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.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Consider the Treadmill Your Friend

Summer has turned to autumn, and infernal conditions have turned temperate (a good change), but the hours of daylight have dropped as quickly as the mercury. The runner in training, and even the runner who wants to stay fit and healthy through the season of junk food and socials has to consider the benefit of a few changes to their routine:

Change the time of the run from the increasingly dark morning and evening hours.
Change the run venue from outdoor trails and tracks to indoor facilities and treadmills. Change the run gear from lightweight to lighted (or reflectorized).

Not every runner is blessed with access to workout (shower!) facilities or flexible schedules, but a run during the work day can be a pleasant diversion from the "typical" stress of the work place. A runner who is not able to do a short run in the middle of the day might benefit from sliding the run time "to the left" or "to the right" to take advantage of daylight hours. Of course, that also depends on the good will of one's employer.

Many people hate running lap after lap on a track. Others can't stand to run indoors on a treadmill. When I suggest either option they often tell me it's either too painful or too boring. Given the choice of running a solo track workout or running on a treadmill I am most likely to choose treadmill running. The treadmill allows the individual runner to control nearly all of the workout variables, such as pace, duration, distance, and elevation. A runner who is willing to pay attention to the timer or the odometer can simulate almost every track workout imaginable. Pace discipline is almost absolute over time; there's no variation in pace, unless the runner changes. Most importantly, if something goes wrong biomechanically, they can stop the workout and immediately treat the issue.

I've even had people tell me treadmills were not good for runners because the mechanics of running were different. But I've always trusted my instincts about the treadmill and not listened to the nay-sayers. Then, last week, I watched a Running Times magazine podcast video about "Fixing Injured Runners". In the video, Jay Dicharry, MPT, CSCS, Director of the SPEED Performance Clinic and the Motion Analysis Lab Coordinator at the University of Virginia, was working with a middle-distance runner who had been dealing with achilles tendinosis for about a year. Dicharry's laboratory uses infrared cameras and a high-tech treadmill to help analyze the gait of runners of all ability levels, part of a three-fold process to determine "what's broken". About three minutes into the video, Dicharry said something which made me feel very confident (not only about my own recovery path, but also about training alternatives):

"Old lore states running on a treadmill and running over ground are dramatically different. A lot of coaches out there will tell you when you run over ground you're pushing yourself along the ground and when you run on a treadmill you pull yourself along. We can state this is not true. When you run on a treadmill versus over ground you are still pushing the body along. The treadmill is moving but you are pushing on a moving surface. The GRF (ground force reaction) profiles we measure are fairly similar."

"We published a study a few years ago (Riley, P.O., Dicharry, J., Franz, J.R., Wilder, R.P., Kerrigan, D.C., A kinematic and kinetic comparison of over ground and treadmill running. Medical Science, Sport & Exercise 2008; 40(6):1093-100) which looked at differences between over ground versus treadmill running. What it showed was about 60 percent of people ran almost identically on a treadmill versus over ground; while 40 percent had some differences. The differences we saw were really no more apparent than they would be if you ran on a track versus a treadmill versus a gravel road versus a trail. You want to acclimate and accomodate your body to prolonged running on a new surface..."

"We have noticed over the years after five minutes of running the variability in the gait cycle tends to decrease....As far as training, think about one more factor: on trail or any place someone is running around...if they want to speed up or slow down they can, it's no problem. On a treadmill they can't because the speed is set and held constant by the motor. If someone runs at a higher speed, gets fatigued and can't keep up with their leg speed they'll tend to overstride. When a runner overstrides they are running with a compensated gait pattern. That's one of the mechanisms people complain about. They claim treadmills cause them to get injured when they are running."

"I don't think it's the treadmill causing the injury, I think it's their compensated gait style causing them to get injured while on the treadmill."

As Mike Smayda, the middle-distance runner featured in the (three-part) podcast series said: "People set their treadmills too fast and overestimate their ability."

Most runners are more likely to adapt to the outdoor conditions and move their workouts to times with more light or bring the light (or reflectors!) with them, but the treadmill can also be the training runner's bst friend during the dark days of late autumn and early winter.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

My Favorite (Marathon) Mistake

If the "typical" age-group runner were to look at the workouts I post on my training group's blog they would either say the workouts are "too easy" or "too intense." It's always the extremes of the continuum, rarely if ever anything in between. Come out to the track and watch the group go through repeats, and you're more likely to doubt the benefits. 'Nobody,' you would say, 'can improve on that simple a plan.'

The plan rewards patience and consistency: short-distance speed work to focus on the anaerobic system, longer distance repeats to improve the lactate threshhold, long distance runs to develop aerobic and mental fitness, topped off with a few easier efforts here and there. There are no secret workouts, no gimmicks or gadgetry I foist on people; I do tend to get down on the athlete within the first month or so about their shoes, usually after I hear "hey, Coach, I have an ache in my..."

I'm not a control freak who wants to turn every athlete who shows up on Sunday morning, Tuesday evening, or Thursday evening into a "hobby-jogger" "tri-geek" "harrier" like me. Almost all adult athletes have a firm grasp of their strengths, weaknesses, limitations, goals and priorities, so I serve as much as a sanity check or sounding board as I do a provider of workouts. If the athlete has gaps in their plan of action then I feel like it's my role to help out. I'll either refer to materials and resources which have worked in the past, or to seemingly good ideas which failed miserably when I attempted execution.

The relationship is not "one size fits all." Some of my athletes only work with me once a month during an easy jog around the beach. We talk about the mental side of running (and it is true - running is 50 percent physical and 90 percent mental); I provide encouragement and a little humor. Rarely if ever do I need to "spank," because they've done the spanking well enough on their own.

One of my more-active athletes recently missed his desired marathon performance by nine minutes. In spite of his disappointment I had to tip my running cap in his general direction, since he ran about the same time I've done for my best marathon performance.

So, as we stood in the parking lot and talked about the race experience - he ran one of the marathon majors, which adversely affected his race execution - we also talked about some of the other potential barriers to a good marathon performance.

Slow training=slow racing: When we are both working on short(er) track repeats I am more likely to have my heart rate monitor strap handed to me. The most recent 5K he ran, all other factors being equal, would have predicted a couple of minutes faster than his goal time.

Let's remember that term: "all other factors being equal."

He got plenty of long runs - including the "ten the hard way" run with me one Sunday which was the "filling" to his 20-mile "sandwich" run. Trouble was we did more runs at the long run pace and not enough efforts at race pace, which in his case would have been about a minute-per-mile faster.

Family functions+race=focus on everything else: Marathon training - in fact, training for any endurance event - is a selfish activity. As the day approaches the race needs to be looked at like "a day at the office." Without suit and tie. You want to shoehorn a shopping trip, a sightseeing excursion, or a really cool "thanks for supporting my training, honey" dinner when you're in town during the last couple of days before the race? Not a good idea. Sitting on the couch at Barnes and Noble with a cup of Starbucks sounds much better, especially when you spent a hundred bucks in race entry fees and a thousand miles in training. Have we forgotten the term "taper" already? Move the special occasions "to the right" on the calendar, to the recovery days after the race. Sure, you will walk around like a wooden-legged zombie, but it makes a great conversation starter with the waitrons.

P.O.A.&M. or O.U.S.O.B.: Everyone knows all the pithy lines about preparation...failing to prepare is preparing to fail...prior planning prevents poor performance...and so on. Know exactly where your starting corral is relative to the starting line, the first and last five kilometers of the course, and as many of the aid stations as possible. Study the terrain, the turns, the tarmac and the temperatures. Leave nothing to chance.

While in the corral take a look around at your fellow runners. If a lot of them are wearing headphones it might be a good idea to move forward of them, if at all possible. See a lot of matching singlets and tops? The best way to keep from fartleking and swerving away from the "six-abreast-singing-kumbaya-red-rover-my-foot" rambling groups is to get in front of them IMMEDIATELY. Carry your own (throwaway) fluid bottle so you don't get hung up in the first two aid stations on the course. Trust me. You'll thank me later. If you don't the medical staff most likely will.

If you've made it through the marathon training fit, healthy and prepared to run your best race, don't make the mistake of looking at it as another race. There are no guarantees of the next starting line, so make the ones you get to count.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Marathon Musings: "Tip Of The Iceberg"

On the drive to work this morning, I listened to a live concert recording of an artist whose best stuff (in my humble opinon) is rarely heard; his most sappy dreck gets lots of "soft rock" airplay, however. Thirty-plus years in the music business, and never once did he look the part of the typical pop star. There was a year where his tunes were on everybody's favorite radio station. He still talks self-deprecatingly about his "'fifteen minutes of fame' at the top" of the music business, a little over three decades ago.

How much alike, the "fifteen minutes of fame" and the marathon. There is no such thing in the entertainment business as an "overnight sensation." Each "minute" of the "fifteen minutes of fame" was more likely the end result of more rehearsal spaces, ramen noodles, rough commutes, and relationship hassles than "right place, right time" situations.

Follow any major marathon from the Rock n' Roll Series to the Marathon Majors, as well as the World Championships and Olympics, and everybody focuses almost solely on the 26 miles, 385 yards of race day. That's the cherry of the sundae, the tip of the iceberg, the nose of the hound dog. Very few focus on the 1000-to-1600 miles of preparation, depending on the training plan, the average citizen spends get to the starting line. That's, on average, six-to-ten days of a life preparing for four hours. And small change. On the average.

I'm not saying, as Bill Bowerman once mused about the non-running world, that we engage in "a frivolous activity." What I am saying, especially about the marathon distance, is that it's not for every runner. About a year ago, my friend Charley recommended I watch the movie "Run Fatboy Run." My wife went and bought the DVD and we watched it one evening. I won't ruin the plot for those of you who haven't seen it, but in 25 words or less:

A guy decides to make himself look good in the eyes of his ex-girlfriend by running a marathon. He's sorely unprepared for the task.

I have friends who, for some insane reason, "jump into" events on little (undertrained better than overtrained) or no training whatsoever. If they were fitness buffs they might probably say to themselves along the way "this was a bad idea." Usually when I see them after the event they tell me, with not only perfect but magnified hindsight, they would never do it that way again.

Naturally, every person is a unique individual, and for every participant in a race there are many reasons to participate:

Some want to beat everyone who's ever run the distance.
Some want to beat everyone who's toeing the line on the day.
Some want to beat their best time.
Some want to beat their last time.
Some want to post a time.

When it comes to the marathon, I'm more in favor of the undertrained rather than the untrained state. While there's a lot of recovery (and the risk of injury) involved with the thousand-plus miles which lay between day one of the training plan and the finish line, I believe it makes the last 26.2 that much more possible...and even a little bit enjoyable.

Friday, October 14, 2011

All Stressed Up And Nowhere To Go

Ever have one of those mornings when you didn't feel like getting out of bed for the morning run? You talk yourself out of bed and into the morning pre-run ritual. You might even muffle the little voice in your head long enough to step out the door. Maybe you get a mile up the road before SOMETHING finally clicks in your head and you receive the urgent message. You know the one:

What. Are. You. Thinking?

There are mornings, sometimes days, when our body tries to inform us it hasn't completely recovered from the stress of days past, which may or may not include our training. A heart rate monitor is an inexpensive tool to determine or predict whether we've endured a little too much stress.

I've used a heart rate monitor as part of my training for the past six or seven years. It's a simple tool to figure out your resting heart rate first thing in the morning. Some folks like to use the monitor to maintain their run pace. The heart rate monitor can also be used to help quantify a workout effort.

An athlete's resting heart rate can show the progression of fitness, as well as the onset of overreaching (not so good) or overtraining (not good at all). Some will place the heart rate strap when they go to bed, then turn on the heart rate receiver for a minute after waking up. Once the athlete learns their average heart rate, those mornings when sudden spikes of five-or-more beats-per-minute are read can tell the athlete about residual stress, or that the body has not completely recovered.

A resting heart rate can also be checked just as easily by placing a finger on the carotid artery and counting the pulses for a minute, but machines are more likely to be honest than human beings about the numbers.

I know folks who like to pace their runs based on a target heart rate zone. I prefer to go by feel than by heart rate for a number of reasons:

First, the heart is a demand pump. The oxygenated blood is sent to the places the body informs the brain it is most needed. That means there's a lag time between an effort is performed by the muscles and when the blood arrives to replenish the muscles...kind of the reverse of the way our automobile's carburetor works.

Second, depending on hydration (or dehydration), weather conditions, fitness, etc., a particular pace effort can vary in heart rate. A six-minute-per-mile pace is not always going to equate to a 145 beat-per-minute rate, just to give an example.

Ever ask someone how difficult a particular workout was? How do they usually describe it?

Dr. Eric Bannister researched training impact, scoring by percentage of maximum heart rate, multiplied by duration. Each ten percent above the fiftieth percentile earns a single point for each minute of effort. So a sixty-minute run at fifty percent of max heart rate would be a training impact score of sixty. That same sixty minutes at sixty percent max heart rate would score 120, a 180 training impact score would be seventy percent max for sixty minutes, and so on. Most good heart rate monitors have a function which informs the user how long their effort was in a particular range, or provides the average heart rate for the workout period.

Bannister and others also researched whether the Borg (perceived effort) scale of one-to-ten could be used to score training stress. They found most experienced athletes scored their perceived effort almost as accurately without a heart rate monitor; an athlete who scored their workout as a six-out-of-ten was found to have had exercised at around sixty percent of maximal heart rate. So you don't necessarily have to use a heart rate monitor, but you can get deeper into the details with one on your wrist/chest.

Once the workout is scored, the question soon follows as to what that score means to the individual.

Hunter Allen, one of the developers of the Training Peaks workout software, in a recent article, correlated training stress scores to levels of stress and need for recovery. He wrote that scores of:

- less than 150 = low stress. Recovery from this effort is generally complete by the following day.

- 150-to-300 = medium stress. Some residual fatigue. Generally complete recovery by the second day after the workout.

- 300-to-450 = high stress. Residual fatigue remains even after two days.

- more than 450 = very high stress. Residual fatigue over the next several days is likely.

While it's important to know how hard we run or work out, it's more important to realize gains in strength, speed, endurance and overall fitness come as we allow our body to properly recover from the effort. Once we completely recover we can go out and repeat the stress again, which makes our body more resistant to that same level of stress.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The One Book

My wife, Suzanne, received an e-book reader for her most recent birthday. She naturally was pleased to have the new acquisition, graciously offered to let me load books on it, and use it at my convenience.

Ah, but that's the way she is.

She's downloaded a couple of business and marketing books and a few biographies from the Barnes and Noble site. She's able to tuck the reader in her carry-around bag, mark passages she likes, and have hundreds of books - all that information - in one little place.

I, on the other hand, like paper and binding and glue and thread. I am 'old school.' I like the heft of a good history text. It doesn't necessarily mean I'll carry it with me the entire semester but it will stay opened on my work desk until I've taken all the notes I need. It then fills up another bookshelf and makes people think I'm more of an intellectual than I truly am.

There is at least one book, however, I would love to have available everywhere I am but don't want to risk damaging my paperback copy.

If I were forced to buy (again!) only one book (either for downloading to an e-reader, or in paper form) it would have to be Daniels' Running Formula.

Dr. Jack Daniels has been described as "America's Greatest Running Coach." There are great athletes - including several Olympians - who have made a successful transition from athlete to coach. But the list comes few and far between. Not every gifted athlete makes a great coach. Sometimes the smart, physically-limited athlete knows how to tap into the head of their charges. That's what makes a great coach, in my humble opinion.

But where many coach-turned-authors seem to lack bonafides, Daniels brings both personal performance - two Olympic medals as part of the US team in the modern pentathlon (a combination of swimming, equestrian, pistol shooting, fencing and cross-country running), academic credentials - a Ph.D. in exercise physiology, and outcomes - team and individual national championships, and All-American distinctions in cross-country - to the table.

If a self-coached runner is willing to take the time and effort to carefully read through Formula - don't be scared by the mathematical calculations for VDOT at the front end - they can put together a reasonable training plan based on several past race performances, as well as their goal event/s. I like to use the VDOT chart to divide my own training group into smaller ability groups based on a 5K or 10K time. The VDOT chart not only helps to predict performances at other distances (once the other variables are equalized), but provides insight to proper pacing efforts for long runs, threshold runs, and interval workouts. I like to borrow from the pace charts for my "longer repeat" workout day of the week: I might assign an early-to-mid-season workout to a runner with a VDOT score of 38, (a 3:29 marathoner), of 6-to-8 400-meter repeats at "threshold" pace...which is 1:51 for a 400, or a 7:25 mile, with a minute recovery.

Daniels provides plans for runners who are focused on short track racing (800 to 1500 meters), as well as the 5k, 10k, half-marathon and full marathon. Naturally, the plans can be adapted to fit the schedule of the (often) time-constrained runner; don't have enough time to run all those 'easy' paced runs? Schedule the quality training efforts first, then fill in the remainder of the week with the easier efforts.

Regardless of whether you download a copy to an e-reader or you purchase a hard-copy for your library, Daniels' training and racing guidance is probably the next best thing to a coach's advice a runner can have at their fingertips.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Hubris, Humble Pie, and Just Desserts

A little over a year ago, Pat Williams, the president of the Orlando Magic, joined a group of state representatives and board members of the Road Runners Club of America for a luncheon meeting. One of the major takeaways from that luncheon speech I got was to read something on a daily basis. "What kind of reading?" said Williams. He was not the slightest bit concerned with the material as long as it was something we enjoyed. My wife, Suzanne, has told me she can learn something, even from a science fiction story. I, on the other hand, prefer to pick up a book which has something directly to do with what I want to learn. Sometimes you find when you close the book at the end you learned something far different than your initial expectations.

My most recent completed books on the Spanish Civil War and the life of John Belushi varied in the "surprise" factor. I knew little about the struggle which served as the "warm-up" to World War II, and quite a bit about the man I like to call the "real Last Samurai."

This week, I started in on the autobiography by foodie/chef/traveler/party animal Anthony Bourdain, "Kitchen Confidential." I was drawn to Bourdain by his snarky commentaries from his Travel Channel program, "No Reservations," but couldn't justify the read sooner because I really wanted to learn something else. Silly me. I'm three chapters into the book and love it. Bourdain describes his his second summer in New England's restaurant business in the same way I have entered my first workout with a new training group; naive as hell.

More often than not, hubris at the beginning of the workout usually is the appetizer for a full-course meal of humble pie, crow and just desserts. With a to-go bag.

Open your mouth to say how simple a workout is? Did that after a two-mile road loop around the perimeter of the U. Tampa campus during the early spring of my junior year. I was hanging tough at the back of the pack; found out minutes later from the team captain the loop was only a warm-up. Three or four 1200-meter repeats later (I cannot recall exactly how many; it might have been closer to five.) my attitude was much more humble. When I came back the next day ready to work, truly ready, it was the first step on a long road to being a runner.

We had people who you would never thought would stick it out; we had (seemingly-)motivated people slip and slide away. I still have a photo on the wall of my team from the autumn of 2000; a dude named Greg came out to one workout, received a uniform, and stood in the team photo. After that workout, Greg was never seen or heard from again. As small as that campus was it would have been an amazing feat if he had not been seen by any of the dozen guys...or the dozen girls, for that matter.

Three years later, I "ordered" the same "hubris with a side order of suffering" during a late-November evening workout of repeats on a grass loop behind a football stadium. You would think human beings are smart enough to not make the same kind of mistake twice.

Well, it wasn't the same kind of mistake; more like the same mistake, just later in the workout.

When a coach talks about perceived effort in a workout, they usually mean it's the athlete's perception. The hardest lesson to teach, especially to the new athlete, is that their "70-percent effort," for example, may not be the same speed as someone else's "70-percent effort." The second hardest lesson to teach is to preserve their energy until they are certain the workout is soon to be concluded. Run like the second coming of Prefontaine for two sets and suck wind in the third? If I had a dollar for every athlete who's done that, I'd retire wealthy.

So, if you're going to your first training session with a group, take the time to ask the group leader or coach about what to expect. Most will be good enough to communicate to you if a cautious approach is necessary for the first few workout sessions.

And make certain to take a "to-go bag."