So, How Many Hats Do You Wear?

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

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Chin Rule, Expanded

Once a year without fail, between New Years' Day and Super Sunday, I get what my wife (and most ladies) would likely call "the dreaded man-cold."  The generic human rhinovirus.  Why is it people of the maternal persuasion somehow manage to suck-it-up and get the eighty-percent solution done, but the same little virus knocks guys like me on our...?

Well, it's not as dramatic as I make it out to be, at least in this household.  What drives me up the wall is when the trees and flowers (my home state is known for being flowery, natch...) here begin to send out pollen.  Nothing like yellow powdery stuff all over my car and green loogie-like substances all over my bathroom sink each morning.  But I digress.

The drama comes when I have to determine how much of my training is put to the side.  I finished my base training - easy running, no hill work, no speed work, no racing - three weeks ago, and started doing some tempo work once or twice a week.  If I'm smart (emphasis on the word "if") I only lose one week of training.  I sensed the onset of the (upper respiratory) infection immediately on Monday afternoon and aggressively treated the symptoms.  

If you fall ill, when do you adjust, and when do you drop, training as it's laid out?  I've written on several posts about the "chin rule;" if the congestion is at the chin or higher (i.e., sinuses) an easier run will not do any harm. Sure, you're going to tick off people with that single-nostril blow - also known in some circles as a "Texas Hanky" - and they're certainly NOT going to want to slap you a high five after the run is completed.  On the bright side, you won't have to worry about anyone borrowing your water bottle.

Once the congestion goes below the chin, most smart people say to forego the run.  Inflammation of tissue are part and parcel of an infectious process.  The difference between when the inflammation is above the chin and when it's below is almost akin to stuffing a rag in an older automobile's intake system; Shove a rag behind the air filter into one of two carburetors...inflamed sinuses might not be able to take in air, but you still have the mouth, which is almost as efficient.  Jam that rag all the way down into the intake manifold and performance is truly compromised.  Chest congestion also affects the small accessory (intercostal) muscles of the rib cage; normally those small muscles and the diaphragm have no problem pulling in that nice, fresh air.  Inflame the airway passages into the lungs and you've got a problem.  Anyone else old enough to recall a fast-food restaurant's "triple thick" imlkshakes?  Without a large-bore straw you were doomed to wait until that drink melted some.

But lack of oxygen isn't the only good reason to consider taking a "sick day."  Weidner, et. al. (1997) wanted to see if persons who had upper respiratory illness symptoms (e.g., fever, congestion, sinus drainage, muscle aches) ran differently than persons who were healthy.  They found the ill runners had not only a increased stride length but also a decreased turn-over, most often associated with the symptom of a fever.  The ankle joints were also seen to have a greater degree of extension while ill. Most running enthusiasts know a stride which is too long means the runner is more likely to have a gait with a heel strike.  Add to this the decreased cadence - much like placing pressure on the shock absorbers of your car for an extended period of time - and there's a greater chance for fatigue and risk of damage.

Even more interesting, once the ill runners were well their running gait was not much different than a control group of physically-well runners.  So, even though you feel compelled to run through an illness, the risk of injury outweighs the relative benefits of staying off your feet for a couple of days.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

No. Not Yet.

While chatting up a friend I hadn't seen in a long time, we got to talk about a few running topics; some with which I agreed, others where I figured it was wise to quietly disagree in my mind.  She and I both haven't run many local events for reasons which spanned the entire constellation of possible de-motivational factors.  Most of the reasons she hadn't been racing locally were fairly straightforward.  What (gently) got under my skin was when she said, "you're not racing competitively like you used to."

I almost responded with a classic Monty Python movie line: "I'm not dead yet!"

Racing can be uncomfortable, if you do it right.  In the case of most citizen-athletes there's that little issue, best described as "the rest of our life."  The physiology "smart guys" say the period in which an athlete can run at their peak ranges from four-to-eight weeks, much of that based on how long the athlete builds up to the peak.  A longer, more-conservative progression leads up to a longer peak, and vice-versa.

This train of thought and means of training flies in the face of the typical local running scene.  Rather than take the time to build base, develop speed, endurance, and strength, most citizens will spend precious time and finances on "social racing."

We're all social creatures; nothing wrong in the quest to determine how we stack up when compared to our peers.  The issue comes when our self-worth and self-image becomes too closely tied into the pursuit of the next personal best or the next pint glass.  In this neck of the woods the P.R. issue in most cases is moot; place an asterisk by that finishing time, my friend.  If that sounds arrogant, forgive me.  I tend to know which courses are good to go.

Not to mention the fact that every runner has a bad day; not enough sleep the night before, or they got into an argument with their other half while taking in the morning coffee, or they showed up at the race without time to warm-up...proof we live in a stochastic world, as my college economics professor used to say...stuff happens.

While running is an elemental part of my life the (relative) successes or failures I've had while running don't necessarily make me the person I am.  I'm more than the sum total of my marathons, and much more than my local grand prix standings.  The only people I have to prove myself to this far along in the game starts with the guy I see in the mirror each morning and extends not much beyond my immediate family.

I'm not haunted by the performances of my past, but I'll gladly admit I am by the injuries from them. That's difficult for some friends I know who have truly "done something" in the running world.  A (past) Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier has more "that was then, this is now" hanging over their head than a guy who's struggled to break four without injury.  We might not be at every race that's produced, but when we're ready to race and the time is right we will.

Just because you don't see us every weekend doesn't mean we're not still running.

We're not dead yet.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Pure Endurance

Fitness, physical activity and the body which we inhabit are all tied together...naturally.  "A sound mind in a sound body," is a statement attributed to the Roman poet Juvenal and the Greek pre-Socratic philosopher Thales.  Even the maker of my running shoe has a name which is an acronym from the Latin (Gee, I thought my employer was the only organization who had a passion for turning acronyms into words...) tying soul to body.

So how then, is it that when we are faced with an illness, or those close to us (and, even us) become ill we discuss it in terms of combat, or struggle?  As much as we like to think we're war-like and dominant it's a very small population (especially in our society) who have the emotional or mental state to truly grapple with or fight another being.  We avoid (direct) conflict at all cost; we hide behind avatars and screen names, then block the comments or the persons with whom we disagree.

In the year since my father passed (cancer of the adrenal gland, detected late) I've begun to see parallels and contradictions, both in the way we look at life, illness and fitness.  Especially when we talk about cancer.

There are scientists who can probably describe more profoundly than I what a cancer is; I've heard it on at least one occasion to be caused by a variance, albeit small, from the planned cycle of cellular development, down at the DNA level.  At first, the rapidly-multiplying cells don't appear to have any effect.  Eventually it reveals itself (or quite a large amount of itself) as something which at the least is "not normal," either by affecting normal function or a "something's not quite right" feeling.  Ignore it for too long and it might become harmful, in some cases, enough to threaten life as we know it.

So we talk about someone who "struggles" with a cancer.  The word connotes forceful or violent effort to get free of the condition.  When I think of weight training the word "struggle" makes much more sense.  However, when it comes to our sport I cannot rightly say I've ever desired one of my athletes (or myself, for that matter) to physically bludgeon themselves back to health, much less to improve their performance.  A person who's dealing with a cancer is definitely not beating themselves up on a daily basis; not even certain former triathletes-turned-professional cyclists-turned triathletes were beating themselves...there's a profound difference between performance-enhancing and cytotoxic drugs, amigos.

An organism which is able to exert itself and remain active over a period of time, and to eventually resist, withstand, and recover from trauma is said to have endurance.  Endurance is much more peaceful, more simple, and less "look at me."  I tip my running cap to the persons who on a daily basis, as the old song goes, "keep on keeping on."  They're not flying high on Monday and shot down the next day.

My hope this week is that if you know someone who has been diagnosed with a cancer and you are of the praying sort, that you wish for them to have endurance.  Think of the treatment phase as more of an endurance event.  And if you're healthy and working on speed, fitness or any of the other desired attributes which come as a result of, yes, endurance training, well...keep on keeping on.  Enjoy your mornings or afternoons in the sun and the breeze and know there are friends who (temporarily) live vicariously through you.