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.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Need to Drink Before Thirst? "Haile" Unlikely!

Well, if that isn't a shame...

Who knew someone not running with us needed the (eight) six-ounce water bottles I set next to the bus bench at the three-mile point on our Sunday morning loop?  Really they couldn't have.  Not that early in the morning, with temperatures more-resembling a typical San Diego day than late September in the Florida Gulf Coast.

Or Suzanne - who ran ahead of the pack this morning - decided she needed all of the water for herself.  Not likely; she'd have taken one bottle and left the rest.  Three extra pounds outside of her cell phone pouch?  It doesn't make sense.

So the person who decided to police the area of the group's water bottle stash could easily be mistaken for (another term for) a hot water bottle. One ending in "bag."

The water support would have justified a one-minute break at the hill top, but we weren't going to suffer for the lack.  Not even if the weather had been "typical" summer would we have been in peril.  At our average pace of a very-pedestrian twelve minutes per mile (to go off the front is acceptable but nobody is left behind in our group) all of the concerns which get written about in major magazines were moot.

Strange, everything I used to consider conventional wisdom about hydration and rehydration was pretty much all, er, mistaken.  Perhaps marketing is the better term.

I ordered a copy of Timothy Noakes' book "Waterlogged:  The Serious Problem of Overhydration in Endurance Sports" right about the time we went on our Key West training camp.  It arrived not long before we went to run Rock n' Roll Virginia Beach, but I was in the mood for more, er, uplifting fare while being stuck on planes and in airports.  Don't ask me why I took it along when I flew out west, then.  Oh, time.  I forgot.  Lots more time to digest the material.

To read research - or what passes to be - it doesn't hurt to look closer at the researcher's footnotes.  In the case of Noakes one finds no stone is left unturned; his 900-page-plus "Lore of Running" has a 100-page bibliography, only available by download from the publisher's web page.  The familiarity with the body of research from the earliest years of his professional career (he did his own share of back-tracking) has placed him directly at odds with the booming sports-beverage industry, the research groups funded by them and the publications referred to by the mainstream media.  Noakes' well-aimed shots at a national newspaper's health-and-fitness editor in the later stages of the book reinforced many of my own convictions.

The book is not a training manual.  But it's recommended for any person interested in running races where they'll be out for longer than two hours. For most, that is the half-marathon and longer.  Read the first chapters to place a finger on the pulse of the human side of exercise-associated hyponatremia/encephalopathy, the summaries of each chapter (should the eyes begin to glaze because of the medical and physiological terminology), and the last three chapters in full to understand the business behind the "need" to drink.  Once finished, you most likely will take the dictum "drink before your thirsty" with a grain of salt.  No pun intended.

Do you need to drink before you're thirsty?  No.  The human thirst response worked perfectly fine for thousands of years, and nothing has suddenly changed in the past thirty-to-forty.

What about dehydration; what happens to my performance if I lose two or three percent of my total body water?  While there might be some decrease, it's not catastrophic.  Studies over the past four decades show the fastest finishers in endurance events were the most dehydrated, up to twelve percent, in the case of Haile Gebreselassie during his world-best-setting marathon performances.

Won't I overheat?  Rectal temperatures of the fastest and slowest finishers at marathons weren't all that different, and went no higher than 40 degrees Celsius/104 degrees Fahrenheit, regardless of how much or how little they drank.

How much and what should I drink?  Our body can only hold and process so much water at one time; and small amounts of carbohydrate (not sodium) not only speeds the emptying from the gut but aids in run performance...even if swished in the mouth and spit out, triggering pleasure receptors in the mouth.  The American College of Sports Medicine said to drink as much as tolerable, around 1.1 liters/hour.  That's more than most runners can tolerate.

And the faster you run the less likely you'll take in fluid; a slow(er) guy like me has a difficult time at the half-marathon distance taking in more than half a liter (hate drinking out of cups on course, don't like to carry big bottles).  I'm not one to recommend going back to the old school "drinking is for wimps" attitude, but I do think we need to seriously re-think how much, when and what we drink.  Given the choice between running faster and drinking more I'll choose to pour the drink over my head.  I'll save my gut space for an adult beverage afterward.

Should we listen to our body or to the commercials?

Monday, September 16, 2013

A Visit Home - Running For Dad

This week I'm 1200 miles physically  - and apparently a decade emotionally - removed from my state of normal.  I'm back in my home town out west to spend a few quality days with my father, fresh out of the hospital.  My home town of Deming, New Mexico is one of those municipalities which, if you sneeze as you drive past on Interstate 10, you are likely to miss by one-half.

For me, there's always some sort of literary, historical or musical touchstone which aligns to the immediate present; that's what my wife always tells me.  My first visit home, five years after I left high school, was something akin to meeting back up with an old lover.  There's memories of the really good times and a recollection of where "everything" is located...there might be a few cosmetic changes here and there, at the worst.  My previous visit seemed more like I was watching a video of Bruce Springsteen's "My Hometown." Springsteen sings of the melancholy reality of a place you thought would never change, where your kids would be able to have the same degree of stability and mobility, depending on what they desired...but it all changed.

This trip has an entirely different feel.  Two different songs weigh heavily on my thoughts:

The first is the Beatles' "In My Life."  Things have changed in my home town, and the "old lover" is now nearly-unrecognizable.  I had absolutely no difficulty finding my way to the place my parents have called home for the past nearly-three decades, but the brief tour around town found very little to be unchanged. Perhaps the big churches, a couple of restaurants, the hotel where I worked my first job (where I'm staying this week); not much else.  Even a pass through the local major retail chain store which crushed most of the mom-and-pop businesses we patronized when I was young placed me in the "Ebenezer Scrooge" role in a southwestern remake of "A Christmas Carol."  I didn't see a person I recognized.  At all.  And nobody knew me from Adam.  God bless us, every one.

The second song is John Mayer's "Stop This Train."  Mayer talks in the song about his fear of "getting old," as if he only can be successful at being young.  Spending time with one's elders, especially when they are in frail health, can shake the hell out of your own wrongly perceived concept of immortality.  So far, the real joy has been able to have the "help me understand" talk with the "old man."  And the counsel is much more than the "hang in there and renegotiate when you hit my age." platitudes and b.s.

Dad asked me what I did this morning.  I described in a nutshell the distance and duration of my scheduled jaunt, which was less sprightly than originally planned, I dare admit.  Forty-two hundred feet of elevation change will do that, just in case you wonder what it's like to jog near the Continental Divide.  But his questioning had not so much to do with intellectual curiosity or making small talk.  He really and truly misses his daily walks, a habit he took up not long before he retired about eight years ago.

I described the "new" (to me) rails-to-trails path which was once the train tracks running just west of our house and south of town protecting the Country Club members from those of us who were genuine working-class stiffs.  I joked about the 15 mile-per-hour (for Deming residents, better described as "what") wind blowing gently on my face and cooling me for the last two and a half miles back to my hotel.  And, I realized that my running tale might have well been the tonic he in his housebound state needed to have, even if in a small dose.

So right now my training sessions and recovery jaunts are as much for him as for me.  I will no doubt be overjoyed when he's able to take his dog out for a stroll up the back road to the supermarket, and I think he'll look forward to the next time I'm able to toe the line, racing fit.

Monday, September 9, 2013

That's Not Karaoke. That's My Shower.

The low level groan of discomfort quickly turned into a yowl of pain, pure and simple.

All I could do to dissociate from the pain was try and remember the technical term used by triathlon coaches Roch Frey and Paul Huddle, but to no avail. At least, not until this morning

I remembered it was something along the lines of "Extended Low Frequency Moaning." It's a disorder caused by extended contact and friction between the skin of one's more-tender nether regions and seams of fabric covering those same nether regions. There are cases of this being also caused by skin-on-skin friction, too, but we'll stay with the former for this moment in time.

Some pairs of running shorts are more likely to cause this discomfort than others. Cotton and cotton-blend fabrics are definitely high on the list, at least as far as I'm concerned.

Some other reasons that have been bandied about as causes of chafing include a lack of hydration - which supposedly leads to a lack of sweating. Any person who knows me well enough can attest that I don't have any problems with a lack of sweat.

How about clothing that is too tight or too loose? Well, I'm not quite certain one would classify a pair of high-cut running shorts as "tight" or "loose." From difficult experience I can say I have a pair of "more" loose running shorts which invariably lead to uncomfortable days; and I did walk about in them during the previous day; the seams in about three locations are particularly painful after a few hours.

Another source suggested that a sudden increase in my workout duration might be the root cause.

Very well, I'll buy that one for a dollar; I've been doing anywhere from 30-to-60 minute runs or hikes.

The half marathon I completed the other weekend didn't cause me this much pain, in spite of the fact I took in less fluid than during a "normal" Sunday eight-miler.

Is it possible that I would be better off wearing a pair of compression (or triathlon) shorts during longer run workouts?

There are some benefits to using tri-shorts: Most materials are breathable so there's not as much sweat against the skin. The really good quality shorts have tightly-knit material which may decrease the degree of muscle vibration; when it comes to shorter distance running sprints, where explosive efforts are a plus, compression shorts have been found to increase power. And the shorts are sewn with flat-lock seams which aren't in areas which are going to rub the more tender skin. So depending on the short length (I've pairs which range in inseam lengths from two-inch to eight-inch) the chances of skin-on-skin and skin-on-seam contact are greatly minimized.

While the jury is out on the performance benefits of compression clothing they are a sure guarantee when it comes to post-workout recovery. A pair of compression tights or calf sleeves can make a long plane flight a little less uncomfortable; and a pair of triathlon shorts can make that post-workout shower...something to not scream about.

Monday, September 2, 2013

On Your Rights, Track

Grass.  There appears to be not a more-forgiving training surface than running on a field of grass.

If this is true, than why have I stubbornly stayed on polyurethane or asphalt tracks for the longest time?  I'm not certain, save for the fact that most grassy fields are used for other sporting purposes, and I'm (really) not into conflict.  Soccer coaches are often very protective of their space; the coach of the women's team at the university where we trained for several years became so used to our presence - and the fact we stayed out of their way or shagged the occasional errant kick - we'd greet each other on Tuesday and Thursday evenings during season.  I'd tell my folks to swing wide of their bench area on repeats and trot their recovery jogs on the back side of the goalposts.

At the beginning of the summer I saw a sign which gave me hope...of a sort.  The university was closing the track until the beginning of August, in the hopes of resurfacing.  I moved our Saturday workouts to an asphalt track located at a middle school just up the road from my home.  Eight weeks, to me, was a short enough time to suffer through training on harder surfaces; adjust the effort levels accordingly and make certain nobody's wearing old shoes.

During the last week of July, Gil (the father of one of my younger athletes) mentions the track has been finished.  I asked him how it looked.  "Well," he said, "Alex took a couple of laps on it but couldn't really tell much; he's been a little beat from racing."  I took a drive after the workout ended to look at the surface myself.  To my horror I found the track was not resurfaced but merely recoated.  We're talking the same type of coating companies use to re-do parking lots.  I reached down to try and press the surface, which did not budge a bit.  Thumping it with the knuckle of my index finger found it completely unyielding.  In essence, the track is now asphalt with a polyurethane core.  The "Tootsie Pop" of running tracks.

In the past ten years I've seen three tracks either torn up and redone in this way, or torn up and redone as narrow jogging loops...sure, you can use a jogging loop for speed work, but it just seems to violate the laws of god, man and nature.  Why do schools take out perfectly-decent, well-worn but almost serviceable all-weather tracks and replace them with (unprintable) asphalt surfaces?  And, to add insult to injury, these tracks end up fenced-off from the public?  Tax dollars pay for this travesty, and the schools feel justified in locking the financial supporters out from the opportunity to at least TRY and use the surface?  If your town doesn't have jogging paths or sidewalks, the motor vehicle operators can be complete jerks about using the shoulders of public roads (which, YES, are also paid for by the taxes of people who bicycle and jog on them)...what else is a runner to do?

Schools feel justified on many occasions to close off their tracks because the average exercise enthusiast FAILS TO READ THE GUIDELINES posted at the track.  Most of the time the (common-sense) guidelines are posted for safety and courtesy reasons.  Occasionally, especially when the track surface is all-weather, the guidance is intended to even the wear-and-tear on the surface.

Skates, skateboards, strollers, bicycles - most, if not all tracks, prohibit the use of these implements for a number of good reasons:  First, they're often being operated by persons who lack situational awareness skills, and are being operated at speeds which are dangerous when placed in the context of confined areas.  If you're a stock car racing aficionado, putting a couple of five-year-olds on bikes, skateboards or skates on a 400-meter track is the equivalent of a race at Bristol, Tennessee; the driver who wins is the one who avoids the most accidents.  Strollers are the other end of the speed continuum, but the situational awareness deficit remains.  Top that off with the fact the stroller users often occupy the inside lane of the track.  Which leads me to...

Inside lanes for faster running, outside lanes for walking - using the inner-most three-to-four lanes for speed workouts and racing, with the outer lanes for easier running or walking has, what I believe, two good reasons.  First, walkers and slower runners place greater pressure on a broader swath of the track surface, whereas faster runners contact the track with a smaller "footprint" and a longer distance between "footprints." If you're getting passed by more runners than you pass it might be a good idea to move a lane farther out than you're running.  And if you're in between repeats, or laps, or miles, please don't stand and stretch on the inside lanes of the track,  Especially if others are really hammering repeats.  And if you hear the cry "track!" Look to the direction of where the runners are approaching, and get out of the way.

There are many persons (especially slower runners, walkers, and stroller users) who say "but I don't want to do more distance per lap of the track," and consider it as a justification to stay in the way of faster runners. If I rightly recall, the difference between lane 1 and lane 4 on a 400-meter track is pretty much the difference between a 400-meter track and a 440-yard track; four laps of a 400-meter track is 1,600 meters, about 31.06856 feet shy of a mile.  Four laps of a 440-yard track is a mile.

Spike lengths - most PU track surfaces have a maximum spike depth of (I believe) 1/4-inch.  How many times have I seen soccer players traveling across the track surface in their boots ("shoes" would be the  American term) onto the pitch.  On tp of this, driving their golf carts (refer back to the ground force reaction/"footprint" stuff when I was talking about inside/outside lanes), setting up their benches and Schwinn Air-Dyne stationary bikes on the track.

So when schools start to complain about the damage to their facilities from the general public, often they fail to see that what passes for convenience for one program can place irreparable damage or harm to another. And sometimes the only real victim of the conflict is the people who are eventually tapped to foot the bill for something they cannot enjoy.

So if you see a person engaging in an activity which violates basic track etiquette, let them know that it's not only a violation of common courtesy but could eventually lead to damage to your local track facility. Explain to them why their actions could place the entire running community in a world of hurt.

That is, unless you like running on the shoulder of the road.