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, August 27, 2012

More Than Meets The Sole

“I bought a used pair of shoes for 15 dollars.”
Had I not been driving the car on a bridge, I most likely would have pulled over and then cried out in horror.  I took a breath, then asked in a calm voice, “What did you do?”
Suzanne said, “I bought a pair of (blank) shoes off eBay, used, for 15 dollars.”
“They’re in good condition; the sole only has a little bit of wear and they felt pretty good this morning on the run.  It’s not a bad deal.”
The conversation was definitely not one of those I wanted to have while driving home from a Sunday brunch.  Perhaps in the case of my wife it wasn’t a bad deal, but buying a used running shoe seems much to me like buying a used car.  I’ve had friends (and some family) provide the classic adage, ‘when you buy a used car, more often than not you are buying someone else’s problems.’  So in Suzanne’s case, I felt that not only had she bought someone else’s problem, but she also could not tell how long the previous owner had used the problem.
When it comes to wear and tear on a pair of shoes it’s not necessarily the outsole (the harder rubber portion of running shoes which contacts the road, track, belt or terrain) where the attention needs to be focused.  The midsole of the running shoe is the part which takes all of the beating.  But, to borrow an automotive analogy, to determine the shoes are still good for running, too many runners look at tire wear rather than the condition of the shock absorbers.
Most runners, if they use a pair of running shoes for more than 400-to-500 miles (or six months), are asking for musculoskeletal trouble.  Personal experience has shown me when a runner has not made any change in training distance, surface, or intensity, but suddenly suffers from aches and pains in the ankles, knees, hips and lower back, they most likely have a "dead" pair of shoes.  Some have asked whether changing the sockliner with a gel or silicone rubber insole will help. 

That's a very short-term quick fix. 
Go out and purchase another pair of shoes.  Or two.
Runners who do higher training mileage, run a little "heavier," sweat a great deal, or live in a warm, humid area of the world would do well to rotate between two or three pairs of shoes at a time.  Rotating shoes not only extends the life of all of the shoes but ensures the runner is less likely to run in a soggy pair of shoes.  Soggy shoes not only stink to high heaven (almost worse than when they're dry) but can increase the odds of developing athlete’s foot.
I’m not advocating going full-out “Imelda Marcos,” and carrying a shoe arsenal which rivals most Olympic decathletes.  However, most runners can and should keep more than one pair of functional running shoes available at a time.  Keep an eye peeled for on-line sales and discounts from local brick-and mortar running specialty stores, and comparison shop, and you can keep yourself in a good pair of running shoes throughout the year.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Free Your Ears And Your Run Will Follow

My (wife’s) iPod crashed last week...right before a workout.  It wasn't a ‘good news, bad news’ situation.  It was more like a ‘good news, bad news, really bad news’ thing. 
Good news:  I had many of my favorite music files tucked away in my smart phone. 
Bad news:  The iPod required a reset to factory specifications.
Really bad news:  My computer was stolen a couple of weeks back; not only did I lose three years’ worth of training data, blog posts, articles, research and photos, but nearly two thousand MP3 files and podcasts, which were not in my iTunes account.  Thus, many of my favorite songs in that “sweet spot” tempo of 80-to-90 beats per minute would either need to be reinstalled from source CDs, or were gone forever.
I’ve written on many occasions how fickle technology can be toward the running athlete.  The more dependent we become on the technology to tell us what we think we need to know, or to make us happy during the run, the more earth-shattering it seems when everything “goes south.” 
My views on using personal music players vary from ambivalence and pragmatism to pity, depending on the shirt I’m wearing at the moment:
If I’m in running attire at a race the view is closer to ambivalence.
If I’m in a red or zebra-striped polo shirt I’m busy reaching for my notepad.  (My friends know what I mean.) 
I don’t run on the roads with a music player, but I’ll sing to myself when I run outside.  I tell my wife, for much the same reason I train on a treadmill, I want to control as many of the variables as possible.
One of the reasons people run with a music player is to dissociate, or to drown out the “stop already” messages the muscles, lungs and heart send to the brain throughout the course of a race.  Other runners use music players to reinforce run tempo (one reason they are prohibited in triathlon).  But there’s more that happens between the ears and the earphones of the individual runner when music is involved.
We have an internal clock which controls how well we move in the forward direction; run rhythm, stride length, run speed, and so on.  When fatigue sets in we need to grasp for some sort of cue to align with the “clock” in our head and normalize ourselves: music, lines in the road/on the track, telephone poles, etc.  The tempo of the music in the player may…or may not…be aligned with the "right" tempo for the individual runner.  Unless you’re a complete obsessive-compulsive it is highly unlikely your music is set aside in beat-per-minute playlists.  (In the interest of public disclosure, I do notate my BPM on my tracks.) 
That most likely means you are thinking more about what’s going into your head than what you’re putting out via your legs.
Do you sing in the shower?  Do you sing while cooking? Or folding clothes? 
And if you do, do you ALWAYS sing at the EXACT tempo at which the song was performed?
If you answered ‘no’ to the last question you may not need a music player to improve your running.  You can most likely sing your way to a better run performance.
Satoh and Kuzuhara (2008) assessed the time and steps of subjects walking along straight and curved paths while mentally singing a familiar song.  They were asked to listen to the song, clap hands while listening, sing the song, clap while singing the song, sing while walking in place, walk while singing, then walk while singing to themselves.  Analysis of the gait (degree of arm swing, the height of the knees and the smoothness of turn) was performed by a trained observer.
The patients reported feeling improvements in foot progression, ease of arm swing, knee raise and turning and fixation of walking speed. Qualitative evaluation of walking indicated higher knee lift, larger arm swings, smoother turns and less inconsistency in gait.  There was a significant improvement in the time and steps while walking a straight path and turning.  The researchers believed improvement would be more dramatic in the event of worse gait disturbance.  The study participants were able to use mental singing to recover normal pacing when pace was disturbed.
Athletes who moderate their run mechanics by the use of music will most likely benefit from simply singing to themselves during the run rather than placing their safety at risk by using a music player.

Overtraining: The March To Pizza

The slow, steady march of stars and check-marks down the date boxes on my wall calendar gives me a sense of joy and accomplishment.  I have nearly made it to the end of August and the first really comfortable days of outdoor running, in September, will not be far behind.  It also means Suzanne will pull out the slow cooker; stew and soup season will begin soon.  The first days and weeks of warm bowls of stew or soup, with either cheese bread or a sandwich, are a welcome reward for those hard run workouts.  But, once Thanksgiving arrives, I will be jonesing for pizza.
We used to do pizza every Friday evening with my old coach and his wife.  We did the same pizza joint for two years straight.  Now I only go there if we’re in the neighborhood and we don’t want to drive closer to home.  Price might have been one thing, but familiarity breeds tolerance. 
Or contempt. 
Pizza often reminds me of many topics having to do with life, the universe around us…and running.  I remember a lunch discussion with an old running friend of mine, Drake.  He, his wife, Suzanne, and I sat down over pizza one Saturday after a local road race.  Drake said he was disappointed with his race performance and asked what I would recommend for his training plan.  I asked him what he was already doing in training.  He told me he ran the same 5K circuit near his home, every day.   At all-out race pace.  I took a deep breath, prefaced my suggestions with “if I were your coach,” and told him what I felt to be true.  He thanked me for my insights, but he never really took the advice to heart.  He no longer runs races, in fact, he’s what John Parker, Jr. might call ‘once a runner.’ 
I still see him every Sunday morning when we go out for our “sort-of-long run.”  He rides a bike.  Full blast.
Monotony and unchanging routine can be a comfort to many persons.  But the athlete who does the same run or workout day in and day out is most likely going to understand Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity.  There’s little chance for a different outcome or improvement in performance if an athlete is doing the same thing without variation for too long a period of time.  When laying a training foundation there are periods where efforts appear “boring,” but the body is most likely adapting to the stress.  But not varying the intensity of workout over the course of the training cycle or the year, especially if the intensity is high, is a certain way to eventually suffer physically and mentally from overtraining…and if not remedied, to suffer emotionally from burnout.
An over-trained (or under-recovered) athlete can show a constellation of symptoms which can be emotional, mental, or physiological in nature:
Runners who have a feeling as if their legs are heavy or wooden, or have muscles which are more sore than usual, or a sudden increase in thirst, especially at night, are most likely in an under-recovered state. 
When it comes to change in heart rate, researchers have equated an overtraining state to a sudden increase in early morning heart rate.  However, a decreased heart rate during exercise bouts is also a message to the athlete that the body is not completely recovered from a period of training.
It may seem beyond obvious that the treatment for overtraining is rest.  The body needs time to recover.  After the recovery period, which can be as short as one week and take as long as six weeks (sometimes much longer in the most chronic cases).  The intensity of the workouts after the recovery needs to stay at a reduced level, and the athlete should look more closely at their training periods.  Other treatments to combat overtraining include adjusting the diet to take in more calories or more nutrients, even adjusting the way they sleep.
There are programs, such as Matt Dixon’s Purplepatch Fitness, which utilize computer algorithms and spreadsheets to quantify training, recovery, nutrition and functional strength.  Finnish heart rate monitor manufacturer Suunto uses a calculation of post-exercise oxygen consumption (calculated from changes in individual heartbeats) to determine how hard an athlete has trained, as well as how hard their next workout should be to eventually increase fitness.  But any device or spreadsheet is of no use if the athlete does not have the courage (especially in a culture where a blank space on the calendar is seen as a personality flaw) to choose to rest.
An athlete can ignore their body for only so long.  The body will eventually make the athlete listen for a period much longer than the initially-requested chat.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Doubly Humbled

I truly enjoyed my "occupy the couch" time during the Summer Olympics; the end of the Games was seen with mixed feelings (depending on whether you were me or my wife). Some of the best training sessions I've had in the past month have come during those seventeen days of televised antics.

(Who knows? I might even be ready to race by the end of the year.)

I watched Michael Phelps doubly-humbled in what was once called his signature event, the 400-meter individual medley; first barely qualifying eighth, then finishing a distant fourth. Yes, Phelps swam the event many times, a hiatus after 2008 only foreshadowed Ryan Lochte's time to be the big man in the pool, As Michael walked away, looking much like a guy just released from a two-hour calculus class, it was plain to see a parallel to running.

The law of specificity says, in so many words, success at a particular activity requires focus on that particular activity. Weeks of elliptical trainer workouts and spinning classes have (some) cardiovascular and musculoskeletal benefit, but to run quickly in races, one must learn how to run quickly. Naturally, that can only come from running quickly.

Is "quickly" different for distance races beyond 10K? I first would say reactively there is a different form of quickness. But look a little closer at world class marathoners; those runners whose race pace are in the range of 4:40 to 5:00 per mile. That's not their training pace for every single workout.

The law of specificity states that in order to become a faster runner it is necessary to run faster.
So why is it many runners who train for a marathon do most, if not all, of their training at the pace they plan to use on the day?

There are a couple of different schools of thought when it comes to run training:

Grind out long runs at a sustainable pace and benefit from the slow but steady increase in speed which comes from enhanced aerobic base. Of course, this "long distance speed" comes at the increased risk of an overuse injury, as well as the loss of the "short distance speed."

How can a runner tell they've lost the short distance speed? That's when they show up at a 5K and run a solid thirty seconds slower than they did the previous year, BUT...they could most likely run the race a second time and duplicate the pace.

Want to keep all those "gears" in the "gearbox," especially if you like running distances other than the marathon? It's going to take some variety in training pace.

For the marathon I believe the training focus is ideally on increasing the pace where the aerobic threshhold ends and the anaerobic threshhold begins, Since the race distance is long(er), focus one workout a week either on cruise intervals of no less than a mile, or tempo runs of up to 20 minutes at approximately 10K race pace, each with brief recoveries.

Every two weeks, just to add a little variety, do some 200-meter or 400-meter efforts at 5K race pace, with 400-to-800-meter recoveries. I wouldn't do 80 of them, like Emil Zatopek once did in a single workout, but perhaps up to three miles worth might do.

So if you want to lower that marathon time, you're going to have to get that lower time down during the training. Slow and steady isn't going to cut it.

Friday, August 3, 2012

I'm A Radiator...So Are You

It was warm and sunny, last Sunday morning, as we began our eight-mile jaunt.  By the time Charley, Teri, Suzanne and I reached our bottle stash at two miles I knew the middle four miles were going to be, er, interesting.  As we approached the turn-around point, Teri mentioned something about the heat and asked where the (moving) “air” was.  Fortunately we realized the reason for the “warmer” conditions had to do with the fact we were walking with a breeze to our back.  Immediately we began to feel, perhaps not more comfortable, but at least a little less-overheated.
We’re not running at a fast pace this time of the year, so I have more time (and oxygen going to my brain) to think about things, especially when people pass by on their run/walk/bike.
‘Why is it,’ I asked to no one in particular, ‘I see a whole lot of cyclists training for an upcoming triathlon with empty bottle cages on their bikes; why there are no water bottles in those cages?’
Perhaps they are a special breed of triathlete; they are part camel and don’t need water.
Perhaps they have never had a flat tire or a mechanical situation they could not fix on their own, so they didn’t have to wait for bike support, or worse, have to walk their bike for a long distance.
Or, perhaps it’s simple ignorance.
I’m a radiator.  And if you’re human so are you.  And when that cooling system fails, we can, too.  A 160-pound person participating in a high-intensity sport can have their ability to perform (power) limited by almost 50 percent by a four-pound decrease in body weight.  That same 160-pound athlete, if they’re participating in an endurance event, can see a 5-percent decrease in running efficiency with the same amount of fluid loss.  Take another pound or two of body weight away and that drop in running efficiency goes up to 30 percent, depending on the event distance; the longer the distance means a greater decrease in efficiency
And that same 160-pounder, should they lose 8 or 9 pounds of fluid, can find their normal endurance to do a low-intensity activity, such as walking or easy cycling, cut in half.
I can speak from hard experience that hydration, especially in the summer, is important.  A near-fainting episode during an aerobics class two decades ago proved to me just how a “small” fluid loss can lead to a big problem.  I never thought until that time about how much I did sweat during workouts.  But I’m reminded every time I spin, run on a treadmill, or hit the cardio machine at my gym.  That puddle was originally inside of me, part of my blood which was sent to the capillaries near my skin. 
Unlike our automobiles we don’t have a sealed cooling system.  Our sweat glands, nostrils, mouth and (to a degree) our genitourinary system leak like the proverbial colander.  Sweating decreases blood volume, which means our blood cells have less fluid through which to travel and becomes more thick.  And even if we’re not noticeably sweating on colder days we still lose fluid by exhaling water vapor.
So we need to put fluid back in to replace what is lost. 
I recently mentioned that exercise activity (workouts) of lower intensity, or less than an hour in duration, can be served by plain (cool) water as tolerated during the activity.  Don’t forget about post-workout replenishment by the 150 percent of body weight change (loss) during the exercise period guide.  Don’t feel like taking it all in immediately?  No problem.  Just make certain to drink over the next few hours as tolerated. 
Workouts which go beyond 60 minutes need not only rehydration, but replacement of carbohydrates, protein and electrolytes which are being used.  Every person is an experiment of one; every person has a favorite sports beverage for their long workout.  My recommendation is to find the beverage which best suits your palate, your gut, and your wallet, in that order; the best sports drink in the world for you is the one which ends up in your gut and not in your sports bottle.  The beverage manufacturers know this, also; one particular sports drink, until about two decades ago, tasted more (to this writer’s palate) like powdered drink mixed with seawater.  At that point they developed several different flavor combinations (including iced tea, which I loved) and adjusted the level of salts and sugars in the formula.  (Add a marketing campaign with a dominant basketball player, and the rest, as you say…)
While you might not necessarily think you need to rehydrate on the run it’s always better – as people like to say – to have it and not need it, rather than need it and not have it.  Be prepared.