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.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Resistance Training for Speed

While I was busily minding my own business the other day...okay, that's a statement this guy rarely writes.  But I was, seriously. 

Actually I received an e-mail from a race promotion/registration web site the other week, not long after a training modality recommendation was read by one of my runners.  I began to think about the fact I write a great deal about the mental, emotional, economic and sociological side of the running thing and not so much about the "what's the best training" thing. 

I do this for a lot of reasons.  First is that old "n-equals-one" which we all learned from statistics.  Simply stated, there is no "one size fits all" training strategy which guarantees faster race times, better running performances, and world peace.  Again, it's trial and error, with more emphasis on "error" than we care to admit.  Perhaps that's why most folks who work with me have better race performances than I. 

If you ever see a barber who looks good, don't get into their chair. 

So when a running enthusiast asks "What's the best training?," they stopped the question two words too early.  Add "for me?"

I don't discount the intelligence or the merits of an exercise physiologist, especially one who has earned a terminal degree in their craft.  I tend to get irritated when those around me forget the statistics thing.  You see, we have an interesting anomaly, those of us who live south of Interstate 10 in the Gulf Coast.  There's a profound lack of hills around here.  So when a guy as smart as Jason Karp recommends downhill run training in order to develop speed I have two options:

Smile and move along, keeping the information in my hip pocket, or...

Ask if the runner has qualified for Boston or intends to race Bay-to-Breakers this spring.

So what can you do if you live in pancake flat (I've already had my breakfast so talking about food does not bother me...) terrain what methods can you use to develop speed?  More importantly, without being limited to training sessions on a track?  Don't get me wrong, I love track training, but sometimes - especially in the spring, when scholastic meets are happening - you can't make it there.  Or there's too many people.

Marshall Ulrich describes using a tire to develop speed and endurance.  At first this seemed rather counter-intuitive; every time I've observed a person using a tire for resistance it's been to develop short-term explosive power.  You know, the type of power necessary to get past a guy who 's probably about fifty pounds heavier and wants to, um, crush you like a grape?  But, I can see the benefit of reasonable resistance over an extended period of time.  Ulrich talks about runs of up to 90 minutes...which might be beyond the pale, but I'm not one to argue (much) with an ultra-runner.

If you're one of those treadmill-using fools like me - once again, I love the TM because I can control all of the important variables and shut down a run once things "go south" - you have the choice of adjusting the treadmill pace up (or down) to accelerate or decelerate.  Dr. Jack Daniels, in later editions of his "Running Formula," has developed a pace/elevation matrix for treadmill users.  Daniels' rationale, if I rightly recall, was that treadmill running was less stressful than road running because of the lack of wind resistance.  Of all of the reasons to not use a TM, I will buy that for a dollar...but I'm not going to go there in this space.  If I were going to jump to Dr. Jack's "T" (threshold) pace and the easy pace I use to recover between efforts I could either punch up  (or down) the 1.6 miles per hour...or keep the pace the same and elevate the treadmill by six percent...somewhere between a three and a four-degree incline.  Six of one...

Most of my friends who enjoy the occasional run out on Pensacola Beach know that after a certain point in the morning the chances are high they are going to run either into the teeth of a breeze out of the east, or be pushed along...which isn't so bad, save for the fact it's harder to sense the cooling effect of the wind.  If you have a particular route which is notable for "in your face" windy conditions that's a tailor-made resistance training run location.  Push the efforts (try a range between one-to-five minutes, as tolerated) into the wind and take the recoveries while the breeze is at your back.

So there; I've provided a few speed, resistance and endurance training options which can cost as little as the fresh air or let you get in touch with your inner do-it-yourselfer.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

"Training And"

There are certain attributes that an athlete can work to improve with (and in many cases without) the aid of a coach.  The runner's gait, stride length, and number of steps taken per minute are a good example.  The erectness of the runner's posture, arm swing, bend of the elbows and tightness while on the run are other good examples; once taught to a runner it's amazing just how simple it is for them to check on their own.  One of my former athletes used to do her training runs on a seven-mile loop near my home; she instinctively would do a status check when she saw a vehicle which looked like mine.

I guess she thought I was going to roll down the window and tell her what fixes were necessary.

Even with a treadmill (and especially in a gym - all those mirrors!) the little form checks can be done. Nothing says you can't take a little phone camera/video time in the midst of the workout...or find someone willing to do a minute or two for you.  Some coaches will gladly charge you a couple of bucks to do a video analysis, but most folks know that proverbial "sweet spot" when all of the mechanics feel right and the efficiency is maxed.  There's no single perfect form, but there is the form which is best for the individual at that point in time.  It's not always fixed; it can change as we become more (or less) fit, and it definitely changes as we age.

Runners (and coaches) can suffer from "analysis paralysis" because of the qualities which can be measured.  Some of the measures are firmly understood, such as the amount of time it takes to cover a measured/defined distance; less time ideally means the runner is improving.  A less firm measure would be a runner's physiological response to stress; a faster pace at a particular heart rate or a lower heart rate at the same pace over time can suggest the runner is getting stronger...adapting better to the stress of running.  Other measurements, such as VO2max...the amount of oxygen an athlete processes at speed, are in theory predictors of performance but don't have a direct impact on running performance.  A person can have a great predictor measurement and not live up to the (expectation of that) standard.

I often think about the 2009 commercial about underdogs.  There's a line about the theory of competition, saying that the strongest performer (the person with the potential-to-performance mismatch) can still get their back-side handed to them on the day.

Usually by the person who's working harder than their other "numbers" say.

Desire and drive cannot be coached.  It's something that comes from the athlete, something that makes rewards and incentives a bit of a crap shoot.  Some people like technical shirts, others like bottle openers, others want beer mugs, and so on.  I used to think desire couldn't be measured; until the age of social media, now I can figure out an athlete's degree of hunger in an indirect way.  What are the chances of this person really showing up for a training session?  Is there a need to think of "training and?"

What's "training and?"  That's when the social function is appended to the training evolution, like a cooler of adult beverages or breakfast/brunch after the sweat-fest.  Problems start when the masses focus on the "and;" that's when the coach realizes they've devolved into a social coordinator.

I like to tell folks what I'm up to at the gym or out on the roads; I "talk" a good workout, it sounds (much) more difficult on screen/paper than it really is.  I like (running-related) company on Saturday morning, on Sunday morning, on Monday night (my easier stuff) about as much as I like to train alone (my harder stuff).  But I know peer pressure works both ways; it's hard to not be in the "Saturday-evening-at-the-watering-hole-selfie" because the end result will be a Sunday morning long run with a hangover.  "My head aches only a little less than my legs at this moment..."

There's nothing wrong with wanting to be a social runner.  The problem comes when I have to deal first with ambivalence, and then with frustration.  I can help with the training; the problems come when the desire comes for "training and."

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Risky? Comfortable?

Occasionally the missus suggests a topical piece; I more often than not give her recommendation due regard (literal translation: 'The topic has little to do with running, coaching, training or performance but I'll try...') and eventually drop the idea off the table.  HOWEVER...we were walking our hound yesterday (between her book editing jags) and debated whether the concepts of comfort and risk were mutually inclusive.

"People who are afraid to take risks are fearful of moving out of their comfort zone," she said.

"But there's a difference between being risk-averse and staying, er, comfortable," was my response.  A songwriter-slash-author-slash-restaurateur once wrote about risk (among other things) in a book, 'Life comes with its share of risk.  You can choose to live life or to sit and watch it on T.V.' 

The missus' former co-workers came from out-of-town for a brief visit this last weekend, which I think is a perfectly good example of the difference between risk and discomfort.  If you come from a part of the world where, say, a dog is not normally kept as a household companion, then an extended stay at the Bowen household may push the comfort envelope.  But the degree of risk is not very high.

If you decide to visit here from that same part of the world, well, let's say that cosmopolitan thought and behavior would not necessarily be considered salient...the degree of physical risk might be a little higher (depending on the alcohol intake of the locals).

There are cases, too, where risk-aversion and, er, discomfort-aversion are near-synonymous.  Take, for example, a person I (perhaps mistakenly) perceived as being 'simpatico,' who I suddenly see squirming in a manner akin to the proverbial cat on the heated tin roof while dealing with the "not like me" of the world.  I take three deep breaths and move along.

When I see it in my own self I become a little worried, though.

Risk and discomfort, naturally, are part of the running culture.  There were times in history when female runners, for example, weren't allowed to race track events which were longer than 800 meters; all because of one particular Olympics when the event participants were in varying stages of, well, discomfort after a race.  Even now there is a particular but small degree of risk when it comes to running for most persons.  Calculated by our own conditional choices, such as weather, terrain, intruding factors (some of which can turn a runner into an ex-runner), and so forth.

I will not say that running shorter distances are less risky than running longer ones; there may be risk at higher intensities and longer durations, but save for the one-off situation of a guy starting out his ultra-running career by running thirty miles on his thirtieth birthday its all a matter of learning how long we can stay comfortable.  And how long we can stand to be a little uncomfortable.