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, April 28, 2014

To Be Specific...

Our little group was blessed with a visitor, a gentleman from the Northeast getting in some taper mileage before a marathon in Maine.  The nice thing about out-of-town visitors is that they provide, on many occasions, a sense of perspective about the "what" and "how" of our particular hobby.

Angela and I both ran a 5K the previous morning so the pace was guaranteed to be more my standards, which means an abundance of teachable moments.  I wasted no time in discussing a few take-aways from our respective race experiences, the first in almost six months for me.  

First topic was a recapitulation of the "chin theory" of run training.  If training is a bad idea for an athlete who is suffering from illness, specifically chest-based congestion, then racing might be more so.  If the event is an "A" race, with some sort of reputation or livelihood at stake, I guess there's a good reason to continue.  That means most likely 99 percent of the running world would be better served eating the race entry fee...unless there's a trip involved, in which case begging for refunds and deferrals if possible seems the order of the day.  I'd shake off lesser priority events, too.  If you have to participate, lower the expectations and keep the performance in perspective.

Speaking of keeping performances in perspective, I mentioned my performance goal for either the previous day's race or the target race which was coming up the next week.  A couple of years back, a healthy and race-sharpened me could click off a 6:00/mile guy over the course of 5,000 meters without thinking twice.  Dinged-up achilles' tendons and a solid year of almost no running left me at eight-minute pace (followed by much wind-sucking) six months ago.  Speed workouts on the treadmill consisted of a handful of one-to-two-minute repeats at 7:00/mile pace; my goal was to stay as close to seven-minute pace as possible.  I was painfully close; emphasis on painful, managing a 7:06/mile for 5K.  It wasn't the legs which couldn't handle it, nor the cardiovascular. Definitely the respiratory system which was not up to par.

The great Czech distance runner Emil Zatopek explained the blend of speed and endurance at the heart of his training regimen.  He was known for workouts which consisted of short distance (often 400 meters or shorter) repeats at his desired race pace or faster.  Naturally, the quick pace repeats developed speed (I had the neuromuscular side of the running equation correct). What I forgot to remember, however, was that Zatopek developed endurance by running countless miles worth of those repeats at desired race pace or faster.  

Tim, our visitor, had caught up with us mid-topic.  I figured it was time for me to catch my breath (and sneakily ramp up the pace) with the classic open-end question, 'so what's your race goal?'

He began to discuss his training, as well as that of the group he runs with in the Northeast, and discussed the challenges of winter training, like running 20-milers on an indoor track.  I'm not certain which is more tedious, treadmill runs or indoor track runs.  He then asked my opinion of a particular workout, often performed as part of marathon training to gauge a target performance.  I won't mention the name or the running author who first described it some years ago, as I consider him a good friend.  Oh, heck, I'm not slamming Bart Yasso's 10-by-800 meters with 400-meter recoveries, each run at an "hours-to-minutes pace."  For those unfamiliar with Yasso 800s, a person training to run a 3:30 marathon would run their 800-meter repeats in 3 minutes, 30 seconds.

I told Tim I did not think a single particular workout could be an accurate predictor of a performance, especially not something as long as a marathon.  A lot of things can potentially happen over the course of 26.21876 miles; some can be trained for, others cannot.  If, for example, your goal is to run a 3:30 marathon it is absolutely necessary to be able average a 7:55 mile for 20 kilometers.  For what it's worth, that's approximately the range that Dr. Jack Daniels' VDOT tables recommend as a marathon training pace for a person whose predicted marathon performance is 3:30.

The problem comes when our training efforts are not specific for the task at hand.  I had reminded my neuromuscular system what it was like to go seven-minute-per mile pace with the number of repeats I had done over the past month or two.  However, I hadn't provided enough sustained efforts, lasting up to 20 minutes, to develop the cardiovascular and respiratory systems.  A runner focusing on the 5,000 meters, averaging 30 miles a week, would benefit from at least two miles of training which exceeds aerobic paces...for that 3:30 marathon dude who decides to focus for a time on the 5K, that's probably no more than fifteen minutes out of the week.

Marathon training is even more aerobic, so the hard stuff might be only five minutes worth of the entire training week, but the overwhelming majority of work should be closer to the high end of the individual's aerobic capacity.  While the training is aerobic, it does not mean that the training miles are easy.  

To be "specific," slow training leads to slow racing.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes...

It was great to spend a quality weekend (Read: One without excess social media or being tethered to my computer...the very reason this article is late in arrival...) with my wife and some really good friends at the Crescent City Classic.  The down side was that I didn't feel like working out too much.  Major thanks go to Betsy and Aaron and the clan for crawfish and hospitality, Bea and Goody for conversation and good sea stories, Eric for letting us drive sag on course, Chuck for the compliments at the expo, Bill and the NOH3 for great beer and meat-like substances...

I did miss the familiarity of my typical Sunday morning long run, which as of late has been a blend of chatting up and psyching up as we get into the last weeks of the racing season here in the FL little group will soon start to prepare for the autumn half- and full-distance marathons.  When runners step into that murky and sometimes frightening world of longer-distance training runs it is easy to tell when the fatigue has set in. 

One of my wife's favorite teaching tools, especially when she works with younger children, is to teach them the basics of a foreign language.  She collaborated with Japanese teachers earlier in her career and took the time to learn simple children's of her favorites is the "head, shoulders, knees and toes" song.  The observant coach and the mindful runner can borrow from this song, if nothing else but to check their status during efforts of all intensities.  Check early, check often...

Head - Where are the runner's eyes focused?  If the terrain is uneven, root-strewn, rocky or slick, or they're running in a close pack, the vision ought to be focused at a point which exceeds fifty yards in front of them.  Keep the head in a natural  position with the jaw as relaxed as possible.  If you can't say a few words, even at speed it's most likely the jaw is clenched a little too tightly, too.

Shoulders - Can the runner lower their shoulders?  If the answer is 'yes,' the odds are good they're running tensely.  From experience, I can say this is the most challenging correction; from the shoulders I have to look more distally, down toward the elbows and the hands.  Are the hands clenched so that I could not place a roll of quarters there?  Are the elbows bent at a sharp angle, as if the runner is showing off their biceps muscles (runners who carry music players or smart phones in armbands often show this)?  While we're at it, how are the arms swinging; front to back is good, side to side not so much.

Easiest way to drop the shoulder comes from lowering the hands closer to the waistline, which opens the elbow angle and relaxes the shoulders.  That will also make it easier to breathe.

Knees - Visualize, now, an imaginary string from the crown of the runner's head going downward.  Ideally the line will go almost perfectly straight down to a point behind the knees.  The ideal amount of forward lean, or erect posture, is in the one-to-four degree range from direct vertical.  Runners, when they begin to fatigue, tend to either hunch over (when running slowly) or lean backward (when running quickly).

Toes - Listen.  No, really.  Do you hear a lot of scuffing along the pavement?  How about slapping?  That means the gait needs a little adjustment.  We're not talking major tweaks, but a slightly quicker turn-over with a shorter stride (and a little concentration) can make for less-fatiguing running.  Quiet feet are happy feet, in my humble opinion.

Quite simply, it all boils down to a sense of mindfulness.  A mindful concentration on your run and the mechanics which affect running performance can save you time, energy, and a little bit of discomfort.  It all boils down to paying attention to your head, shoulders, knees and toes.

Monday, April 14, 2014

K.I.S.S. On A Sunday Morning

Taking a stroll through the park in front of our house the other evening; Suzanne, the "Rude Dog" (also known by his former racing name "Majic Rubin," his adoptive name "Rubin," and the diminutive "Roo Dog") and I were discussing potential topics for this space.

I considered talking about the importance of family, but that's one I've touched on a more-frequent basis as my father became more frail.  Diet was pretty much out of the question; I like beer, I tend to eat most any food substance that fails to pre-emptively sink its teeth into me.  And Nancy Clark, R.D. is so much more skilled than I at writing about good stuff.

Shoes?  Haven't done that topic in a while.  Books?  The latest stuff I've read I've talked about. There's a book I've thought about reading (which I'm not certain whether to purchase in paper or electronic form), Haruki Murakami's "What I Talk About When I Talk About Running" kind of has me thinking...I ran with a different running partner the other Sunday.  Drop my average pace 45 seconds per mile and I'm a wasn't a happy morning for her.  We got to talking about a few varied topics, which I left more or less to her to bring up...can't say my old pastor's dictum "don't answer un-asked questions" wasn't remembered.

"What is the longest run I need to do?"  Run as long as you can get away with, at a pace which is comfortable for you.  Not easy, but comfortable.  The maximum distance ideally should be no more than one-fourth of the week's total distance, or longer than 2 hours, 30 minutes in duration. Yes, we read that Mo Farah runs 27-milers, but he's got a few things in his favor: genetics, physiotherapists, and people who pay him to run...not necessarily in that order.

"But I'm doing a ten-mile 'mud run.'"  Sounds like the kind of event where sustained running is NOT going to happen.  In fact, unless you're at the front of the wave with the intent to make like a special operations trainee, I'd be comfortable with runs in the five-to-six mile range.  Seven at the most.  And most likely the finish time is a secondary thing; participation without major injury seems to me to be the primary.

"I was thinking about a pair of those 'finger shoes.'"  For the kind of terrain, or the lack of, footwear that's minimalist (less shoe to me equals less space for mud, water and debris) would be acceptable.  It's probably the only time I'd even think of taking the "skele-toes" I save for weight machine workouts at the gym on anything which resembles a run.  In my humble opinion, too many folks look to the newest 150-dollar offering from the legion of shoe manufacturers (call them legion, for they are many...) to make them "better runners."

K.I.S.S.  Varied run training, flexibility and strength work are less expensive, both in the immediate and in the long-term, and more-effective than the latest gadget at the local running emporium.

Friday, April 4, 2014

History Rhymes

"I've run from the arms of lovers. I've run from the eyes of friends. I've run from the hands of kindness. I've run just because I can." - Mary-Chapin Carpenter, 'The Moon and Saint Christopher'

The missus and I both use multiple social media outlets, to varying degrees. We differ in the way we use each individual medium, though. If you looked at my wife's focus on one particular site you would think she's all about the business area in which she's spent the last dozen years. Go to another site and it's more personal, with some business. With me, on the other hand, I'm not so certain there's a clear-cut social media "identity" per se. That might have much to do with the fact my "work" identity depends on the definition of "work." As many readers of this space know I'm a very fortunate guy; I have over 25 years of service with an employer who occasionally looks the other way when I engage in shenanigans which would have me frog-marched out the front door of most corporate organizations.

It did and it did not surprise me, this morning, when my loving bride informed me a former schoolmate of mine asked to connect with her on a professional-based social network. It was a surprise because I thought the schoolmate would have figured out after ten years my wife and I have moved on with our lives. It didn't surprise me when I thought more about it; stalkers have mad-serious endurance, the type for which many athletes would sell their mama to the gypsies. It doesn't mean endurance athletes and runners are not plain nuts. Our saving grace is that most of us are a stride shy of what cartoonist and triathlete Jef Mallett described as "naked, flag-waving, Tour de France-fan crazy."

And when we start to think we are that crazy, something in the world outside reminds us of the very reason we started running. Sure, there are the kids who were nurtured early on in life, the ones who were found to be blessed with the great genetics...all lungs, heart and legs. Most often those are the kids who enter the high school-to-college-to-shoe deal-to-coaching track. But I bet that if I someone gave me a dollar for every citizen-athlete who turned to running because of some slight, some disillusionment, some heartbreak or disappointment, I might be able to buy a few nice things.

What makes me wonder how close we are to that "naked, flag-waving, etc., etc." form of craziness is what happens after a while. The person whose screwed-up life or lifestyle drives them to lace up the shoes and get away from their demons, well, first they appear to have tamed the beast which once threatened to eat them whole. Then, after a while, the demons which they fled show up again. And...rather than make the conscious decision to avoid repeating history, they try to figure out whether Mark Twain was correct, and see if history merely rhymes.

It's the kind of decision-making which makes a coach shake their head.

We are probably the last person who wants to remind the runner of they way they were, a'la Barbra Streisand...they forgot the painful remembrance.  Our job is to point the way forward, not to dust off the rear-view mirror.  That's where it becomes the responsibility of the fellow runners.  Because if we say it it's going to sound like it rhymes with something.