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, May 31, 2012

There's Got To Be A Morning After...

It took a solid day and change, but I was able to walk normally in my Crocs Prepair sandals from the baggage claim at the airport to the spot where my car was parked in the garage. I don’t remember being quite as beaten down after a half-marathon, but it had been a solid 16 months between my last half marathon on Pensacola Beach and this one in Ottawa. It was great to “flip the switch” and have a much more satisfying day on the roads; sixteen months of frustration and pain can really drive a guy to desperation and doubt. Had I run faster for the distance? Absolutely; this performance was nearly a minute per kilometer slower than my best race, and thirty seconds per kilometer slower than my last half marathon when I was in triathlon training. Add age to the possible causes and effects and I cannot help but smile at what was really a good day.

But I want to turn the clock back a day, where I was hobbling like a person born about two decades, maybe three, before the date posted on my driver’s license. The “walking on hot coals” gait which brought my wife and my sister-in-law so much amusement could have been mitigated some eight hours earlier by following many of the commonly-held rules of thumb for recovery from race efforts and longer training runs.

Even if you’re running shorter races which last less than an hour, you can still benefit from many of the post-race recovery guidelines:

Cool-down – take the time to walk or jog easily once you’ve crossed the finish line. Back in the days when I ran 5,000 meter road races throughout the spring and fall seasons, my teammates and I would often go back out on the course and jog another loop. If you can jog another lap of the course, be careful not to interfere with other participants who are still racing – it often frustrated them to see half a dozen runners coming up from behind, and usually didn’t make us too many friends.

I finished about 30 minutes before the time I suspected Suzanne would arrive at the finish chute. In hindsight, it was probably enough time to walk the mile and a half back to the hotel, get a quick wash, and return to meet her. I’ve learned my lesson from running the Classic. When given the choice to wander half-blindly through tens of thousands of people asking “where’s my wife?” or to stay put at a place she has to eventually pass, I’ll choose to suck down a few cups of sports drink and wait. Which brings me to the second important point…

Nutrition and hydration – researchers have learned that in the first 20 minutes following a bout of exercise, your muscles are most willing to take in nutrition. If you’re the type of person who has tried without success in the past to take in fruit, breads, cookies or solid food (probably because the blood which should flow to the stomach is still being pumped near the skin to lower your core temperature), see if liquid nutrition helps. I tried a milkshake-like post-exercise supplement in Ottawa, and I’ve seen beverages of the same kind at my local gym and in many drug and grocery stores. If you don’t like the “sticker-shock” associated with sports nutrition products, 2-percent or nonfat chocolate milk is a very good substitute.

Regardless of the drink – water, carbohydrate drink or specialty product – take in 150 percent of what fluid weight you lost during the run. If you’ve been training for a long period of time, or for a long-distance race, you probably know more or less how much fluid you lose during an hour of running. Do the math and drink up. Save the beer for later in the day. This race was one of the few events where beer was not served at the post-race. For those who run races outside of the southern US, this can either be a shock or a pleasant surprise. For us, this was a non-issue; Canadian beer is good but it certainly is not inexpensive.

Throughout the day, and even into the following day, make certain to eat good, wholesome foods and drink plenty of fluids. We had two fantastic meals at a couple of downtown pubs (watching the human condition; guessing which patron had run and which had not), and didn’t feel guilty about polishing off a bag of pretzels and a bag of (fruit and nut) trail mix between lunch and dinner.

When it comes to races which last longer than an hour, it’s wise to approach recovery with the same level of care and attention as you would treat what Timothy Noakes, MD, author of Lore of Running, would call a grade 1 injury, where the pain or uncomfortable feelings do not arrive until a period of time following the cool down. In addition to the first two points, it’s also good to…

Rest – take a day off from running, perhaps even from cross-training (if this race is part of a lead-up to a target event) for every hour you’ve raced. After this, add a day of easy running for every mile in the race.

Some people are a fan of massage therapy, which research has shown to hinder removal of lactic acid from muscle tissues, but every once in a while it doesn’t hurt to have a strange (and caring) person put their hands on you. Just be certain to schedule a gentle massage after you’ve taken your days off, not before. Another questionable therapy which many runners swear by is the (traditional) immersion in a bathtub full of icy water, or a cool swimming pool, or time in a cool shower, or application of cool packs to joint areas which feel uncomfortable. Sure, they might not be as beneficial as we think they are, but some days (especially the hot ones) they can feel wonderful.

Compression – compression sleeves, socks and tights have been broadly accepted by the running and multisport world, both during and after races. While there appears to be little benefit during the exercise, medical research has found compression garments can assist in muscle recovery. I have four pairs of compression socks and I’m not afraid to use them – at least when I can hide them underneath a pair of long pants. But what can you do during the summer months to not look like a complete “athletogeek?” It suddenly came to me as I was getting ready for work this morning: Invest in a pair of wool hiking socks…the same kind that are used to make sock monkey dolls…and a pair of comfortable trail running shoes or hiking boots. Pull the wool socks over the compression sleeves, put on a pair of khaki walking shorts and voila! Hidden in plain sight!

Elevation – I didn’t mention when talking about rest the benefits of napping. To me and my wife, naps – and extra sleep, for that matter – are the greatest undervalued guilty pleasure. Any extra time after the race where you can put your legs up is time well spent. If you’re lucky on the flight home you might be able to get an empty row (as I did) or an exit row seat (which tends to have a little more legroom). Sure, you’re going to look a little silly sitting sideways in the booth at the local Denny’s, but it’s not the waitress who’s done a half marathon, 16 miles, or a marathon. It’s all about you right now.

The race preparation not only includes what you’re going to do in the days prior to the race, but also in the hours and days afterward. Smart post-race recovery will get you back on the trails and roads sooner.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Undertrained, Yet Not Overwhelmed

Home from the Ottawa (Canada) Race Weekend, where I ran my "target" half-marathon event.

No, it was not a personal best.  But in light of my slow healing of the achilles' tendons and an (seemingly) untimely illness during training I went into the event in a way I've often recommended to my own athletes.


The state of undertraining showed during three jaunts around the Rideau Canal and Queen Elizabeth Boulevard;  I could run along at a six-something minute-per-mile clip for a quarter mile, but it took about 45 minutes to get comfortable enough to get there.  There were no joyous "check in the box" or "hay in the barn" runs to speak of during the next two days, including a shutdown after fifteen minutes.  I knew there was little chance of running close to the last half I ran as part of my triathlon training, but I was going to try.

Naturally, when you are running with over ten-thousand of your closest friends the best place to be is at - or near - the front.  This did not happen.  In fact, the only way I, or the crowd standing around me on the curb at Confederation Square, were going to get into our assigned corral at the gun was crowd surfing.  The female runners were more likely to benefit from this idea; we guys were doomed.

The crowd did not thin out for five kilometers.  Seriously.  I didn't have much trouble going the pace I planned for, but when it came time to ask myself 'will I be able to step up the pace between now and nine miles?' the answer was a calm 'not today.'

You want to know the nice thing about racing or running a race where the splits are in kilometers?  

The splits are in kilometers.

Sure, you can sit there and do all the mental 'eight (kilometers) is five (miles)' gymnastics you want, but it's great to have splits arrive at 62 percent of the time you would normally expect.  It's like doing a Rock n' Roll event and getting 42 bands rather than have more stimulation.  And that increase in checkpoints is especially important when you hit the 'dark tea-time of the soul' section of the run.  I've learned that every race director has a bit of sadist in them; the most barren, crowd-bereft section of every run course ALWAYS comes at the same time we begin to doubt.  The whole gamut of doubt.  From "I doubt I can hold this pace until the finish," to "I doubt I can even finish" doubt.

I'm not going to directly attribute the performance I got - which was better than the performance I feared - strictly to increased external feedback.  I still looked at my watch when my (mile) split buzzed, and found my splits more or less 30 seconds slower than my "out-of-my-mind" goal pace, but 15-to-30 seconds faster than my average training pace.  However, I wasn't fixating on the difference between my GPS and the mile split marker (which I know is approximate) my heart rate data, my pace, my yada, yada, yada the entire time...all the things which can take a runner out of the race they may have mistakenly set themselves up for.  And place them in the race they can feel.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Too Much Information?


I took a look at the small window which popped up on my computer.  Usually at this point I see a bar filling across the screen; the progress of my Garmin uploading data to my computer.  I take five minutes once or twice a day moving information from the Garmin onto a spreadsheet, the story of my (jogging) life.

But this time was different.  Something didn't seem quite right.

I punched the button again.  A third time.  And a fourth.

One of the things which infuriates the data-obsessed runner is when technology fails to work as promised.  On many occasions the glitches are quickly remedied by a reset protocol or a download of software.  But there are times when even those stop-gap measures are not going to provide satisfaction.

This particular episode made me think about what information is most important to the casual jogger or the semi-serious runner-in-training.  Most of the data can be collected with a good-quality heart rate monitor or running watch and kept either in a notebook or on a computer spreadsheet.

Here's what I think are the most important data points to collect as part of run training:

Time Spent Running - most run coaches consider four-to-seven hours a decent week of training, with the overwhelming majority recommending no more than ten hours a week.  This number, naturally, can be tracked with either a running watch or heart rate monitor.

Number of miles run - A runner who focuses on short-distance races might need to run little more than 30 miles per week, with marathon training requiring anywhere from 40-to-60 miles.  Not only should the average runner look at how many miles they are running, but the number of hard efforts; look at the amount of speed work (to include interval workouts, repeats, fartlek runs and tempo runs) compared to "regular" runs.  Speed training ideally should take no more than 25 percent of the training volume.  Lastly, how many miles has the runner accrued on each pair of running shoes used for training?  A decent pair of running shoes, if used in a two-or-three-shoe rotation, can last for 20-to-25 weeks (400-to-500 miles) before it's time to consider replacing them.  Naturally, a heavier/sweatier runner who trains in a more humid climate may need to replace their shoes a little faster than the lighter one training in a drier climate.  If you use the same courses without variation, you probably won't need a GPS.  A good on-line map program to figure out your run courses and training loops will probably suffice.

Average Training Heart Rate - A workout can not only be judged subjectively by the "did I kick things and take names today" question, but also by a more-objective means, otherwise known as "training effect."  A good heart rate monitor will provide the average heart rate for a workout bout.  If you know the percentage of maximum heart rate, you can multiply the percentage by 2, then multiply that number by the number of minutes exercised.  So, a 60-minute workout at 50-percent of maximum heart rate would have a score of 60 (.50 x 2 = 1; 1 x 60 = 60).  Scores less than 150 are low stress, 150-to-300 are medium, and 300-to-450 are high.  Low stress days can be recovered from the following day; high stress days would naturally take a few days longer.

Resting Heart Rate - the heart rate can tell not only how much demand for blood and nutrients was necessary during the workout, but also whether the body is still repairing from the previous days' exertions.  A resting heart rate (taken first thing in the morning before rising from bed) which is above normal can be a forecast of overreaching or overtraining.

Hours of Sleep - a sudden change in the amount of sleep necessary, or the ability to sleep, is also a warning sign which can tell the runner they might be training too hard.

Of course, the resting heart rate and quality of sleep - as well as training adaptations - can also be affected by our diet, work stress, personal relationships, and so forth.  We forget on many occasions that training is holistic - what happens outside the track or trail often affects how we do, and the other way around.  It doesn't necessarily take a $300 gadget and an overabundance of software to tell us what we really need to know.  We just need to know what to look for.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Private Equity Race Enthusiasts

Suzanne and I are not “typical” destination race enthusiasts. 
We have traveled to Augusta GA, Jacksonville FL, Nashville TN, New Orleans, and Panama City FL, for the sole purpose to run a road race or do a triathlon, but we are, for lack of a more-eloquent term, “private equity” racers.
If you’re not familiar with how private equity works, a private equity firm generally uses shareholder money to purchase firms.  They pay back the shareholder either by the purchased firm’s profit or the liquidation of its assets.  Suzanne and I aren’t quite so mercenary; we look for race events which coincide with business travel and adjust our schedule so as to be able to participate in the race, then take care of the project or attend the conference.  She has raced the ING Half-Marathon in Miami twice, done a couple of 10-kilometer runs in Orlando, FL, as well as a few other small races.
My day job entails doing work for a large government organization.  I spent my first year as part of a civilian education and training internship (living out of a suitcase) in exotic locations; Great Lakes, Illinois.  Arlington, Virginia.  Orlando.  It took me three years to learn my way around Pensacola, much to the chagrin of my wife.  My running habit was not lost on my fellow interns.  Once, when we were slated to attend a conference sponsored by the American Society of Training Development, my friend Terri Kelly said, “Mikey, there’s a run that weekend, too.”  Both Terri and her husband Tom spent some time In San Diego, and Tom ran his share of races, including the Bay Bridge 4-Miler.
Having run the Bushwacker 5K, a race where you run over a bridge in 90-degree heat and 90-percent humidity, I figured this couldn’t be “much” worse.  I was correct.
I have a mug with the San Diego skyline from a coffee purveyor whose name sounds much like “Four Bucks.”  Just inside the rim is printed a phrase: ’78 Degrees and Sunny.”  If you’re going to run, it might as well be in San Diego.  The weather can be very warm as you move more inland, but the city as a whole is a meteorologist’s – and a runner’s – dream.
The Bay Bridge run starts near the Convention Center and Gaslamp Square District, goes down Harbor Drive, then turns after a mile to go onto the Coronado Bay Bridge.  Gaslamp Square on a Sunday morning is like Bourbon on a Sunday morning, only more quiet.  I was fortunate to be fairly close to the front when I raced; the race announcers were making a big deal over a nine-year-old girl who was some age-group ace.  Her father was also running so as to keep her from being trampled.  When the gun went off we were all hell-bent for election, hauling down Harbor.  Darned if the little girl and her father didn’t leave me in the dust.  Just after one mile we approached Cesar Chavez Parkway and the on-ramp to the bridge.  Take that right hand turn and…holy cats…that IS a bridge.
The Coronado Bay Bridge is steep.  Not terribly steep, but it seems to keep going and going.  All you can do is what most smart folks do when racing on a hill; shorten the stride and increase the turnover.  And, most importantly of all, keep moving.  I caught the waif and her father about half a mile up the bridge and gave a brief word of encouragement.  Perhaps, though, I should have kept it for myself.  The two-mile mark is at the top of the bridge, just enough time to look out straight ahead toward the Hotel Del Coronado (glorious!), North Island and the Silver Strand (site of future post-marathon recovery jaunts).  Also at the top is a suicide hotline phone number.  I remember telling a fellow runner, “I’m not in the mood to jump and I don’t have a cell phone, so I guess we’ll just have to run the rest of the way down.”
Downhill on the bridge is a comfort and joy, it seems much less painful than hammering down the hills on our training loop around Bayou Texar.  Next thing I know we are not only back on terra firma (the more firmer, the less terror…) on Coronado Island but still have a little less than a mile to go.  The race finishes in Tidelands Park, traveling down a footpath and into a grass chute.  I felt bad for all the guys who finished only a few minutes behind me, as the race announcer made a point to inform them and the spectators…they had been beaten by a nine-year-old girl.
As the race was sponsored by the Navy Morale, Welfare and Recreation group, I don’t recall whether there was beer during the post-race – besides, we were stuck going to some mindless educational seminar – but the post-race celebration and awards were top-notch.  A fleet (pun not necessarily intended) of shuttle buses carried runners back over to Gaslamp Square and the Convention Center.  All in all, the Bay Bridge 4-Miler stands as one of the more demanding, yet scenic races I’ve ever run.
And well worth traveling to on someone else's money.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Suck It Up, Buttercup?

"Things are seldom what they seem, Skim milk masquerades as cream; Highlows pass as patent leathers; Jackdaws strut in peacock's feathers..." 'Buttercup' in "HMS Pinafore" (Gilbert & Sullivan)

We athletes are a picky lot.  We'll travel hundreds of miles to a destination race even when a good event is in our backyard.  We pay loads of our hard-earned money to register, spend much of our limited leisure time to prepare...  We show up on the day, nervous and prepared to get the event over with, and more often than not, hope the race director has exerted due diligence. 

Usually they have.  There are great events, well-prepared and well-staffed, which leave nothing to chance.

Unfortunately there are still people in the endurance sport world that fail to leave nothing to chance.  In some cases it's not necessarily because of malevolence (by far the worst reason) or ignorance (the next-worst).  Race director certification courses promulgated by national governing bodies and associations have remedied a majority of the knowledge shortfalls, and stronger sanction processes are weeding out the greed-mongers.

But I still worry about the "cut-and-paste" persons.  Those are the folks mean well but are willing to let quality slide a little here and a little there.  Just a little.  Rather than take the extra thirty minutes to complete a particular form from scratch they'll cut-and-paste the information from the previous years' event into the approval forms for the next edition. 

I've been just as guilty, especially in my real work.

And, rather than exercise due diligence and take a closer look to see if things have changed, the reviewer (who sometimes also need to be checked) places their stamp of approval and moves it forward along the chain of custody. 

Next thing you know, an athlete who did wrongly use performance-enhancing drugs but gets off on a technicality.  Or an athlete is seriously injured or dies because what was on the paperwork was not what was happening in real life.  Those are some profoundly hard situations.  What about something a little less life-altering, like something agreed upon doesn't get done.

If it adversely affects you what do you do?  Do you suck it up and drive on?  Do you try to get to the bottom and make certain, to borrow from one of my favorite rock and roll tunes you "don't get fooled again?"

I guess if it was only me I'd suck it up.  Actually, no.  It it affects my reputation I wouldn't let the issue go.

So there.