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, August 24, 2014

Stretchy Laces

When one has much to put in them, a day has a thousand pockets. - Friedrich Nietzsche, philosopher.

I believe in empty spaces.  They're the most wonderful thing. - Anselm Kiefer, painter.

I've written about the joy of elastic laces in the past; I truly do like them for the obvious reason of comfort.  Tension, once set at the beginning of the run or workout, does not lessen.  Even better, the tension on the foot does not increase when the foot swells.

But what do you do when there's an eyelet-to-lace mismatch; too many eyelets or too little elastic lace for comfortable use?  A "snug" fit without need to adjust the toggle might be acceptable when sliding the foot into the shoe for many.  But take a runner with a highly-arched instep, caused by a foot broken many years before, and let's say there is such a state as "too snug" a fit.

A revelation of sorts came to me when dealing with that pair of Asics Gel Noosa I referred to in passing two months ago.  Perhaps the shoe manufacturers and the lace makers have seen a future shortage of elastic laces.  Maybe they're cutting back on the length of the stretchy strings, because when I looped all the elastic in the classic "bar at the bottom, X at the top" layout there was no room for the fastening toggle, much less any slack.

When I looked more closely at the problem it struck me that I didn't need to use every last eyelet to ensure the shoe upper fabric would securely cradle my foot.  In fact, a "blank" eyelet between every two used for lacing gave just the right mix of security and comfort.  Joy returned again to my running.

The issue with the shoe eyelets appears also as an allegory for run training.  Think of shoe eyelets as days of the week on the calendar.  Runners who can fit a run in every day of the week without risking an overuse injury - soreness and aching muscles is one thing, overuse injuries is another - live in the best of all possible worlds. Runners who regularly deal with overuse injuries would do well to leave a little empty space during the running week.  Empty space in the calendar is a little slack; it gives the runner the option to tighten things up or let things relax.

Our running life isn't always swell...but sometimes it is.  Be ready and willing to find a way to adjust rather than meekly submit to the pain.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

"Happy" Place?

I love music.
I always have.
But I also love good food - especially good beer. Love, or obsession, often leads to overindulgence and undesirable medical outcomes. Thus, I'm forced by necessity to run, not sit in my living room with a musical instrument in one hand and an adult beverage in the other...pondering the mysteries of the universe; searching for the missing (and perfect) chord.
I learned the effect of music on athletic performance while dabbling in sports and playing in school bands. My Little League coach decided the world needed to hear the Eagles' new album in its' glorious entirety during a late season batting session. We both realized that my (shaky) hand-eye coordination, timing and swing mechanics amazingly improved during the second verse of "Life In The Fast Lane."
Sure to make you lose your mind.
Years down the road, running became therapy. After spending months and years listening to, learning and playing there were entire albums of music I could recall down to the note. A "Walkman with legs." So, when I reached a point where a run became daunting I could recall a tune which would allow me to forget whatever part of my body was uncomfortable and go to my happy place.
Some tunes are perfect for those easy days when the goal is, just simply, put time on the feet. This last Sunday I kept Angela company on her 12-miler; spare water bottle, cell phone and what-not. And "Little Wing" running through my head. A strange sense of coincidence (perhaps) came over me yesterday afternoon as I hit the last mile of my treadmill run...
Butterflies and zebras.
I had Sting's version in my head, but there's nothing like Jimi Hendrix in your treadmill loudspeakers. Or any loudspeakers, for that matter.
Music and running are individual tastes. Some folks who love to do really long runs, and dig pastoral or classical pieces. Then there are the short, fast, intense experiences which lend themselves to heavy metal or thrash. Occasionally a runner will show up for a speed workout at the track with a music player...I'm less cranky about it than I used to be, but I often tell them the music player will not be necessary:
First reason - a rare, occasionally strange activity in which I engage, called "coaching."
Second reason - fitness clubs who play music in the background will use a driving beat to keep the patrons pumped up...to a certain degree...during their workout. There are some workout studios where the music is more relaxed; those are the places where one might find the iron-slingers sporting headphones and pushing Drowning Pool into their brains.
Let the bodies hit the floor. As long as it's not mine.
My regular spinning instructor loves to play Motown during her classes; nothing says "torment" like a 17-minute standing climb while listening to Isaac Hayes. A friend of mine who substitute taught for her this week hit us with the "guitar god" playlist - Carlos Santana, Derek Trucks, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Eric Clapton.
Good stuff, Maynard.
One of my co-workers complained that he was less likely to follow the cadence calls of the instructor than to the song tempo. Got it. Research shows we tend to lock into certain tempos and beats and stay there. That's the reason Pharrell Williams, Daft Punk and Nile Rodgers are so, um, infectious right now. They make us, er, "happy." We do what it takes to stay in that happy place.
Racing, however, is all about not staying in ones' happy place, but of going a little beyond it. So if I come beside you at a race and I can hear the faint strains of "Blurry" I'll safely assume you have a very intense happy place.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

What Gets Measured?

"What gets measured gets done."

During the first years of my brief career as a performance improvement technologist that particular phrase was drilled deeply into my head. If an individual, shop, business or organization wanted to know it was successful at doing their prime mission it was important to find a way to tie nice, firm numbers to what they did. In the case of a school it could be how long it took to take a learner from the beginning of their learning experience to the point when they were ready or able to go out into the world; the number of tasks a learner could accomplish at the end of their schooling compared to the beginning, the increase in accuracy, perhaps even the cost of the schooling. Decreased time or cost; increased skill or accuracy, naturally, are considered good results.

Measures which have deep meaning to the individual, the business or the organization - especially when an improved measure benefits their cause - lend themselves to devices or plans to gauge accurately what is going on. I worked on a project with an organization that measured performance of a particular task by the number of times the task was performed during a particular period of time. More, as you can suspect, does not always lead to better. You can either end up with too much of a good thing or too much of a less-than-good thing, neither of which are a good thing.

I encounter a good example of a wrong unit of measurement quite often. If I had a dollar for every time I heard a race participant complain that a course was “thirty seconds too long” I could buy a few nice things. Lesson number one: With perhaps the possible exception of light-years, units of time are not the most-valid measure of linear distance. A tool which was never meant for the purpose the operator has decided to employ it will frustrate the performance improvement consultant.

I now work in the instructional systems design world; we use a model which asks us to first plan for training, analyze what needs to be trained, design and develop the instruction. Lastly, we implement and evaluate the training’s end result. The planning document we use tells - like most newspaper articles - the who, what, where, when, why and how…as well as the “how much” and “how many” questions. The head of my organization, however, wants to use the planning document for a time frame which goes way beyond the lifespan of the planning period. Why do well-intentioned measures of valued qualities persist in being measured with the wrong tool? The psychologist Abraham Maslow said it best, “if the only tool you have is a hammer every problem is a nail.”

Runners, cyclists, swimmers and multisport athletes, not to mention fitness enthusiasts and folks like me who work to drop a few pounds have at our disposal a myriad of on-line and off-line tools to track nearly every unit of measure which means something to us. I play with several of them on a regular basis so I can answer the important “which one is best for my need” question. Like every other piece of technology I am frequently torn between frustration and fidelity when “1.0 transforms into 2.0,” and so on. It’s bad enough to have to re-think how to measure what’s important when hardware dies on you and you move up the technological food chain. But when the maker of your device does a complete scrub of your on-line measurement software, your computer’s software, and the partnerships to which you’ve become accustomed…well, let’s just say I’m about to stop trying to use my hammer as a monkey wrench.

Keep your measures of performance simple and you're less likely to be frustrated.