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, December 23, 2013

Winter Always Getting Your Hopes Up

Winter running, especially winter in the 'more temperate' regions of the U.S., is etched deeply into the lore and literature of running. It's not surprising to me, come to think of it, that the author of the most-widely read running cult novel written in the English language spent his early running years here in the (occasionally) Sunshine State of Florida. Every autumn when I pick up my copy of "Once A Runner," it is not long before I get to the part of the tale where Quenton Cassidy muses about the overcast, wet and oft-times windy conditions known to be part and parcel with life in the central portion of the Florida peninsula. My friend (Captain) Steve Kessler down in the Keys does not have to worry so much about any climatic condition which vaguely resembles anything near those in the remainder of the Republic. Truth be told, holiday lights and decorations are gorgeous, but tinsel appear as out-of-place in Key West as a distance runner appearing...

I was going to say "all-you-an-eat buffet," but John L. Parker's tale, about my old coach (Jarrett Slaven) in the follow-up novel, "Again to Carthage," put that analogy to rest.

I think you understand what I mean. We all have conditional challenges as runners which require regular confrontation. Could be heat. Could be elevation changes. Could be wind or rain. There are some conditions for which you can prepare by adjusting the terrain or the time of day when the workout occurs. My Louisiana friends who use bridges for hill training do this quite often.

Winston Groom's fictional "Forrest Gump" described the universe of rain with nuances which approached what snow is to the Inuit and "shiggy" is to the experienced hasher. A late-autumn drizzle affects the psyche of the distance runner differently than does that of a mid-summer "cow-pee-on-a-flat-rock" downpour which happens every one-o'clock in the afternoon in Tampa or Orlando.

Weather phenomena isn't only a varying degree of annoyance, it can be double-edged in nature. The same 15 mile-per-hour breeze (Growing up in southern New Mexico a day with wind less than 15 miles-per-hour was considered "calm.") which kicked you in the teeth on the way out also moderated your body temperature. Turn for home, though, on an out-and-back, and you have both a ten-second-per-mile negative split and a ten-degree increase in the "feels-like" temperature.  Loop courses aren't always the solution for windy climes; on the really bad days it's a crap shoot on whether you get a headwind the entire time. I once had a 50-mile training ride in dreary, windy conditions where I swear I rode into the teeth of a 20-mile-per-hour headwind the entire time. I'd approach a turnpoint with a sense of relief, only to have that, 'oh, no...' moment as the breeze kicked up again. 

There is nothing else an athlete can do to train for those conditions, other than to get out into it on occasion. I believe training in conditions which are less-than-optimal provides the athlete more than just the physiological benefits of whatever the assigned workout focused.

The runner who learns to train with efficient form and calm mind on the nasty days; not exerting needless energy (Matt Fitzgerald, in his book on the 1989 "Iron War" Ironman world championship, called it "burning matches.") by struggling against the weather, is the athlete who is "miles ahead" on the race day. I'm not saying they don't want to complain on race day, but they're less likely to do so. They've been out in this "soup" before; it's a familiar "meal," and they'll find nourishment in it.

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