So, How Many Hats Do You Wear?

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Pensacola, Florida, United States
Husband. *Dog Dad* Training Specialist. Runner. Triathlete (on hiatus). USATF LDR Surveyor. USAT (Elite Rules) Certified Official, Category 2. RRCA Representative, Florida (North). Observer Of The Human Condition.

Friday, December 30, 2011

If Mama Ain't Happy

So far I've been fortunate. The holiday season usually finds Suzanne and/or me nursing a bug of some kind by the week after Christmas...and by the first week of the new year at the latest. The difference, I think, is we followed a different schedule; spent time with people we normally do not see, did less than we felt we had to.

I used my mildly sociophobic tendencies as a lame excuse to try and keep myself healthy this season. My wife considers my sociophobia a load of bologna; I'm not so much sociophobic as I am socially-inept. The one edge of the proverbial two-edged sword was I did less social functions, saving me from needless exposure to stress and illness. The other edge was Suzanne was occasionally a little less-than pleased.

However, it's easier to make her happy when I decide to "hide." It's not always cheaper than the drugs, but it's easier on me than spending a miserable week on the couch in my warm-ups watching ESPN.

So, when Eric and I talked running during a Christmas social I had to remind him of the old Southern dictum: "If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy."

Why would I bring up something so simple, especially when talking about running?

Most folks, knowingly or unknowingly, make some sort of commitment for the new year. Some call them resolutions. Others call them goals. Eric's goal is to complete a marathon in the future. He runs a few miles here and there, and we hit the trails once or twice a month with the local hash, so he's not a couch potato.

I first applauded Eric's ambition and his moxie, then began asking (like any good coach) a few gentle questions. "So, how many hours do you have free to train?" Eric deals with a full-time job, occasional travel demands, and Ashley. Ashley is Eric's wife. She works and is a college student. When he told me the (small) number of hours he had available I recommended he set a few interim goals, based on a shorter distance event or two, considering the time at his disposal.

How many persons train for endurance events at the risk of strained marriages, missed family functions, irritated and infuriated employers, and frayed friendships? Does a marathon finisher medal or tattoo mend broken fences and burned bridges? Not hardly.

Some coaches use the term "spousal approval unit," which is a lot like the "emotional bank account" Stephen Covey writes about in his book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. If all the time we have available to train without adversely affecting those relationships which make the rest of our life rewarding is small, there's nothing in the world that can increase that period of time.

There are some efficiencies which can help us to recoup time:

We can sleep less. At least to a certain point; there's that fine thin line where we hinder our body's ability to recover from workout efforts.

We can cut back on time-wasting activities, either at work or at home.

We can maximize the time we have available to train by cutting back on "junk miles" and focus on quality efforts.

It's less expensive, physically, financially and emotionally, to "keep Mama (or Papa!) happy" than it is to press forward with an unrealistic training plan or goal event. What do you do to keep your family members happy when you're training for an event?

Thursday, December 29, 2011

So How's That Integrity Thing Working For You?

Доверяй, но проверяй. (Doveryai, no proveryai. - Trust, but verify.) - Russian proverb, frequently used by V.I. Lenin, borrowed by Ronald Reagan

Over the past several days I've chewed, digested, regurgitated, held down, subsequently thrown-up and (like my dog) returned to fallout from a personal and professional (measurement) misadventure which has taught me a great deal about my own personal integrity as well as that of others. Explaining the source of the mistake to the parties most-affected by it has helped, providing a possible solution set a little more so...but outside of a few family members and a business colleague I expect no more in the way of comfort.

I'm not certain if my grandson Simon knows how much help he's been in the past four hours. He and his "Grammy" went to the movies last night. He asked her to give me his bag of one of my favorite candies. I absent-mindedly tucked them into the cup-holder of my vehicle and forgot about them until this morning...after I spent sixty minutes of mea culpa-ing to a very concerned race director. For the second time. Over the course of three days. Sometimes unconditional love for a part-time coach/part-time measurer/full-time curmudgeon can be a little hard to come by. Sometimes you have to consider the source; a person who considers another's humor to be caustic might be lacking in a sense of the very same quality.

'So. How's that integrity thing working for you?' you might ask.

Pretty darn good. Painful in the short term. But sleep comes a little easier with it than without.

Perhaps that's why it's good to have a second (or third) set of eyes/ears around; why we always ask "who is checking the checker?" When our labors, our workouts, and our decisions stay within that easily-maintained comfort zone they can easily become sloppy, lazy and complacent without having someone available to ask the accountability questions. We soon cut corners and round up (or round-down, depending on what makes us look better) the numbers. Then when the big job, the big race, the big project comes along we get caught shorting the course, fudging the budget, doing the walk of shame. Our number gets posted on the big, public penalty sheet with a "disqualification" after it - or worse, our story gets printed in section A of the newspaper of record with the words "fraud," "deception," or "cheating" attached.

Reputations have been tarnished as a result of terribly small errors, spread wide. Ask any politician who had the brass ring slip from their grasp. Ask any Olympian who had to return a medal. For every person who "came clean" about their transgressions, paid their penance and were permitted to return to their profession there have been that many and more who denied the accusations and were finally found out...those are the persons who are never able to regain their reputation.

It's easier to point to a bad piece of meat (in more ways than one), but, my parents used to tell me: 'when you point a finger (at someone else) there's three still pointing back at yourself.'

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Courage to Change, The Wisdom to Know

I looked at the runner's watch face, moments after he finished his marathon. He made his goal of under three hours. But to me something felt very wrong.

Late-December clouds, drizzle, and mist might have affected the ability of his Garmin 310XT (the same model I use to measure, train and race) to communicate clearly with the constellation of satellites; it's happened in the past.

Chuck depended on the 310XT for feedback and pace guidance because he was running solo, without benefit of escort vehicle or bicycle on which to gauge his effort. He told me he tried to do the mathematics throughout the run in order to figure out whether he'd make his goal of seven sub-three-hour marathons in seven days. I could see he was not confident of repeating the feat over the next six days, not without accurate feedback outside of his own physiological data.

I drove home and began to walk through the interrogation points I normally give to a GPS user after a race on a course I've measured:

Was he at the exact start line when the horn went off? Yes.

Did he run the shortest possible distance for the entire run? Outside of six-to-eight stops at the outside edge of the track for fluids, he "bloodhounded" the inside lane line.

Did he stop his unit at the exact finish? Most likely; at the worst he stopped it no more than ten meters past the finish mark.

The issue wasn't that his GPS unit registered a distance that was longer than the standard marathon of 26.21876 miles, or 42.195 kilometers. I knew that was going to happen. It was that the GPS unit registered a distance that was much longer than the standard marathon.

An error rate that approaches five percent definitely exceeds my comfort zone. At that point all I could do is start interrogating myself. I've made a mistake, but WHERE?

Maybe on the mathematical calculations? I've been caught with bad calculations in the past, which can cost a day to two days' worth of work, depending on the race distance. I used to use a hand calculator and word processing document in the past to complete my measurement paperwork but quickly learned the joy of Excel spreadsheets. Once you develop a good spreadsheet formula the paperwork turns into "plug and play."

Also, I've had the pleasure of a second measurer in the past two months, as well as the course certifier, looking at my calculations.

The only thing left was to take a look at my calibration. When I first planned the job I was going to do it in kilometers rather than miles; the track was a 400-meter track, so 42.195 was (so I thought!) going to be more simple than doing feet and miles.

Boy, was I wrong.

Back home, I chewed hard on the data, even going out to take a look at my calibration course. It took only an hour of walking up and down the way for me to realize how badly I screwed up.

I punched up the correct data, went back to speak with the race director, and told her I owed Chuck an apology. She understood it was an integrity issue; it took courage to come out and admit the mistake and to fix it as quickly and efficiently as possible. And I guess she was right. I could have let ego, arrogance and even fear force me to keep my mouth shut.

Small-scale misjudgments - whether as a measurer, a coach, or as a runner - may not drastically affect short-distance races, but can be disastrous when it comes to races like the marathon. Think very carefully about all of the training details, because it's the small one that's most likely going to be the most costly.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Treadmills - We're Talking "Circus Animal Stressful"

One of my fellow running bloggers from the New Orleans area, Jenny, asked me this question:

"A friend and I were discussing road vs treadmill running and wondering why we can run at 6mph on road but on the treadmill run at 5.2mph and get tired much quicker? Have you ever done a blog on that phenomenon ? LOL :) I figured you would be the one who knew best."

When my friends Betsy and Aaron Boudreaux come visit and we go out for a run, I swear she can tell the slightest elevation variance on what I would consider a fairly flat road. I guess that's what happens when you live in a city which is laid out like a soup bowl. What I see as normal near-level terrain she notices as a rise in elevation.

Dr. Jack Daniels talks about the difference between TM and road in the most recent edition of "Running Formula." In fact, he has a series of charts which equate TM pace/elevation to road pace. From what I can tell, most of the possible reasons for this phenomenon all seem to boil down to variation, or the lack of it.

Pace - If you refer back to the comment by Jay Dicharry, PT, which I shamelessly ripped out of that "Running Times" video, It might have to do with the fact there's no pace variation to speak of when you use a TM. We might 'average' 6 on the road it might vary from 5.5 to 6.5.

Equipment - Some TMs are more accurate in their measure of a "mile" than others. If you take a wheel and measure the TM belt, then run it for a minute at 7.5mph, ideally, you should get APPROXIMATELY .125 miles.

Environment -It's harder to stay comfortable running indoors on a TM compared to running outside on your favorite pathway. While we can control (to a degree) the elements in which we run on a TM, especially if it's bitter cold, raining or freaking windy outside, but what we lose in nasty weather we also lose in that cooling airflow we experience in the great outdoors.

Add to that controlled environment the joy-killing factor of boredom. Even though some of the best-equipped gyms have televisions/DVD players/music, the unnatural act of running on a moving belt is mentally stressful. Think circus animal stressful. There's only so much a guy/gal can do to dissociate, so mental discomfort soon leads to physical discomfort.

Now that you've got me to thinking about a run, it might be a good idea for me to grab my stuff in the bag by my coffee pot here at work and get out on the chip trail before the weather turns nasty again.

Happy Christmas to all of you!

Monday, December 19, 2011

What's the Frequency, Kenneth? Quantity v. Quality Speedwork

During the "good old days" of speed workouts on the PJC or UWF track, before the rise to coach-dom (coach-dumb?) I gave little or no thought to the ratio or hard efforts to recovery. Well, it wasn't necessarily my job to think about it. That's why I had a coach, right? Over time, as I started to look at stuff like total mileage per workout, relative intensities, and my (decreasing as a result of the aging process) ability to recover from the workout, I began to ask "what is the right ratio of 'fresh,' 'good build-up,' 'good,' and even 'hard' efforts to recovery running?"

Of course, the ratio of each type of effort isn't etched in stone, but dependent on the individual runner's level of fitness - or tendency toward injury, their ability to recover from hard efforts - a function of fitness level, and race focus. Some coaches, like Arthur Lydiard, were all about the base training first, then adding speed. Others feel the other way around is best; work on speed once the initial race fitness is built, a fast short distance runner can become a fast long-distance runner over time. Once again, each runner is an experiment of one. I like the structure of base-building followed over time with a modicum of speedwork.

Still the question presents itself: How much speedwork is a good thing?

I first went back to my books to see what Jack Daniels' had to say. Daniels earlier plans in his first edition of the Running Formula broke things down into four cycles, for which I won't go into detail. If you want to read it I recommend a copy of his book, either in paperback or on e-reader.

I borrowed from his four sets of six-week training cycles to draw up my training for the next six months leading into a half marathon in late May. The first six weeks were mostly easy aerobic-paced runs. Once the second six-week cycle began, I plugged in runs at threshhold (what I used to call "fresh") pace, either as 400-meter, kilometer, or mile repeats with brief recovery periods, or as something Daniels called "cruise intervals," another nice term for tempo runs. Threshhold running, Daniels recommends, should be no more than about ten percent of the training volume. At this point that's only one speed workout a week.

The faster paces Daniels uses to work on VO2max, his "interval" and "repeat" paces, are also only small portions of the total training volume, that of eight percent and five percent, respectively. So, an experienced runner using any of Daniels' training plans would be doing not much more than ten miles a week in speedwork. Three-quarters of the time is spent running at either "easy," "long," or "marathon" pace.

I guess where I'm heading to with this is this:
There's a time and a place for the speed, but it's probably not as much as wethink we need.

Monday, December 12, 2011

One Excuse Is As Good As Another

Even coaches suffer from demotivation, especially coaches who like bright, sunny mornings. I used to think seasonal affective disorder was a bunch of bologna until I spent an autumn in Chicago. September was great, the first half of October was pretty good. The last four weeks I spent in a deep blue funk, praying for sunshine that never seemed to come. So I guess that's one of the reasons I sat, grumbling, over a cup of coffee and a slice of toast with Nutella the other morning. Was I ready to go out and run with my wife and a couple of our friends? Not necessarily. The gray skies had me wishing for a pot of coffee and a thick book of mindless reading.

On top of this, my mood was not helped by the gentle, persistent ache in my ankles and feet. I raced a 10K the previous day. I commented about the previous day's exertions, saying something like "a tale of two 5Ks, one good and one bad." I ran the first half at my desired 10K pace, then realized my (5K) fitness did not transfer well to the (10K) distance. Rather than risk regression, or worse, reinjury, I shut down the effort on the return trip, adjusting the pace to a minute slower per mile.

Most "hobby joggers" (as some would judge by my performance) would be pleased with a 46-minute 10K. Most people (still) recovering from injuries would call it a good day. However, the ghost of race performances past can trouble the aging and rehabilitating runner. Really, I should be happy to be out on the roads and still running, right?

How many times do runners use a variety of excuses - some lame, others less so - to justify a performance that did not quite meet up to their expectations?

Some of the better excuses I like to hear sound a lot like these:

"I wore the wrong shoes." - In my humble opinion, one of the best and most valid. This excuse is more common with guys who keep half-a-dozen pair of running shoes, in varying states of life, around the house. I've put my singlet, extra socks, race belt, dry post-race clothes, and so on, in my bag the night before, left the house on the morning of the race with all my gear in my bag, but forgot the shoes in which I was going to race. So, I had to wear the pair of retired "kick-around" shoes which had no cushioning left. That's one of those 5Ks I wanted to get over with quickly; one that felt like it would take forever.

The only situation worse than to show up to the race with the wrong shoes is to show with no shoes.

"I wore too much clothing." - This is particularly true for less-experienced runners taking on longer-distance events. I've stood at marathon finish lines, five (or more) hours after the start, with temperatures twenty degrees above the optimum race day temperature. It scares me to see participants layered in tights and warm-up suits staggering toward the chute.

Less often heard is the converse; very few runners under-dress for the conditions. I'm one of those crazy persons who will race in a singlet, high-cut racing shorts, and a hat or gloves. This last weekend I used a pair of arm-warmers and felt good until the end...a little on the warm side because of the knit cap, though. And, strangely enough, there were at least two guys out shirtless in the 40-degree weather.

"It was too (hot/cold/windy/humid)." - Weather conditions happen. And in many cases, unless you're talking marathons, the entire field contends with identical factors. There's not much a runner can do, except train when and where the weather dictates. And don't forget to take advantage of tactics which involve the climate. There's no law that says you have to not draft behind a runner when you're traveling into the wind, right?

"I didn't hydrate/eat properly." In many ways runners are like charcoal grills. You can pile fuel for the burning and light a match, but sometimes, in order to burn fuel you have to have some tinder or an accelerant. Some runners can eat as little as a candy bar before a race; others have to hit the buffet table.

Then comes the issue of hydration, which can be screwed up in quantity or quality. Ask any runner who's had a "barley-based liquid dinner" the night before a race how they performed. Most - after a couple of aspirin - will tell you they would like to have had the previous evening as a "do-over." Beer has fewer carbohydrates than most of us care to admit.

"The course was too long/short." - I measure courses, so I hear this one more often than I care to admit. The fallacy behind this complaint lies in a couple of factors: First, the length discrepancy is most often described in terms of time, rather than in distance. Second, the persons who complain in terms of distance usually gauge it based upon a consumer-grade GPS receiver.

If I hear 'the course was (number) seconds long,' my hearing shuts off. If I hear 'my GPS said the course was...' I patiently explain to them the limitations of consumer-grade GPS receivers, the exact distance of the race course, and the protocols (often) used to measure. For thirty seconds. At which point their hearing shuts off.

"This was a training run." - This is not necessarily a bad excuse, in my opinion. At least, if you're a top-shelf runner in training for a big race somewhere down the line.

If you are in a situation where you pin a bib number on your shirt/top, or attach it to your race number belt, it's a race. I've always been of the opinion that one should not race unless one is race-ready.

Which is probably why I shouldn't have raced the other weekend. But sometimes we have to get out among our fellow runners and blow the carbon out of the exhaust pipes. Maybe the best thing we can do is be honest with ourselves and say, 'I'm out running, and whatever happens, happens.'

Certainly sounds a lot better than all the unsavory alternatives of not running, right?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Resolution? No. More Like Goals.

Back in the days of the old Emerald Coast Racing Team, our group would get together on Thanksgiving morning for a six-to-eight mile easy run. It was a nice way to kick off the season of feasting and sharpen up a little for the last 5K race of the year. Some time in the middle of the run we would chat about goals for the coming year; what marathon or half-marathon we wanted to run, what 5K goal time we wanted to beat in the spring...stuff like that. And even now, years after that group's dissolution, I still like to think about the accomplishments of this year and the challenges of the next, especially in the realm of running.

Not surprisingly, the topic of New Years' resolutions came to the surface while "chatting" with a few friends on a common social media site. Most of the resolutions seemed run-of-the-mill and typical for citizen athletes, with some ambition here and there. And that's a good thing.

I wrote a post about a year ago, titled "Resolved Not To Resolve," in which I swore never to engage in the overambitious, somewhat nebulous and somewhat self-defeating gesture of proclaiming a New Years' resolution. Suzanne, my wife, would probably say she's perfect as she is and wouldn't change a thing about me. The fact love is blind is good. Very good. I often hope, as a coach, friend, writer, co-worker, teacher, and supporter of all things endurance-based, to live a life that makes my fellow man see me the same way my dog sees me.

However, I'm still not going to make a resolution for the coming year, because that would suggest the fact I've failed at one or more things, slacked-off in a particular area, and decided to redouble my efforts to return to a former state of grace. Instead, I'm going to consider them as publicly-declared goals for the coming year. I hope each of you can find inspiration in one or more of the following categories:

1. Find an event, a race distance, or a venue beyond the familiar. Some places are notable for the (over-)abundance of a single event distance, or the same course every month. A friend is directing an event which consists of seven marathons in seven days between Christmas and New Years; she told me all of her participants are coming from outside the immediate area. The 5,000-meters (more or less) is king here.

When Suzanne plans a business trip, she now checks race calendars and hash kennel web sites with the same level of scrutiny as she does hotel accommodations and airline fares. If she can fit in a race, it's all that much more worthwhile. If I can't go she tries to bring me back a race shirt. If there's a really good race she asks me to consider taking time off. This year, for me, the trip race is a half-marathon in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada's capital city.

2. Give back to the community. Running is fun. Running clubs are fun. Running club politics, not so much. But that doesn't mean you can't help fold t-shirts at a packet pick-up for a race, or hand out water at an aid station. There are jobs so far back in the shadows that you may never hear someone complain, but without it the race director ends up with a half-dozen additional gray hairs.

This autumn I've taught a friend to measure courses; he gets a progressive percentage of the proceeds. If the race is for a non-profit we donate a portion of the cost back to the beneficiary (Thank you, Suzanne, for suggesting this!). Our second serious measurement job together was for a non-profit, which led to a race sponsorship, and our company's logo on the event shirt.

The national governing bodies for road racing (USATF) and triathlon (USAT) are always in need of volunteer officials to support their efforts. Nobody who gets into this makes a lot of money, much less a living, but it's - again - one of those jobs which someone has to do to give everyone else the chance to run.

3. Take care of unfinished business. A triathlon in Panama City Beach sent this writer to the emergency department for five hours a couple of years ago. The experience was enough to get into my head (not to mention my wallet) and stay there until the same time I was about 400 yards into a certain lake some five months later.

We all have one race or more that's kicked us in the chops. This year could be the year for payback. What do you have to do to make it happen? What kind of focus is it going to take? Might it involve an investment of time or a small amount of money? What's it worth to you?

4. Bring someone into the fold. I've always considered running to be the most democratic of sports. Even the most biomechanically-inefficient of us can participate, given a pair of shoes which does not damage us. The vast majority of elite runners I've met have been gracious and kind; there are jerks in the community, but no different than in "real life."

As human beings we're all social creatures. While there are people who prefer to train alone, there's still a need to be considered part of a community, even if on the periphery. Most running clubs can be selective, if they wish, about their membership, but I prefer to think the deepest circle of hell is reserved for those (social running groups) who willingly exclude others from their rolls...for no good reason.

(Forgive me, that was a "soapbox" moment.)

It might mean taking a walk with someone who doesn't run much. It could be running farther back in the pack at a 5,000-meter race. Or something drastic and out of the ordinary. Let your imagination, er, run wild. If I can accomplish all four of these goal areas I have no doubt there will be at least a few more happy people in the running community. Perhaps even in the community as a whole. What "big, hairy, audacious" goal have you slated for the new year?

Here's to a safe, mileage-filled, healthy and successful 2012!