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.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Free Your Run And Your Mind May Follow

There is a point in our commute to work which reminds us what we forgot to take with us from home, if we have forgotten something. The object's criticality determines, at least for me, exactly where this reminder will occur: If it's the identification cards which grant me access to my office and/or my computer I'll remember mere blocks from the front gate. Something less critical like my workout gear, running shoes, lunch, or perhaps money I need to give to someone will come to mind at a point exactly half way there, with no good opportunity to turn around.

Today was a "less critical" day. My Garmin Forerunner 310XT was sitting next to my computer and should have been in my bag this morning when I bolted out the front door. And why did I forget it? Suzanne was checking her bank balances on my computer; it's all her fault.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Actually, I consider the oversight more critical than most persons would.

I use the 310XT and the heart rate monitor to help me track almost every aspect of my workout routine: the duration, distance, type of activity (using Dan Empfield's Slowtwitch aerobic point scale) terrain, route, average HR, training stress score (using Bannister's minutes at percent calculation), shoe used, and current mileage, to name the majority of the factors. All this information is on a spreadsheet, which lets me look at where I am compared to my training goals and limitations. I can see, at a moment's notice, some of the root causes of a training setback, injury, or fatigue issue.

Am I dependent on the 310XT? There have been afternoons I've launched into a three-second piece of purple prose because the battery died or I forgot to bring the receiver unit (while the heart rate monitor strap was securely wrapped around my chest). So, I guess there might be the academic description of dependence there.

I considered completely tossing my planned mid-morning run into the rubbish container...then decided to go out for a run on the same loop without external pace guidance.

Yeah. Let's go by feel, Coach.

I cannot say it was liberating to go out for a run without having all that data available which the 310XT is able to provide. I was able to observe at a few things - the abundance of squirrels on base, for example - which I normally did not pay more than a passing glance because I was trying to either hold my pace back for a fellow runner or trying to keep from pushing the pace too much. The down side of a "no feedback" run was that I only had a time check at the two-thirds point of the run, at the front which point I had to judge where I was going to end the run. All I had without eating into my lunch break was 60 minutes, which included a shower and change back into my work clothes.

As long as a runner is not time-constrained or data-(over)dependent a "caveman run" can be a refreshing change of pace from the "X-pace for Y-distance" mentality into which many of us have unintentionally slipped.

Just don't expect me to go barefoot.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Can't Unspeak the Spoken Word

Have you ever opened up your mouth, typed an e-mail, or written a letter, and you realized in the first moments after you said, sent or mailed it - once there was no turning back - it was going to cause a ruckus?

Several days ago I saw something which I felt merited a comment within the boundaries of social media. I saw three ladies jaywalking. Some people would have ignored this particular scene. Maybe not, had they seen some of the ironies I had:

First, all three of these women were several pounds beyond the Rubenesque, pleasingly-plump stage. Second, they were jaywalking from the county health office to a fast food restaurant. Third, there was a signal-controlled crosswalk only twenty yards out of the direct path from the county office to the restaurant. Fourth, their journey took them across a major thoroughfare during the morning commute of many local workers. Fifth, they continued their travel without regard for the traffic signal.

I ranted for thirty seconds once I was able to continue my drive unimpeded, then began to marvel at the ironies I just mentioned. When I typed the observation in the social media site I don't think it would have raised as many eyebrows if I had not used one little word.

I used the term "bovine" to describe their attitude during their travel. The term was frowned upon by one of my family, and I'm not talking about my wife.

Suzanne has heard me use the phrase "to get all bovine" at one time or another. I've used it to describe walkers or joggers who by pace and/or position manage to impede the travel of faster track walkers/runners or race participants. Large groups of human beings who stand in a queue, often in a mindless fashion, caused her to use the term. She does a lot of travel. Use your imagination, friends.

But what caused my family member to comment about what she perceived as a lack of compassion on my part had much to do with the description of cattle, tied in with my observation of the bodily habitus. Perhaps she was correct. But when you add the jaywalking across a busy street and the fact they walked into a Hardee's, there's not much I could do to either mitigate the rant or soften the commentary.

Neither this family member, nor a friend of hers who decided to chime in for that matter, have seen me work with people over the past six years. I've met and worked with folks who wish to lose weight, increase speed, develop a life-long habit of exercise or gain endurance/confidence by accomplishing a goal tied into running.

I've also met people who make excuses for why they cannot drop a few excess pounds, shave a few seconds off their 5K time, run when the weather conditions are less than optimal...or even when they are optimal. Some call me on the phone and ask about the workout schedule. Others have my business card.

I gave up chasing folks this last year. It's not that I don't care. It's because I do.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Blindsided By Beverages

Take a couple of seconds to think about your run routine:

You go out for a run of 30-to-60 minutes, which may or may not include a warm-up or cool-down. You come back to the house, drop your soggy shoes and socks at the door, and amble to the kitchen. Once you hit the kitchen you make a beeline for the refrigerator. You open the door, grab a bottle, can or glass of something cold and wet, and slug it down.

Quick - how many calories did you just take in? Even the most anal-retentive runner, the one who counts every calorie of solid food which crosses their lips, can be blindsided by beverages.

Yes, rehydration is necessary after a bout of running. However, we can - mindlessly - take in more calories over the course of sixty seconds than we burned off in the previous ten minutes. When you start to think about it, it's not all that difficult to see why some runners have difficulty losing those last few pounds. You know the ones - those five pounds which can slow you down by 20 seconds a mile.

That's a minute for a 5K. Closer to ten minutes for a marathon. Ask any marathoner who's come "just that close" to a Boston qualifying time what they would sacrifice for ten minutes. Some might mention a pound of flesh, but it's a little closer to five. Naturally, the issue is one of portion control. When I was the age of my oldest grandchild the largest size soda at the major fast food resturant was the smallest size now; same for the french fries.

And when you look closely at a bottle of the most popular "thirst quencher," you find that the 20-ounce bottle represents not one, but two and-a-half servings. And 130 calories go down the hatch quickly. Very quickly.

I am not saying that sports drinks are bad. What I am saying is that we need to pay close attention to what we eat and drink as part of our training...and I consider recovery as important as any training session on the schedule. There are sports drinks on the market which have more trash than treasure, more empty calories than nutritive value. Some drink manufacturers make claims which can hardly be substantiated and usually come with provisos in small print. Personally, I'm too old to read small print. If I can't read it I probably should not drink it.

When it comes to recovering from the run, I will be the first to say this - slow is best.

Slow down. Read the label. And if you can't read it you probably shouldn't eat or drink what is inside it.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

"Blackhawk Down" Rules: The Lesser of Two Evils

My wife and I have run together nearly every Sunday morning over the past seven years. Of course it depends on how one defines the term "together." It's been a little more simple for us to plan since this most recent cycle of recovery/rehabilitation began during the beginning of the year. The distances have been shorter. The duration has been shorter. The pace has been somewhat more relaxed. This has also encouraged a couple of our (less-speedy) friends to run with us. We've developed the habit of a sixty-minute jog/shuffle/run/walk/saunter/traipse, followed by breakfast and more social interaction.

This, for me, can be a good or a bad situation. Depending on how we feel first thing in the morning Suzanne and I can differ in pace by a solid two-to-three minutes per mile. She's willing to walk with me on the days when I feel badly. I've sacrificed my "workout" on the rare occasion she's awakened feeling sore and beat. We cannot, however, run together. Any time we have tried to do this in the past the end result has never been positive.

There's no way you can force a person who runs a ten-minute-per-mile pace to run two minutes faster. Neither love, money, nor small arms can be used by any coach to repeal the (seemingly) immutable laws of physics...and of human physiology.

So it's then a choice between the lesser of two evils: Leave her behind on a run, or run at her (slower) pace. A runner can damage themselves not only by running much too fast, but also by running a pace that is much too slow. An individual runner's performance capabilities - maximal and minimal - are defined by physiological limitations. The biomechanical limits which affect stride length and turnover are much like the systems of a motor vehicle. Vehicles which have been designed for operation at higher levels of performance can be operated at a lower level of performance, just not for an extended period of time. Like a sports car or a muscle car is designed to be operated at a particular level, a runner who runs at a much slower pace than their stride mechanics are built for will either expend too much energy (bad!) through excess contraction and expansion of the large muscle groups or damage their "drive train" and/or "suspension" (worse) from excess strain on the smaller muscle groups of the lower extremities.

It doesn't take too many instances of running much too slow to damage a runner. I tried to run "with" Suzanne two years ago when we were in Hawai'i. Three 45-minute morning jogs at ten-minute mile pace led to a Thursday afternoon appointment with a massage therapist. Yes, I had fun chatting as we watched the early morning surfers and joggers in Ala Moana Park. Not at the cost of 50 bucks which could have been spent on other cool stuff.

I've also encouraged less-speedy runners to come run on Sunday mornings by instituting what I call "'Blackhawk Down ' Rules." We leave nobody straggling behind. A runner can go off the front if they feel sprightly, but heaven help you if someone is left to their own devices on the road. This attitude comes from being left to run solo from a porta-john two miles from the end a long run some years ago. It wasn't so much the two miles at race pace which upset me as much as what happened the following week; the same group let the teenage son of one of the members dangle blocks off the back of the pack.

Before the run starts, we talk about how long we need/want to go, in time or distance terms. If time, I use an out-and-back course, or a loop which is close to the length we would get on an out-and back. If a loop, the faster runners are charged to walk back toward the slower ones at the completion of the time period, unless they're at the end. If out-and-back, naturally, the group turns around at the half-time. In a perfect world everyone gets back to the start at nearly the same time. On a bigger loop, however, I've asked the faster group to turn back at mile splits or time splits to regroup with the slower runners. This way the faster runners definitely get more mileage and see the slower runners more often.

This morning, for example, I went out with one of my marathoners on the same 7.5-mile loop on which Suzanne and another one of my friends were training. By the time Jim and I hit the point where Suzanne had two miles left in the loop I joked we were running "ten the hard way." We finished the loop, then I walked back to meet up with the slower pairing...who were only two or three blocks from the parking lot where we started.

There are inconveniences to doubling back on a run to regroup with slower runners, but I feel it provides the opportunity for faster runners to see and encourage their group peers. And isn't encouragement part of the reason for which we run with others?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

So You're Thinking About Triathlon, Eh?

So you're thinking about doing a triathlon event, huh? I'll admit I like the sport a great deal, which makes perfect sense if you've read my postings from a couple of years ago. Multisport is great because it's an inclusive bunch; the type-A folks, the rank recreational participants and even the professionals are all pretty much together on the same course and the same conditions.

I've participated in the sport at a variety of levels; athlete, event volunteer, course coordinator, and race director. Over the past four months, I've worn the red polo shirt of a USAT official and worked the water, transition, bike and run courses of sprint, intermediate and long distance events.

I walked through the transition area of an intermediate (Olympic distance) triathlon during the first week of September and heard someone say, 'oh, the penalty guys are here.' That's one way to hurt someone's feelings, even if they are wearing a red or zebra-striped polo shirt.

The role of a USAT certified official blends two different professions, that of educator and of law enforcer. Before the gun goes off, the referee/s work to make certain the "playing field" is safe and fair for everyone. The head referee for a race wears a zebra-striped shirt and serves as the final authority when it comes to the rules and penalties. Any violation written by an assistant referee (who wear red shirts) is verified or can be nullified by the head referee, depending on the assistant's description. Not even the race director can overturn a violation penalty. The zebra serves as defense counsel, prosecution, judge, jury and (regrettably, sometimes) executioner.

The referees check the water temperature to determine if wetsuits can be used, review the transition layout to every athlete travels the same amount of distance as their fellow participants, checks to make certain bikes are safe, legal, numbered and racked correctly, looks at helmets and equipment to make certain they meet USAT standards, and answers rules-related questions.

Once the gun goes off, it's time to enforce the rules.

Often, new and relatively-inexperienced participants suffer - at the least first-race or tri-newbie angst, at the worst variable time penalties and even disqualification - for mistakes made in training or in training groups. Really.

I think back to my first handful of races; I would have been penalized at least twice in my first triathlon and probably disqualified in my first long-distance triathlon for rules I said I knew and agreed to follow when I signed my event waiver. So, not only am I talking from the perspective of a guy who knows most all of the relevant rules, I'm talking from a guy who's seen or broken most of the easily-broken rules.

So, let's talk about some things you can do to make those first few races go more smoothly.

Before you go inside transition, make sure you've mounted your race numbers on your bike and helmet. Both should be clearly visible from the left-hand side. Make certain your body marking is clear and large. If the race director provides body marking tattoos, place them slowly and carefully. Most importantly, check to see whether your tires are inflated, gears shift and - most importantly - the ends of your handlebars are plugged. If they aren't, ask a transition volunteer to direct you to bike tech support. In the case of the bar ends, they have to be plugged or you won't be able to ride that bike. Of all the rules referees are charged to enforce the bar end rule is one of the three which can lead to a disqualification.

Once you are in transition, it's all about you. Some events are more stringent than others in keeping family members out of transition. It's both for the safety of the racers and the security of their gear; some bikes I've seen are two months' worth of paychecks on skinny tires.

Once you find your rack area, place your bike either with the handlebars on the rack or hang it by the saddle. Now take a look at your bike. Whatever way you have racked it, the space from the rail from where you hung the bike out to where your bike wheel touches the ground is space which is reserved for your gear. If there's no space in the area where you are supposed to rack your bike, talk to the racers in that area, a transition volunteer or a referee to help adjust the bikes. Staggering so every second bike faces the same direction allows each racer to have a space up to 75 centimeters wide (the legal maximum width of a bicycle according to USAT competition rules) for their gear.

Take a moment or two to look at the layout of really experienced triathletes. You'll find they have less gear than the less-experienced athlete. It's not necessarily that they have more on the bike, but they've learned to bring the least amount of gear necessary for their event. I recall the layout of a guy in my age group from my first triathlon; he had a stool for a seat, a bucket for his feet, not to mention the towel, helmet, bike shoes, water bottle, etc. His wife stepped in to assist him in transition, too, but that's another story.

So the gun has gone off and you got through the swim - I'm usually smiling about this point, because if anything is going to do me in it's going to be the swim.

Once you've come out of the water and entered transition for the first time, think: Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast. Put on the helmet first. Set it properly on your head. Facing forward - only the pros are required to wear their helmet properly, but a properly worn helmet is a helmet which might save your life. Buckle the chin strap. Good. Now work on everything else. Once you have the shoes and helmet on, walk quickly and smoothly to the mount line, then get on the bike.

The unbuckled chinstrap can get you in a world of trouble if you mount your bike; it's a variable time penalty in transition and a disqualification if you're on the course. I've seen new racers with buckled chinstraps which hang down like they were playing hockey. Or the helmet is tilted back on their head; especially ladies who have pinned their hair up. The helmet has to fit snugly; a loose helmet is one which won't protect the head in a crash.

I saw an athlete walk through transition toward the mount line at a recent race. I called out, 'racer number (blank)...racer number (blank)...YO, DUDE!' He couldn't hear me. He was wearing an iPod. Another racer had a set of headphones hanging around his neck.

Music headphones are not allowed in triathlon events. Even if they aren't on your ears. Outside of being dangerous on the bike, because it's impossible to tell who or what may be approaching, USAT considers music players, cell phones and radio devices unauthorized equipment, something which can be used to provide a tempo (pace) reinforcement or possibly provide you information on the location of fellow competitors. Either way you want to look at the use, it merits a variable time penalty.

The bike leg of a triathlon has four very simple rules; ride on the right hand side of the road. Pass on the left hand side of the road. Stay back three bike lengths from any rider in front of you. Make the pass in 15 seconds; once you make the pass keep pedaling and move to the right side of the road. If you're passed, move back three bike lengths before trying to make a pass. The hard part, usually, is that inexperienced riders are used to riding side-by-side with friends or being closer than three bike lengths apart from another rider.

Hear those motorcycles? That's the referees. They're riding along to make certain all the riders are following the rules. A group of riders on the road is usually a tell-tale sign for the motorcycle and referee to come watch and make sure everyone is playing fairly.

Sometimes the sound of a cycle will make riders tighten up their distance or position. Other times it will force a rider to attempt the pass because they were too close when we arrived - 7 meters/23 feet is closer than most people think, but once you're within that space there's only one legal way out. Through the front. In 15 seconds.

If someone is drafting off you, don't yell at them or argue. If there is enough referee coverage on the course they'll be eventually found out.

When you get to transition, slow down before you hit the dismount line. Get off the bike, then walk into the transition. Again, remember the mantra...slow is smooth. Smooth is fast. Set your bike on the rack, remove your helmet, then put on your shoes.

We've had many racers ask whether their spouse/child/friend can run with them on the run course. Only if they run with everyone else, we tell them. Impossible? Only one family member and hundreds of runners? I guess it wouldn't be fair then, would it? They can stand along the curb and cheer you on, but don't use your cell phone to chat with them. Remember, those things aren't allowed, right?

And while we're talking about being on the course, make certain that everything you take with you during the event stays with you. Don't toss your empty bike bottles or gel packets unless you're literally in sight of an aid station. A lot of towns really are down on triathlon events because the participants treat their roadways and lots like it is their own personal rubbish bin.

And if you find you've been penalized after the event, the head referee normally stays until the end of the awards presentations to answer rules and violation questions. They might have written your violation, or their assistant/s may have. Either way, they will be able to explain what was seen on course and how it violated the rules.

Multisport is like golf for the high-strung: You can have the perfect race and still find areas which need improvement. You can focus on one area and get really good, then suddenly find out you've slipped in the other two. So, it's a balance of power, speed, technique and smarts...two hours of racing can whip your butt for the day...or you can achieve a state of euphoria after six hours. Find the distance you like and try it out.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Time Is The Final Currency

Suzanne and I drove home the other day from what I would call the fitness equivalent of the Beatles' "Magical Mystery Tour." Between the two of us, we visited Gulfport and Biloxi, MS, and Gulf Shores, AL, participating in two events. Naturally, this meant being awake and functional before the crack of dawn to carpool with friends to the venue/s.

In between Johnny Cash tunes, a couple of Suzanne's friends found out her age, as well as mine. They also marveled at her fitness level and appearance as of late. I like when people look at my wife. Why not? That's what I like to do.

We talked about the observation later in the afternoon. We don't see our health as fantastic. In fact, when we compare ourselves to many individuals near our age we consider ourselves somewhere closer to the median. I guess that's where that theory of relativity kicks in; if you spend much of your free time with active persons you're more likely to fool yourself into thinking it's the norm. But if you have a lot of friends or associates who aren't necessarily athletic you soon find out exercise is not the norm.

Research done in 2010 by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics found 22 percent of American men and 16 percent of American women over the age of 15 engaged in sports, recreation or exercise activity; almost an hour and 20 minutes for women, just a little under two hours for men. That averages out to somewhere a little under 20 minutes a day for the entire population of America.

In 2008, the US Center for Disease Control recommended that adult Americans get anywhere from 75 to 150 minutes of aerobic activity (depending on the intensity), combined with at least two days a week of activity designed to strengthen and work the major muscle groups. If you divided those activities up it would be anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes of aerobic exercise five days a week, and two days (CDC recommends multiple sets of between 8 and 12 repetitions of any exercise requiring some muscle strength) of muscle strengthening activity, which can range from weight training to resistance bands, to hard yard work, to yoga.

Yoga, huh? I've tried yoga. For me it's more an exercise in frustration. To each their own.

Even with such a low standard, why don't Americans get in a reasonable workout?

The government survey data says something I've always felt: We invest our time, finances, and resources into the things which are the most important to us. It makes it easier to understand why people buy workout club or gym memberships and never step foot in the place.

Many persons who do invest in a gym membership or a treadmill or an exercise device think exercise is a zero-sum game. If I don't have an hour to invest in a workout then I'm wasting my time. For many of them it's impossible to block out an entire hour or more to dedicate to a workout.

Ever consider whether the workout can be split into two or three sessions throughout the day? What if I can do a 30-minute workout in the morning before I go to work, and a 30-minute workout in the evening once I return home? Some physiologists have opined that anything less than 20 minutes of aerobic activity is probably not going to provide a benefit, especially in the case of weight training. No lollygagging in the gym.

So what are the benefits of splitting up a workout into smaller pieces? A little bit is always better than nothing. Personally, I can hit the road for a 30-minute run before I go to work, and get at least three-and-a-half-miles in. I haven't beat myself up too much; my body is still burning calories during the day, and I'm stimulated when I hit the office as much as if I sucked down a cup of coffee. Even better, if something suddenly comes up in the evening which requires my non-running presence I'm less likely to feel guilty.

Are there down sides to splitting runs?

The first drawback may be an endurance limitation. Running two 30-minute pieces a day may work well for a runner focused on races up to 10,000 meters, but anything longer may be a disaster. For longer events the training runs are still going to be long. Time-crunched runners can still split runs in their training plan which will take longer the two-and-a-half hour physiological limit for distance training. Two-and-a-half hours of running on Saturday, followed by an hour-to-90 minutes on Sunday, is more likely to keep my wife and family members happy as marathon training grinds into the later weeks of the plan.

In our household, the dirty clothes already multiply at an astounding clip. Two runs a day means dirty running attire accumulate at twice the rate. Add to that pile of stink sweaty shoes which need to dry or need time to dry; you'll either spend time shoving newsprint inside the shoe, money to maintain a running shoe arsenal, ingenuity in finding ways to make wet shoes less wet in as little as eight hours...or you'll develop a tolerance for damp running shoes.

Lastly, splitting runs in two means more attention to the (brief) recovery period available. When running twice a day run efforts ideally vary between hard and easy, or all of the efforts are easy. A good diet, portable self-massage devices, regular hydration and even sports supplementation also become more important during the period between runs.

Time, as David Crosby wrote, is the final currency. We can only spend what we have available at a particular moment. It doesn't necessarily mean the time we have during a day for running is absolutely limited to one unbroken 60-minute period. With a little discipline and the desire to do what is absolutely necessary, even the time-constrained runner can achieve the goals they've set for themselves. It all boils down to will.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Not-Always-Ten-Percent Rule

Some seven months ago, my achilles' tendon gave me the impossible-to-ignore message that marathon training could soon be its undoing. Since then, I've encouraged myself to look more critically at several different aspects of my training. I'm looking not so much because I want to complete another marathon, but because I want to continue running. Walking with a minimal limp (from bones broken almost three decades ago) is a plus.

It's meant, at least for me, some changes to my workout schedule...some ways in form, but mostly in duration.

I firmly believe in the ten-percent rule; the rule (of thumb) which states no increase in distance, intensity (which I look at as average heart rate over time) or duration for an exercise activity should be more than ten percent over the measure of the previous three-to-four week period. There are several coach/author-types who have published this same belief.

But not all coaches agree. My friend Patrick McCrann is one of the few who openly disagrees. He writes that increases of any sort need not necessarily be at the "rigid" ten percent point. Some times it can be more; other times less. What is important, in his mind, is to adjust the stress once the body adapts to it, then keep it there until the adaptation is complete.

I understand his thoughts on the subject. Since we are all an experiment of one, we adapt to stressors, and the change of those stressors, in varied ways. Two eight-minute milers can run on a flat course for 30 minutes at a time and perhaps both feel the same physiological benefit/stress that we can measure (heart rate, respiration, fatigue, just to name a few) during that ~3.75-mile jaunt. Add three minutes to that run and one of the two may walk around the next day with aching joints; the other might be "itchy" for more distance.

Naturally, we can't isolate all of the factors which could cause differences in adaptation. Not without putting an entire population in isolation. If we could I am most certain there are entire populations we would prefer to isolate...most likely not our own.

When making those changes in stress, it's important to keep static as many of the other variables as possible for at least three weeks. If your body responds in a less-than-desired fashion, like an injury, it's probably a good idea to back off the stressor until the injury subsides. Injuries are usually the body's way of saying "I am not able to adapt to this much stress." Stay at that level for three weeks, then increase or change the stress as tolerated.

A little imagination, and close attention to your body's response to stress, is key to increasing mileage, duration, or intensity in your training plan.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The ABC (Race)'s of The Training Cycle

What is the most important part of the workout, as far as the coach is concerned? My athletes would say, incorrectly, the second set of the workout.

While I call it "the money set," the second set of our workout - where the longest repeats, tempo or acceleration work is focused - is of secondary importance to me. What's the most important is the first and the final twenty minutes of our Tuesday and Thursday evening track workouts. That's the time when I get to pry, subtly, into what the athlete has done in the previous two-to-five days, or what's in their immediate future.

Both Deena and Jim, my marathoners, enjoy jumping into the occasional road race as part of their training. In fact, they both did fairly well at a recent cross-country 5K event. I chuckled as Deena talked about her race; at a late point on the course she was running with a group and one or two suggested putting a surge in to catch a couple of runners just ahead. Deena said she smiled and let the pair (of guys) go on ahead:

"I was out there to enjoy myself, Coach. I had plenty left in me to push the pace but I wasn't in the mood."

...which to me seemed the perfect time to teach the ABC's of racing.

Run and race for long enough and it is certain the personal best performances will not only be smaller in time increments but also harder won. There are runners who choose to race on a near-weekly basis through the season. Most of them do it in the hope of improvement by the end of the season. Many will race every race the same way. Some may be fortunate enough to improve, but most will eventually be a runner most-frustrated.

When they finally describe what they do I have to bit my tongue and not refer them to the quote attributed to Albert Einstein. He might not have been a distance runner, but if he could figure out the theory of relativity then he certainly could figure out the definition of insanity.

Some races are relatively more important than others:

"C" races, to me, are those early-season "rust-busters" a runner uses to help determine fitness. (Jack Daniels, in his Running Formula, uses personal best race performances or time-trial sessions to determine training paces for long runs, easy running, threshold pace workouts, and interval pace work.) Nothing wrong, in my humble opinion, with running a 5K or 10K as part of or in place of a weekend run in the early season. "C" races are the events at which the runner should be able to shrug off a less-than-stellar effort, or smile and say "I'm on the right track" when it's all said and done.

As the runner gets into the middle of their training cycle; closer to the weeks of the season or the event which is their target, it's time to start plugging in the "B" race/races. The "B" races are used to simulate the effort desired for the target race, can be on a portion of the target event course, or resemble the terrain on which the runner intends to eventually race.

Naturally, the "A" race is that target race or races which the runner has circled in pen on the calendar months in advance. Everything in the training cycle, ideally, should lead up to the runner being their sharpest - four or five weeks if racing shorter distances, two or three for longer ones.

The recreational runner's racing schedule doesn't necessarily take an Einstein to plan. All they need to do is know their ABC's.