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, January 30, 2013

(Out of) My Vulcan Mind

Three days after the fact I can safely say I don't ever want to do anything like that again.

Define "that."  "That" is short for 'run a distance race in an undertrained state.'

Even the definition of "undertrained" can be kind of nebulous and squishy.  To differentiate between the two most common forms, there's "undertrained," as in "haven't done as many long runs, or speed workouts as I would have preferred."  That's a more-tolerable and more-desirable state.  There have been some of those worried chats before, where I've told one or two of my own (panicky) athletes their one-toke-short-of-the-line state wasn't such a bad thing.  That form of undertrained is much better than being overtrained (under-recovered).

Then there's the other "undertrained" state.  That's the one that's most simply defined as "insufficient training volume for the target distance," or the "just lay it out there and pray to whatever gods may be that muscle memory saves the day" state. 

In some quarters it's also known, politely, as "extracting a race effort from a portion of the runner's nether region."

When athletes I've worked with in the past have told me "I'm thinking about going to do the (insert event name here), but I haven't trained for it..." in the overwhelming majority of cases the next sound they hear from my mouth sounds like a cross between screaming and...


Even I asked myself a couple of months ago that very question, "Bones." 

Suzanne had the temerity to suggest last week that I hang back in the same corral with her and Teri, amble along and watch the sights at a pace which would have been about 65 percent of my planned effort.  Ah, but I remembered all-too-well trying to hold back and run with Suzanne...at 50-to-60 percent of my ability...about four years ago.  Frustrating for her.  Painful for me.

So, it was time to pull out the proverbial "plan B" for the morning.  I had already penciled in the need to do 40-minute workouts (running, spinning, rowing, or lifting) during the week.  Why not use this time as a workout in the presence of 20,000 friends...most of whom still owed me at least one beer?  The first 40 minutes would be a great time for a moderate-pace run, after which the crowd would probably thin out enough to let me get about 40 minutes of "speed work" in.  After that I figured the next 10-to-30 minutes would serve as that "extraction from the nether region" time.  If I felt great I'd drop the hammer, and if not I'd smile and let the crowd pull me along to the finish.

The first 40 minutes went almost like a charm.  Only a few seconds off the pace I would have loved to have completed for the entire race.  The second 40 minutes went almost according to plan.  Reality began to set in at about 1:15, aboutt the time when I normally finish my Sunday morning runs.  Trouble was I had somewhere between four and five miles left.  With two miles to go I could feel the first twinges in my left calf, which really slowed the flow of progress.  A little adjustment, a little self-talk, and a little music had me back on track.  I finished in 1:56, and suspect if I had run steady for the second 40-minute piece my finish would have been around the same as my previous half-marathon...eight months ago.

The lesson I hope you take away from this is:  There's a range of training volume - distance, intensity, time - which is perfect for each race distance.  A runner doing 60 miles a week can get away with running a 5,000-meter road race, and might do it with a 2-to-3 mile warm-up/cool-down.  On the other hand, a 20-mile-a-week guy (or gal) who jumps into a half-marathon is asking for trouble...especially if it's their first one.  A more-experienced runner might get away with being a little under-prepared, but they're more likely...transiently...out of their Vulcan mind.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Good Running, Good Records

"You're going to WHAT!?"

In the month since I made a resolution to 'resist more,' I have received a few funny looks and one or two shocked comments from the people closest to me.  My wife is used to a certain degree of over-dedication after eight-plus years of marriage.  My passing comment over Sunday brunch was something along the lines of, "I'll have to limit myself to one beer; I'm going to put some time in on the rowing ergometer at the gym and watch the football game."

"That's obsessive," said Teri, our mutual friend and training companion, to which I replied, "That's correct."  I guess it takes an obsessive character to recognize a person with similar traits.  Teri and my wife are alike in their minimalist attitude; forget any big, fancy GPS, heart rate-tracking, number-crunching gadget...a running watch, perhaps, but little more.  On the other hand, she constantly badgers me at the tail-end of every Sunday morning group run, to find out exactly how far we ran. 

Teri knows the exact distance of the other run routes she does during the week, but we rotate between different venues and loops for our weekend run.  I like to throw a little monkey-wrenching into their training regimes; a hill here, a grass trail there.  Suzanne told me, "it's for her spreadsheet.  She tracks every run she does.  Teri's recordkeeping is not as obsessive-compulsive as yours, but she comes close."

Good record-keeping, in my humble opinion, leads to good running.  An injury is more often the outcome of a sudden change in training - in distance, in intensity, in terrain - or the failure to heed a warning sign, like the "death" of a favorite pair of shoes.  Once a runner has the essential gear and the essential information available, it's time to start storing it in a way which lets the information tell the running story.  I used to use a spiral-bound running log (John Jerome's The Runner's Training Log) which provided blocks for each day's run, with some great event distance pace information and macro-level charts (miles/hours per week/month) in the appendices.  Tracking distance (kilometers/miles), duration (minutes/hours) and intensity (heart rate/perceived effort), as well as other little specifics about location was simple.

What was hard was the number juggling involved to keep track of shoe mileage.  One pair of shoes is simple, naturally.  Two pairs also isn't all that tough.  But if you're trying to rotate in or out more than one pair, or in my case rotating three pairs, it might take a little more computing power.  That's when I stumbled upon David Hays' Running Log; a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet which was laden with bells and whistles.  Seemed simple enough to use; enter the date, distance, time, average heart rate, pair of shoes you wore, run type, and comments like daily weight.  Clank, hoot...I've got paces, mileage totals, mileage on shoes, trend weight, and so on, and so on.  Not so bad for the first year, except for the fact the file became more unwieldy around October or November...too much data.  And then you had to start with a fresh log next year.
So now I use a greatly simplified spreadsheet, which consists of three sections:
 
The first section has the date, planned workout time, type of workout (swim, bike, row, run, or lift), the distance in yards or miles, and the time spent.  This allows me to track how much time I spend compared to my goal for the week.
 
The second section tracks the amount of aerobic activity based on distance swam, rowed, cycled or run; developed by Slowtwitch.com's Dan Empfield:  In short, 100 yards of swimming is like two minutes of rowing, or a mile of cycling, or 400 meters of running, or five minutes of intense weight training.  It's not perfect but it provides the closest apples-to-apples approximation when you're spending as much time in an orange grove as an apple orchard.
The third section covers the training impact of the workout, which comes from David Bannister's research in 1975.  Simply put, a training impact score is the product of time and intensity quantified above fifty percent of maximum heart rate; a training impact score of 60 could be the result of 12 minutes at 90-to-100 percent average max heart rate, or 60 minutes at an average of 50 percent max.  Several higher-end heart rate monitors will break down a workout into periods of time at a certain heart rate, so every minute at 50 percent would earn one point, every minute at 60 would earn two, and so on.  And if you want to keep it very simple you could rate your workout by perceived effort, a five or six would be multiplied by 1, a nine or ten would be multiplied by 5.  My goal for each day's workout/s is to acquire a score of 150-to-200; that's a score which most likely will allow me to recover enough to do the workout again the next day.  On top of all this information, I track (by simple addition) the mileage accrued on my running shoes in the case of run workouts.

Some persons would most likely consider my record-keeping structure to be a little bit of overkill.  I've found, as time progresses, the most important trend factors which affect my running quality-of-life and tell me where things might be going wrong.  But good records are part and parcel with good running.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

What Do You Want?

Since I made the decision to return to active coaching, I cannot say people have been breaking down the door, or welcomed me back with open arms.  When I scheduled the first training session on the same day as a non-competitive "color run" I harbored no unrealistic expectations.  Blessed are the coaches who set the bar low at the beginning, for they are are almost always not disappointed.

I chose Saturday mornings at eight o'clock because of the blend of daylight and warmth this time of year; also a tip of the hat to folks who enjoy an adult beverage of choice during a Friday afternoon or evening.  Not surprisingly, several persons said this would not do; there were races to attend on Saturday morning.  Sunday morning group runs are already on my schedule, and I had no desire to wedge a group workout into an already-filled week of run groups.

It's enough to make a guy want to curl up in a fetal position and engage in serious thumb-sucking.  Or take a drive and listen to public radio programming.  I listened to a TED talk by author Malcolm Gladwell, on the topic of choice, happiness, and spaghetti sauce.  Yes, spaghetti sauce.  The talk was entertaining, interesting, and insightful, but I cannot say it was a moment which saw me sit in the driveway until the end.  But I did take away a couple of bits of good information.  I watched a YouTube clip of Gladwell's talk this morning.  The entire talk focused on the work of Howard Moskowitz.  If you like chunky spaghetti sauce, Moskowitz is the man to which you need to raise your glass in salute.  If Moskowitz were a running coach, he would probably provide this piece of advice:  "There is no perfect pickle; there are perfect pickles."

There are training runs and types of workouts which are absolutely necessary training for improving speed, endurance and running efficiency; volumes/intensities which need to be honored, but the paths up the mountain are diverse and individual.  So why do people; fiercely individualistic, diverse beyond measure, make the conscious decision to remain mediocre?

I've asked people what they want as a runner.  Gladwell says during his TED talk that when asked what we want we often say one thing, yet truly desire another.  The people who say they want to become faster runners, or who desire to increase their fitness, also make the conscious decision to participate in every social, participatory or competitive running event, even when they know the participation is not going to enhance their fitness or make them a better runner.  So, maybe they REALLY want to participate in the same events, and engage in the same level of mediocrity, as their friends?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Keep It Simple, Part II

“It can scarcely be denied that the supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience.”  Albert Einstein (1879-1955), during a lecture, Oxford, June 1933
Einstein’s goal of achieving simplicity without loss of the necessary holds true, especially for runners.  Figure out the amount of data you absolutely need to track progress, after that it's simple to gradually acquire the stuff which works best, or to steer clear of the stuff which won't work at all.
First, let me explain that I’m not slamming brick-and-mortar running specialty stores.  If given the choice between a major retail sports store, a locally-owned/operated running specialist and an interlink-based provider I'd much rather deal with the guy who's paying local property taxes and hiring passionate young men and women from my town's high school or local college; someone who really has some skin in the game when it comes to the running community.  Usually that's a person who's going to do the right thing.  But you can tell when a shopkeeper has become too-mercenary when (new) runners toe the line at a local 5-kilometer race with a four-bottle hydration waist belt.
I have a love-hate relationship with the consumer grade GPS receiver.  As a course measurer I love to use the GPS to provide ballpark estimations of where my intermediate splits will fall on the race course, and to get latitude/longitude references in those rare instances when no permanent reference point exists.  The hatred comes when runners who have no understanding of the necessary technological limitations of the GPS try to tell me a course is "too long."  Upload a run to Google Earth and you'll see some places you never thought you could run.  Runners who do most or all of their workouts on a treadmill or a track most likely aren't going to need GPS devices; there are times I would dare to say that for most a GPS is little more than a very expensive running watch.  I've also played with running watches which used accelerometers those little pods attach to the running shoe and track how fast and how far you ran, without the need for all those satellites.  They're a little expensive and the batteries tend to die at the wrong time, but they're very reliable if all you need is distance and speed.  If all your courses are known distances, choose a running watch or a heart rate monitor. 

Good ballpark distance figures for runs on sidewalks, roadways, and now even trails can be mapped out on map programs like MapMyRun, GMaps Pedometer, the USA Track and Field "My Running Routes" program, and Google Earth (which requires a little more patience).  There are a few disadvantages to these programs:  When flat photographs are used to try and measure distance on a rounded surface (our world) there can be varying degrees of inaccuracy; a half-marathon course I measured last year proved this to be true.  As a plus, MapMyRun allows runners to track workouts they've run on a particular route, and even gives runners the ability to print out courses...if you purchase a membership.  Go on the cheap like me and you best be able to read what can best be called “gibberish.”  A race director sent me his MMR files last year and all the street names were “Asflkue Ib.”  And worse.
You'd rather not wear a heart rate monitor, you say?  My wife is one of the many who would agree with you.  Some folks don't like to have that fabric/plastic strap around their chest, especially guys who like to run shirtless (I like data, therefore I run with a shirt).  Those persons who still want to check their intensity every so often can purchase a watch which has finger contact plates; place the two fingers of the non-watch wearing hand (of course…) on the plates and the heart rate reading appears in seconds.  Runners who use fairly modern treadmills with heart rate equipment attached can most likely forego this and use the handrail plates, which are about as accurate as chest strap monitors. 

You Luddites can lay a couple of fingers along your carotid artery on the left side of the neck immediately after the run is completed, or gauge your effort on a scale of one to ten, where one aligns to ”am I awake?” and ten means ”if I take another step my chest will explode!”  Some of the really good heart rate monitors will not only break down your workout effort by average heart rate, but by amount of time spent at a particular intensity level.  Entire books have been written about training by heart rate, and quickly leaves the beaten path to go into the weeds of the “should I use the ‘220-minus-age’ formula to calculate my heart rate?” question, the “male-versus-female max-heart-rate” debate (which my wife and I have had on many occasions), and so on.  Surprisingly enough, physiology researchers found a strong correlation between perceived effort (that “one-to-ten-scale” thing) and percentage of maximum heart rate; a perceived effort of “five” was found to be right around the fifty-percent of maximum heart rate point, and so on.

So now we've talked about the simple "where," "how far," and "how hard" of running.  I'll talk in the next installment on what to do with that information.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Keep It Simple - Part I

“It can scarcely be denied that the supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience.” 
Albert Einstein (1879-1955), during a lecture, Oxford, June 1933

When is the last time you walked into your local running emporium to purchase a pair of shoes?  In a perfect world, if you’re like me, the duration from arrival-to-purchase is brief; I know (down to three makers/styles) the shoe I need.  I don’t need to try them on or do a brief jog in them.  Just set the box on the counter and swipe my American Express card.  Thanks, and I’ll see you in about ten weeks.
My $500-per-year running shoe habit probably covers a little less than 1/1000th of a store proprietor’s yearly expenses.  My few gizmos, gadgets, and apparel - thank heavens - have longer life spans.  The entry-level runner is more likely to be welcomed with open arms into "SHOES 'R' US" than frugal/cheap runners like me.  "GAIT-O-RAMA" associates love to see the person who just got finished reading the “five weeks to a faster 5K” or “crush your first marathon” article in the glossy running magazine or on the interlink.  There's nothing like seeing the newbie runner drool as they finger their way through the jogger-porn and look with longing at advertisements for the newest electronic training gadget, or hydration system, or symphony-quality earbuds.  There are benefits to many of the apparel items, multifunctional watches, post-run recovery gadgets and technological “nice-to-haves,” but Murphy’s Law posits that the higher-ticket item leads to a greater and more irrational dependence.  The more dependent the runner becomes on them, the more likely they will either go missing the day before the race - requiring a very expensive replacement during the race expo - or die/malfunction on the day of said race.
(If you have considered participating in a triathlon, I advise you to NOT buy any expensive technological gadget, especially one which plays music or speaks to you on the run.  Trust me.  You’ll either thank me or the referee who does not have to assess a penalty later.  But I digress.)
I’ve killed music players, had pace/distance/heart rate/training tracking gadgets malfunction beyond all recognition (I think the technical term is “FUBAR”), and slunk away like a hound caught piddling on the living room carpet as my wife discovered a portable hydration bladder-turned-petri dish.
Einstein’s goal of achieving simplicity without loss of the necessary holds true, especially for runners.  Do you need a fancy wrench set to tighten or loosen a bolt when a pair of Vise-Grip pliers might work as well?  It all depends on how many times you plan to do the job.  If it’s a one-shot deal - or (like triathletes) we’re trying to find out what we really need early on - the odds are good we can use more-simple tools.  Once you figure out what you can live with/without, then we can gradually acquire the stuff which works best for us.
The simplest needs for every runner regardless of the distance or the coach are a training plan, a way to measure distance, a way to figure out how long they have run.  There needs to be a place to store all this information, as well as the effort expended and how soon another pair of shoes will be needed.  I’ll talk more about the simplest measures of distance, time and effort in the next installment.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Hell Freezes Over, Sort Of

"For the record, we never broke up; we just took a 14-year vacation..." - Glenn Frey, 1994

I've coached a small group of (as few as three to as many as a dozen) adult runners for six years, in the classic "stand on the side of the track" as well as the "in the pack" style.  Each style has its benefits and drawbacks; coaching revealed me at my best and my worst.  If an aspiring author were to write it without the benefit or hindrance of this blog it would most likely either look like a Charles Dickens ("best of times, worst of times") tale.  Maybe not.  More likely in the style of a Stephen King ("...heeeeere's Johnny!") screenplay.  As long as Jack Nicholson isn't playing me, I'm all right.

Coaching is stressful, especially if you feel the need to prove to athletes that the training will never get "boring," (news flash:  it will, get used to it...) or, worse yet, when a symbiotic relationship with a running emporium (''...you refer runners to me for training, I send them to you for shoes and gear...') transforms into "competition."  Add to the stress a pair of achilles tendons made cranky by too much hard training and not enough recovery, and life becomes a misery.

So, I took a bit of a holiday.  I retired.  I became a "gentleman" coach; a "quasi-guru" with a limited and non-paying clientele.  Not surprisingly, people "suddenly" become more interested in training when you're not available.  It's no different than the difference between when you're single and when you finally find that "soul mate;" every other person who otherwise would not have given you the time of day if your watch had stopped cold dead wants something to do with you.

Last weekend I decided, against my better judgment, to hang the shingle again.  I don't know why, other than perhaps the moon was full, the beer was cold, my tendons hadn't barked at me for a month, and the person who asked me seemed to be genuinely interested. 

This time, however, things will be different.  I have nothing to prove to anyone who shows up.  Except for the fact I can give them a good product at a reasonable price.  They will pay, I will coach, and they will work.  Seems simple enough to me.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Do What You Love...And Keep Working

When a visitor walks into our main bathroom, it’s probably not hard for them to figure out several things about us.  Occasionally there are Lego parts which have been sent adrift by our grandkids, but the most enduring artifact is the metal rack which sits against the wall directly across from our bathroom sink and commode.  In that particular rack one will find our razors (some days they go to my cheek; some days Suzanne’s legs), dental and hair-care appliances, the occasional left-behind coffee mug, and a stack of books, trade paperbacks, pulp novels and magazines.
One magazine in that rack hasn’t been opened in several months, but I cannot help but notice an article title printed in large yellow type against the dark background photograph every visit to “the reading room.”
Get Paid To Do The Thing You Love.
The article talks about a dozen outdoor activity-focused businesses; places where climbers, cyclists, runners, skiers, and other fitness enthusiasts can either focus on their passion during part or all of their working day, or bring their dog to work, or get free beer at the end of a ‘tough’ week.  Yes, that’s the kind of place I wouldn’t mind being employed.  Most of the potential employers are in cities where I wouldn’t mind living, and compensate in a manner which isn’t too shabby – jobs which pay less than what I make right now do have that certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ “psychic income” thing going for them. 
Pursuing “dream jobs” with companies like Clif Bar, Boston Brewery, Land’s End, etc., requires several salient qualities:  Youthful aggression, geographic flexibility, lack of “fear-of-failure,” perhaps even a potential fallback in the event the proverbial stuff strikes spinning fan blades.  A person (perhaps single or unmarried) of less than 35 years of age may be more likely the perfect fit for such as adventure, but not so much so for a guy like me.  If Suzanne and I didn’t have the house and the dog we could almost drop everything and take a chance of (the remainder of) our lifetime.
I don’t think this is a delayed mid-life crisis; more likely the end-result of a weekend’s worth of “chat and chew” with my stepson and his wife.  It’s a “what if I could return a couple of years of responsible decision-making, a mortgage payment and an automobile loan in exchange for a little adventure?” question.
Would I, if the occasion arose, want to coach runners as a vocation?  Not really.  In the earliest years of my blog I borrowed a Shannon Wheeler “How To Be Happy” comic strip, discussing the calculus between job satisfaction and financial security.  Wheeler closed the cartoon with a statement I’ve shamelessly disseminated to friends and clients: “Anything You Get Paid To Do S**ks.”
A recent American Public Media “Marketplace” report on the personal training business reminded me of the many pitfalls of fitness training.  The report talked of the risks inherent with taking on a new client who does too much, too soon, at too high an intensity, and subsequently injures or damages themselves and the business of their trainer.  In my first year of coaching I learned how simple it was to physically “break” an athlete.  Break one athlete and you learn quickly to err on the side of caution when training after that.  Besides, the need to earn a living “thing” would force me to be less-than-honest; a quality I’m fortunate to have when I train because my relationship with my athletes is both personal and professional.  Because they’re not paying (much) it’s not going to hurt me if they decide to “fire me.”  I’m still going to tell them what I think.  And, funny as it may seem, the relationship is reciprocal.  My dentist is a good friend and a former training partner.  Because we are friends he can tell me how to care for my mouth without the fear of hurting my feelings.
Frankly, I think the “do what you love and the money will follow” concept is just that; a concept.  Because so few of us can make a living doing what we “love,” we should make certain the time we spend doing it is most enjoyable.  How many times have you seen someone taking a call on their cell phone while working out on the treadmill or out on the trail during the weekend long run?  Social media?  Please.  You have to be kidding.  Right now?  Unless you need to make an emergency call to the police…turn it off.  Because everything that you get paid to do…