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, October 13, 2014

You're Not Cutting Back Everything

Boy, do I love mornings when I "feel" healthy.  By that definition - healthy - I mean "can run up to a half-marathon distance" and function the rest of the day.  Oh, and define functional as "can walk the d-a-w-g around the park without complaint."

It's easier to teach from ground level than from a bike saddle on the run.  Since Labor Day weekend Angela's Sunday runs are - in part or in full - solo, depending on whether the Sunday morning group sleeps in or goes to a race.  Two hours, tops, is what my tendons will tolerate...that means I bicycle along during two-and-a-half hour runs with extra water bottle and cell phone, just in case "stuff" hits the fan.

"You picked a great week to come back, Coach."

So began my rhetorical question time, at mile one, no less.  "Tell me what you already know about tapering."

"That's where you cut back on mileage during the last week or two before the race, up to one-half."

Very well.  She's read the articles that every other runner training for a marathon has.  Curve ball time; see if Angela puts this one into the bleachers...

"What's the ideal run intensity during the taper?"

Have you watched the first "Major League" movie, specifically the scene where the Cuban defector crushes a series of fastballs?  Then the assistant coach tells the batting practice pitcher to throw a few curve balls...therein lies the essence  of comedy.  Whiff.  Whiff.  Whiff.  "Easy-peasy."


My old college coach used to say, "you can run hard, you can run long, but you cannot run both at the same time."  In the final weeks before a target event it's either the intensity or the duration being run that needs to be cut back.  But not both.  The rule of thumb for rest, recovery and the ideal amount of time before to ramp up to full intensity after a race can be used in the opposite direction when approaching the home stretch of training before a race.

So, a target race of marathon distance can merit a taper period of three weeks, give or take.  A runner taking a three-week taper - sixty-mile weeks or more leading in - could trim a quarter of their duration or distance three weeks out, decrease by one-third the second week, and drop down to fifty percent on the last week.

What's important during this time is to maintain the overall intensity.  A runner doing sixty miles a week at a perceived intensity of five on a one-to-ten scale would ideally want to, during a three-week taper, run up to 45 miles the first week at a six.  The second week would be a 40-mile distance at a seven or eight...the first couple of days on the third week would be at a nine.

How many easy days would I recommend during the last week before the target race?  If my training were targeted toward a four-hour finish I would probably cut intensity and duration/distance during the last four days before the race.

"Taper madness" is only maddening for the athlete who fails to prepare.  Everything gets cut back but the dietary thing you know the athlete is five pounds heavier and sluggish, rather than rested, ready and sharp.  Needful things can be prepared during the two to three weeks before a marathon (or week before a half-marathon), such as pacing strategies, quality time with the family members who helped you get to the start.  Definitely not time to go out and hammer the roads into submission.  Take it easy, but don't take it too easy.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Professional?

"pro-fes-sion-al:  1  a : of, relating to, or characteristic of a profession.  b : engaged in one of the learned professions. c (1) : characterized by or conforming to the technical or ethical standards of a profession. (2) : exhibiting a courteous, conscientious, and generally businesslike manner in the workplace. 2 a : participating for gain or livelihood in an activity or field of endeavor often engaged in by amateurs. b : having a particular profession as a permanent career. c : engaged in by persons receiving financial return. 3 : following a line of conduct as though it were a profession" - Merriam-Webster Dictionary On-Line

"I'm looking into possibly hiring a running coach. Does anyone know of a good professional in the area?"

Occasionally I see a post like this in social media; a "help wanted" advertisement of sorts. The very question or statement is at best incomplete, yes, in my humble opinion. It is, in many ways, the reason I act less emotional when the occasional phone call or e-mail comes about...

I wonder if the athlete who states they're looking for a professional coach wants a person who spends their waking hours working with athletes? "Economics 101, Rule Number One," states the world has unlimited needs and limited resources. Like chicken lips, prodigies along the lines of Mary Cain or Galen Rupp come around perhaps once or twice each generation. Odds are good that if a door is going to be beaten down in the courting dance of athlete and coach it will be the athlete doing the knocking.

Any coach who remembers the pub scene from the classic film Chariots of Fire can empathize with Sam Mussabini.  Mussabini, in the film at least, reserved the right to select who he wanted to train.

Athletes all want a coach who is good, but how many coaches have earned or subscribe to a technical or ethical standard? I've met good coaches who were world and Olympic caliber, but the "I Love Me" wall shouldn't be the only standard of quality. Patrick McCrann of Marathon Nation/Endurance Nation, and Jay Johnson in Boulder are smart guys in which I'd gladly place my trust and confidence; both possess knowledge and commuincation skills which far exceed their performance C.V. A coach who has undergone some sort of training which covers the psychology of coaching, injury prevention, principles of training, running physiology, and have been tested by a national-level governing body like the Road Runners Club of America or USA Track and Field could also meet the need. Both organizations have academically-challenging and rigorous certification programs, backed by the latest scientific information, and updated on a regular basis when science proves conventional wisdom wrong. RRCA also requires their certified coaches to renew their paperwork yearly; USATF has multiple levels which, like academic degrees, allow coaches to focus more closely on their area of passion.

If the coach is not in business for themself...or affiliated with an academic institution, civic organization or running club...are they aligned with what I would call for lack of a better term, a "training 'and'" entity? What is "training 'and'?" Like fitness trainers who work at a gym or fitness center, is run coaching something which attracts the masses through the front door, ideally to purchase something else within the emporium?

Enough beating on the coach and their incentive...what does the athlete bring to the coaching relationship? Does the athlete's passion for running match that of the professional they demand as a partner? Preconceived notions and personal philosophies of training have to be put aside, directly aligned...or at least be the "eighty-percent solution." Athletes want running to be fun, but there's a time and a place; every training session has to be approached as a day at the office, every race situation is a performance appraisal. Coaches can vary in their level of empathy, compassion and just plain "niceness" (my wife reminds me I CAN be a complete jerk when it comes to communicating...). Sometimes coaches are needful for little more than to say, to paraphrase one writer (Jack Daniels?) "you look good today." And I've worked with one or two runners on little more than preparing their head for the race; they did all the physical work on their own. But there are times when the coach has to say things the athlete doesn't want to hear, assign workouts they flat out hate, or recommend (shorter, usually) race distances they'd prefer not do? If there's money changing hands, remember: The coach isn't a friend, they're part of a business proposition.

Oops, there goes one preconceived notion.

Runners pay for coaching with the intent - at least what most say - to improve. How many times does a runner approach a training program or a coach grossly under-prepared physically or mentally for the demands? More times than I care to admit. A training program, especially one developed with a coach, is a collaborative process; give and take, trust and confidence.

Patience. Pace. Pace. And patience.

Before anyone reach out to bludgeon me because of my (percenved) cynical views, it's not that I don't want the "job," or don't want to help people become, as coach (and 1964 Olympic 5,000-meter champion) Bob Schul used to say, "a better engine." I know my potential clientele will most likely not clamber through the hatchway to the scholastic-to-professional running pipeline any time soon.

A runner should insist on a modicum of background knowledge and research, flexibility and intuition from their coach...if nothing else a professional approach to making average runners better...but they also need to take a long look in the mirror. Can they say they intend to approach run training in the same manner as if their livelihood depended on its success? If so, the purely "professional" coach will be the perfect fit for them.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Tacking On

So, most of the folks who read this stuff know I'm still barely 5,000-meter road racing fit; my high-end training distance is in the 6-to-8-mile range, four-to-five times a week...with a dash of repeats at threshold (for now) thrown in for good measure.  I didn't suspect it would be an issue at the beginning of the summer when I started laying out a plan for Angela, but who knew iliotibial band issues and strained hamstrings were going to happen?

Not this old guy, let me tell you.

Top the typical marathon training "embrace of the suck" with several months of physical and mental obstacles on her part, and you had a gal who was definitely long overdue for a really good day. This particular run was going to be the acid test - run well; I'd stay the course of training for the full.  A bad day would mean recommending she drop to the to fight another day.

I pulled my bicycle out of the car with expectation of a perfect training morning. We had scheduled two and a half hours to run up to 16 miles, taking a familiar and well-shaded out-and-back path.

Angela's first three miles had me a little concerned for what the next two hours were going to be like. The worst possible thing a coach can endure is watching an athlete who's proverbial "wheels" have fallen off. In that particular case, it's all about the coach. I've been the "wheel-less one" on a couple of occasions, usually solo; all you want to do after a solo run of several hours which goes south more closely resembles a well-oiled temper tantrum.

Or suicidal ideation.

Throughout the run I kept a close eye. After the turn-around point I asked the question, "How you feelin'?" I was enthused to hear Angela say she was having the first really good day since we started the marathon training. She then told me she wanted to modify her training plan for the next four weekends leading to the marathon, specifically to do 18, 20 and 22-milers over the next three weeks. I had a ten, another 2:30, an eight and another ten penciled in.

Sure, she needed to increase the training volume

Rather than immediately agree, I felt it was time to ask whether she had enough mileage in during the week. Three miles here, four miles there, another five miles there...and the long run? Yes, there's a need for more mileage, but it surely does not need to be part of a single run on the weekend. Wise men and coachly rules of thumb advise runners to make the long run no more than 25 percent of their weekly training volume. So why is it that the training plans used by most recreational marathoners will have a long run which approaches one half of the week's training distance?

To paraphrase the tail end of a radio message sent by a hapless radioman serving in the World War II-era fleet of Admiral William "Bull" Halsey..."the world wonders."

Well, this coach does, to say the least.

I get it; the first reaction of most runners is to add mileage to the long run on the weekend - whether that be on Saturday or Sunday - because that's where the "spare" time is. However, the concept flies in the face of physiological truths, namely the 2.5 hour tipping point. Physiologists and researchers, the guys with initials after their names, with names like Daniels, Costill, and Noakes, just to name a few. They found that the runner is more likely to do ill than good to themselves with a run lasting longer than 150 minutes.

Look at the overwhelming majority of training plans, with very few exceptions, and it's a guarantee the long training run is based on DISTANCE rather than time. So why twenty miles? And more?

My first reaction was to think that the coaches writing the plans followed the guidance of Hippocrates of Cos...that's the first doctor, the guy who said "first, do no harm." Considering that the most notable of training plans was written in the early 1980s, when at least half of male marathon participants ran 8:00/mile pace or faster, it's possible the 150-minute window of effect was still considered. But that would mean that as the marathon distance became more democratic, as evidenced by Running USA's yearly State of the Sport data, the median finishing times slowed by almost two minutes per mile over the course of last quarter century...which could represent the de-evolution of marathoning, or at least a failure of training plan writers to be aware of the zeitgeist.

The second possible reason is that the writer needed to find a nice round number which to recommend as the upper limit. To account for individual differences would make things a little bit, er, entertaining. You think I'm kidding? When one looks at training plans written for runners who live in the world of meters, liters and grams the longest run is 30 kilometers.

That's 18.65 miles for us English-measuring folk.

The runner who feels a need to tack-on mileage usually does it more for the benefit of the mind than of the body. While it's a given the marathoner in training is eventually going to have to do the entire distance, it's not necessary to risk injury or excessive fatigue by lots of training runs which go longer than 2.5 hours. Add-ons of up-to-five miles can be safely done the afternoon before a long run, or the afternoon after. What the runner loses in raw endurance they'll make up for in a different form, specifically the ability to run on legs that have accumulated fatigue.

Personally, I'd rather see an athlete accumulate fatigue over the course of several weekdays, topped off by a decent-length run at the weekend. Big runs on the weekend, with little training mileage during the week, place too much physical and emotional stress on the runner. One bad weekend run can do more damage to the runner's mental state than a series of hard runs during the weekday ever could.