So, How Many Hats Do You Wear?

My photo
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.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Not What I Have To Sell

No sooner had I posted an article - with research references - on the benefit of an amino acid, one of the major ingredients contained in an energy drink, my friend Pete asks me, "...so should I drink a can of the energy drink before a race or not? Do the drawbacks outweigh the benefits?" 

Four days earlier, over a beer, I had a chat with a friend who has been bitten by the triathlon bug.  He asked me about the relative merits of one particular race over another.  He also commented about a friend's expenditures and asked whether he should spend his money on a particular triathlon outfit, or invest in coaching.  Maybe it's because of personal experience or perspective that I get questioned about training and racing.  I write a lot of these pieces with the goal that the reader will think more deeply about training, equipment, racing, and the citizen-athletic life in general.  I hope the person who reads this will look more closely at what is being marketed as truth, try it on for size, and see what works best and what is bupkis.
I guess if this blog were titled: "I'm Your Coach, Darn It, So Do What I Say..." I could provide a response to my friends like Ernest Hemingway; strong, to-the-point, and decisive.  I could say: "You will achieve a 1-to-2 percent gain in your 5K race performance, guaranteed, if you drink a 12-ounce can of this drink approximately two hours prior to the race start."  Or, "you would be better off taking the money you spend for this non-sanctioned race and working with a swim coach for three months."  Or, "Being a triathlete, swimmer, runner, or cyclist is not an 'X-to-Y' season, especially when we spend so much money to participate in an event; it is a year-long lifestyle decision."

Physiology, and psychology for that matter, is much like religious belief.  What works for one person might not be the best thing for another.  Even in a population with so many similarities variances exist.  When it comes to sports physiology, I prefer to place my trust and confidence in a handful of researchers and writers; the overwhelming majority have multiple sets of initials after their name, the ones who may lack in titles academic have successfully guided athletes to titles athletic.  As for matters spiritual,  that's two-or-three pay grades above my level.  Methodist ministers have been a reasonable (and approachable) source during my past, but if you can't find one of them close by a comparative religion professor may do the trick.

If I could change one thing about the present it would be my (flawed) perception of myself.  I feel less like a coach - someone who instructs and counsels athletes through training and example - and more like a "guru."  And to me, "guru" has negative connotations.  My counsel to an athlete often comes from "making stupid mistakes."  So, when the person asking my opinion goes and does the complete polar opposite I feel invalidated.  Unlike a guru, I have nothing to sell, and I harbor few strong dogmatic beliefs when it comes to training.  In fact, there have been many situations where I have either graciously backpedaled from a previously-held point of view, or at least explained in 25-words-or-less my reasons for holding one.  I'd rather have folks come see me at the track rather than climb the mountain.  Easier that way to get them to buy-in to what I have to say.  Not what I have to sell.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Red Bull: The (Nearly) Two-Percent Solution

Spend enough time with a demographic which closely resembles the target viewing audience for adventure sporting events, and you cannot help but notice the large drink cans close by.  Even after nine weeks of boot camp, with plenty of exercise and the finest food the military has to offer, (all right, there's a good reason the dining facilities are called "mess halls) the young men and women I encountered on a weekly basis in my classroom drank can after can of sugary "energy drinks." 

When my wife makes the decision to party she doesn't hit the white zinfandel or the belgian Trappist ale.  She resorts to a very popular energy drink, often mixed with vodka.  The drink mixture makes as much sense as my Sunday brunch switch between a large cup of Seattle's finest export, the name of which rhymes with "four bucks," and a chilled flute of mimosa.  Take enough of the stuff in and you have a buzz in two different forms...a very alert drunk.  But that's a different editorial statement altogether.

The folks who make the beverage in the little blue and silver cans seem to be everywhere in the past couple of months.  Whether it's a guy who wants to go the speed of sound without an aircraft or a bunch of runners who want to outrun roller derby girls, the beverage and it's logo is darned near ubiquitous.  And the advertising is more, er, mature now.  I haven't seen as many of the silly black-and-white line-drawing animated cartoons.  They're back to focusing on a message of: 'drink this if you want to go farther than anyone else.'

That little blue and silver can...what's it got?  Well, about the same amount of sugar or sweetener as a typical soda...about 65 percent of the caffeine of the same sized coffee...some B-vitamins, a chemical found in detox drinks, and the amino acid taurine.  If you're used to drinking coffee before a race or a workout, there's a really good chance you probably won't be hurt drinking the beverage that reportedly "gives you wings."  In fact, it's not just the caffeine that may help your run performance, but the taurine.

First, taurine is commonly found in skeletal muscle, cardiac muscle and brain tissue; the chemical has been suspected to have a strong role in a number of physiological actions but until recently there was little research done.  Four researchers in the United Kingdom recently investigated the amino acid's effect on endurance performance, testing run performance for a three-kilometer time trial.  They found the subjects who took the taurine two hours prior to a maximum simulated 3K effort on a treadmill improved their performance by an average of 1.7 (and up to 4.2) percent, without appreciable change in heart rate, oxygen intake or perceived effort.  The researchers weren't able to explain the specific reason for the improved performance, however.

But, the little aluminum can is not necessarily the "two percent solution."  Energy drinks containing the two known ergogenics (caffeine and taurine) in other studies were shown to aid in endurance and resistance to fatigue, but the additional ingredients may slow or limit the body's ability to benefit from them.

REFERENCE:  Balshaw, TG, Bampouras, TM, Barry, TJ, Sparks, A (2012). The effect of acute taurine ingestion on 3-km running performance in trained middle distance runners.  Amino acids.  Springer-Verlag, Aug 2

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Refrigerator Door Expectations

Once upon a time there was a young man.  He possessed a keen mind, loved to read, and was - in the words of his maternal grandmother - a bit of a chatterbox.  Unfortunately, his handwriting skills were less-than-stellar.  He could not make the letters look exactly like the ones stapled over the chalkboard; his third grade teacher did not less about his reading comprehension or his verbal ability, she cared only about his penmanship.  She insulted his writing efforts once in front of his classmates, which had the exact opposite effect of her intentions.  He completely gave up on all of his scholastic efforts for the remainder of the year, doing just enough to get by.

The same young man adapted over time, learning to use a typewriter and used neat block lettering for all of his handwriting efforts.  Surprisingly, he decided to become a teacher, and learned early on in his education studies about the work of Robert Rosenthal.  Rosenthal was a professor at Harvard University, who asked in the mid-1960s if the expectations of outside influencers - like teachers, parents, and so forth - could mean the difference between positive and negative outcomes in the household, school, workplace.  Setting a reasonably-high standard, believing the standard could be made, and communicating that belief in many different ways?  Rosenthal learned that teachers who believed their students could achieve had students who could - and did - achieve.  And yes, teachers who doubted a student could succeed were more likely to see that student struggle or fail.

I have a full-page sheet of paper on my refrigerator door with the training plan for the first 22 weeks of the calendar year laid out.  Days where I run, days where I cross-train, rest days and the goal duration to spend during each day's workout session or sessions; all of the information is in black and white.  Since I'm still in the process of building strength, endurance and overall fitness and not focused on a particular race distance, the workouts are straightforward base-building.  Six weeks into the 22, the calendar shows more positive markings; workouts accomplished, intensities met, sometimes even both.  Every filled block is a step in what I hope is the right direction, travel toward the desired goal.
The calendar on the fridge, with its "big picture" notations, are the macro version of my little daily workout spreadsheet.  I don't post mileage or anything quantitative; there are only three types of marks on the calendar, corresponding to a qualitative standard - really good, good, or not-so-good.  One mark reminds me I met both the intensity and duration goals for the day, if I met the duration but not the intensity I place a different mark on the calendar.  If by some reason I didn't work out at all - unless I am sick or traveling - I mark the date with a big, fat "X."  Naturally, that's a "not-so-good" day.
So far, there have only been four of those "X" days.  And a few days where I didn't get the duration or intensity I hoped, because of outside issues.  But I have to admit I've met or exceeded expectations more often than not.  I don't need to scour through the spreadsheet to tell myself things are improving.  And if I feel a little too lazy and start to think about cracking open a beer rather than going for a run, all I have to do is take a look at the "big picture" on the refrigerator door.