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, July 29, 2011

Horses For Courses - The Right Music For The Run

Not a week after we returned from Singapore, my second iPod Touch went on to it's eternal reward. Apple, in their infinite wisdom(?) decreed the cause of "death" to be immersion or exposure to fluid. I unsuccessfully tried to explain I live in a part of the country where humidity is a way of life. The only way to NOT expose electronics to fluid is to hermetically seal it within a plastic casing, like the DryCase I reviewed months back. The positive of the DryCase sealing technology was countered by its size. I could easily carry the iPod Touch in a knitted pouch hung around my neck, access the on/off/volume controls, and so on. I didn't run with the iPod in Singapore because I forgot to take the DryCase along. Somehow the exposure happened. Nothing else can be done without spending a lot of money to repair the iPod.

So, I'm back to running without music.

It's a blessing and a curse. Running with music naturally provide mental stimulation, and allows runners to dissociate - tune out - the messages which often try to slow down or stop them on a run. For me, running without music - especially in the morning - provided the chance to tune in to bird songs, watch clouds move, and pay close(r) attention to my immediate surroundings. There are times it's nice to not have any distractions blaring into your head.

The first "non-musical" treadmill run, however, found me grooving voluntarily to a John Mayer tune in the back of my mind. I recalled entire albums of music from memory before on road runs, because Walkmans were heavier and had lousy battery life.

Running author Hal Higdon mentioned in social media posts the favorite pieces of music he would listen to during treadmill workouts. Higdon liked classical music, including Beethoven and Tchaikovsky. "Horses for courses," triathlon coach Brett Sutton would say, while it works for Hal, I think I'll avoid the 1812 Overture and the climactic least on the treadmill. We all have our own personal tastes. And, as I used to tell my students, "there is no such thing as bad music."

So, what's the best kind of music to listen to when running?

An English sports psychologist studied the effects of musical performance, and considered tempo to be everything. In his opinion, most commercial dance tunes and rock music seemed to fit best, having a tempo which ranged from 120-to-140 beats per minute. Music professors, fitness buffs and medical professionals seem to agree a tempo which aligns with specific workout motions is the best for the activity.

When I think about the music I've "channeled" during some of my best races, it falls into the 120-to-125 beat-per-minute range. My best long runs, however, are in the 160-to-180 (or 80-to-90) beat range. Of course, good grooves are everything. Punk and hard rock - styles which often make a concerted effort to break the "comfortable" groove - are probably the least desirable genres for running.

Ah, but horses for courses.

There are a variety of sites on-line where you can find new music at a desired tempo; other sites allow you to find old favorites or in different genres. There are also great workout podcasts available for download, with music mixed to a particular tempo. One site I'll send some love out to is Steve Boyett has several mix podcasts which are among the iTunes Store's top downloads. His Podrunner casts feature many independent and out-of-the-box musicians, mixed at tempos ranging from 120 to 180. The most recent series has tempo progressions which mimic pyramid and tempo workouts...all of them are around 60 minutes and include warm-up and cool-down segments.

Making the treadmill workout a little less dull can take some time and effort on the part of the individual runner. There are tempo-defining programs which can help catalog the runner's music collection, or the workout at a particular pace can be downloaded from the internet.

And the "horse," when matched to the right "course," can make an hour's treadmiling less...boring.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Dog - Best Friend, Best Training Partner

My workday routine - once I get into the office - includes two activities which my co-workers and supervisor have seen fit not to infringe upon or drastically modify. First of all, I make certain the coffee is brewed - since my supervisor and several co-workers also drink coffee that's probably the reason I'm not hindered.

The second habit includes reading my favorite comic strips. One strip I enjoy a great deal is "Frazz," drawn by Jef Mallett. The main character, Edwin "Frazz" Frazier, looks like a grown-up version of "Calvin" from Bill Watterston's "Calvin and Hobbes" strip. Frazz loves a teacher, works at a school, runs, bicycles, swims, writes songs... It's a fairly neat parallel of (my) life and Mallet's art.

Not long after I started to follow the strip, Mallet had a week of strips which involved Frazz's girlfriend's dog, "Mario," a rescue greyhound. (And to think the comic strip couldn't get any better...) The most memorable conversation that week had to do with the speed of greyhounds versus human beings. A youngster from the school asked if humans were faster than greyhounds. Frazz replies greyhounds are faster than humans, but humans can run a marathon faster than a greyhound. The child says, "so greyhounds are also smarter than humans." "One would consider the baggie a clue," laments Frazz.

I've occasionally laud my greyhound, Rubin, in blog posts for teaching me the benefits of rest and habit. But, as time has progressed, I cannot help but consider the dog - in the vast majority of cases - to be not only man's best friend, but potentially, man's best training partner.

Several coaches have rhapsodized about training "accountability groups" containing at least three members. The natural reason for having three persons in a training group, naturally, is so the individual athlete need never train alone, except for those rare occasions. Think about it - the odds of having one training partner fall ill, or their family member fall ill, or be on travel, sudden change of work schedule, and so forth - is usually pretty good. But, the chances of having EVERY other training partner in the group suffer from such obstacles grows more unlikely. There is at least one day a week where I feel a little beat up, or I need to be in at work a little more early, etc. So I might try to talk myself out of 25-and-50 workout opportunities a year, which means a one-in-seven or a two-in-seven chance of leaving a partner in a lurch. Then, what are the chances of both other people ill, beat-up, constrained? It's probably right around two-in-one-hundred.

You statisticians or mathematicians out there, please feel free to jump in.

Dogs, on the other hand, don't HAVE to worry about work. To Rubin, every day is Saturday. He's ALWAYS up for a walk, even if the weather is stormy. He might not want to go outside (to do his business) in the pouring rain, but he'll go if I pull on my rain gear.

So, if you've got a dog who likes to run and a route which is amenable to running together, the odds are very high you've got a willing training partner.

Not every breed, however, is built to deal with long-distance running. My mother's German Shorthaired Pointer, Bogie, taught me this lesson almost two decades ago. I had driven down to her home in Jupiter Farms, FL, for a visit. One afternoon, I told her I was going out for a run. She suggested taking Bogie along as company, not suspecting:

First, I didn't know the neighborhood as well as we initially thought.
Second, how far I was capable of running before realizing point number one, and...
Third, how lost I could get myself because of points number one and number two.

Some 90 minutes and nine miles later (as I learned while driving the next day) Bogie and I returned home to a very worried mother-slash-"dog mama." Bogie immediately shoved his face into a bowl of cool water, I grabbed a very large glass of iced tea. He lay down on his bedding in the corner of the living room; I put my legs up in the recliner while enduring the maternal inquisition. The next day, the question, 'Bogie? Want to go for a walk?' was met by a tucked-tail slink out of the kitchen back to the living room.

Greyhounds, I learned, are pretty well good to go where walks and warm/cool-down efforts are concerned. Otherwise they prefer to play the "I'm retired" card for distances longer than a quarter-mile. There's also a terrier or two I've encountered who, if you could control their lateral direction, would probably keep most distance runners on their toes for an extended period of time. I've met herding and working breeds who absolutely love to run and seem to go forever. My friend, Charley, has a couple of Australian Shepherd-types who think nothing in life is greater than to go out running on trail with the local hash kennel. The only problem, naturally, is once the run is over...especially this particular kennel. It's not a proper trail without a water crossing. "The wet dog is the lovingest," was the final line of a poem by Ogden Nash.

Truer words were never inscribed on paper.

When it comes to race day, however, that's where the lines are not only drawn, but the ugliest darned fault lines develop. The race director, especially for a Road Runners Club of America-affiliated club, is constrained by the insurance guidelines which keep Fido from pawing the starting line next to their owner. Then, you have the "keep your dog leashed" crowd, the "my dog is well-behaved" crowd, and the "how dare you risk hurting your dog by making them run in this heat" crowd. Nobody wins; everybody goes home grumpy.

Last spring, a young lady asked if her dog could participate in one of the area's major run events. She said the dog had been her training partner to that point in time, and she figured it would be fun for them both to participate in her first race. I knew the RRCA insurance constraints and the risks which could happen in the pack. However, being "only" a guy who knew a few things about a few things, I suggested she contact the race director so she could get the (bad) news from him directly. I didn't hear any follow-up, but she did thank me for my gracious response.

While not every runner appreciates the presence of a canine on their morning (or afternoon) run, it can be said that nearly every canine appreciates the chance to be in the presence of a runner. And having that always-joyful, never-complaining, almost-always-available running partner can even help us get that first step out the door on the days when we really don't feel like it.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Taking God By Surprise

"If God invented the marathon to keep people from doing anything more stupid, triathlon must have taken Him completely by surprise." - P. Z. Pearce, medical director, Hawaii Ironman World Championships

There is no doubt in my mind some activities should NOT be attempted by nearly sane human beings. Leaping from buildings, antennas, spans and earth (cliffs) with very small parachutes often approach the top of my short list. A one-in-sixty chance of dying will do things like that, at least for me. However, the point between the "do NOT do this," and the "what the heck, let's give it a whirl" sides of the continuum varies from person to person. Some folks are able, or choose, to ignore the line altogether.

After watching nearly two hundred ostensibly sane men ride their bicycles nearly the same amount of mileage - including descents which might even make a BASE jumper think twice - over a three-week period I would run in the course of a (good) year of training I asked myself, 'could I do that?' The risk-taking side of me almost instantly placed an event like the Tour de France on the "what the heck..." side.

Then I watched the video clip of all the nasty accidents. I repeated the clip where the television commentator's car took out two cyclists. Immediately after that, riding 2100 miles in three weeks moved closer to the "do NOT..."line. A little. Ah, but it's not unlike riding here on some weekends.

Which got me to thinking about running.

During the Tour de France's second rest day, the cable channel which televised the Tour (Versus) showed the Western States 100-Mile Trail Run. I wonder if they wanted to tell the viewer, '...if you think what you've been watching for the past two weeks is crazy, take a look at this...' Having read Timothy Noakes' discussions on ultramarathoning in his work 'Lore of Running,' as well as Dean Karnazes' 'Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner,' it doesn't seem nearly as out there as one would think. Yes, I'm still working to make it to another marathon starting line in a healthy state, but my wife and I have received an invitation from a family friend to visit them and do the Comrades Marathon in South Africa. Running 26.2 miles is, yes, crazy. Actually, in my case, it's the training more than the race.

Once upon a time, the marathon was the be-all, end-all of running endurance events. Yes, there were "bunion derbies" and transcontinental foot races, but those were way to the right of the "do NOT..." line. Even Comrades - which, if you technically call anything over 26.2 miles an ultra, is misnamed, because at 56 miles it's more than double the standard marathon distance - was intended by the originator, one Vic Clapham, "to allow us to put our human physical frailties to the test," according to the event's web site.

So what were the organizers of the Western States Endurance Run, where a silver belt buckle is awarded to the men (and women!) who can complete the 100-mile course in less than 24 hours, or Leadville, which has been wryly described as "Western States with a sock in your mouth", thinking? Is it a "sticks and stones" thing; someone decided to up the ante from the sublime into the ridiculous?

And it's not just endurance events which are crazy. I always thought that the 3,000 meter steeplechase event in track-and-field was destined for the same degree of ignominy and shame as baseball's designated-hitter rule. Why would we take the worst elements of distance running and sprinting and mash them together? Oh, and in order to make things "a little more fun," let's add solid barriers and water. Joy!

The world seems to be filled with people who, usually after a pitcher of beer apiece and a dry cocktail napkin, decide "let's put two dissimilar activities together, and see who signs up."

Hash kennels are the home of "A-plus-B-equals-something-fun," with events ranging from the "let's drink beer and run" of the typical "trail" to the "run while wearing a red dress in the name of charity" nature of the annual Red Dress Runs. How about running four quarter miles and drinking four 12-ounce cans of beer...preferably without throwing up? The sometimes-underground, sometimes around-the-corner nature of Beer Mile might be the thing. Of course, New Orleans (and now my fair city) have seen fit to let roller derby enthusiasts join in on the fun. Sometimes we need someone else to toss their chips into the pot.

If you're going to go "all in," to continue in the gambling parlance, you might as well have a good time doing it.

Who knows? We might even take God by surprise.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Runner? Or Athlete? Depends On The Definition

"I’m an emotional guy, and I’m in control of that emotion, turning it off and on like a faucet. But I’m an athlete above everything. I have to run and ride and move, move, move. I am…myself, not a story of my past." Tom Warren, 1979 Ironman world champion, quoted in 'The Old New Lore of Running' (Scott Tinley, published ca. 2009)

Every person who has aspired at one time or another to write has suffered from writer's block - NOTHING seems to come from the pen; the fingers should be dancing patterns on the keyboard but end up tapping the remote control. This week was one where the remote control felt more of my fingertips than did my keyboard. At least, until a friend posted a comment the other morning:

"I wonder if I'm on pace to even run 200 miles this year! After 21 years of competitive racing, running upwards of 110 miles per week, have I given up the "runner" title? The question is: What allows a person to call themself a runner? A certain amount of mileage per week? Something deeper? Honestly, the main reason why I'm not running is because I have no motivation to run alone. I miss having a group to run with here."

Unlike most of the guys and gals I've worked with in the past, Ryan is one of those "stud" runners many "sorta-fast" runners wish to emulate. He spent a year running with legendary running coach John McDonough at Arkansas, so it's a no-brainer: he's hard-pressed to recreate that kind of environment where he presently lives.

There are not many situations which can compare to scholastic running. The year I spent running at The University of Tampa (a Division II school) was probably the most fulfilling year of my life, not so much because I was running but because I was around a bunch of people who really loved running. I was ten years older than the rest of the team, save for two or three ex-military guys close(r) to my age, but there still was that common bond. The rest of the day was focused on teaching, but the best part was the first two hours of the day; stretching at the track, running on Davis Islands as the sun came up over the water, cool-down strides in the grass, bee-essing over breakfast, etc. After graduation, I ran with the team and the coaches as my work schedule permitted...and most of the time it did, until I moved north.

Ryan said he got into the best shape outside of his college fitness by making a pact with a friend: They agreed to meet for at least one threshhold workout a week. Sure, they did trail runs and long runs together five or six days a week, but there always was that one central workout they would do together. Ryan wasn't training for any specific race distance, but he loved the fact he was accountable to meet with at least one other person. Last summer he coached a youth cross-country program in St. Augustine, which gave him the opportunity to run with several runners at his ability level; being out there with them for the summer, doing the runs, workouts, and strength work kept him sharp, accountable and fit.

Since then, he's been trying to work, save money, get certifications and look for his next home. It naturally infringes on training, but is further limited by his lack of consistent training partners. Ryan lives near another college alumnus but their work schedules don't quite match up. So overall, being a pretty good athlete does have its limitations in training; it's either accept the limitations of training he told me, he could probably "just shut up and train."

To have runners at ones' ability level does make the prospect of running a workout little less boring. I was going to use the term "daunting," but boredom seems a greater negative influence to me than physical limitation or fatigue. And it's always great to have a Plan B workout in those cases. Ryan's probably going to need a moderately audacious goal, like "six-weeks-to-sub-16-5K-a'la Runners' World" to push him out the door. Ultimately, he says, he would love to get back into 800/1500 track-racing shape; one step at a time.

In John L. Parker's book "Again to Carthage," the follow-up to "Once A Runner," Olympic gold medalist Bruce Denton advises his friend Quenton Cassidy to "live like a clock." That counsel might be the thing Ryan needs while working, learning, earning...and looking for the next phase in his own journey. I told him to think about getting out, enjoying running - even training - without stressing a particular performance goal. Work, professional development, marriage, real world responsibilities; life often transforms that formerly-white-hot focus on running a little closer to gray. And Ryan's not the first top-shelf guy I've encountered who has dealt with the problem. I've seen guys not dropping out as much as scaling back; playing smarter, ensuring the time and mileage they DO invest is truly quality stuff.

It's tougher to recover at 28 than it was at 18. And when we reach 38, or 48, we learn quickly what runs are more damaging than beneficial.

Sometimes we all need a little recharge. It doesn't mean we're "no longer a runner," but at worst we're no longer a "serious athlete." Depends on your definition of serious.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Riders On The Storm

My cell phone almost rung itself off the hook - if there was a hook for things like cell phones to be rung off - during Saturday.

"Mike, this is ... is the Bull Run still going to happen? You know it's raining outside, right?"

I cheerfully joked with the callers, telling each one, "the only thing which will stop the event are life-threatening conditions; lightning, flash flood, earthquakes...stuff along those lines."

The first one or two calls are all right. After the fifth or sixth caller it takes a great deal of restraint to hold back the sigh and initialize the "grandfather" program. Frustration, or emotions which sound much like it, doesn't transmit a positive feeling to a potential participant.

Since this was a free event I was not concerned about lost income. Actually, I had an idea people would come out, regardless of the weather conditions. Some people bring their own sunshine, others make it. Runner safety was not my overwhelming concern; we passed along the "if you're silly enough to do this event you deserve what you get" message throughout the local media.

I worried more about the skaters. As you can guess the safe threshhold for stops, starts and maneuvers drops once rink wheels and tiny brakes enter the picture. I was watching cyclists topple like ten-pins on rain-slick Pyreneean roads during the Tour de France; enough to make you cringe in pain. Every five-minute stretch of hard rain only made me more nervous. Every ease-up in the drizzle relaxed me.

I decided to leave the safety call to the skate coordinator; I was more likely to err on the side of (wimpy) cautiousness. Fifteen minutes before I arrived at the course, the phone rang again.

It was the skate coordinator, fortunately for me and my nerves. "We're still on, right?" she asked.

"Oh, yeah. I was going to ask how you felt about skating in this junk. Think your girls will handle it?"

Once I knew she was good with the potential conditions I knew there would be no problems. We kept an eye on the radar, the front windows and the pavement...and quickly drew up an alternative plan in the event more stuff hit the fan. Fortunately for the 200-some runners and 30-40 skaters the weather eased up and the pavement dried a little; a couple of skaters went down, but that's why they wear all that body armor.

When it comes to weather conditions there's a point at which we all have to decide whether our personal safety, our health, or our workout takes the first priority. I have many hard-core runner friends who are going to run, regardless of what's falling out of the sky. I've done long runs in a torrential downpour; track workouts in lightning, tempo runs in near-pitch darkness. Those are usually the workouts where I wonder whether the benefits outweighed the risks, then say quietly to myself 'that might have been a stupid decision.'

I'm not saying we need to toss our planned workout into the dustbin if it isn't clear skies and light breezes, nice temps and low humidities. A run, even if it's truncated, in nasty conditions can make runners more resilient. We never can tell what hand Mother Nature is going to deal us on race day, and when it comes to some events bailing out can make for a rather expensive "did not start" or "did not finish," so there are times that rainy, cold, seemingly-miserable long run may need to happen...and may teach us a little more about ourself.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Peripatetically-Pleasing Publications

Today I took a day off work and spent a couple of hours at my local auto dealership. "What book to take with me?" I asked myself, walking out the door.

Come on. I'm not going to sit and watch cable television news channels. I stood transfixed in front of my living room bookshelves; it's not good for a September-born guy to be forced into choice...especially not with 300-plus titles stacked in the living room alone, and definitely not when a five-minute delay can mean the difference between sitting for two hours...or for three a lounge drinking coffee and eating doughnuts. In the case of this guy, less time is always better.

I chose a book I hadn't read in probably six years.

It was a tight spot which made me think, while traveling to Toyota Town, of another triad of tomes to tranquilize the (temporarily terrifying) tendency to tarry in tranquility near the tube:

Running and Being - Dr. George Sheehan
The late cardiologist and unofficially-but-near-universally-proclaimed philosopher-king of running wrote this book in the late 1970s, and many of his observations in this book were printed (often in toto) in Runners' World magazine. Like most folks who have the temerity to risk talking smack about Steve Prefontaine, reviewing a book like this - especially in the negative - is only going to get you in deep trouble. Reading Sheehan, especially for the young, inexperienced (in life) runner, is like reading the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard or the Brazilian liberation educator Paulo Freire. You aren't going to read great portions of this book, not unless you didn't want to learn anything. I've borrowed portions (the bag) for blog posts, as well as for biomechanical analyses (neuromas) to pass to my athletes.

This book goes best with (at least!) one pot of good coffee.

Ultramarathon Man - Dean Karnazes
I almost ran over Dean Karnazes in the lobby of the Hyatt Fisherman's Wharf during the Road Runners Club of America convention two years ago. I was running to the ballroom to have lunch with my wife; he was running to the bathroom before his lunch presentation in the ballroom. Suffice it to say I am pleased we didn't make contact. Karnazes is probably a solid three inches shorter than I and built like a...well, you've all heard the analogies.

He's also an entertaining speaker and a very good writer. Suzanne raved about him on the trip home; the only presenter other than Frank Shorter she mentioned by name. And when an avowed non-fanatical runner like my wife mentions someone - by name - it truly means something. What strikes me about Karnazes' first work is not so much the screenplay-like way he chronicles his relationship with his family, his painful beginning in ultramarathon (I can smell the rotten cantaloupe!), and his quest to stretch the limits of human endurance...blended in with cell phone ordered pizza delivery, minibuses filled with goldfish crackers, and banana bread. Trust me; you'll never look at banana bread in the same way after this book. Some of my friends have read his follow-up works and proclaimed them as a little less entertaining than the first, but I've already subscribed to the "sequel rarely meets the first work" mindset. This work is well worth acquiring. I may change my mind after I read his 50 marathons/50 states/50 days chronicle, though.

This book goes best with (at least) one cup of Starbucks and a slice of cherry cheesecake.

Every Second Counts - Lance Armstrong (and Sally Jenkins)
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus is reported to have said, "you cannot step into the same river twice." And Armstrong (Jenkins) appears to have learned this over the course of the four years covered in book number two. Whether it's Armstrong who read about Dithyrambos - "he who walks through the second door" - or Jenkins saw the parallel, it's hard to say. Considering we are talking about a guy who's repeated a few things (Tour de France victories, relationships, lawsuits) more than once in his time, I'm certain he even appreciated the analogy.

Every Second Counts is a fitting follow-up to It's Not About The Bike, which talked much about what got Lance to the first yellow jersey in 1999. This time, however, we do get to see the rough edges and shortcomings. Armstrong long has considered himself - unlike very many of his yellow wristband-wearing fans - no saint. He provides an honest, almost sensitive assessment of life as man, father, athlete, survivor, businessman, and icon, things which definitely affected his marriage to Kristin. As of late, much has been made in the press and several recent books about doping...and Lance's way of dealing with sources who allege his use.

I read Every Second Counts around the same time as Brad Kearns' fawning How Lance Does It, Floyd Landis' Positively False: How I Won The Tour De France, and David Walsh's From Lance to Landis. The only title which still sits on my bookshelf of the previous three is Walsh. If I had only read It's Not About The Bike I think I would have a negative opinion of the seven-time champion. I have doubts about whether he was completely clean, but it's only a sliver. Yes, a Kierkegaardian one.

This book goes best with a tall, cold Shiner Bock.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Coach's Role

"So, have you registered for Bushwacker?"

I asked this of Deena as we walked from the track after last Thursday's workout.

"Well, since there are four weeks until the race I think I'll wait until the last week. I don't mind paying a couple of extra dollars if I'm race-ready; it's better than early registration and then not racing," she said.

Such discipline, especially coming from the mouth of Deena, warmed my heart. Is this the same runner who went out through the first half of a marathon a solid two minutes-a-mile faster than she needed to - and paid for her indiscretion by losing not only the 26-minute cushion, but an additional seven, in the second half - just eight months ago? Who raced a 5K just because she "felt like it" during the last month of training for that first marathon? Who needed a complete pacing plan laid out for her when it was time for her rematch with the distance?

Surprisingly, I didn't feel the need to ask for her drivers' license, just to make certain I was talking to the same athlete. In the months since I've worked with Deena she's become more disciplined. I get a physical and mental status when I ask "how ya doing?" at the beginning of the workout.

Is it based on her own self-confidence? Most likely.

It makes a coach's job much more simple.

On my computer, there is a podcast featuring triathlon coaches Jimmy Riccitello, Paul Huddle and Roch Frey. I listen to it on those days when I doubt my own methods, or when I need a good laugh on the way to work. In between the jokes about bike shorts I'm reminded the coach's role is teach the athlete to think for themselves; act as a sounding board for those times when the athlete is less than certain. Those very experienced coaches consider the first year of coaching an athlete as one where the athletic skills are taught along the side of self-knowledge.

It's the point in the coach-athlete collaborative relationship to this point in time I've rarely encountered. But it's definitely one I welcome.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

When The Furnace Is Hot

I haven't always been anti-morning workout. When there hasn't been a rush to get in to work the run has (usually) gone well and I've loved life. I can swim in the morning and be presentable, but I'm not one of those folks who can run from 6am to 7am, hit the shower, jump in the car and be at work by 8am. Not in a state which endears me to my fellow workers.

My friends and my coaches marvel at my "fairly-efficient cooling system." But until they tried working out in the morning, past supervisors and co-workers failed to understand or appreciate such an "efficiency." They consider a "sweating like a farmhand" appearance in the most extremely air-conditioned office environments a failure in personal hygeine. I looked the same thirty minutes after a run, after a spinning class, and - unfortunately - after a shower.

It wasn't always like this for me. In southern New Mexico humidity is a meteorological aberration. Whatever sweat hits the air is almost immediately evaporated. I didn't know what water vapor was until I went to boot camp in Texas; why was it I couldn't seem to get DRY after taking a shower? But the humidity of the Gulf Coast makes any other environment in which I've run seem rather arid. Miscalculate the amount of time necessary for a complete cool-down and it's likely you'll be in a drippy state in the office, especially if you have a heavy sweat rate.

Rather than deal with the symptoms, let's take a look at what I feel is the cause.

Exercise (Post) Oxygen Consumption, (EPOC) is one of the terms used to describe the number of calories burned in the period following a bout of exercise. The specifics of the duration and amount of calories burned are one matter - a 20-minute run at 80-percent of maximal effort may continue to burn calories for a period lasting from 30 to 105 minutes.

So, that means the furnace is still hot - heat is being moved away from the heart, brain, liver, and other vital organs - during that period of time.

There remains that other matter of "really" cooling off, isn't there?

Most coaches use the term "cool down," when they probably really mean "warm-down." It's much like when we turn off the ignition on our automobiles; the engine ceases running, but the cooling fan continues to operate. That's a period of time we probably wouldn't want to sit on the hood in a pair of running least not until the temperature drops a little more.

So today, rather than immediately crawl into the air-conditioned comfort of my home and ditch my soggy togs, I decided to take a 15-minute stroll with my dog, then relax indoors for another 15 minutes before hitting the shower.

Eureka! Relative dryness on the way to work, and while in the office. after taking care of my personal hygeine matters. Time between workout and work can not only make us feel better but look better during the remainder of the day.

So, what tricks or tips would you recommend for the time-pressed runner?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Privilege of Coaching

When Suzanne or I mention the term "grandparent" in a casual conversation, especially when talking with new friends, many are shocked because neither of us look like we're in our fifties (more or less). I've approached grandparenting with much less fear than I had at the prospect of parenting. No children for me, thanks. A playback of my youth and adolescence, but standing on the other side of the stage? Given a choice between re-living the period between 1975 and 1981, and shoving a sharp stick in my eye; the sharp stick wins.

After the "am I really going to be okay at this?" feelings passed, I found that I do like grandparenting. It doesn't mean I'm perfect at it; there are things which still get under my skin. The benefit-to-drawback ratio for this role is, compared to my opinon of parenting, so far, much higher. The roles of nurturer, disciplinarian and role model, which are part and parcel of parenting, are augmented with a little bit of Santa Claus. Our grandchildren are young enough to still depend on either their mom and dad or us, but old enough to have personality and a sliver of insight, sometimes more than for which we provide them credit. Recently, my eldest granddaughter, said something that will ensure she can (almost) do no wrong in this ol' coach's eyes. Who knew a five-year-old would know Bob Marley?

The relationships of adolescence, adulthood, and the advance from child (to parent, usually,,,) to grandparent, and the analogies which may relate to the relationship between athlete and coach kind of leaped out at me as I was on my morning run.

As an athlete I often saw the athlete-coach relationship from the child-to-parent perspective: I do what my coach says, for better or for worse. I may, or may not, have a voice in the equation. And, if I decide to leave "home" after a time it's all on my own head.

However, as a coach, I find the perspective is not as much like parent as grandparent. There may be coaches who have complete and total control over their athletes, but those relationships are either unhealthy or the coach also serves as parent; coaching family members has pitfalls of which I will not go into detail here.

Regardless of whether we see the relationship between athlete and coach as "parental" or "grandparental" in nature, the coach has to be a reliable role model. Dedication, loyalty, work ethic, healthy lifestyle decisions; all these have to be modeled. I'd love to crack open a couple of brewskies, get rowdy and watch mixed martial arts on the television when the grandchildren are visiting but it would (probably!) be more acceptable to turn on National Geographic Channel or put a G-rated movie on the DVD player. Overtraining, overracing, or sloughing off a Tuesday night workout for no apparent reason other than there was something good on the tube are not decisions which will keep athletes on the training plan I draft, or eventually as part of the training group.

Those positive behaviors are modeled because of the privilege, not the right, of the individual to be a coach. It's the same reason I (try to) behave myself in the presence of my grandchildren; their visits are a privilege bestowed by the parents, not a right I can enforce without a high-powered lawyer. And why would I want the kids feeling forced to be with me?

So, not only do I need to display the right behavior and be a positive role model, I also have to do it with the utmost sincerity. Most children have highly-tuned "b.s. detectors." To know what a person thinks about what you're doing, take a good long look at their kids. If the child treats you with courtesy, decency and respect you can be certain that's the way the parents feel about what you're doing.

The only proof of success comes down the road when the "kids" go out to do their own thing. If they replicate the good behaviors we model and overlook the bad ones then we can consider ourselves to be a small factor in their success.

The Times That Try...

"Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph." - Thomas Paine, 'The Crisis,' (December 23, 1776)

July is a tough training month for me. It's not the Independence Day holiday, or the seemingly endless stretch until the next three-day weekend, or the meteorological/climatic conditions - in and of themselves - which make it this way.

Take 198 bicyclists in Spandex. Sprinkle generously with the seemingly encyclopedic knowledge, accents and anecdotes of English cycling commentators Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen. Top with Bob "Bobke" Roll. Serve for 23 days. The Tour de France is both an inspiration for me to get my (fat!) self out on the road (on the bike or on foot) during the month of July, and a justification to stay shackled to my television.

I was into cycling before it was acceptable to enjoy it in America. I started riding (in the bike shorts and the jersey with the pockets on the back side) and following the sport when the only American names in the professional peloton were Jacques Boyer and Greg Lemond. Europeans and English had daily and nightly telecasts on the tube. Americans had to settle for a digest of the Tour's previous week on CBS.

We have it so much better now. And not.

Take this weekend, for example. Versus/NBC showed the first three weekend stages, then replayed the broadcast at least three more times during the day. Great if you missed a part of the stage; not so good if you felt suddenly compelled to forego mowing the lawn...or doing that run in the late afternoon.

Sure, I'm blessed with a gym with cable television, good treadmills and air conditioning. It only makes me feel guilty when the peloton begins to suffer while climbing the Alps and Pyrenees. I grip the handlebars of my exercise bike/elliptical trainer just a little tighter, push a little harder, and thank whatever gods may be that I can take a day of rest should I feel a little beat up.

Rather than make life more simple this month of July, however, I made a pact with myself. I'm going to run outdoors in the elements during at least one workout of the day. No comfortable air conditioning. No Tour de France on Versus or NBC while I work out. No; watching the boys on the tube will be my reward, rather than my consolation.