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, March 29, 2012

Staying The Course During The Perfect Storm

Betsy called me one afternoon, not long after a note landed in my e-mail.  When I get both e-mail and a phone call it's usually something important, dramatic or entertaining.  This particular call was a blend of all three categories.

"Do you have any idea what the USA Track and Field rule is about runners going off a race course?  I know we've always used the old 'it's the runner's responsibility to know the course' dictum, but I can't seem to find any rule."

When it comes to triathlon I can cite the USA Triathlon competition rule to chapter-and-verse level.  But USATF doesn't have a large presence around here, save for the fine folks of the Road Running Technical Council.  Those are the people who tell me what to tell race directors who want race courses measured.

So, I ran back into my living room library and pulled my gently-used copy of the USATF Competition Rules.  Once you get to the mid-point of the book - Rule 65, section 7 - USATF talks about what happens when racers leave the course: "65.7a. No competitor, after leaving the track or course, shall be allowed to rejoin a race either for the purpose of gaining a place or to pace or to assist another competitor." 65.7c then states: "In any track event of 20,000 meters or more, or in any road race, a competitor may leave the road or track with the permission and under the control of a judge or other authorized official, provided that by going off or returning to the course the athlete does not lessen the distance to be covered."

So, as long as the racer doesn't cut the course - and is supervised by an official or judge - then leaving the course is only a little inconvenience.  It's not like the world, or the rest of the race field, will hit the "Pause" button until you return to the course. In the case of most recreational runners this is not an earth-shaking situation. It stands to reason that 99 percent of the time we're going to follow the runner directly in front of us...and hope like mad the entire lot of them didn't screw up. It's happened before; naturally, it's another good story.

However, for the elite runners, the fast guys and gals looking for a medal and/or a paycheck, that's the equivalent of working on a PowerPoint presentation for two-or-three hours, only to have the file go "toes-up" minutes before the meeting is to start.  (I've had that before.)

Frustration only starts to describe ones' emotions. Train like mad for a potentially-nice pay day, and have a police officer turn the wrong direction or a course marshal "fall asleep at the switch?"  Churchillian blood, toil, sweat and tears.  For naught.

It's one of the reasons I took up course measurement. It was either that or spend thirty minutes at the packet pick-up begging for a course map, then studying every little detail. I absolutely needed to know the direction, the turns and the finish line...or at least where it was supposed to be...on race day. An extra 800 meters during a 5K will teach you that lesson.

Every athlete I have trained has heard me talk about the particulars of their upcoming race course, if I'd raced it in the past, to the smallest detail. For a short distance race, such as the 5,000-meters on the roads, it can mean a couple of extra seconds toward a personal best time. In the case of a half-marathon or longer, it can mean the difference between injury and a good day. Especially if you know the specifics of the terrain.

USATF Competition Rule 134.1 states: "Running courses shall be adequately marked at strategic points to keep the competitors on course. Each turn and intersection shall be clearly marked in such a way that there will be no doubt as to the direction the runner should go to stay on course."

As a course director for run portions of multisport events, I believe there's not enough a race director can do or place; whether it is chalk or paint on the asphalt, cones or barriers in the road, signs along the shoulders, and obnoxious human beings. Multiple back-ups are sometimes necessary to make certain nobody turns too early or wrong.

Of course, there are differences between road racing and multisport, especially when it comes to running. A set of headphones at a USAT-sanctioned event may earn at least one, and up to three, penalties, depending on the vigilance of the transition workers and referees. USATF strongly discourages their use for safety reasons, to include the ability to hear volunteer instructions.

The perfect storm of a half-informed lead driver, a briefly-distracted course marshal and a slightly under-marked course can ruin the runner's day. A study of the course map and a pre-drive of the course can make for a good "umbrella."

Thursday, March 15, 2012


The ache in the knees should have been a warning sign.

One look at the training logs told me the terrain of the previous weekend could have been the root cause of discomfort.  Sure, others outside the Gulf Coast can scoff at the 50-to-100-foot variations in total elevation, but most physical therapists would probably not recommend my county-fair-style wanna-be roller coaster courses from Sunday morning or Sunday afternoon.

Not the best training surface for a pair of recovering achilles tendons.

Since the achilles were not aching, the next suspect would have been the shoes.  Nope.  I ran in shoes which had 300 and 180 miles, respectively.  Old shoes cause aches first in the ankles, then the knees, closely followed by the hips and low back.

I've waited until the "back pain" stage to buy the next pair.  It's amazing how quickly the ache goes away.

As I lay, stewing in my own 101.3-degree juices, it suddenly came to me.

Eric.  And 13,000 of my closest (some as stone cold sober as me!) friends.

I had a sneaking suspicion something was not going to go well when he asked me: 'Mike, do you have any recommendations on how to run when you cannot breathe?'

My one-word answer: 'Don't.'

Most experienced runners know the "chin rule" when it comes to running while sick.  If the congestion or discomfort of an allergy or cold is limited to the head and sinuses, runs at a decreased intensity are acceptable.  If the congestion is below the level of the chin (the small accessory muscles of the ribcage is a good sign - if the ribs are tender the accessory muscles have probably been used too much), rest, rest and some more rest is a great idea.

The weekend's exposure more than compensated for the wisdom and prudence I used through the end-of-year holidays.  Sometimes the runner can exercise caution - avoid crowds, eat properly, and train smartly - and still one (or two, or three, in my case) exposures can put them down for the count.  Illness can be punishing enough without adding to it, so don't.

Monday, March 12, 2012

You Can Leave Your Hat On

My formative years were in a small town in the desert of the Southwestern US.  Folks like my family (Northeastern White Anglo-Saxon Protestants) were the minority.  Fortunately for my sister and me we quickly were "adopted" into a Latino family who lived next door to my family's business.  We learned in those first years about the importance of family, an understanding of traditions which were (at that time) foreign to us, and a great deal of respect for the home in which we were invited.  When in Rome, it is best to do as the Romans do.

I believe this attitude has helped as I've grown, traveled and experienced some things.  One certain way to upset the locals, especially in some cultures which are a departure from what we consider "the norm," is to violate it.  Some cultures will take the offense with the amount of seasoning necessary and move on.  Others might be a little less tolerant.  The other way is to completely ignore or disregard what the culture considers tradition, strongly-held belief, or common practice.

The Hash House Harriers (a.k.a. the Hash) and "hashing" (a recreational activity which often merges the intake of beer with running on roads, trails, and paths of widely-varying quality) is a culture all its own.  Traditions, norms, folkways and social mores of the Hash can vary by group, depending on the surrounding culture.  A (perhaps too-)simple way to describe these traditions, norms, folkways, and social mores would be to parallel them with religious doctrine.  In fact, John Wesley's dictum: 'in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity' is probably most correct.

The essentials, in my humble opinion, are:
1.  Beverages - Either beer, water, or both.  Soda or sports drink is kind of out on the edge of acceptable.
2.  Trail - The distance and degree of difficulty are up to the person or persons laying out the trail.
3.  Circle - An opportunity for encouraging traditions, norms, folkways, and social mores, as well as having a few laughs...and more beverages.
4.  On-After - Jewish have "oneg shabbat."  Protestants have Piccadilly (or Furr's, if you prefer) Cafeteria, or Golden Corral, or Ryan's Buffet.  A good hasher always leaves room for more beer...and food...and beer.  That's where the fellowship of the "saints" continues.  Not necessarily required, but some good stories do come out there.

The songs sung and names given to each member of the Hash (proof of the member's group identity - both in the individual Hash and the Hash catholic) can range from tame to scatological.  Those are Wesleyan non-essentials. would you feel if someone in your immediate family decided to go to a church service with you, six-pack of beer in tow?  While you're taking very deep breaths, waiting for the ceiling to cave in or a thunderbolt to come out of the heavens...they're sitting in the back row, noisily cracking open a can or two while chatting on their cell phone.

To me, that's what it feels like when a "named" hasher shows up at another Hash's event and says, "I don't do circle."  Next thing you know they're holding a conversation in earshot of the group trying to engage in their traditions. 

It's difficult to be charitable toward these folks.

If they're not into Circle because what happens might make them look stupid, here's a news flash.  Hashing was not intended to be acceptable.  It's a way to blow off steam, to run and play and let your inner five-year-old out...with all the grown-up benefits.  And there are groups who want to make it acceptable.  That's fine, but when you're in someone else's "cathedral," sitting in someone else's "pew," at least sit quietly if you don't agree with the preacher...or have a seat in the car in the parking lot.

And please, don't call yourself a hasher.  At least not in my presence.  You can leave your hat on.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Nature's Little Surprises

"Nature loves her little surprises....don't you know it's a waste of your day caught up in endless solutions that have no meaning, just a hunch based on jumping a life of illusion..." - (Joe Walsh, 1981)

On my non-running day this last week, Suzanne and I were invited to a Zumba class by a friend (a former member of my training group, and my dentist) and his girlfriend. When the invitation came I believe I had a good idea what to expect.

In case you spent the last decade in a place where there are no gyms playing a single beat of Latin-flavored dance music, Zumba is a mix of Latin-style dance and aerobic moves. If you squint just so and the lighting is right during a sixty-minute session, you might get visions of Billy Blanks and Shakira.

I've done aerobic classes of one kind or another over the past couple of decades, however almost 30 years had passed since I did my last "mae geri keage" in the dojo, so the kickboxing moves were going to be more difficult. I'd seen the info commercials on television, so I worried a little leading into the class session. First, bouncing around on a linoleum floor in a school cafeteria may not be good rehabilitation for achilles tendonosis. Second, my parents did not pass on the "dance" gene, at least not to any popular dance outside of "high school hug-disguised-as-a-slow-dance" dance.

But I did remember my first aerobic instructor's advice if a routine became too complicated:

Keep breathing. Breathing is definitely a good idea, considering the unsavory alternatives. I don't do "smurf" all that well.

Keep moving. Standing still in an exercise class when everyone else is moving eventually leads to unintended collisions. Kickboxing moves, not full-contact kumite, grasshopper.

Keep smiling. If smiling is not possible a grimace looks much like a smile from a distance.

In that order.

But most importantly, I was going to be (probably) the second guy in a class full of women. There are guys who feel comfortable in their presence. There are guys who, by circumstance, spend a great deal of their life in their close proximity. If you're one of those guys whose livelihood (two good examples being the medical and educational disciplines) requires you to be in close proximity, you learn a lot of things.

You learn women are EXACTLY like men. At least when they are in an environment where they are the overwhelming majority, if not the totality. Sure, their work spaces are a little more nicely decorated, scented, and accessorized, otherwise they're alike. While I've never spent time in a ladies' locker room, I can say that women who work in an all-female shop can be very un-ladylike. They are more likely to, to be polite, "let their hair down." I've heard things no man should probably ever know existed. After about six months, I pretty much became one of the girls...estrogen-challenged and testosterone-enhanced, but one of the girls, no less.

After Dr. Quigley's "breathe, move, smile" advice came that of Clint Eastwood, straight out of "Heartbreak Ridge." Sure, that old Marine Corps gunnery sergeant was trying to get in touch with his inner-feminine side (or his ex-wife's), but he valued the ability to 'adapt, overcome, improvise.' As Suzanne moved farther forward into the class and worked at learning the routines, I stayed in the back of the classroom where the traffic was lighter, got a good sweat, and - most importantly - didn't hurt myself or anyone else too much. And, while dance frustrates me, I have to admit I did have a little bit of fun.

Perhaps that's why all-woman health and fitness clubs and women's running groups are popular. The "fairer sex" can feel less hindered or intimidated by us grunting, sweating, metal plate-chucking, lead-by-a half-stride-pace-seeking knuckleheads. Some of them do get better workouts that way. Of course, there are women who completely waste their time socializing or working out at an intensity level just one notch above sitting on the couch.

There are benefits to co-ed training. If you want to get a good weight workout, do it with a chick. There's not going to be a lot of grunting and, if you'll pardon the expression, man-handling the weight. Women more often use proper form and reasonable resistance. They'll get a lot of repetitions in so the muscle is stronger, not necessarily bigger. And there are drawbacks, too. There have been track workouts where my ego had to kick in to keep from getting "chicked" on one or more repeats. I trained with a woman who was so tough, we joked she would only quit a workout when a bone was sticking out of her leg...and only after she realized the bone ws her own.

"Every once in a while," my wife says, "we need to confuse our body by doing something a little different." Here's to the occasional confusion workout. It can be something as simple as changing from the time of the run from evening to morning, the surface from road to treadmill, the situation from running solo to doing a run with a group.