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.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Can You Say, "Bake Sale?"

So you want to raise money for a "worthy cause," huh?

And, because you have an active vibrant running community you think the easiest way to get a chunk of change will be to put on a five-kilometer run?

First of all, let me tell you the exact same thing I have told well-intentioned true believers who called or e-mailed me when I was the state representative for the Road Runners Club of America:

Hang up the phone.

Hold a bake sale.

In the same manner as a business, the would-be event promoter has to understand it takes money to make money; in the case of most running events it takes money to (if you're lucky) to break even in the first year.

My wife, as always, is not easily dissuaded or readily swayed by my words of counsel. She believes that hard work, persistence, and serious "outside-the-box" marketing strategies can win the day. And, rather than tell her "no" I agreed to take care of the technical aspects of the run; I would deal with anything that had to do with the actual run itself.

If you really, really want to put on a running event here are some of the things you better be prepared to do or have at your disposal...

AN ORIGINAL CONCEPT: This town is what I have occasionally called (in a derisive manner) 5K-saturated. A cursory scan of the local running club's yearly calendar of events showed at least 50 events within a one-hour drive of my home...with another dozen 10Ks, 21.1Ks and 42.2Ks. Open dates for races are either in the hottest part of summer or in conjunction with a holiday...which means more often than not your planned event is competing with at least one and maybe two others in the area. I've seen three events in a ten-mile radius of my home. No kidding.

AN AGGRESSIVE MARKETING PLAN: We had an event presence in social media from the outset, but don't be lulled into equating "likes" with participant numbers. I know of a second-year race which had 600 people the first year and 150 the second, all because of what could be kindly classified as desultory marketing. When a banner for a 5K a week after the event is posted mere blocks from the start line and you don't see a flyer about the event you're planning to run until the day before, well, the marketing committee chair screwed the pooch. It has to be a mash-up of e-mail marketing, paper-based forms in places where the target demographic can be found, and electronic advertising of any sort. Just because "it hasn't been done before" doesn't mean it cannot be done; only that it hasn't been figured out yet.

SUFFICIENT LEAD TIME: A well-meaning friend of mine works at the local running emporium. We chatted at a local run club get-together, at which we happened to be marketing our run. She told us to not worry about the possibility of low participant numbers because we planned our event on such a short notice. Part of me gave her the "blah, blah, blah..." look, but lead time is everything for an event planning process. It gives you the opportunity to get all that important paperwork out of the way, to talk to the (potentially-) affected (and potentially-aggreived) parties whose life or livelihood might be temporarily inconvenienced. Some times it takes more than one schmooze session to win over a potential sponsor or overcome a potential barrier. In some municipalities you might be thankful for that extra month of time, especially when dealing with bureaucrats.

SPONSORS: If you pick up nothing else from this piece, know this: Without sponsorship, participatory recreational athletic events are impossible. It takes money to do everything. The municipality will not let you use their roads and their public safety infrastructure without money (up-front in some cases). Unless you (as in the words of Jean Knaack, executive director of the Road Runners Club of America) are willing to lose your house because someone gets hurt on course and sues you (or your not-for-profit do have one of those, correct?) you're going to need event insurance. T-shirts cost money. Bib numbers cost money. Timing companies cost money. Awards cost money. Food and beverage costs money.

If you're going to go after sponsors, you better have a thick skin - because you're going to hear a lot of "no" - and a clear message as to what the money is going toward...and what the sponsor will receive in return. If all they're getting is a pat on the back then you're going to need a whole lot of sponsors.

There's different levels of support for an event:

In-kind sponsorship - this is the least painful for most businesses, like a grocery store providing fruit or bottled water. You're not going to turn it away, naturally, but the local constabulary usually doesn't take payment in gift cards.

Participatory support - sometimes there are schools and other civic organizations who don't have a lot of money but like the cause; they know showing their face makes for good marketing. These groups are also a good "in" to get persons to show up who otherwise might not have participated in the first place.

Monetary sponsors - the folks you are looking for. If your event is a non-profit organization these fine persons will be glad to write off some of their taxable income, as long as they're keen on the social benefit. Not every monetary sponsor gets the same degree of "love" from a race director. Perhaps every sponsor gets a logo on the shirt; bigger sponsors might get placed on bags or have signs prominently placed along the course. It's up to you, the race director, to determine up front what you'll do in exchange for what you get.

PHYSICAL HELP: Unless you are gainfully-unemployed or independently wealthy you are going to want to lighten the potential workload from the outset. Many hands make light work and all that. Because putting on a race, even a small one, is going to consume an inordinate amount of your time, energy...and yes, your own finances. Be prepared, if all else fails, to do EVERYTHING yourself that doesn't violate the laws of physics. You will find, as you walk into this kind of endeavor, just who your friends are.

As well as the people you mistook for your friends.

You've heard the phrase, "a friend will help you move; a good friend will help you move the body," correct? A running event is like an Irish wake; everybody's good to go with standing around an getting drunk but nobody's going to stick around and pluck the cocktail napkins wedged between the guest-of-honor's hand and torso. Don't be afraid to enlist friends-of-friends-of-friends; they might not show, but if they do a good job at cat-herding they'll probably become your friend for life.

SPECIALISTS: People who possess specific knowledge, skills, and abilities are a plus when developing your race production team. Someone smart with money; either an accountant or a really-honest person who won't pay ANYONE until the say-so at the end. Someone graphically-skilled to develop clean, uncluttered race print materials. Someone who knows how to sell ice cream to Siberians in winter, or gas grills in the nether regions. A person who doesn't get flustered by anything. And I do mean anything. You're going to need them when you have to deal with the bureaucrats. A course measurer (a first year event doesn't need to be certified, but it can't be measured with an automobile odometer, either). One computer geek; especially impotant when dealing with on-line registration portals.

It takes a forward-thinking, well-prepared team of persons to put on a successful event, which often doesn't occur until the second year of an event's existence. If you don't have a team and you're looking at the short term you're probably better off...yes, having a bake sale.

Monday, August 26, 2013

August And Everything After

I don't know how you feel, but I'm excited. Let's get the month of August over with and on to September. If you're training for the ING in Miami or New Orleans' Rock n' Roll this is when the training kicks off, but as a (rehabilitating) athlete/coach the majority of my focus right now is on races which take place between Labor Day and Thanksgiving. I know nobody wants to be out running in August. All those folks who laid their money in the early spring to run Chicago or New York...what were they thinking? And if they ratcheted the intensity up too soon up front the odds are pretty good that by now - at the end of August - they had to take at least a week off.

During the summer, which for me and the athletes I work with I define as the period between the end of May and the beginning of September, most of the "speed" workouts are what coaches would call "maintenance." They're doing aerobic efforts, ranging from 160-to-1600 meters, breathtakingly-boring stuff. One of my guys races sprint triathlons, so the efforts he runs with me (when in town) are a nice change from the damage he does to himself on the junior circuit. His training partner is training for a marathon, so my biggest challenge is to keep them from hammering themselves into oblivion. Everybody else in the group have been with me for at least a year so I don't have to pull the reins in as much on them.

Once the temperatures drop to about 82 degrees I start to work in the occasional 400 at closer to VO2max pace - 2:10 per 400 for runners like my wife, 1:25-to-1:30 for my "hammerheads." Jack Daniels suggests a 2:1 work-to-rest ratio, which means the guys might jog an easy 100 in between, where Suzanne will walk that same distance. She'll do five of those where she might have done six (seven on a cooler day) at a more-aerobic pace; Al and Ash might do eight.

Even if I didn't change the intensity the chances would be they'd see faster times on the race course, because unlike many of their contemporaries they've been doing SOMETHING the entire summer rather than lsying on the couch drinking iced tea and watching Looney Tunes.

So, if you decided to allow the most frightening law of physics, the law of inertia, to take effect over the summer, it's not too late to be ready, more or less, for those Turkey Trot races at the end of November. Six weeks of aerobic efforts and you should be good to go.

Monday, August 19, 2013

When You Read Your Training Schedule Backward...

I didn't run a single step the other weekend; not a one.

I tentatively planned a brief 30-minute jaunt (or two) on Saturday, as well as Sunday. But as my old coach used to say, 'one excuse is as good as any other if you don't want to do something.'

I wanted to do something, but my heart wasn't in it. I was more worried about how my father was doing. So I spent more time chewing at my brains and reacting to every chime of my cell phone until I had the chance to speak to him on Sunday afternoon...

Me: "So, how are you doing?"

Him: "Well, I'm alive."

And, as my hasher friends would say, "...there was much rejoicing."

I've kvetched and moaned in the past about consistency in training, the benefits of rest, and stuff like that. Quite frankly, I don't think there's an incongruity between getting out (or, on the treadmill in my case) when your schedule says so, and plugging in a day off, especially when you've got a lot things on your mind.

Many of my friends love running as a form of stress release. As long as you don't carry your cell phone with you, a good run is a sure-fire way to place some distance between you and the things which are eating at you. Sometimes when it's all said and done you've got the problem all sorted out, or your plan of action drafted, or the thing you intend to say rehearsed. But there are moments when the overabundance of things on your mind are going to do nothing but screw up your run.

And if you're a tightly-wound guy like I am that "rotten run" then ends up being another thing driving you insane. I guess that's the double-edged sword, that "holism of training" thing which Timothy Noakes talks about in his "Laws of Training. How many times do we find that when we're running well our lives are a joy to behold? I mean, we're feeling (relatively) lean, (relatively) fast and invincible; our workouts are falling into place, our race performances are where we think they should be, all is right with the world? Those are the good days. And we can have the exact flip side of the coin where we can't finish a weekend long run without feeling gimpy and dragging our tail between our legs, and all we want to do is find a country album and a record player so we can play it backwards and...

You do know what happens when you play a country song backwards, right?

My wife loves to use her little frustrations as a reason to go out and run. Running with anger? I'm not so certain that adrenaline and cortisol and all those other hormones make for the most optimal run fuel source. Perhaps sprinters can get away with that sort of junk, but it's a recipe for disaster for us distance-loving guys & gals.

Naturally, Suzanne is not your typical distance runner.

It's okay to take a day unscheduled. You might feel a little bit of guilt, but I don't know of too many people who have died (directly) from feeling guilty. And if you're running for the right reasons you shouldn't feel guilt in the first place

Oh, and when I (finally) hit the gym on Tuesday, even the tendons and fascia had a good time.

Monday, August 5, 2013

The (Consistent) Spice of Life

This week - actually this last Sunday morning - marked the beginning of the last week of my second 16-week training cycle. I bet that sounded confusing. Anyone who's read my postings for long enough could probably tell you I most likely took my "writing clarity" coursework from Yogi Berra.

As always, another story altogether.

Two very important (and seemingly dissimilar) characteristics make up a good training regimen; consistency and variety. As I was learning from my old coach, Dale Fox, he once told me there was no real secret to the training our group did. What was special about the training was the consistent application of stress and rest, shorter repetitions at race paces and long, steady miles throughout the year. We knew Tuesday nights were filled with tough, shorter repeats; Thursday nights were longer repetitions at a slightly easier tempo...and Saturday mornings could go on forever. But we didn't get hammered at the same intensity level every workout, week-in and week-out. After a while we learned that one week could be hard, followed by a harder week the next week, and quite possibly a third, even tougher week, depending on the athlete's ability to adapt to the training. But every third or fourth week we would have workouts with repetitions which were highly aerobic throughout, or consisted of a longer, easy warm-up with a few very hard repeats at the end.

As every person knows and as the writers always scribble, variety tends to keep our lives from becoming too bland. During my first year as a coach there were persons who complained that I assigned the same workout every time they showed to the track. In my defense I'll admit these persons showed up to train with the group once every six weeks. It's hard to tell how well a person has adapted to a training stimulus when the frequency of exposure is minimal, even desultory.

But as I work through a training plan for an athlete I blend Jack Daniels' training mesocycles (repeat intensities and distances) with a three-week "kind-of-hard, hard, harder" and one-week "not-so-hard" effort cycle.

For this neck of the woods, where the racing season starts in early September and ends in late May, three training cycles consisting of four four-week training foci are good. A runner who is interested in training to peak for two marathons may prefer two cycles consisting of four six-week focus periods...each with a couple of weeks of full rest in between.

If the athlete is running around 60 minutes a day during the other three weeks during a training period, I might encourage them to cut back to 40 or 45 minutes.

And in some cases, with brittle guys like me, as little as 30.

The benefits of a less-intense week of training aren't only limited to the physical realm, and that supercompensation talked about by Hans Selye and other smart guys. It doesn't hurt the mind to have a little bit of relaxation...or at least to not worry about being beaten down...every couple of weeks.

Really, what you don't want to do is continue grinding along at the exact same intensity level day after day. The same thing, repeated over and over, is a sure ticket to boredom, fatigue, injury and eventually burnout.