So, How Many Hats Do You Wear?

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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.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Blank Spot

I had one of those days at work last week that simply cried out for a run as a form of physical release.  But my schedule had two lovely words, "rest day," marked down.  And this wasn't one of those "active rest" days, either.  This was a "no workout for you, sir..." kind of "rest day."

But what was I to do about the otherwise seemingly-rational mental side of me?  Darn it, my brain was all in for the idea of doing four or five miles, even if it wasn't going to do my tendons a bit of good.  I wrestled with all of the possible alternatives.  I could row or hit the elliptical trainer but I knew I'd either push harder than my ankles would find prudent, or I'd hear the siren song of the treadmill calling me to do "just a few miles."

So, rather than lash myself like Homer's Odysseus, not to a mast, but rather to my dog for a second 600-meter stroll around the park in front of my house...yeah, that would certainly take the edge off of going for a workout...I lay down for a 60-minute nap, waking not long after my wife returned home from her day at work. 

There are several things the obsessive-compulsive runner can do to help themselves on those rare days when they decide to leave the calendar blank.  Trust me obsessive-compulsives:  The world will NOT come to an end, etc., should there be a blank space in your training calendar. 

Some folks might recommend doing a stretching routine; I'm afraid that unless the routine is along the lines of what physical therapist Phil Wharton recommends to runners, an active isolated approach, that the tendency would be to over-stretch.  Massage would also be great; what better than to take a half-hour or an hour of your life and place it into the hands of someone else?  There can be too much of a good thing, and I'm not certain I could deal with even the expense of a gentle massage more than once a week...probably closer to maybe once every couple of weeks, right around pay day would be better.

What's the nice thing about napping?  My wife, Suzanne, would consider it one of the least-expensive of guilty pleasures.  It's the first therapeutic modality I go to when I'm feeling ill or beat-down.  Nothing like an extra hour or two of good horizontal time per week, if you can stand it. 

The Mayo Clinic says that a healthy adult will be more relaxed, less fatigued, more alert, and in a better mood as a result of a conservative nap routine.  Oh, and let's not forget better memory (did I just say THAT?), less confusion, quicker reaction times, and fewer mistakes on the job.  Okay, I'm not so certain my employer will tolerate a mid-day siesta, but we'll continue to push for it.

The naps need to be pretty brief, though - perhaps 30 hour at most.  I've hit the rack with the plan of going night-night for no more than an thing I knew it was way past dark.  So much for the benefits of a good nap; now I'm staggering around in the kitchen looking for the dog's food.  And, next thing I know, I'm sitting up watching Japanese anime cartoons at two in the morning because I got too much rest earlier in the day.  So, a little dab'll do you.

Mayo' researchers say the best time for a nap is usually midafternoon, around 2 or 3 p.m. This is the time of day when you might experience post-lunch sleepiness or a lower level of alertness.  I've known people who could sleep almost anywhere, and at any time.  But a quiet, dark place with a comfortable room temperature and few distractions is best.  I've learned to love my new smartphone because of its alarm functions; there's a "smart alarm" which begins to play soothing music at a low volume for a desired period of time (5-to-15 minutes), after which the alarm goes off.  I use a gentle alarm noise, too, so that I'm not too shocked.  A friend of mine has decided to purchase a wireless sleep and activity tracker, known as "Fitbit," that looks not only at how much sleep you're getting, but also the quality.  We know that disrupted sleep patterns and inhibited recovery can be a reinforcing cycle, but that topic might have to be approached at a later date.
Don't forget to give yourself a few minutes after you get back up to, well, get back up.  Especially important for those folks who need to respond quickly to stuff once the nap is over.

Naturally, the trial-and-error approach is always best to figure out whether you need a regular "eyeball light leak check" added to your training schedule, and how much.  If you're in the midst of an increase in training volume (mileage, intensity, duration) your body might want a little additional rest as part of the adaptation process.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Oh, Porta!

I knew it was going to happen.  There was going to be a "pit stop" - one of those destined to leave me far behind the group - before I reached the first mile.  And there wasn't a thing I could do about it, except for run at race pace to the Quick-Mart on the corner and hope for (zen-like) emptiness in the "coaches' ready room."

The Quick-Mart came and went, and I felt a sense of calm.  Perhaps it was only a little abdominal tension, released by the early exertions of the morning's "sorta-long run."  But no sooner had I passed the convenience store and approached our parked vehicles that the rumbling began deep down below.

Really, there's no nice way to talk about the, er, increased gastric motility which comes to every runner at one time or another.  Some of us more often than others.  And there are the very unfortunate few who suffer from what is commonly known as "runner's trots."  While there are fitness professional types who say this is caused by a decreased blood flow to the gut - because the blood is going more regularly and more often to the lower extremities as we run - that's more likely to cause digestion to slow down rather than increase. 

Dr. Timothy Noakes, in "Lore of Running," writes that the physical activity more likely stimulates the gastrointestinal system to secrete chemicals which encourage gastric motility.  There's also a function of the bouncing and the increase in core body temperature that can stimulate what you took in the night before to, well, head farther south a little faster than the 12-to-19 hours it often takes for digestion to occur.
So, is there anything you can do to keep from having to make those uncomfortable, and sometimes undesired "side trips?" 

First of all, keep in mind that GI distressing symptoms, like "runners trots," can be a sure sign that you might be overtraining, and need to back off.  In this coach's case, I can go ahead and scratch that right off the list.

Food items like dairy, legumes, grains, high fiber the night before...or even the morning of...can be a potential cause of bloating, GI discomfort and so forth.  Alcohol in excess the night before a long run can also leave you with more food in the gut than desired.  Hey, that liver has to make a choice on which to metabolize first, and it usually chooses the item which is more-poisonous. 

A little extra time to T.C.B. in the morning - time with a slice of toast, peanut butter, banana, oatmeal, a cup of hot extended visit to the "reading room" - can also work wonders.  I had my tummy pretty-well trained for the past 16 weeks or so, and then when the weather took a turn for the warmer I moved the Sunday morning run twenty minutes earlier.  So, perhaps my mind had well-adjusted to the fact I had 20-minutes less prep time, but that was time my GI system used to make certain I was well-prepped.
Sometimes the adjustment process includes the need to plan ones' running routes around the availability of toilet facilities.  One of my favorite Sunday morning routes - a loop around our airport - begins at an exercise facility which has two reasonably-stocked bathroom facilities.  We also have a city parks and recreation facility, and our house, along the loop.

If changing your diet, your preparation and your route doesn't solve or at least quiet the complaints from the colon, Noakes suggests a small dose of loperamide (Imodium) be taken before the run.

While there's nothing delicate which can be said about the gastrointestinal distress and misadventures which can happen to a runner, take comfort in knowing there are two types of runners in this world:  those who have had to imitate a bear in the woods...

Monday, May 13, 2013

Filling In That Hole

There's nothing like having a senior moment influence your workout.  Rather than run five-to-twelve one-kilometer pieces with rest cycles in between, I ended up doing a version of "ten the hard way" the other morning with my little run group.  Actually, in front of them.

Pete and I got to chattering about his injuries, fitness, training, and racing with about three miles to go.  He decided to run a five kilometer race in the morning, then turn around and race a second event in the afternoon.  Not surprisingly, he marveled at how much more fatigued - and how much more slowly - he raced that evening.

All this, naturally, provided a teachable moment on the joys of recovery.

It seems all too simple:  Exertion (stress) leads to decline in fitness (trough), then a return to homeostasis (baseline) and eventual supercompensation (peak), given enough time.  Add more stress before the return to baseline and you've begun to dig a "deeper hole."  Play your cards right with the level and timing of stress and rest, and over time the baseline is a little higher...that means the athlete is more fit than when they started.

If Pete had been running twice a day - or at the least the occasional run late in the afternoon, followed by a run early the following morning - I believe he would have known how a short recovery period would affect his second run.  He could have learned from trial-and-error how much rest, how much fluid and nutrition, and what specific techniques would have worked.  Or at least what would would not.

Research literature is loaded with many different recovery-enhancing modalities; some of which aren't as highly-touted or marketed as the more-questionable ones.  Naturally, not everyone will benefit equally from the same routine; what works best for you works best for you.

Protein and simple sugars - The latest and most popular blend of protein and simple sugars appears to be chocolate milk.  The moo-juice's advantages definitely lie in the ability to down serious grams of protein and carbohydrates in a matter of seconds almost immediately after the run ends.  Try THAT with a sports nutrition bar!  SlimFast shakes and the Gatorade post-workout shake have also been recommended by several coaches, too, but I started to wonder what the lactose-intolerant runner can do.  A poster on a fitness bulletin board suggested three parts chocolate-flavored soy milk and one part regular soy milk, which they claim has the same ratio of sugars and protein.

Hydration - Water, naturally, is the best choice for hydration, but you only need to drink until your thirst is sated.  A new book by one of my favorite 'smart people,' Dr. Timothy Noakes says the "hydration industry" is, well, 'all wet.'  We didn't have hydration "issues," he says in a recent British Journal of Sports Medicine podcast interview, "until about two decades ago."

Shower - There's nothing like a really warm shower after a hard run; if you have a handheld shower head (especially one with a massage function!) you can focus the flow along the muscles of the lower extremities.  Even though heat and cold treatments are questionable when it comes to muscle soreness, there are very few persons I know who have felt worse after a shower.

Rest - Besides, once you've finished a shower you're probably going to feel like laying down for a bit of a nap.  Even a couple of extra hours of sleep are beneficial to the healing process; sleep deprivation, on the other hand, was found to increase insulin resistance and decrease glucose tolerance, leading to a decreased time-to-exhaustion during exercise.

So, hanging out with the friends and sucking down a couple of adult beverages of choice after a morning's race is perfectly fine, as long as you're not planning to go out and do another race in the afternoon.