So, How Many Hats Do You Wear?

My photo
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, June 28, 2011

Eat Healthy or Eat Cheap?

Place a Westerner - let's be more specific and say an American - in an environment where the number of fast food joints is severely decreased. Are they more likely or less likely to eat healthier? Or will they still choose dining establishments identified by "the clown", "the colonel", or "the king," as Anthony Bourdain described some in a recent episode of his Travel Channel series, 'No Reservations?'

I guess it depends. What drives you, a sense of familiarity or a sense of adventure? Who makes the final decision: your wallet, your stomach, or your mind?

I've always harbored the opinion it's more expensive to eat healthy than to eat "junk food." Go into any health food store or walk through the organic produce section of any supermarket and look at the foodstuffs. Then look at the menu board at the drive through of the burger barn a little farther down the street. It has always seemed to me that where fast food lacks in nutrition it makes up for in price. And vice versa.

Back in 2007 or so, researchers at the University of Washington looked at the price relationship (dollars and calories) for nutrient-dense ("healthy") and calorie-dense ("junk") foods. They found the amount of nutrient-dense foods which would make up 2000 calories (the baseline average adult diet) cost approximately ten times as much as that of calorie-dense foods making up the same baseline. Add to that the volatility of price for healthy foods - during the two years studied by U of W researchers, a 19-percent increase, compared to a near-two percent decrease for "junk" foods - and it's simple to see why many persons, especially those with fixed or lower incomes, would more likely turn to foods which are less healthy. It's more simple to know how much of one's income is going to go towards meal times.

The "eat good versus eat cheap" paradox during travel came to a head during our Singapore holiday. We stayed in the Chinatown district, about a mile from the central business district and the major shopping and entertainment areas. Our first meal was in a little "dining house" across the street from our hotel. Four dollars got Suzanne and myself each a serving of two organic vegetarian items with steamed rice. While I'm not a fan of vegetarian food, especially meat substitutes, I have to admit that when they are done well it's almost impossible to tell the difference from "real" meat. Add to that another five dollars for a 633-milliliter (21.4 ounce) bottle of Singapore-brewed beer, split between the two of us, and still the meal was fairly inexpensive.

As long as you keep in touch with your inner Andrew Zimmern ("if it looks good, eat it") and eat in locally-owned and locally-operated dining houses you can eat not only healthy but save a few bucks for souvenirs. Or tailored clothes.

Food courts at the malls and tourist destinations carry more familiar items and names, but at a price. A value meal at the McDonald's up the block from our hotel was six bucks...which we did once; we were jonesing for french fries. Otherwise we steered a wide path away from anything corporate.

And we really didn't worry about quality or cleanliness. Singapore, especially Singapore, is one of the most organized and controlled societies we've encountered in our travels. Everything is inspected and observed there. And I do mean everything. Probably one of the best, and most memorable, meals we had was on the last day of our trip, at the fruit market in Tanjong Pagar neighborhood, just off of Chinatown. Suzanne and I both had a bowl of (seriously house-rocking) noodle soup with (chili!) meatballs and fresh vegetables of all sorts...once again, about four or five dollars (not counting the beer!) filled us both to the gills.

Our greatest challenge during the week was finding coffee or beer at reasonable prices. No problems getting tea, though. I always was the loser when it came to ordering coffees: I'd want a regular coffee and have to settle for a "flat white;" Suzanne would order an "Americano." Hers was ALWAYS better. The least expensive beer, Tiger, is very good, and can be found for five to six dollars for a two-serving bottle, as long as you don't go into the touristy bars.

Oh, and for those who've heard the phrase "a pint's a pound the world around..." Starbucks was still four bucks.

Some things will always remain the same.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Everything Old Is New Again

During my younger and pre-motor vehicle-owning days I spent a great deal of time on bicycles which were called "English racers;" bicycles with frames much like touring or racing bikes, but with straight handlebars. I guess they would be called "hybrids" now. We didn't do a lot of riding after dark, although we could have in our little 15,000-person town. And the best bikes didn't have the big D-cell battery-carrying headlamps (who knew when those batteries were going to DIE?); they had the frame-mounted generator and the spring-loaded switch. Throw the switch when the sun went down and you could still be seen ripping around the neighborhood. And the harder or faster you rode the brighter the light would become.

Who knew in the age of halogen lamps and lithium batteries those old generators would still be relevant?

My wife and I participated in a telecommunications conference in Singapore this last week. Her technology newspaper received complimentary passes. Since I've written the occasional tech-related article (Anything vaguely related to fitness and gadgetry? I'm there.) she thought some consumer electronics toy might catch my eye and justify my holiday.

I helped Suzanne interview a couple of exhibitors on Tuesday morning, after which she cut me loose to take a look at some of the exposition booths for "cool stuff." The overwhelming majority of the exhibits were way over my head...until I got to the Nokia pavilion. Angry Birds is one thing, but when I saw the blue-framed mountain bicycle on a stand...well, I had to take a closer look.

Once I showed the booth exhibitors my credentials - it never hurts to have business cards - I was allowed to pedal the bike a few cranks and figure out the fuss.

The phone, secured to the handlebars, lit up and showed a "charging" icon at two turns of the pedals. While the charger is specifically designed for Nokia phones with two-millimeter pin chargers, it's not a serious stretch to figure what could be done for other phones. The fine folks at Nokia probably developed the charging system for the benefit of phone owners who don't necessarily have access fo reliable electrical power, or spend quite a bit of time on bicycles, which in this case makes perfect sense when one thinks about the state of affairs in Asia.

But you probably could use the same kind of device to charge a phone without getting on the grid. Take one exercise bicycle, add one generator, and voila! It's nothing new, mind you. There were folks who joined pedal power to their television set in the late 1970s.

Everything old isn't necessarily new again, as much as it is that we start to think about new ways to use the old stuff.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Thirty-Thousand-Foot View

This week Suzanne and I are doing some business travel and looking at life from the perspective which is some 13 time zones, and perhaps a few mindsets, distant from the ones with which we grew. Part of the trip, at least for Suzanne, has been reacquainting herself with many international telecommunications workers...many of whom have never met me but know some of my story. When they ask about how Suzanne and I they are amazed to find out we met, dated and courted by way of the internet. Some of they laugh and marvel at how well it seems to have worked for us. But it's not the traditional method of courting and dating, as we well know. It's hard to explain to your parents that you met through the online personals, so we both told them something along the lines of "oh, by way of some yahoos we know." Once we married we became a tad more fearless and told them we met by way of Yahoo.

Any person who has looked at internet personals will be quick to acknowledge there are "crap shoot" aspects which almost make the risk to reward ratio astronomically insane. You never know whether the photo of the seemingly hot person you're looking at is of them at the relative present (one of my favorite authors reminded me every photo we have is of us in the past); if they're providing the entire story or feeding you a line of fertilizer base material, stuff like that.

The internet is a lovely thing for research but sometimes you can't get enough perspective to make an educated guess about what to do; is this person a good fit or will I be sorely disappointed in six weeks when I find out they're a complete head case?

When I learned from my wife we were going to Singapore I also learned from my closest family and friends that I could end up gaining five pounds in a week. That's not something you want to hear if you're a person who still feels the need to lose an inch. I jumped on the internet and began to search for several friendly neighborhood resources.

I first looked at Gmap Pedometer (; most runners have learned by now to use this site - and several others like it - to scope out potential run routes. I like the interface, which is usable enough for my immediate needs. It's faster than other on-line mapping programs, a couple of which are too advertising-laden for my taste.

But it has one problem. Much like on-line dating, a mapping program cannot always tell you what you REALLY need to know; road congestion, construction, unintentional obstacles (bicyclists, pedestrians, and so on...). My "flatlander" friends might - or might not - look at elevation changes and terrain when scoping out a potential run course. So you're stuck with a thirty-thousand foot view of the place where you plan to spend a few days...and no clue whether there's a public bathroom in that park...

So it does not hurt to use a couple of other resources when preparing for business travel - or leisure travel, for that matter.

An internet search for local running stores and bicycle shops can provide great gouge on running clubs, training runs, and even hash kennels. These particular groups can provide resources on where - and where not - to do a training run. Some shops have training groups or organized runs, which naturally get folks in the door to look at their wares. Nothing wrong with joining capitalism with altruism.

The Road Runners Club of America website ( provides contact information for individual running clubs and state representatives. I used to get at least one phone call or e-mail per week from a runner planning a visit to a particular city, looking for a running club or a race in which to participate during their stay. RRCA-member running clubs often have training groups or group runs affiliated with them, or at least can point the individual in the right direction. Some clubs are more active or proactive than others.

Two less-commonly-tapped sources for great places to run, in my humble opinion, are Hash House Harriers groups, or kennels, and hotel desk staff.

When Suzanne and I looked at the world wide hash directory ( we learned there were ten hash kennels in Singapore. We could hash every day of the week, time and finances permitting. Our challenge then lay in learning exactly where the kennel planned to meet. Some kennels are better at marketing runs than others. After a quick e-mail to the head of the hash they were kind enough to send us the calendar for the next weeks' runs. We've often tapped the hotel desk clerks to find out where the best places to run were, or at least to learn the places to avoid.

Striking up a conversation with a bartender or waitress sometimes even brings out the most unusual information or stories...neither my wife nor I are one to back down from a good story.

Just because you're traveling doesn't mean you have to sacrifice your run. Besides, the best way to learn about a city is to run in it.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Small World After All

I wanted to get out of my system some thoughts related to running, fitness and travel, more or less, inspired by or experienced during my visit to Singapore.

First: Not only does (as Jefferson Airplane and Crosby, Stills and Nash remind us) everybody smile, but some even speak the same language. Even more amazingly, some out there even look like me...or at least like some on-line newspaper editors. People have asked over the years whether I had a twin living somewhere else in the world. While I'm flattered, okay...I'm not that good-looking, I don't think I'd want to see another person who looks exactly like myself. Well, maybe someone who looks like me, but they better have a personality.

So it seems everybody apparently has a twin - or our conscience makes us see someone who looks like someone we know. Are they a 'doppelganger' or evil twin? I'm not certain.

Even funnier is when we travel thousands of miles away from home and hearth, only to run into someone we already know. And didn't expect to see.

Suzanne and I were enjoying a cup of green tea at a food stand in the Chinatown neighborhood of Singapore. We had several hours to kill before our hotel room was to be ready, and there wasn't a Starbucks in sight. We're both fans of people watching, and the Chinatown district is definitely a target-rich environment for such activities.

At first, I thought I was hallucinating. Walking past, in t-shirt and jeans, was a guy who looked strangely like one of my school instructors. He had gone on to another assignment, so it wasn't too much of a stretch for him to be somewhere else in the world at a particular place and time.


As Gary sat down to chat with us, he said he had the same 'no, that can't be...' thought as he walked by. Naturally it's fun to have a bit of "old home week" without talking about what was going on at "home." But Gary and I always had that sort of rapport during the two years we worked together; my office was always open for him to come by and chat about any topic under the sun, work included when necessary. He told Suzanne it was one of the things he valued about our working relationship; the fact I didn't talk about work or the service...or even running...all of the time.

What causes single-mindedness? For some persons it's perhaps a devotion to a particular cause. Others take up an interest in order to fill a space which opened up in their lives because of the departure or loss of another interest. Occasionally you get the contrarian out there who's bound and determined to focus on one thing just because they know it's going to upset everyone around them.

Occasionally I've been accused of a focus solely on running. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The overwhelming majority of my friends are runners, swimmers or triathletes; fitness and exercise might be the common bond between us, but the closest relationships are with the friends who have some common ground outside of running. Those who eat, breathe, and sleep a single endeavor are perhaps a little dull, at least in the minds of the rest of the world.

Take some time to look for your "twin."

Monday, June 13, 2011

Sunrise, Sunset?

For those few readers old enough to have seen Zero Mostel as the milkman Tevye in "Fiddler on the Roof," this doesn't have anything to do with how we age. Not unless you want it to.

Until about a year ago, I trained twice a day in the three disciplines of triathlon. I would get up before the (butt-) crack of dawn two-to-three times a week and engage in what I jokingly called "creative drowning," something which might have appeared to be (if the light was right and you squinted just so) masters' swimming sessions.

On the days when I wasn't being thrashed by some 80-year-old little old lady (who just so happened to be a national age-group champion) I'd either be on the elliptical trainer or in a spinning class. However, after a disastrous day in Panama City Beach which included an (expensive) emergency room visit, and a less-than-happy day at NOLA 70.3 five months later, I figured it was time to scale back and focus on being mediocre in one sport.

Until three weeks ago, however, I was happy to limit the sessions to an hour in the afternoon, once I arrived home from work. 'Why,' I asked myself, 'should I infringe upon my sleep for something which is only going to make me be more humid once I get into my (semi-)air-conditioned office?' I like sweat, but not so much when I'm sitting in front of my computer. There are only so many excuses you can provide before people start to think you're getting in touch with your inner "Pig-Pen."

Amazing what Mother Nature - and her 90-to-100-degree afternoons - will do to gain a guy's attention. The drive to my office in the morning illustrated a simple mathematics problem and got me to thinking: 75 degrees is still less than 100 degrees.

Like shoe brands, short lengths and training plans, the persons who love running first thing in the morning are not wrong in their decision, only a little different in their preference. To ask some of my close friends why they run in the morning rather than the evening, many consider it to be one "check in the box" out of the way on the seemingly-endless "to-do" list. Some also consider the morning run a (brief) respite from the demands of child-rearing, especially the ones with children engaged in organized sport/activity. Morning runners also figured if they didn't get the run in the morning something during the day or afternoon would infringe upon that time. My southern-tier-dwelling friends also laud more reasonable conditions early in the day.

As much as those particular qualities sounded enticing (save for the non-affect from child-rearing, since I'm only" a grandfather!) I've never been able to put together enough time in the morning to run as long as I preferred. I've always felt rushed to get back to the house by a particular time in order to cool-off, shower, and have a cup of coffee. Sleep, to me, is a guilty pleasure. I only can get so much because of my dog gets up an hour later than I would need to.

Besides, I have my half of the year when I feel rushed to get my run over with...before it's too late. Early sunsets of winter and those countless social occasions between October and February regularly place the kibosh on the evening-loving runners. I love the evening runs because I've usually built up a fairly good head of steam over something which happened at work. Yes, anger is a lousy fuel source, but it's like lighter fluid; only there to get the charcoal glowing. I would much rather stay up a little later in the evening after a run or workout in order to socialize (or relax) than track sweat through the kitchen as I'm grabbing for a slice of toast and coffee.

Sunsets and sunrises are both things of beauty to see on a run, and I've had the opportunity to experience them both with friends. And perhaps it's all in the mind of the individual runner what they prefer. Right now I'm an evening runner. But there are the occasional mornings when I love to prove myself wrong.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Eating The Elephant

(inspired by today's comic...)

Look at a 16-to-26-week training plan for a marathon, or a half-marathon.

Count the miles, or minutes. Better yet, consider both measures; duration AND distance.

It's daunting to look at a plan in terms of distance, minutes (hours!) and workouts. Especially when you compare training time to the (relative!) brevity of the race distance and duration.

If we try to take the entire thing in at one fell swoop the odds are great we'd "choke" mentally, emotionally, socially, maritally, and maybe...physically!

Now, cover up all but a single week. Even a "long run" week seems more achievable.

Get a little more granular and look at a single day. Training for one day is simple - which might not necessarily mean the same thing as "easy."

But that's all you can deal with; all you should deal with at a time. One day.

(It's the reason I don't provide much granularity announcing my workouts. I don't want to scare anyone off with a workout that appears too difficult. I don't want to tie myself to a particular distance, modality or intensity only to find an athlete is feeling poorly, or the weather conditions suddenly change, or - like recently - the track is being repaired. That kind of stuff.)

Becoming a good or a great runner, becoming a lifetime runner, all boils down to doing what can be done in the space of one day...and replicating it as often as our minds, emotion, life, family and body will bear. We can use those days which won't allow us to replicate to rest, recover, repair and reload.

It's the answer to the riddle: "How do you eat an elephant?"

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Smartest Person In The Room

'Aceptese este consejo aunque sea de un conejo.' (Accept this advice even if it comes from a rabbit.) - Witticism posted by Dr. Luz Paredes Lono, Hillsborough Community College, FL, Spring 1998.

"...Can you take a look at something for me?" I limped toward my local running specialty store proprietor, Paul, as he walked up the front stretch of the track. "I'm watching one of my athletes and something looks a little unusual."

He says, "Sure. Don't tell me what you see, though," and watches the two female runners running along the back stretch.

Paul turns and mentions a couple of things about both of the ladies, then returns to his group of youth runners and their stretching routine.

"Thanks. I must be reading too much into what I see," I call.

Coaching, like teaching and other disciplines where science and art intersect, can either be a solitary or a collegial endeavor. Whether coaching is their vocation or an avocation, the odds are good every coach doesn't possess an encyclopedic knowledge of 'everything there is to know about training runners.'

Most coaches know what we don't know, but there are times we don't know the degree of what we don't know. I can research and learn more about those things; sometimes the learning curve is smoother if I make a phone call, make a visit or send an e-mail to a friend who's had a little more experience with the topic. If they are in a profession (or a business) in which their knowledge of a topic means the difference between success and failure, why should I over-work myself?

I can refer my athlete/s to "the smartest person in the room."

A 19th century German writer and politician coined the term 'realpolitik,' which described the acquisition, maintenance and application of power or authority in a practical, goal-oriented manner. My friend Paul occasionally refers interested adult runners to me; I point runners in need of good shoes to him. It has not always been an equitable state; I do not have to depend on coaching to place food on the table and keep a roof over my family. But, we both are well-aligned in our goals: We both want to help people become and remain lifetime athletes.

And that's the smartest thing we both can do.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

15 Miles-A-Week To 26.2 In-A-Day: The Progressions

This is the fifth and final part 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."

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. When it comes to the "marathon puzzle," every athlete is an experiment of one.

So, to get from the 20-minute-a-day level to the minimal volume for five-kilometer racing, following a ten-percent progression in time every three weeks it takes about eight months, or 34 weeks. By that time the runner would be running a 60-minute long run and two speed workouts of 55 minutes. The non-speed (track), non-long runs would start at 20 minutes and increase up to 45 minutes.

Should the runner manage to get past the first 52 weeks of running without an overuse injury, often the result of too much (mileage/intensity), too soon (increase), or too wrong (shoe, terrain, surface) they can begin the segue from five-kilometer to ten-kilometer racing. A comfortable and conservative transition can take up to another 52 weeks - a little more here, a little less there. Remember this is just a "run" of the numbers and some of my preferences. The long run for the 10K runner could range from 60-to-70 minutes, with two track workouts of 60 minutes each week. The other runs vary from 55-to-60 minutes.

However, this is where the first "wrinkle" to the plan occurs, a tip of the hat to longer-distance training plans. The volume of every fourth training week is cut back to 65% across the board.

The progression to half-marathon would take another year...up to the third year of injury-free training. The long run during the first six months or so ranges from 60-to-80 minutes, increases to a little over 90 minutes on average for eight weeks, and up to two hours over another 12-week period. Again the volume of every fourth training week is 65 percent of the previous three-week period. Volume, two weeks out from a race, also drops by one-third each week.

The first ten weeks of the fourth year, transitioning from half-marathon to marathon, spends 60-to-90 minutes on the weekly long run during the first ten weeks. The long run ranges from 90-to-120 minutes for 9 weeks, then jumps to 120-to-160min for the 30 week period preparing for a target marathon. There's still two 90-minute speed workouts and 60-to-90 minute "non-speed, non-long" days during the weeks. Once again the volume drops to 65 percent every fourth week, and a two-week, 33-percent pre-event taper.

When it comes to marathon training, and less frequently so when talking about half marathons, the question is not really "How much distance?" but "How much time on the feet?" Naturally, not all training runs, even the ones where the effort is supposed to be at a certain level, are at the same intensity for every run. Many exercise specialists and coaches have all come to the conclusion there is a point of diminishing returns when it comes to the longest distance run, that being 2.5 hours. Many runners feel this compulsion to rehearse the entire marathon distance in training, it is possible to prepare the body for the (additional!) stressors which come beyond 2.5 hours. This is done by running several long runs which approach the 2.5 hour mark (the plan I used as an example had three runs at 2.5 hours).

Why 2.5 hours? Outside of the physiological "tipping-point" after 2.5 hours, marathon training is best described as an exercise in selfishness. Once again, if we look at the assumption of a long run at 20-25% of the weekly training volume, 2.5 hours of running is the 20% point of a training week which encompasses 12 hours, or a 25% point of a 10-hour week. Most family members - especially if they are not runners - might be able to tolerate a couple of months worth of early Sunday mornings (2-to-2.5 hours' worth) without the training marathoner. Some plans would fill the Sundays with anywhere from 2.5 hours to 4.5 hours(!) of training. Looking at some of those plans (published in Noakes' book, "Lore of Running"), I personally would rather be a happy half-marathoner than a miserable marathoner.

So, the best marathon plan is the one which aligns best with the individual athlete's unique physical capabilities (strength, recovery), their lifestyle (time to train) and support structure (family).

15 Miles-A-Week to 26.2 In A Day: Time, Or Distance?

This is the fourth part 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."

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. When it comes to the "marathon puzzle," every athlete is an experiment of one.

I'm certain some smart physiologists have researched and recommended minimum training mileage requirements for each racing distance. Old training logs of mine show workouts when my coach would purposefully ease back my efforts; he knew I was more effective at a slightly lower training volume once I reached racing fitness. Timothy Noakes' 14 Laws of Training, from his seminal work "Lore of Running," recommends runners figure out the minimum amount of training necessary to achieve optimal race performances...and follow it when developing a plan.
I believe the minimum training volume for running five-kilometer races is 30 miles/week, or 4-to-5 hours/week. A move up to the ten-kilometer distance can add another ten miles or total 80-to-100 minutes in training each week.

The half-marathon is my favorite race distance because it tests speed and strength. I like it also because the training volume of 50 miles or 400-to-500 minutes a week fits well with a typical work week - an hour a day seems like nothing to me. A race doesn't take all day; I can recover in one day and return to training in two. But, if you're considering the marathon, be prepared to run least 60 miles, or spend 8-to-12 hours a week in training.

Why do I look at training volume in terms of duration rather than strictly mileage? Looking at time for run training makes it easier to take weather conditions and terrain into account. It's one thing to write a plan for a runner in southern New Mexico who deals with dry air, 4000-to-5000 foot elevations and mild climate; it's another story altogether to write for someone on the Gulf Coast who deals with 90 days of 90 degrees and 90 percent humidity in the summer, and temperatures which can fluctuate from comfortable to just above freezing at the drop of a hat.

Another good reason to look at time is that it adjusts well to runners of varying abilities. A 60-minute run is a 60-minute run, whether you're an eight-minute miler or a ten-minute miler. And once the body adapts to a certain training volume and gets faster, they'll be able to run a little farther. In a perfect world I guess it would be a positively-reinforcing cycle.

15 Miles-A-Week to 26.2 In A Day: What Runs?

This is the third part 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."

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. When it comes to the "marathon puzzle," every athlete is an experiment of one.

Here are the assumptions I used in answering the question and laying out the plan:

First, at least one day of no running each week. The physiology guys have recommended a day off each week per decade over the age of 30. This can a blessing or a curse, especially for the runner who loves to get out and run on impulse. The mother of one of my "summer vacation" athletes told me the other night, "...oh, she got bored and went out for a three-mile run." When the training volume goes up the rest day (and recovery!) becomes more important, not only for physical but also for emotional benefits. Running is hard enough without upsetting your spouse, significant other, employer, friends, and so on...

Second, the long run should be no more than 25% of weekly volume. This is especially important when the volume increases to training for half-marathon or longer. Some of the 'high-mile weekend' plans I've seen have relatively low-mileage weeks leading into them. When the long-mile day in some plans is up to 50% of a week's training volume it puts too much importance on that one single workout. A bad day or bad weather conditions can get deeply into the athlete's head. And when it comes to training, the athlete's head can be a very scary place in which to instill disbelief.

Third, run a variety of workouts. My group trains up to 90 minutes each time twice a week on the track. One day we run distances ranging from 160-to-400 meters, the next day we run distances ranging from 400-to-1000 meters. The efforts range from aerobic to acceleration drills up to VO2max pace. Almost every workout is based on perceived individual effort; no stopwatches unless we're focusing on a shorter race when we try to run a specific time for a repeat. Efforts for training runs range from very easy for the long run, to fairly intense for the track pieces. The runs which aren't long or track-focused can vary in pace from aerobic to lactate threshold pace, times where the body/mind is taught to run efficiently using different energy systems.

Marathon training is difficult enough to complete without the athlete boring themself into injury, so a variety of run distances and intensities can make the cycle less daunting.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Mind Is A Terrible Thing

The aches and pains have again returned, twelve weeks into my quest to become a "runner" once again.

Our bodies can clearly communicate the message we've done more damage to ourselves than eight hours of prophylactic sleep is going to repair. Some days, it takes a couple hundred milligrams of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories to do the trick. And on the worst days, perhaps even a bike ride rather than a run.

Like I've mentioned in past posts, when something like the little aches and pains return, it's wise to look back and see where the plan has been not followed. In this particular case it seems to have come over the last two weeks, when I increased my run times from 46 minutes to 50, and from 50 minutes to 55, following that "ten percent" rule of thumb.

However, I was doing it all wrong. I wasn't following my own counsel, and planned as though I was stronger than I truly was. I wrote in the past about the ten-percent increase at three week intervals, but figured I could do it at one-week intervals.

It's the sort of hubris which can turn a person, if they are not careful, into a former runner. John L. Parker, Jr. writes eloquently in his second work of fiction, "Again To Carthage," about the process of slowing down. In one chapter, two former Olympians, coach and athlete, talk about the marathon after a twenty-mile run, and the coach directly mentions one particular race he considered the probable cause for his relative debility.

How frightening is it to be able to look at a training log and say: 'right there?' I spend more time crawling within the recesses of my own head than probably the average bear. To borrow partly from an old public service advertising campaign, "a mind is a terrible thing..." Slowing down any more than I have in the past year doesn't frighten me. Stopping altogether does.

It's the reason I tell my own athletes to err on the side of caution.

It's the reason most good training plans are exactly that, plans. If they were supposed to be rigid, without adaptation, and guaranteed to succeed we probably would have called them training itineraries.

It's the reason rest, recovery and rehabilitation are underrated.

And, it's probably the reason the best cure for a bad day is another day. And another. And another.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Three Tomes To Tempt You To Trot

A metal baker's rack sits an arm's length from the bathtub (directly across from the commode) in the main bathroom of our house. At any one moment, six-to-eight books and magazines, which my wife and I are reading, can be found filling the middle shelf. Her reading preferences usually lean toward Wired magazine, techno-geek tomes or science fiction...oh, and a copy of Robert Heilbroner's "The Worldly Philosophers."

Occasionally a catalog from Kiefer Swim, Bike Nashbar, or Road Runner Sports will spend a brief (one bathroom visit) stay on the rack. Sporting goods porn, we call it. My latest reading materials are the two major John L. Parker novels, "Once A Runner" and "Again To Carthage," and an anthology of Tim Cahill short stories. Cahill is not as good as Hemingway, but I can more readily find a laugh after a day of work with the former than the latter.

There was a time I didn't have a television set, which meant I did a great deal of reading when not working, eating or sleeping. If not for the painful fact that sporting events are televised I could probably live without a television. Reading is more fun. Books allow the reader to think. At their own pace. It's fun to have the ability to backpedal a page or two, or to a particular passage which catches ones' attention.

One of my "summer vacation" athletes is in the "honeymoon" phase of running. She's gotten past the high school crush version; it's all for the team, the heartbreak can happen at any moment...and when it does it's earth-shattering. She asked during a warm-up jog last week, about good running books: "I've been looking for good running books since I've been on vacation. Are there any books you would recommend?"

So I promised I'd scribble a short list of fiction and nonfiction works which I found inspiring; one of those books which makes you want to lace up the shoes and go out for 30 minutes after a particularly good chapter. Here's my "very" short list...

1. "Once A Runner," John L. Parker Jr.

The American philosopher Alfred North Whitehead said, "all philosophy is a footnote to Plato". All running fiction is a footnote to Parker, especially this work, first published in 1978. My college cross-country team used to spend summer morning runs discussing, in cabalistic tones, which Parker character aligned with which former Florida Track Club member. Not long after that summer we began to meet some of the runners who inspired the characters... When we sat in a running seminar during the spring of 2001 Parker would not say directly which real life runner inspired what character, however, "Bruce Denton" and I tapped a keg together while working the road race the next afternoon. Nicest guy you'd ever meet.

If you find a first edition which is in good condition for less than 150 dollars, purchase it. Otherwise, the second edition, printed by a publishing house in Australia, will serve.

2. "Again To Carthage," John L. Parker, Jr.

Rare is the sequel which meets fan expectations. Runners are not only discerning consumers, they get Pavlovian, if not rabid, when the rumor mill begins to grind. A "promotional trailer" video posted on YouTube had the crowd wondering whether someone was going to turn Parker's "doppelganger," Quenton Cassidy, into celluloid. We were soon disappointed to learn this was a film and cinematography project rather than the answer to our fevered dreams (ah, but it did look good). It's probable that Parker took three decades to write a tome, which does to road racing what "Runner" did for track-and-field, because of the 'how do I follow THIS?' feeling each time he sat with his journal books and typewriter. I was delighted to see more real-life runners show up in this fictional work, including some of my dearest running friends and former coaches. This work also answers one of the best running trivia questions nobody knows: "Who was the last American to win the Olympic gold medal in the 5,000 meters?"

3. "Running With The Buffaloes," Chris Lear

I ran track during my last year of high school and cross-country during my last year of college. Both occasions were similar in the fact I had time to spare during that semester, as well as that the coaches were willing to let another guy come out and play. The dynamics of a track team and a cross country team are stark: Sprinters have their own little cliques, weight specialists kind of do their own thing. Distance guys are looked upon as freaks or guys who aren't fast enough to sprint. Even buses were segregated that way. Cross-country is like slog through muck and mire with a little band of brothers/sisters; long, hot road runs in the summer, and 15-passenger van trips in the fall.

Lear captures the "Saint Crispin's Day" feel from Shakespeare's "Henry IV" throughout the entire book, touching on the personalities and idiosyncracies of both athletes and coaches. He also looks at the highest levels of collegiate competition, as the Colorado teams train, bond, travel and compete in the 1999 NCAA national championships.

These three works are only the tip of the inspirational iceberg for me. I've loaned, lost and re-purchased copies, read and re-read these books on a yearly basis, because there's always a little something which jumps out and grabs your attention.

Are there any books which make you want to go for a run, or are an absolute must-read the night before a big race?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Say When?

Once upon a time there was a kingdom filled with runners, where machismo was the coin of the realm. It didn't matter what the weather conditions were like, or how ill or sore they felt. When the alarm clock rang out they would stiffly make their way out the door to the track or the road run, depending on the day of the week. Eventually, their illnesses became chronic ailments; their little tweaks turned into painful disorders. All for the want of common sense.

Where was it written, that rule which compels otherwise wise and prudent men (women, too!) to fill up calendar squares, and then eventually the appointment calendars of orthopedic specialists? Even Bill Bowerman, notable for saying "there is no such thing as hard conditions, only soft people," was known to have forced easy efforts, even rest, on his athletes. Kenny Moore writes about it in the opening chapter of his (most) excellent biography.

Yes, even Kenny Moore learned when to say when.

I believe it was Cosmas Ndeti, three-time Boston Marathon winner (1993-1995), who described in a Runners' World interview about ten years ago, what can simply be called the "two-kilometer rule." (There are other athletes who have said something along these lines.) He said that on those days when he felt less than strong during the morning run he would make an effort to keep the first two kilometers close to home. If he still felt bad at the two-kilometer mark he'd call it a day, walk back to the house and rest.

Yes, even the Kenyans know when to say when.

I've talked about having a "plan B" workout for those days when the conditions or circumstances were not going to be in your favor. There are days, and physical conditions which call for each of us to be brave enough to have a Plan "C" (Cosmas Ndeti, if you like), and call it a day rather than try to struggle through it. "Wooden legs" will probably make it through the two klicks just fine. Depending on the degree of ache in the muscles, and which muscles are aching, that mile-and-a-quarter might just let us shake things out.

Those overuse injuries, on the other hand, are probably going to continue to "talk" to you at 2K. It happened to me last night at my group track workout. I wear three different types of cushioned shoes, all made by the same manufacturer. One is wider in the heel or the forefoot than others, which leads to a "mismatch" between shoe and sock, shoe wriggle, and impact shock.

Rather than be smart and remembering (my coach's coach Bob) Schul's dictum: 'you get no glory points for running through pain at a workout,' I stuck it out through the five miles of near-90-degree slog. I felt fine (better!) once I went to bed that night, but the morning workout turned from "Plan B" to "Plan C" in less than thirty minutes.

Silly me. I still need the reminder: Know when to say when.