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, February 17, 2014

Running, Seriously: The Greatest Joy

I'm visiting my father this week, six months after his initial cancer diagnosis and a series of surgeries.  The last time I was here, Dad and I chatted about my run training; where I ran each morning, how my tendons, lungs and heart reacted to the change in altitude, stuff like that.  He was honest to the point of envy about the fact he missed his daily walk, and yes, living vicariously through my exertions (and until recently an avid reader of this space).

We always talk about the fact there are no guarantees in this life; the frailty of our human existence, and how we continually need to live in the moment.  There exists a gentle balance between genuine joy and excessive frivolity, and yes, between seriousness and crankiness.  Running biographer Chris Lear boiled down the inner workings of coach Mark Wetmore for every running geek to a note reportedly on composer Gustav Mahler's music stand: "Res Severa Verum Gaudia."

"To be serious is the greatest joy."

I like to think of myself as a "serious runner."  My family identifies me, as well as Suzanne, as serious runners.  We both believe a serious runner is a person who harbors great respect for the sport's individual disciplines, marvels at the exploits of the athletes and coaches who operate at the highest level, and understands that the act of running is a privilege.  That's correct.  Running is a privilege.

Runners, and their act, are privileged to be the tool of discipline for other sports.  How many "My Sport Is Your Sport's Punishment" t-shirts have we seen worn by scholastic cross-country and track enthusiasts? We are privileged to have seasons which never end, but merely transform from cross-country to indoor track to outdoor track to toad racing to marathon (and yes, to triathlon, which I consider part of "the family") and back again.  We are privileged by the broad scope of competition, of distance, and of intensity; a four-minute mile and a twelve-minute mile is still a mile.  A four-minute miler and a twelve-minute miler are still a runner.  A four-mile run and a twelve-mile run is a run.

We are privileged by our egalitarian nature.  A pair of shoes, a place to run, we're good to go. Keeping the act simple and pure, without excess frills, I believe are the hallmark of a culture which has it's collective act together.  I've wondered why persons would take an act which was meant to be done with as little restraining influences as possible (...while I take umbrage with many of the first-century teacher Paul of Tarsus' doctrinal thoughts, his analogies between religious faith and distance running are pretty good) and add unnecessary hindrances...backpacks, compression tights, and worst of all, costumes.  A fast runner who takes their run performance down a notch by, say, dressing up like one of the "Blues Brothers" or Elvis Presley, and still whips most everybody's behind makes a statement that says, "hey, I'm having fun here." But packs of people in tutus and prom gowns (especially guys) at the back-of-the-pack of a race (regardless of the distance) I think kind of missed the joke.  That's not joy, folks.  That's an exhibitionist "look at me" thing.

That's the kind of "I" that ideally is not in in team, and I wish was not in running.  I'm not necessarily saying that we should completely blend in with the crowd.  There's a place for funny hats and feather boas, but if you're going to turn a road race into a Mummer's parade, think about the persons who may look and see running as little more than frivolity...and we know there's so much more than that.  I don't want to make someone think they need a "special outfit" to earn the privilege to run.  I don't want people to equate what I love as a form of punishment, or as something that only military people do when they are forced to.

Running is a sliver of sanity we have in a world gone mad. For some it's perhaps the only thing we do well, sometimes the greatest revenge against slights, insults, insinuations and innuendo.  When it comes to the privilege I have my father to thank.  He let me run track when my family physician said I couldn't because of asthma.  He reminded me about my running posture which was wrong for baseball, but nearly perfect for distance running.  As he becomes more frail, I become more serious about the things that matter.  And hopefully more joyful with the same.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Want to Be Genuine...Honey

"Things are seldom what they seem; skim milk masquerades as cream..." - 'Things Are Seldom What They Seem,' from "HMS Pinafore," Gilbert and Sullivan (1878)

When Suzanne travels across the Panhandle to visit her parents, she sometimes brings back diabetic condiments containing no natural sugar. I guess if you're a diabetic and you still can't get a grip on your sweet tooth, it's the next best thing. But she made a small goof this past weekend.

Suzanne purchased a bottle of "sugar-free honey" to replenish the big, honking bottle I mix with peanut butter and spread on my morning toast. I had what I like to call a "thirty-second moment," one of those times where I allow myself to get very, very emotional for all of thirty seconds...after which I'm good to go.

'So, what's wrong with "sugar-free honey?"' said the missus. I told her to take a closer look at the dietary information on the back label. A bottle of "sugar-free honey" does not have one bit of honey within it. Period. No bees were involved in the making of the substance.

Chicory. O'Doul's. Tofu. Margarine.

Sometimes a substitute is needful, helpful, or a reasonable alternative. When we change a diet, say, from animal-based protein to one with more plant proteins, legumes, nuts and seeds are a good substitute. With a little imagination and a small amount of luck, even an omnivore can become more flexible with their diet. In the case of my parents and some of my in-laws, the need to drop sugar out of their diet is a necessity.

Not everything in this life which is developed as a substitute is real. That "sugar free" honey is, for lack of a nicer or more diplomatic word, a fake. Certain augmentation procedures performed by a plastic surgeon might look genuine, and might still serve the intended purpose and benefit the originally-intended end-user. But in many cases all it does is appeal to ones' vanity. It's often a "look at me" thing.

When I talk about running to someone who doesn't know that much about it, often there are two questions asked: 'Have you run a marathon?' 'Have you run Boston?'

I won't say that most persons only know about the marathon when they think of distance running, but it's the most-publicized race distance. When we talk about publicized races, at least in the States, Boston would either be at or near the top of the list. Once you explain to the uninitiated that a runner either has to run a time that qualifies them for Boston, or earn a boatload of money for a charitable cause, the event has a certain "look at me" factor.

How much does it cost to qualify for Boston? According to the Running USA Core Runner Profile 75 percent of the U.S. core running population claim to have earned an average household income of 75,000 dollars or more in 2013. (The US median household income is 52,000 dollars a year). That's more or less 35 dollars an hour. For this hypothesis, let's use a 35 year-old female training on a 24-week training program. The training cycle includes one half-marathon as a training race, mileage average of 45 per week (30/week at the start, near 60/week at the finish), and one 60-minute strength training session or massage each week. The time and effort taken to train for a marathon is difficult to quantify; I like to use the economic term "opportunity cost," what you would be doing if you weren't doing 'this.'

In the case of the 35 year-old, an hour of training is worth 35 dollars.
Training sessions at an 8:00/mile (equals a Boston Qualifying time of 3:35:00) pace, is an opportunity cost of 210 dollars each week.
Multiply that by 24 and run training has an opportunity cost of a little over 5,000 dollars.
Another 850 dollars in opportunity cost or real cost, goes toward strength training, self-massage such as Trigger Point, or genuine hands-on professional body-work.
The number of miles run during 24 weeks, at an average of 45 miles per week is a little under 1100 miles in total.
Most runners rotate their shoes out at the 400 mile-to-500 mile point, so I can safely assume a third pair of shoes on race day if she had a brand new pair at the beginning. Three pairs, at 100 dollars, three 'Franklins' toward the cause.

Add a half-marathon race entry and incidentals, we'll say 300 bucks for a little bit of travel and an overnight stay. Entry, travel, prep and other incidentals for the target marathon would be a little more pricey, about 500 dollars.

When it comes time to play accountant...
Training (oportunity cost) --- $5040
Ancillary (opportunity/real) --- $850
Equipment (real) --------------- $250
Half-marathon ------------------ $300
Marathon ------------------------ $500
TOTAL ------------------------ $6940

What is a slot at Boston worth? Naturally, worth is in the mind of the beholder. Charity entries for Boston, depending on the organization, are in the 4000 dollar range. Naturally, there is that intangible "look at me" factor, especially when you see a BAA jacket or other piece of attire. Worth goes way beyond the dollars-and-cents factor, and very few persons will ask the "cheaper to qualify versus give it to charity" question. I'm not saying necessarily that charity runners don't need or deserve an entry for Boston. The persons who have earned their way In probably don't think too much about the charity entries.

What would be more frustrating? Two words: Rosie Ruiz.

Not many remember Jacqueline Gareau, which is a shame, because that's the woman who won the 1980 Boston Marathon. But Rosie...everyone remembers her, because she came across the line first.
Because she was clueless about the things most serious marathoners know stone cold. Because she finished 25 minutes faster than her qualifying time the previous fall in New York.
Because (as Bill Rodgers mentioned seeing her come through the finish) of her leg "contents."
Because she didn't look sweaty.
Given a moment of ethical weakness, I might have also run a few miles, jump on the "T" somewhere close to Hopkinton and get off close to Boylston Street, but there's something about being able to look at my face in the mirror each morning and take the razor to my cheek and not across my jugular. I'd much rather lose my hearing at Wellesley and be an honest...albeit...slow guy.

It didn't take long for a preponderance of data to the contrary to prove ol' Rosie was a fake. At first glance you might believe it to be the genuine article, but, on closer inspection, not worth the money spent. Make certain that what you say you are on the front label can be found when it comes to the "nutritional data"...don't be a fake...honey.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

When Do I Have To Say No?

Snowmageddon, Snowpocalypse, Sneaux Day.

Call that stretch we endured at the end of January what you like.  My friends who live in areas of the continent which have all that winter stuff were in a state of "schadenfreude;" the German term for "bless your heart," and not in the good way, either.

I should have seen it coming, weeks ago.

First, my loving bride informed me she's slated to work an IT conference in Miami Beach.  Then comes a text message from one of my athletes; an illness has laid him low.  The next morning's long run was a very solitary affair.

The week's catch-phrase was going to be "Semper Gumby."  Those of you who speak U.S. Marine probably have that term down.  For the rest of us, that's "always flexible."

One of Timothy Noakes' 14 Laws of Training recommends to not set a training schedule in stone. A modicum of flexibility or modification can mean the difference between happiness and frustration.  There are days when your run training should be set aside completely, and others where a minor modification to duration, activity or intensity may be all that's necessary.

When it comes to a running-related injury the immediate knee-jerk response is to say "no running, period."  Exercise which closely replicates running form and with sufficient intensity without aggravating the injury is best.  The next best choice is exercise which replicates running, at lower intensity and without aggravation.  Third-best is exercise which is intense and doesn't aggravate what hurts...kind of like the joke where the guy goes to the doctor and says, 'Doc, it hurts when I do this...'

If it hurts, don't do it.  Heal up and figure out what caused the injury in the first place.

Most runners are obsessive-compulsive, and will try to train through every illness, from the lowest level creeping crud all the way to two steps shy of the Black Death.

Are you having a problem breathing? The "chin rule" is probably the best counsel for airway issues; if the airway or breathing problem comes from inflamed sinuses, sniffles and such you might be all right with an easy run.  If the congestion source is below the chin level you'd be best off taking at least a day away, and pay close attention to how you feel on a daily basis.  If you're sick and tend to use gym facilities, it's best to stay at home.  Don't pass what icky-doo which got a hold of you on to someone else.  And if you work out in a group, for heaven's sake, use universal precautions...that means no sharing of anything. 

Some days you simply feel like a "semi-solid waste-to-receiver sack capacity mismatch" exists, favoring the former.  Fatigue, pure and simple, may require a variation or temporary cessation in activity, duration, intensity, time of, some or all of the above factors.

It might be a day where you simply need to curl up on the couch in your sweats and read a good book.  Unless you're a parent of a really young person, in which case all bets are off.

The family is support structure number one for every runner.  You might be a participant in this sport for a few years or a few decades, but you got to live with most of these folks for a long time. Right off the bat, I have fervently agreed that "parentism" tops all other belief structures and constraints, especially when the children are not able to fend completely for themselves.

Infants, toddlers, and rugrats with issues?  No arguments from me on those fronts.  If you can slide the workout time "to the left/right" or adjust the duration so as to maintain domestic tranquility, by all means consider what must be done.

Youth, teens, young adults; it better be a genuine emergency, defined as near-life-threatening.  Otherwise the issue falls in the category where it can most likely be worked through or around.

There are social functions which come rarely within a lifetime, and where family attendance and participation is strongly encouraged.  If the immediate family understands your passion for running or fitness they might, say, remind others in the family about the habit of "the crazy runners," and to adjust accordingly...or at least leave you a seat on the aisle.

For very few persons is the 60-minute run part of a typical day in the office.  There are employers who are really understanding when it comes to the physical fitness needs/wants/aspirations of their workforce.  Others are encouraged to let workers adjust their schedules and take time off for exercise, given certain constraints.  And if you're fortunate you'll know in advance whether there's a major project on the horizon.  Or a business trip.  In those cases you might have to adjust the schedule, make certain there's a workout facility in the hotel, or a good path, or a running club or track.  This category is often the easiest to plan around.

In closing, the choice to run is not a strict zero-sum "you do or you don't" equation.  A little of some exercise is better than a lot of no exercise.

Everyone Gets A Bite

It's not difficult to see marks of accomplishment on a "typical" runner's vehicle. The rear panel, window or bumper often has one or more event or distance decals which tell the world either which particular run distance the owner prefers, or the events they have participated in and completed. My trusty Scion is no exception; I have a half-marathon distance decal which also markets my measurement side business, and a couple of Hash House Harrier stickers.

The marks of my loving wife's "running jones," and my own, are not limited strictly to the exterior. Sit in the back seat and the first thing a passenger notices are the finisher and age group award medals for the past two years of running events. We hang them from the headrest pillar facing to the rear, often right after the event is completed. Some of the really nice or unique finisher medals Suzanne has earned eventually make it to the main hallway of our house; mine hang off the back bookshelf in my "man cave," where some of my book collection has migrated.

I might have a few finisher medals from races where the distance was less than 20 kilometers, or a half marathon, say, the 5K I ran the day before my half-marathon, but has personal importance because of the travel to Ottawa, Canada's national capital. The medals I cherish most are races outside of the area (reminder of travels past), age group or masters' awards (to include the one race I won outright but there was no overall), or with a meaningful accomplishment. Something like a personal best, a tactically well-executed race, or a feat of endurance. Each of the pot metal hunks and nylon strips have a tale to tell which exceed numbers in the logbook or a printed results sheet.

So, as I was driving the other morning there was a discussion on National Public Radio's Morning Edition about self-esteem and performance. It appears that persons whose self-esteem are artificially enhanced are less likely to expend more effort at trying to accomplish a more difficult challenge.

A group of researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee asked people to imagine elevating - on an elevator, taking off in a plane, going up in a balloon - which caused them to experience a small boost in self-esteem. The researchers then asked them to solve math problems, puzzles or test questions. The people who had had their self-esteem boosted did worse on these problems.

The researchers found that, when asked to choose between dealing with a challenge that could reduce their elevated self-esteem and avoiding the challenge altogether, the subjects preferred to maintain that false sense of self-esteem. I believe this transfers over into the world of the citizen-athlete. When the first road races were contested, there was only one winner. The first person across the line received an award, perhaps a small amount of money. Everyone else went home with nothing to show for their efforts, except for a "better luck next time." Time progresses; more persons are drawn into the sport. Rather than make the pie bigger, race directors opted to give more "slices of the pie," awards to overall female, masters male and female, grandmasters, senior grandmasters, age group winner...

If you have seen the comedy movie "Nacho Libre," the wrestling promoter's line to the losing tag team pair, as he handed them a small amount of cash said much: '...everybody gets a little bite.' I'm not saying that there shouldn't be awards for excellent performances. But, much like the youth league registration fee including a participation award, dumbing down the meaning of an award until EVERYBODY gets something just for showing up cheapens the efforts of the top performers.

Why work harder and train smarter when you know you're going to get something by staying at the present (lazy) state?

While the reverse was found to be true in the UW-M study - persons who had their self-esteem lowered were more driven to succeed - I'm not saying that we should go around demeaning our fellow runners, the athletes we mentor, or the people we love just to instill motivation and drive. But there's definitely too much sugar-coating in the world of running today, which has, in my humble opinion, devolved road racing from an endurance sport to a participatory event one step above parade.