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.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Daylight Savings?

Daylight Saving Time.  Wow, what a misnomer.  Well, it pretty much signals the beginning of the "extra" season; extra snacks, extra beers, extra parties.  I've written about the stretch between Hallowe'en and New Years' Day in the past in terms of social life and in terms of weight control.

So I'm not going to go there.

In most parts of the country the first race/s of the year probably won't happen until the middle of spring.  In the southern-most portions, though, we have a flipped-coin season.  Nobody in their right mind produces a running event between June and September.  At least, not one that's going to make a major profit.  We can train almost every weekend of the year down here, with very little in the way of alibi or excuse for not getting in that run.  Our attire doesn't change all that much, either, with the exception for perhaps a couple of weeks where gloves, caps and tights are a good idea.

Those who live in the cooler climes would laugh at our choice, but that's what occurs when your blood thins out.

But darned if folks don't decide to put their running shoes up for nine weeks, or at least replace them with the party shoes.  I can see the logic and reason of taking a few days to a week off every six months or so, just to give your mind and body a little rest.  Rest as in "other activities which are fun," or "long walks at the places where the shoppers aren't..."  Just as starters.  Taking a week isn't going to kill whatever fitness you built up over the summer; hiatuses which go longer than a week are the ones which will bite you in the fanny.

It always drives me up the wall to talk to friends who treat fitness as a zero-sum activity.  If they can't do it full-bore then to heck with it, they aren't going to do it at all.  Really, the only reason to take more than a week away from a consistent workout schedule is - naturally - an injury.  Some of the things I've considered and done to try and be an athlete and a socially-inept citizen with varying success are below:

Keep the Training Impact - If you track the time spent working out and the intensity level of the work you have the elements to measure your training impact.  For those who haven't read any of Eric Bannister's 2004 research, time in minutes multiplied by heart rate or perceived effort provides a score which can estimate how long it will take to recover from a workout or how much work you're doing each day.  So, if you average an impact of 120 points a day (say, 60 minutes at a 70-percent or a seven-of-ten effort level), you could cut off twenty minutes and work at 80 percent/"eight."  Or...

Split the Time - Daylight Savings only means that daylight is going to be GONE in the afternoon. The post-work run is going to be just as much keeping live batteries in your headlamp and dodging drivers as it is putting one foot in front of the other.  Might as well consider breaking up the workouts into two pieces; they don't have to be equal parts but it can give you two chances to get something in.

Something, Something - Dark, gloomy running during this time quickly becomes a near-solitary effort; why is it I'm the only one devoted to this thing!?  This is where the higher-intensity speed-focused workouts suddenly become more fun.  Keep those long aerobic pieces for the weekend when you have the time to adjust the start and get out for longer.  But there's nothing wrong with working on that speed and keeping that speed up over the dreary days.  The great Zatopek even said that there was a need for great runners to be fast and have endurance.  He did lots of short, intense pieces; a 200 here and a 200 there, next thing you know you've got a mile in.  Or two.  Or three.  Turn the classic "endurance first, speed second" train of thought upside down.

You might find with these three concepts, especially the third, that you're not alone during that last week or two before New Years' Day.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Running In The Information Age

The most difficult part of being an athlete in the information age is not the lack but the abundance of information.  Back in the "good old days" the tried and true strategies were passed along from the more experienced generation to the newer crop of athletes.  Didn't matter so much that many of the "truths" passed along were eventually debunked by athletes who either didn't benefit from the "truth," or by scientists who finally asked the question, "does this stuff really work?"

Now, the problem is that there is too much information, and most of it is either wrong or lacking in detail.  Take for example the use of compression wear; I can see a BOLD TYPE HEADLINE on the cover of a running magazine, see an article in a major newspaper's health and wellness section, and receive an e-mail from a sportswear manufacturer about a pair of tights which will (as I've written before) guarantee faster marathon performances, decreased muscle damage and world peace. 

Once I've paid my $7.50 at the local bookseller for the running mag, I find little more than a three-sentence blurb referring to a research article.  Which happens to be the same article referred to by the major paper.  And, worst of all, neither the article or the blurb...or the advertising for that matter, say anything close to what the research really said.

I'm not saying that fitness writers are foolish people, but sometimes I wonder if research articles, and the fine art of gleaning pertinent information from them, are covered deeply enough in journalism schools.  It doesn't take too much, though, to look at the original article copy (which in most cases are hyperlinked to on-line newspaper articles) and see what the researchers REALLY had to say. 

The scientific method, for those of us who might have forgotten it from high school, can be summed up this way: 

Smart people try stuff out.
I wonder if I can duplicate it?
What happens if I change a variable? 
I better write this down so someone else can try it later.

When it comes to the "write this down" part of science, research articles are set up in a fairly standard form:  Title, Abstract, Introduction, Method, Results, and Discussion.  The title is pretty much that 25-words-or-less "what happens" statement.  That's what makes research so easy to find.

The abstract is for those persons who don't have a lot of time to spend reading lots of words or looking at pretty graphs and charts.  Each of the sections are boiled down to one or two sentences each; perfect for search engines and the like.  The introduction gives the researchers time to talk about what inspired them to do the research; any studies they felt like replicating, or what variable caught their attention.  In the case of compression wear, for example, was there a difference between sprinters and distance runners?  This is where the hypothesis is written, the "I think this will happen when I change this variable..." statement.

The method section goes into the details of how the experiment was performed, just in case another researcher months or years down the road wants to test out the theory to see if the same thing happens.  This is where you find out if elite athletes were tested, or if treadmills were used, or the kind of treadmill, shoe, sports drink, etc.  One of the thing to look out for when reading the hypothesis or method of the test is the difference in control and treatment.  If a researcher is testing whether a sports drink is effective, are they comparing to fluid...a different sports drink...or a different dosage.  Sometimes the researcher intentionally or unintentionally skews the difference between control and treatment to favor their hypothesis.  In my humble opinion this is the second piece of the article...but of the most importance.

In most cases the results section of a research paper - unless you've studied statistics - is of the least importance.  If you've studied statistics then you will probably be able to assume for yourself whether or not a researcher uses the terms "of statistical significance," which you'll find mentioned (or not) in the discussion section.  This is the place where the researchers are going to tell the reader, "we tried this and found that."  Even more important, this section is going to tell you the, "if we had it to do all over again, we'd try this," or the "if we can get some more money for research, and perhaps a few well-intentioned undergraduate student assistants, we'd like to look at..." statements.

So if an article's abstract catches your attention, then go to the article's discussion, where the really smart folks can tell you why they think they got the question figured out right.  After that, if you want to know what got them to that point, you can go to the references section at the back of the paper.  Lots of footnotes usually means more refinement on an old question...or another group of folks saying, "it works, and here's why."

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Achilles. Heal.

One of my favorite running couples, Betsy and Aaron, came my way this last weekend, which gave us both a very good excuse to run together.  The run was a rare treat; in the past we've not been at equivalent fitness levels - either I was on the mend or they were.  Okay, Aaron probably would have whipped both of us if not for jalapeno peppers the night before, but that's another topic altogether.

Betsy spent a lot of the run in a state of concern.  In her haste to be packed up and out of town she apparently overlooked the physio tape she uses to support her Achilles' tendon.  I reminded her as I finished off my pre-run coffee that I was not that long out of the woods from my own chronic tendon troubles.  The effort level for the run was going to stay comfortable for all of us; sending the least-wounded and gimpy of the trio back to my house to get the car and pick up the others was nothing any of us wanted to do.

If you've never had issues with your Achilles' tendon consider yourself fortunate.  If I'm not mistaken (I'm not, I took the time to look in the book.), physical therapist and author Jeff Dicharry wrote in his book "Anatomy for Runners" that 80 percent of runners are injured.  It's not only the injury part that is less than fun; add the inability to do anything fun while you're recovering.  That pain in the heel may - or may not - go away after a healthy dose of what my military friends call "Vitamin M," which is another term for one of the more common non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents which can be taken by mouth.

I don't consider taking NSAIDs as my latest (as my loving bride jokingly calls them) "hobby horse," otherwise known as the pet peeve of the month.  I'll say I take far less than I used to, and more for those days when my head - and not the head of my metatarsals - aches.  I learned over time that the prostaglandins and those other hormones and chemicals which would make my heel swell after a run that was too hard in intensity, to long in duration, or too soon for sufficient recovery was trying to, um, encourage me to either rest or take up an activity which was a little less damaging while I figured out what was going wrong.

There are multiple treatment options for this and other overuse problems, most of which I took the time to point out to Betsy.  On those days when my calves feel very tight, usually on days when I've done speed training, I'll make certain to use a self-massage tool like the TP Baller Block or "The Stick."  While it's a pale imitation to the hands of a good massage therapist, you can't go wrong budgeting for a hands-on session once a month...or more often if you're running high mileage.  Make sure, however, that you massage the entire muscle, proximal-to-distal, medially, centrally and laterally.  In plain English, that's from the crook of the knee to the heel.  After you do that, don't forget to roll the arch of your foot.

The zero-drop shoes are pretty much out of the question, from personal experience.  And just to make certain I'm not tugging on the tendon too much I add a small wedge of silicone rubber in the heel of my running shoes.  If I'm on the road doing one of those things I get paid for, which includes a great deal of standing up, I'll even place the wedges in my work shoes.  I've also been fortunate to find black leather walking shoes which don't look like sports shoes.

And say what you want about the treadmill being a piece of machinery sent from the infernal regions, but I'm all in favor of using them for training.  Sure, they're boring as hell and you don't get any of that nice, cooling breeze, but I've done 75 percent of my training mileage since my injuries on them.  I'm only a little slower than I'd like to be, and I'm getting in anywhere from 35-to-45 miles per week (easy running, hills, tempo running and speed repeats) without walking like a guy ten-or-fifteen years older than I am.  Plus I can control how fast I run and how soon I finish; should that tendon decide to act out four miles into a planned five-mile run on the road you've got a sweaty and often painful walk to your car or the house...or wherever the run started.  Should the slightest thing begin to feel wrong on the treadmill, one punch of the "STOP" button calls it a day.

Speaking of calling it a day, it doesn't hurt to have those rest days - or at least "days when I'm NOT running" - plugged into the schedule.  Want to walk the dog or spend the day on the couch, that's fine.  Doing something that isn't aggravating what you aggravate when you run I would count as "rest," too.

I can lay no promises or hard-and-fast timetable on recovery.  Depending on the level of injury and the willingness to LEAVE WELL ENOUGH ALONE, the only thing I can say is "it takes time."  Impatience, stubbornness and hubris will most certainly make an injured runner more desperate, more angry, and more willing to accept "silver bullet" recommendations.  No injury is caused by a single factor, and no single fix is going to take care of it.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Less Is More

Music was a constant in my house while growing up.  My father worked at a radio station and had a large record collection; both my maternal and paternal grandparents performed either on stage or in studio.  Even during his retirement years, my grandfather would pull out his old Gibson, sit on the couch and play the occasional bluegrass tune.  I developed an ear for melody, harmony and an appreciation of structure.  To this day I find live concerts (with extended jam sessions) irritating because I start to compare what was done in the comfort of the studio; a couple of artists get a “free pass,” sure, but I want to hear the arrangement duplicated as close to the original as possible.
I have discs from some big name groups which, once you hear the tracks which didn’t necessarily see the light of day, you begin to wonder the classic question “what in heaven’s name were they thinking when they did that!?”  Why, in the middle of a tune with a crunchy guitar riff and bass groove would you inflict a weenie keyboard solo?  The instrumental would have been better to fade out before that last fifteen second reprise of the tag.  Okay, I’m not a producer and I’ve never played one on television but sometimes you know like you know when someone’s added one too many things to the painting.
Like a hair barrette on the Mona Lisa.
I get the same feeling when someone training for a marathon tells me they have a 20-miler on the agenda.  Training runs of that distance, especially when run by first-time and relatively-inexperienced marathon aspirants, are a closer to four-hour journey than to three.  Add to the mix the low-level orthopedic trauma and the need for recovery – an easy concept to explain to spouses and significant others, difficult to explain to children. 
Hard to hear as Billy Ray Cyrus.  Or Miley, for that matter.
Two and a half hours of running at a pace closer to the desired pace on the marathon day is much better.  It is true that you’ll still be hit like a wrecking ball, and perhaps a little dragged out the following day, but you can repeat the process the following week.  Even better than a repeat is a slightly shorter long run, around two hours in duration which is a little faster, then do another 150-minute jaunt the week after that.  Not only do shorter “long” training runs done on a repeat basis make sense from the physiology standpoint, but more importantly from the mental.
Say you decide to do that twenty-miler and completely "crater" it.  If that training run is half (and in the case of some training plans, more than) your weekly volume and you can’t get it in, or you crash and burn it’s not impossible to imagine the mental state at which you’ll be.  "Soup sandwich" is a commonly-used term in my world.  Of course, it’s no guarantee that your mind will be in any less of a state of freak-out if you were to attempt and fail during two or three two-and-a-halfs.  (I had to bail on two sixteen-milers during my last attempt at the marathon, but it had more to do with unresolved achilles tendon issues – overtraining – than it did a lack of training.)
Shorter quality is better.  Less is more.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

One Star? Really?

"A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing." - Oscar Wilde, English author, playwright, poet (1854-1900)

An article came out last year about "one-star" reviews of national parks; natural wonders in my nation which were panned by travelers and the reasons they were not felt to be worth the entry fee.  Someone in my social media-verse posted it up last week.  After reading the article it's easy to see how, and even why people could easily, for want of a better term, "miss the forest for the trees."

Within these spaces I've made snarky comments about events which I've considered not worth the entry fee because the course was poorly laid out, or the awards were terrible, or the shirts were cheap, or there was no beer.  As a consumer with limited income and endless wants (the first law of economics) it makes perfect sense for me to seek out the events which provide me the greatest utility (happiness), based on the factors I find most important.

When it comes to sporting/endurance events, the best-produced events are the ones where the participant sees little or none of the inner workings.  Stuff magically appears and everybody goes home happy.  Folks who have worked to produce or support the production of a sporting event will tell you that things rarely go as smooth as possible; if you only have a "plan B" in your contingency planning you're likely going to have a bad day,  And when it comes to higher-level events the layers of production and collaboration are at a level which would boggle the mind of the average athlete.

It's like putting up a Disney theme park, training the workers, running the show, and tearing it down in a matter of days.

But let me go back to social media and missed perspective.  I've found the attempt to place additional perspective as an event volunteer, a race organization worker, or a low-level official of a national or international sport federation (Credentials which with $2.25 will get me a cup of coffee at Denny's in my hometown, should I decide to cross the picket line.) is like, as the saying goes, trying to teach a barnyard animal to sing.  Providing clarity in a social media bulletin board wastes my time and energy, annoys the person who's mind is already made up on who to blame, and exposes me to the question, "dude, are you speaking for yourself or for the organization?"  I've learned the hard way that most of the folks who are at the highest levels in the national or international federations - and can speak for the group - have learned to stay out of what might be seen as "kindergarten level" arguments.  Are they concerned about the opinions of the folks who participate in their races?  Sure they are.  But they're also at the level where they have more of the story.

What do I mean?  Well, take for example what's happened today in Thailand.  Today's edition of the New York Times was not printed there. The printer who receives the copy for printing was concerned about violating Thai laws having to do with offending the monarchy.  It's not the individual printer who's going to take the flack for the unavailability of the Times; that's most likely going to be aimed at the Times.  When it comes to big races and big events, while the national and international governing bodies - or promotion companies are the "face" of the event, there's a local organizing committee which actually pulls the levers, much like "Oz, the great and terrible...and by the way, stay away from the curtain."

They're pretty much at the mercy, sometimes, of local bureaucracies.  A city with two professional sporting events happening on a day are pretty much going to tell a local organizer and the federation to compress their schedule, limit venue locations, and so forth.  Unless they're receiving "Olympian" amounts of money, and then they might flex a little.  Add to this a little term called "force majeure," the classic "stuff that happens" that no deity would claim themselves as directly responsible for, and those "Times" parties receive blame for what goes wrong rather than having contingency plans down to "E" and at times "F."

So it's not that I want to recommend everyone who participates in large and high-level events to cower before the projected image of "the great and terrible," but take a moment before exercising what you might perceive as your entitlement as consumer, depositing the burning bag of "yuck" at the front porch of the people whose face is out front.  They might be doing their best to operate within the constraints which have been placed upon them by a higher authority.  It's like blaming the bus driver for the route which got changed because of street repairs.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Numbers and Measured Things

Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted. Albert Einstein, (attributed) US (German-born) physicist (1879 - 1955)

The fine folks who make exercise feedback devices - heart rate monitors, running watches, distance and activity trackers - do a great job at collecting and displaying raw data. The devices are smaller, more independent and able to learn what is quote-unquote normal for the individual wearer. 

Honestly, would anyone now put up with the first consumer GPS receivers? The first versions I saw my old training group teammates wear years ago look absolutely gargantuan when set next to the latest fitness trackers. And those big things couldn't track your heart rate. 

I think I raved about a year ago about the ANT+ wireless communication protocol and how I could communicate from my heart rate chest strap AND the stationary bicycle I was working on at my spin class. Naturally, that rave turned into a rant once I had battery issues and the inevitable (sweat-related) problems. Buy a less-expensive (read: cheap) Chinese-made strap, just to learn the age-old adage: 

You get what you pay for. 

Fast forward to the past month. Tracking exercise efforts based on average pace works okay if you're not in the need for really-granular information. And in the case of this old coach/guru, the less-granularity, the better. Until you decide, after a few months of running...without walking like an zombie the next day...that it might be time to dabble at racing. So there was a need - again - to know just how hard I was going, and more importantly, when to stop. 

Lately the fitness devices have; added stuff which you couldn't track without going to a laboratory and paying a couple of hundred bucks. I didn't need that information because I had a test about eight years ago; that sort of baseline data doesn't change much over time. At least not in a drastic manner. Even better was the fact I found a device which didn't need a chest strap. Great! That means in the event I want to scare off little old ladies and small children (by running shirtless like I used to, so long ago) I could get my "half-unclothed serious distance runner in training" on I could do it without looking like an absolute geek. 

Even with technology improving by leaps and bounds - providing everything to the point of estimating when you could repeat the workout which just finished kicking you in the butt - it's still a number. 

Repeat after me: Distance, pace, heart rate, vVO2, EPOC, training Intensity, and so on, are data. Numbers. 

The most important thing is to know what those numbers mean to your body. How does my body feel at a particular pace? How do my legs feel after a particular distance? How long does it take for me to recover from a workout at a particular effort level? If my heart rate monitor reads 'x' and my legs feel 'y' and my lungs feel 'z,' then which of the following do I trust and act upon? The heart is a demand pump. The oxygenated blood is sent to the places the body informs the brain it is most needed. That means there's a lag time between an effort is performed by the muscles and when the blood arrives to replenish the muscles...kind of the reverse of the way our automobile's carburetor works. Depending on hydration (or dehydration), weather conditions, fitness, etc., a particular pace effort can vary in heart rate. 

Feel "good" but the heart rate is higher than you'd like: If the workout is not planned as a hard effort, then I recommend backing off. A six-minute-per-mile pace is not always going to equate to a 145 beat-per-minute rate, just to give an example. 

Feel "bad" but the heart rate is lower than typical: So, last week I had a ten mile long run on the plan; based on where I turned around I ended up getting eleven, with the last four miles taking a great deal out of me. The next morning's run was supposed to be an easy 3.5-to-4 miles, depending on how I felt. I got two very dead-legged, chest-heavy, heart rate-light miles in and decided to call it a morning. That evening's run was a slog, as well as most all of the easy efforts during the week. Thought I had it figured out completely by yesterday morning's eight miles, but my body told me I was still fatigued by way of a high heart rate during a long easy walk. A trend of fatigue is pretty much a warning sign of overreaching. Push through that too quickly and the next stop is most likely overtraining. 

When gauging how hard your workouts need to be, or when it might be necessary to take an extra day of rest, heart rate is only one number to measure over time. How's your sleep, your work stress, your hunger and thirst, and your diet? Another data point to consider is how you feel going into the workout and how you feel mentally coming out of it. Not everything can be measured to that little device.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Define "Better"

A couple of weeks ago I read through the local running club's (e-mail) newsletter and learned a coach from the local college has agreed to provide free individually-focused weekly speed workouts at one of the local high school track facilities.

My first reaction was to say, "Honey, did you see this?"

After about ten years, off-and-on, of working with individuals and small groups - sometimes growth from individuals into small groups, other occasions small groups trickling off to individuals - I couldn't help but smile and say, "Finally!  The local run club is approaching what I think is their core mission." 

Since I've played in most if not all corners of the proverbial sandbox it's a given I have some strong opinions about the players which make up the running community; the roles and responsibilities, and the situations where they probably need to withdraw their nose so as to not get it bent out of shape.  And I catch enough hatred and discontent, enough "get over yourself, 'coach.'" 

With the term 'coach' used in a derisive manner. 

Usually by people who haven't read the 'blog title.  It's okay.  After all this time I see myself less as "coach" and more as "guru."  Besides, people like the transcendental nature of a teacher/guide more so than they like the hard-and-fast "do this" nature of a coach.

A guy who has a job working with athletes, who earns a paycheck based on academic or professional credentials, is (in my humble opinion) a welcome addition to a running community.  When talking about the "pie" (defined as potential users, money, recognition, whatever floats your proverbial boat...), more "pie" is good; more "pie consumers" not so much, at least not without more "pie."  And the arrival couldn't have come at a better time.  I've considered on several occasions what it would be like to not be a "pie consumer" (even of "my" infinitesimal portion), and almost completely stepped away a second time. 

When a national governing body for sport decides certifications (especially the process to maintain professional currency) can be an income stream but doesn't place equivalent worth...  I've said on many occasions.  "This certification, and $2.25, will get me a cup of coffee at a Denny's in Deming, New Mexico.  If I decide to cross the line of protesters."  Just because my Ni..., oops, USA Track and Field coaching certificate expires on 31 January 2016 doesn't mean I'll be less-effective on 1 February, should someone want me to help them be a better runner.

Define "a better runner."  Sometimes I cannot help but understand why folks who want to get off the couch and enjoy the fresh air and scenery at a pace slower than a drive but faster than sitting still.  Especially without all the political bologna; most of us have forty hours a week of political bologna, and that's without counting the television, radio or social media.  And those athletes who operate at the highest levels of performance aren't immune from it, either.  What a frustration it can be for a young man or woman who is forced to renege on a legally-binding agreement with the person who writes their checks, just because another person has a bigger ego, a bigger checkbook, and the inability to collaborate, compromise, develop a mutually-agreeable course of action, or at least a convenient flap on the jacket, a'la Reebok and the 1992 Olympic basketball team. 

"A fish rots from the head down." 

Which doesn't surprise me when those of us closer to "the tail" decide to run in "virtual events."  No timing, no schedule, no hassle.  Just sign up, run the distance, and pay for the finisher medal.  Sounds pretty simple.  Someone who wants to do those kind of events, or get up every morning and run for the sheer joy of the act, who might want to merely improve upon the "them" they were last week, last month, or even last year...perhaps that is the purest definition of "better runner?"

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

I Cried Because I Had No Shoes...

"I cried because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet." -- Author Unknown

The ache this morning tried very hard to stop me.

It was also a scheduled "rest day," but when you spend eight hours at a time in airline seats and concourse bars rather than on the trail something has got to give; I didn't want it to be my belt.  So the plan, at least what I told Suzanne over dinner yesterday evening, was to get in at least thirty minutes of easy running.

It's amazing how the good intentions (made of exactly the same materials as the pathway to the infernal regions) of the night before transform themselves temporarily into the excuses of the morning after.  It would have been so simple to turn on the coffee pot, crawl back to bed and grab an extra ninety minutes of slumber.  Like my old coach used to say, "one excuse is as good as another if you don't want to do something badly enough."

But then, I had a vision of a young man I met last weekend.  He was making his way up to the public beach in Belle Isle, an island in the Detroit River, smack dab in between Detroit, Michigan and Windsor, Ontario.  As if the three local ladies in full burqa on a mid-eighty degree afternoon weren't enough to make me think less about the slightly hot sand between my toes, this guy was coming up the sidewalk from the parking lot in full triathlon wetsuit.

Using nothing but his bare hands.

He was one of about 70 paratriathletes racing an International Triathlon Union race, with the intent of qualifying for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Paralympic Games.

I prepared for my assignment by watching some of the swimming and track and field events from the ParaPan American Games on my internet television channel stream.  Suzanne sat and had a beer with me as I watched late into the evening.  She said she found many of the athletes to be inspirational and asked me whether I felt the same.

I told her "no" then, and after this weekend I would more likely use the term "humbling."

I'm swim-challenged at best, so watching an athlete who has limited muscle strength, paralysis, congenital deformity or limb loss swim about half a mile as fast as or faster than me is enough to bring on a sense of humility.  Right to the ragged edge of humiliation.  Top that with the ability to flat-out boogie, like I saw two of the US PT4 athletes (lack of or loss of a limb, in the case of these guys, lower) during the warm-up session on race morning.  They were moving at probably a five-minute per mile pace through the transition area.

The Team GB athlete standing next to me said something along the lines of, "save it for the race, mate."  My reply was, "no different than the last rep of a track workout."  The running segment of the triathlon was no easy jog for the Australians, Canadians, the Dane, the Frenchman, the Irish, Moroccan, Mexicans, or the Spaniards; they were all going hammer-and-tongs.  When Rio slots are up for grabs you might as well go all out.

No, I would not call paratriathletes "inspirational."  Most all of them are funny as hell and very approachable.  Independent to a fault, as evidenced by the PT1 (hand-cranked cycle/wheelchair) athlete who literally hoisted himself from his handcycle to literally hammer into specifications a misaligned part during gear check the day prior to the race.  Appreciative, no doubt, of the smart people who design and build the adaptive devices which enable them to race and get around.  But pedal a bike with one leg, as at least three athletes did...or steer - on a fairly technical course - with one arm, as I saw a Brazilian athlete do?  At 40-plus kilometers an hour?

I'm not inspired.  I'm flat-out humbled.

But you can't "broad-brush stroke," because there are too many variables in the background - the circumstances behind the limitation - that make them the way they are.  I will say that at the highest levels of competition they are comparable to the completely able-bodied athlete.

But when it comes to that certain, er, as my father used to say, "bad-[blank] in three easy lessons" quality, the ability to endure, adapt, adjust and overcome...that might be where the inspiration comes for me.  And perhaps the ability to summarily invalidate any excuse, outside of injury, illness or rest day, for not getting in a workout.

So I did four and-a-half miles and felt much better about myself.  And my shoes.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Thirty Seconds At A Time

High noon on Sunday is a dangerous time.  Especially for the guys I run with.

We got into a discussion about an upcoming triathlon event, and I asked one of the group perched at the bar whether he was going to participate this year.  Last year he was ill and not able to be part of a troika of walking wounded competing in the relay division.  In hindsight, he said, it was fortunate for the very reason the group never made it past the swim.  Working shoulders are often necessary, even for a distance of 600 yards.

"And [blank] can barely run; he's the only guy I know who's trained for a (half-iron) triathlon and gained weight in the process."

A perfect case of "in vino veritas."  And not always the truth which should be revealed.

I know the guy in question, and in his defense it would be difficult to tell the difference between adipose burned and muscle mass gained over the course of five or six months.  I've been (more) pudgy and I've dropped weight, and sometimes it's difficult to tell the two apart until one is out on a run.  Several coaches have opined that a one-pound difference in weight, excess, can add an extra five seconds pace per mile.  I'm not so certain about you but if I knew I could drop a minute off my 5K on the road by losing five pounds of excess weight...  

The hard part - well, there are a lot of hard parts - is avoiding the danger areas.  Two danger areas come together on Sunday noon in this part of the country, namely alcohol and food.  If I could completely drop beer and french fried [blank] it would be easy.  Naturally, nobody said it would be.

A couple of other things to remember:

Many folks can get by with guesstimating 100 calories of energy expended for every mile run or walked.  If you want to be honest with yourself you can take your weight and multiply by 0.75. Walking and easy running is going to burn less calories for every mile than the hard, steady run; kind of like how long you can stand to have your hand on the hood of your car.  If you're driving the four blocks from the house to the grocery store you'll probably be able to set your hand on the hood not long afterward.  Drive halfway across the state at fifty-plus an hour and you'll generate more heat after the car has stopped.

It's not a perfect analogy but it makes it easier to understand.  And men burn more calories than women because of the greater degree of muscle mass.  So you might benefit more from having a single beer for every two miles rather than every one.  Researchers studied the calorie intake and expenditure of men and women and learned that both groups overestimated how hard they worked and underestimated how little they ate or drank.

Want an eye opener?  Set up an account on a food tracking/diet site, such as FatSecret, and log everything you take in.  Even after a week you're likely to be amazed, not only at what a serving size truly is, but the amount of empty calories being dropped into your fuel tank.  Other sensations, such as thirst or cold, can be mistaken for hunger.  I bulked up while participating in masters' swimming because I felt like I needed energy after swimming for an hour in an 82-degree pool (mind you, if it had been the pool we raced in at Auburn getting warm again might have been an issue).  Hindsight being not only perfect but magnified, I probably would have been all right with the large coffee with skim milk and a couple of teaspoons of honey, plus a slice of toast and PB rather than that SuperSonic breakfast burrito.

Suzanne and I have started to grab a low-calorie sports supplement drink or some nonfat chocolate milk after our Sunday runs, which staves off hunger until we can scramble up a couple of eggs and toast some bread.  We're less likely to jones for that brunch with the mimosas; do it once a month and keep track of what we suck down.  And we don't drink anything but water for the run; I used to do one or more sports drinks religiously but figured out all I was doing was shooting myself in the gut, er, foot.

Running regularly enough and hard enough has made me feel better about how I look.  I kind of miss the hanging out at brunch every Sunday but the feel of my clothes (and my head) the next day kind of makes up for it.  Getting that old self back thirty seconds at a time seems to be worth the trouble.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

"Hair of the Dog"

I crawled out of bed feeling a little less-achy than I crawled into it the evening before.  I really like when that happens on my "rest" day.  I got just enough over the previous few days that the one-to-ten scale of "how bad am I hurting" was only a two, and not in a place I was used to feeling pain.  So I decided to take a little "hair of the dog."

Not "that" "hair of the dog," but a very brief aerobic workout.  Just a little "something-something" to make me feel less guilty about doing "nothing."

The problem, I've learned, is that any real increase in training volume has to happen in a very gradual and incremental manner.  Sure, I'm only doing 35 miles a week, but I need to be up to forty about three weeks from now.  With some speed training, too.  Which means stretching out three or four of my weekly runs beyond sixty minutes.

What to do?  My favorite (shaded) running route is on the opposite side of town; once I get near home after work I'm not inclined to go out far.  That leaves me the option of running on a shorter loop a few miles away or indoors on a treadmill.  Weather conditions being the way they have been - infernal or electrical - the treadmill has been my go-to.  I'm suicidal only one or two mornings a week; even then the morning run is as early as practicable.

Rare is the soul who can stand a treadmill for longer than sixty minutes.  Even the best gyms aren't air-conditioned well enough to keep the sweat at bay; there's going to be the need to "stop and mop" if you want to go longer.  What's a driven athlete to do when getting up at three o'clock in the morning is beyond unsatisfactory?

How about splitting the workout?

The time of day you best perform - and most runners who deal with time constraints have figured it out - is probably going to be the best time to do the "main" workout.  I once was blessed with the ability to be one of those "doesn't matter what time of the day" folks, but that had a lot to do with being very single, having a flexible work schedule and only one graduate school class.  Like Friedrich Nietzsche said "when one has much to put into them, the day has a hundred pockets."  Now it's a different story.  I can get the quality workout in the evening and get just enough in during the early morning hours (should I decide to do so) that I'm almost not dripping after the shower while rushing out the door to the car, cup of coffee in hand.

It might be the best strategy for guys who have physical or stand-on-your-feet-all-day jobs, but the sedentary desk worker can benefit from that little extra piece of workout 12 hours or so to the opposite of the main workout.  I wouldn't recommend splitting it up evenly into two halves unless it's during those seasons when the weather conditions are closer to arbitrary and capricious.  That way if the spit hits the fan you haven't lost much beyond half that day's workout.

The bad news would be that dirty workout clothes multiply at an astounding clip. And the shoes which need to dry.  Work out too hard on one workout and you run the risk of going into the second piece incompletely recovered...risk of injury awaits.  This strategy would merit making certain all efforts are easy, vary between hard and easy, or vary between running and low-impact activities like the elliptical trainer or spinning bike, swimming or bicycling, rowing machine, and so on.  Let your conscience be your guide.

Imagination and ingenuity, as well as self-knowledge, can help you figure out how to get those little extra bits of training volume in without doing damage to your schedule or your body.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Brains or Shoes?

Okay, what is this with the marathon?

Obviously someone, or a lot of "someones," have bought into the mystical outcome of running 42-plus kilometers at a single sitting.  A bunch of well-intentioned book authors, such as (Olympian) Jeff Galloway, have written platitudes like, "to finish will leave you feeling like a champion and positively change your life."

I'm not buying it, personally.  I've completed three marathons in the space of three decades.  Like two-time Olympic marathon medalist Frank Shorter, the memory of the discomfort (pain, really) looms large in my mind.  Not only of the 26 and a quarter miles on race day, but also the thousand miles before it.  My first marathon was fun; I knew nothing about training and went into it completely as a babe in the woods.  I ran on a scenic course.  On the other hand, I learned a great deal about myself while training for the second and third ones; mostly that I am brittle and that I need to focus on one thing and one thing only during 18-to-24 weeks of run training.  Obsessive-compulsives fare better than attention deficients when it comes to the marathon, in my humble opinion.

Marathon training is an exercise in (selfish!) time management, undertaken by those whom, in the words of my loving bride, "have plenty of days but too few hours to train."  One of my Monday night companions registered for a race and has done little in the way of training outside of ten miles (maximum) a week, topped with gym workouts.  The bright side is there's 20 weeks to build base before the gun fires.  They must have read the counsel of (1976 Olympic marathoner) Don Kardong and chosen shoes over sense.  There's no doubt they'll finish, but it might not be pretty in the slightest.

So go ahead, try it at least once if you feel the need to finish a marathon.

I have a short list of smaller races I recommend because of their accuracy, event and course quality, but when it comes to the first-time "participant marathoner" the large corporate events are tailor-made for them.  Accurate course, plenty of spectator support, no lack of scenery and music to help when it comes to dissociating.  1980 Boston Marathon women's champion Jacqueline Gareau gave a good reason to dissociate, saying "the body does not do this....It tells you to stop but the mind must be strong.  You always go too far for the body."

So what's the secret to finishing?  Gareau said it wasn't age or diet, but the will to succeed.  Kardong's take was shoes were more important than brains, because "more people finish marathons with no brains than with no shoes."

I still haven't figured out the "why" of marathon participation, and I don't mind working with runners who feel the compulsion to do at least one.  The challenge comes when it comes to choosing a plan of action and a place to execute.  Brains are just as important as shoes when it comes to marathoning.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Love Yourself

Writers' block is not pretty.  Not in the slightest.  And the few ideas which suddenly pop into my mind are immediately countered with a suspicion that I've written on this before, or the topic has become irrelevant.  Perhaps that's why guys retire, huh?

I promised I'd get up early this morning and type this all down while things were quiet and I had a full (rest) day ahead of me.  Alas, the blanket monster got me.  Thank you, Pandora; thank you Journey, for reinforcing this topic...

So, there I was, out on the Monday "easy run."  It's kind of insane to be out running at 5 or 6 in the afternoon, especially in the late spring when temperature and humidity are one step shy of suicidal.  Yes, that's the very reason my friends do all their outdoor running before the crack of dawn.  But the effort level is supposed to be easy on that day, at least for me.  If I need to go harder it's indoors and on the treadmill.  Another topic altogether,

I go out with one or more friends who are a little more relaxed in their pace, which gives me the opportunity to pull them along and be a social kind of guy.  It's a different dynamic than the Sunday morning long run, because the folks who run with me on Monday night wouldn't get up early on a Sunday to run.  Not even if a gun was pointed at their head.  For some it would only serve as a hangover remedy.

About three miles in, my (female) companion starts to mutter about her midsection and all the work she's doing to try and make it go away. 

Her:  "I have what looks like a beer belly but I don't drink beer.  I spend three mornings a week at the gym..."

Me:  "Mm hmm..."

Her:  " on the beach on Wednesdays..."

Me:  "Childbirth..."

Her:  "...doing sit-ups and weights..."

Me:  "...raising two boys..."

Her:  "...portion control..."

Me:  "...husband and a household..."

Her:  "...bicycle tire..."

Me:  "...not a Michelin Radial X, at least!"

Finally. she says, "you got any recommendations?  Is there anything missing that I can do to take care of this?"

I decided to bring out the big guns.  "The only thing you're missing, as far as I can tell, is patience.  You need to learn to love yourself.  All the other things will fall in line."

We are all too often haunted by the Dickensian "ghost of runner/athlete/person past;" the lean, mean, high-speed, low-drag version of our present selves.  Even a medical professional, when met with a potential patient for augmentation, will most likely say that a positive self-image is more beneficial than all the nip-and-tuck and saline and silicone they can provide.

I'm not going to stop working out in light of this "kind-of-revelation;" the gym visits will still continue.  I can look toward any of the mirrors at "Iron-O-Rama" and see enough (near-unhealthy) self-love, and some self-loathing for that matter.  We're amazing creations, no matter the creation tale you believe, so we should do what we can with what we are as often as we can get away with it.  We never can tell when the ability to run, bicycle, swim, lift weights, dance, you fill in the blank here, is going to go away.  And we can choose to do two things when be begin to see the latter pages in the playbook; accept it gracefully or go down kicking and screaming.

Suzanne likes the graceful exit.  I, for one, choose the kicking and screaming because I want  someone to hear me.

I'll accept my physical limitations but I won't accept or tolerate my laziness, or justify my bad habits. We need to realize we didn't get to the state we're in overnight and it's going to take as long, if perhaps not a little longer, to return to where we believe we should be.  It's going to be a journey, so enjoy the might not ever get to what you thought was the destination.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Simplify, Simplify 2.0

Never been a parent, so school years' end doesn't make me emotional.  Nor nostalgic.  I was excited to complete high school and leave my small town and the b.s. which went along with it.  College graduation two decades later was my sense of accomplishment, relief and joy of seeing my father after a six-year break.  And some sorrow, as my training focus became more for personal fitness than collegiate excellence.

However, one of my co-workers is graduating two daughters; the eldest daughter of one of my dear running friends also makes the leap into college this month.  Bring on the Baz Luhrman "Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)" moment.

If someone were to throw me upon a rostrum, cap and gown-clad, what advice would I give to a class of high school - or college - graduates?

Perhaps it would all boil down to one sentence:  We have an abundance of information but a lack a sense of history.

We scribble down personal best times for races, maintain training logbooks and focus on the minutiae of our sport.  However, we seem to have lost the ability to balance a checking register or know when we've missed a payment.  In this increasingly-cashless, increasingly-paperless, electronic payment-driven society we're at the mercy of a customer service representative (talk to a communications provider and you know those three words are mutually-exclusive) who's more likely to hang up on you than provide a paper record of your bill payments.

It's easy to lay this indictment at the feet of the millennial or the generation who raised us, but have you ever been challenged by the need to write a new list of accomplishments for a performance appraisal, rather than cut and paste and change a few numbers here and there?  Or felt the need to update your resume as part of a job search...or a dip of the toe in the market?  Some managers are good at documentation, but most don't know exactly what their subordinates' do.  And if you don't have a supervisor who cares about your career you're pretty well doomed.

My wife was distraught over her first appraisal since a 16-year teaching career and 10 years of business ownership.  When she read the job expectations my first reaction was to ask when she fell short of the standard.  Neither she, nor her supervisor, could show any expectation met or left wanting.  If you don't know what's expected of you you're probably going to do everything that isn't.

Technology is great.  The Saturday afternoon debate, followed by a trip to the public library reference section, has been replaced by "the Google."  As long as you can type with two fingers you've got the world's knowledge, information, disinformation, and propaganda at your disposal.

Pavlov was kind of right.  That little bell on the phone rings and the owner salivates.  Unless the job requires unfettered access to a smart phone or digital device, leave it in the car, the jacket or the purse.  I guess one of my pet peeves - especially if I'm at a dining or drinking establishment - is when I see the servers or beer-pullers checking their phones every fifteen minutes. What you're doing probably isn't a lot of fun, but that's why someone is handing you money every so often.

When it comes to life and running the dictum "less is more" isn't a bad one to follow.  A friend mentioned the other day he was suffering from numb pinky fingers.  The medical professional diagnosed it as cubital tunnel syndrome.  Not too common, but caused possibly by having the elbow bent at an acute angle for a long period of time.  Like the angle it takes to hold a cellular telephone to ones' ear.  But if you've seen runners carrying phones or music players in elastic and hook-and-loop armbands most of them keep their arm crooked at an angle which betrays some concern about the device's safety.  Wrist-worn fitness trackers, running watches and distance-measuring devices are getting lighter and more-reliable.  Thus, I'll keep the phone in a pouch for those moments when I see something really neat (which demands a picture) or really dangerous (demanding a call to the cops).

In closing, I'll borrow shamelessly from the American renaissance man, Henry David Thoreau.  He wrote in 1854, "Our life is frittered away in detail...simplify, simplify."

Wednesday, May 6, 2015


Once upon a time, there was a small apartment in a lower income neighborhood into which a running enthusiast moved a few years back.  He was accustomed to going for runs wearing little more than a pair of nylon running shorts and a smile...of course, that was when he lived in a more-metropolitan area and drove to areas where he could run without going by residences. 

On his first runs through the neighborhood he received catcalls from the local ladies.  He thought little of it, asking himself the rhetorical question "have they never previously seen a half-naked man?"  He continued to run sans running top, t-shirt or shirt of any kind until the weather turned cold.  At that point he realized his apartment was, like himself, less-suitable for cold temperatures.  He then found a new place to live and new routes to run, places where it seemed that going topless was more-acceptable, at least for guys.

As he grew older and experienced setbacks in his battle with the middle-age spread, it became apparent to him that his slightly-expanding torso could be offensive to women, children and small animals.  He then decided, "I will cease to run without a shirt for the time being."

"First of all, my heart rate monitor strap, while functional and beneficial at this point in my training, makes me look rather geeky."

"Second, it does not seem fair that I, a middle-aged male, can traipse about public places with my pectorals exposed.  If a woman of the female persuasion were to do the same they would most likely be apprehended and forced to provide some financial or penal penance for their outrage to modesty."

As time progressed, he began to understand the rationale behind attire rules which were instituted by large sporting organizations, humorously referred to by some as the "no-nipple rule."  It wasn't necessarily that these organizations wanted to limit self-expression or kill joy, more the point that they wanted to make their particular sport more acceptable to the general public.  Sure, "wardrobe malfunctions" make for great television, but it's difficult to sell half-dressed persons to potential sponsors.  Of course, there are populations who aren't going to accept any sort of "middle ground," this family, for example...

I think the local constabulary, like former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, could easily figure out what "is" is.  If it's going to get you busted in town it's probably not good out there.  Sometimes, a sensitivity to the local populace will help matters a great deal.  Then again, the reverse side of the argument could also be said: Don't stand out in the front yard gawking during those times of the weekend when the runners are going to come by.  As far as I know the First Amendment still stands.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Four Legs

I'm slowly picking at the white hairs all over my black jeans this morning.  While I (unproductively) occupy my time in between office crises I began to think about the source of my companion of the last eleven years.

And no, I am not talking about my loving bride.  This time I speak of my dog, and about dogs in general.

I've written in the past about how dogs make really good coaches - that "joy of the activity for the activity's sake," "rest when your body says so" attitude.  I have friends with terriers and retrievers who rave about their benefit as training partners - I have a retired greyhound, emphasis on "retired."  If it isn't a walk around the park it isn't happening.  And that's all right, because I get the occasional sprint workout when Majic Rubin sees that his "mother" has come home from a day at the office.  But when it comes to running, if there's one failing the domesticated canine possesses - albeit one which they should not be held to account for - they don't spectate worth a darn.

Sometimes we human companions forget that.  While cruising through the local social media after my race last Saturday this post caught my attention...

"Ummmm, I apologize to the runners who got tangled with my dog this morning. (My husband) brought her out by the park to cheer everybody on and apparently she broke loose from her collar when I ran by to run with me. When she realized that was going to take too much work she casually ran back toward the runners. I know. Annoying. I'm sorry."

It's difficult to reason with an animal which possesses such a strong devotion to the human or humans it has chosen that it will free itself from the security and safety of the curb and other family members to join another member of the pack.  Add to this devotion the pack and perhaps the hunting/pursuit instinct and it's a no-win situation for the human being.  I did chuckle at the situation for two other reasons, though.

First, the canine co-owner just happens to be the proprietor of a running store, has produced one or more races and run in many.  Yep, not this family's "first rodeo."

Second, the hound realized that racing along with one of its human family for the next eight kilometers or so was going to be too much work.  Yes, the comfort of the grassy lot and a bowl of water was more irresistible.

I'm not necessarily going to say I think having dogs on a course is a bad idea, cruel or stupid.  I wouldn't do it, having learned from hard experience with my mother's German Shorthaired Pointer.  A few friends of mine have dogs with the stamina and endurance to trot ten kilometers at a clip which rivals my own, traversing wet, sloppy and mud-strewn hash trails with great relish.  A little knowledge of the hound doesn't hurt.

Most races, and the providers who insure them consider the domesticated canine as more of a risk to joint, limb and integument than a co-participant.  Unless the event is billed as dog-friendly (I've encountered a few which have made me want to go home and cuddle up with my d-a-w-g out of guilt.) then the animal/s in question will be lumped in with the constellation of items not allowed by the race director, to include bicycles, skateboards, baby joggers, roller skates or roller blades...and personal music players.  A runner or walker might think it a cute thing to have "Snowball" taking up the rear of the pack with them, but it's something which makes those personal injury lawyers salivate like one of Pavlov's subjects. 

This is not necessarily a diatribe against taking the furry kid to the local 5K run as much as it is a word of advice.  Fido is more likely to have the strength of a three-year-old child on steroids and the desire to collect as much information around them rivaling the National Security Agency.

Monday, April 27, 2015

What's In It For Me?

"I want to start a run group.  What do I need to do?"

Was I surprised?  Sal's question was identical to one Suzanne brought up during the dark, drippy and miserable days right after the new year.  For Suzanne things don't change all that much based on the weather.  On the other hand; I start to ask the second question of the existentialist dilemma, once I get through the 'solitary person, placed into a world seemingly without meaning' realization...and the 'I exist here, doggone it' announcement.

So Sal's question was my reminder.  I sat back, took a sip of my beer and asked myself, as I told him, "I can help you figure this out."  The second question of the existentialist dilemma, by the way, is asked, often internally, when a person figuratively finds themselves hip-deep in a murky body of water with a hand pump.  And an overabundance of large, green reptiles.  And the original plan to drain water from said body.

"Now what?"

The nice thing was that we weren't treading an overgrown pathway.  There's at least 2400 clubs (affiliated with the Road Runners' Club of America (RRCA)) which started out as a twinkle in the eyes of one or two runners.  I'm sure the vision of a bartender and a couple of runners probably isn't far from the norm, either.  Especially in my town, where at least a half-dozen establishments have affiliated run nights.  Nothing brings runners together like a few miles and a few beers.

So, if you were thinking about starting a run group from the running surface up, what might be the most important 'got to have' factors?  Naturally, this is not a one-size meets all needs assessment; for those of us in parts of the country where the seasons are "'hot,' 'really hot,' 'humid and hot,' and 'holidays'" we're actually blessed with the lack of a "plan B."  We can run, adjusting for sunrise and sunset on occasion, year-round.

And if you're a smart guy you can drop all of the little details into the classic "what's in it for me" category.

Take a good course or courses, as a start.  There are clubs with which I've run whose run courses traverse the heart of the downtown business district.  Not such a bad thing if you're one of the drinking establishments the runners pass by each week.  Then again, this might be a mixed blessing; having the potential for hot, sweaty runners barreling through the area where your business' tables and seating happen to be.  And impacting your servers.  Busy intersections - word to the wise would be to follow all relevant traffic rules and signals.  But if I had a dollar for every time I've seen someone streak across the street and barely miss being a hood ornament...I could probably buy a few nice things.

Not every person wants to run the same course week in and week out.  Well, some do because they want to know how they're progressing or regressing over time.  A blend of relatively runner-safe courses is a good draw.

While I'm on the topic of "runner-safe," the rhetorical question often expressed by the RRCA's executive director, Jean Knaack has stuck in the back of my mind, 'are you willing to lose your house based upon this particular decision?'  I love runners; I trust many of them, I don't trust motor vehicle operators, owners of large, aggressively-nurtured dogs, or lawyers.  So, keeping courses as residential as possible, and minimizing the number of places where traffic flow and runner flow may potentially intersect without signs and lights is a good idea.  Paperwork, both of the list of persons running, and their agreement to abide by some common sense guides, minimizes the chance of the tail-end of my "don't trust list" coming to play. 

How about insurance which covers those activities?

Not too many chop houses want to put their livelihood on the line because Joe Dailyjogger stumbled and broke his nose while dodging Timmy Bagohammers' "Fast and the Furious" re-enactment, too.  So RRCA clubs can avail themselves of inexpensive insurance, with the understanding they'll operate as a non-profit and abide by the Safe Running Guidelines.  Get dinged at a recognized event, or while volunteering, and the insurance should take care of you, a'la a certain duck.  Which is just as good as money.

Other "WIIFM" details include recognition for number of runs attended, or miles run, or longevity.  Some places will provide light food and beverage specials for the benefit of the runners, too.  I've seen shirts as recognition for club membership or fidelity...not much else. 

Is there anything you as a runner, or your club if you belong to one, does which meets that "what's in it for me" to draw in runners?  I'd love to know.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Perfectionist Streak

Finally had the chance to toe the line at a 10K a couple of weekends ago.  I didn't harbor any unrealistic expectations about how well (or poorly) I was going to run.  After a few years of just plain running because my ego overcame good counsel - with the only racing being the twice-yearly half-marathon beat-down by the missus - I was grateful for the single week of the common cold/flu which occurred sometime back.  Conservative mileage and speed training meant I was 5K race fit, barely.  I set three performance goals for the race; one achievable if every potential factor fell into place, one which was a little more reasonable, and, lastly, the 'all I want is to be happy, not throw up and not fall down' outcome.  

Once the gun went off I knew the high goal was out of the question.  I guess the ability to pull that particular card off the table and not mourn my initially-perceived training failure is the difference between 'me ten years ago' and 'me now.'  At that moment my friend Johnohon rolled up next to me, swatted me on the behind and said, "Waah-Waah!"  It wasn't being addressed by my hash name that bothered me so much as it was the hand imprint which most likely could be seen on my left cheek.  That's pretty much the wake-up call for me at any race distance.  
The next time he saw me was probably ten minutes after the race finish.  We took a few minutes to exchange pleasantries and commend each other on the race performance.  He asked me how I felt and I almost instinctively went into 'coach mode,' dissecting every little shortcoming of the morning.  I suddenly sensed the fact that I was "just this close" to whining about the race when I stopped myself cold.  I then smiled and said, "You know what?  I could dwell on the negatives, but I'm actually happy about how I ran today."

"Complaining is mouth (flatus)." - message seen on local tattoo/paraphernalia shop marquee.

Rare is the person who races who doesn't try to make their "today self" better than their "yesterday self."  That's the reason we keep track of personal best times for races, it's why the newest Garmins now trumpet the longest run, or the fastest speed-work split or the best 5K performance.  There's nothing wrong with desiring to be better, as long as it comes from within.  Right?

The drive to set the standard of perfectionism comes in much the same way as motivation; by internal or external forces.  Naturally, the internally-derived is more valuable and more long-lasting than the stuff which comes from outside us.  A self-oriented perfectionist sets high standards and defines themselves based on the ability to meet those marks.

Persons who let their social environment set the standard deal with what is known a socially-prescribed perfectionism.  Let your racing performance tie directly into your self-esteem because your significant other or your circle of friends?  Those relationships are going to suffer, and so might you.

Both forms of perfectionism in the most extreme cases have been related to negative outcomes; depression, stress-related problems, body-type concerns, and such.  But the internal perfectionist streak looks toward steps along the path, copes with problems as they arrive, and has a positive affect after success is reached.
How many times have I groused about not quite meeting any of the marks I set before me?  Way too many times, I have to admit.  As a coach I try to find at least one positive thing about an athlete's performance; naturally it's simple to look at the abundance of dark cloud.  But if I open my mouth and focus only on the shortcoming it's probably going to be sonically-and-aromatically, um, unwelcome.

Sure, let me go ahead and "stink the joint up."

And I bet if you take enough time after a race you're probably going to find at least one thing you did well on the day, even if there's a preponderance of evidence to the contrary.  It doesn't necessarily mean you don't need to go back and see where your training went wrong, just that it's not going to do you any good to blow off effluvium (or steam, for that matter) around everyone else after the race.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Want To Give It A "Tri?"

It didn't surprise me.  Much.

After Angela's foray into the marathon, relay and sand run spheres it seemed almost a foregone conclusion she would try multisport.  Since there are very few duathlons in this area, an event with which she had some familiarity, triathlon was the only (logical?) option.

She started to look closely into local events and ask the rhetorical "which event is best for me" question.  This turned into another one of those moments where the ol' coach had an opportunity to chime in.  I provided a brief list of links for events with characteristics I considered entry-level tri-geek friendly: participant fields with a cross-section of abilities, "safe" swim and bicycle courses, good volunteer support, and rule enforcement/education by USA Triathlon (USAT) officiating crews.

After this, she asked "got any triathlon training plans?"

The nice thing about triathlon is that a citizen athlete who is reasonably-healthy and self-aware can train toward a sprint event with little disruption to social life.  Once the triathlon bug bites, however, they'll begin to bleed money at every turn.  Having said that, I consider it to be the best way to implement a cross-training program into an athlete's lifestyle.  I've explained many times in the past most of my recommendations come from research, trial and error.  In my own case it usually leans more toward the side of error.  My short list of training recommendations, in macro, follow:

1. Rules.  Read, learn and follow the federation competition rules to the letter.  Know what you can and cannot take into transition and onto the course.  Train like there's an official watching you.

I've been a USAT Certified Official for four seasons now starting my fifth; I also recently completed the international governing body's technical official training course (certificates and $2.25 will get me a cup of coffee at the local Denny's).  Empirical data supports an assertion I have often suspected; U.S. athletes are the least-knowledgeable when it comes to what can and cannot be done at an event. Friends of mine occasionally call or shoot me e-mails when they have a rules question, or when they see me at an event (before the horn blows); many take the time to explain to their new training and racing companions.  Makes my job easier.

2. Transition.  Get used to using the least amount of gear possible.  The difference between new and experienced triathletes, when it comes to their set-up, is night and day.  And when you watch an international race, or the Olympics, the athletes have ALMOST NOTHING in transition...but that's international rules.  Nice thing about a nice, clean transition set-up is there's less stuff to pack in and take out, and less risk of stuff getting kicked around...especially at bigger races where space, while equal for everyone, is at a premium.

3.  Swim.  In the interest of public disclosure I am NOT a swim coach.  I have a friend or two who are really good at technique and stuff.  Unless you grew up swimming or near a body of water where swimming could be done when you felt like it (I grew up in a small town in the desert, enough said.) you're not going to make great gain in this discipline without sacrificing in the other two.  That's what makes triathlon what I like to call "golf for the high-strung."

Swim at least two training sessions a week, and if you can do both in open water that much the better. I swam a lot of masters' workouts and got spoiled by lane lines, walls and clear vision; many race venues have none of these if your race is in open water.  Use a pull buoy for pool workouts; this will teach you to swim using the arms more than the legs, and in the event you use a wetsuit it simulates the position you're going to assume.

Work up to at least the distance you'll have to swim at the race, but if you can swim more do as many yards/meters as you can.  Rather than go to breaststroke - a really slow stroke which is almost more tiring than freestyle (also drops you down into the water) - in the event of panic, learn how to roll over onto your back and's more efficient than the breaststroke, slower than freestyle but your head is still out of the water.

4. Bike.  Equipment is your life.  Get a good helmet and make certain it fits your head like a snug hat. If the helmet sits on your head like a yarmulke it's going to be of no use should you go down.  Buy one from a good bike shop and have the salesperson help you fit it before you leave.  There should only have two finger tips of space between the jawline and the chin strap; if it looks like a hockey helmet strap it's - again - going to be of no use.  Put it on BEFORE you touch anything on the bike and keep it on until the bike is sitting on the rack...during training sessions, at the race site, on the way home.  Period.  Learn how to change a flat tire.  Learn how to ride on the drop bars; these are almost as comfortable than the hoods and almost as aerodynamic as a pair of clip-on aero bars.  And if the conditions are windy you'll be more stable.

Ride twice a week; three times if you can.  There's no substitute for real road riding; turbo-trainers and spin classes are good for time-constrained riding (more efficient, though...) but bike-handling skills are a must in this discipline.  If you ride in a group learn to stay out of the draft of the bike in front of you (five-to-six bike lengths between you and the bike in front), don't ride side-by-side, and please don't wear music earphones.  Basic rules of the road apply; ride on the right, pass on the left.

5. Run.  Three times a week, for most runners this will be maintenance.  One long run (easy pace), one tempo run (around 5K race pace, or "comfortably hard"), and one speed-training day.  If you can run a little bit (up to a mile) after each bike session just to learn how UGLY that bike-to-run transition is going to be there will be fewer surprises come race day.

6. Weekend transition "bricks."  These are not required but will teach the athlete to transition from one discipline to the next.  Do the swim workout, followed immediately by the half-to-full duration bike ride.  Or bike workout with the run.  Or swim with the run.  Let your conscience be your guide. The goal here is to learn how to efficiently transition from one discipline to the next - slow is smooth; smooth is fast.

There are an abundance of good books out on the market which can guide the athlete through the specifics of each discipline, but more often than not it's a matter of common sense placed into common practice.  Go out and give it a "tri."

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Grabbing From Everywhere

I was in a little bit of a hurry; when I saw the couple with the over-filled shopping cart and an empty check lane all I could think was “for the win…”  Get in, pay for the dog food, foo-foo coffee creamer (…and yes, beer) and get back to the house just in time to enjoy Suzanne’s Sunday post-run breakfast preparation.  On weekends when she’s not working after the run, and in the mood for mimosas, we do brunch; other times we’ll hold off with a slice of toast and some coffee and do a proper lunch.  But every so often she says (when the moon is full and all the stars align), “I’ve got eggs and cheese, ‘shrooms, and stuff.  I’ll cook breakfast…”  To me, there’s little better than a quiet Sunday mid-morning struggle to eat a home-cooked omelet or scrambled egg…struggle, because the greyhound speaks little but still says much. 

I am immune to begging but Rubin still gets the remnants.  But I digress.

‘If there’s nothing being moved from cashier to cart, what is the delay?’ I wondered.  Then I looked at the cashier’s register screen “tape.”  Horrors.  The entire section of tape visible above the subtotal was filled with discounts and reward points.  Then, I heard the cashier ask the lady in front of me, “now, tell me again, how did you want to pay for this?”  I’m not certain whether she was shopping for four different persons, or didn’t have all of the funds in a single account.  Who knows, perhaps she was trying to confuse the cashier; in my (still) glycogen-depleted, caffeine-deficient and ovophilic (egg-lusting?) state I can tell you she definitely had me feeling a tad addled.  She ended up paying for the groceries with one-hundred dollars in cash and two different credit cards, as well as writing a check for 120 dollars, asking for twenty dollars in cash in return. 

Suffice it to say I informed the cashier that my transaction would be much more straightforward.
Have you ever wondered whether we complicate training by grabbing from this kind of workout, that kind of workout, this cross-training program, and so on, and so forth?  What if you could get the same increase in fitness by doing a single type of workout?  Some coaches have opined that a single type of workout, such as running at a single steady pace, can produce performance improvements comparable to a regimen which includes the typical blend of long, steady distance, short repeats at efforts equaling the athlete’s aerobic threshold, VO2max, and near-maximal race pace, and tempo runs at the aerobic threshold.

Can you improve?  Sure.  It just takes a little bit longer.

All other things being equal, there’s going to be a performance increase after three weeks of consistent work at a single intensity level – most likely that of a high aerobic effort; a big increase in the first week or so, flattening out over time.  After three or four weeks an effort (or distance, duration) that might have kicked an athlete squarely in the behind at the start has suddenly (well, not suddenly…perhaps “now”) become the new norm.  And rather than stay at that plateau, I’m going to take an educated wild guess the athlete will instinctively bump up the distance, duration or effort.  Okay, there might be folks who are happy with running, say seven miles in an hour at a 60-percent max heart rate.  But I bet those are the participants at the far ends of the bell curve.

Am I recommending it?  I don’t recommend doing steady-state running as the sole portion of an athlete’s training plan, especially when it comes to racing.  That’s like having a single gearing in the gearbox of a sports automobile; it takes forever to get from zero-to-whatever, but boy, once you get there…  The ability to work at varying intensities is necessary, if not elementary, to racing...especially when there’s terrain involved.

There are runners who are going to race as a time trial, or to push a single consistent effort for as long as possible.  With researchers revealing the paradigm (shift) for endurance racing; namely that race distances require a much higher percentage of aerobic effort (95 percent for the 5,000 meters, 99 for the marathon), it means that the ideal ratio of aerobic-to-anaerobic efforts could be a little less than we suspect.  Dr. Jack Daniels, in his Running Formula, recommends no more than ten percent of training volume be at threshold, eight percent for VO2 max work, and five percent for near-maximal effort.

The bottom line is to keep things as simple as possible.  If you have to write everything out in minute detail it's probably a sign that your training might be getting a little too complicated.