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.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

See Me? Hear Me?

One of my friends had a "close encounter of the motor vehicular kind" last week.  At first glance, the entire scenario appears torn out of the middle pages of one of my favorite running novels, John L. Parker, Jr's. "Once A Runner."  His post-encounter commentary - with a few minor edits - follows:

"Dear Rogue Driver:  Thank you for taking the opportunity to play 'will my insurance cover this?'  You chose to run through a posted four-way stop intersection and only look to your left.  I, on the other hand, approached from your right.  Even though I was decorated more like a flashing Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center, you somehow failed to notice me.  Your failure to notice me initially cost you a size 11 dent in your hood, as well as the loss of two windshield wipers and the driver's side mirror."
"I appreciated your creative use of expletives as you drove angrily next me over the next several yards; you failed to appreciate the possibility that I might have been sufficiently prepared for such an encounter.  I was physically warmed up, as well as mentally and emotionally-charged as a result of the very angry music to which I was running.  I could gladly accept my failure to cleanly evade the initial obstacle outweighed your failure to exhibit your mastery of the English language.  However, your effort to compensate for my greater level of failure by cutting me off, then climbing out of your car to take a swing at me was a big mistake.  In my humble opinion, that was definitely unacceptable."
"I sincerely hope the hospital trip to seal your lip and stitch the cut under your left eye serves as an object lesson:  Just because a man wears short running shorts does not necessarily mean he lacks the ability to loosen a load of rubbish out of your skull should you attempt to run him off the road.  In order to save your face and motor vehicle from any further damage it would be wise for you to, at the least, look both ways before violating traffic laws.  Sincerely, M.J."

I know M.J.'s actions are likely going to make life more difficult for the next runner "Rogue Driver" encounters.  And, as always, it is impossible to glean the salient details of a runner-meets-angry-motorist story from the point of view of the runner.  But we perhaps can take away a few points:

The three most important qualities for safe running near motor vehicle traffic are "visibility, visibility and visibility."  Well, only if you're a realtor.  The two qualities other than visibility might be "hearability" and "communicability."  Light-colored clothes, reflective gear, lights; all of these items ought to be part of the runners' wardrobe, and especially during the winter months. 

I'm not going to beat the "music headphones are evil and should be destroyed" drum, but please find a way to keep the volume - if you're going to wear them on the run - low enough to hear what is going on around you.  Runners tend to listen to music in order to dissociate, get away from the messages being sent to the brain.  Sometimes getting away means not getting the important message that an auto or a person are approaching. 

Lastly, if you have to defend yourself physically, make certain (as Parker wrote) you can control "the preliminaries."  A means of exit that a car cannot follow is good; a means of collecting information for the local law enforcement is better.  It doesn't hurt to carry a smart phone with you.  Those little cell phone cameras do things which exceed documenting your friends on Saturday night.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Pie? Why Yes, Thank You

When it comes to danger, the 16 weeks of the calendar year which contain the (autumn and) winter holidays from Hallowe'en to St. Valentine's Day can be much like treading through the swamp.  Especially if you like sweets and pastries.

Early on, it's candy corn and bite-sized chocolates.  We still have enough daylight to add on an extra mile or two to make up for the itty-bitty indiscretions.  And then we turn the clocks back for daylight saving time, just in time to be surrounded by darkness. 

So now we're hip deep -- and getting deeper -- into it.  Thanksgiving, St. Nicholas, Chanukah, Christmas, New Year's; the deepest point of the muck and mire.  Pumpkin pie...latkes...fruitcake...the extra beer...the champagne toast at midnight...it's all there in your face, even at the workplace (save for the booze!).  Each holiday has it's share of temptations social and gastronomic.  While one misstep isn't going to slide you down a bacon grease-covered pole to a pudgy purgatory, a series of poorly-thought-out decisions can destroy months of hard-earned fitness and disciplined weight control.

I have varied my approach to the holidays from year to year:

Training continues without change - every social function, dinner party and snack item takes a back seat to the daily or twice-daily workout.  This is often the least desirable option in the mind of our spouses or family members, especially the ones who did not understand our running and fitness passion in the first place.  Some cities are more holiday event-focused than others.  I regularly receive e-mails from runners taking time to visit family members.  They usually asked if they could join in a group workout, or if there was a race during a particular weekend.

Short, easy workouts - many have heard the adage, especially when talking about the budget: 'a million dollars here, a million dollars there, next thing you know you are talking about real money.'  Same thing goes for workout duration.  A holiday social function after work hours can really place a damper on that 60-minute run you originally had on the training plan.  And, worst of all, you know there's going to be all that fantastic finger food you never get during the rest of the year.  There's no law (at least in most work places) that says you can't take your walking shoes into work and exchange your midday bologna-and-cheese sandwich and chips at the desk for an energy bar and a 30-minute stroll outdoors.

Rest - some coaches have their athletes on planned periods of rest or decreased intensity; one day a week, one week a month, and some to the point of even one month a year.  I have my doubts the top athletes allow themselves to go completely couch potato for an entire month.  But the down month can be a good time to engage in less-intense, non-sport-specific activity.  I remember hearing multiple Ironman World Champion Peter Reid talk about spending his down time "like a normal human being" cross-country skiing and watching television with close friends.

A 30-day period of complete rest, especially during the holiday month, seems a supreme test of willpower to me.  When given the choice between no pumpkin pie and no workout, and pie and the (seemingly irrational) desire to get off the couch for 60-to-90 minutes...

I like pie.  I'll fit my workout in some time during the day.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Three-Percent Solution


Boy, was THAT painful.  Probably the second-worst race I've ever run in my entire life.  The only one worse was a four-miler I tried to run while suffering from an upper respiratory infection/chest cold/creeping crud...at the same time of the year.

I definitely cannot lay the blame for a lousy race performance at the feet of November.  I've had great races in autumns past; residue of good training and race fitness.  Neither of the above are things which I've had for - heck, a while.

This weekend's Tyler Jefferson Memorial 5K was a test event for this coach, and one he miserably failed if not graded on a curve.  I knew I wasn't going to have a replay of last year's Metairie Cemetary 5K "Run Through History" result, but I didn't think I would run THAT poorly.  Since late May I have had the ability to amble and ramble for 90 minutes to two hours, to laugh and solve the world's problems over the course of 7-or-8 miles.

But that ain't training.

Everyday fitness and runner fitness, much less (5K) race fitness, are two different physiological states.  Seven-minute pieces with one-minute recoveries will get you (comfortably?) to the first mile split, after which either reality sets in (your brain asks for your 'recovery piece...') and the remaining two miles or so become very, uh, entertaining.

I did mention "graded on a curve," right?  In this case, let's say my raw score was failing, but because the overwhelming majority of my fellow participants were as badly unprepared for running more than 1.5 miles as I (typical active-duty military "three-mile-a-year-club" members) I managed to pull a passing grade out of my running shorts.

Have you ever heard the maxim: "in the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king?"
In this case, I raced a more-smart race than a handful of my fellow competitors because I knew EVERY LAST INCH of the course, every turn, and every tangent.  Before I started to measure courses I took the time and effort to look at the course map provided at packet pick-up.  Brian McMahon taught me how to run tangents on a race course, and it's a lesson I've retained for the last ten years.

You can't go into a road race, shut your mind off & expect to run your best. Smart pacing & smart training will keep a racer in the pack with their peers, but precious seconds can be wasted or gained in a road race by knowing the course & running the shortest possible distance.

There aren't many races I run not on a certified course. I want to know the distance is reasonably accurate (USATF says this is "not short"). This way I can tell how well my training has progressed (or in this case, digressed) over time. When I show up for a race, I can guarantee I will be asked two questions:

- Is the course certified?  When it comes to Pensacola and some of the surrounding area, if I am at the race, the answer is "yes."

- Did I measure the course?  I teach other persons to measure, or at least to understand what I do, so they can educate the local running populace.  If the race is local, the answer is also most likely "yes."

Worst of all, after a race, runners will confront me and say their GPS receiver showed the course to be too long.  I can choose to launch into a highly-technical (and highly-boring) discussion of USATF protocols and GPS limitations, or save my $25 entry fees and drink coffee at home.  Life's too short for me to to let others treat me shabbily.

But back to my "grading on a curve..."  I spent the latter half of the race dragging young Sailors along the shortest possible distance they could legally take on the course.  Some people may say it's an unfair advantage.  I like to call it "free speed."

I explained this to a younger race participant, one of whom were amazed to find out just how inefficiently he might have run that morning.  I used a standard 400-meter track as an example:
- The width of one lane of a standard 400-meter running track is 1.25 meters.
- An athletic track lane distance calculator (http://www.brianmac.co.uk/tracklane.htm) shows the distance around a 400-meter track, in lane three (3.75 meters out from the inside rail) is 415.71 meters.
- Multiply the additional distance by 12.5 (the number of laps in a 5,000 meter track race) and the total distance is 5,196.375 meters.
- The width of one lane of a two-lane roadway with a shoulder is approximately 3.75 meters, a little over 12 feet in width. So you can add up to an additional 200 meters of distance to run if you're one lane of road out from the tangent...50-60 seconds additional time.  How many of us would like to drop up to a minute off our 5K time?

A set of legs, a heart & lungs in the best of shape can be defeated by a brain that's not prepared on race day. Know the turns on the course, run the tangents, take up to three-percent off your performance...without additional training.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Need A New Window Sticker

BoudreauxIMFL.jpg(NOTE:  This post is dedicated to my (Iron)friends Betsy and Aaron.)

Before leaving the house last Wednesday morning (the day after the election), I took a couple of minutes to remove a couple of political campaign decals from the rear window of my car.

(Don't worry. This is not going to be a politically-motivated topic of discussion. While the athletes I coached had a very good idea of my political philosophy; the track was always a "politics-free" zone. The Sunday morning run, on the other hand, has become an exercise in political humor. We always have THE PERFECT SOLUTION to the world's problems figured out at some point between mile two and mile six. Of course, by the time we hit breakfast we are no longer in a position to execute the master plan.)

There was no need to inform my fellow citizen of my election vote. It was definitely high time to move on with life. But it seemed, the morning after, all I saw on my social media account were commentaries by people unable or unwilling to step away from the political junk food. No, there is nothing wrong with being politically conscious, but the "Monday morning-quarterbacking" was best left to the media on Wednesday. Any longer than that was going to place me in a state of depression which rivaled the state of stress I was in during the days leading up to the election.

My, how our approach to politics can be much like the way we approach an endurance event. We can prepare for months, and in some cases a year or more, for a single day's madness. At the end of the event, we can engage in an all-too-brief time of celebration (or anti-celebration), after which comes the post-event let-down/depression. The second half of the classic 'existential dilemma' question: "What now?"

ANALYSIS: It’s time to do a little soul-searching. How did the race go? This can be looked at in the very-gray shades of subjectivity, as well as the black-and-white of race time, overall place and age group standing. The good and the bad of a race can exist right next to each other. There have been races where I ran a personal best, yet I knew clearly the things which left me completely stressed-out before, or cost me precious seconds during the race. There also have been races which I ran a slower time than I hoped, but everything around the event preparation and execution was technically-perfect.
 
So, what did you do well; what made you feel ready to toe the line for the gun? Don’t hesitate to consider how you trained the weeks before or what you ate during the last couple of days before the race. You don't necessarily have to be superstitious & do the exact same thing before every race, but this exercise can help you to learn the (smart) things which prepare you the best.

Take a close look to see if there were perhaps there were some tactical miscues, a warm-up which was too long, too short, or too intense, or (heaven forbid...none of us have ever done this...) one-too-many beers the night before the race. There’s always room for improvement, and if you're really honest with yourself you’re going to have no problem finding things which might be changed. HOWEVER, don’t dwell on the positives or the negatives from the race any longer than 30 minutes.

CELEBRATION: It is fun to compare notes with your running friends; even talk a little smack which you’ll eventually have to back up; you’re only as good as your next race. There’s nothing like earning hardware, and some age groups are tougher than others. Make certain to appreciate the efforts of all of the athletes; you’ll be amazed at the longevity of some & the speed of others. Respect given leads to respect earned. Perhaps you didn't earn an award, but you ran a personal best or helped someone else to have a great race. Don’t worry. Trophies break & get dusty, but the memory of a PR lasts a long time.

AFTERMATH: A running companion of mine put it well: “The day after I run a good race I go for an easy run. The day after a bad race I go for an easy run.” But, there were many times when the day-after runs were more intense than the previous day. Recovery is where the performance gains are made.

Two post-race recovery rules-of-thumb I like to follow, and often use when laying out plans for an athlete:

Light activity, but no running - one day for each hour of racing. If the race lasts less than an hour, take a day.

One day of easy running (no speed work or racing) for each mile of racing. You can hit the track on Tuesday after a 5K on Saturday, but should run easy for the next week after a 10K.

There are only so many good races a runner can run each season, which depends on base fitness, intensity of workouts, strength and ability to recover after a race. The best runners can stay at peak fitness for six to eight weeks, the citizen-athlete for a much shorter period. Too many races in too short a time can lead to disappointment & injury. Listen to your body & do what feels right for you.

THE NEXT GOAL: Time to sit down and plan for your next goal event. You’re only as good as your next race, so don't focus on the last one you did for too long.

Friday, November 2, 2012

You Ran the NYC Marathon, and All I Got Is A Damp, Dark Apartment

hurricane-day-after-431x300.jpgIf there's any population which understands the phrase "life turned upside down," especially after tropical storms or hurricanes, it is the residents of the Gulf Coast.  We live in "Mother Nature's Great Big Trap Shooting Range" from June to December.  Storms hit...everything is transformed into what appears to be a bad camping trip: 

Central heat and air is replaced by darkness and humidity.  

Regular (healthy) meals are replaced with Meals, Ready to Eat (meals, rejected by everybody?), or the desperate backyard grilling of everything which is thawing in the freezer.  

We suffer from a lack of warm showers, lack of e-mail, and lack of phone communication for a couple of days to a couple of weeks. 

Our water comes from a bottle. 

Our coffee fix goes from Community or Starbucks to freeze dried.  Lukewarm freeze-dried.

And then there's the upheaval which takes place in our running lives.  If our favorite run routes aren't debris-strewn they're still underwater.  Or worse, without street lamps and traffic signal.  Our first long run after Hurricane Ivan almost saw half our group killed by a car driving all over a slick, darkened road at 6:30 in the morning.

All we wanted was to get our lives back to "quote-unquote normal."  Our next local road race was initially scheduled for two weeks after the storm, but no races were run downtown for probably a year.  Small scale when compared to New Orleans, but unsettling nevertheless.

When I raced the 2006 Crescent City Classic; the hotel in which we stayed still had an armed security guard.  My first reaction during the race was that things were clearly back on the road to normal.  However, I quickly learned this was not the case.  The first clue was the amazingly large mound of wood, refrigerators, tree limbs and home materials which made it impossible to see across the neutral ground from the window of the parish school bus.  In fact, I would have been hard-pressed to say it was neutral ground.  Second, my friend Scott and I went for an easy eight miles the next day; as we went up Esplanade we saw vacant lots.  These weren't vacant last year, dude.

So now New York City and much of the tri-state area are a mess because of Sandy.  While there are probably a few persons who registered for the New York City Marathon (at $216) and made their travel and lodging plans who really, truly want to run in New York regardless of the conditions, should it be at the expense of the millions of residents of the area, from Hoboken to Queens, to the Lower East Side, who really could use the infrastructure being squandered on a bunch of selfish endurance enthusiasts?

Don't be too surprised if the crowds along the 26.21876-mile course are a little on the sparse side this year, or if the signage says things like "Will Cheer For Electricity," Or "Dude, Where's My Generator?"  Or "You Ran the NYC Marathon, and All I Got Is A Damp, Dark Apartment."

Best sign idea for the weekend would have to be - and you can send this on to the New York Road Runners Club and Mary Wittenberg:

"W. W. F. D. - What Would Fred (Lebow) Do?"