So, How Many Hats Do You Wear?

My photo
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, April 30, 2012

The Vehicle Always Wins

I represent what is left of a vanishing race, and that is the pedestrian.... That I am still able to be here, I owe to a keen eye and a nimble pair of legs.  But I know they'll get me someday.  ~Will Rogers

Rarely if ever do my wife and I vehemently disagree.  And even more rare is the heated argument between the two of us.  The only time a casual observer might event consider the slightest bit of discord between us is during those times when pedestrian and motor vehicle meet in the public thoroughfare.

The average person would think a running enthusiast and coach would take the side of the walker ambling from point A to point B through the center of a city street. 

Absolutely not.  I marvel at the foolishness of people who disregard common sense and common courtesy.  A marked and signal-controlled crosswalk, not 20 yards farther down the street at the intersection, has been placed there by traffic engineers with compassion and vision.  It drives me even more to fury when the same pedestrians cross during the rush hours, or at twilight while wearing subdued outerwear.

I'm not going to go out of my way to strike you, foolish pedestrian, nor will I blow my horn in an effort to startle you out of your reverie.  But please don't expect me to be exceedingly kind, either.

What caused Suzanne and I to truly exchange harsh words after a Sunday morning run and brunch at the beach, however, was a family crossing smack dab in the middle of the county highway.  With heavy early-afternoon beach trafic traveling both directions.  With a baby stroller.  I rolled up upon the gentleman with the stroller, but I was no closer to him than the large, honking van rolling up upon his back side.

Suzanne and I were both angry; she at my apparent lack of compassion, me at the gentleman's willful endangerment of his child.  I explained that legally, ethically and morally the guy was in the wrong; I would not willingly go out of my way to inflict harm, but in the unlikely event (with perfect weather and visibility, this would be highly unlikely) of a pedestrian strike the worst I would most likely incur is an overwhelming sense of emotional guilt.

"What if it were you and the grandchildren?"

"There's no way I would ever - ever - walk the kids across the street without being in a croswalk.  Period."

Normally, I would have not written or discussed this particular topic.  But I left home earlier than usual this morning, only to find I would need to take a detour to work.   An hour later I read the report of a runner struck and killed by an 18-wheel semi-truck.  As always, the details were very limited.  The road where the accident occurred is not known for being well-lit; I've driven it at 5:30 in the morning in months past.

Perhaps the runner was not paying attention.  Perhaps the trucker wasn't looking out for the other guy, didn't expect anyone to be out for their jog at 5:30 a.m.  It's a sad state for all parties.  A ton of internal combustion engine and related parts, traveling 40 miles per hour (64 feet/second) has force (128,000 foot-pounds) which far outweighs a 170-pound man traveling 7 miles an hour (11.2 feet/second, 1904 foot-pounds).  Even if the pedestrian was in the right, and did all the right things, and was entitled to the right of way, when it comes to close encounters of the vehicular kind, the vehicle always wins.  

It's easy to start looking at potential causes, like music player use, lack of lights or reflective clothing, and a lack of situational awareness, just to name a few which easily come to mind.  Did the runner decide to take a sudden turn across the street without taking a look behind him, or try to cross an intersection where the "big red hand of death" was displayed?  It's difficult to say.

Have I done a lot of things while running which would fall under the realm of self-endangerment; jaywalked, or ran across a street without using the crosswalk?  Yes.  In the overwhelming majority of cases the nearest vehicle hasn't necessarily been all that near. 

I hope that Will Rogers was wrong; that we're not all going to be eventually the victim of a motor vehicle encounter.  A keen eye and a nimble pair of legs can only get us so far.  Make certain to do the things which will allow you to see and be seen, hear and be heard on the roads.  Because if it's all left up to chance, we all know the numbers are not in the runner's favor.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Long Run + "Comatose State" = Too Long

My friend Betsy, Suzanne, and I were talking over Monday early morning coffee about time-constrained training, training partnerships and - not surprisingly - the role of the long run in marathon training.

Suzanne marveled that a group of people would meet each weekend at 5:20 in the morning to train.  Naturally, we understand that during certain times of the year - like months which don't have an "R" somewhere in them - early morning training runs are not just a good idea, but sane behavior.  She also liked the fact that the group would take time to socialize over breakfast something we've encouraged with our training partners.

Betsy mentioned that 5:20 was the latest the group left in the morning; a runner doing a longer effort would start their run as early as 3:00.  In the case of runners who want to finish and have breakfast with the rest of the group, doing two hours or less, it makes perfect sense.  

However, a four-hour marathon training jaunt only benefits mentally.  To do at least one four-hour (or longer) run in the preparation for 26.2(1876) miles - the four-hour run can help the runner to get their head around the thought of running four-to-five hours at a stretch - is one thing.  Otherwise, especially in the physiological sense, the recreational runner who does more than one four-hour training run when prepping for the marathon has got to be mental.

There's a point of diminishing returns - physiologically, emotionally and socially - once the run goes beyond two-and-a-half-hours.  It's more difficult to recover, and even do a run the following day, when more than 150 minutes of good running has been "deposited in the bank."  And 150 minutes at a stretch is the (recommended) 25-percent long run portion of the maximum sane week (10 hours) of training.  There are highly esteemed coaches (of Olympic marathoners) who would rather have their athletes spread the training volume across the week rather than do 50-60% of it in one long slog.

Frankly, all I wanted to do after 16-mile training runs (in a sliver over two hours) was take a long hot shower, pull on compression tights and sweats, put my legs up on the couch and watch football all afternoon.  Unless you have a VERY understanding spouse, kids or significant other, the prospect of a (beyond-healthy) chunk of YOUR Saturday (or Sunday) morning out spent on the roads doing 18, 20, or 22 miles in close to four hours, followed by "Occupy the Couch" means a large portion of THEIR weekend is pretty much shot to hell.

If you absolutely have to do the 18-to-22 mile run more than one time in the marathon preparation, schedule it so it comes before a "cut-back" week, where the mileage, time or intensity (or all of the above) is intentionally decreased to let the body (and mind) recover.

A physiologically or emotionally-viable alternative for the runner who feels the compulsion to do the "really long run" part of marathon training more than one time can include the option of splitting it into two.

There are several ways the "typical" weekend can be broken up:
1 - Run the first two-and-a-half hours on Friday afternoon, then do the remaining miles on Saturday morning.  Sunday morning can either be a rest day, Saturday's run, or a run of 30-to-60 minutes focusing on form and turnover.
2 - Run the first two-and-a-half hours on Saturday morning, with the remaining miles late Saturday afternoon.  Sunday morning can either be a rest day or a shorter run of 30-to-60 minutes focusing on form and turnover.
3 - Run the first two-and-a-half hours on Saturday evening, with the remaining miles early Sunday morning.  Then do a very short run run of 30 minutes focusing on form and turnover that afternoon.

I don't like the idea of splitting the long run between Sunday morning and Sunday afternoon.  There's always something to do with loved ones; taking any more time than what is absolutely necessary away from family is not a decision which will make for successful running.

There are varying schools of thought about what needs to be the maximum long run distance for marathon training.  The 30-kilometer recommendation of European coaches and the 20-mile number bandied about by coaches here in the States are nice round "one-size-fits-somebody" numbers.  The best maximum distance for marathon training is the one which does not go too far beyond the physiological tipping point, one which allows the runner to get up and do a little something the following day, or at least do a little something with family that day.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Keep It Simple

I worked the transition area at Ochsner Ironman 70.3 New Orleans this past weekend, checking bicycles and making certain they were sitting in their proper place.  The preparation level among the athletes, like many racing events, ranged from the level of very well-prepared to the level where we could see the athlete would probably have a challenging day on Sunday.

Among the racks of bicycles swaying in the gusty transition area were probably half a dozen with identical reinforced nylon, zipper-and-bungee-cord fastened covers running from handlebar to saddle.  Sure, there were other bikes whose chains and derailleurs were covered up with trash bags, and a couple of quick-thinking athletes who found a new use for their swim caps, but these covers were the most efficient sail I've ever seen devised for use on a parked bicycle.  It was east to tell these covers were purchased at the expo; the athletes had not taken the time to remove the price tags from them before coming out to transition.

A runner at their first major road race can go to a race expo, or a new runner can go to their local running emporium, and quickly be overwhelmed by the number of products which have been developed to (supposedly) make them faster, more comfortable, and happier while engaging in their hobby.  Many of the items may be of benefit at one time or another in the runners' life, but there are items sitting on the displays which may be of little use at the immediate time.

I've had conversations with the proprietor of my local running emporium on many occasions on the topic of shoes, gear, training and all things running (and some things triathlon).  He's often told me he would not be able to stay in business based on the demands and equipment preferences of experienced endurance athletes.  The new runner is the "typical" running store proprietor's bread-and-butter.  Not every store is like this, but if you find a store that's stocked with what seems to be "everything under the sun" it's probably one who lives on the initial purchases of the "hobby jogger."

The nicest thing about running is that the individual runner - should they decide accordingly - can keep things simple; minimize the damage to their bank account by avoiding the shiny little "you really, really need this" gadget marketed on the back pages of the running magazines.

So, if I were your coach, I would advise you to spend your running dollars in this particular priority order:

Good shoes - these are a must.  While you can buy "too much" shoe as "too little," if I have the choice of spending my money/time with orthopedic physicians/physical therapists and spending it on the right pair of shoes, the shoes win out.  Get evaluated and fitted for the right type of shoe, and stick with that particular type.  You can either stay faithful to one brand or you can try a couple of different brands out to see what works best, but the shoes are going to make or break the runner.

Identification - either invest in a small personal item carrier which will let you carry drivers' license, credit card and a few dollars or a cell phone, or purchase one of the wrist/ankle/shoe/dog tag devices where your personal information can be inscribed.  A half-dressed, unconscious "John/Jane Doe" is something you never should be to the local constabulary.

Running clothes - simple is good.  Technical fiber tops and shorts, support wear and socks are durable and can be found at most department stores, as well as running shops.  Let your conscience be your guide.  My wife likes a couple of particular brands which aren't sold at the local running emporium.  I'm into high-cut, split racing-style shorts.

Cap/visor - Keeping the sun off your head or out of your eyes can reduce the strain of your daily run.  And if you're doing a long run a good running cap, soaked in cool water, will help keep your core temperature down.

Sunglasses - Even the least-expensive pair of sunglasses is better than none at all to protect your eyes from ultraviolet radiation, as well as dust, grit, debris, bugs and tree limbs.  

Running watch - Some training programs like to focus on running/walking periods.  Others like to do speedwork and interval training.  A simple sports watch, like the Timex Ironman, can help to keep tack of the distance run through the entire workout, or let you go as granular as the time taken to do a particular distance.

Heart Rate Monitor - There are running watches which also let the athlete track the intensity of their particular workouts,  Some of the more-expensive ones will even download data to your personal computer.  The downside of using heart rate monitors is the need to know your individual maximum heart rate; the classic "220-minus-age" calculation does not work for every individual, plus the fact that heart rate during identical exertion can vary from day to day depending on other factors like hydration level, caffeine intake, and so on.  And, to many runners, heart rate is only a number.

GPS - Global Positioning System-enabled watches are nice tools to have if you run in areas where you're not sure of the distance from point-to-point, or you spend a great deal of time traveling, or you want to have a ballpark figure of your present running pace.  The best consumer-grade GPS units have technological limitations, and if you use one at a race you're going to be "most likely" longer than the stated distance.

Three things, right off the top of my head, which I would not recommend new runners spend their investment money would include hydration devices, stretching devices, and running-related music player gadgetry.  Hydration devices, like the "camelback pouch," might be fantastic for the athlete who runs out in the middle of nowhere for hours on end, but an urban or suburban runner would be better served by stashing fluid bottles along their route, or carrying a couple of dollars (or credit card) and setting your route so it stops near a convenience store.  Stretching devices, especially the ones which look like something you'd see in "Braveheart," are overrated.  Invest instead in a book like "Run Strong," edited by Kevin Beck, which has a great number of stretching and strength routines for runners.

Music players are great on the treadmill or elliptical trainer, but the overwhelming majority of runners play them too loudly.  Earbuds which allow ambient surrounding sound in can be defeated by the runner who turns up their MP3 player to eleven...and block out the approach of an oncoming pedestrian, bicyclist, or automobile.  If you're lucky you'll only be suddenly frightened by them.  If you're less lucky it might end up being an assailant.  If you're very unlucky you might end up as a hood ornament.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

"Eustress," or You Stress?

"Mental tensions, frustrations, insecurity, aimlessness are among the most damaging stressors, and psychosomatic studies have shown how often they cause migraine headache, peptic ulcers, heart attacks, hypertension, mental disease, suicide, or just hopeless unhappiness." - Hans Selye, endocrinologist (1907-1982)

It didn't kick in until about 12:30 or so on Sunday afternoon.  When it did it was like a mule.

One minute I was  listening to Jimmy Buffett tunes on the stereo and driving to the home of Aaron and Betsy Boudreaux...a tray or two of boiled crawfish and a couple of cold beers seemed to me to be the perfect ending to a long-awaited weekend with friends and loved ones.  Next thing I know, I felt like a bank of telephones were ringing and I had to answer them, while driving at the same time.

About two hours later I felt a little more normal.  As I peeled and pulled, I managed to figure out the source of what went so awry.  I again had taken on the demands I had set aside when I retired from day-to-day coaching.  I was dealing with an increased workload at the office.  On top of that my racing fitness was not coming along as quickly as I hoped; the Achilles' tendon injuries were healing but I could only manage a good 5K...on a 10K course.  While I was outwardly pragmatic, I was all stressed up with no place to blow.

"Charley, I was a little scared," I told my friend later that afternoon over a beer.  We had talked days before about mutual friends, pillars of the community, who transmogrify into a maelstrom of insanity during Easter weekend in New Orleans.  Excesses immediately following the Classic - a couple too-many brews during the five miles from City Park to the Quarter, or a couple extra drinks while spending the evening at one of my wife's favorite karaoke establishments, is one thing.  This particular couple's hotel passageway eruptions made mixed martial artists and WWE-types take a couple of steps toward the exits.

Sometimes stress can get to us.  But is stress one of those things, like former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart would have said, we know what it is when we experience it?  Selye described stress (in 1926) being not only (as Emanuel Kant might have said) the thing in itself, but also the cause and the result of the same thing.

So if stress is the thing, and the cause, and the result, then is it bad?  Not necessarily.  When we exercise we incur a certain degree of stress.  If we allow ourselves time to RECOVER from that physical (and sometimes mental - if you've ever gone into a workout with a sense of dread) stressor we benefit from what is known as supercompensation.  Selye would probably consider that stress "eustress," or good stress.  If we load more stress before we completely recover we begin the process of slowly grinding ourselves down.  That, in my humble opinion, is when the burnout and the overuse injuries arrive.

On the other hand, if we allow ourselves to dwell on the minutiae of life, the small stuff we cannot control, or the things which we cannot immediately remedy, we incur bad stress, what Selye considered "distress."  Sometimes we can use "eustress" to overcome some of our own "distress;" but sometimes it cannot all be remedied through physical effort or exercise.

Sometimes it takes a little "me-time."  Sometimes it takes a "crucial conversation." (another commonly-used term would be the "come-to-Jesus talk")  But the distress, like the carbonation in a soda or champagne bottle, needs to be released in a careful manner, lest the darned thing explode - usually in a hotel hallway on a Saturday night, or a patio bar on a Friday evening, with stunned onlookers all about.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Fun With A Capital "F"

"'Coach,' can you tell us some tips how to run today?"

The question was new for a number of reasons:  First, it was not coming from an athlete I had advised in the past.  Second, it was not coming from an adult athlete.  Lastly it was coming from my grandchildren.

That's right.  The grandchildren.  Both the six-year-old and the three-year-old...and their parents...address me as 'Coach,' but that's a story for another sitting.

I smiled and calmly gave them the advice of ultrarunning legend Walt Stack ("start slow, then taper off"). Their "Grammy," however, rarely listens to the totality of my coaching.  She thought I told them to start slowly and pick up the pace near the end.  However, since it was the kids' second-ever fun run the emphasis was on fun with a capital "F."

Some nine minutes later I could tell they had fun, because it was the first time I got to see them run.  If not for five days of flu-like symptoms I probably would have run along with one of them.

"Why aren't there more fun runs and kid-focused events?"  Suzanne asked.  I stopped my e-mail reading. She had opened up her laptop to search through running club event calendars and was busily writing event dates down.

I took a deep breath, then shared my own perceptions: "First of all you have to follow the money.  Who put on today's event?  What expense did they put into it? And, most of all, what will they get out of it?"

Some cities or running clubs are more kid-friendly or family-friendly when it comes to events and such.  Others give little more than a wink and a nod.  It probably has more to do with a club's or sponsor's ability to take the pulse of the surrounding community and decide to do the greatest good for the largest constituency.

I pointedly reminded my wife that kids are not (necessarily) primary consumers.  While their interests might influence parents to a small degree, it is the parent or adult family member who has the real purchasing power.  While the child might think I'm the coolest for giving them a trinket it's their parent or responsible adult family member I want to bring their money through my doorway.

If the culture which surrounds a club/race is more beer-drinking and adult-flavored socializing than family-oriented - and there are many clubs/events which focus more on the social than the athletic - it is a strong possibility families are not going to bring their kids to runs.  I can think of a handful of popular local run events to which I would never, ever take my grandchildren. If they're going to see adults drink beer it's going to be family members acting in a responsible manner.

I have a friend who works with youth athletes, mainly track, and when I've received a phone inquiry from a parent I've sent the parent his general direction.  In spite of the fact I've been background-checked into the boards so many times I wear hockey pads to my real job, USA Track and Field adds insult to injury and ask for youth coaches to endure one more round of hoop-jumping.  With the amount of bureaucracy above and beyond what the typical club-level coach endures (being a former bureaucrat I know useless bureaucracy when I see it), I decided to not advise or coach any runners under the age of 16.  Yes, even the older youth athlete still has the occasional "little league" parent for a year or few - the college freshman chaperoned by either mother or sibling, the grandparent who asks for your advice within earshot of the runners' present coach - but in most cases the athlete will make decisions for themselves.

I tip my hat in the general direction of the men and women who give of their time and energies to make running a sport which is more than a punishment for ball sports athletes.  And I hope my grandchildren get the chance eventually to see "Coach" at a performance level a little more close to his old self...perhaps they'll see a person who just so happens to like running for its own reward.