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.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Keeping It Weird...Wherever You May Be

A couple of weeks back I stepped off a plane into the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport terminal. This terminal definitely was like no other I've been in. Live music in the terminal. Really. As I made my way toward baggage claim I couldn't help but notice in one of the souvenir shops a rack of burnt orange t-shirts with white print: "Keep Austin Weird."

Having been in this particular city a few times back in my young adult stage - during college football season - there's no doubt a town like Austin is truly, er, out of the ordinary. I recall a walk through a shopping mall on a Saturday afternoon. The public address system stopped the Muzak to announce the UT football score, followed immediately by "The Eyes of Texas." Every local, in Pavlovian response, began to "Hook 'em Horns." Nearest exit, if you please?

Fast forward three decades: I learned, after my first Shiner Bock of the week, the "Keep Austin Weird" campaign was developed to encourage tourists and locals to patronize local businesses. My co-workers and I proceeded to be as "weird" as possible that week. Each evening, after we managed to free ourselves from our work, we ate in locally-owned restaurants, drank locally-brewed beers, and sampled some of the best cuisine and culture the area had to offer. But, the story ends badly; I was disappointed to find no convenience stores (with gas pumps) open at four in the morning on a Saturday. One pockmark on an otherwise entertaining, "weird" sojourn.

But "weird is not new for me. To paraphrase the old Barbara Mandrell tune: "I was weird when weird wasn't cool." Suzanne and I make the effort to go either where the locals go to eat, drink and be merry...or patronize businesses which are locally-owned and operated. We keep a short list in our minds of places to go when we hit town, with a slightly longer list of places we want to go check out in the near future. We try to hit at least one new place each time we hit the road.

Being "weird" does some fantastic things:

You never lack a good story. Who would have thought Roscoe, the cook who made Suzanne's absolutely house-rocking black bean burger, and my "Cajun Lucy" the other weekend, was a former mechanic and construction worker? (Maybe a construction worker, because he built one hell of a cattle bomb for me.) Or the fetching young lady with the streetcar tat tending bar is training for a half marathon with her daughter?

You always receive a warm welcome. We dragged a couple of our local running friends down from their planned dining locale and planted them in front of Roscoe for some of his fare...turned them on to a Baton Rouge brew and all. When we came in you'd have thought it was an episode of "Cheers." I'll take love like that when I walk into a bar any time.

Word gets around. One of my former preachers once talked about "the law of one-hundred-and-fifty." He said that in our lifetime we have the ability to influence the opinions and habits of one-hundred-and-fifty people, at the least. If I'm a business guy it's in my best interest to treat every customer and every person I meet with kindness, courtesy and respect: even if it doesn't directly affect my business it can affect my reputation. Depending on how tightly-knit your community is that number expands farther than you can imagine...think of the "Six Degrees to Kevin Bacon" game if you want to disagree.

"Weird" is not strictly an economic state of mind. It is also a state of personal character. Not everyone needs to be "vanilla," "corporate," or to follow the crowd. It takes strength of will to decide what is "true for you," and to continue that course to the best of your ability. Some times that means solitary run sessions or not racing every weekend.

You don't have to be a traveling fool to keep things "weird." You can keep it "weird" wherever you may be.

All you have to do is keep your eyes and your mind open.

Monday, April 25, 2011

How Long?

"Well your friends and their fancy persuasions, Don't admit that it's part of a scheme; But I can't help but have my suspicion, 'Cause I ain't quite as dumb as I seem..." - "How Long" (Paul Carrack, 1975)

An inebriated young man decided to provide his manhood a little boost this weekend at my expense. He did it by passing sartorial and sexual judgement on me during my walk through the (Misogynistic?) Quarter.

I was surprised. He probably wasn't old enough to have seen the original commercials (save for VH1's "I Love The 70's," maybe). The epithet would puzzle my wife and perhaps some folks who work in the east end of the Quarter.

Both would have told the young fool I'm straight. My wife would add that I'm straight but not narrow.

Must have been the running shorts.

I wear long slacks or jeans for a list of situations where I am under extreme duress. The top two situations - the only ones, in fact - are temperatures which are far below freezing and work. Really, those two are the list. I'll wear baggies and compression shorts during cooler weather, just to keep my lower abdomen warm and secure. Otherwise I wear shorts with (perhaps) a two-inch inseam, tops.

Even my regular running shorts are fairly short. I run the majority of my training runs and races in a "split" running short with no more than a one-inch inseam. Shorts any longer than that are, in my humble opinion, too...confining. I'm "fashion-ignorant," so it's easier for me (and, when you talk about the price of running gear, cheaper...) to maintain a wardrobe of black running shorts.

You can never go wrong with black. Goes with everything. Especially black.

After a Christmas party where I showed up in a black polo shirt and - what else? - black running shorts (after which I think the dress code became what is known as "beach casual") my friend Steven recommended I invest in a couple of pairs of khaki shorts for social functions.

As we watched people pass by in shorts of all sorts, ranging from Bermudas to boy-shorts, with a few pairs of flood pants thrown in for good measure last night, I asked Suzanne the rhetorical question: How long is long enough?

I already knew deep down what passed as "too long." Shorts that are longer than the kilt I wear after hare-and-hounds/hash runs - which sits at the kneecaps - are too long. I think I could tolerate mid-thigh length shorts, preferably with cargo pockets. As one approaches the knee the tolerance begins to drop precipitously.

That's not much different than running shorts, both for men and ladies.

Not that a reverse correlation exists between length of shorts and comfort. But that the length of running shorts, like any other piece of running attire, is a personal choice. A matter of taste.

If you feel most comfortable in a particular type of clothes, or for that matter a particular type of distance, course or time of year to run...go out and enjoy yourself.

As long as you want. As long what you're wearing doesn't break any laws.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Track Workout for April 19, 2011 - DING! DING! DING!

A little on the humid side, but could have been worse. Temperature - 75*/Humidity - 82%/Wind - 7mph S/Overcast

MB, Suzanne, Deena, Joe

Warm-up - 2x 1mi road loop, 10x 100m striders

Set - 6-8x 160m (40m recovery); 2 "fresh," 1 "good build-up," 2 "fresh," 1 "good"; 400m jog, 8x 100m striders

NOTE: We're all at some level of recovery, so that was it. No track workout scheduled for Thursday, April 21, 2011.

No Shortcuts For You! Or Me, For That Matter...

I had the opportunity to meet some young professional runners and their coach about five years ago. They came to run the USATF 10K road race championships in Mobile and took the opportunity to do a meet and greet at our friendly neighborhood running emporium. There was a shy, dark-haired young woman sitting with the rest of her training group; she quietly answered a few questions during the discussion, but really did not seem to stand out in the crowd. Five years later, she finishes second at the Boston Marathon and runs the best time by an American woman on the Boston course (2:22:38).

Desiree Davila. 'Who'dathunkit?' I bet not even your coaches, Keith and Kevin Hanson, 'woulda.'

I love what she had to say about her progress from "average" runner to finishing second at one of the most prestigious road races in the world (The two most common questions non-runners ask of runners: Have you run a marathon? Have you run Boston?). "Everything has been one step at a time, you don't have to be great tomorrow..." Besides patient progress, Davila benefited from financial support, group training and the training methods of the brothers Hanson.

There are no shortcuts. There are no "silver bullets," "magic potions," or "miracle devices;" no "make you healthier and faster in 90 days or your money back" zippy mind tricks to being a good - or a great - runner. There are no fallbacks, no substitutions.

There is no bar or beverage at the local sports nutrition store which can replace adequate rest and recovery. There is no shoe at the local running emporium which can make up for a runner's refusal to learn good running form and proper cadence. There is no book on-line or on the shelves of the local bookstore which can provide the advice and counsel of a coach. There is no training plan in existence which can safely take us from running 20 minutes a day, three times a week to running a marathon in 16 weeks. None of these things happen without slow, patient progress. We have to crawl before we can walk, walk before we can jog, and jog before we can run.

Mental toughness and physiological change takes time and patience, which is not the stuff we can pay our way through with money, no matter what people who write training books - and coaching blogs, for that matter - have to say.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Kindness of Strangers

"Success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation there is sure to be failure." - Confucius (551-479 BCE)

I made a woman cry this weekend.

I told her something she didn't want to hear.

Before you consider me cold and heartless, let me tell you the front half of the story...

I was standing out in a grassy transition area with thousands of bicycles on racks all around me, watching athletes check in their bicycles for the Ochsner Ironman 70.3 New Orleans.

Many questions were asked of me: Where was the exit from the lake? Where would they enter the bike course? How would they return to transition? How would they start the half-marathon run? Most of the questions were not difficult, and it was my job to answer them, in the hope their race day would be less chaotic.

Two hours before transition was scheduled to close, the young lady showed up to check in her bicycle. Unfortunately, she forgot to place the number tag on the bike frame. "Sorry, we can't check in your bike," is the response she received from our crew.

Later in the weekend, as the sun encouraged a state of giddy delirium, the crew began to think unthinkable thoughts: What if a dishonest triathlete (A rhetorical question; I know of no dishonest triathletes...) were to peel the number off their less-expensive bike and place it on another, more-expensive bike? If volunteer workers weren't following instructions to the letter, or closely paying attention, there was the outside chance of a bike upgrade at the cost of a race entry. There was the method to our madness; we HAD to be certain the number on the athlete's wristband matched the number on the bike; no tag number on the bike meant we couldn't tell if the bike truly belonged in transition.

The crew asked her to see me.

She, an experienced triathlete, spent 20 dollars to bring her bike by taxi. Telling her "no" meant she had at least three 20-dollar cab rides on her evening agenda. (If I were a dishonest race volunteer, I would have asked for a kick-back from the cab company.) Was there any way possible for us to tag her bike frame and let her check the bike? She PROMISED she'd bring the tag in the morning.

Mind you, this was the tenth instance of "missing number" I encountered in six hours. If we had blank tags we might have been able to assist in this situation. But we didn't. I told her she had to go get her tag before I could check her bike.

The issue of pre-race preparation isn't strictly related to multisport athletes. Runners, too, can suffer the consequences of "transient brain flatus," "senior moments," or...more crudely put, "CRS." It's just that triathletes have so much more to "un-prepare" for than runners.

Or do they? Large road races like the Classic don't have expos ONLY because out-of-towners like my wife and I want to drink beer while picking up our race swag.

Race expos also exist because we leave our homes 15 minutes later than we originally planned, rushing to get to the race. We don't pack the night before. We don't use checklists. We don't prepare "the bag" with the extra socks, shorts, shirt, pins, number belt, hat, sunglasses, and so forth...much to our peril on race day. All I have to do is remember 2007's Classic, the wind and the cold in Tad Gormley Stadium, and the 20-dollar windbreaker...the picture becomes more clear.

Add to the sartorial preparation the physical, mental and emotional preparations (like previewing course maps, knowing terrain, training accordingly) which can mean the difference between success and failure, and Lord Baden-Powell's advice to the Boy Scouts rings more clearly. Be Prepared. Read the information on the race web site, the paperwork in the race packet, and the participant feedback from previous years, if it's available.

The individual racer can choose to slow down a little bit and prepare for race day (checklists, laying out items on the bed, dressing a stuffed animal, and so forth) so they don't have to pay a 300% "unprepared tax" and raise their blood pressure.

...So how does the story end?

Well, the young lady returned to transition with an hour to spare and her bike was checked in. She was in a much better mood, especially after I offered to give her a ride back to her hotel and we shared some of our "supplies" with her.

The next day, she ran through transition on her way onto the run course, yelling, smiling, and slapping me a high five.

What was that Tennessee Williams had Blanche Dubois say at the end of 'A Streetcar Named Desire?' "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers..."

Don't be forced to depend on the kindness. Be Prepared.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Your Ego Is Not Your Amigo

Brett and I have known each other since the summer we first started working for the Navy. I saw him win his first age group award and witnessed his phone call to his wife (he's the guy I advised to not downplay his accomplishment) Meredith in Alabama. So, I guess you can say we go back a few miles.

He sent me a running question the other day:

"I'm starting to experience some pain on the outside of my right knee after I run. For example, I did eight miles this morning and was fine while running. When I got home, the pain really started kicking in just walking around the house. The pain seems to occur at the point when I step forward with my right foot. Any ideas? It has been happening for a few weeks now and seems to come and go. I did six miles on Monday evening and didn't have any trouble. Thanks for any help. I definitely don't want to mess up my knee."

When I sent my response back to Brett, I initially suspected iliotibial band syndrome because of the location and intermittent nature of the pain. The only other overuse injury I can think of would be patellofemoral syndrome, or "runner's knee", which would have the pain at the lower margin of the knee; the IT band would be at the upper or outer margin of the knee.

Either way, Brett has an overuse injury.

He later revealed to me he went from running five to running ten miles at a time over a four-week span, which came from training with a triathlon training group at their local YMCA. "Guess I was trying a little too hard and too quick to hang with the 'A Group'", was his lament.

When an overuse injury such as IT band syndrome, achilles tendinosis, plantar fasciitis, patellofemoral syndrome comes to pass, most of the root causes are these:

1. Old, worn-out, or improper running shoes. If the runner cannot say how long (in time or miles) they have run in a particular pair of shoes they might have run in them too long. Sometimes an old pair of shoes will give fair warning by "smelling dead," or the runner might suffer from some aches and pains in the ankles, feet, knees or lower back. Naturally, the remedy would be to get into a pair of shoes which best fits the foot type. Most experienced runners know what kind of shoes work best for them. Once in a while a particular model of shoe changes construction or materials, so it doesn't hurt (no pun intended) to have a "short list" of acceptable shoe models. The major running magazines do annual shoe reviews which can make the search more simple, or a running speciality store can point the individual runner to the "short list."

2. Significant changes in training volume, terrain, or surface. A short-term (or even a long-term) business trip or a new training group can wreak havoc on a training cycle. Most good training schedules aren't necessarily (and probably shouldn't be) written in stone. I've discussed with my coach/advisor about synchronizing my workouts with my coaching; some times solitary training sessions are necessary to train at the proper (read: easier) intensity. Look closely at the recent changes, then subtract them for about three weeks. Why three weeks? That's how long it takes for the body to benefit completely from a change in training volume or intensity, or the minimum time it takes for a low-level overuse injury to begin healing.

And when adding distance/duration to a workout, the "ten percent every three weeks" rule of thumb is best. When talking ten percent, the addition of time/distance should be spread across the training week as much as possible. For example:

OLD WEEK - 30 miles/week

- Sunday - 6 miles

- Monday - Rest

- Tuesday - 6 miles

- Wednesday - 6 miles

- Thursday - 6 miles

- Friday - Rest

- Saturday - 6 miles

NEW WEEK - 33 miles/week

- Sunday - 7 miles

- Monday - Rest

- Tuesday - 6.5 miles

- Wednesday - 6.5 miles

- Thursday - 6.5 miles

- Friday - Rest

- Saturday - 6.5 miles

I've met runners who tacked the ten percent on the Sunday run, which in the example above would increase the volume of that day by 50 percent and increase the longest run of the week to more than 20 percent of the week's volume. Neither one of those are a good idea. If there's a time crunch during the week the additional miles could be split between Saturday and Sunday, but even then there would be the risk of adding too much stress too soon.

And, regardless, cambered roads and hill running can wreak havoc on the unprepared runner. Stress injuries abound from too much "new" (surface, distance, or intensity), too soon.

3. Muscle weakness, especially in the calves, gluteus medius, and abdomen. When a runner has weak muscles or muscle imbalance it puts undue strain on the rest of the "drivetrain." I sent Brett a link to a YouTube video ( with some exercises to strengthen his glutes and stretch the IT band. Six of ten runners who make these changes can recover from a low-level overuse injury in as little as three weeks, with the remainder recovering in six weeks. There are those cases (this coach included) where recovery can take up to six months; more of a compliance and patience issue than anything else.

Brett sent a reply which ended with:

"I signed up for a ten-miler this coming Sunday. I want to finish it, then my plan is to go back to six miles and see how I do. If I still am having problems, I'll keep backing off until I stop having problems and may look into seeing a physical therapist. Once I figure out where my baseline is, I'll start slowly increasing my distance again, only this time at a reasonable pace."

When it comes to training, and especially when it comes to recovering from an overuse injury: Your ego is not your amigo.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Pre-Race Paranoia, Or The Half-Shell

Over a year ago I wrote a two-post diatribe about the trend toward minimalist shoes and barefoot running. Seeing one of my former athletes wearing a pair of Vibram Five Fingers at the mid-week beach run got me once again to thinking. I didn't want to sit and read through a bunch of news articles...again...on the topic, so I did a little iTunes Store search. By my good fortune there was a humanist podcast on the minimalist shoe and barefoot running trend, featuring Harvard University evolutionary biologist Daniel Lieberman, Liberty University professor (and author) Daniel Howell, and author Christopher McDougall spoke on the benefits of going barefoot.

Why would humanists would take an interest in something which seems more in the realm of biomechanics and sport? Humanists (at least the secular humanists) believe that reason, ethics and justice, rather than the supernatural, dogma or religious belief, are the underpinnings of morality and decision-making. And some of these humanists like the idea of getting in contact with the earth around them; I'm not certain whether they would be called "tree-huggers"in the perjorative sense...the humanists who have taken to move back to their earlier and "more natural" state, one before the advent of constrictive and (according to Howell) biomechanically harmful shoes.

(I'm only a curious running coach. I come neither to laud nor condemn, but to try, to the best of my ability, to give a balanced point...and my recommendation/s. I ran college cross country in Nike cross country flats and raced 5K and 10K races in a pair of lightweight Brooks or New Balance road racing flats. When I'm healthy and running well I enjoy racing short distance races in light shoes. I do track workouts in light-to-medium-weight trainers, and road runs in a cushioned shoe for neutral runners.)

Lieberman compared the foot strike patterns of shod and barefoot runners. He did not take a shod runner and put them into a minimalist shoe or compel them to run barefoot for research purposes. So, right off the bat we have to compare apples and oranges. Or do we?

He repeated, almost verbatim, the "Nature" abstract: Habitually barefoot endurance runners often land on the forefoot before bringing down the heel; they sometimes land flat footed or, less often, on the heel. In contrast, habitually shod runners mostly rear-foot strike, facilitated by the elevated and cushioned heel of the modern running shoe. Even on hard surfaces, barefoot runners who forefoot strike generate smaller collision forces than shod rearfoot strikers. This difference results primarily from a more plantar-flexed foot at landing & more ankle compliance during impact, decreasing the effective mass of the body that collides with the ground. Forefoot & midfoot strike gaits were probably more common when humans ran barefoot or in minimal shoes, & may protect the feet & lower limbs from some of the impact-related injuries now experienced by a high percentage of runners.

I still think it's safe to assume there are more "slow" than "fast" runners (pardon the pun) hitting the roads. Slower runners have a different running gait. They tend to overstride; their feet stay on the running surface for a longer period of time and they use more of the large leg muscles. As the speed of the run increases, the runner either pounds the heels into the ground because they're overstriding (the result of anaerobic, sprint-focused sports), which causes shock-related stress and the injuries which result, or they adapt; shortening the stride and strike closer to midfoot or forefoot.

Another portion of the podcast had the interviewer learning how to run barefoot from Christopher McDougall, author of "Born To Run." One of the questions from the interviewer, while he and McDougall were trotting down a path (Central Park, I believe) was: "So, what happens when there are rocks on the pathway?" To which McDougall replied, "I have a little bit of technology I use's called vision."

I can't help but agree that barefoot running might work for many people, especially if the terrain is amenable to wearing no shoes or Vibrams, or minimalist shoes. But the trouble comes when you can't see what's going on below you.

This past weekend is a perfect example: My friend Jon began running in Vibram Five Fingers at about the same time I first wrote about barefoot running. Jon's one of those guys who doesn't believe in slow, gradual transitions into anything. Right away, he took the Vibrams out for a 5K run...and paid the price in sore tendons. However, over the course of time he's increased the duration and distance at which he can run in them; he's now up to 15 kilometers, having raced the Pensacola Double Bridge Run in them.

We were out the other day at a local Hash House Harriers event. After the first mile, which was on grass and pavement, the trail turned into the shallows of Pensacola Bay. Yes, I said "into" the bay; one water crossing per trail seems to be par for the course for this kennel. Fortunately for us the conditions were warm and the water, while cool, was not a hindrance.

Jon, wearing his Vibrams on trail, decided to take them off. He decided to take the risk of going barefoot through the shallows rather than soak his shoes the day before he planned to use them in a half-marathon on the beach. His first step into the water was his undoing. I heard those fateful words which you never want to hear: "that's not good."

Looking back, Jon raised his foot up out of the water. The ball of his foot, around the big toe, appeared more as a flap of skin. Step number one into the shallow water was directly onto an oyster shell, which apparently slashed his foot nearly to the bone. One of the tail-end runners on the trail quickly went back for Jon's jeep and took him to the hospital. Naturally it was safe to say he could kiss his planned half-marathon for the next day good-bye.

Perhaps a couple lessons can be learned from Jon's mishap:

One, there's a reverse correlation between the equipment a runner uses and the degree of situational awareness which is necessary. If you can't see what you're stepping on, it's probably a good idea to put something between your tender flesh and the many potential things which are more resilient than, and can do serious harm, to your tender flesh.

Two, the day immediately before a big race is probably the most dangerous. The best advice for individual runners is to think about the constellation of things which can possibly go wrong, and try to avoid them as much as possible. Just because you have pre-race paranoia doesn't mean everything isn't out to get you.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Teach Me To Lose, Coach

lose (transitive verb) 1. Miss and not know where to find. 2. Be deprived of; be parted from. 3. Cease to have. 4. Cause or suffer defeat in (a game). (intransitive verb) Suffer loss; be defeated.

"just learned to play this tune. i think you might like it," said the text message on my wife's cell phone.

Suzanne asked me to surf over to YouTube to check out a bluegrass song yesterday morning. After sweating my way through my long run of six miles (still on the mend, my friends!) and pushing my (seventh) anniversary present (a push mower!) around the back yard I was in no mood to spend excess time wrestling with a video which may be little more than a slide show with music in the background.

If the song is really that good I might want to buy it.

I decided instead to use the streamlined (and user-friendly) iTunes interface. What came through my speakers was a nice, hopeful but sad song. I instinctively thought of the joke: 'What happens when you play country music backwards? You get your job back, your house back, your spouse back, and your drinking problem is resolved.'

Then I considered the source. My young relative is struggling with the recent dissolution of his marriage. There's no doubt in my mind he's hoping for a "happily ever after" reconciliation. I've been there; at least the songs he's listening to are more musical than the ones I used to buck myself up almost two decades ago. No sooner do I get out of iTunes and go to my social media account to see what the rest of the world is up to, and find another friend's thirty-year marriage has gone to the rubbish bin.

Then, my phone pings a text message: The mother of my good friend Aaron Boudreaux passed away the previous evening after a struggle with cancer. Nothing you can do but either mull over the fleeting nature of our existence or go stand in the sunshine and appreciate it. Back to the yard, at least for another couple of minutes.

After my wife went off to spend the morning with the grandchildren I turned on the television and channel-surfed through the mens' and womens' college basketball tournament, as well as a spring one-day classic cycling race. The sprint finish of a spring classic, or even of a one-to-three-week stage race places victory and defeat, struggle and suffering, failure and success out for all (who care to understand) to view. Especially when the guy who finishes second or third, nipped at the line because of tactics, pounds their fist on the handlebar in disgust.

Earlier, before the cycling, I surfed over toward Ted Turner's classic movie channel. I'm not an old black-and-white movie fan but the title, "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner," naturally earned my attention. The book is (supposedly) a classic, as well as the film. I regret that to this point in time I had neither read the book nor seen the movie (either in the original black-and-white or the re-make), so I can't comment about the entire story. I happened to catch the last fifteen minutes of the film, which definitely is not a "feel-good" finish. The ending of this movie is as gloomy as the end of "The Graduate." Why the young reform schooler didn't go for the win is beyond comprehension, especially to his schoolmates and the masters at the school...until you follow (playing in the young man's mind as he approaches the finish line) the struggle of the young man to remain true to himself. In fact (and my wife reminded me this morning) it probably had to do with the small scrap of power or control he had over his destiny, the choice of whether to follow his will or the will of others.

So, do coaches teach their charges about loss?

I was thinking about the types of loss; from the simple and often silly "hidden in ones' sock drawer disguised as..." loss, which if we're lucky turns into an eventual find...usually after we spend money to replace it, to the very painful and very permanent departure of a loved one. Teaching about loss and losing happens it's one of those "oh, by the way" things. More often than not the role of the coach is thought to be like the role described in Kenny Moore's screenplay "Without Limits," the story of Steve Prefontaine and the relationship with his coach Bill Bowerman. One of the goal-setting sessions early in the movie (didn't make the "Memorable Quotes" section of the Internet Movie Database, but...) is a great rhetorical statement of the coach's role:

Bowerman (Donald Sutherland): What do you think a coach does, Pre?

Prefontaine (Billy Crudup): He teaches you to run.

Bowerman: To run a store? A business?

Prefontaine: To run a race.

Bowerman: In order to...?

Prefontaine: win.

Bowerman: Yes. That's what I thought.

So few coaches teach how to lose because loss is more common in life. We all run the race, but there can only be one winner: the rest of the participants who were not the first across the line have lost. Race organizers and teachers and coaches can go ahead and put a silver lining on the dark cloud by giving age group awards, grading on curves and looking for the positives, but coaches need to teach, from personal experience and by illustrative example, that loss and losing varies in pain, in duration, and in permanence. The most painful and permanent losses are the ones from which the individual athletes decides not to learn, and decides cannot be remedied.

It's only a loss if you continue to allow yourself to be defeated.

(P.S. My condolences to the Boudreaux family. It was a pleasure to meet you, Ms. B. Rest in peace.)

Friday, April 1, 2011

There Are No Bad Foods!

(This is not an illusion. Round Rock Donuts, just outside of Austin, TX, makes a donut which equals anywhere between 6-12 regular ones. The donuts are delicious, but this one is a little bit to the dark side of donut enjoyment.)

Several of my running and fitness friends have asked me to try a couple of high-intensity fitness programs, like Crossfit and Insanity. Unfortunately, it would mean casting something less-important to the sleep. Really, I'd love to give it a whirl, but my dog barely recognizes me when I come through the front door as it is right now. Fitness is fleeting in nature, varigated in its forms, and hard-earned, no matter the form. So, as time progresses, and I age, and struggle to maintain the sort of fitness defined by runners and/or multisport athletes, I become less parochial about running. It's a big world, with room for sweat-fiends (friends?) of all sorts, whether they be triathletes, swimmers, cyclists...

...and yes! Even bowlers.

One can eat and enjoy a particular food item - say, pizza - for years, without ever knowing there are varieties of pie. So, when a variation on a theme, or the original article lands in your lap - in keeping with the pizza analogy, genuine Sicilian-style where the toppings are segregated to a single portion of the pie and the cheese and sauce are lightly applied...or Chicago-style deep dish (like Giordano's or Uno), where a single piece can put you down for the count - you get the chance to marvel, stretch your thinking, and even learn something.

A new addition to a training group brings this same thematic variation. One of my newest athletes, Fawn, is no exception to the rule. She comes to my track workouts with a great attitude, an upbeat demeanor, and a history of doing high-intensity gym workouts like Crossfit and Insanity; one of the first evenings she came out she was doing high knee kicks, bending herself into pretzel-like forms, and exerting much energy. After the first set she learned (the hard way, just like I did!) the cardinal rule of running effort-based workouts, especially the way I run them, and my coach ran them, and his coach... Workout durations vary depending on the coach's mood and the athlete's attitude, so pace yourself.

Fawn told me the other day she hadn't run in a week because of a minor injury, having to do with a stand-up paddleboard and an abundance of adult beverages. She felt quite guilty because the time she normally would have filled with Crossfit, Insanity or running she filled with...well, pizza.

Fortunately, she was talking to a compassionate kind of guy, especially when the topics are injuries and pizza.

"I shouldn't have had the pizza. All that stuff is so bad for you," Fawn lamented.

I responded, "Fawn, there are no bad foods, only bad portions. As long as you don't overindulge on any particular food or drink, you are going to be all right." I then described my approach to pizza: white meat, light cheese, lots of good vegetables, and thin crusts. Of course, my challenge is not killing off more than one-quarter of the pizza at a single sitting.

Portion control is difficult in this day in age, when food and drink items at fast food restaurants are "super-sized" three (or more!) times the amount they were when I was a boy. During my business trip to Austin last week, my co-workers and I discussed "snack-food semantics." 'Why is it,' said one of the group, 'that everything which tastes good but considered bad for your health is described in plural? You never hear someone talk about "cookie," or "cupcake," or "donut," or "potato chip," or "french fry..."' We all laughed, as two of our group each devoured a donut the size of a human head. (The laughing stops when the weight numbers, the cholesterol numbers, the blood pressure numbers, etc., go up.)

There's even such a thing as too much exercise, but there aren't that many people indulging in it. There are no bad workouts, only bad trainers. There are no bad activities, only bad approaches.

There are no bad foods, only bad portions: One donut is fine. As long as it's not the size of your head.