So, How Many Hats Do You Wear?

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Pensacola, Florida, United States
Husband. *Dog Dad* Training Specialist. Runner. Triathlete (on hiatus). USATF LDR Surveyor. USAT (Elite Rules) Certified Official, Category 2. RRCA Representative, Florida (North). Observer Of The Human Condition.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Wrong Questions?

"If they can get you asking the wrong questions they don't have to worry about the answers." - Thomas Pynchon

Not surprisingly, being a coach of (adult) runners is not what pays my bills.  I possess a (small) mercenary streak; my relationship with the running/multisport world provides more emotional and psychic income than it does direct compensation.  Analysis in one form or another, for over three decades, has been my thing.

Situation - Question - Isolation - Solution - Action - Resolution.  Sounds easy, right?  Only if the incentive for "resolution" is in the best interest of the person...or the organization...enduring the situation.  If incentives don't exist, trust doesn't happen.  And the analyst is seen as a pain in the back side: a person you steer to ask questions you don't mind answering or to justify your own planned action.

So, when I got a "do this-or-that" question from Angela she had the question partly right.  She asked it in terms of workout; the problem was that she'd been wrestling with one nagging illness after another.  And as if motherhood wasn't challenging enough, her husband Chris is a trainer at the organization where I work.  Doesn't matter what level of education you're in, a school is a petri dish.  Most offices are that way, too, but schools are the exemplar.  One sick kid leads to two dozen others...a "gift" to teacher which keeps on giving.  And that's what happened.

I had to tell Angela that it wasn't a "speed work-versus-long run this weekend" choice, but a "recovery-versus-stupidity" one.  (She's not stupid, just driven, like most every other runner looking into a marathon.)  Sick or injured?  Your focus no longer on training, but on getting better. Once you're better you can go back to training.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Pace and Patience

What does it take to become a good runner?

I guess that all depends on the definition of "good."

Coaches - nearly all of whom are much smarter than I, most have personal bona fides which exceed my own - are likely to say that outside of being blessed with genetically gifted parents it is absolutely necessary to have courage, a teachable spirit, and a work ethic that borders on masochism. A sense of humor, a sense of perspective and the ability to think when necesssary doesn't hurt.

Dale Fox, my coach back in the days of the Emerald Coast Racing Team, often reminded me "running is a sport of pace and patience." If he was reminding me in an e-mail the first quality would be spelled in all capitals. The second had the first quality capitalized within it (for those who have a hard time visualizing..."PACE and PAtienCE"...). The two are inextricably entwined, especially in championship-level racing.

Last month's NCAA Track and Field Championships were object lessons in the benefits of pace and patience, taught by men's 1,500 meter champ Mac Fleet, and Edward Cheserek, the men's 10,000 meter champion. The women's distance events were almost as tutorial, but Cheserek's performance in the men's 10K was patience exemplified.

Texas Tech's Kennedy Kithuka tried to force 'an honest pace' for the first eight kilometers, but he did not want to be in the unenviable position of front-runner. Cheserek, Oklahoma State's Shadrack Kipchichir and Wisconsin's Mohammed Ahmed patiently wore Kithuka down and spit him out at the ninth kilometer, after which point Cheserek only had to remain...yes, patient...for another 600 meters before dropping the hammer on the more-experienced Oklahoma State and Wisconsin competitors.

One of the best reasons to engage in a speed training regimen, in my opinion, is not that the runner develops raw speed. Over a period of time they also develop a sense of pace discipline. The first five or six weeks' worth of workouts - especially during the summer heat and humidity - lays a base foundation from which the athlete and coach can move. The athlete learns the coach's expectations and idiosyncrasies; the coach figures out strengths and areas which may need remediation.

Sometimes there are glaring, easily-noticed form issues which can be fixed without risk of injury. What are the changes in stride and body mechanics as the workout progresses? What is the athlete's endurance level? Do they need to have the reins pulled in early on so they can finish the workout on a high note?

Cheserek's pace during the race did not vary by more than two seconds from one lap to the next...save for the last one, when he ran a (completely insane) 53-second 400 after (648 feet shy of) six miles at 69 seconds a lap. For those of you playing the home game, that's about a 4:35 pace.

(I've done 16 times 400 meters, with 100-to-150 meters of walk recovery, at 72-to-75 seconds before. Eight more would have, on a good day, put me a lap to two laps down in comparison. However, it is more likely the effort would have put me in the hospital.)

That sort of work is the end-product of the genetics, courage, teachability and masochism I spoke of earlier. Not to mention five years of solid training. Probably lots and lots of 53-second quarters; the kind of stuff which makes 24 back-to-back 69s seem pretty darn, er, simple.

That's where the "genius factor" comes in. Lots of runners are capable of running 5:47 miles, or 86-second quarters. The genius part is tying three -- or twelve -- and-small-change of them together without fail to run that elusive sub-18-minute 5,000 meters on the road. Marathons, too, are a test of consistency; can you stay patient through the first hour when everyone feels hunky-dory, hooting and having a great time?

To do well in distance running often means learning what the "red line" on race day ought to be. Once you've figured that race day top end, then you collect efforts beyond that red line in small, manageable pieces. Once you have enough of those small manageable pieces, then you learn to put them together like a building block castle. At times it falls apart; you have to pick up your blocks and start over. Other times you find you didn't have enough blocks to finish the job.

But when it all comes together, ain't it a pretty sight?

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Does The Vehicle Always Win?

I can't blame this one on the heat. Definitely not the heat.

About thirty minutes into one of our easy, breezy Sunday morning long jaunts I was starting to feel...rather normal. I already told Charley and George, my two run companions for the morning, that I would engage in a brief walk period a half-hour in. They were still close, between fifty and one-hundred yards immediately behind me, traveling up a two-lane, tree-lined road on the back side of our "international" airport. I had just been passed by a pick-up truck going the opposite direction; not a new occurrence, as several entry-level aviators and their instructors often come up that way early on Sunday.

About five seconds later I hear curses, oaths, vulgarities, epithets and the like being exchanged back and forth. Charley and the motor vehicle operator are jawing at each other. I turned back to watch and heard the word 'gun' bandied about. This cannot bode well. The two continued to exchange "pleasantries" for another minute or so.

The operator, convinced in his own mind of the correctness of his driving -- and probably late to his job, decided to move on. At that particular point I was more concerned for the safety of my loving bride, who was no more than five minutes back. Was the guy going to take his frustration out on her? Those stress hormones aren't all that helpful when it comes to rational thought and judgement. Next thing you know I'll find the missus as an unintentional hood ornament. Bad day. 

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, pedestrians were one of the few groups of road users to experience an increase in fatalities in the United States in 2012, totaling 4,432 deaths. NHTSA also estimates that sixteen times that number (76,000) were injured while walking, jogging, running or hiking during the same year. If you're male, older than 45, running between 8 and 11 pm, in an urban area, during clear/normal weather conditions the chances of being injured or killed in a collision with a motor vehicle operator are higher than the average bear. 

So, does drunken driving play a role in who gets hit, hurt or permanently harmed? Not as much as we would guess. Drivers involved in a pedestrian accident were found to have blood-alcohol concentrations above the legal limit in only 14 percent of the cases, whereas the pedestrian was twice as likely to have had more than one drink in their system when they were struck by a car.

An April 2014 NHTSA document on Pedestrian Traffic Safety provides the usual common-sense important safety reminders:

"Walk on a sidewalk or path whenever one is available. If no sidewalk or path is available, walk facing traffic (on the left side of the road) on the shoulder, as far away from traffic as possible." In our case, we were on a shoulder-less stretch of road.

"Keep alert at all times; don’t be distracted by electronic devices, including radios, smart phones and other devices that take your eyes (and ears) off the road environment." Perfect sense to me. How many times have I harped on runners with headphones? Don't ask, says my wife.

"Never assume a driver sees you (he or she could be distracted, under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs, or just not seeing you). Try to make eye contact with drivers as they approach you to make sure you are seen." Yeah...I usually wave in their direction when I can clearly see their face. 

"Be visible at all times. Wear bright clothing during the day, and wear reflective materials or use a flash light at night." Great idea! I wish more persons who walked or ran would consider this, especially the ones who get their miles in during the early hours of the morning.

"Avoid alcohol and drugs when walking; they impair your abilities and judgment too." Very well; I'll save the beer drinking for when I hash.

In spite of the commonly-quoted dictum: "when a pedestrian goes up against a motor vehicle, the motor vehicle always wins," I hope my motoring friends remember that in this age of cell phones and (increasing) surveillance cameras, the motor vehicle might win but karma can also come back to take a pound of flesh (with added percentage points) from the motorist.

It's not the heat (of the moment), but (occasionally) the stupidity. More pedestrian traffic statistics and information can be found at the NHTSA site, http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/811888.pdf.