figured out how to turn turkey waste into stock; must have read it in some cookbook. But I did it the first Thanksgiving Suzanne and I were together. Considering our income was half what it is now she was pleased to see that bird stretch out another four or five meals (at least) beyond the "leftovers Friday, turkey sandwiches 'til Tuesday, turkey a'la king 'til next Sunday, don't show me any (curse) turkey 'til next year" stretch.

There's nothing like turkey soup, and a good 25-to-30 pound bird can be turned into a few quarts of stock...which, with a little "surgery" and the right veggies (amazing how those green bean casseroles with the fried onion strings can perk up a soup) can keep a guy warm and happy for several evenings, at the additional cost of a good loaf of french/style bread and a six-pack of beer. I'm certain it takes less time than it normally takes me, but my traditional stock-making usually takes a day, a pot of coffee, and 'Lawrence of Arabia' on the DVD player.

A big knife is used at first to separate the remaining breast meat from the bones, followed by the dark meat. Then the legs and wings are separated from the carcass. The bird is gently stuffed into a stock pot and water (this year's took somewhere between six and eight quarts) is filled until the bones are covered. Medium heat for 60 minutes, simmer for 60 minutes, low heat for 60 minutes. The pot is left to cool, then placed in the fridge overnight.

The next morning I normally place the pot on very low heat for the day...just before I leave for work. When I get home it's time to play surgeon again. I drain the stock pot into one or more pans, then pluck portions of the carcass out to get the last bits of meat which might still be attached to the bones. My dog hates me by this time of the day. The meat goes into the container with the large chunks of turkey taken the previous evening. Once the turkey is either bones in the trash or meat in the Tupperware I can refill the stock pot with the boil, cut the meat into chunks of desired size, and add the veggies.

At that point my "work" is pretty much complete, and Suzanne takes over the task of soup maintenance. She'll add veggies or rice as the circumstances warrant, and make certain we have good bread for the next week or two. And I have to admit there is something therapeutic about running your fingers around the skeletal structure of an animal, feeling about for fleshy parts to tear away. Something that lets me get in touch with my inner animal, I guess.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Rehabilitation Is For Quitters

Quitting. Most occasions the word has a negative connotation. Unless the thing we're quitting is destructive or wasteful. Quitting a job leaves a gap for someone to fill; quitting a race (if injured) replaces time training or racing with recovery and rehabilitation.

If you're a big-shot in an organization the announcement is usually tied up in a neat little package with the classic and often overused "...want to spend more time with my family..." alibi.

I'm not a big shot, so I don't have any good alibis. I'm not very good at neat, clean, well-structured goodbyes - the promises of the goodby-er always seemed hollow on the receiving end. Therefore, I've always tried to turn a "hurry out the door" into something which sounded more like a "hiatus"; you never know when you might need that old job, or to communicate with that person again.

When I no longer needed to do a collateral duty after four years, it seemed a good time to take stock of other activities which fill my schedule. Was it necessary? Was it of benefit to others around me? Most importantly, did I derive any sort of satisfaction from it?

There weren't many groups available for runners when I was appointed to coach a run training group. Some six-and-a-half years later, there is a social run or training activity most every day of the week, save for Friday.

I've handed out the occasional business card to runners who expressed interest in training and answered the occasional phone call or e-mail question. Sometimes the inquirer comes out, sometimes not. My wife told her girlfriend once, "...he used to get very excited about the prospect of someone new coming out, but when they didn't show it disappointed him. Now he has a 'wait and see' attitude, which keeps him on a more even keel." If coaching were my only way of making a living, or to get people to bring their money through the door of my running emporium, I might be more aggressive. For me, though, it's three-to-five hours a week.

I am not quitting the act of coaching. I'm not going to be the guy pushing workouts two nights a week to runners who may or may not buy in to what I'm (not) selling. Pushing workouts out that way is like shooting blindfolded at a moving target hoping to hit dead center. I would rather sit down over a cup of coffee, review a training log and take thirty minutes to ask the right questions (the answers won't matter if I ask the wrong ones); that form of coaching is more satisfying. Good coaches blend collaboration and domination. I'd rather be a good coach than a mediocre one. So, I think the focus (ideally) will be toward a one-on-one coach/athlete relationship in the future.

Besides, I need to continue my own rehabilitation. And we all know that rehab is for quitters.

Friday, November 18, 2011

A Good Trail, But Please, Not MY Blood...

Over the last year or two, I've become a fan of a semi-underground running activity. Some persons call it hare-and-hounds running; many call it hashing after the name of the international (semi-organized) running/social group, the Hash House Harriers (HHH or H3). It's drawn my interest for a number of reasons:

The (relatively) non-competitive nature of the activity - Walkers, joggers, and hard-core runners can all participate at the same time. Recognition (of a sort) only comes if you're the first male or female, the first walker, or the last person who finishes the trail. Besides, out on a back road or stretch of vacant lot or woods, cooperation is often necessary to keep from getting either hopelessly lost or worn out trying to find the true trail.

The (relatively) inexpensive cost - Why spend $50 per couple for a (perhaps accurate) 5K run with a cotton t-shirt, light beer and day-old bagels? My wife and I can spend $10-15 to run anywhere from three-to-five miles on terrain which may vary from paved bike trails to briar-choked woodlands (or worse!), stop for a cheap beer along the way, have a couple of brews and munchies at the end.

Terrain - The two kennels here are night-and-day when it comes to terrain choice for trails. One kennel focuses almost exclusively on paved roadways and sidewalks; hills and street crossings are probably the most hazardous natural features, as long as the hares - the person/s who set the trail for that particular run - don't get overambitious. We prepare to run with this kennel in pretty much the same manner as we prepare to run a 5K or 10K road race, or a training run.

When it comes to the other kennel, almost anything goes. I still have scars on my legs from my first (real) trail. My "hash name," which was given because of my typical response to whining athletes, also fit my typical response to this kennel's trails. After three trails I learned it's not a trail without either a water crossing or crashing through a thorn-laden wooded trail. I'm better now, in many ways. But the first five minutes or so are still entertaining.

I'm still learning what to wear, and what not to, on trail with this kennel. My friend Charley and I have talked at great lengths about the ideal and preferred gear for hard-core trail traipsing. Starting from the top and working downward:

Head, eyes, ears, nose and throat - After a couple of trails where I took shots to the forehead from thorny vines and low-hanging branches, I first considered cranial gear worn by aircraft carrier flight deck personnel. 'Overkill,' Charley said. 'A baseball or running cap with a stiff bill will keep the branches out of your eyes.' I mentioned the thorn branch which struck me directly in the dimple of my chin, to which he responded, 'A one-off situation.'

Depending on the time of the year, running or shooting glasses will aid in the visibility and keep the branch which the cap cannot stop out of the eye.

A bandana is optional, and cannot hurt to have if running in dusty, gritty or spider webby don't always have the benefit of a taller runner to go in front of you, right?

Upper extremities - Charley's gone from the canvas gardening gloves to a pair of mechanic's work gloves, which are almost as thick and protect the fingers, palm and back of the hand almost as well. Sometimes it's better to move the branch out of the way with your hand than to try and duck around it.

Torso - Lightweight, layered clothing is a must except in the hottest summer conditions. The nylon ripstop military surplus camouflage shirts are good for carrying whistles (mandatory!), marking implements (semi-mandatory!), and (in case of very bad situations) identification. Fabric is a little tougher than skin where thorns are concerned.

Lower extremities - I've worn what is affectionately known as "shiggy socks" which cover everything from the kneecaps down since that first infamous trail. Compression socks (a little more expensive) or soccer socks (great color choices) are good if you don't want to order any from the H3-related on-line retailers. When it comes to the thighs/quads/hammies things get a little more challenging. There lies the challenge between balancing weight (especially when wet!) and protection from the sharper elements; do you choose nylon ripstop military surplus pants or something closer to a pair of jeans? My wife bought me a pair of tough but heavy camouflage-style cargo shorts which go down to just about my knees. Charley's got a pair which are filled with ripped knees, covered in mud and paint stains, and seem to serve him well.

Feet - Some hashers wear the same shoes for years. Running guys like me cry in horror at the thought of running in old shoes, but I've relegated shoes with more than 400 miles to trail hashing; road hashes merit a pair of training shoes, however. I made the supreme mistake of wearing a minimalist triathlon shoe with drainage holes once. Until a large stick punched through a drainage hole on trail I thought it wasn't a bad idea. And the folks who like the Vibram "toe" shoes or the barefoot running thing often have to keep their eyes open for the many hazards which lay often unseen on the trail. So do you go for foot and ankle protection or for drainage? We considered the merits of a trail-running shoe versus a canvas jungle-styled boot. Horses for courses; we have to be prepared to swim at a moment's notice.

Accessories - with the trail-focused hash it's a great idea to carry whatever you want to take with you but don't want trashed in a waterproof container. I have a DryCase for electronics but haven't used too many electronics on trail. Flashlights and whistles aren't just a good idea, they're a great idea.

And what about cutting devices to deal with otherwise recalcitrant plant matter on trail? Charley's got a machete, what about something a little smaller, like a pair of pruning shears? I'm not in favor of carrying anything on trail which can eventually punch a hole in someone else's body (bad juju) or my own (very bad juju) in the event gravity decides to exert itself. I wonder if something like a Leatherman tool would be better?

So maybe the protective gear is where the cost-effectiveness of hashing goes by the wayside. Not having all of the stuff doesn't mean you can't enjoy yourself while running a trail, but you might lose just a little blood out there. And it isn't a good trail unless a little blood is shed.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Sometimes, Gratitude...

Once a week, for the past four years, I've taught a study-skills and test-taking seminar as part of my "real" job. The presentation method, as many who read this blog (or the articles which often come from this blog) might guess, is a blend of storytelling and instruction.

For the most part, I've enjoyed the time in the classroom; every group of 25-to-65 students - the vast majority young enough to be my child - presented its own unique "terrain" on which I take a brief 60-to-90 jaunt (back) into the academic world. Not every one of them needed to hear what I felt like saying. Strangely enough, some of them wanted to know a little more about road running or triathlon than how to beat a multiple-choice test.

This morning I received a note from the indoc staff. Curriculum additions mandated by the persons in charge of Navy training, only three miles down the street, left no room to add this (perhaps the last) hold-over from the Navy's Revolution in Training.

The change was eventual. I've been through three revisions, three cubicles, two commanding officers, two supervisors, a reduction-in-force, a defunct survey database, and a cycle in training delivery methods from instructor-led to self-paced...and back...since I started teaching this seminar. I have to admit a sense of gratitude that it is finally over.

Steven Covey, in "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People," says the first habit effective persons cultivate is to begin activities with the end in mind. I think he was talking "end state," not necessarily "end date."

Sometimes we complete a target event (marathon, half-marathon, triathlon, just to name a few) and between the time when the euphoria departs and the muscle soreness arrives we get the athletic version of the "existential dilemma": 'I completed a (blank) what?' Could this dilemma exist because we don't like empty schedules and blank calendar spaces? Mary-Chapin Carpenter, in "The Long Way Home," sings that many people are driven with the need to '...gotta go, gotta be, gotta get somewhere..." We don't take the time to appreciate what is now in our mental and emotional rear-view mirror; negative or positive.

So now it looks like I have an extra hour in my calendar. I'm not necessarily ready to fill in the blank with anything, at least for a couple of weeks. It's a little extra daylight time...something else for which I can be grateful.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Stupid Damage

The road back to running health and race fitness is not always a straight path. Sometimes it's not even paved. Not that an unpaved path is a bad long as there aren't too many bumps and rocks to bounce around. Mine, so I've learned, has a few blind curves and - apparently, from an experience at the beginning of this month - some obstacles which will need to be addressed, moved or just plain blown away.

A Tuesday track workout found Jim observing, as he put it, a "hitch in my giddy-up" during the warm-up. At first I put it down to a little bit of gamesmanship; while I'm the coach and he's the athlete, we're separated in age by only a couple of years. Some of the quicker efforts on the track can put us both on the verge of racing. At the tail end of the warm-up I made a brief "pause for the cause," which can sometimes improve the gait, or at least the outlook, toward a run workout. We slid into the workout and ran our 200-meter and 400-meter repeats.

The next morning I felt pretty much the same degree of tightness in my heels as in the past, so I didn't give the discomfort much thought. Until I went out for my mid-morning run on the wood chip trail outside my office. "Being flayed alive with a rusty straight razor", like John Parker Jr's. Quenton Cassidy, would have been most welcome. I literally had to shut down the run after the first minute.

I decided to go into Plan B, and do a little bit of run-walk.

Three minutes later, Plan B turned into Plan C: a nice walk along the trail in order to save my legs for a run later in the afternoon.

As I walked gamely around my office I realized this was no minor issue of delayed onset muscle soreness or something a little more disconcerting like inflamed achilles tendons. I'd done what appeared to be some stupid damage which was most likely going to take a few days to a week to straighten out.

So, I did what any smart guy would do in that situation. I slept on the issue, then talked to my dog about it during our morning walk. As Rubin and I walked we started to consider the possible root causes:

First, there was probably too much increase in stress for the body to handle (the classic "if this is good, then twice the amount is better" thing). While I increased the duration of each run by no more than ten percent, I also added additional workouts during the week; I had gone from from four hours to somewhere close to seven hours of running over a three-week period.

The second root cause might have to do with the pair of lightweight trainers I prefer for track workouts. They aren't the oldest pair of running shoes I have, and they don't have as many miles as the oldest pair, but 310 harder, more-sweaty miles, run through the heat of summer means faster midsole breakdown than running in more mild conditions.

When I've done too much speedwork or hard running on a crowned road the discomfort is usually limited to a single heel or ankle. But the pain this time was bilateral, in the heels, ankles, knees quadriceps and lower back...a sure sign shoes are a culprit.

So, the best course of action when the stupid damage is done is go "three steps forward, two steps back". Or at least two steps back:

First thing I would recommend is to scale back the run duration to the point before the discomfort and pain began. Those runners who feel compelled to do additional workouts might want to consider ones which will stress the cardiovascular system but place minimal impact stress on the musculoskeletal systems, like road cycling, stationary cycling, elliptical trainers, aqua jogging or swimming.

Second, find running routes which aren't going to place undue stress on the joints; preferably level ground. Dirt trails are great and more forgiving than asphalt or concrete, but be careful of wood chip or mulch surfaces, as they can be a little too forgiving or too unstable for the feet and ankles.

Third, once the body has adapted to a change in weekly run duration, distance, or terrain, resist the temptation to pile on MORE. Some runners can safely handle a distance or duration increase of up to 20 percent, but we are all an experiment of one - what works for you might put me back in the hurt locker. And whatever increases or changes are done, make certain to spread them out over the entire week.

Fourth, make certain to keep track of how long you've worn or run in a pair of training shoes. Six months, or 300-to-400 miles is a good gauge, but can be shorter based on weight and running conditions. Besides, good shoes are cheaper than good physical therapists.

Finally, make certain your training plan and your racing schedule are written in pencil. I'd rather be a happy 5K runner than an injured spectator. I've done that a few too many times this past year. It's not fun.

So, listen to your body throughout the training cycle. If you don't heed the first messages, it will eventually find a way to make you listen.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Consider the Treadmill Your Friend

Summer has turned to autumn, and infernal conditions have turned temperate (a good change), but the hours of daylight have dropped as quickly as the mercury. The runner in training, and even the runner who wants to stay fit and healthy through the season of junk food and socials has to consider the benefit of a few changes to their routine:

Change the time of the run from the increasingly dark morning and evening hours.
Change the run venue from outdoor trails and tracks to indoor facilities and treadmills. Change the run gear from lightweight to lighted (or reflectorized).

Not every runner is blessed with access to workout (shower!) facilities or flexible schedules, but a run during the work day can be a pleasant diversion from the "typical" stress of the work place. A runner who is not able to do a short run in the middle of the day might benefit from sliding the run time "to the left" or "to the right" to take advantage of daylight hours. Of course, that also depends on the good will of one's employer.

Many people hate running lap after lap on a track. Others can't stand to run indoors on a treadmill. When I suggest either option they often tell me it's either too painful or too boring. Given the choice of running a solo track workout or running on a treadmill I am most likely to choose treadmill running. The treadmill allows the individual runner to control nearly all of the workout variables, such as pace, duration, distance, and elevation. A runner who is willing to pay attention to the timer or the odometer can simulate almost every track workout imaginable. Pace discipline is almost absolute over time; there's no variation in pace, unless the runner changes. Most importantly, if something goes wrong biomechanically, they can stop the workout and immediately treat the issue.

I've even had people tell me treadmills were not good for runners because the mechanics of running were different. But I've always trusted my instincts about the treadmill and not listened to the nay-sayers. Then, last week, I watched a Running Times magazine podcast video about "Fixing Injured Runners". In the video, Jay Dicharry, MPT, CSCS, Director of the SPEED Performance Clinic and the Motion Analysis Lab Coordinator at the University of Virginia, was working with a middle-distance runner who had been dealing with achilles tendinosis for about a year. Dicharry's laboratory uses infrared cameras and a high-tech treadmill to help analyze the gait of runners of all ability levels, part of a three-fold process to determine "what's broken". About three minutes into the video, Dicharry said something which made me feel very confident (not only about my own recovery path, but also about training alternatives):

"Old lore states running on a treadmill and running over ground are dramatically different. A lot of coaches out there will tell you when you run over ground you're pushing yourself along the ground and when you run on a treadmill you pull yourself along. We can state this is not true. When you run on a treadmill versus over ground you are still pushing the body along. The treadmill is moving but you are pushing on a moving surface. The GRF (ground force reaction) profiles we measure are fairly similar."

"We published a study a few years ago (Riley, P.O., Dicharry, J., Franz, J.R., Wilder, R.P., Kerrigan, D.C., A kinematic and kinetic comparison of over ground and treadmill running. Medical Science, Sport & Exercise 2008; 40(6):1093-100) which looked at differences between over ground versus treadmill running. What it showed was about 60 percent of people ran almost identically on a treadmill versus over ground; while 40 percent had some differences. The differences we saw were really no more apparent than they would be if you ran on a track versus a treadmill versus a gravel road versus a trail. You want to acclimate and accomodate your body to prolonged running on a new surface..."

"We have noticed over the years after five minutes of running the variability in the gait cycle tends to decrease....As far as training, think about one more factor: on trail or any place someone is running around...if they want to speed up or slow down they can, it's no problem. On a treadmill they can't because the speed is set and held constant by the motor. If someone runs at a higher speed, gets fatigued and can't keep up with their leg speed they'll tend to overstride. When a runner overstrides they are running with a compensated gait pattern. That's one of the mechanisms people complain about. They claim treadmills cause them to get injured when they are running."

"I don't think it's the treadmill causing the injury, I think it's their compensated gait style causing them to get injured while on the treadmill."

As Mike Smayda, the middle-distance runner featured in the (three-part) podcast series said: "People set their treadmills too fast and overestimate their ability."

Most runners are more likely to adapt to the outdoor conditions and move their workouts to times with more light or bring the light (or reflectors!) with them, but the treadmill can also be the training runner's bst friend during the dark days of late autumn and early winter.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

My Favorite (Marathon) Mistake

If the "typical" age-group runner were to look at the workouts I post on my training group's blog they would either say the workouts are "too easy" or "too intense." It's always the extremes of the continuum, rarely if ever anything in between. Come out to the track and watch the group go through repeats, and you're more likely to doubt the benefits. 'Nobody,' you would say, 'can improve on that simple a plan.'

The plan rewards patience and consistency: short-distance speed work to focus on the anaerobic system, longer distance repeats to improve the lactate threshhold, long distance runs to develop aerobic and mental fitness, topped off with a few easier efforts here and there. There are no secret workouts, no gimmicks or gadgetry I foist on people; I do tend to get down on the athlete within the first month or so about their shoes, usually after I hear "hey, Coach, I have an ache in my..."

I'm not a control freak who wants to turn every athlete who shows up on Sunday morning, Tuesday evening, or Thursday evening into a "hobby-jogger" "tri-geek" "harrier" like me. Almost all adult athletes have a firm grasp of their strengths, weaknesses, limitations, goals and priorities, so I serve as much as a sanity check or sounding board as I do a provider of workouts. If the athlete has gaps in their plan of action then I feel like it's my role to help out. I'll either refer to materials and resources which have worked in the past, or to seemingly good ideas which failed miserably when I attempted execution.

The relationship is not "one size fits all." Some of my athletes only work with me once a month during an easy jog around the beach. We talk about the mental side of running (and it is true - running is 50 percent physical and 90 percent mental); I provide encouragement and a little humor. Rarely if ever do I need to "spank," because they've done the spanking well enough on their own.

One of my more-active athletes recently missed his desired marathon performance by nine minutes. In spite of his disappointment I had to tip my running cap in his general direction, since he ran about the same time I've done for my best marathon performance.

So, as we stood in the parking lot and talked about the race experience - he ran one of the marathon majors, which adversely affected his race execution - we also talked about some of the other potential barriers to a good marathon performance.

Slow training=slow racing: When we are both working on short(er) track repeats I am more likely to have my heart rate monitor strap handed to me. The most recent 5K he ran, all other factors being equal, would have predicted a couple of minutes faster than his goal time.

Let's remember that term: "all other factors being equal."

He got plenty of long runs - including the "ten the hard way" run with me one Sunday which was the "filling" to his 20-mile "sandwich" run. Trouble was we did more runs at the long run pace and not enough efforts at race pace, which in his case would have been about a minute-per-mile faster.

Family functions+race=focus on everything else: Marathon training - in fact, training for any endurance event - is a selfish activity. As the day approaches the race needs to be looked at like "a day at the office." Without suit and tie. You want to shoehorn a shopping trip, a sightseeing excursion, or a really cool "thanks for supporting my training, honey" dinner when you're in town during the last couple of days before the race? Not a good idea. Sitting on the couch at Barnes and Noble with a cup of Starbucks sounds much better, especially when you spent a hundred bucks in race entry fees and a thousand miles in training. Have we forgotten the term "taper" already? Move the special occasions "to the right" on the calendar, to the recovery days after the race. Sure, you will walk around like a wooden-legged zombie, but it makes a great conversation starter with the waitrons.

P.O.A.&M. or O.U.S.O.B.: Everyone knows all the pithy lines about preparation...failing to prepare is preparing to fail...prior planning prevents poor performance...and so on. Know exactly where your starting corral is relative to the starting line, the first and last five kilometers of the course, and as many of the aid stations as possible. Study the terrain, the turns, the tarmac and the temperatures. Leave nothing to chance.

While in the corral take a look around at your fellow runners. If a lot of them are wearing headphones it might be a good idea to move forward of them, if at all possible. See a lot of matching singlets and tops? The best way to keep from fartleking and swerving away from the "six-abreast-singing-kumbaya-red-rover-my-foot" rambling groups is to get in front of them IMMEDIATELY. Carry your own (throwaway) fluid bottle so you don't get hung up in the first two aid stations on the course. Trust me. You'll thank me later. If you don't the medical staff most likely will.

If you've made it through the marathon training fit, healthy and prepared to run your best race, don't make the mistake of looking at it as another race. There are no guarantees of the next starting line, so make the ones you get to count.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Marathon Musings: "Tip Of The Iceberg"

On the drive to work this morning, I listened to a live concert recording of an artist whose best stuff (in my humble opinon) is rarely heard; his most sappy dreck gets lots of "soft rock" airplay, however. Thirty-plus years in the music business, and never once did he look the part of the typical pop star. There was a year where his tunes were on everybody's favorite radio station. He still talks self-deprecatingly about his "'fifteen minutes of fame' at the top" of the music business, a little over three decades ago.

How much alike, the "fifteen minutes of fame" and the marathon. There is no such thing in the entertainment business as an "overnight sensation." Each "minute" of the "fifteen minutes of fame" was more likely the end result of more rehearsal spaces, ramen noodles, rough commutes, and relationship hassles than "right place, right time" situations.

Follow any major marathon from the Rock n' Roll Series to the Marathon Majors, as well as the World Championships and Olympics, and everybody focuses almost solely on the 26 miles, 385 yards of race day. That's the cherry of the sundae, the tip of the iceberg, the nose of the hound dog. Very few focus on the 1000-to-1600 miles of preparation, depending on the training plan, the average citizen spends get to the starting line. That's, on average, six-to-ten days of a life preparing for four hours. And small change. On the average.

I'm not saying, as Bill Bowerman once mused about the non-running world, that we engage in "a frivolous activity." What I am saying, especially about the marathon distance, is that it's not for every runner. About a year ago, my friend Charley recommended I watch the movie "Run Fatboy Run." My wife went and bought the DVD and we watched it one evening. I won't ruin the plot for those of you who haven't seen it, but in 25 words or less:

A guy decides to make himself look good in the eyes of his ex-girlfriend by running a marathon. He's sorely unprepared for the task.

I have friends who, for some insane reason, "jump into" events on little (undertrained better than overtrained) or no training whatsoever. If they were fitness buffs they might probably say to themselves along the way "this was a bad idea." Usually when I see them after the event they tell me, with not only perfect but magnified hindsight, they would never do it that way again.

Naturally, every person is a unique individual, and for every participant in a race there are many reasons to participate:

Some want to beat everyone who's ever run the distance.
Some want to beat everyone who's toeing the line on the day.
Some want to beat their best time.
Some want to beat their last time.
Some want to post a time.

When it comes to the marathon, I'm more in favor of the undertrained rather than the untrained state. While there's a lot of recovery (and the risk of injury) involved with the thousand-plus miles which lay between day one of the training plan and the finish line, I believe it makes the last 26.2 that much more possible...and even a little bit enjoyable.

Friday, October 14, 2011

All Stressed Up And Nowhere To Go

Ever have one of those mornings when you didn't feel like getting out of bed for the morning run? You talk yourself out of bed and into the morning pre-run ritual. You might even muffle the little voice in your head long enough to step out the door. Maybe you get a mile up the road before SOMETHING finally clicks in your head and you receive the urgent message. You know the one:

What. Are. You. Thinking?

There are mornings, sometimes days, when our body tries to inform us it hasn't completely recovered from the stress of days past, which may or may not include our training. A heart rate monitor is an inexpensive tool to determine or predict whether we've endured a little too much stress.

I've used a heart rate monitor as part of my training for the past six or seven years. It's a simple tool to figure out your resting heart rate first thing in the morning. Some folks like to use the monitor to maintain their run pace. The heart rate monitor can also be used to help quantify a workout effort.

An athlete's resting heart rate can show the progression of fitness, as well as the onset of overreaching (not so good) or overtraining (not good at all). Some will place the heart rate strap when they go to bed, then turn on the heart rate receiver for a minute after waking up. Once the athlete learns their average heart rate, those mornings when sudden spikes of five-or-more beats-per-minute are read can tell the athlete about residual stress, or that the body has not completely recovered.

A resting heart rate can also be checked just as easily by placing a finger on the carotid artery and counting the pulses for a minute, but machines are more likely to be honest than human beings about the numbers.

I know folks who like to pace their runs based on a target heart rate zone. I prefer to go by feel than by heart rate for a number of reasons:

First, the heart is a demand pump. The oxygenated blood is sent to the places the body informs the brain it is most needed. That means there's a lag time between an effort is performed by the muscles and when the blood arrives to replenish the muscles...kind of the reverse of the way our automobile's carburetor works.

Second, depending on hydration (or dehydration), weather conditions, fitness, etc., a particular pace effort can vary in heart rate. A six-minute-per-mile pace is not always going to equate to a 145 beat-per-minute rate, just to give an example.

Ever ask someone how difficult a particular workout was? How do they usually describe it?

Dr. Eric Bannister researched training impact, scoring by percentage of maximum heart rate, multiplied by duration. Each ten percent above the fiftieth percentile earns a single point for each minute of effort. So a sixty-minute run at fifty percent of max heart rate would be a training impact score of sixty. That same sixty minutes at sixty percent max heart rate would score 120, a 180 training impact score would be seventy percent max for sixty minutes, and so on. Most good heart rate monitors have a function which informs the user how long their effort was in a particular range, or provides the average heart rate for the workout period.

Bannister and others also researched whether the Borg (perceived effort) scale of one-to-ten could be used to score training stress. They found most experienced athletes scored their perceived effort almost as accurately without a heart rate monitor; an athlete who scored their workout as a six-out-of-ten was found to have had exercised at around sixty percent of maximal heart rate. So you don't necessarily have to use a heart rate monitor, but you can get deeper into the details with one on your wrist/chest.

Once the workout is scored, the question soon follows as to what that score means to the individual.

Hunter Allen, one of the developers of the Training Peaks workout software, in a recent article, correlated training stress scores to levels of stress and need for recovery. He wrote that scores of:

- less than 150 = low stress. Recovery from this effort is generally complete by the following day.

- 150-to-300 = medium stress. Some residual fatigue. Generally complete recovery by the second day after the workout.

- 300-to-450 = high stress. Residual fatigue remains even after two days.

- more than 450 = very high stress. Residual fatigue over the next several days is likely.

While it's important to know how hard we run or work out, it's more important to realize gains in strength, speed, endurance and overall fitness come as we allow our body to properly recover from the effort. Once we completely recover we can go out and repeat the stress again, which makes our body more resistant to that same level of stress.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The One Book

My wife, Suzanne, received an e-book reader for her most recent birthday. She naturally was pleased to have the new acquisition, graciously offered to let me load books on it, and use it at my convenience.

Ah, but that's the way she is.

She's downloaded a couple of business and marketing books and a few biographies from the Barnes and Noble site. She's able to tuck the reader in her carry-around bag, mark passages she likes, and have hundreds of books - all that information - in one little place.

I, on the other hand, like paper and binding and glue and thread. I am 'old school.' I like the heft of a good history text. It doesn't necessarily mean I'll carry it with me the entire semester but it will stay opened on my work desk until I've taken all the notes I need. It then fills up another bookshelf and makes people think I'm more of an intellectual than I truly am.

There is at least one book, however, I would love to have available everywhere I am but don't want to risk damaging my paperback copy.

If I were forced to buy (again!) only one book (either for downloading to an e-reader, or in paper form) it would have to be Daniels' Running Formula.

Dr. Jack Daniels has been described as "America's Greatest Running Coach." There are great athletes - including several Olympians - who have made a successful transition from athlete to coach. But the list comes few and far between. Not every gifted athlete makes a great coach. Sometimes the smart, physically-limited athlete knows how to tap into the head of their charges. That's what makes a great coach, in my humble opinion.

But where many coach-turned-authors seem to lack bonafides, Daniels brings both personal performance - two Olympic medals as part of the US team in the modern pentathlon (a combination of swimming, equestrian, pistol shooting, fencing and cross-country running), academic credentials - a Ph.D. in exercise physiology, and outcomes - team and individual national championships, and All-American distinctions in cross-country - to the table.

If a self-coached runner is willing to take the time and effort to carefully read through Formula - don't be scared by the mathematical calculations for VDOT at the front end - they can put together a reasonable training plan based on several past race performances, as well as their goal event/s. I like to use the VDOT chart to divide my own training group into smaller ability groups based on a 5K or 10K time. The VDOT chart not only helps to predict performances at other distances (once the other variables are equalized), but provides insight to proper pacing efforts for long runs, threshold runs, and interval workouts. I like to borrow from the pace charts for my "longer repeat" workout day of the week: I might assign an early-to-mid-season workout to a runner with a VDOT score of 38, (a 3:29 marathoner), of 6-to-8 400-meter repeats at "threshold" pace...which is 1:51 for a 400, or a 7:25 mile, with a minute recovery.

Daniels provides plans for runners who are focused on short track racing (800 to 1500 meters), as well as the 5k, 10k, half-marathon and full marathon. Naturally, the plans can be adapted to fit the schedule of the (often) time-constrained runner; don't have enough time to run all those 'easy' paced runs? Schedule the quality training efforts first, then fill in the remainder of the week with the easier efforts.

Regardless of whether you download a copy to an e-reader or you purchase a hard-copy for your library, Daniels' training and racing guidance is probably the next best thing to a coach's advice a runner can have at their fingertips.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Hubris, Humble Pie, and Just Desserts

A little over a year ago, Pat Williams, the president of the Orlando Magic, joined a group of state representatives and board members of the Road Runners Club of America for a luncheon meeting. One of the major takeaways from that luncheon speech I got was to read something on a daily basis. "What kind of reading?" said Williams. He was not the slightest bit concerned with the material as long as it was something we enjoyed. My wife, Suzanne, has told me she can learn something, even from a science fiction story. I, on the other hand, prefer to pick up a book which has something directly to do with what I want to learn. Sometimes you find when you close the book at the end you learned something far different than your initial expectations.

My most recent completed books on the Spanish Civil War and the life of John Belushi varied in the "surprise" factor. I knew little about the struggle which served as the "warm-up" to World War II, and quite a bit about the man I like to call the "real Last Samurai."

This week, I started in on the autobiography by foodie/chef/traveler/party animal Anthony Bourdain, "Kitchen Confidential." I was drawn to Bourdain by his snarky commentaries from his Travel Channel program, "No Reservations," but couldn't justify the read sooner because I really wanted to learn something else. Silly me. I'm three chapters into the book and love it. Bourdain describes his his second summer in New England's restaurant business in the same way I have entered my first workout with a new training group; naive as hell.

More often than not, hubris at the beginning of the workout usually is the appetizer for a full-course meal of humble pie, crow and just desserts. With a to-go bag.

Open your mouth to say how simple a workout is? Did that after a two-mile road loop around the perimeter of the U. Tampa campus during the early spring of my junior year. I was hanging tough at the back of the pack; found out minutes later from the team captain the loop was only a warm-up. Three or four 1200-meter repeats later (I cannot recall exactly how many; it might have been closer to five.) my attitude was much more humble. When I came back the next day ready to work, truly ready, it was the first step on a long road to being a runner.

We had people who you would never thought would stick it out; we had (seemingly-)motivated people slip and slide away. I still have a photo on the wall of my team from the autumn of 2000; a dude named Greg came out to one workout, received a uniform, and stood in the team photo. After that workout, Greg was never seen or heard from again. As small as that campus was it would have been an amazing feat if he had not been seen by any of the dozen guys...or the dozen girls, for that matter.

Three years later, I "ordered" the same "hubris with a side order of suffering" during a late-November evening workout of repeats on a grass loop behind a football stadium. You would think human beings are smart enough to not make the same kind of mistake twice.

Well, it wasn't the same kind of mistake; more like the same mistake, just later in the workout.

When a coach talks about perceived effort in a workout, they usually mean it's the athlete's perception. The hardest lesson to teach, especially to the new athlete, is that their "70-percent effort," for example, may not be the same speed as someone else's "70-percent effort." The second hardest lesson to teach is to preserve their energy until they are certain the workout is soon to be concluded. Run like the second coming of Prefontaine for two sets and suck wind in the third? If I had a dollar for every athlete who's done that, I'd retire wealthy.

So, if you're going to your first training session with a group, take the time to ask the group leader or coach about what to expect. Most will be good enough to communicate to you if a cautious approach is necessary for the first few workout sessions.

And make certain to take a "to-go bag."

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Free Your Run And Your Mind May Follow

There is a point in our commute to work which reminds us what we forgot to take with us from home, if we have forgotten something. The object's criticality determines, at least for me, exactly where this reminder will occur: If it's the identification cards which grant me access to my office and/or my computer I'll remember mere blocks from the front gate. Something less critical like my workout gear, running shoes, lunch, or perhaps money I need to give to someone will come to mind at a point exactly half way there, with no good opportunity to turn around.

Today was a "less critical" day. My Garmin Forerunner 310XT was sitting next to my computer and should have been in my bag this morning when I bolted out the front door. And why did I forget it? Suzanne was checking her bank balances on my computer; it's all her fault.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Actually, I consider the oversight more critical than most persons would.

I use the 310XT and the heart rate monitor to help me track almost every aspect of my workout routine: the duration, distance, type of activity (using Dan Empfield's Slowtwitch aerobic point scale) terrain, route, average HR, training stress score (using Bannister's minutes at percent calculation), shoe used, and current mileage, to name the majority of the factors. All this information is on a spreadsheet, which lets me look at where I am compared to my training goals and limitations. I can see, at a moment's notice, some of the root causes of a training setback, injury, or fatigue issue.

Am I dependent on the 310XT? There have been afternoons I've launched into a three-second piece of purple prose because the battery died or I forgot to bring the receiver unit (while the heart rate monitor strap was securely wrapped around my chest). So, I guess there might be the academic description of dependence there.

I considered completely tossing my planned mid-morning run into the rubbish container...then decided to go out for a run on the same loop without external pace guidance.

Yeah. Let's go by feel, Coach.

I cannot say it was liberating to go out for a run without having all that data available which the 310XT is able to provide. I was able to observe at a few things - the abundance of squirrels on base, for example - which I normally did not pay more than a passing glance because I was trying to either hold my pace back for a fellow runner or trying to keep from pushing the pace too much. The down side of a "no feedback" run was that I only had a time check at the two-thirds point of the run, at the front which point I had to judge where I was going to end the run. All I had without eating into my lunch break was 60 minutes, which included a shower and change back into my work clothes.

As long as a runner is not time-constrained or data-(over)dependent a "caveman run" can be a refreshing change of pace from the "X-pace for Y-distance" mentality into which many of us have unintentionally slipped.

Just don't expect me to go barefoot.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Can't Unspeak the Spoken Word

Have you ever opened up your mouth, typed an e-mail, or written a letter, and you realized in the first moments after you said, sent or mailed it - once there was no turning back - it was going to cause a ruckus?

Several days ago I saw something which I felt merited a comment within the boundaries of social media. I saw three ladies jaywalking. Some people would have ignored this particular scene. Maybe not, had they seen some of the ironies I had:

First, all three of these women were several pounds beyond the Rubenesque, pleasingly-plump stage. Second, they were jaywalking from the county health office to a fast food restaurant. Third, there was a signal-controlled crosswalk only twenty yards out of the direct path from the county office to the restaurant. Fourth, their journey took them across a major thoroughfare during the morning commute of many local workers. Fifth, they continued their travel without regard for the traffic signal.

I ranted for thirty seconds once I was able to continue my drive unimpeded, then began to marvel at the ironies I just mentioned. When I typed the observation in the social media site I don't think it would have raised as many eyebrows if I had not used one little word.

I used the term "bovine" to describe their attitude during their travel. The term was frowned upon by one of my family, and I'm not talking about my wife.

Suzanne has heard me use the phrase "to get all bovine" at one time or another. I've used it to describe walkers or joggers who by pace and/or position manage to impede the travel of faster track walkers/runners or race participants. Large groups of human beings who stand in a queue, often in a mindless fashion, caused her to use the term. She does a lot of travel. Use your imagination, friends.

But what caused my family member to comment about what she perceived as a lack of compassion on my part had much to do with the description of cattle, tied in with my observation of the bodily habitus. Perhaps she was correct. But when you add the jaywalking across a busy street and the fact they walked into a Hardee's, there's not much I could do to either mitigate the rant or soften the commentary.

Neither this family member, nor a friend of hers who decided to chime in for that matter, have seen me work with people over the past six years. I've met and worked with folks who wish to lose weight, increase speed, develop a life-long habit of exercise or gain endurance/confidence by accomplishing a goal tied into running.

I've also met people who make excuses for why they cannot drop a few excess pounds, shave a few seconds off their 5K time, run when the weather conditions are less than optimal...or even when they are optimal. Some call me on the phone and ask about the workout schedule. Others have my business card.

I gave up chasing folks this last year. It's not that I don't care. It's because I do.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Blindsided By Beverages

Take a couple of seconds to think about your run routine:

You go out for a run of 30-to-60 minutes, which may or may not include a warm-up or cool-down. You come back to the house, drop your soggy shoes and socks at the door, and amble to the kitchen. Once you hit the kitchen you make a beeline for the refrigerator. You open the door, grab a bottle, can or glass of something cold and wet, and slug it down.

Quick - how many calories did you just take in? Even the most anal-retentive runner, the one who counts every calorie of solid food which crosses their lips, can be blindsided by beverages.

Yes, rehydration is necessary after a bout of running. However, we can - mindlessly - take in more calories over the course of sixty seconds than we burned off in the previous ten minutes. When you start to think about it, it's not all that difficult to see why some runners have difficulty losing those last few pounds. You know the ones - those five pounds which can slow you down by 20 seconds a mile.

That's a minute for a 5K. Closer to ten minutes for a marathon. Ask any marathoner who's come "just that close" to a Boston qualifying time what they would sacrifice for ten minutes. Some might mention a pound of flesh, but it's a little closer to five. Naturally, the issue is one of portion control. When I was the age of my oldest grandchild the largest size soda at the major fast food resturant was the smallest size now; same for the french fries.

And when you look closely at a bottle of the most popular "thirst quencher," you find that the 20-ounce bottle represents not one, but two and-a-half servings. And 130 calories go down the hatch quickly. Very quickly.

I am not saying that sports drinks are bad. What I am saying is that we need to pay close attention to what we eat and drink as part of our training...and I consider recovery as important as any training session on the schedule. There are sports drinks on the market which have more trash than treasure, more empty calories than nutritive value. Some drink manufacturers make claims which can hardly be substantiated and usually come with provisos in small print. Personally, I'm too old to read small print. If I can't read it I probably should not drink it.

When it comes to recovering from the run, I will be the first to say this - slow is best.

Slow down. Read the label. And if you can't read it you probably shouldn't eat or drink what is inside it.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

"Blackhawk Down" Rules: The Lesser of Two Evils

My wife and I have run together nearly every Sunday morning over the past seven years. Of course it depends on how one defines the term "together." It's been a little more simple for us to plan since this most recent cycle of recovery/rehabilitation began during the beginning of the year. The distances have been shorter. The duration has been shorter. The pace has been somewhat more relaxed. This has also encouraged a couple of our (less-speedy) friends to run with us. We've developed the habit of a sixty-minute jog/shuffle/run/walk/saunter/traipse, followed by breakfast and more social interaction.

This, for me, can be a good or a bad situation. Depending on how we feel first thing in the morning Suzanne and I can differ in pace by a solid two-to-three minutes per mile. She's willing to walk with me on the days when I feel badly. I've sacrificed my "workout" on the rare occasion she's awakened feeling sore and beat. We cannot, however, run together. Any time we have tried to do this in the past the end result has never been positive.

There's no way you can force a person who runs a ten-minute-per-mile pace to run two minutes faster. Neither love, money, nor small arms can be used by any coach to repeal the (seemingly) immutable laws of physics...and of human physiology.

So it's then a choice between the lesser of two evils: Leave her behind on a run, or run at her (slower) pace. A runner can damage themselves not only by running much too fast, but also by running a pace that is much too slow. An individual runner's performance capabilities - maximal and minimal - are defined by physiological limitations. The biomechanical limits which affect stride length and turnover are much like the systems of a motor vehicle. Vehicles which have been designed for operation at higher levels of performance can be operated at a lower level of performance, just not for an extended period of time. Like a sports car or a muscle car is designed to be operated at a particular level, a runner who runs at a much slower pace than their stride mechanics are built for will either expend too much energy (bad!) through excess contraction and expansion of the large muscle groups or damage their "drive train" and/or "suspension" (worse) from excess strain on the smaller muscle groups of the lower extremities.

It doesn't take too many instances of running much too slow to damage a runner. I tried to run "with" Suzanne two years ago when we were in Hawai'i. Three 45-minute morning jogs at ten-minute mile pace led to a Thursday afternoon appointment with a massage therapist. Yes, I had fun chatting as we watched the early morning surfers and joggers in Ala Moana Park. Not at the cost of 50 bucks which could have been spent on other cool stuff.

I've also encouraged less-speedy runners to come run on Sunday mornings by instituting what I call "'Blackhawk Down ' Rules." We leave nobody straggling behind. A runner can go off the front if they feel sprightly, but heaven help you if someone is left to their own devices on the road. This attitude comes from being left to run solo from a porta-john two miles from the end a long run some years ago. It wasn't so much the two miles at race pace which upset me as much as what happened the following week; the same group let the teenage son of one of the members dangle blocks off the back of the pack.

Before the run starts, we talk about how long we need/want to go, in time or distance terms. If time, I use an out-and-back course, or a loop which is close to the length we would get on an out-and back. If a loop, the faster runners are charged to walk back toward the slower ones at the completion of the time period, unless they're at the end. If out-and-back, naturally, the group turns around at the half-time. In a perfect world everyone gets back to the start at nearly the same time. On a bigger loop, however, I've asked the faster group to turn back at mile splits or time splits to regroup with the slower runners. This way the faster runners definitely get more mileage and see the slower runners more often.

This morning, for example, I went out with one of my marathoners on the same 7.5-mile loop on which Suzanne and another one of my friends were training. By the time Jim and I hit the point where Suzanne had two miles left in the loop I joked we were running "ten the hard way." We finished the loop, then I walked back to meet up with the slower pairing...who were only two or three blocks from the parking lot where we started.

There are inconveniences to doubling back on a run to regroup with slower runners, but I feel it provides the opportunity for faster runners to see and encourage their group peers. And isn't encouragement part of the reason for which we run with others?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

So You're Thinking About Triathlon, Eh?

So you're thinking about doing a triathlon event, huh? I'll admit I like the sport a great deal, which makes perfect sense if you've read my postings from a couple of years ago. Multisport is great because it's an inclusive bunch; the type-A folks, the rank recreational participants and even the professionals are all pretty much together on the same course and the same conditions.

I've participated in the sport at a variety of levels; athlete, event volunteer, course coordinator, and race director. Over the past four months, I've worn the red polo shirt of a USAT official and worked the water, transition, bike and run courses of sprint, intermediate and long distance events.

I walked through the transition area of an intermediate (Olympic distance) triathlon during the first week of September and heard someone say, 'oh, the penalty guys are here.' That's one way to hurt someone's feelings, even if they are wearing a red or zebra-striped polo shirt.

The role of a USAT certified official blends two different professions, that of educator and of law enforcer. Before the gun goes off, the referee/s work to make certain the "playing field" is safe and fair for everyone. The head referee for a race wears a zebra-striped shirt and serves as the final authority when it comes to the rules and penalties. Any violation written by an assistant referee (who wear red shirts) is verified or can be nullified by the head referee, depending on the assistant's description. Not even the race director can overturn a violation penalty. The zebra serves as defense counsel, prosecution, judge, jury and (regrettably, sometimes) executioner.

The referees check the water temperature to determine if wetsuits can be used, review the transition layout to every athlete travels the same amount of distance as their fellow participants, checks to make certain bikes are safe, legal, numbered and racked correctly, looks at helmets and equipment to make certain they meet USAT standards, and answers rules-related questions.

Once the gun goes off, it's time to enforce the rules.

Often, new and relatively-inexperienced participants suffer - at the least first-race or tri-newbie angst, at the worst variable time penalties and even disqualification - for mistakes made in training or in training groups. Really.

I think back to my first handful of races; I would have been penalized at least twice in my first triathlon and probably disqualified in my first long-distance triathlon for rules I said I knew and agreed to follow when I signed my event waiver. So, not only am I talking from the perspective of a guy who knows most all of the relevant rules, I'm talking from a guy who's seen or broken most of the easily-broken rules.

So, let's talk about some things you can do to make those first few races go more smoothly.

Before you go inside transition, make sure you've mounted your race numbers on your bike and helmet. Both should be clearly visible from the left-hand side. Make certain your body marking is clear and large. If the race director provides body marking tattoos, place them slowly and carefully. Most importantly, check to see whether your tires are inflated, gears shift and - most importantly - the ends of your handlebars are plugged. If they aren't, ask a transition volunteer to direct you to bike tech support. In the case of the bar ends, they have to be plugged or you won't be able to ride that bike. Of all the rules referees are charged to enforce the bar end rule is one of the three which can lead to a disqualification.

Once you are in transition, it's all about you. Some events are more stringent than others in keeping family members out of transition. It's both for the safety of the racers and the security of their gear; some bikes I've seen are two months' worth of paychecks on skinny tires.

Once you find your rack area, place your bike either with the handlebars on the rack or hang it by the saddle. Now take a look at your bike. Whatever way you have racked it, the space from the rail from where you hung the bike out to where your bike wheel touches the ground is space which is reserved for your gear. If there's no space in the area where you are supposed to rack your bike, talk to the racers in that area, a transition volunteer or a referee to help adjust the bikes. Staggering so every second bike faces the same direction allows each racer to have a space up to 75 centimeters wide (the legal maximum width of a bicycle according to USAT competition rules) for their gear.

Take a moment or two to look at the layout of really experienced triathletes. You'll find they have less gear than the less-experienced athlete. It's not necessarily that they have more on the bike, but they've learned to bring the least amount of gear necessary for their event. I recall the layout of a guy in my age group from my first triathlon; he had a stool for a seat, a bucket for his feet, not to mention the towel, helmet, bike shoes, water bottle, etc. His wife stepped in to assist him in transition, too, but that's another story.

So the gun has gone off and you got through the swim - I'm usually smiling about this point, because if anything is going to do me in it's going to be the swim.

Once you've come out of the water and entered transition for the first time, think: Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast. Put on the helmet first. Set it properly on your head. Facing forward - only the pros are required to wear their helmet properly, but a properly worn helmet is a helmet which might save your life. Buckle the chin strap. Good. Now work on everything else. Once you have the shoes and helmet on, walk quickly and smoothly to the mount line, then get on the bike.

The unbuckled chinstrap can get you in a world of trouble if you mount your bike; it's a variable time penalty in transition and a disqualification if you're on the course. I've seen new racers with buckled chinstraps which hang down like they were playing hockey. Or the helmet is tilted back on their head; especially ladies who have pinned their hair up. The helmet has to fit snugly; a loose helmet is one which won't protect the head in a crash.

I saw an athlete walk through transition toward the mount line at a recent race. I called out, 'racer number (blank)...racer number (blank)...YO, DUDE!' He couldn't hear me. He was wearing an iPod. Another racer had a set of headphones hanging around his neck.

Music headphones are not allowed in triathlon events. Even if they aren't on your ears. Outside of being dangerous on the bike, because it's impossible to tell who or what may be approaching, USAT considers music players, cell phones and radio devices unauthorized equipment, something which can be used to provide a tempo (pace) reinforcement or possibly provide you information on the location of fellow competitors. Either way you want to look at the use, it merits a variable time penalty.

The bike leg of a triathlon has four very simple rules; ride on the right hand side of the road. Pass on the left hand side of the road. Stay back three bike lengths from any rider in front of you. Make the pass in 15 seconds; once you make the pass keep pedaling and move to the right side of the road. If you're passed, move back three bike lengths before trying to make a pass. The hard part, usually, is that inexperienced riders are used to riding side-by-side with friends or being closer than three bike lengths apart from another rider.

Hear those motorcycles? That's the referees. They're riding along to make certain all the riders are following the rules. A group of riders on the road is usually a tell-tale sign for the motorcycle and referee to come watch and make sure everyone is playing fairly.

Sometimes the sound of a cycle will make riders tighten up their distance or position. Other times it will force a rider to attempt the pass because they were too close when we arrived - 7 meters/23 feet is closer than most people think, but once you're within that space there's only one legal way out. Through the front. In 15 seconds.

If someone is drafting off you, don't yell at them or argue. If there is enough referee coverage on the course they'll be eventually found out.

When you get to transition, slow down before you hit the dismount line. Get off the bike, then walk into the transition. Again, remember the mantra...slow is smooth. Smooth is fast. Set your bike on the rack, remove your helmet, then put on your shoes.

We've had many racers ask whether their spouse/child/friend can run with them on the run course. Only if they run with everyone else, we tell them. Impossible? Only one family member and hundreds of runners? I guess it wouldn't be fair then, would it? They can stand along the curb and cheer you on, but don't use your cell phone to chat with them. Remember, those things aren't allowed, right?

And while we're talking about being on the course, make certain that everything you take with you during the event stays with you. Don't toss your empty bike bottles or gel packets unless you're literally in sight of an aid station. A lot of towns really are down on triathlon events because the participants treat their roadways and lots like it is their own personal rubbish bin.

And if you find you've been penalized after the event, the head referee normally stays until the end of the awards presentations to answer rules and violation questions. They might have written your violation, or their assistant/s may have. Either way, they will be able to explain what was seen on course and how it violated the rules.

Multisport is like golf for the high-strung: You can have the perfect race and still find areas which need improvement. You can focus on one area and get really good, then suddenly find out you've slipped in the other two. So, it's a balance of power, speed, technique and smarts...two hours of racing can whip your butt for the day...or you can achieve a state of euphoria after six hours. Find the distance you like and try it out.