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.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Leaving Siberia

How many of you cross-train? How much of that cross-training is in a group exercise class?

Ever notice what happens when you show up close(r) to the class start time, the only remaining spaces, or bikes, in the case of a spinning class, are near the instructor? The chance of getting a space at the rear of the class is slim or noexistent.

I am one of those persons who actually enjoy being in the front of the classroom.  I joke about having borderline attention deficit disorder (which, I know, is not as funny if you've had to deal with it...), but I do have a problem with focusing my attention if there is a student directly in front of me.  I also have found I pay closer attention if I can chat with the instructor; a learned behavior from my first years of college, when I would go to a class in the morning immediately following a midnight-to-eight shift.  Talking equals wakefulness, no?

(Instructors who have worked with me the past six or seven years are not surprised when Suzanne shows up for a class...she is almost the complete opposite of me. I'm gregarious to the point of garrulous; the missus is stable, steady, and doesn't change all that much. Like her running pace, she locks one steady effort in and doesn't slack until the end.)

Another reason for a bike near the front of the class, and continuous chatter:  If it's a spin class at a gym where I'm paying for the privilege (which it was for a time) I like to make the instructor earn their dollar; 'I came here to get exercised (exorcised?) and by golly, you're going to help me...' The gym where we spin now is on base, so it's one of those small (at no charge) benefits of my employment.  The instructors, whether they are a temporary hire, a substitute, or an auditioning instructor, eventually learn a little about my background.

Depending on how long they stick around the gym.

Last Wednesday an instructor was going through a audition workout with the mid-morning crew; eight students, ranging in age from the mid-40s to the early-60s, varying in fitness level from less-than-six months of steady training to years of "weekend warrior" event participation.

This young lady was enthusiastic and possessed basic knowledge, but I suspected this might have been her first group of students; right off the bat she questioned why the students were closer to the back of the workout room.

Okay. I'll give her a mulligan for that one.

College professor Ira Shor wrote in his 1996 book When Students Have Power: '...the students’ relationship to seating is a significant text revealing the power relations embedded in schooling, or the social power ‘circulating’ in the discipline of school...'

The rear/corner sections of the classroom, or the workout room (the meeting room and the church sanctuary, too, come to think of it) are the physical and emotional domains of the alienated and marginalized, places where, as Shor writes, '...students attempt to participate as thinly in a class as they possibly can...'

I've not only seen this, but heard it more than a few times. When I'm gasping for air, with a puddle (pool, more correctly) of sweat forming underneath the bike, it can be a little frustrating to hear fluent "Siberian" being spoken at the rear of the classroom.  I understand that a workout is a personal thing, but I'm encouraged to see folks working (hurting?) at the same level as I. Suzanne reminds me on many occasions that the folks who don't necessarily look like they are straining to complete the workout are often working as intensely as I...but if you are, at least don't chatter like a bunch of magpies...please?

Why do students occupy the "Siberian" corners of a classroom? Perhaps this has much to do with the attitude of instructors, trainers, and coaches. Put folks in a group with one person in the front on an elevated platform, or on a slightly more enhanced, or better-maintained piece of equipment (furniture) and it appears like Brazilian educator Paulo Freire's description of the "banking concept" of education.

Freire wrote in his most notable work, Pedagogy of the Oppressed that "banking" teachers assume their students know little or nothing and ultimately '...negate(s) education and knowledge as processes of inquiry. The teacher presents himself to his students as their necessary opposite....The students...accept their ignorance as justifying the teachers existence -- but unlike the slave, they never discover that they educate the teacher.'

About 25 minutes into the workout session the instructor had the group in an out-of-the-saddle climb, on the handlebars which extend from the front of the spinning bike - hand position three, for those of you who have done at least one spinning class. She mentioned, "if you want to make this more challenging, do this..." and took one hand off the handlebars, placing it at the small of her back.  That's where the ol' coaching red flag went up. I rarely lift my hand off the spin bike handlebars, and if I do it's to punch the button on my heart rate monitor. Most of the class did not engage in the move, one that would most likely have caused - if attempted on a road bicycle - injury to the student.  But this particular crowd is also one which places implicit trust and confidence in the person at the front.  Fortunately for us (and especially that there were no inexperienced participants) there were no accidents, incidents or bobbles.

Not surprisingly, there are parallels between what happens in some group ex classes and the world of run training/coaching. There's a fine, thin line drawn between people who show up to a track workout or a group run with the intent of doing their own thing and those who show up feeling a little less than optimal for the day and needing something a little different than the plan. Some folks, yes, all they want to do is show up and stay in the periphery, get their workout, and go home.

But there have been others who never seemed to get with the program: on a few occasions in the early years I felt the need to ask the occasional attendee "are you doing my workout, or your own?" Should the athlete tell me what's ailing them, and is honest about the situation, I can recommend an alternative to the original assignment or ask them, "what do you feel like you can do today?" This kind of exchange empowers the athlete and places responsibility as much in their own hands as in those of the coach.

Any coach can suggest what they believe is best for you, but the good coaches can help you find your way out of "Siberia" and discover along with you what's best.

Michael Bowen is a training specialist/running coach who lives and trains in the Pensacola, FL area.  He works with runners of all ability levels, both virtually and in-person.  His wife Suzanne and he travel occasionally to New Orleans to participate in and support running events and triathlons.  He also writes two blogs, "The Red Polo Diaries" and "...If I Were Your Coach."

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Chase

There are evolutionary biologists, like Harvard's Daniel Lieberman, who have had the audacity to claim humans are beings which are uniquely suited for long distance running, especially when it comes to hunting for food. Body surface area, relative postural stance, internal and external structures...all seemingly tailor-made for chasing other vertebrates to the point of exhaustion, heatstroke, or collapse. Not all that much has changed to this point in time, biologically, save for a few mechanical issues caused by paved surfaces and societal norms. Add to that the little voice in our head which reminds us our food stores are as close as a walk to our car and a drive to the grocer.

Running events in the past couple of years have become less of a hare-and-hounds, catch-me-if-you-can thing and more of a herd activity. Participation is the thing; training group activities, for many (including my Sunday morning) groups, have the emphasis more on the "group" than on the "training." I'm using broad brush-strokes here; if your group is more-competitive then you are blessed to a certain degree.

This last Sunday morning my loving bride and I had the great fortune to (unintentionally) return to our more-ancient, more-predatory selves, if only for 90 minutes.

One of the unintended outcomes from the Achilles' tendon rehab has been that it takes me a little longer to warm-up in the morning. When people hear me grouse about "not being a morning runner," it's not that I dislike running in the morning (I ran a wonderful 7.5-miler one Wednesday morning with Suzanne during the recent government shutdown...) as much as it is I'm not "completely awake." The gastrointestinal system is a given, but my musculoskeletal system also needs an hour at the least from the time I crawl out of bed to the time I'm completely prepared to exert myself.

And sometimes a little longer.

My original plan was to run the first thirty minutes of the Sunday run a little bit faster than my marathon goal, I'm not training for a marathon, but I know what my Boston Qualifying pace is. However, when we got onto the loop my ankle was not feeling quite up to the task. I decided at that point to walk for fifteen minutes, or a mile (whichever came first), and then I would most likely be ready to run.

Suzanne started to run right from the start, leaving myself, three other joggers/runners and the three walkers in her wake.

I started to run at fifteen minutes exactly, at a pace which Pete said was "scalding dogs." Perhaps his dogs were being scalded, but I still felt, old, fat and slow. I thought I should have seen my wife at the two-mile point...I did not see Suzanne until about twenty minutes into my run, a little past three-and-a-half miles.

At that time, I started to push myself; I wanted to see if I could catch her before the four-and-a-half-mile mark on the course, where we would turn and run a quarter-mile before turning on to a residential street.

At four-and-a-quarter-miles, her leg turnover picked up. She hit the four and-a-half mile point about ten seconds before I did, running a solid 9:55/mile pace (her best effort since late 2007). Suzanne told me as we walked back up the road to regroup, "I heard you coming from behind and said to myself, 'there is no way I'm letting him catch me; not today...'"

Pursuing and being pursued during a workout can stir the embers of the competitive fires; simulating the stresses of a road race for the individual runner. What do you do when another runner comes up on your shoulder? Do you throw up the white flag of surrender, do you immediately counter the attack, or do you wait for a later moment to counter?

The pursuit workout can be done on a road course or on the track, intervals between slower and faster runners can be any duration you see fit, but every runner can benefit from a shoulder in the distance they want to catch, or hot breath slowly making its way to the back of their neck.

Yep, that was always is until someone gets hurt.  It was definitely my ankle popped and I had to walk the three miles back, trying to catch everyone.

Michael Bowen is a training specialist/running coach who lives and trains in the Pensacola, FL area.  He works with runners of all ability levels, remotely and in person.  He and his wife, Suzanne, travel frequently to New Orleans to participate in and support running events and triathlons.  He also writes two blogs, "If I Were Your Coach..." and "Red Polo Diaries."

Friday, October 18, 2013

Nervous Time

Nervous time, this next handful of weeks.

I'm not even running...and still it's the same. The four-to-six weeks leading into a target race, depending on the distance, is the most nerve-wracking. Marathoners - or their training plans - are scheduling the longest distance runs for those weekends, and the workouts assigned during the week are shorter in duration. Worst of all, the intensity levels of all of the workouts during that time tend to drop.

Training plans with an overabundance of slow training paces throughout the week lead to slow performances on race day. It stands to reason that an athlete is going to race in the exact same manner as they have trained throughout the cycle. A good plan during the training week lets the runner simulate the latter miles of the target event during the weekend's training run; a 15-to-16 mile training run should simulate how the runner is going to feel from the tenth or eleventh mile forward, not the first fifteen.

The challenge, naturally, is to NOT spend the entire time not working or taking care of family demands out on the road, trail or track in workouts. Train as hard as necessary to achieve the desired results, and no harder. Going longer or harder than necessary cuts into that all-too-precious recovery time.

My speed workout assignments during the last six weeks are harder in intensity, shorter in distance, and longer in recovery time; a ninety-minute workout with 5,000 meters of repeats during the first six-to-eight weeks of a program cycle will drastically reduce itself to 2,500 meters in the last period.

The "more junk-like" miles aren't so much pitched by the wayside as much as they become "optional" added miles during the remainder of the week. The athlete usually pitches the option of adding miles in favor of more recovery.

Taper during the last three weeks is gradual; there still are assigned workouts, the volume decreases by up to fifty percent but the intensity stays closer to race effort until the last week. The more busy an athlete is kept with the business of maintaing effort and recovery the less likely they are to do something foolish like go out for an additional run (and risk injury) because they have more time to spare.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Staying Out Of The Echo Chamber

Visualize a bell curve for a few seconds.

If a person were to honestly measure an attribute of a large population, or a large (truly) random sample, the largest percentage of the population they measure will be close to the center of the range of possible measures.  Height, weight, calorie intake, intelligence quotient...all of these and lots more can be graphed on a curve. Some curves will skew toward the higher end of the measurement range, such as school grades, because measures below a certain point are the cut-off point, and grounds for removal from the population.  Persons can contend that running performances, if measured, would not evenly align to bell curve, but be skewed toward a faster performance.  Lower limits on measurement, like course cut-off times, constrain a statistician from measuring the entire population.  Every person pulled off course because they failed to make an intermediate cut-off is not different than the kid who bombed their ninth-grade language course and didn't get to move on to the tenth grade course.  Smaller population based on selectivity; another good example would be average grades between undergraduates and graduates...graduates are higher on the average because the population is smaller.  In the case of distance running, the un-measured population members would include those who say, "I don't run (blank distance) races; I lack the endurance."

Still with me?

It might not be a direct correlation, but think about our social media contacts.  We start off with a small number of contacts, which increase to either the limit of our account, or to the point where either our contacts decide to no longer keep in contact with us...or we decide to no longer read what they have to say.  Over time we, if not careful, might end up in contact on a regular basis with people who think, act and do pretty much the same way we do.  That echo chamber can be comforting for a time, but left alone with everyone who ABSOLUTELY AGREES WITHOUT YOU WITHOUT RESERVATION is a fantastic recipe for intellectual stagnation.

What's wrong with not working to maintain ones' contacts as closely to the mode (for those who forgot mathematics-or statistics-the highest point of the bell curve)?  I noticed this while home visiting with my father; while we don't necessarily see eye-to-eye on politics or social issues, I try to see his point of view or at least ask his rationale...and explain to him what supports my stand.  Face it, the ability to disagree agreeably has gone by the boards.  In this day in age where everything is posted on the internet rather than printed in a handbill the classical use of source references like news articles, statistical information and scientific research (preferably from independent sources) have been sadly replaced by snappy retort and nasty name-calling.  The first person to describe everyone who fails to agree with them a vulgar or perjorative term "wins."

So what do we have for our "winner," Johnny Olson?  After so many "victories," the only applause left is that Zen koan-like single-handed stuff...and regrettably it's ones' own.

When it comes to running and fitness, there are "conventional wisdoms" and "strongly-held truths" which have been questioned by far too few coaches and few athletes.  My advice to friends who look for running counsel and athletes who train with me?

First, take the time to read any run training manual onto which they can get their hands.  If the book is older (I have several which were written in the early 1980s) the goal is to pick out the eternal training truths.  Even if the training specifics are something to which you may disagree, at least you've taken the time to know the author's underlying philosophy.  A former Olympian's training plan used to be my piƱata, until I took the time to read one of their earliest books.  After the read I learned I disagreed more with the author's disciples than the author.  The ability to tell an athlete why you disagree, and more specifically what you believe, can keep the coach-athlete relationship harmonious.

Second, be prepared to adapt the training truths and "good stuff" to the specifics of your own life. The difference between writing a "C" research paper and one that would be graded an "A" is the ability to take those notecard ideas borrowed from all the authors we read and converting to ones' own life. Not every person has a forty-hour, office-based 9-to-5 job; lives in a nuclear "spouse-and-2.5-children" household, and resides in a town with access to high-tech modalities - or running trails, hills, running tracks, and so forth.  Since the specifics for every runner are different it's a silly idea to quote directly chapter-and-verse.  This makes the difference between a coach and a person who's slapping workouts on paper...and in the case of a self-coached athlete the difference between potential success and failure.

Third, don't hesitate to chat and trade notes, especially with runners who perform consistently well.  Coaches are also a good resource; I love to hear what they're doing with really good runners, or what mistakes they made over the years in the profession...then I go back and adapt or look closer at what I assign, and the why behind it.

While it's nice to be at the mode when it comes to friends, we would much rather be closer to the front end of the bell curve when it comes to our performance.