So, How Many Hats Do You Wear?
Monday, March 28, 2011
Sunday, March 20, 2011
My wife's entire life is tied into the efficient operation of her laptop computer and its programs. So she was in a veritable panic a couple of mornings ago when I called from my office to chat about an upcoming business trip and the requisite dog care: We adopted an 85-pound retired racing greyhound not long after we got married; we've been able, and at times adamant with our employers, that our business travels not overlap. So far, it's been all of one week in seven years of marriage and dog-parenthood where we've both been away from home.
Rubin, our hound, is the equivalent of a three-year-old child...on steroids. He clearly refuses to realize his own strength. Suzanne, my wife, had spent several hours that morning working on podcast interviews in her home office. The door was not completely secured; Rubin finally decided "mom" had worked enough and it was time for him to go for a walk around the park across the street. He burst in to the room, knocking Suzanne's cup of coffee all over the keyboard and trackpad. Alas, he didn't get to go for his walk then, as my wife then had to go into emergency dry mode.
She's also had the electronic key to her company's Mercedes-Benz short out, triggering the alarm system in the parking lot where one of our local run groups congregated after a Sunday afternoon trot around one of the residential neighborhoods. The story of the "demon-possessed" Mercedes-Benz is still talked about to this day. Rubin wasn't to blame for that catastrophe, however. Blame that one on my highly-active sweat glands, which happen to be the marvel of coaches, friends and relatives. I've tried to use plastic zipper food storage bags and neoprene pouches to try and separate my sweat from things I prefer to keep (relatively) dry; most have worked with varying degrees of success, some with very little. It's forced me to learn to exercise without the benefit (or drawback, depending on your point of view) of electronics. I learn that electronics will die sooner or later when I use them...usually sooner.
So I have to admit I was excited and a little skeptical when my wife told me about a bunch of products she encountered made by Dry Corp, a company based out of Wilmington, NC. Dry Corp's DryCASE products let tech users take their gadgets - cell phones, MP3 players, tablet computers - out into the elements with little or no fear of water damage. I have had the privilege to road-test a few technology products in the past, and I usually get first crack at new gadgetry which lands at our front door. It's not that I'm tech-smart as much as I'm tech-savant; if I can figure out most of the basic functions on a piece of equipment it meets the definition of "user-friendly interface."
I've seen less-technical versions of products like the DryCASE, (which isn't a true case like a hard-shell one but we'll overlook those semantical differences) in the past; a pair of board shorts I purchased for my wife in Hawaii had a heavy-duty plastic zip-seal bag for money, identification or cell phone carriage. What makes DryCASE different is the ability to actually use your technology while it's vacuum sealed in plastic, with or without the DryBUDS.
The DryCASE comes in two sizes; the largest ($59.99) is intended for tablet devices. The small case I tested ($39.99) is about 4.6" x 8.5" and made of thick plastic, and contains a sealed-in 9" long 1/4" headphone jack. My HTC Hero smartphone fit comfortably within the DryCASE, as did my 32GB iPod Touch. The small DryCASE can be used for non-tech, but nice-to-keep-dry-and-available stuff, like identification, drivers' license, folding money, and credit cards, also. The top of the case is fitted with what at first appears to be a potato chip clip on steroids, but really is a very-strong dual twist knob latch. Once opened you can slide your desired "keep dry" stuff or technology into the case, and plug in the 1/4" jack, if you plan to use headphones.
I tried the set/seal/use process the tirst time with my HTC Hero plugged into the phone jack. The vacuum seal pulls the plastic right down onto the touch screen, so nearly all of the "finger slide" functions of the typical smartphone user interface can be used, except for the trackball. In the case of my phone, especially, the trackball was engaged. Not so good. But I could turn and off my phone and answer a call if absolutely necessary.
Thursday, March 17, 2011
Monday, March 14, 2011
It's all in your perspective.
As a guy who likes a nice day in the sun as much as the next 'reformed vampire,' eleven thousand people is sufficient company for three miles and change. But if you're interested in testing your fitness, eleven thousand people for a 5K, without corrals or wave starts, is a few thousand runners to the dark side. When it takes (a rehabilitating runner) 34 minutes to get from the middle of the pack, across the starting line, to the finish, that's way too long, in my case ten minutes too long. That ten minutes was the only time where I could travel in a perfectly straight line; the rest of my run was a demented blend of road race and heavyweight bout: Bob and weave, stick and move... By the time I hit the first mile (since this was a prediction run there were no splits or timing), which went from FOUR LANES down to a single lane of roadway, half-filled with parked vehicles on both sides a quote from "The Big Lebowski," '...let's go bowling,' made perfectly good sense.
Speaking of bowling, I never thought I'd hear someone call running a form of cross training. That is, until I had a bowler come out to train with my group. Joe's mother, Vicki, is a friend of mine. She race-walks marathons, does triathlon, coaches charity runners and occasionally writes about her race day experiences, so we have a bit in common. I always wondered whether the bowling thing was an act of rebellion or something. I guess if I was a kid who's mother was "the balloon lady" at marathons - basically, the harbinger of doom - I'd find a sport which didn't have much to do with running, either.
So, we were chattering during the warm-up, and Deena, my marathoner, asked Joe what he did as cross training. Joe's response was, 'well, I'm a bowler, so I guess running is my cross training.'
It's all in your perspective.
Joe was recently accepted to a college which has a serious intercollegiate bowling program, which I guess to the average guy (including this coach!) seems like a multifaceted contradiction. But then again it's not that far a stretch from road running in the southeastern US, where beer drinking before 9 a.m. on Saturday appears the norm.
I guess the difference between a serious intercollegiate program (in Joe's case, Wichita State University) and a less-than-serious one is the implementation of a fitness test for prospective athletes. Yes, you have to love it. Joe is in great shape; he took everything I would normally dish out at the track to an unknown athlete and enjoyed it. I worried during one repeat, until he told me he was grooving to the music over the nearby softball field's public address system.
I've seen T-shirts which said "my sport is your sport's punishment." But I've never looked at running from the point of view (save for the occasional anaerobic athlete who disdainfully calls it "cardio") of someone who is slinging 15-pound composites a hundred times a weekend. I'll keep running, thanks. Bowling shoes are too darned ugly. At least for me. Perhaps young Joe thinks differently.
It's all in your perspective.
Thursday, March 10, 2011
I wonder how many persons, like me, didn't want to go all the way in on an iPhone because they either didn't care for AT&T's stranglehold on the market (until Verizon joined the fray this year), didn't want to spend lots of money on short-term obsolescence, or - in my case - didn't need THAT MUCH phone? How many of them, I wonder, might have purchased an iPod Touch as an "80-percent solution?" I was sitting at a pizza joint a couple of weeks ago and listened to two older couples talk; one of the gentlemen was talking about his new iPod Touch and all the cool things he could do with his new little gadget.
I couldn't help but smile as he raved about the features. When I first started playing with the iPod Touch (I own a 32GB model) I smiled at the thought of the neat things I could do without having the nasty AT&T data plan...and the nasty AT&T bills which came along with it. I could check most all of my e-mail accounts, keep in contact with the rest of the world on social media sites and use my Skype account to talk, as long as I had the fancy-schmancy iPod earbuds with the microphone/switch, and was in an area with WiFi.
There lies the rub. One of many. Once I learned the few scattered places where I could get WiFi reception in my town, (your town might be different; and hopefully better than mine!) I resigned myself to the comforting thought I had - at the least - a good emergency phone...if I were stranded at the mall or downtown. And if not that I had at least one hell of a big music player.
Even when you have WiFi available, using it can suck the life out of an iPod Touch's battery faster than my wife can kill a pint of Abita Andygator. You will have problems. Big ones. Even an after-market ($75) Mophie juice pack - which can provide up-to-75 percent additional power to a fully charged iPod - isn't going to help if you want to use any run-related applications for the iPod Touch, like iMapMyRun: GPS plus WiFi equals not listening to any tunes while you're running.
And, for most people, isn't that why we carry iPods on a run?
It got to the point where I could see the battery gauge slowly sliding "to the left" while I did training runs or cross-training at the gym. What good was this piece of equipment if all I could do was play "Eye of the Tiger" for 60 minutes or so before it threatened to die on me?
Thank heavens for geeks.
One of the things I never really took a look at were some of the more arcane (and hidden) settings in my iPod. I coulld figure out a few, but I truly was at a loss for what some of the things did...or did not accomplish. Finally, I got so fed up I decided to do a Google search on "extending iPod Touch battery life." Darned if there wasn't several YouTube video clips from geeks for the lumpenproletariat, yes, teaching the great un-washed (at least immediately after a run!) masses what levers to pull and buttons to push so we can keep from having to continually charge or recharge our devices.
Two words will save you, iPod Touch users: Airplane Mode.
The iPhone and the iPod Touch have a setting which (I guess) was designed for the benefit of airline travelers who ostensibly wouldn't need to make phone calls or surf the internet while on board commercial aircraft, but still wanted to be able to play with other applications, or at least iTunes. The Airplane Mode shuts off the GPS functionality and the WiFi antenna on the device; I guess the device still has some sort of stand-by mode for WiFi even when it's off which uses battery power. Turn on Airplane Mode, and voila! The drain on the battery is minimized.
It also doesn't hurt to not use the iPod's graphic equalizer; why we really need something which ideally was taken care of by highly-paid audio engineers in the recording studio is beyond me.
I've noticed that I can now plug my iPod Touch into the after-market adapter cord for my Scion xB and not have to worry about shutting completely down during the course of a day. Even if I use the device for an evening workout at the gym I might only have to recharge once every two or three days. This should make life a lot more simple for me when I'm on the road to our next race; I'll be less worried about having to arm-wrestle my wife in order to recharge the iPod when we hit Mississippi.
Every once in a while we runner-types need to tip our cap in the general direction of the geeks. I'd hate to think what road running would have been like without them...probably less than super, man.
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
So, I was running along the perimeter of the local airport with one of my athletes and my wife the other day (we passed my wife about five minutes earlier, but that's par for the course). As always, conversations of substance begin once runners get past that "oh, God, this kind of bites" feeling (usually during the first mile or so) and into the rhythm of the run.
The morning topic happened to touch upon age, aging, and most specifically, aging up into a new running age bracket. Deena, my "poster child" athlete of the moment, feels compelled to take her newly-found running strength and go "dominate the dojo." While she's not the best in her age bracket, she's become very good and will probably put a scare into the one or two gals who are better than she. Deena says she wants to see whether she can run better times at some 10K races she ran in the past, before she doesn't have the speed at her disposal. Of course, she feels concerned because she thinks she won't improve or maintain her fitness over the next couple of years.
Naturally, my job as her coach is to make sure she stays healthy in order to meet the big running milestones of her life, which right now means next year's Boston Marathon. I'm not used to thinking about training plans in time frames of longer than six months; most of my athletes to this point (in my experience as coach) haven't elaborated as specifically on their goal events as this recent crop.
Aging is an inevitable outcome. When you consider the thoroughly unsavory alternative to aging, it does seem fairly acceptable. Some people, like my wife, approach it with no small amount of grace and humor. Other persons, like me, vary in degrees of kicking and screaming, especially when we observe the ways (running the gamut from hair dye to needless surgical procedures) our fellow humans try to ignore or turn back the clock.
One of my dear friends, Ruben, has a high running pedigree; a contemporary of Frank Shorter, Jack Bacheler, Jeff Galloway, Benji Durden, Jerry Slaven, Barry Brown, et. al., during the glory days of the Florida Track Club three decades ago. Hang out with him after a road race, even when you've had a bad day, and there's no doubt you will feel much better about yourself, even before the first beer is drained. Ruben always has a kind word about every participant's performance, and seems to know exactly where the silver lining hides within the darkest of clouds. When a guy has genuinely endured what John L. Parker Jr. called "the trial of miles," raced at national championships and Olympic Trials, I guess everything else could be considered a bit of a letdown. If there's a man who has the right to play the self-pitying "I used to run this distance in..." card, it's Ruben. He's more likely to tell you a story about holding hands with a fellow runner because neither guy wanted to let the other lose. I used to think Coach Slaven was kidding when he would tell those tales after our morning runs. After meeting Ruben I knew they were all true.
Sometimes the hardest part of moving forward is knowing what to do with the past. Perhaps the best thing to do is the running equivalent of Baz Luhrman's advice in "Everybody's Free To Wear Sunscreen:" Keep your old love letters. Throw out your old bank statements.
It's the feelings, more than the numbers, that matter when it comes to running...especially as we become more seasoned.
Monday, March 7, 2011
1. A day of light activity (translate this as "no running") or rest for every hour of racing. I've traditionally taken a day off, or run very gently, the day after racing a 5K or 10K, and recommended the same to my own athletes.
2. A day of easy running for every mile raced. An athlete running a 5K or 10K would be constrained from hard interval workouts or tempo running for three-to-six days. In our case here, track workouts usually have been two or more days out from a race, or easy in intensity.
Marathons and half-marathons usually do a different kind of damage to the average (citizen) athlete; there's a lot of eccentric muscle activity over an extended period of time. Many coaches and training plans recommend easy running in the days following to keep the large leg muscles from becoming too damaged. The problem is that those easy runs, especially in the first week, do little but delay the recovery process, as defined by decreased muscle volume contraction, decreased running efficiency and increase in blood chemical markers related to muscle damage. Groups of runners who rested in the days following a marathon performance were found to have greater muscle strength and decreased soreness.
So, if there's that compulsion to get out and do something in the days after a long race, let it be something at the perceived intensity level of four on a one-to-ten scale...or less. Odds are good that's going to be a walk, but that's okay. You'll be back to running - and excited - in about five or six days.
God's way of saying "Take two and call Me in the morning..." It certainly beats hobbling.
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
In my former life, I worked as a performance technologist. The goal of that work wasn't much different than what coaches do, except I was less teacher and more troubleshooter. Most of that time - when not (desperately) searching for projects - was spent identifying barriers to optimal performance in the workplace. I've talked about the categories of barriers in the past, especially when looking at injury causes (the five "whys?"), so I won't do that now.
My employer decided to transition to Lean Six Sigma a couple of years ago. At the surface it's continuous process improvement like performance technology, except the focus is more on the product and the process and less on the worker. The worker is important, but the view of the big picture comes down to value. If a function provides no value for the company it's likely going to be pared away, cast aside or lowered in priority.
My wife and I talked about Lean this morning, especially priorities and work tasks. I reminded her if a task had nothing to do with what brought income or customers to the business it was probably a waste of time. Naturally, with every rule there exists an exception: There are some things we do which have little to do with core functions. The utility is based on our enjoyment or it strengthens a relationship.
A good example comes from my experience with the Emerald Coast Racing Team: It started as a weekly dinner and chat with my coach and his wife. What began as a nice, quiet evening out at the local pizza pub between the four of us spun into up to a dozen team members quaffing beer and cracking jokes on Friday evenings. The socials took on a life of their own and became more popular than the Tuesday and Thursday night workouts.
When a person who hadn't been to a track workout for three months asked where we were going to meet on Friday night I knew it was time to put the social aside for a time. Not long after that I also stopped booking hotel rooms for road trips when friends of those "once-every-three-month" members "desperately" needed a room. Too much trouble; not enough good karma coming back to me. To borrow from Leonard "Bones" McCoy of the "Star Trek" television programs/movies, 'I'm a running coach, not a social coordinator.' I lost some potential clients but the decision allowed me to return to the basics of coaching runners.
I've a small group of fairly dedicated runners this year, and the coach-athlete relationship over time has developed also at the friendship level. It's easier to speak to a friend in very honest terms, especially when "under-the-surface" issues stand in the way of a good race performance. Not that it's happened with this group, but it's nice to know the conversation goes both ways; sometimes in a tone which could send a "customer" off to patronize another coach.
After a workout about two weeks ago, my wife, Suzanne, mentioned about how we used to meet at a local barbecue restaurant after Tuesday night workouts. We all felt it was a great idea - I'm rarely in a rush to go home immediately after a good workout - so we started to talk about what we wanted. What were the basics we needed for a post-workout meal?
We've eaten in places which were a little crowded, with other patrons watching "Dancing with the Stars" who definitely were not thrilled in the slightest to share their evening with the endorphin-fueled quacking of a half-dozen runners. So, we knew we wanted something a little on the laid-back, runner-comfortable side of the spectrum. We all live anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes away from the track, so we did not want to inconvenience anyone too much by a location too far one direction or another from the track. We suspect we have found that "80-percent solution," a place which lets us blow off a little steam, have a beverage and a bite to eat before we go home to continue our recovery in earnest. And if it doesn't work for us we'll scale it back or find another place at which to decompress.
The best part of group training is - at its most basic - the ability to suffer through together; to pull and be pulled through by each other. And, when it's all over, the chance to laugh about how you somehow made it through.