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.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Open Season on The Roads

I almost ran into a runner as I drove from my home to a local run group gathering last night.

Well, the term "almost" might be a little bit of a stretch. I was a couple of feet closer to him than I felt comfortable. I had my low beam driving lights on and cannot say I was distracted by anything. In fact, it wasn't until I was about 50 feet away from the guy that I saw anything.

I know my nearly fifty-year-old eyesight isn't the greatest, even at baseline. Top that off with the twilight conditions and the poor lighting on this stretch of road along the bluffs just off Pensacola Bay, it's amazing more runners (and bicyclists) are not injured or killed there.

In my own defense, when a guy runs out along the side of the road at twilight wearing dark gray and black thermal compression wear, with nothing light-colored, lighted or reflectorized he is not doing himself any favors.

The period between Thanksgiving and the New Year might best be called "open season" on runners, walkers and cyclists. Motorists are in a hurry to get from home to work, from work to shopping, from shopping to social function, and from social function to heaven knows where. Multitasking is something most humans do poorly, yet they do it regularly. That leaves the responsibility to the person not cocooned in a motor vehicle to either stay clear of where the distracted motorists are, or to make themselves very, very visible.

Lots of runners loathe the treadmill because of its boring nature; the same surface step after step. The same pace minute after minute. Are we talking about the same runners who go out for a run with headphones? Dude, wear them on the treadmill. Make a game out of the treadmill run; go hard for a song, then easy for a song. Sing along with the jams - I bet that will encourage everyone to steer clear.

Reflective clothing can be bought in a variety of styles (vest, belt, top), (bright) colors, and fabric weights. I recommend pairing reflective clothes with clip-on lighting; the more the better. At the least if you don't feel like wearing lights or reflective stuff, then a light-colored long-sleeved top is better than nothing. And definitely better than black, dark gray or dark blue.

And, most importantly, don't forget that cell phone with the camera, just in case things do go south on the run. You never know when you might see someone who needs assistance...or when you might need it yourself. If changing the time or the location of the daily run or ride to get away from traffic is not possible, then do what you can to make yourself seen out on the roads.

Taper Time - Overeat, Overtrain, or Over-Plan?

A friend of mine shot me a note the other morning:

"Michael - everything I'm reading about the marathon taper (3 wk) says do NOTHING in week three. Do you have any particular suggestions for this week? My marathon is Sunday. My last run was a half marathon at marathon pace this Saturday past."

From my own marathon training foibles, most know I consider the actual act of standing at the starting line of a marathon a major accomplishment. If the volume of training during the "typical" 18-to-24-week plan doesn't injure the self-coached runner, the "traditional" three-weeks of insanity known by many marathoners as "taper madness" can derail the marathon performance.

The biggest problem with the three-week taper is that many runners either overeat or over-train, mainly because they have too much time on their hands. Neither one is good.

While the volume of mileage in the taper ideally should ultimately decrease - some like to bring the mileage down to 65 percent of the baseline, others like to bring it as low as 50 percent...or a little lower. But the mileage which needs to be subtracted from the total volume needs to come more from the easy, peasy, lemon squeezy, not from the "quality" speed work. It's still important to do short efforts which are faster than marathon goal pace during the taper.

Which workout is going to be "just enough" for the runner doing 50-to-60 miles a week for the previous 18 weeks?

1. One-or-two miles at long training run pace, four-to-six 400 meter repeats at a pace 10-to-20 seconds faster than their marathon goal pace, with full (or 400-meter walk) recovery, followed by a mile at the long training run pace.

2. Five miles at long training run pace.

I believe workout number one is more likely to make the runner a little bit tired but not completely wipe them out. The mind is satisfied by the effort. Workout number two, after a bunch of 50-mile weeks, is one that quickly turns into "a few extra miles."

With all that time, it's surprising that many runners do not think about race execution. Rather than consider where they'll stay, what they'll do, when and where they'll eat, what they'll wear, they allow way too many factors which can adversely affect the race to be out of their control. How many runners mindlessly wander through the race expo who could have spent that time preparing shoes, socks, clothing, BodyGlide, nutrition, and getting off their feet? Got a "Plan B" for that restaurant you were going to do dinner at? Now you have a 45-minute wait, a surly waiter, and a poorly-prepared meal. How about a pacing plan? What's the guarantee against going out with the herd during the first five kilometers...and paying for it at mile 18?

The two-or-three weeks which lead into a target event, used prudently, can allow the self-coached runner's body to heal, and the self-coached runner's mind to prepare for the day.

Friday, November 25, 2011

What To Do With That Damned Bird? Take Stock

There are two types of people in this world: Those who run to eat, and those who eat to run. I am probably more the former than the latter, even more so during the colder and holiday-filled times of the year. One thing I am not is a great cook. I claim no expertise when it comes to being in the kitchen. I possess rudimentary cooking skills at best. Boil water, cook meat, prepare rice, pasta, or veggies; these things I can do. I'm not EVER going to be mistaken for the second coming of Emeril Lagasse. So, I'm definitely not one of those folks who, before undertaking a two-hour run, plan to scarf on a breakfast of egg, potato, cheese, meat, toast with Nutella, multiple cups of coffee, and so on, before heading out the door. A bagel (or two) and Nutella is going to be my pre-run nosh...with coffee, of course.

Like any other learned skill, the act of cooking can be improved upon and perhaps made more tolerable by simply following the rules, over and over again, until it becomes second nature. Once the person has mastered the skill, then they are usually free to improvise; this is the area from where innovation or invention springs. Turkey carving is another one of those "ten-thousand times" practical skills I never caught; we had three very senior males in my family as I grew up, so I never had to figure out how to turn a 30-pound turkey into a decently-sliced mountain of meat for a ten-member delegation.

One thing I have learned to do, however, is make turkey stock. The process of transforming a turkey carcass, which may or may not have meat-like remnants attached to it, into a meal which is NOT turkey a'la king is pretty damned simple, even for a ham-handed guy like me. All it takes is a good knife or two, plenty of counter space, a good stock pot, and the willingness to wrestle with a nasty hunk of poultry for a couple of hours.

I cannot recall where I figured out how to turn turkey waste into stock; must have read it in some cookbook. But I did it the first Thanksgiving Suzanne and I were together. Considering our income was half what it is now she was pleased to see that bird stretch out another four or five meals (at least) beyond the "leftovers Friday, turkey sandwiches 'til Tuesday, turkey a'la king 'til next Sunday, don't show me any (curse) turkey 'til next year" stretch.

There's nothing like turkey soup, and a good 25-to-30 pound bird can be turned into a few quarts of stock...which, with a little "surgery" and the right veggies (amazing how those green bean casseroles with the fried onion strings can perk up a soup) can keep a guy warm and happy for several evenings, at the additional cost of a good loaf of french/style bread and a six-pack of beer. I'm certain it takes less time than it normally takes me, but my traditional stock-making usually takes a day, a pot of coffee, and 'Lawrence of Arabia' on the DVD player.

A big knife is used at first to separate the remaining breast meat from the bones, followed by the dark meat. Then the legs and wings are separated from the carcass. The bird is gently stuffed into a stock pot and water (this year's took somewhere between six and eight quarts) is filled until the bones are covered. Medium heat for 60 minutes, simmer for 60 minutes, low heat for 60 minutes. The pot is left to cool, then placed in the fridge overnight.

The next morning I normally place the pot on very low heat for the day...just before I leave for work. When I get home it's time to play surgeon again. I drain the stock pot into one or more pans, then pluck portions of the carcass out to get the last bits of meat which might still be attached to the bones. My dog hates me by this time of the day. The meat goes into the container with the large chunks of turkey taken the previous evening. Once the turkey is either bones in the trash or meat in the Tupperware I can refill the stock pot with the boil, cut the meat into chunks of desired size, and add the veggies.

At that point my "work" is pretty much complete, and Suzanne takes over the task of soup maintenance. She'll add veggies or rice as the circumstances warrant, and make certain we have good bread for the next week or two. And I have to admit there is something therapeutic about running your fingers around the skeletal structure of an animal, feeling about for fleshy parts to tear away. Something that lets me get in touch with my inner animal, I guess.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Rehabilitation Is For Quitters

Quitting. Most occasions the word has a negative connotation. Unless the thing we're quitting is destructive or wasteful. Quitting a job leaves a gap for someone to fill; quitting a race (if injured) replaces time training or racing with recovery and rehabilitation.

If you're a big-shot in an organization the announcement is usually tied up in a neat little package with the classic and often overused "...want to spend more time with my family..." alibi.

I'm not a big shot, so I don't have any good alibis. I'm not very good at neat, clean, well-structured goodbyes - the promises of the goodby-er always seemed hollow on the receiving end. Therefore, I've always tried to turn a "hurry out the door" into something which sounded more like a "hiatus"; you never know when you might need that old job, or to communicate with that person again.

When I no longer needed to do a collateral duty after four years, it seemed a good time to take stock of other activities which fill my schedule. Was it necessary? Was it of benefit to others around me? Most importantly, did I derive any sort of satisfaction from it?

There weren't many groups available for runners when I was appointed to coach a run training group. Some six-and-a-half years later, there is a social run or training activity most every day of the week, save for Friday.

I've handed out the occasional business card to runners who expressed interest in training and answered the occasional phone call or e-mail question. Sometimes the inquirer comes out, sometimes not. My wife told her girlfriend once, "...he used to get very excited about the prospect of someone new coming out, but when they didn't show it disappointed him. Now he has a 'wait and see' attitude, which keeps him on a more even keel." If coaching were my only way of making a living, or to get people to bring their money through the door of my running emporium, I might be more aggressive. For me, though, it's three-to-five hours a week.

I am not quitting the act of coaching. I'm not going to be the guy pushing workouts two nights a week to runners who may or may not buy in to what I'm (not) selling. Pushing workouts out that way is like shooting blindfolded at a moving target hoping to hit dead center. I would rather sit down over a cup of coffee, review a training log and take thirty minutes to ask the right questions (the answers won't matter if I ask the wrong ones); that form of coaching is more satisfying. Good coaches blend collaboration and domination. I'd rather be a good coach than a mediocre one. So, I think the focus (ideally) will be toward a one-on-one coach/athlete relationship in the future.

Besides, I need to continue my own rehabilitation. And we all know that rehab is for quitters.

Friday, November 18, 2011

A Good Trail, But Please, Not MY Blood...

Over the last year or two, I've become a fan of a semi-underground running activity. Some persons call it hare-and-hounds running; many call it hashing after the name of the international (semi-organized) running/social group, the Hash House Harriers (HHH or H3). It's drawn my interest for a number of reasons:

The (relatively) non-competitive nature of the activity - Walkers, joggers, and hard-core runners can all participate at the same time. Recognition (of a sort) only comes if you're the first male or female, the first walker, or the last person who finishes the trail. Besides, out on a back road or stretch of vacant lot or woods, cooperation is often necessary to keep from getting either hopelessly lost or worn out trying to find the true trail.

The (relatively) inexpensive cost - Why spend $50 per couple for a (perhaps accurate) 5K run with a cotton t-shirt, light beer and day-old bagels? My wife and I can spend $10-15 to run anywhere from three-to-five miles on terrain which may vary from paved bike trails to briar-choked woodlands (or worse!), stop for a cheap beer along the way, have a couple of brews and munchies at the end.

Terrain - The two kennels here are night-and-day when it comes to terrain choice for trails. One kennel focuses almost exclusively on paved roadways and sidewalks; hills and street crossings are probably the most hazardous natural features, as long as the hares - the person/s who set the trail for that particular run - don't get overambitious. We prepare to run with this kennel in pretty much the same manner as we prepare to run a 5K or 10K road race, or a training run.

When it comes to the other kennel, almost anything goes. I still have scars on my legs from my first (real) trail. My "hash name," which was given because of my typical response to whining athletes, also fit my typical response to this kennel's trails. After three trails I learned it's not a trail without either a water crossing or crashing through a thorn-laden wooded trail. I'm better now, in many ways. But the first five minutes or so are still entertaining.

I'm still learning what to wear, and what not to, on trail with this kennel. My friend Charley and I have talked at great lengths about the ideal and preferred gear for hard-core trail traipsing. Starting from the top and working downward:

Head, eyes, ears, nose and throat - After a couple of trails where I took shots to the forehead from thorny vines and low-hanging branches, I first considered cranial gear worn by aircraft carrier flight deck personnel. 'Overkill,' Charley said. 'A baseball or running cap with a stiff bill will keep the branches out of your eyes.' I mentioned the thorn branch which struck me directly in the dimple of my chin, to which he responded, 'A one-off situation.'

Depending on the time of the year, running or shooting glasses will aid in the visibility and keep the branch which the cap cannot stop out of the eye.

A bandana is optional, and cannot hurt to have if running in dusty, gritty or spider webby don't always have the benefit of a taller runner to go in front of you, right?

Upper extremities - Charley's gone from the canvas gardening gloves to a pair of mechanic's work gloves, which are almost as thick and protect the fingers, palm and back of the hand almost as well. Sometimes it's better to move the branch out of the way with your hand than to try and duck around it.

Torso - Lightweight, layered clothing is a must except in the hottest summer conditions. The nylon ripstop military surplus camouflage shirts are good for carrying whistles (mandatory!), marking implements (semi-mandatory!), and (in case of very bad situations) identification. Fabric is a little tougher than skin where thorns are concerned.

Lower extremities - I've worn what is affectionately known as "shiggy socks" which cover everything from the kneecaps down since that first infamous trail. Compression socks (a little more expensive) or soccer socks (great color choices) are good if you don't want to order any from the H3-related on-line retailers. When it comes to the thighs/quads/hammies things get a little more challenging. There lies the challenge between balancing weight (especially when wet!) and protection from the sharper elements; do you choose nylon ripstop military surplus pants or something closer to a pair of jeans? My wife bought me a pair of tough but heavy camouflage-style cargo shorts which go down to just about my knees. Charley's got a pair which are filled with ripped knees, covered in mud and paint stains, and seem to serve him well.

Feet - Some hashers wear the same shoes for years. Running guys like me cry in horror at the thought of running in old shoes, but I've relegated shoes with more than 400 miles to trail hashing; road hashes merit a pair of training shoes, however. I made the supreme mistake of wearing a minimalist triathlon shoe with drainage holes once. Until a large stick punched through a drainage hole on trail I thought it wasn't a bad idea. And the folks who like the Vibram "toe" shoes or the barefoot running thing often have to keep their eyes open for the many hazards which lay often unseen on the trail. So do you go for foot and ankle protection or for drainage? We considered the merits of a trail-running shoe versus a canvas jungle-styled boot. Horses for courses; we have to be prepared to swim at a moment's notice.

Accessories - with the trail-focused hash it's a great idea to carry whatever you want to take with you but don't want trashed in a waterproof container. I have a DryCase for electronics but haven't used too many electronics on trail. Flashlights and whistles aren't just a good idea, they're a great idea.

And what about cutting devices to deal with otherwise recalcitrant plant matter on trail? Charley's got a machete, what about something a little smaller, like a pair of pruning shears? I'm not in favor of carrying anything on trail which can eventually punch a hole in someone else's body (bad juju) or my own (very bad juju) in the event gravity decides to exert itself. I wonder if something like a Leatherman tool would be better?

So maybe the protective gear is where the cost-effectiveness of hashing goes by the wayside. Not having all of the stuff doesn't mean you can't enjoy yourself while running a trail, but you might lose just a little blood out there. And it isn't a good trail unless a little blood is shed.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Sometimes, Gratitude...

Once a week, for the past four years, I've taught a study-skills and test-taking seminar as part of my "real" job. The presentation method, as many who read this blog (or the articles which often come from this blog) might guess, is a blend of storytelling and instruction.

For the most part, I've enjoyed the time in the classroom; every group of 25-to-65 students - the vast majority young enough to be my child - presented its own unique "terrain" on which I take a brief 60-to-90 jaunt (back) into the academic world. Not every one of them needed to hear what I felt like saying. Strangely enough, some of them wanted to know a little more about road running or triathlon than how to beat a multiple-choice test.

This morning I received a note from the indoc staff. Curriculum additions mandated by the persons in charge of Navy training, only three miles down the street, left no room to add this (perhaps the last) hold-over from the Navy's Revolution in Training.

The change was eventual. I've been through three revisions, three cubicles, two commanding officers, two supervisors, a reduction-in-force, a defunct survey database, and a cycle in training delivery methods from instructor-led to self-paced...and back...since I started teaching this seminar. I have to admit a sense of gratitude that it is finally over.

Steven Covey, in "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People," says the first habit effective persons cultivate is to begin activities with the end in mind. I think he was talking "end state," not necessarily "end date."

Sometimes we complete a target event (marathon, half-marathon, triathlon, just to name a few) and between the time when the euphoria departs and the muscle soreness arrives we get the athletic version of the "existential dilemma": 'I completed a (blank) what?' Could this dilemma exist because we don't like empty schedules and blank calendar spaces? Mary-Chapin Carpenter, in "The Long Way Home," sings that many people are driven with the need to '...gotta go, gotta be, gotta get somewhere..." We don't take the time to appreciate what is now in our mental and emotional rear-view mirror; negative or positive.

So now it looks like I have an extra hour in my calendar. I'm not necessarily ready to fill in the blank with anything, at least for a couple of weeks. It's a little extra daylight time...something else for which I can be grateful.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Stupid Damage

The road back to running health and race fitness is not always a straight path. Sometimes it's not even paved. Not that an unpaved path is a bad long as there aren't too many bumps and rocks to bounce around. Mine, so I've learned, has a few blind curves and - apparently, from an experience at the beginning of this month - some obstacles which will need to be addressed, moved or just plain blown away.

A Tuesday track workout found Jim observing, as he put it, a "hitch in my giddy-up" during the warm-up. At first I put it down to a little bit of gamesmanship; while I'm the coach and he's the athlete, we're separated in age by only a couple of years. Some of the quicker efforts on the track can put us both on the verge of racing. At the tail end of the warm-up I made a brief "pause for the cause," which can sometimes improve the gait, or at least the outlook, toward a run workout. We slid into the workout and ran our 200-meter and 400-meter repeats.

The next morning I felt pretty much the same degree of tightness in my heels as in the past, so I didn't give the discomfort much thought. Until I went out for my mid-morning run on the wood chip trail outside my office. "Being flayed alive with a rusty straight razor", like John Parker Jr's. Quenton Cassidy, would have been most welcome. I literally had to shut down the run after the first minute.

I decided to go into Plan B, and do a little bit of run-walk.

Three minutes later, Plan B turned into Plan C: a nice walk along the trail in order to save my legs for a run later in the afternoon.

As I walked gamely around my office I realized this was no minor issue of delayed onset muscle soreness or something a little more disconcerting like inflamed achilles tendons. I'd done what appeared to be some stupid damage which was most likely going to take a few days to a week to straighten out.

So, I did what any smart guy would do in that situation. I slept on the issue, then talked to my dog about it during our morning walk. As Rubin and I walked we started to consider the possible root causes:

First, there was probably too much increase in stress for the body to handle (the classic "if this is good, then twice the amount is better" thing). While I increased the duration of each run by no more than ten percent, I also added additional workouts during the week; I had gone from from four hours to somewhere close to seven hours of running over a three-week period.

The second root cause might have to do with the pair of lightweight trainers I prefer for track workouts. They aren't the oldest pair of running shoes I have, and they don't have as many miles as the oldest pair, but 310 harder, more-sweaty miles, run through the heat of summer means faster midsole breakdown than running in more mild conditions.

When I've done too much speedwork or hard running on a crowned road the discomfort is usually limited to a single heel or ankle. But the pain this time was bilateral, in the heels, ankles, knees quadriceps and lower back...a sure sign shoes are a culprit.

So, the best course of action when the stupid damage is done is go "three steps forward, two steps back". Or at least two steps back:

First thing I would recommend is to scale back the run duration to the point before the discomfort and pain began. Those runners who feel compelled to do additional workouts might want to consider ones which will stress the cardiovascular system but place minimal impact stress on the musculoskeletal systems, like road cycling, stationary cycling, elliptical trainers, aqua jogging or swimming.

Second, find running routes which aren't going to place undue stress on the joints; preferably level ground. Dirt trails are great and more forgiving than asphalt or concrete, but be careful of wood chip or mulch surfaces, as they can be a little too forgiving or too unstable for the feet and ankles.

Third, once the body has adapted to a change in weekly run duration, distance, or terrain, resist the temptation to pile on MORE. Some runners can safely handle a distance or duration increase of up to 20 percent, but we are all an experiment of one - what works for you might put me back in the hurt locker. And whatever increases or changes are done, make certain to spread them out over the entire week.

Fourth, make certain to keep track of how long you've worn or run in a pair of training shoes. Six months, or 300-to-400 miles is a good gauge, but can be shorter based on weight and running conditions. Besides, good shoes are cheaper than good physical therapists.

Finally, make certain your training plan and your racing schedule are written in pencil. I'd rather be a happy 5K runner than an injured spectator. I've done that a few too many times this past year. It's not fun.

So, listen to your body throughout the training cycle. If you don't heed the first messages, it will eventually find a way to make you listen.