So, How Many Hats Do You Wear?

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Pensacola, Florida, United States
Husband. *Dog Dad* Training Specialist. Runner. Triathlete (on hiatus). USATF LDR Surveyor. USAT (Elite Rules) Certified Official, Category 2. RRCA Representative, Florida (North). Observer Of The Human Condition.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Bruised In A New Place

"There is a certain relief in change, even though it be from bad to worse! As I have often found in traveling...that it is often a comfort to shift one's position, and be bruised in a new place." - Washington Irving

The season has begun to change, and just in the nick of time for this ol' coach/runner. Tampa winters, all 14 of them, I could tolerate; there might (or might not!) be a week of nasty cold weather around the turn of the year, and February could have its moments here and there. But February is a short month and we could always look with longing to nice conditions in March.

Pensacola, on the other hand, has been a completely different story. How could a city which was more northerly be more hot, more humid and more...well...blah, during the summer? And, to top that all off, predictable in its climatic unpredictability in those months which possess an "R"?

It has been nice to get back on the streets, even if it's for twenty minutes at a time right now. I did go for a sixty-minute walk yesterday morning while my wife ran on the same course. I marveled at the blooms and buds, shoots and flowers which began to make their presence known as I strolled past some of the front yards in the neighborhood just a half mile from my home. It began to make me think life was going to be all right.

Then, I remembered it was the last days of February. March was not far behind.

March, here in the "Redneck Riviera," does not enter or depart like either a lion or a lamb. It's like a - lab - as in labrador retreiver. Smart enough to figure out how you're going to react, friendly enough while you're around, but if you fail to keep an eye on them then say farewell to those really nice shoes you just got on sale. March here doesn't go in one way and out in another...it comes in, makes a mess, then asks you (while you're comfortable in front of the tube)to let it back out. Ah, but we love it and wouldn't want it any other way. Especially the weekend around St. Patrick's Day, when we have the largest 5,000-meter prediction run in the country.

My wife and I went to brunch the other morning, after our morning efforts, with one of our closest friends, Charley and Sheila. We marveled at the conditions and wondered whether they would persist until the first week of May, when our summertime conditions show in full force. I then said, "Don't get too excited about this nice weather, because you know it's all going to hit the fan during the weekend of McGuire's. It will either be fantastic on the day and horrible immediately after, or it will be really nasty cold." Charley then laughed at the fact I would remember years past and the temperature tendencies; 80 degrees one day, 35 the next.

Forecast schizophrenia.

To plan for the McGuire's 5K, we pull out the racing attire we want to wear, the stuff we were forced to wear at the '07 Crescent City Classic, and then the oldest running gear we have, on which we won't mind having nasty green beer poured or spilled by someone else. Place all those items in a laundry basket (or "the bag" I wrote about a couple of weeks ago), shake them up and pluck out the first items which keep us from being busted for indecent exposure.

But getting back to the blooms, the weather and all...I started to think about what was going to happen to those pretty buds, blossoms and flowers which were starting to spring and would be meteorologically-blindsided by the middle of the month. They probably reacted to something in nature in the way plants react when everything seems to be all right. I looked at each of those gorgeous blooming trees and all I could think was: 'you fool, you fool...'

Those trees and I had a lot in common last Monday morning, after I did 4.5 miles, the first lick of running after three weeks without a step. Everything reverted back to something like normal. And then, reality set in around Tuesday evening. That chunk of running was a shock to my system, one which left me hobbling for the remainder of the week. Not only were there muscles I hadn't offended in a long time which were now very upset at me, but they took their cues from the unhappy people in Egypt; if protest could topple a 40-year rule, it certainly could hobble a (nearly) 50-year-old man. Every step going down stairwells at work caused my legs to fire uncontrollably. There were moments where my leg buckled as I was teaching my seminar late in the week. I hadn't felt this bad since my marathon walk-of-shame in 2007.

I had, as the Irving quote above suggests, felt the relief of change; the transition from sidelined runner to slow runner. Naturally, the bruises and discomfort had come, not so much in new places, but in places common to new runners. Nothing that time, patience, self-massage, hydration and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories could not alleviate.

Ah, the ache of being a born-again runner.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Grab Some (Yur)Buds?

Rare is the moment I laud the use of headphones while running. They might be great for staving off boredom during treadmill workouts at the gym, but I do not like them - not one bit - on the ears of the athletes I train. Call me a kill-joy. Call me old-school. But I'm the coach; it's my prerogative to say what I do and do not like.

I don't like my athletes wearing headphones on the track because they cannot hear what I need to tell them about the specifics of their workout, their form or their effort. The last time I recall that particular form of feedback was called "coaching." I don't like my athletes wearing headphones during races because they cannot react to anything around them. Headphone-wearing runners turn into to the pace blaring into their ears rather than to the pace of the pack of runners beside (or in front of them). The last time I recall that was called "racing."

Working with the Road Runners Club of America for a little over five years, I learned the litany of safety reasons which clubs were told about the potential dangers of headphone use. Add to the "tune in, turn on, and lock in the pace" mentality of most headphone wearers at races the sometimes benign, sometimes life-threating approach of racing wheelchairs and strollers, faster runners, and intruding bicycles or other motor vehicles. You can end up with something as inconvenient as a trip-and-fall or as permanent as death.

And really, it's not the headphones which are evil. It's the way we tend to use them.

Several years ago I was at a small neighborhood 5K race; while standing on the corner cheering for my wife and several of my friends I saw a runner turn the corner and approach the third mile. She was running on the right-hand side of the road (not following the tangent, but that's another story altogether); I was standing on the sidewalk on the left. I could clearly hear the blaring from her MP3 player earbuds, at a distance of approximately 10 meters away. That meant she had to have the volume up at eardrum-bleeding, "Spinal Tap"-like volume.

Last year, I saw a product at the Rock n' Roll/Mardi Gras Marathon expo which drew my attention, especially in light of the RRCA work. At the time I was trying to write a white paper on headphone use, so the idea of a company like Competitor Group putting on an event with bands at every mile, yet selling headphones at the expo, seemed a little incongruous. I told the expo booth rep for Yurbuds who I represented and expressed my gentle skepticism about the product. He kindly provided me some print information and the website address so I could draw my own conclusions. However, I didn't want to try the product.

When I planned my visit this year I told my wife I would look closer at the Yurbuds product, especially after they developed an Ironman-branded version of the headphone adapter. If you have a product which gets to be Ironman-branded, you've pretty much made the big time...well, the chance of your product getting more exposure is very good.

The rep fitted me for a pair of the Ironman-branded Yurbuds, which are designed both to funnel the output of your music player, or computer, or whatever device has a 1/4-inch headphone jack into your ears...and allow ambient noise from your immediate surroundings to be heard. He then told me to let him know when I could hear the music and the ambient room noise. He showed me where the volume was set on his iPod; I could hear AC/DC's "Highway to Hell" comfortably at a volume level somewhere around the mid-point. I could also have a normal-volumed conversation with the rep. While sold on the Yurbuds, I did worry if I had a placebo effect; what would happen back home in my neighborhood?

I put the Yurbuds to the test last Saturday while my wife and I were at the gym. Rather than watch Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations" I decided to talk to her in the middle of my 60-minute elliptical trainer workout. I asked, 'is there something which sounds different about this conversation to you?' She then realized she was not shouting, nor was I. Even this morning, during the walk from the gym back home, I could hear the singing of the neighborhood's mockingbirds, as well as John Mayer. You might not particularly care for my taste in music, but I think you get the picture.

It doesn't mean everyone should pay 20-to-50 dollars for a set of headphone adapters - they're comfortable, they keep the phones stable in the ear during strenuous activity - but if it helps folks turn their volume down on their MP3 player at races, without killing the user's listening experience, then I'm all for it...as long as they're not dawdling in front of my training group, in lane one on the track, or directly in front of me on race day.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Back In The Fight

Three weeks. That's an important period of time.

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago why 21 days can be crucial for women starting a training program - even if it doesn't have anything to do with running. That's how long it takes for the first positive physical changes to show. A person who has done only one workout without changing the duration or intensity for that period of time will no longer gain any benefit from it. Of course, I don't know anyone who would do that. Or do I?

I actually have a friend who does the same 5,000-meter course, day in and day out. He came to me once and asked why he couldn't improve his race performances. I took a deep breath, then recommended he consider doing a long, easy run once or twice a week. At first, you would have thought I demanded he sell his mother to the gypsies. He thought about it, told me he'd give it some thought, then continued eating his lunch.

But, getting back to 21 days...after the disastrous training run I had three weeks ago I decided to do a complete reset on my training. That meant I had to discard the idea of the Rock n' Roll - Mardi Gras Marathon; even the half-marathon was out of the question. No racing in the immediate near-term, either. The choice was either to rest or risk a debilitating injury to my achilles tendon. Three weeks of rest or minimal-impact training seemed like a reasonable alternative to surgery, physical therapy and the slight possibility of never being able to run again.

So, I planned my first runs to be little more than easy 20-minute jaunts with a focus on the time rather than the distance. Silly me, I then remembered I was going to lead a hare-and-hounds (hash) run this weekend. I could have driven the course earlier in the day and marked everywhere the "hounds" needed to run. But that would have been cheating.

In light of the injury I don't think anyone would have disagreed with that tactic. But I promised myself and the friends who drew me into hashing I would do things the right way. That meant being an honest "hare" and not pre-laying any of the trail. So, twenty minutes of easy running ended up twice as long. While the average pace (according to my data) was fairly slow it felt like a nearly all-out effort. Must have been the stops I made every 80-to-160 yards to leave a trail marking of some sort. My job was to provide some confusion for the "hounds," but I was suffering from my own form of confusion, that of the cardiorespiratory kind:

Run! Stop! Run! Stop! Turn? Not Yet! Turn here! Mark! Run! Holy cats - who is that guy and how hard did he have to run to catch up with me!? At that point, it was more like Monty Python's knights meeting up with the Killer Rabbit: 'run away, run awayyyy...'

Three weeks of nothing more than elliptical trainer will slow the decline in cardiopulmonary fitness, but that much time off will drop run performance by anywhere between five and seven percent, according to Dr. Jack Daniels, author of "Jack Daniels' Running Formula," which is one of my three most-referred to run training texts. Add to that the sudden change from no impact to impact, and it felt like running the first time all over again.

If you have to take time off from running, the best thing I can remind you is that running is a sport of patience. It takes lots of patience to become a habitual runner; one who runs because they want to, not because someone says they must.

It's so good to be back in the fight, even if it's only twenty minutes at a time, a couple times a week.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Sacred Cow Hamburgers

For many years, my father worked in law enforcement, then joined the civil service, from which he retired about five years ago. It's probably a safe assumption that his closest friendships were with other law enforcement or public service employees while he was a cop. Dad's a fairly reserved guy, but I do remember he opened up most in the presence of other cops, sheriff's deputies, border patrolmen and firefighters. The tales sometimes sounded like a screenplay for the "COPS" series; but, fortunately for my dad and his colleagues those moments came rarely. (Yes, there were moments when things hit the fan, too. Those were tales I heard a couple of years down the road.)

After six years of military service, I worked in medical administration. Because I could focus without being distracted by certain aspects of hospital environments I was often assigned to work in intensive care units or cardiology wards. What surprised me the most was not the challenge of learning medical-speak, or deciphering doctor handwriting, but the jokes during the "unguarded" moments which came intermittently on the wards, but flowed at a torrent once the end-of-week happy hour came. Nurses and techs who were "all business" for forty hours, once seated behind a glass of white zinfandel and a basket of tortilla chips, would become instant comedians or comediennes.

These were the moments where sacred cows were transformed into hamburger.

One Friday, I naively asked one of the nurses how they could crack such crass jokes about otherwise life-altering scenarios. She then explained to me that the first years for many health care workers are usually the the most difficult, because coping mechanisms have not quite developed and they come to the sudden revelation they will be around sick, injured, cranky people for the remainder of their career. Many times coping comes as a choice of humor over depression; most who made it past the first years chose to be humorous.

I eventually moved into education and learned that teachers aren't much different than cops and health care workers. These persons are asked to deal with (sometimes) the more difficult or dark side of human existence. And be professional at all times. So when the choice comes to laugh or cry, many choose laughter, but some choose the teachers' lounge.

Riding the lead police vehicle for the marathon course was a two-hour trip back to the teachers' lounge of my young adulthood, or the Fraternal Order of Police lodge of my youth. It was deja vu, all over again; perspective I never had as a race worker, but one which didn't surprise me much. The two officers I rode with were professional, yet their observations of runners and running were some of the funniest I had heard in the past 15 years.

Fit for public consumption? Not in the slightest. They warned I would be corrupted by the end of the ride.

Were there things I took away to file for future reference? Absolutely.

Coaches vary in personality; in how we approach training, recovery, success, shortcoming, injury, rehabilitation, communication, and so on. None, I bet, decided to be a coach so they could take total control over an athlete's life, much like few go into law enforcement wanting to deal with criminals, or medical professionals with sick people. Most decide to coach because they love the sport and the process of teaching. They get to deal with the side of athletes, though, which wants to do silly things, like race a 5K in the morning, a 5K in the afternoon...and then ask the next day why they ache.

And we do, sometimes, slap our foreheads in dismay. Sometimes we write caustic e-mails and blog posts to get ideas and opinions out of our head...and hope like mad the right message is put across. And those messages, most often are: Keep everything in perspective. One person's sacred cow is another person's food source. And, most importantly, you're only as good as your next race.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Will To Prepare

Any major marathon, especially one like any of Competitor Group's Rock n' Roll series, has no lack of interesting stories and "did I just see?" moments. I'm lucky; as an average guy who has friends in high places, the perspective is a little different than the average race participant; I'm grateful to have friends who spread the tent wider when I'm in the mood to do a little bit of work. And when I'm injured, I'd rather be doing something constructive. Last time I got seriously "injured" was not long after I started doing triathlon, decided to tempt gravity one Sunday morning, and ended up writing blog posts like the one-armed bandit I envisioned myself to be for that six-week period of time.

An injured, rehabilitating runner often has two plans of action. The first and least effective plan is to go into isolation. It's less painful to avoid answering the "what happened?" and "how long will you be that way?" questions, but eventually we need to get out among those going "shanks' mare." I've said many times "running hurts; not running hurts more," it's easier to feel better while we are getting better by giving back to the community of which we are a part.

We were walking through the race expo at the New Orleans Convention Center to get my race staff credentials on Friday afternoon; I saw a slender gentleman with salt and pepper hair. I had one of those Darth Vader moments: 'a presence I haven't felt since...' Ah, but there are plenty of people in this life who look like someone else, so I shrugged it off. I almost said something to Suzanne, my wife; she probably would have told me to go catch him...trouble is he knows her better than he knows me. You see, Suzanne decided to have one last beer at the bar in the Hyatt in San Francisco after the RRCA convention two years ago. Frank Shorter was the banquet speaker that evening, and was holding court in the bar. He called out to Suzanne as she walked in, something along the lines of "where's your husband? Why didn't he come down?" Okay, I was tired of hanging out in my "misplaced college professor" attire.

Next morning, while walking into the staff hospitality area, I realize the gentleman I thought was Frank Shorter actually was. He was chatting with the elite and guest runners; he probably would have recognized my wife if she had been there. Again, like the last time I was close enough to say hello, I decided to not be a fawning fan. Many folks love to have those photo moments - I'm not one of them, for a couple of reasons. The first one is that it seems so contrived. I would much rather have sat with Shorter over a couple of beers and let him talk about Munich and "Pre" and how good we have it now in the highly-democratic era of participatory running, where all you have to do is have desire, the entry fee - and in some cases, a little luck - to get into most major races. The second one is I rarely prepare for the possibility. Travel light, travel fast; that's the code under which I live. Sea stories are more portable than scrimshaw.

Later on that afternoon, once the temperature had climbed from the mid-40s at 7 in the morning to somewhere closer to the mid-60s...and maybe a little higher, I marveled at the back-of-the-pack marathoners as they finished. All right, at least they made it to the starting line healthy and got to have their finish line moment underneath the oak trees in City Park. But I saw so many of them who looked like they prepared for a much colder day on the course. There were guys in sweats. There were guys in wind pants and warm-up pants. There were more ladies in CW-X tights than at which a person could shake a stick. And long-sleeved tops. And music headphones. At a Rock n' Roll series event. With bands at every mile...and impromptu entertainment added.

I talked with my wife and my athletes during the week before the race and recommended a few clothing items for race day. I even bought my wife a pair of arm-warmers at the expo, in the hope she would wear them instead of a long-sleeved top...which she did. She bought herself a pair of comfortable padded socks on the recommendation of her girlfriend, another one of my athletes, whose claim to fame is finishing the infamous 2007 Chicago Heat Wave, er, Marathon, before Carey Pinkowski finally shut the course down.

But, when I stood by and listened to some of the questions which were asked to the information desk volunteers at the expo, I couldn't help but wonder whether race participants are being spoon-fed and don't know how to prepare themselves for a race.

The Internet puts our location information out (on course) for our family to see where we are, not to mention weather forecasts for five or more days in advance, places where we can park without getting ticketed or towed, dates, times and locations for where we can pick up the information, which we also can download from parts of the same web page. We have mapping programs which provide elevation profiles we can download to our GPS units. And yet, we really prefer someone else to tell us exactly how to prepare and what to do.

Three-time Boston Marathon "bridesmaid" Juma Ikangaa said: "The will to win means nothing without the will to prepare." Maybe we don't want to find out how good we are? Is this so we can lay the responsibility for our shortcomings at someone else's feet? I'm not certain. Once again, as part of the democratic society we enjoy as runners, we are also saddled with the responsibility to use the freedom to run wisely. For me, running wisely is running prepared for the conditions, the natural and human terrain, and within our limitations.

After seeing many of those finishers, and hearing many of those questions, I cannot wait to get back into running again.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Appearance Can Lead To Reality

Guys - Did you need a hint as to what to get or do for your loved one on St. Valentine's Day? I have a news flash for you: Women and men are different. Don't gasp in horror at this revelation. Yes, it's hard to really wrap your arms around the concept that there is a profound difference between the sexes, not only in the ways in which we think and communicate, but also in the ways in which we exercise.

And I've suffered the outcomes which come from ignorance. Not recently, but during my first marriage. My first wife was a professional when it came to quitting stuff. High school, jobs, relationships, diets, workout programs; she left many well-intended commitments over a three-decade span. Of course, as time passed by she figured out the benefits of focus until task completion. I remember sitting, frustrated, talking with my pastor one Saturday morning over coffee: Why she would sign a one-year contract with a fitness studio, go sit in the sauna for a week, then decide to never go after that? It drove me up the wall to see her throw my hard-earned money (GS-4 pay, working for the VA Hospital, nine dollars an hour) into the rubbish, then complain she wasn't happy with her weight.

I didn't care at the time what she weighed. All I wanted was for her to be happy. My pastor reminded me I had a workout facility in the VA, with motivated fitness professionals surrounding me. I'd finish my duties for the day, change clothes and be in the middle of a good sweat on the treadmill or in an aerobics class in less than fifteen minutes, tops. She, on the other hand, had to make a conscious effort to travel from our little apartment to the fitness studio.

I wasn't buying that it was just the motivation which surrounded me - if I didn't exercise on a regular basis I was going to look like many of the patients I served - as the only reason why I could work out three-to-five days a week and try to maintain weight. It was after a discussion with my fitness instructor, Dr. Q., I figured out the men-versus-women thing was deeper than anatomy and psychology.
She mentioned most men can begin an exercise routine and see the first physiological changes in as little as seven days. Women, on the other hand, need to maintain the routine for at least a minimum of 21 days before the first (subtle?) changes are noticed.

Add the variables of increased caloric intake because of exercise (more common in women than in men), an under-reporting of caloric intake (for which most are guilty), and an (all too common) under-reporting of exercise intensity and duration, many women who start an exercise program are left behind the eight ball before the end of the first month. Then, on top of it, I read recent research which claimed 21 weeks, not 21 days, for physical strength and cardiovascular fitness gains to take effect.

So, many years down the road, I was pleased to see my sister-in-law not only purchase a membership but also the tanning option at the gym where my wife and I regularly work out.
My wife and I talked about Lisa joining the gym, and I said:
'What if a health club added tanning during the first month of a contract membership to ladies? You know as well as I do that we tend to think a little more highly of ourselves when our exterior looks less pasty white. A couple of trips to the tanning booth in the first week or two might be the thing which keeps them coming to the gym during the first month or so. Once you can get them past the first three, four, six months they pretty much have a routine developed, right?'

I realize what I'm saying may run me afoul of my friends who work for gyms, because they make their money on the folks who purchase memberships but don't come in. However, I consider my job to get more people exercising (preferably running, more preferably with me as their coach, but...). A health club membership which has a tanning option, if you're thinking about one...or if you're thinking, guys, about one for your loved one...might get your money's worth. As part of the "weights one day, cardio the next" routine, a slight tan can cause the lady to be more motivated by the slight change in their body.

And sometimes, perception eventually leads to reality...once the motivation kicks in.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Calm Down

After months of conjecture, rumor, innuendo, and even a small amount of smack-talk from people who work on the first floor of my office building, the inevitable has happened.

It has absolutely nothing to do with a pay raise, or a change in employment; both of these would be quite cool, if you know what I mean. But it seems to have to do with what is supposed to happen some time down the road. It must have been important enough for my supervisor to "encourage" me to postpone or cancel the study skills seminar I teach each week. And, as we approached this morning the tension seemed a touch more palpable in my little office.

Yesterday morning, my buddy Jon "Dixie" Clark was kind enough to post a photo up on his social networking site wall. I'm not going to give you the entire description, except for this: Every once in a while the judicious use of vulgarity can lighten a situation. To quote a line from the late, great George Carlin: "Laugh? I thought I was going to die." I shot a copy to my printer and posted it on the "I love me wall" section of my work-space, in between a framed photo of Suzanne and me and a CCC 10K "No Parking" sign. Perfect.

The evening before the poster was posted, my friend Tina was wrestling with a choice of going to a bible study on the book of St. James, or staying in because of the lousy weather. I shot her a one-sentence synopsis of the book: "Quit listening. Start doing." If St. James were around right now, he might have said something like the poster caption before asking people to "be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath..." Okay. Maybe not with that one word. The prevailing attitude check from this little marmoset, or lemur...whatever the creature is...has adapted my attitude toward stuff in the past day or so. I sat through a formal review of a training course's documents with a smile on my face.

How many times do we start looking into the somewhat murky crystal ball of future races and end up tying ourselves around the axle? Or, as we're standing in the crowd listening to the strains of the "Star Spangled Banner," we can feel the effects of the endocrine cocktail course through our veins...and know there's not a thing we can do to stop it. The gun goes off and we - as my old coach used to say - take the stupid pill. We blow through the first mile or two at an astounding pace; we're trying to think about how to slow down at the first mile split, we're praying to slow down after the second one. And our prayers get answered not long afterward, usually in a bad way. For someone running a 5K this might be a little painful, anything longer than that is a whole new world of terror.

Planning in the macro sense of a long-term training plan and taper leading into the target race can ease the "oh my gosh, I'm x number of weeks out from the Pig's Knuckle Half Marathon and I'm never going to be ready..." feeling. Lower-priority, shorter-distance races can make some of the dreary training mileage seem less so. There's nothing like a training event where someone else has measured the training loop and provided the refreshments along the way...oh, and no need to worry about all that pesky traffic which drives us all a little goofy. Did I mention no lack of motivation or company?

Micro-planning, especially for the target race, can provide that sense of "I've thought of every possible contingency for the day; bring on the gun." As an example, Marathon Nation's Coach Patrick McCrann asks his athletes to do two plans: A pacing plan for the race itself, with a goal of running a negative split; and a preparation plan, covering nutrition, hydration, clothing, supplementation, physical rest, mental rest and family support, for three days leading into and one day post-race.

The pacing plan McCrann has developed breaks the race into three areas, approximating the first 25 percent, the middle 50, and the last 25 percent of the race distance. Each athlete knows what their goal pace is for that particular race distance, based on the VDOT score which they tested at the beginning of (and re-test on occasion during) their training cycle. The first 25 percent of the race is run at a pace about five-to-ten seconds slower than their target pace; the next 50 percent increases the pace until they've returned to an average pace which equals their target. The last 25 percent is planned by the individual athlete to either maintain target pace or - if they feel good - a little faster than target. From personal experience, I can tell you finishing a race at a faster pace than I started hurts as much as finishing the other way around. But it's a good hurt.

Shorter races, such as the 5K, benefit from a warm-up up to about 15 minutes before the gun. My former Emerald Coast Racing Team mates and I were notorious for running up to nine miles during the course of a race day: Two-to-three miles of easy jogging and some striders at faster than race pace, the race itself, then up to three miles of easy running to cool down. I forgot about how many miles we put in during race day until my friend George reminded me a couple of weeks ago. We were young...younger. And that 10-to-15-minute window meant your heart rate was still a little up before the gun. You took a little edge off, but not too much. And if you ran the course you got a close look at where you needed to be running at a particular point.

So, asking yourself a few questions about what you're going to do leading into the day, how you want to pace yourself, and what you plan to do should things go awry will keep you from going out like one of the Light Brigade...and becoming the next occupant of the Tomb of the Unknown Rabbit.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Making It Through

"If you're going through hell, keep going." - Winston S. Churchill (1874-1965)

I talk a great deal about New Orleans in this blog. My friends who grew up or spent a portion of their life there marvel at the unabashed affection my wife and I have for the city. My affair began in mid-February 1998, during the last years of my college studies. My significant other at the time was asked to attend a technical writing conference in NOLA. She thought it would be neat to spend the weekend together; she'd do her conference during the week, I'd fly back to Tampa in time to make it to classes.

After the initial shock I believe most out-of-town (conservative) visitors have once "airdropped" into the French Quarter, I found the area's attitude to be a refreshing change from other places I'd visited. There is nothing like a town - outside of the fact you can walk down the street with an open container in hand - with so much tolerance for the quirky, off-beat, and sometimes just plain unique. It grows on a person...kind of like a fungus. And I've never felt the need to look for "fungicide" in the 13 years since that weekend. When things became a little too wound around the axle, we would look at our respective bank accounts and reserve travel and lodging for the next three-day weekend. Time in New Orleans became (for us) the litmus test for the health of our relationship.

Suzanne and I were married the week before the 2004 Crescent City Classic; we had our wedding reception with a guest list numbering over 15 thousand - I'm still waiting for the donations from the "money dance." We both visited for the 2005 RRCA Convention; she went on a girls' weekend the week before the storm turned everything upside down. A.K. (After Katrina), I heard snippets of stories from friends, and marveled, slack-jawed, at the destruction as I drove through southern Mississippi, Slidell and New Orleans East. The piles of destroyed building materials in the neutral grounds near City Park, the "bathtub ring" on the houses which still stood - my closest NOLA friends were good to point them out to me. As a history guy, though, I wanted to know as much of the story as I could stand. My loving wife gave me a gift card for a national bookstore chain, with which I immediately purchased two texts which caught my eye during my last visit: Chris Rose's "1 Dead In Attic," and Douglas Brinkley's "The Great Deluge." I chose to read Rose first, because - like the young person was asked why she chose C. S. Lewis' "The Screwtape Letters" - it was shorter. Well, and Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations" episode made him more familiar to me.

I leisurely strolled through 300 pages or so of "1 Dead In Attic," when I was suddenly struck: what I originally considered an eyewitness history of the first days of NOLA A.K. was also a travelogue of Rose's Orpheus-like descent into the dark underworld of depression. Only three other books have forced me to struggle for equilibrium by its end: Hemingway's "For Whom The Bell Tolls," Josten Gaarder's "Sophie's World," and Umberto Eco's "Foucault's Pendulum." At the end of the book, I was thankful Rose is a journalist, and that he is not Umberto Eco.

A training cycle or plan, especially for an endurance event, can leave an athlete in the same predicament. When written in macro form, it's clean, neat and readily achievable. Arrive at the mid-point, when the training miles seem endless and conditions team up with mileage to make even the simplest workouts daunting... The athlete suddenly realizes that making it to the starting line healthy is an accomplishment in and of itself. Getting up (some mornings) to do the tasks for which we earn our keep, maintaining open and mutually-satisfying relationships with the people closest to us, and meeting the other commitments (religious, civic, athletic, business, and so on) which round out our lives; these are things which should be the most important. Especially since the vast majority of athletes are not making a living by running, swimming or bicycling.

The previous day's Wall Street Journal on-line (which I passed on to a coaching friend of mine) had an article about the strains endured by families who have a family member training for an endurance event, like marathons or a long-distance triathlons. Some are able to communicate during the struggle to make it to the start line; others can never get a message through. And something as daunting as endurance sport is never accomplished alone. Not if it's going to be satisfying at the finish line.

Because when you feel like you're going through hell you have little choice but to keep going. And it's always more tolerable when you're not going it alone.