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.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Paging "Diana Glampers"

One of my wife Suzanne's favorite short stories was written by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.:  Our society has been granted equality, meaning that nobody is stronger, smarter, better-looking, more-talented...or faster...than anyone else.  The persons who are found to have those traits are handicapped by a variety of technologies and modalities.  Think the exact opposite of braces, specialized shoes and all that.  Every so often we jokingly use the name of the person in charge of handicapping everyone, Diana Glampers, to speak about situations where we've felt unduly hindered.

Over the past month we - mostly my wife, with the addition of a handful of other persons, and me to a lesser degree - have been working to put a race together.  The event, an age-graded pursuit race, has runners starting times based on the World Masters' Athletics best times for age and sex.  That means a runner in an age group with a world best time of 18 minutes would have a five-minute head start over a runner in the open male (18-34) division.  In theory, the concept of an age-graded race isn't that far out of the box.  The practice of having runners pursue one another...where in a perfect world if every runner ran at the upper limits of their performance, the entire field would be leaning at the tape...what a concept.  Sure, there are running events which, based on the assumption we suffer from diminished performance as we age, award those persons who suffer the least diminution over time, based on mathematical formulas and number-crunching. 

And in a perfect world we'd all be able to stay fit, healthy and (at least in our mind) fleet until the day we decide to not wake up in the morning.  The best older runners have somehow learned to injure themselves least, recover most efficiently, train effectively, and choose their racing schedule wisely.

But what about other handicapping systems?  What other ways could we, in our deepest "Diana Glampers" mindset, make all runners "equal" on race day?  Some of the possibilities seemed common-sense; others a little less so.

Weight - I'm not necessarily talking about the seriously-flawed "Clydesdale" and "Athena" system in triathlon, where weights of 200 and 150 pounds, respectively, are used without regard to the height of the athlete.  I always wanted to ask race director Chuck George about his "Fat Boy 5K" event; I never got to the point of asking about specifics because I was too busy laughing at the event name.  Several coaches have written, or have been quoted in books, about the correlation between excess weight in pounds and pace per mile in seconds during a race.  A race director, given the height and weight of a participant, could use an actuarial chart and do their own adjustments based on the number of pounds an athlete weighed above an insurance company's definition of "is."  What would a weight-based handicap take into account?  A couple of researchers from the University of Dayton developed a model based on weight (to include the effect of aging on a person's body composition) and run time, the results of which ideally provide a weight-age-graded performance. 

The calculator (http://academic.udayton.edu/PaulVanderburgh/weight_age_grading_calculator.htm) is most likely the first of its kind:  No other calculator can make a 165-pound, 50-year-old male lose 20 pounds and half his age, at the cost of a 5K performance.

Inseam - My buddy Charley said, "there should be a performance handicapping system based on a runner's inseam.  Guys and gals with short legs have to take more strides than tall runners; they're woking harder to cover the same distance."  I come from a family with some serious height variations; my mother (on a tall day) is 4'11", my dad is a solid six-feet.  I'm a little taller than average at 5'10, but I am a little less flexibile than the average bear, especially notable in the past couple of years when I try to throw my leg over the top tube of my triathlon bike.  But where I lack in long strides I tend to make up for in a certain degree of efficiency; a footstrike of about 160 per minute, good endurance, and mental toughness...things which aren't easily measured in a runner.

Running is an egalitarian activity; anyone with the time, the physical desire and (in most cases) a pair of shoes can engage in the activity.  Racing, on the other hand, was never meant to be normed.  We have the choice of either calculating a lot of "all-things-being-equal" factors and spending a lot of time in the world of "what-ifs," or we can realize that the ultimate competition when we toe the line is not the person/s surrounding us, but the course.

And ourselves.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Marathon Training: Running's "Rubik's Cube"

The marathon is the "Rubik's Cube" of running.  You can pull one right out of the container that's in perfect condition, and no sooner than you start to screw around with it you end up making things a mess.  One that's almost impossible to return back to the original state.  A runner who takes up the idea of doing a marathon without at least four years of (preferably injury-free!) training and racing of distances up to the half-marathon is asking to twist the bejeezus out of a brand-new Rubik's Cube.

The hardest part is not doing the training that's necessary to prepare for that day of 26.21876 miles, it's doing the training without becoming injured.  Most of the published marathon training plans have long runs of up to 22 miles.  Some longer.  And most written for a general population.  Look at a plan written by coaches in areas where the metric system reigns supreme and you'll find the longest run is 30 kilometers (18.641136 miles).  When laid up against the 50-mile or 80-kilometer week, that single long run will take up half of the training mileage (and possibly more than half of the time) spent training.  I'm more of a fan of spreading the mileage (50-to-60 miles) out throughout the week, with the longest run of the week around 16 miles, or 26 kilometers, a distance which can be covered by most trained runners in 2.5 hours or less.

Even then, there are runners who don't have large chunks of time to spare in their life.  They can manage to squirrel away 8-to-10 hours during the early morning or later evening.  Some ask if it's better to get the week's mileage in large chunks, say a long run of 12-to-16 miles on the weekend, and runs of 8-to-10 miles during the rest of the week.  While there are some physiological benefits to pushing a 60-to-90 minute run one additional day of the week, the risk of injury increases as the runner goes out for longer duration sessions...especially as you approach that 2.5-hour mark.  Add to that the amount of time it takes to recover either at home or at work and running "singles" may be a more-hazardous endeavor than first thought. 

And what happens if there's a family visitor or a social function going on that cuts into that (for example) 90-minute planned run on the schedule?  My take is that a shorter run of good quality is better than cutting short that planned longer effort and feeling guilty about the whole thing.  I like splitting runs, both between morning and evening, and between evening and the following morning.  Sure, you're decreasing the amount of time the body has for recovery, often by as much as one-half, but you're also decreasing the amount of time you're out on the run.  And if something comes up on the social schedule it's not a complete disaster. 

When it comes to the "long run" on the training schedule, not only do I split the run between Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning, I borrow a race execution strategy from a fellow coach, Patrick McCrann.  I have the athlete run the Saturday "half" of the long run at the pace they'll run for the first six miles of the marathon.  Then, on Sunday morning, I have them run the assigned distance, half at the pace we planned for the middle third of the marathon, half at the goal pace for the final ten kilometers of the race.  It's more difficult for the athlete to execute the paces because they've done so much quality work from the previous Tuesday afternoon forward they're pushing five or six miles on legs that have accumulated fatigue...no different than the feeling they'll have on race day.  But, they also won't be running as much during the last weeks leading into the race.

During the week, at least on the days when I haven't scheduled a particular intensity, I'm only concerned about the day's duration, which can range anywhere from 45 to 60 minutes.  Anything beyond that is gravy.  And it's important to recover and rest during those times in between runs; if lawn mowing or an extended house maintenance session is planned during the day it's probably better to get the run out of the way early in the day.

There may be a need for doing one or two runs of two hours during marathon training, but the fatigue accumulated through several days of quality work during the week can mitigate the need for a whole lot of them.  There's a solution to the "Rubik's Cube" that is the marathon, the challenge is figuring out what jumbled it all in the first place.