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, December 27, 2012

Changing Your Definition

My buddy Justin posted this up on my social media wall the other evening, not many minutes after a perfectly decent rowing ergometer workout at my local fitness gym...


I swore last year to not deride people who purchase fitness center memberships in January but never use the facility after March, or how infuriating the first two-to-three months of the year can be for persons who have a well-developed workout habit.  The smart "resolutionists" at least take advantage of the "complimentary" fitness assessment; they know how far they have to go to meet the airbrushed (and most-likely "cosmetic-surgeried") image of quote-unquote "fitness" plastered on billboards.  When it comes to that 'oh, gosh, I'm THAT unhealthy?' revelation, perhaps ignorance to a certain degree is bliss.  Some would prefer to not pay the extra dough to have someone beat up on them for the next three/six/twelve months...or longer.

As a runner/triathlete-type, I have near-epistemological opinions about what does and does not constitute fitness.  It used to be if it had nothing to do with swimming, bicycling and running I preferred to avoid it at all costs.  An Outside Magazine story on climber-turned-hard-core-fitness-trainer Marc Twight, and ESPN's telecast of the CrossFit Games caused me to channel my own inner Pontius Pilate and re-ask: 'what is fitness?'  But that's what philosophy - and coaching - is all about, isn't it?  Believe it, test it, re-work it, retest, and repeat.

So, this year I've decided to engage in some personal resolutions, not necessarily run-focused, but resolutions which will most likely carry over into life pedestrian:

Read more - I refer often to three or four good training books, but this last year provided me the opportunity to branch out and read works in genres I hadn't touched since college.  If coaching had only to do with the heart, lungs, muscles and skeleton the learning process would be simple.  Ah, but there are brains, minds and souls; opinions, concerns and fears involved.  And the scariest territory of any fitness enthusiast or athlete would have to be that space which is between the left ear and the right ear.  Luke Humphrey's "The Hanson's Marathon Method" is on my short list of acquisitions.  A conversation with my step-son, Scott has inspired me to re-read Phil Jackson's 'Sacred Hoops: Spiritual Lessons of a Hardwood Warrior."  Expect a few nuggets in the future from these minds.

Recover more - Reading is a great form of recovery from both the physical and mental stress of training, as well as the stress of the work day.  Contrary to the opinion of some of my co-workers.  Recovery is everything you are doing when you aren't working out: Sleep, food, massage, hydration.  Those are important, but don't forget the Bowerman-esque "hard day-easy day" theory, or Bannister's training impact.  Contrary to the dictum of the great Hungarian coach Mihaly Igloi, 'every day hard training must make,' we don't need to do every workout at one-hundred percent intensity.  When's the last time you had a rest day marked on the training schedule?

Resist more - Several definitions of resistance can be covered here.  Weight training, or cross-training which involves friction (rowing ergometer, elliptical trainer, indoor cycling) can raise heart rates a touch and strengthen muscle groups which are important for running performance, without the worrisome impact which can make joints (especially older ones) ache.  The second form of resistance comes in the form of avoidance; like unhealthy food and drink choices (here I am most definitely speaking to myself!), of toxic persons and situations, and workouts which become contests.  Ah, but none of us have ever treated a Sunday morning long run as a long race, have we?

Destination race - There's nothing like putting a target race on your training calendar to encourage a training focus.  My wife is much better at finding opportunities to travel and race within days of a conference or a business meeting.  Besides, you can only run the "Rancid Possum 5K" course and drink the same post-race beer so many times before things...get...old...  We have one "destination" race already on the calendar, and I suspect two or three more will soon follow.

I hope these thoughts will encourage you to look a little more closely at your running and fitness habit and see if there's something which cries out for a little change this next year.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Under The (Needle) Gun

I've recently become a fan of two tattoo-focused programs on cable television; not a surprise to my wife, since I also enjoyed watching the three TLC tattoo-related reality series' "Miami Ink," "L.A. Ink" and N.Y. Ink."  The latest two are "Tattoo Nightmares" and "Ink Master," both of which are on the 40-something year-old, (seemingly-) male-interest-focused cable channel Spike.

My wife, to a lesser degree, also enjoys watching these programs.  She's adamant about the fact she will never get a tattoo, but I'm more than welcome to get another one when I feel compelled to expose my tender self to the ministrations (and needles) of artist and machine.  She likes the really good pieces shown on "Ink Master" and cringes as much as I when she sees the "Tattoo Nightmares" badly in need of some sort of cover-up.  I guess art, even if the skin is the canvas, is never really bad; just varying degrees of beautiful.

Art, tattooing...and running...do have a lot in common, if you take a few minutes (and a beverage of choice) to consider the similarities.

Discomfort or pain is the first quality which immediately comes to my mind.  One need only refer back to the ever-quotable Steve Prefontaine, who once said, "A race is a work of art that people can look at and be affected in as many ways they’re capable of understanding."  Anyone who has raced on the track, road, or trail; has laid out their muscle, heart and sinew as a near-daily, daily, or twice-daily offering to the racing and training gods can quickly say that the day's run or race is a willful exercise in patient suffering, in much the same manner as a client receiving ink.  Ask an artist where they gain their inspiration, and some will refer to either their own or someone else's physical or psychic pain.  Two words to anyone who might doubt this:  Frida Kahlo.

During the other week's "Ink Master" episode, one of the competing tattoo artists, Jamie Davies, was chided by the judging panel for having no tattoos (exposed or not) on his body.  The panel of three tattoo artists and one rock musician, recommended (before removing him from the competition) he receive a few tats of his own, just to know how it feels to expose skin to needle gun.  How many writers prefer to scribble in journals rather than engage in the (sometimes self-glorifying) act of writing web logs, lyricizing, or performing poetry at open microphone nights?  You might doodle in notepads and sketchbooks, or noodle on guitars, but does it mean that everything you do needs to be laid out for public scrutiny?

There are pieces I've seen people get put on their body which, when I asked them the story behind the ink, they had nothing to say.  Marines who get the eagle, globe and anchor are about the only group...okay, Ironman triathlon finishers, too...where no story really need be elicited.  Except, perhaps, that of "Parris Island or San Diego?"  Or "Which course?"  Yeah, you have that one guy who a couple of years ago said anyone who finished the 140.6 miles anywhere but Hawaii did not merit  being called an Ironman, or sitting to receive the "M-Dot" tattoo until they did.  But he's an army of one in that particular war.

A tattoo, especially a nice one, usually leads me to first ask the story behind the tattoo, then the name or location of the tattoo artist.  If the story isn't compelling - and most of the really good pieces I've seen have one (it usually means the person wants to remember or communicate something special to them) - it doesn't matter who inked you.

But I go back to what we might call the "Jamie Davies Syndrome" when it comes to training and/or coaching.  First, and most important to me as a coach, is to ask an athlete who wants to do a particular event, especially if they're on the verge of entering uncharted territory (like an IM70.3 event when they haven't done a lot of long-distance stuff, or attempting a marathon straight-off-the-couch) "is there a compelling reason to do this event?"  They need to understand the degree of pain and discomfort (physical, psychological, social and emotional) involved to make it to completion.  Good-looking multicolored tattoos which take up half a thigh or shoulder and impress the daylights out of the public will have you sitting on the business end of one or more needles for a few hours.  Marathoners look at my "credentials" as a runner, rather than the outcomes of my athletes, and get a little bit cross-eyed.  My failures as a coach have come from the trial-and-error of other plans on myself; not unlike letting someone else run a gun over my flesh.  A good coach is one who knows and understands the pain you're going to go through, and, most importantly, won't let you go too much of the pain in training.

Don't let the regret of a bad training experience get in the way of a potentially good "story."

Monday, December 10, 2012

A Different "Army-Navy" Game


Since 2005, I've worked the technical side of running events, laying out and measuring road courses and doing grunt work for triathlon events.  I used to tout them in a 'matter-of-fact' fashion, but nowadays my signature block says, "extensive list of worthless certifications available upon request."  Most of the "worthless certifications" were the result of participating in enough running events to think, after the second beer, then say out loud "I could put on one of these."  

One of my favorite Clint Eastwood lines did not come during the most recent election cycle, but during his 1973 movie, "Magnum Force," where he says..."a man's got to know his limitations."  After one-too-many afternoons picking up aid station coolers and driving the sag vehicle while the event director was drinking beer with the athletes I went back to the technical support side of the running world.  Back to maps, paperwork, phone calls and e-mail from first-year event directors, and looking at the good, the bad, and the ugly of road races.

In the last month I participated in the behind-the-scenes details of two events; a 5K put on by the Chief Petty Officers Association, and a 5K/10K put on by the Special Forces Association.  So, this comparison of good, bad and ugly is a different version of last weekend's Army-Navy game.

Army-Navy has always been special for my family.  In the football-(sub?)conscious Deep South, team loyalty often has little to do with the school they matriculated (I went to a Division-II school.).  The Bowens and their extensions up and down the family tree have almost all been Navy people; my Uncle Billy (Renn) and I the only ones to serve outside of the Sea Service.  (My friend Chuck, a retired Navy Chief, reminds me I've served longer as a Navy civilian than Air Force enlisted.)  

We've all got a short list of what makes a running event stand out from its contemporaries.  My coach, Dale Fox, used to tell stories of runners who would drive to several race locations each Saturday and Sunday morning in the hope of picking up overall hardware...and a hundred bucks.  They knew the pecking order, and would look for the vehicles of athletes they could beat, and those they couldn't.  When I ask experienced racers the things they use to choose one road race over another, most will mention the course, the pre-and-post-race experience, the awards, and the shirt.

Course - Some runners like a scenic course.  Most racers want an accurate distance.  All want to be safe.  ARMY: The 10K was measured for certification after a course change.  However, the race director moved the start point 100 yards.  5K distance not measured for certification after course change.  Both courses had entire lanes of roadway and crossed twice over a bridge.  No intermediate split markers or split timers.  NAVY: Certified 5K course, which had cones laid down the center of two-lane secondary roads and a single lane of a major road.  Split markers and a split timer at the first mile.

Play-by-play:  Army wins toss, elects to receive.  Penalties stymie initial Army drive; settle for field goal.  Navy takes long grinding drive and scores.

SCORE - ARMY 3 - NAVY 7

Post-race - Entertainment, food and beverages; doesn't have to be a full spread, but you got to keep the runners happy until the results are ready.  ARMY:  There was some issue with the keg which never was resolved, but there was cold canned beer, as well as water, fruit, barbecue, live music, and free massages for race participants.  NAVY:  Old bagels, water and fruit.  And an iPod with tunes from back when I was in high school.  I like Journey, Foreigner and Fleetwood Mac, but I'm certain the younger participants would have preferred newer stuff.

Play-by-play:  Army quick-strikes for touchdown, point-after attempt hits right goalpost.  Scores a safety on ensuing kickoff.  

SCORE: ARMY 11 - NAVY 7

Awards - Age-group and overall awards should be both meaningful and of good-quality.  Something you'd post on your "I love me" wall.  ARMY:  Carved wood SFA7 logos all over the place.  Five-year age groups, overall, masters, grandmasters, etc.  Someone inhaled a lot of sawdust.  NAVY:  Ten-year age group (I finish as first runner over age 50 -- heck, age 40 -- and receive first in 50-59 age group) medals; overall male/female, oldest/youngest runners receive painted oars.

Play-by-play:  Good field position leads to Army ball control drive, scores touchdown but leaves Navy time for one more short drive.  Navy scores field goal to close out first half.

SCORE: ARMY 18 - NAVY 10

Shirt - great race shirts are advertising for future events.  Lousy race shirts are car wash fodder.  ARMY:  Black, short-sleeved cotton-technical blend shirt with SFA7 logo and original (contest-designed) artwork on front, sponsors on back.  NAVY:  White long-sleeved cotton shirt with small dog-tag logo on front, sponsors on back, several names misspelled.

Play-by-play:  Navy receives second-half kickoff.  Three-and-outs lead to poor field position for Navy; punt blocked out of end-zone.

SCORE:  ARMY 27 - NAVY 10 

Cause - Runners will support a race for a cause they can support.  ARMY:  Scholarships for children of soldiers killed in action.  Marketing in social media, on-line registration sites, local running clubs.  NAVY:  Rewards leading to prosecution of person/persons who shot and killed an active-duty sailor.  Marketing nearly nonexistent outside of on-line registration; single flyer seen at base bowling alley day before event.  

Play-by-play:  Good field position following Navy kick; return to ball control drive and Army touchdown.

SCORE:  ARMY 34 - NAVY 10

Intangibles - These are the little things which could fall under the overall race experience, but someone is going to point them out to you the week after as you're busy patting yourself on the back.  ARMY:  When I go into the Starbucks around the corner (as an event non-participant) and the racers are there in a line for the bathroom.  

Barista: "Can I do anything else for you, sir?" 
Me: "Get rid of the line in front of the bathroom?"  

Public bathrooms could only handle two men/ladies at a time...1,500 people might have been a little too much.  NAVY:  Porta-johns, about a dozen, for 200 people.  I'm certain they were hoping for closer to 600, but that goes back to the marketing thing.  ARMY:  Race director/staff are/were Special Forces officers and enlisted.  These guys know how to plan, adapt, improvise and overcome obstacles.  NAVY:  Chief Petty Officers, most of whom were/are members of the "three-mile-a-year" club, sans racing experience.

Play-by-play:  And the hits keep on coming.  Army grinds out one more long drive for a touchdown, but leaves enough time on the clock for Navy to kick a desultory field goal and warm up their lungs to sing "Navy Blue and Gold" first...for the first time in about 11 years.

If you're a race director, or you aspire to be one, perhaps some of these observations will save you a couple of wrongly-spent dollars and a couple of nightmares.

If you call me, however, I won't be available.  At least until race day.