So, How Many Hats Do You Wear?

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

Monday, January 31, 2011

The Bag

About two years ago, I wrote an article for the Pensacola Runners Association's newsletter, The Rundown, about clothing needs for road racers, especially during the Gulf Coast's winter months. The article was much a piece of advice as it was a tongue-in-cheek observation of the runners and attire I witnessed during PRA's first race each calendar year, a 5K/10K/half-marathon on Pensacola Beach.

Naturally, the well-worn joke holds true, especially along the Gulf Coast: If you are happy with the weather conditions, chances are good it will worsen. If you are not happy with the weather conditions, chances are good it will worsen.

During the years I've participated in the run, and in the photographic evidence from other years, most participants are dressed for standing on the side of the road and watching a race rather than for running. They didn't consider a human body exerting energy was going to put off a certain amount of heat through either perspiration or water vapor. Those sweatshirts, sweatpants and parkas over the course of 30-to-60 minutes appear very uncomfortable, especially at the last minutes when they weigh more than when they started. Chalk it up to inexperience, I guess.

It also amazed me, especially while watching female runners, how many of them seemed self-conscious about the view from behind. So, I mentioned a few pithy words of counsel in the article, namely: Arm warmers, running skirts, and the concept of "less is more."

As I've "grown up" in running I've begun to think more about what happens after the run as much as during the event. Freeze your behind off in low-20-degree temperatures after a race like 2010's Jackson Day 9K and you'll learn quickly. Comfort and the ability to enjoy the social aspects of running have become as important as performance and comfort on the run.

Our Wednesday evening run group on Pensacola Beach is as much about the socializing after as the run is before. Naturally, after four-to-eight miles in 90-plus-degree weather during the summer can make even the most "cool" runner a little moist on the edges. On the other hand, thermal tights which seem perfect for that chilly winter run in the dark shows a little more curvature than some folks are comfortable with "revealing" during the following social hour (Personally, I'm not all that concerned. If you're worried it's because you're focusing too closely on me.). So, a few seasoned runners, by their example, taught me the benefits of clean, dry clothing and travel-sized personal care items.

Late last autumn, my wife and I began to run and socialize with a group of runners who enjoy running along trails - the term "trail" was expanded to its limits and usually included water of varying quality and depth, and brush of a thickness rarely seen outside of a Humphrey Bogart movie - and drinking beer every couple of weekends. Even the most tame run provides my dog, Rubin, a smorgasbord of scent he never experienced after our long training runs.

At that point, it was high time for me to develop "the bag."

I'm not the first one to think of it, by any means. My coach used to carry a plastic milk crate with a couple of extra towels, a dry pair of shorts and a t-shirt in the back of his SUV, in case we decided to do breakfast after a track workout. My wife often recommended we do something like that in ours, but it always seemed like too much trouble to refresh the "emergency storage." Now, my bag sits in the kitchen near the washer/dryer; the grungy items go from there to the wash, the cleaned, dry items return to the bag from whence they came. I also keep my whistle and a plastic mug in there; I'm never without a way to get a drink after a run. The folks who run trails with me know the whistle's significance.

The late, great running philosopher Dr. George Sheehan alluded to the necessary items for a ditty bag in his seminal work "Running and Being." I like Sheehan's definitive words for "the bag:" Perennial and universal. Since we live in an area of the country where the weather changes on little-to-no notice, it's always good to err on the side of sartorial caution. Besides, you never know when a wardrobe malfunction might require you to have a little "more" coverage than you initially preferred.

Sheehan recommended shoelaces, tape, Vaseline, a handkerchief, clothespins, nail clipper, folding money, nasal spray, antacid tablets, aspirin, a ballpoint pen and paper, ski mask, gloves, turtleneck sweater, extra sugar cubes and a can of soda. I'm in agreement with Sheehan on most of these, but I'd adapt a little here and there...

My bag also includes at least one running hat, visor or baseball cap, (cheap!) sunglasses, a short-sleeved or long-sleeved t-shirt, a pair of shorts or wind pants, two pairs of socks, and a pair of shoes for kicking around or running in, just in case I leave the house without the ones in which I planned to race.

Often, a friend from outside of the area will recommend lunch or another beer, or both, at a dining establishment after the post-race festivities are concluded. So, travel-sized personal care items, such as underarm deodorant, a small towel and liquid soap or shampoo can be carried. If you prefer to go more simple than that, a small container of baby wipes will do the trick.

I guess the operating strategy for "the bag" is K.I.S.S. Keep It Simple, Stupid. If the items get to be too much, or too hard to refresh after a race, then it might need a little simplification. Figure out what works best for you; your environment, and your own sense of style. Because sometimes it's not what happens during the run which is memorable, but around the run.

I'm Bad Off...You've Had Worse

"When one has much to put into them, a day has a hundred pockets." - Friedrich Nietzsche, philosopher (1844-1900)

This last week, for want of a better term, was one of transition and change.

Transition and change. Close friends and loved ones can tell you I transition slowly (especially during triathlons!) and despise change. Like my dog, I enjoy getting up at a fixed time in the morning; would be happy eating the same breakfast and (as long as they were clean) would wear the exact same outfit day in and day out. All right, perhaps not the exact same outfit. But deciding "what to wear," "what to do," and, in some cases "what to be" isn't high on my list of things on which I want to fixate. The idea of suddenly doing - or not doing - something which breaks my daily or weekly routine can put me into a thirty-minute tail-spin.

But this time, it's a little more painful. I already talked about the achilles injury and how it put the kibosh on Rock n' Roll/Mardi Gras. The good news is my uneducated diagnosis was more-or-less confirmed by a physical therapist/friend of mine. The bad news had more to do with an emotional or existential state, that "filling a niche in the world" kind of stuff.

I'm not going into the details. What hurt the most didn't make me want to cry or drink to excess; two common coping mechanisms which crossed my mind for all of about thirty seconds. I didn't have the luxury of going immediately into "coping" mode; it would have to wait until after that evening's track workout. My wife took a few minutes to have a good cry, though.

After the track workout she and I sat down over dinner and a couple of beers and talked. We talked over dinner and a couple of beers the next night, too. After about ninety dollars worth of food and beer - much cheaper than a psychologist - I did not have the will or the need to talk any more about the changes. There's not much I can do about it now except smile, clean out a few file folders and answer the infrequent question that comes my way.

The nice thing is this: I've been able to put it into perspective. I'm about three hundred pages into Chris Rose's book, "1 Dead In Attic." I figure if he and his family, and all those people whose lives were turned completely upside-down, inside-out, and wrung through the wringer by Hurricane Katrina can survive, then I'd be a little baby (I was going to use a stronger word) if I couldn't suck it up and drive on.

So, drive on I have. And I've been able to laugh a little after a day or two. Lose that sense of humor - or your main rotor, as my old friend John Steel used to say - and it can lead to very bad things.

And it's funny how nature not only abhors a vacuum, she gently nudges something to fill in the gap. While it doesn't fill it completely - it's a David Letterman front tooth kind of gap - it will serve the purpose of keeping the "pocket walls" separate for now.

So, if you think you have it bad, look around. There's probably someone who has it worse. As long as you have your sense of humor and your main rotor, everything is going to be all right.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Letter From A Friend...

Every once in a while friends and classmates from the great beyond touch base with me, either through social networking sites like Facebook or shoot me a direct e-mail. Every so often it's just to say hello and make certain we're both still alive and running. Once in a blue moon it's a business call. Today, I did my Lucy Van Pelt ("Peanuts") thing and switched my "invisible sign" to say, 'the doctor is in.'

This time, the "patient" is my close friend, Chuck. Followers of this blog know him fairly well; Chuck is the guy I took out for pizza and beer one evening ("Two Runners Walk Into A Pizza Joint") when he came into town...we were going to go run on the beach, then said, 'stuff it. Pizza and beer is more important.' He's the guy who hooked me up with Tiger Jimmy down on Broadway in San Diego, who gave me my first tattoo. No good deed goes unrewarded, I always say.

Chuck asks:

Hey Brother, how you be? Got a question for you. As I start to increase my mileage on the treadmill I am finding my legs more and more fatigued - complaining when I am going up countless ladders and that kind of thing. I'm sure I am missing something in my diet, perhaps potassium, perhaps carbs, not sure. I am only doing about 20 - 25 miles per week and not really pushing the pace too much. Any suggestions on something I might be lacking and how I can get it? I know the question might be kinda vague but I wanted to throw it at you for fun. Maybe I am just getting old? I don't want to add any calories to my diet as I am starting to drop unwanted fat (about 9 pounds now) and would still like to drop another 7 pounds or so. The mess tries to keep fresh fruit for us but the variety is limited - oranges, papaya, avocado and some more exotic stuff like dragon fruit but no bananas. I am eating lots of veggies and really not much junk at all outside of a couple cookies or a bit of chocolate every now and again.

Hope all is well on your end. We don't get to talk much any more but I do see your postings on Facebook when the morale fascists allow us internet connectivity. Anyway thanks for any suggestions, I am off to get my midnight meal. Then to the gym for my "treadmiles."

So, what would I do in this situation?

Chuck doesn't say specifically whether the leg fatigue is calf, quadriceps or hamstring-related, but it might be both a combination of whatever else he does as part of his work tramping around on all those nasty nonskid surfaces, his diet (which actually sounds better than this ol' coach's) and maybe his run routine.

Three things I recommended:

1. Compression wear - when not running, a pair of calf sleeves or tights will help keep the muscles warm and secure, as well as discourage the blood from remaining down in the lower limbs.

2. Diet modifications - his diet is loaded with fruits and veggies, but it's possible he's not hydrating enough. The microtears which occur in muscles undergoing hard training - and in Chuck's case, real life - might need a little help in repair. This can possibly be covered by adding a little more lean chicken, fish, or beef, or mixing whole grains and legumes to make a whole protein. I don't think a little junk food every now and then is a bad long as it's a "little."

3. Change of pace - Exactly that. Put a little kick in the treadmill workouts by changing the elevation of the deck; an increase in elevation can be countered by slowing the belt's pace a little...the cardiovascular system still gets its work, but the muscles are worked a little differently. It's kind of like doing barbell curls with the hands at different positions on the bar, or doing dumbell curls, or doing hammer curls (the ones where the wrist and forearm are rotated during the curl). Same thing, only a little different.

The diet and hydration issue is probably the easiest to change, so I would try it first. If that doesn't work, then I would make a change to the treadmill workout, compression stuff would be last.

When looking for a solution, the smallest or most inexpensive changes are usually the most effective. And if they don't work, then you haven't lost any money on the implementation.

Cheers, brother!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Sidelined. Not Benched, But Sidelined.

"I don’t question his toughness, he’s tough as hell. He’s one of the toughest....He doesn’t complain....He goes out there and plays...he practices every single day, so no we don’t question his toughness....Yeah, I love jealous people when they are watching our game on TV while their season is over." - Brian Urlacher, Bears linebacker, during post-game press conference, January 23, 2011

I had a sneaking suspicion something was not "really" right when we started the second of three planned seven-mile loops yesterday afternoon. My right heel and achilles tendon had behaved well through the first loop and we were gliding at a relaxed low-to-mid eight minute-per-mile pace. For Deena, one of my athletes in training for the Rock n' Roll/Mardi Gras Marathon, this pace was right where she needed to be, give or take a few seconds. However, this pace would not do me on the day; I'd need another fifteen to twenty seconds each mile. But pace was the least of my concerns.

My mind and my legs were having one of those James T. Kirk and Montgomery Scott moments which played out in every Star Trek episode or movie I've ever watched. Unfortunately for me the legs were Patrick Doohan, the mind was William Shatner: I'm giving 'er all I got, Kept'n...

About two miles left in the loop, I was deep in the Elisabeth Kubler-Ross stages of dealing with death and dying: Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance. Two of three poor half marathon performances in three months were a clear message something was biomechanically amiss, and getting angry about it would not fix the problem.

I figured I would make a bargain with my body and try to finish fourteen miles; if I could do fourteen then tacking on an easy two miles to make the run twenty-six kilometers would be an acceptable compromise.

We stopped briefly at a Circle K. I grabbed a bottle of fluid; Deena took a quick stretch break. As we started again I broke the news. I decided, rather than to back down from the full marathon and run the half in three weeks, repeating the "ten miles of decent running, followed by three miles of character-building" insanity - and insanity, according to Einstein, is doing the same thing over and over with the hope of different results - I would back down immediately to rehabilitation. This vicious cycle of train, injure, recover and reinjure has to stop. And this cycle had to be broken before I repeated the same ten kilometer walk-of-shame I did in Jacksonville...followed by recovering from a high-grade achilles tendon problem.

When you find yourself in a hole, the smartest thing to do is stop digging.

After a hot shower and a cold beer, in front of the television watching the NFC Championship with my greyhound Rubin, I saw Jake Cutler come off the field with a slight limp. Most quarterbacks in his position would have been selfish and said: 'I'm fine, I'm staying in the game,' and continued down the (painful) path of self-destruction. It may seem suicidal for a team who wants to make it to a championship game to put in their third-string quarterback, but I think it was wise of Cutler to know he would only do more damage to himself and to his team's slender chance to win by trying to earn ego points.

Sure, from the outside looking in it seems weak. But Cutler's teammates, the guys who know him best, seem to be in support.

We always look at the "manly-man" approach to training, racing, and endurance sport, but we rarely remember one of the best lines ever spoken by a "manly-man" in the movies:

"A man's got to know his limitations." - Clint Eastwood, as "Harry Callahan," "Magnum Force" (1973)

So, I'll watch from the sidelines for now. Much better than watching on the TV while my season (s a runner) is over.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

One Big, Honking...Sometimes Dysfunctional...Family

"Ev'ryone can see we're together as we walk on by. And we fly just like birds of a feather, I won't tell no lie. All of the people around us; they say, 'can they be that close?' Just let me state for the record, we're giving love in a family dose..." - We Are Family (Rodgers/Edwards)

So, there I was, sitting in a pizza joint, participating in a running club management meeting last night. Since this was the first meeting of the year, it was time for something which resembled an election of officers. This particular club has grown to probably around a hundred members in the past two years, but it was hard to tell that by the turnout for this meeting.

Once the pizzas and beer had been served, the general manager of the group began the business portion of the meeting. The first question of the evening was whether there were enough club members or management to constitute a quorum. I gently commented after counting heads, 'well, we do have a minyan, there are ten of us here...'

We marched quietly through the process of appointing club management for the following year, in a very congenial manner. There were several necessary roles for which several of the attendees were a good fit, and a couple of others which, while absolutely necessary for the ongoing good of the group, we felt would take a cooperative effort from one or two persons to remain successful.

With the management roles having been apportioned, the general manager finished his beer, reckoned his check with the waitress, and quietly walked out of the meeting. After having divested himself of the lion's share of what what Discovery Channel's Mike Rowe would consider running's Dirty Jobs, he looked a heck of a lot more comfortable at the end of the meeting than at the beginning. However, the assembled group at the table realized this situation was closer to that of a parent passing along the honey-do list of chores to the offspring of the family than to an election of officers for a non-profit organization.

Now, all we have to do is find a way to tell the "kids."

This morning I started to think about the simple truth: Runners are one big, honking, sometimes dysfunctional family. Once you get past the small stuff - politics, jobs, education, economics - there's an astounding similarity across the board. It's all the same whether I'm in Saskatchewan or Florida, in Boston or San Diego; running 5K in a swamp or a marathon on the roads. It's the act of putting one foot in front of the other.


Preferably in a rapid fashion.

Sure, there are groups which members are insular in nature, who consider the group which looks a whole hell of a lot like theirs but meets across town to be a bunch of heathens. But, like Jew and Samaritan, it's not the place which the activity is performed that makes it important, it's going out and doing it. It's the pursuit of physical fitness, burning off the excesses or the stresses of the day which matters. It's the reminder that chronological age is sometimes a number, and the reminder there are more important numbers to focus upon than the difference between today's date and our birthdate.

Each family has it's share of "crazy uncles" we tolerate in very small doses once or twice a year, as well as prodigies for whom we cannot help but marvel at their talent. The last set of a track workout always reminds me of the painfully-obvious truth that youth is sometimes wasted on the young...or "unfairly" resides in someone a few years more senior than I. But I cannot help but crow like a proud parent at the accomplishment of a previously-unattempted distance run or the achievement of a personal best...or even the "perfect," consistent race, or an age group award...and the list goes on and on.

So, when you see that guy or girl out on the road putting one foot in front of the other, or that group of athletes sweating through a workout, or those crazy fools with whistles and mugs, some of whom might put on funny skirts, stand in a circle and sing crazy songs after chasing some dude throwing powder on the ground, give them a smile and wave hello.

Because, really, they're your distant cousins. And mine.

And - just ask any driver on the road - we are all family.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Thee, Me, And 15,000 Of Our Closest Friends

"I love being married. It's so great to find that one special person you want to annoy for the rest of your life." - Rita Rudner, comedienne

I talk much about my wife Suzanne because she is an integral part of my life as coach, as athlete, & as (hack) writer. She's taught me a great deal about myself as well as the world around me. I don't always agree with her; she persists in seemingly-innocuous habits which drive me up the wall, but I would be in a dull, dreary world of funky socks & take-out Chinese if not for her.

When I proposed to her in December 2003, I knew I wanted the socially-accepted & state-sanctioned binding of us together as husband-&-wife to be simple, meaningful, & most especially, in the presence of people we loved most. If you heard me recommend April Fool's Day 2004 as the tentative date for the wedding, I'm certain you would have thought otherwise...but I suggested it mainly for the reason neither one of us would forget the date, & we could have a few laughs in the process. However, Suzanne's cool head prevailed & I moved the date one day to the right, April 2nd.

Okay, we have a date. Now we need to figure out who to invite.

As this would be the second time into the breach for us both, we agreed & longed for minimum drama. Our closest friends, no more than twenty, would be invited; the rest will have to grin & bear it. Unfortunately, the list kept mushrooming. Isn't that like every darn fungus with which you get to deal?

We kept pruning the list back: Okay, only my closest mate from the internship & his wife. My running coach & his wife. My friend George (who took me to my first Crescent City Classic) & his girlfriend (now wife) Dianne. Still, we couldn't get down to twenty. Not only was money an issue, but the running community here in Pensacola is so closely-knit it was impossible to leave some off the guest list.

Finally, in one of those "bolt from the blue" moments, I asked Suzanne: 'what if we just go down to the courthouse & have a simple civil ceremony, then have our wedding reception at Tad Gormley Stadium in City Park, right after we run Crescent City? The Capt'n Fun Runners from Pensacola will all be there; there will be food & a keg, not to mention the post-race feed, & we can always ask Glenn (also known as the "Capt'n") if he'll hold space for a big ice chest of champagne & a ton of beads. They'll understand we're trying to keep this simple & inexpensive, since we're planning to do the Classic.'

The Classic was not my first trip to New Orleans, but rather the first trip in my "reconstructed" life as a working professional. The entire weekend - Friday night's first-ever encounter with crawfish at Acme Oyster Bar, the race on Saturday, closing down the post-race party by limboing on the grass, up to the mildly-boozy little-bit-beyond-hangover breakfast at Camellia Grill in Carrollton before the long drive back to Pensacola - all this left an indelible mark on me. I raved about the experience - from claw-to-coffee - to Suzanne the next night; she had out-of-town business to accomplish & couldn't change her schedule. So, I knew my second Classic - Suzanne's first - would be something memorable. It's always great to introduce a tradition to a friend.

So, every Friday, from Christmas to Good Friday, we would walk across the street to the market across from our little apartment. We'd get a six-pack of Abita & a bottle of champagne. The Abita went into the fridge - for a little while. The champagne was tucked away into a large ice chest. I think we had at least a dozen bottles by the time we rolled into the Chateau Sonesta on Good Friday. Add to that stash enough beads to encourage the entire French Quarter to doff their tops, & we knew we were ready to go.

The race experience was unquestionably memorable. Suzanne & I spent the better part of the post-race in matching aloha shirts, handing out beads & cups of bubbly to anyone who came close to the Capt'n Fun Runners''s never been difficult to find it; look for the toucan flags.

Our local running friends sometimes still talk about the wedding reception at the Classic, with fondness. We've told the "How To Hold An Intimate Wedding Reception With 15 Thousand Of Your Closest Friends" story to friends & acquaintances around the country, usually during a group runs at a Road Runners Club of America convention, or while hanging out after a road race. The married running couples find it cute. The unmarried running couples file it for future reference.

Every couple has places, times, & songs which are iconic in their relationship. For Suzanne & me, there's nothing like the warm sunlight of a New Orleans morning - especially during the post-race party at the Crescent City Classic - to remind us how blessed we are to be in love with someone who is passionate about running...and life.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Hard Work - Street Sweepers, Mad Hatters & Duck Calls

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.” - Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)

When Suzanne & I visit New Orleans for race events, we try to get up very early at least one morning during the trip. One of the reasons we get up before the crack of dawn is to run & socialize with our 5:20 Club friends, up along the Lakeshore. The other reason we get up early is to put on our walking or running shoes & stroll the length of the French Quarter, usually along Bourbon Street.

It's a completely different world at seven in the morning on a Saturday or Sunday. The visual effect & soundscape as we stroll from Canal to Esplanade & back is, for lack of a more eloquent term, night & day when compared to the night before. What New Orleans Times-Picayune writer Chris Rose described in his work, "One Dead In Attic," as 'oyster-stink,' is mellowed somewhat by the scent of detergent laid down by various & sundry restaurateurs, shopkeepers & a few really hard working persons in the employ of Sidney Torres.

You can almost hear yourself think clearly, it's that calm.

"I've been lazy most all my life, writing songs and sleeping late; any manual labor I've done purely by mistake. If street sweepers can smile then I've no right to be upset..." - "It's My Job" (McAnally/Corbi)

Unlike Mac McAnally Jr., (Jimmy Buffett's songwriting partner-in-crime), I have no need to sit on the curb feeling sorry for myself at seven in the morning. I have a need for a hot cup of coffee. Self-pity is not on the agenda. But the calm after the storm of the night before makes me marvel at the folks who get up early every morning, not because they need to get their workout in before the morning commute to the cubicle farm, where most people's dreams go to die. They do it because, as McAnally wrote & Buffett sang, it "makes the day" for them.

And on a day like today, when federal workers (like me - please, no 'contradiction-in-terms' jokes) are off because of the hard work & sacrifice of unsung civil rights workers like Dr. King, I couldn't help but feel just a little bit guilty.

As an athlete, a coach & a race director, I definitely know the merit of hard, unseen toil, especially in areas where the spotlight rarely ever shines. In most cases, while the race participants, volunteers & family members are putting their efforts into making another keg of beer float I'm ten miles down the beach, throwing folding tables & ice chests in my little black Scion xB, or hanging out in a small boat & learning how to make my first jellyfish stings hurt less while pulling up buoys.

But athletes expect a sort of Disney World-like quality from race directors; everything they need is there when they need it, always to their satisfaction. I've had long discussions with seasoned race volunteers, & we nearly all agree the vast majority of race participants would freak out at the level of work which goes into even the smallest of races. A participant at a race director seminar last year launched into a litany of things he felt race directors should have available for race participants. I sat with my friend George over a beer that afternoon, wondering if the race director in question could or would be able to pull off what he wanted to see at other races in his own. It's too soon to tell; I haven't seen a flyer for any of his events.

As an athlete, I love highly-motivated aid station workers, course marshals & finish line staffers. Certain run courses can leave you traveling in and out of those (to borrow from Douglas Adams) 'dark-tea-time-of-the-soul' moments; a cheerful aid station captained by a racer & manned by her high-school students has the ability to provide enough adrenaline surpassing the benefit of the two half-filled cups of cool water you might otherwise take there.

The flip side of the coin followed not long after mile 12 of this last weekend's beach half-marathon...I knew it was not going to be the best of days on the warm-up. By mile 12, I was in a world of discomfort, due to an achilles' tendon which doesn't like heavily-crowned road surfaces. After ten miles, you remember why running injured can be a painful, sometimes depressing affair. I approached the third-to-last turn on the course, just a block before turning back onto the main drag. The course worker at that corner was a teenage girl, huddled up in a folding beach chair. She appeared to barely have the strength to call out encouragement as I painfully ambled by. It reminded me of mile two of last years' Jackson Day race - those girls received a mulligan because it was 20 degrees - this young maiden had about 30 degrees to the good side of those conditions. It took a great deal of restraint to not turn back to her & say, 'could you spare the sliver of energy it would take to give just a little more encouragement?'

It was then that I heard the duck call. A couple dressed as the Mad Hatter & Donald Duck (I think they did the previous weekend's Disney events) were cheering & guiding runners back toward the finish...I remembered the duck call on the trip out & could not help but laugh to myself at the sheer (apparent) silliness of the whole thing. But, with aching heel & achilles, running low on motivation & glycogen, it was the last real good kick in the back-side I was going to need before the finish line.

Suzanne finished about 45 minutes later, & marveled at the couple's fortitude as well. In fact, she took the time to introduce herself afterward & might have rounded up either another two volunteers for somewhere on the Rock n' Roll/Mardi Gras course, or two more participants to join the party.

It doesn't take much to thank a volunteer; it could take the form of a smile & a nod as you pass by, it could take the form of a handshake & a compliment to a race director, or an e-mail to the club which puts the event on...even if there's something which can be improved, they usually like to know their efforts are appreciated.

It's what makes the day for them.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Looking For My Lost Shaker Of Salt

Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person. - Paul of Tarsus, writing to the church in Colosse (ca. 62 A.D.) (New American Standard Bible, 1995)

Once upon a time I was likely to shoot off my mouth; say exactly what I felt about training programs, fellow runners, race events, & life in general without regard for the feeling of others. Regrettably, one of the consequences of this attitude is it pruned the all-too-short list of close friends & associates in which I confide. Even more regrettable is "once upon a time" is still my present.

The last couple of months of writing this blog, since I've learned the number of people who actually read it, has encouraged me to more consciously self-edit. An old military friend first mentioned the advice from St. Paul long ago when I was a tightly-wound 22-year-old. Age, as you can tell, has not mellowed me so much as encouraged me to look into the room into which I consider dropping a verbal hand grenade. Even a warning that the contents of a blog post are a person's opinion (which I borrowed from the blog of two-time Olympic medalist Simon Whitfield) are easily decontextualized by a well-meaning reader who decides to pull the material from the relative security of the source site (

In spite of the 'Discovery Channel'-like nature of the Internet, I'm still thankful it remains democratic. If you have access (If you can read this you do!) you can find what you desire, & say/write what is on your mind. No single authority says you have to research from a particular source, buy from a particular supplier, or follow a particular belief. In exchange for this democracy, however, each participant is (or should be!) charged with the responsibility to think critically & criticize in a thoughtful, responsible manner. Very few individuals are taken to task for irresponsible behavior unless criminality can be directly attributed.

As part of my day job I deal regularly with a demographic which truly are a mental & emotional work-in-progress. A writer recently described the mind of a young adult as being much like a Ferrari...with really awful brakes. I marvel at what appears to be zero rational thought or impulse control on the part of many young adults, shudder to think a small number of them are handed millions of dollars in disposable income when they can barely spell "investment," & take three deep breaths as I think of them at the controls of jet fighter aircraft, carrying semi-automatic/automatic weaponry & explosive devices, & the like.

Two decades ago, the psychologist James Marcia suggested we go through "MAMA" cycles when looking at individual identity, MAMA as the acronym for Moratorium, Achievement, Moratorium, Achievement, states of identity defined by psychologist Erik Erikson. Any parent who has dealt with an adolescent who suggests "I need a summer/semester/year off to find myself" is dealing with a request for identity moratorium. Not that older adults are immune from looking for an escape from reality. In fact, some are willing to digress even farther in the development of individual identity & responsibility & simply foreclose; take the direction of others, accept the prescription of influential authorities as their place in this world. Persons you don't want to see at a political rally.

But returning to the moratorium, some time off from running - one day a week, one week a month, & up to one month a year - is a healthy decision, as long as some healthy activity is substituted. It provides (at least it does me!) the perspective there is a world outside not constrained by training cycles, recovery, & all that stuff. The two-week recovery cycle I took after my target half-marathon in November made me anticipate the return to run training that much more.

Personally, I don't recommend or condone taking "time off" from responsible behavior, responsible speech or responsible writing. If you're in a position of high-visibility, such as a politician, athlete...or a coach, for that certain that people watch what you do & listen to what you say.

So, if you're going to say something, make certain those words are gracious & well-seasoned. You never know when you might have to eat them.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Wanted: More Readers Or More Runners?

“You have to believe most bloggers have few if any actual readers. The writers are in it for other reasons. Blogging is like work, but without coworkers thwarting you at every turn. All you get is the pleasure of a completed task.” - Scott Adams (Creator of "Dilbert")

My wife & I were chatting over dinner & a beer after last night's track workout; I had divided my attention between Facebook posts, GPS data & (naturally!) Travel Channel's "Man v. Food," but I knew listening to her would increase the degree of domestic tranquility. And if I have not learned anything in nearly seven years of marriage, I know domestic tranquility is a very good thing.

Suzanne received an article on search engine optimization, or SEO, from a friend in her professional field. For populations (I also am one) not involved with the "modern" internet, SEO appears to be the process which makes a particular web site, business page, or blog come up closer to the top of the list when using a search engine like Bing, Google, or Yahoo. My 22-year-old nephew once told me about the same stuff, but it's difficult for an old guy like me to listen to someone who (at the time) looked exactly like Justin Bieber. But I'm starting to digress.

Suzanne started to describe to me some of the things SEO experts would recommend I should or could do to draw more traffic to my blog. "Well, they recommend you have a catchy title."

I think I have that one down already; besides, it's a little too late to rename it. To me, the musings of a running coach about technique, gear, life, & the occasional minutiae of run training, all based on the rhetorical preface, "If I Were Your Coach..." is brilliant. I don't write like I possess an all-encompassing body of knowledge, as some of my friends & many of my detractors would be quick to point out. What I do write is more of an "if I were in your situation" kind of advice. If you sat with me at the local bagel shop on a Saturday morning after track workouts & heard the questions I used to hear all of the time, you'd understand the title.

"Your post titles, written material, & topic labels need to be provocative. In your case, I would maybe use labels like: 'i want to run faster,' or maybe title one of your posts 'Fifty Ways To Meet Smoking Hot Runner Dudes/Babes,'" she said.

I referred back to a recent post & read her the labels I commonly use, which seemed more realistic to me. At this point it was high time for bed, at least for her. I stayed up for another five minutes to see how close Adam Richman could come to tossing his cookies in an Italian food eating challenge. It's starting to feel more like pro wrestling, less like combat between man & food...especially after I didn't see his name & accomplishment of downing 15-dozen oysters posted at Acme Oyster Bar when I was there last month.

Suzanne was on my computer this morning, & typed "I want to run faster" in the search engine. I know, because some "Send Me A Check For 150 Dollars And I Will Send You My Sure-Fire Satisfaction, Personal Bests, Smoking Hot Runner Dudes/Babes In 90 Days Guaranteed Or Your Monkey Back Running Plan (a tip of the running cap to CAPT Dave Bondura for his "Monkey Back" guarantee)" website was still sitting up on my laptop as I was running out the front door, late (as usual) for work.

I guess if my livelihood was like that of my friend Pat McCrann, & I needed to get eyes on my thoughts, hearts/minds/checkbooks/credit cards & PayPal pointed my general direction so I could pay the mortgage/car loan/utilities/pediatrician/grocery bill, then I'd be a little more gung-ho about SEO. For a guy like me who "just happens" to be a coach, my mission is to get more readers & more runners...a few at a time. It's better than wringing my hands trying to solve world hunger or boil the ocean.

Perhaps some day I'll make a living out of being a coach. Right now it makes the real employment tolerable; it's easier to step into the office in the morning when I know what is on the agenda at the end of the day. Many times that's what REALLY gets me out of bed.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Three "Really Ought To Have" Gadgets

This morning, my wife is going to see her dentist, Dr. Roberto Maal. Until about a month ago she had little need to visit him, or any other dentist, for that matter. Suzanne is as mindful of her home care routine as I am when it comes to my training routine. It makes dental hygienists jealous.

However, she was assaulted while walking to her car on a Saturday evening in our downtown. Disoriented & confused, with a scraped-up knee & damaged incisor teeth, she walked nearly three miles (past the police station) to a friend's house. She tried calling my cell phone (which just happened to be sitting in my car) to have me come get her, & ended up spending a very chilly night on her friend's front porch.

I woke up early the next morning to no spouse. Panic immediately followed, especially after hearing the messages which provided no information other than "come get me." I drove into downtown looking for her car, then called her friends in the hope she was with them. One friend, awakened from a sound sleep at six a.m., suddenly realized Suzanne was out on the porch & had been knocking on the window the entire night, trying to get her attention.

Fortunately for us, & thanks to Dr. Maal, the story has an economic & emotional "happy ending." But all too often I read news articles of "horror stories," where solitary (female) joggers or walkers have been mugged, robbed, sexually assaulted, or killed because they were in the wrong place at a bad time.

I've always been a true believer of the running credo "travel light, travel fast." Go into a local running emporium (when I go to the one in my town, I feel this way...) & no doubt you'll see the latest & greatest accessories coming down the pike targeting the entry-level runner. Some are "nice-to-haves." Others are a complete waste of money.

Three items, in my humble opinion, should be in the equipment bag of every runner - and carried along for every run - regardless of ability level. A caveat: If I mention a particular brand it's because I've had experience with their product, not because I receive any compensation.

Identification. There are a number of portable identification & information-sharing devices on the market, ranging from the simple dog-tag or wrist tag to the complex USB-capable data wristband. I haven't tried the newer USB drives, though. I've worn three RoadID devices in the past ten years & prefer their simplicity. The latest models from RoadID provide a web address or toll-free number for emergency personnel to access pertinent user data; even the simple RoadID models are easy to read & can make the difference between a running partner or passer-by knowing who to call in an emergency & a news story about another John Doe hit-and-run.

Carry Pouch. Apparel makers, like RaceReady, have made their mark in the running community by developing clothes for (longer) distance runners who need to carry important "stuff" like gels or electrolytes with them. I have shorts, & even a few running tops, from some of the major athletic wear/shoe companies like Brooks & Mizuno, which have pouches & pockets built in. But an item I first saw a couple of years ago at the Crescent City Classic expo really stands out:

Spibelt, based out of Texas, makes several small personal item carriers. My wife & I purchased one at the last Rock n' Roll event, with the addition of a toggle to secure our race number to the belt. Spibelt is small enough to be hardly noticed in public (much like a traveler's money belt); the pouch - from personal experience - comfortably holds an iPod Touch & a smart phone, plus driver's license, credit card, folding money, & won't flap on the run like a fanny pack. If you can fit it comfortably into a single jeans pocket, you can probably carry it in a Spibelt.

If you want to keep your phone separate from your credit card, there is a two-pouch Spibelt. Both single & two-pouch Spibelts come in a variety of colors (basic black for me, pink camouflage for Suzanne) & have an adjustable elastic belt with a strong Fastex buckle it won't come off until you're ready for it to come off.

Cell Phone. In the past I recommended to RRCA clubs to have at least one person on a group run carry a photo-enabled cell phone. The smart phone's gadgetry is almost a "must-have" now; you can download applications which will help you find who has the GPS function turned on, search for information on the nearest public safety provider, & even request turn-by-turn directions in the event of disorientation. The things these phones can do now goes far beyond & thankfully can dovetail into what we could do in the past by just calling the local 911 service.

Even these & other good gadgets are no substitute for the common-sense practices of running with one or more other persons when possible, maintaining situational awareness at all times, & staying out in the great wide open (public) as often as possible. My wife & I learned a painful, mildly expensive lesson, but (fortunately!) we live to run another day.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Same Time Each Year

This ALWAYS seems to happen to me immediately right before the New Year.

Every year. Without fail.

My wife worries about it, reminds me to be careful & prepares accordingly. Still, the same thing happens to me. The first year we were together - a week before I went to San Diego (to run a marathon & work on the Navy base at Point Loma) for three months - was the worst.

Last Thursday morning was not nearly as bad, thank heavens. My alarm went off at 5, after a short tempo run the evening before, followed by a couple of beers. I woke with a nasty glob-like feeling & discomfort at the roof of my mouth. In spite of my best efforts to fight the histamine-based assault on my upper respiratory system over the next three days, my breathing this morning is not good. It's nearly impossible to run when your throat is clogged the same way as if someone shoved a running sock down your throat. So my "easy" 30-to-60-minute run this morning was replaced with a trip to Wal-Mart for more & better medications. Better to nurse a low-level upper respiratory infection for a few days than try to train through it & end up with a full-blown fever, like when I was training for San Diego.

I've learned in the past eight-to-ten years to say no to an excess of parties & social functions. I don't have a hard time doing that; I'm socially-inept at baseline. But some environments are closer to a petri dish than others - ask any schoolteacher. I can be mindful of my exposure risk, & try to mitigate accordingly. But, it still seems my closest friends & contemporaries will wear themselves down during the holidays, catch something...and pass it along to me.

So where is the line drawn between the "go for a run" decision, & the "curl up on the couch & watch Man v. Food" decision? The chin.

If you have got the sniffles or some congestion in the head, an easier run is not likely to kill you. If the congestion is in the chest (If you are using what are called the accessory muscles to help you breathe, the answer is "yes, it's in the chest."), I'd recommend watching Adam Richmond get stupid with 15-dozen oysters.

But in case you forget this by the next holiday season, I'll stock up on the Vicks VapoRub.