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.

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.