So, How Many Hats Do You Wear?

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

Friday, May 27, 2011

15 Miles-A-Week To 26.2 In A Day: The Marathon Puzzle

This is part two of a response to a question I received in my personal e-mail from a reader:

"I have a question regarding your 10% increase every three weeks. How would this work if I were training for a marathon? Would I have to do a 20 mile run five times a week? I'm sure that can't be good for your legs. Do you have another training schedule that you recommend for marathons? Like your friend in the article I have also had IT band problems, which I believe was due to increasing my mileage too fast when training for my second marathon. Thanks for any help you can offer."

The previous post covered training plans I've recommended to my own athletes when they've considered running/racing a marathon. But the training plan only gets the athlete to the starting line, (ideally) healthy and ready to run a good 26.2 miles. A sensible pacing plan takes advantage of the smart training and lets the athlete perform up to their potential. Train hard/smart for 16-to-20 weeks, sacrifice family time, free time (morning, evening, weekends), and work time to get to the starting line, then go out the first five or six miles like a maniac? Never a good idea.

After I wrote the first post I sat down with an Excel spreadsheet to determine how long it would take to progress, given an approximate ten-percent increase in run duration/distance, from 20 minutes-a-day, six-to-seven days a week, to marathon training volume.

Before I start, let's come to a couple of understandings:

I've read of couch-to-marathon programs which -ideally - get the participant to the start line in 26 weeks. But I believe this shortchanges the runner on many fronts: They run the risk of overuse injury because of a very sudden increase in volume. They don't really learn to enjoy racing, racing etiquette, or what works and what doesn't on race day. And, there are so many different race distances and formats which are grossly many, it's either marathon or nothing.

In my humble opinion, it takes right on the verge of four years of consistent, (preferably) injury-free training to go from couch-to-marathon. Yes, that sounds elitist and discriminatory. I did my first marathon after only four months of "training;" I had a lot of fun, beat myself badly over the course of 26.2, and didn't run ANYTHING for ten years. It took another ten years for me to try another marathon, and STILL I did it wrong. I've been working the "marathon puzzle" ever since.

When it comes to the "marathon puzzle," every athlete is an experiment of one. I've drafted plans for both male and female runners, ranging in age from the mid-20s to the mid-40s, averaging four years of running experience. The athletes have been given free rein to adapt and adjust based on their own life constraints (treadmill adaptations for Canadian winters, for example...), and more often than not they've seen success...not so much because of my plan, but because of their hard work and consistency over time.

The only person who has ever failed on one of my plans is me (Chronic injuries and recovery issues have been my undoing - I'm not yet willing to admit I'm too brittle for the marathon.). Coaching, to me, is a zero-sum game: If I'm training well it's because I'm not paying attention to you. By "paying attention" I've helped four people finish iron-distance triathlons, four people to qualify for the Boston Marathon, and another four people to finish Boston. So I won't argue with the method/madness I've developed the past six years.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

15 Miles-a-Week To 26.2 In A Day: Got A Plan?

A reader of the blog post about "smart" mileage increases over time ("Your Ego Is Not Your Amigo"), was kind enough to send me a question last week:

"I have a question regarding your 10-percent increase every three weeks. How would this work if I were training for a marathon? Would I have to do a 20-mile run five times a week? I'm sure that can't be good for your legs. Do you have another training schedule that you recommend for marathons? Like your friend in the article I have also had IT band problems, which I believe was due to increasing my mileage too fast when training for my second marathon. Thanks for any help you can offer."

Most well-laid-out marathon training plans have the longest (easy pace) run of the schedule in the 16-to-20 mile range, or no more than two and-a-half hours in duration. Naturally, runners will go longer than that on race day, but those longer runs occur two or three times during the latter weeks of the training schedule.

I've shamelessly borrowed from a couple of good marathon training plans over the past five or six years:

The first one/s I've recommended were developed by Keith and Kevin Hanson, who coach the Brooks-Hanson's Distance Project. Their beginner and advanced marathon plans are not a far cry from the ones they used to train (2008 Olympian) marathoners Brian Sell and (2011 Boston Marathon womens' runner-up) Desiree Davila. The Hanson's focus is on "something of substance" training; there is no focus on one single day's workout over another during the training week. Keith Hanson has explained the (relatively) low-mileage long run feels longer because of accumulated fatigue during the rest of the training week.

Links to the beginners' and advanced marathon plans can be found at the Hanson's Running web site (

Not everyone who participates in a marathon has a particular finishing time goal...but the majority of runners who do train for a marathon have an idea how they'd like to finish. Most of them, at least the ones willing to admit, would love to run well enough to qualify for Boston. The biggest problem comes when we talk about pace discipline: One of my marathoners wanted to run a 4:00 to qualify for Boston, and probably is strong enough to run a 3:40. In her first attempt at the marathon this last November, she passed me at mile 12 (I was running the half) and went through the half-marathon mark in 1:35-1:40. I didn't want to believe she'd have a bad day, but (being the pessimist I am) I knew it was coming. After finishing my half, I went to the half-mile to go point on the course. My watch ticked off Deena. Deena. Deena.

Finally, she rolled by, cramping legs and all, at 4:03. She finished her first marathon in 4:07, having fought leg cramps from mile 16 onward. I told her, after congratulating her on her age-group win, that we would focus on pacing strategy for Rock n' Roll/Mardi Gras, her next marathon.

The Marathon Nation ( training plans, developed by coach Pat McCrann, are based off Jack Daniels' VDOT tables. Plans are boiled down to the essentials; there's no fluff in a MN plan, which is great for time-stressed runners.

Most importantly, McCrann has a very effective approach to race day pacing. He breaks the half or full marathon into approximately 25-percent chunks; the first 25 percent of the race is run about five seconds per mile slower than goal pace. The middle fifty percent increases in pace to a point where the runner averages about five seconds per mile ahead of goal pace, and the last 25 percent is where the runner makes the tactical decision of whether to maintain (should they feel all right, or not so good) or increase the pace (should they feel very good).

I used a blend of my own speedwork, the MN speedwork and the Hanson's distance focus when training Deena. When it came to race day, I sat down with her and broke down the pace she needed to run; a particular time at 10K, a particular time for the half-marathon, another goal split for 30K...after that it was up to her whether she wanted to push the pace or hang on. She ended up hitting the splits almost exactly as I asked, ran a 25-minute personal best and qualified for Boston.

I asked her how she felt on the first 10K, to which she said, "all these people were blowing by me like I was standing still." And the last 10K? "Gosh, Coach, I was passing people left and right."

The right training plan for a distance event will get you to the starting line healthy and ready to run. The right pacing plan for that distance will get you to the finish line...ideally healthy and ready for your next run.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

One Thing Too Many

My dental hygienist read me the riot act last autumn after a lack of recovery, poor diet choices and disregard for sound advice had reinforced one another to wreak havoc on my mouth. After that visit, I started taking a low-dose antibiotic regimen and using an ultrasound-enabled toothbrush.

Months later, I could tell the difference in my dental health; not only were my teeth clean, but I wasn't beating the daylights out of my gumline with a regular brush.

Like all other good things electronic which I use, something decided to go horribly wrong with this piece of equipment. It occurred right about the time I changed brush heads a week ago. I screwed in the new head and hit the switch to start brushing. Instead of the pleasant buzz and vibration of brush against my jaw there was NOTHING. I pulled the brush out of my mouth and stared in disbelief. It was troubleshooting time.

I slowly unscrewed the brush head, which began the buzz and vibration. However, the cap was too loose and would not stay in position. I shut the brush off and grabbed the "old-fashioned" brush to take care of business, thinking a new set of brush heads might solve the problem. Naturally I was disappointed at the thought of spending twice to replace something I thought I got right the first time.

Later that afternoon I took a closer look at the new brush head. When I unscrewed the head from the handle to look at the inner workings...EUREKA! Somehow the (magnetic) contact at the base of the brush head had attracted a small metal washer - how, I will never know - which not only affected the contact between the power source and the brush head, but also kept the brush head from vibrating when the cap was secured.

Quite simply, a little extra something was the cause of my problem.

My wife often plays with new devices and software as part of her job. I usually get to apply the "savant factor," testing whether a guy can learn to use an application by trial-and-error. What always seems to drive me up the wall is how manufacturers add one too many capabilities to a device. It's like adding a mustache on the Mona Lisa, or an extra quatrain to Rudyard Kipling's "If."

Just like there are Swiss Army Knife models which go "one toke over the line," too many good things can quickly transform a gadget from something that does two or three things in an outstanding manner into something which does a whole lot of stuff "half-fast," or something which sounds like "half-fast." Smart phones are a great example of this tipping point. Search and rescue professionals were recently asked about rescuing stranded and unprepared hikers; several of them mentioned the fact hikers tried without success to use smart phone-based GPS(-like) and compass(-like) applications to maintain their bearings.

Does this relate to training plans? You bet, and on many fronts.

Coaches often write plans in isolation. If the individual athlete understands the role of the coach as guide and teacher, they can talk about the potential barriers and obstacles to accomplishing the plan. As John L. Parker, Jr. wrote (about interval workouts) in his classic novel, "Once A Runner:"

"It was one thing to write '20 x 400 meters in 70 seconds with 400

meters recovery jog,' and another thing altogether to run them."

Intensity - too much, usually - can derail the best of training cycles. So can duration/distance workouts, the "need" to run a particular (usually favored!) workout or a race when the body or the calendar (and sometimes even the coach!) advises otherwise.

More often than not, it's one thing too many, rather than one thing too few, which screws up training.

Monday, May 23, 2011

We Don't Think All That Much

As I was driving home from work on Friday afternoon I observed what I consider one of those "things which might make you go 'Hmmm...'"

Take a look at the cars around you the next time you're on a road trip or sitting at a crowded intersection. In much the same manner as a picture tells a story, like deciphering the ribbons and service medallions to figure the story of a military service member's accomplishments, we can learn much about our fellow travelers:

Where they live. License plates usually are a narrow-down, but not always. Extra hints can come from drivers with vanity license plate tags (Florida has probably the widest variety of vanity tags of all fifty states.). Sometimes you get a sneaky, esoteric vanity tag owner who gives their tag a more subtle meaning (a fast car with "B4NE1,"). Gives the DMV workers something to think about.

Marital status, number and gender of kids, animal and religious preference. The "cartoon character eared" family line-up is probably the strangest one I've run into, with the Native American kokopelli and the Polynesian-themed turtles being the coolest.

Where they or their kids go/went to school/college. Occasionally you get couples whose loyalties are split between two rival schools, which adds the Lincolnesque "house divided" identification. But there are vehicles and drivers ahead of me on the roadway who I knew were more likely dedicated to the "institution of higher football;" often proven by an action which reinforced their lack of academic (or financial?) wherewithal to get in. Okay, maybe not; common sense does not always equal common knowledge.

Their favorite athlete, team, sport or sports governing body. I bet NASCAR fans go into a tizzy at the end of the season, hoping and praying their favorite driver doesn't move to another team. Triathletes, especially those who participate in those events which start with an "I," always seem to have at least one sticker for every venue at which they've participated. I jokingly used a derogatory term for these persons after seeing car after car loaded with stickers for Wisconsin, Lake Placid and a Wal-Mart parking lot in Panama City.

Their political stance, to include support of present or former successful/lost causes. Come on, guys...the election was over years ago; in some cases we're talking ten. I peel that sucker off the glass the day after the election results are announced, win or lose. Gotta feel sorry for those poor Minnesotans who waited six months to figure out whether Coleman or Franken won.

Their sense of humor...which often ties directly or indirectly to all of the previous categories. Every once in a while you see a bumper sticker which transcends most of the topical areas. My favorite had to be one I saw years ago while living in Tampa: "Cat Lovers Against The Bomb."

A smart person equipped with a notepad and a smart phone can probably gain enough intelligence on the modern middle-class driver to wreak havoc on their life, all in the course of a 60-second period of time...the time it takes to pull a snapshot. But what kills me is this: The people who display their identity, affinity, proclivity, and "derivity" so openly on their motor vehicles are usually the same persons who complain about the invasion of the internet, the World Wide Web, service providers, and the government (at varying levels) on their privacy.

Sometimes, we just don't think all that much. Not about how weather conditions like heat and humidity affect our running performance. Not about adapting our workout intensity, duration, location or time to account for those conditions. Not about wearing clothes and accessories during our workouts which can reflect heat from above and below. And, most of all, not about hydrating during the day, rather than just during the run.

I went to run a 5K road race - on a lark - mere hours after I wrote a blog post about hydration. I hadn't drank much after an early morning visit to the gym, and I didn't even think about what possibly could go awry during my warm-up. In fact, I had the pre-race jitters and the feeling like I should make a run for the porta-potty. However, I knew once I started sweating things would be all right.

Boy, was I wrong.

I was parched by the time I approached the first aid station; usually I'll take a cup to pour on my head, but this time I needed two in me. Simply put, I forgot all about my own recovery and pre-race advice and counsel... Seven months is a long time between races; sometimes we forget the simple things - hydration, nutrition, warm-up, pacing, and patience - in that period of time.

As George Clinton of Parliament/Funkadelic said: "Think. It Ain't Illegal Yet."

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Joggers? Welcome!

I showed up at the beach run last night to see a good friend in the parking lot. Ron had just returned from a six-week sojourn in Michigan. After the requisite insults and innuendo we started our trek on the six-mile loop, at a mutually-agreed upon pace; laughable for him, comfortable for me. I knew he was going to want to talk about his time in the Great White North, so the pace was soon to become one where I could speak little.

We initially joked about the weather conditions, which explain why I live in the South...

Ron: "I was scraping ice off my window two days ago."

Me: "The only glass. I want ice to touch. Is one filled. With unsweetened tea. Or an adult. Beverage of choice. Depends on time of day."

Ron then told me about a couple of track workouts he ran with a local running group, and the running club affiliated with the (multinational) company for which he was briefly employed.

"They said, 'oh, we have some really fast runners in this group. One of our guys ran a (blank)-minute 5K.' I went out running with him twice. The dude was a hockey player; in decent shape, but not really fast." Having seen his rear at more than my share of road races I know what Ron defines as "fast."

I responded, "Gee, thanks, Ron. Glad you're being. Nice to me. Since I haven't. Run that time. For 5K. Since my injury." At least he didn't call me "fat." Or a "jogger."

What is a jogger? Why is there this insulting connotation to a term which, to the majority of runners, seems as nebulous as a presidential definition of sex?

The English language has used the term "jog" to talk about movement (running included) since at least the mid-16th century. Arthur Lydiard made "jogging" popular in New Zealand during the early 1960s; fitness and sociability seemed to be the rationale for very easy running (defined by UK-based running coach Mike Antoniades as a pace slower than 10 minutes per mile). Bill Bowerman, coach of Steve Prefontaine, literally "wrote the book" on jogging and its benefits, way back in 1966.

The running philosopher Dr. George Sheehan, in 'Running and Being,' wrote "the difference between a jogger and a runner is an entry blank." If you started running because of an event put on by a running club, or you joined a running club which didn't exist before 1962, you most likely owe your running habit (obsession? routine?), and perhaps a word of thanks, to a jogger.

So where and why does the arrogance toward joggers exist in the running community? From what I've observed it certainly isn't the elite or former elite road racers who harbor such animosity, pity or contempt. One usually needs to look a little farther back in the pack than the elites, a little closer to the point where the bell curve starts to rise. These are the guys/gals who (often) didn't quite win the genetics, training, coaching, recovering or incentivizing lotteries...or didn't buy the ticket...and prefer to tell how good they could have, would have, should have been...and how others will never be.

In their mind, THEY are runners. Everyone else behind them are just joggers.

I've engaged in such arrogant behavior in the past. I've also been called out for it. There are values, assumptions and closed beliefs, bordering on the edge of dogma, which exist in the mind of the "jogger haters."

They (falsely) assume other persons are not exerting the effort they are, therefore they lack the desire and are "children of a lesser god." Boy, was I disabused of this assumption by my loving wife, a long time ago. She took me to task one night after a track workout, saying, "Michael, just because we're running our quarters a minute slower than you are doesn't mean we aren't working hard. Believe me, we are."

The value system also is different. "Real runners" consider their title earned because they are faster on race day. They consider themselves superior to those pitiable souls who are still plodding about on the course as they reach for their first post-race beer. Their medals, beer glasses and coffee mugs were hard-won, and sometimes, considered to be their right: Why go five-deep at a race? It's only the first three in the age group who should be lauded.

Then, there's the near-religious dogmatic belief that one particular training group, training plan, workout, magazine, shoe or nostrum is guaranteed to make a better runner. "If you really wanted to improve as a runner you would do exactly what I do, or train with my group, or do this particular workout. Because you don't I can only guess you are lazy or unmotivated." This point of view has probably been the most difficult for me to get past as a group coach. I have learned over time there are more viable obstacles than strictly:

1. "Parentism," the nearly-two-decade extension of the state of maternity
2. Education
3. Work, and
4. Citizenship.

I've heard excuses, and I've heard rationales over the past six years. After that period of time you smile, shake your head, and continue to promulgate an "open door" policy.

I only hope, on that "invisible door" of my life, there's a sign posted for all to "see:"

Joggers Welcome.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Before The Damage Is Done...Drink

If the casual observer were to look at me after a workout they would wonder if I had been doused with a fire hose. Doesn't matter what time of the year (save for the coldest weeks), what distance, or what intensity. I still am soaking wet. My college cross-country coach, my wife, my athletes and my friends all marvel at what has politely been described as "a very efficient cooling system."

I used to joke, "I sweat when I think." Who would have considered that to be true? I didn't, until I started looking closer at thermoregulation. Our skeletal muscles (including those muscles used for running), liver, heart and our brain all generate body heat. On those days when we're hotter than our surroundings we can radiate heat (think about those infrared scopes used by military and police to observe in dark conditions) to maintain a proper temperature. When the air temperature is hotter than us we absorb heat. Add to the outside heat the heat we generate from our running, and thinking about are thinking about running, right...?

External heat and internal heating can raise our body's core temperature to a point where our brains have to make a command decision; how long can the body go before vital organs are injured? Our brain decides to start shutting less important functions down in order to protect itself, the heart and other vital organs. That usually means skeletal muscles take the hit. Entire muscles don't get shut down entirely, mind you, but a few fibers here and there at first...which we usually recognize as breaks in running form or decreased range of motion (shortened, choppy strides). As the temperature continues to increase the brain becomes more concerned and shuts down more muscle fibers ("is that my calf cramping?") until we decide to either cool things down by slowing down, drinking cool fluid, getting into a cooler environment or stop exercising altogether.

So it's important to keep the core temperature as low as possible, either by deflecting radiated heat from the sun and other surfaces, or by drinking so you can continue to sweat.

Runners who sweat heavily, naturally, will need to take in more fluid per hour. You can determine your sweat ratio by stepping on a scale (naked) before and after a run and looking at the weight difference, adding the volume of fluid you drank during the run, then doing the mathematics to figure out the ratio per hour. Hotter, more humid days might demand more and colder days less, but you'll have a ballpark figure on which to base your hydration plan.

After the run, it's important to begin the recovery process by replacing the fluids lost. Again, the easiest way to know how much is by stepping on the scale to find the difference in pounds between when you started and when you got done. Multiply by 16 to get the number of ounces, then start replacing fluid on a one-to-one or a one-and-a-half-to one ratio.

Naturally, the next question is "what's the best drink?" Water has been the ideal beverage for many years, and works great for most athletes, but an entire industry has developed in the past four decades because of this question. Sweat not only contains water but minerals, lactate, urea and some trace elements. The most common elements found in sweat are the electrolytes; sodium (average 0.9 grams per liter), potassium (average 0.2 grams per liter), calcium (average 0.015 grams per liter) and magnesium (average 0.0013 grams per liter). These values naturally will vary from person to person.

One of the most popular sports drinks on the market provides .4-.5 grams per liter of sodium, .125 grams per liter of potassium and 200-to-220 calories of energy per liter from carbohydrates. There are sports beverages on the market which have protein, others have electrolytes but no carbohydrates, and some include other trace minerals like chromium. This ideally allows the athlete to make up for some of the lost minerals and nutrients before the workout or race is over. The best sports drink, however, is the one which the athlete will actually drink; all the beneficial elements and chemicals a laboratory can offer (whether or not they truly help!) are of little use if the flavor of drink is terrible.

So don't forget to keep that bottle of water or sports drink handy during your runs, or make certain your run routes have places where you can get (or stash) fluids. Drink early and drink often; if you wait until you feel thirsty the damage has already been done.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Walking Into The Fog: Shoes For When We Aren't Running

Monday night's workout was my first setback, more-accurately defined as a speed bump, on the road to racing fitness.

There are some runs which just don't feel right from the first strides, but you suck it up and hope things normalize after a mile, or at least a mile and a quarter. Fifteen minutes, two pit stops, and an aching achilles tendon later I got the memo: Stop, silly. You're not helping your cause. I jumped on the elliptical trainer for 30 minutes, then ambled home to dinner.

The first steps on Monday, and even the day after, were achy and tight. Naturally, being the "cause and effect" guy, I asked myself what changes I made in the past few days. It all fell back on a pair of shoes, not the trainers I ran in on Sunday evening, but the loafers I wore last week.

Unless you're one of those persons who races in a very neutral pair of racing flats or wears a "minimalist" shoe, both shoes with very little heel lift, you're probably wearing a shoe for work/recovery which may adversely affect your running. Ladies who run are probably in a worse position than most guys. I've seen stiletto-heeled devices which I know could not have been designed by a woman; no woman in their right mind would EVER wear something that damaging to their feet and public.

I wore slip-on loafers at work and school for many years until seven years ago, when I ran my second marathon. Climbing and descending stairs after a marathon is painful; a (recovery) shoe with insufficient support only adds insult to injury. In desperation I made a road trip to the San Diego-based brick-and-mortar location of a popular on-line running shoe store. I considered a pair of black leather walking shoes, but decided against them because they STILL looked too much like a running shoe. I eventually picked up a pair of shoes made by Dunham, the parent company of New Balance. Black leather, American-made, and comfortable for standing and walking.

My wife bought her son a pair of shoes from a walking shoe store a couple of years ago, and she suggested I replace mine. Seven years of hiking through parking lots, walking through hallways, and standing in classrooms around the world had taken its toll by that time. Heels wear along the outer corner; midsoles break down, and soles wear thin. While blue jeans seem to improve with age, a good walking shoe - like a running shoe - has a limited lifespan. And, silly me, I didn't want to invest in another pair when I felt I had a few more years left in these.

But one morning you wake up and look in horror at the condition of those "old reliable" shoes. It's the "Come to Jesus" talk, so to speak. Before I made a buyers' decision and replaced this pair I thought I'd take a look at what shoes were recommended by podiatrists.

Darned if the American Association of Podiatric Sports Medicine (AAPSM) didn't go and quit the "shoe recommendation" business in 2010. Yes, there was a short list of walking shoes which they had evaluated, but no single brand or model was tapped by the evaluators as the best shoe...which really shouldn't have surprised me.

I've always recommended visiting with an experienced shoe fitter when it comes to running shoes. Naturally, because we're all unique it stands to reason we all will have different responses or results when using a single particular shoe.

AAPSM recommends individuals be fit by a reputable footwear retailer and seek out a sports medicine podiatrist for concerns on injury or footwear. An individual’s gait pattern, range of motion, biomechanical profile and foot type, injury history, body mass index, weekly miles or hours of training, training goals, training philosophy, and training surface are all important in selecting the right shoe...whether it be one for running or walking.

So, if you're having those aches and pains when you aren't running it might be what's on your feet that's causing it. A visit with a trained professional might save you from the error of "trying this at home." Remember, when you aren't running, you're recovering.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Just Because You Can Doesn't Mean You Should...

A weekend in a beach town gives many opportunities for a person to see, um, things they might prefer not to. In order to keep this post family-friendly, graphic details will be kept to a minimum. I'm not really talking about tattoo art; who knew Panama City Beach had so many tattoo parlors, or that a tattoo on a certain portion of the body was otherwise called the "Panama City License Plate?" I'm not talking about short shorts (again!), Speedos, or green swim trunks with the little yellow duckies (Agon Swim?), or post-race party observations from the Slowtwitch web site, either.

As you can tell I probably could hold forth for an entire post on one or all of these topics...but it's something a little more mundane.

Ride with a pack of cyclists, especially on a windy day, and you can tell how much more beneficial it is to be suffering with others than to be out there all alone. As long as everybody manages to keep their wheels from crossing one another things are pretty much all right. However, when it comes to triathlon, unless you're of the caliber of those Olympic athletes, the bike ride is an individual affair. Each rider is responsible to take care of themselves and cannot use another rider to shield them from the wind...legally.

Some bike courses, like the ones for Panama City's half-iron and iron-distance triathlon events, have been described in the past as "pancake" flat. Compared to the NOLA 70.3 course I might call them "blueberry-pancake-flat." Yes, there is a bridge over West Bay, but it's the largest "lump" in 56 or 112 miles of Northwest Florida. A "breakfast-quality" bike course doesn't separate the strong riders from the less strong as quickly; this gives Panama City's races the reputation for being a draft-fest. Strong bikers looking for a chance to make a trip to Hawaii have saved up their nickels and dimes for an early-November race...check YouTube for a bike's-eye-view of one section of the ride. Looked like the Tour de France.

The rules for bicycle riding in most triathlons are simple:

1. Ride on the right.
2. Pass on the left.
3. Stay at least two bike lengths back from the bike ahead.
4. If you want to pass, make the pass in 20 seconds, and,
5. If you get passed, drop back two bike lengths before you try to pass them again.

The rules are very simple when you read them to a person. The theoretically-simple becomes the practically-challenging when you tell the person to ride their bicycle this way. Multiply this challenge by several hundred persons on bicycles over a 50-mile stretch of road and the odds are very good someone will temporarily "forget" one or more of the rules.

Perhaps they won't do what they should because they can? Just because you can doesn't mean you should. Because Emanuel Kant's categorical imperative (live your life like your behavior would become a universal law) doesn't work well with nearly a thousand cyclists, there I was, riding on the back of a Harley-Davidson. Nine motorbikes and race officials, including my driver and myself, did our best to make certain all these athletes worked and played fairly together.

The first hour was fairly eventful, as two waves of athletes merged with each other about 15 miles into the ride. Most of the time the sound of that big Harley and those nice, loud exhaust pipes were enough to "remind" athletes of the rules and "encourage" them to follow them to the best of their ability. It's much like how we slow our cars down to a couple of miles above the speed limit when we see a state trooper on the highway.

However, the occasional rider sometimes "misses the memorandum" or didn't remember the rules from the athlete's meeting. Not else a guy can do but count off time, identify the rider and take down information; the head referee will sort it out at the end.

Near the end of the morning, we would approach a pack of riders and began to think of the old Irish ballad, "Danny Boy," '...the pipes, the pipes, are calling...' One rider near the back of the line, perturbed at what he thought was happening up ahead, looked at me and gesticulated with his left hand.

I know, friend. Just because they think they can doesn't mean they should.

Harley-Davidson is, quite often, an effective tool when you need to remind a crowd of bicyclists about the rules. Well, unless you're riding one bike length behind a very attractive cyclist.

Just because you can doesn't mean you should.

It's a lot like road race etiquette and protocol. There are many things which are - while not completely impermissible - are usually not fair to other race participants, and may not endear you to the race director on occasions...things like banditing (even if you don't go through the finish chute), going back up the course after you've finished to pace another racer in, self-seeding too far forward in the pack (especially with jogging strollers). On a personal note, I would even add arguing about the distance of a certified course (The "my GPS says..." argument?) in that short list. Sure, the individual racer can do these things, but it usually makes life a little more difficult for the rest of the community.

Just because you can doesn't mean that you should. Unless you find those duckie Speedos in your size.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Carry That Weight

"Boy, you're gonna carry that weight, carry that weight a long time..." - "Carry That Weight" (The Beatles, "Abbey Road," 1969)

I dreaded this morning's first-Monday-of-the-month weight check, especially after I saw the photos from the Easter holiday weekend. My friend Randy's commentary was more than correct; I didn't look "bigger," I looked fat.

Okay, maybe not "Gabriel-Iglesias-'fat.'" Perhaps "healthy" or "husky" on his 'fat scale.'

Looking at the photos taken by my wife, I can understand how someone could say 'the camera adds pounds.' I knew the numbers were not going to be good.

As a former "fat" person (5'8", 180 pounds back in 1992 may not seem fat to you, but when your face looks like Garfield the Cat in a photo...), the digital scale at the rear of the gym is the most fearful piece of equipment in the joint.

I stepped on the scale after a 30-minute elliptical trainer session and saw a good sign: Even with workout shoes on I dropped a pound in the past month. Sounds like cause for celebration. Woo hoo hoo!

Now, back to work.

Part of me sometimes asks why the weight has come off in an agonizingly slow manner. It's not that I've denied myself any particular food item in the past nine weeks. Outside of my wife's insistence on packing a healthy lunch for me whenever she can, I suspect it has much to do with the slow, conservative approach I've taken in my return to running:

- In the nine weeks since I started running again, I've increased the duration of my runs by no more than ten percent each week. I started at 20 minutes each run; I'm now at a little under 40 minutes. Barring unforseen circumstances, I hope to be running for 60 minutes in six-to-eight weeks.

- The Sunday morning "long run" has walking added to the week's run duration to make it a total of 60 minutes each trip. I also split the run duration into two parts; this week's 40-minute run was divided into two 20-minute pieces, with a ten minute walk in between.

- My Tuesday and Thursday evening speed workouts, amazingly, are near the intensities they were before the injury. But, quitting time is quitting time even if I feel good. The same goes for my Wednesday night run on the beach; I know exactly when I need to quit running. I slow down to a walk when the timer says I'm done. Ego, or the need to be "top dog," only stands in the way of recovery.

- I still use the treadmill and the elliptical trainer at the gym, but the workouts start easy and progressively increase in intensity. I'll cut the workout short if things are not going well rather than try to fight through an issue.

- Most importantly, I allow my body to recover as much as possible from each workout. That means the "two-a-day" workouts come once every six days, and I'll rest if I feel badly.

My wife handed me a couple of race flyers, which I summarily dismissed as being too soon for my taste. Racing is out of the question until I think my body is ready. Because, the most important thing is not being able to race well, but to be able to run for a long time.

Fitness takes a long time to gain, can be lost quickly, and can be thwarted by a lack of patience. There can be no doubt, running is a sport of pace and patience.