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.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Four-Letter Words Coaches Say (Part 3)

How many adult, post-collegiate (recreational) runners avoid working with a coach because they don’t want to be told to make a long-term goal, some intermediate goals which support the long-term goal, and to (perhaps) not run so hard? During the past fifteen years of training, racing and coaching I’ve observed more athletes in need of restraint than in need of a kick in the behind.

Runners are not a patient lot; they want improvement, and they want it yesterday.


Outside of the need to plan and to train at the correct pace, I would consider the one last dirty little four-letter word, to “rest,” the quality which if all runners were to learn could put every running coach out of a job.

Professional athletes, when we look into their life, appear to have it made. Sure, they do. Many of them (in some sports) are paid obscene amounts of money to do the things we enjoyed doing as children. The 140-character social media feeds and videotaped “days in the life” are only a small pinhole view into what really occurs. Ask many endurance athletes what they are doing when not in the middle of a workout, and they are most likely to inform you they are recovering; doing what is necessary to repair the body by physio treatment, food, drink and rest.  Naturally, we aren’t afforded that particular luxury.

Advice to the amateur recreational athlete is never “one-size-fits-all.” A good example is my two close friends, Steven and George. Adjust a few inches/pounds and we three are more or less at the same ability level. There the similarities end. My job is mentally-stressful but sedentary. Steven has less mental stress but more physical exertion; he walks a pool deck several hours daily. George is a maintenance man/pressure washer. He “lugs and slugs” all day, but his mental fatigue is low. After an eight-hour day we’ve endured varying levels of physical fatigue; this affects not only our ability to withstand stress on the run, but also how well we recover that evening…or the following days. That’s right. Days.

How much rest is necessary? There are some good “rules of thumb:”
First, eight hours of sleep daily is not only a good idea, it also can help to maintain weight. Whacked out sleep patterns increase the production of stress hormones which cause us to store fat rather than burn it. Second, if your training stress score for a workout exceeds 150 (say, a 60-minute workout at 65-percent of maximum heart rate, or a seven on a one-to-ten scale) it will take about a day to recover fully.
Third, if you are over 35 years old, it’s a good idea to take one day off from running each week. If your paycheck depends on physical labor you might plan your non-running rest days around days off. Desk jockeys have a little more latitude, as long as we make work less mentally stressful we can recover to a degree while sitting at our desk.

After races, the “day off for every hour, easy day for every mile-to-two kilometers” advice not only can save from burnout, but also unintended overuse injuries. (I guess all overuse injuries are unintentional.) I’ve only suffered iliotibial band inflammation syndrome or tendinitis on two occasions after a big race, both times because I returned to my usual running schedule WEEKS before my body was ready.

When I talk to runners about speed work I find many of them are guilty of running their repeats too fast or taking too little recovery time. For lactate threshold work (anywhere from 400 meters to 20 minutes in duration) the recovery times are brief; 30 seconds of walk/jog at the most for a 400-meter repeat, a minute or two of walk/jog for a mile. The VO2max work (400 meters to five minutes in duration) usually merits a 50-percent recovery period, anywhere from one to three minutes of walk/jog. Those hard 200-to-400 meter repeats to sharpen leading into the target races should be broken up by three to five minutes of recovery time.

When in doubt take a little more recovery time than you feel is necessary; just a little more.

Rest is not a four-letter word, and not strictly limited to that period of time when we’re not running every day, but also includes the “sip of coffee-like” recovery times which come in between the “bite” of repeat run pieces. Savor it. Enjoy it. Make the best use of it.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Four Letter Words Coaches Say (Part 2)

Ever been in a situation which might have made you uncomfortable, where you heard a person using a “four-letter-bomb” in nearly every sentence? Many coaches use four-letter words when working with athletes, but not necessarily the ones you reflexively think of. However, many runners become quite offended when a coach recommends the most offensive four-letter words – “Plan,” “Pace,” or “Rest.” Why is this so?


I think it’s because most adult, post-collegiate (recreational) runners really don’t want someone telling them exactly what to do. Many of them will avoid working with a coach for that very reason; they believe a coach will force them to stop thinking. Nothing could be farther from the truth. We would rather teach the individual runner to think for themselves. My goal is to put myself out of a “job;” to transform the athlete/coach relationship from dependent to interdependent.

The last post I wrote talked about the first of the three dirty little words, “Plan.” A written plan (which doesn’t necessarily have to be day-to-day in granularity) helps the runner to efficiently align the limited resources of time and energy toward the desired running-related goal. A runner who is able to map out and execute a realistic plan is a runner who will rarely be frustrated.

(Former) Emerald Coast Racing Team coach Dale Fox constantly reminded me that ‘running is a sport of PACE and PAtienCE.’ Effort and time are two of the many measures of a runner’s effectiveness. Runners who are able to sustain effort over the course of a single race may be rewarded with age-group or overall hardware, or a personal best, or at the least a satisfying race. Runners who are able to sustain effort over the course of several years’ worth of racing are rewarded with reputation and (in many cases) the adulation of their peers.

A case in point would have to be my friend Ruben Dias. Ruben was a running contemporary of my college coach; he trained with and raced against many of the great American runners of the mid-1970s. Aging has moved Ruben a few strides back in the pack in the past decades; a particularly bad Fourth of July race several years ago put him in the hospital for a few days and kept him off the roads for a year. However, he took the time to completely recover, and now has returned not only to the local running scene, but scored overall hardware at a half-marathon in Kansas City some weeks ago.

We need to know when and how long to run, but also how hard. We train to improve the body’s ability to transport blood and oxygen, to increase the ability of running muscles to effectively use the oxygen available, to lower the energy demanded by running, and to improve our running speed. Dr. Jack Daniels’ Training Formula book listed ideal training paces, which range from “very easy” to paces which replicate the desired pace for a target event. In between that level of “very easy” to “target race pace” (which is not “all out” running) there are training paces which align at 85 percent, 90 percent, and just above 95 percent of maximum heart rate. Each pace has a different benefit, like raising the threshold at which blood lactate is used to fuel muscles, improving running speed at maximum oxygen consumption, and improving running mechanics. To go faster or slower than the recommended range means you won’t receive the maximum benefit from that level of effort.

So, it is not only important to know how much running you are going to do, but how hard you’re going to run and if/when you’re going to train different energy systems. As the entry-level runner develops the running habit, they will become faster because they become comfortable with running. After a time, however, it’s time to think about what it’s going to take to learn to run faster. That eventually comes with the proper use of speed work – the right pace, for the right period of time, at the right time. Just like there is the right time to plant, the right time to water, to weed, and to care for the plant, and eventually the right time to harvest what has grown…there are times of the running year when it’s good to run more slowly and time when it’s good to run a little harder. Even the running week has good and bad days, and periods of time where the body needs to just plain recover. I’ll save that for the next post when I talk about rest.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Four-Letter Words Coaches Say (Part 1)

Most persons agree a coach is a teacher or trainer; a person who supports an individual while they learn to achieve a specific personal or professional result or goal. In many cases it is a business transaction, where an athlete pays for the support. In my case, at least in the past year, it is a relationship between two individuals; one with greater experience and expertise than the other. My goal in the relationship is to offer advice and guidance as the runner learns to become their own coach.

Preston and I have talked on many occasions over the past four or five years about running. He’s one of those persons who have taken to running with the fervent behavior of the newly-converted. That makes it both fun and challenging for me as a coach figure; I smile when I read the details of his workout efforts because I can see the potential. The challenge, naturally, comes when I try to explain one of the roles of a coach.

The hardest part about coaching is when I have to use four-letter words. Not the ones you think of when you hear the term “four-letter words.” However, like “those” four-letter words, I’ve found many runners to be offended, especially when I’ve uttered these four-letter words – Plan, Pace, Rest – in their presence. This week I want to focus on the first of the three dirty little words, “Plan.”

The late George Harrison was almost spot-on correct when he sang, ‘if you don’t know where you’re going any road will take you there.’ But a parody I once heard of an old Bob Dylan song may be even more-correct: ‘how many roads must a man walk down before he admits he is lost?’

What is it about the act of writing down an end-state/goal (another good four-letter word) and the potential path to that end-state that is so foreign to runners? There’s nothing wrong with going out and running almost every day, toeing the line at races on as many weekends as one can stand, as long as they are happy with running for social reasons. But, like Preston, they might love the social aspects of race participation but eventually become frustrated at the plateau in their performance. They still want to see an improvement in their speed, even if no age-group or overall hardware comes. One of my “Breakfast Club” runners, Teri, decided to participate in three 5K races on three successive weekends, entering at the last minute, without considering whether the events would help her run training. And then, I receive the “oh, I’m too beat up to run this morning” texts the next morning. At first it was difficult to not yell at her when we talked the next day; and I could not help but laugh when she told me ‘that was a stupid idea, wasn’t it?’

A plan helps to efficiently align our resources – money, time, energy – to move toward the desired goal. I’ve written much about how running ideally is a form of recreation; how running should be a beneficial part of our lives, not the central focus. If all you have is thirty minutes a day, three times a week to “spend,” all of the money in the world is not going to change that. It is what it is. That’s a limitation with which you will have to contend. Unless you’re athletically-gifted the chances are strong you will most likely be limited to social running and perhaps the occasional short-distance race. It does not mean you will not have fun as a runner, but if you can live with the decreased expectations you’re more likely to not be frustrated.

Next post, I'll talk about the second (of many, I realize!) coaching four-letter word:  Pace.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Seven Habits And The Effective Runner

One of the enduring characteristics of the organization where I work is transitivity. We gain new (military) leadership every two-to-three years, and the mission of every new leader appears to be to re-shape the organization in their particular vision. Our most recent leader decided on their arrival to send all the headquarters staff through training based on Stephen Covey’s seminal work, “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.”

There’s nothing inherently wrong with the work. I’ve read it twice; as a university undergraduate student (on the fervent recommendation of my economics professor) and as education and training specialist intern (on the fervent recommendation of my mentor). The habits Covey enumerates in the book are simple and enduring. Being a simple guy, I can get behind the Seven Habits. I’ve recommended the book to probably a couple of thousand students myself.

Last week I re-acquainted myself with the habits and asked myself the big question (while out walking the dog): ‘do the Seven Habits easily transfer to runners?’ What do I think are core habits of people who are successful at running? Naturally, like Socrates, we have to ask the questions: ‘what is success?’ ‘What is a successful runner?’ First off, I’ll say that I would not consider myself a successful runner. More like what John Wesley had to say about striving toward perfection. I may not get there, but I’m certainly going to try. Please me know when I do.

For your benefit, here are Covey’s Seven Habits…and a few thoughts on how I think they relate to those of us who are members of the running community:

Habit Number One: Be proactive. How many times have you read a local running bulletin board or the feedback section of Active.com and seen a race get blasted? Or you get an e-mail from your local running club crying out for more volunteers? Or you realize a subset group (women, kids, new runners, and so on) is missing an opportunity because nothing exists? It doesn’t take a USATF or RRCA coaching certificate to qualify someone to put together a running group. Just passion and time.

Habit Number Two: Begin with the end in mind. The hot, miserable days of summer, or the dark, miserable days of winter are barriers – not insurmountable ones, but barriers which we can focus on if we fail to keep a regular target event in mind. One of my marathon success stories, Beverly, told me her husband (and my old friend) Steven was in need of a “running” kick in the butt. She registered him for a 5K at a conference they both attended, yet he deferred with no apparent logical reason. I’m not saying you have to race every time there’s an event, but it is much easier to justify getting up bright and early on a weekend morning for a long run if there’s a half-marathon ten-to-twelve weeks in the distance.

Another way to utilize this habit: Perhaps you know someone who has been running well, or qualified for Boston, or ran their first half? Take the time to talk with them and find out the things they did to get them to the start line or through those final, difficult miles.

Habit Number Three: Put first things first. Spend time, be patient, visualize the desired result. But realize there are many divergent, yet parallel, training paths. The physiology of stress/rest is eternal, yet there are many ways of inducing the stress. If you want to run better, you have to do the work.

I recently read an Outside magazine article about a hard-core functional training group. On the wall of their gym was posted the quote at the beginning credits of the movie ‘Fight Club:’ “…Every word you read of this useless fine print is another second off your life. Don't you have other things to do? Is your life so empty that you honestly can't think of a better way to spend these moments? Or are you so impressed with authority that you give respect and credence to all who claim it? Do you read everything you're supposed to read? Do you think everything you're supposed to think? Buy what you're told you should want?....If you don't claim your humanity you will become a statistic.” We can spend so much time reading the latest “Five Weeks To Your Fastest 5K” article we completely miss the point.

Habit Number Four: Think win-win. There’s nothing wrong with helping another person to do well. When I was racing lots of 5Ks and part of a good size training group it still hurt to get beaten at a race, but if I had to get beaten I much preferred it to be someone with whom I was training. And if I could push them to a personal best, so much the better.

Habit Number Five: Seek first to understand, then to be understood. This habit is probably the most difficult to develop. Diversity exists. People do things in a particular manner because of their own personal paradigm. I’ve taken particular training methodologies to the mats before and considered them wanting, before looking at what value they might provide. Maybe my change of heart is because I’ve mellowed; more likely the change has to do with explaining where I’ve disagreed with a particular training philosophy.

This habit can also be taken down to the personal level; to give the pat on the back or credit to whom the credit is due. How many times have we seen someone running well and given sour grapes? Or say a race director has done something really cool at their event. If you truly believe so, tell them specifically what you appreciated; don’t waste your time with useless platitudes and meaningless words.

Habit Number Six: Synergize. This ties in well with Habit Number One. Working as a team with other persons can create a total which is greater than the sum of the parts. If you’re passionate about a particular cause or area of running and someone else is already doing something about it, the energy you exert to support it will far outweigh what “crab-in-a-bucket” tactics you can do to keep them down at your level. The question any passionate leader wants to hear is that of ‘how can I help you?’

Habit Number Seven: Sharpen The Saw. Take a day off each week to rest. I’d be so bold as to recommend a couple of successive rest days every three months, as well as perhaps even the last two weeks of the year. You can use the time off from running to spend with family and act like a “normal human being.” I have a short list of books on my shelf I like to pull down during the time between late November and the beginning of the new year, to read through and glean new nuggets. Take the time to feed your head a little. The reading material doesn’t necessarily have to be self-help books, coaching biographies or training plans, you know, stuff that’s almost directly related to running. If you take the time to think about it – kind of like how everything seems to eventually lead to Kevin Bacon, there is an interconnectedness of everything. Lastly, don’t believe everything you read in the popular running magazines or newspaper articles. If you’re patient enough to dig into the source documents you’ll get past the “flavor of the month” and find out what the genuine story is about the “newest thing in running or fitness.” A quick resource I like to use to get to the story behind the story is a weblog filled with scientific comment and analysis of sporting performance, “The Science of Sport,” hosted by Ross Tucker, PhD, and Jonathan Dugas, PhD, (www.sportsscientists.com). And naturally, I always refer back to Timothy Noakes, MD, and his thick tome “Lore of Running.”

Covey’s book was written in to cause a shift in the way people think and act in their lives and work places. His seven habits, I believe, transfer over into the life of every runner; since running is an extension of the rest of our life and our life is an extension of our running, it only makes perfect sense. Is there a quality you believe is essential to a runner’s effectiveness?

Monday, June 4, 2012

Be Consistent

For five years, I used to run every Sunday morning, as well as four-to-five other runs each week, with a dozen fellow (kind-of-serious) age group runners. Aging, family moves, injuries, marriage/divorce, role changes and other transitions splintered the group over the next four or five years. Next thing we knew it was little more than my wife and I going out to a location to run our (separate) training runs. At that time we decided the Sunday run needed a little kick in the shorts.


One of the take-aways from our frequent visits to New Orleans was tying in breakfast with the group run, something which our friends in the 5:20 Club have done for a long time. We needed to find runners who were able to handle six-to-eight miles at a time, but didn’t mind spending a little time socializing over breakfast. The most fearful thing about group runs, especially for runners who aren’t fire-breathing, type-A, stay-a-half-step-ahead-of-the-pack types, is that they will be left behind the pack to fend for themselves. After a year we’ve managed to develop a small (core) group of four-and-eight runners. We meet up to run (sometimes walk, depending on aches and pains) every Sunday morning; three or four different locations during the autumn, winter and spring, and on the beach during the summer. We exercise for 60-to-90 minutes, then clean up and sit down for breakfast or brunch.

Running is recreation. For some (like this coach) it is almost an obsession. But for the overwhelming majority of runners it is not a means of earning a living. I receive questions from a lot of people; often they ask about what it will take to improve their 5,000 meter run time, others want to know about training for a marathon. When it all comes down to the nuts-and-bolts of training, of being a runner, perspective is of the greatest importance.

A case in point: my wife’s (Canadian) co-workers and their family members participated in the recent Ottawa Race Weekend (2K and 5K) events on a warm late-May afternoon. That evening, over grilled burgers and chicken, the general consensus of the group was that they enjoyed the event but they all felt some run training would be beneficial. I agreed to provide a simple training plan as long as they (and I) understood: We have demands and commitments which fill the majority of our waking hours.

Starting out as a runner doesn’t necessarily require 60 minutes a day, seven days a week dedication. Most anyone would say that is a recipe for injury, burnout and frustration. Most people who run because they want to improve their health and eventually participate in an organized (short) road race can probably get by with 30 minutes a day for four to five days a week. If you don't have 30 minutes, but you can spare 20, that is better than nothing at all. Does the time have to be completely filled with running? Not necessarily. If you need to walk, walk until you can run again. Add running as you can tolerate. The most important thing in the training – and this goes for more-experienced runners as well as rank newbies – is to BE CONSISTENT.

Inconsistent runners can be, and often are, the type of person Dr. Jack Daniels would classify as “coach frustrators.” We coaches can see the potential within them; they verbally express the desire to do what is necessary to improve, but they are noticeably absent when it comes time to reinforce their talk with effort. The goal for all runners is to develop a consistent running habit; not just to say no to rolling back over in bed after the alarm goes off (which we all fight), but to – at the least – become and stay healthy, lifelong recreational runners.