So, How Many Hats Do You Wear?

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Pensacola, Florida, United States
Husband. "Dog Dad." Training Specialist. Runner. Triathlete. Masters' Swimmer. USATF Certified Coach. USATF LDR Surveyor. USAT Certified Official, Category 3. Observer Of The Human Condition; sometimes it's smooth & drinkable. Other times it needs a little bit of lime & salt.

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.

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.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Accountability Measures

I was ranting about "resolutionists" in the last post; not so much how much I don't particularly care for them as much as the challenge in helping them turn a two-month habit into a lifetime one.  Entry-level exercisers have the potential to become entry-level runners, a form of vocational security for this running coach.

When it comes to a (scheduled) Sunday morning run if the weather is crummy and/or it's only the missus and myself out waiting for the rest of the group I'm always willing to pull the plug; hey, I have a treadmill at the house, if no one in the group feels accountable to one another then why should I panic?  However, get at least one other person out who's near my ability level I'm going to plug away at the planned run; and if it's someone who's slower I still (kinda) don't mind, and most likely enjoy it once it's over.  Several trainers and coaches have written about the benefits of a threesome when it comes to workouts.  A small group of at least three persons is unlikely to leave an individual without a training partner; you might occasionally lose one but rarely will you lose two.

This group accountability for the resolutionist can be virtual - I keep in regular contact with a group which originally started out as a letters and opinions forum, moved to an e-mail list, and finally grouped together on social media.  We post race results, daily workouts, joys and challenges, and such.  There's nothing like being positively-referenced in a friend's status post; and I've lost track of the times when I've seen a post which reminded me to get up off my lazy behind and do the right thing.  If the group is physical and local, it needs to be to the point of near-intimacy; the type of group where almost nothing is off-limits and anything can be brought up as an item of concern.

This may sound kinky, so bear with me.

There's nothing like feedback of multiple forms.  Weigh, measure and photograph each other - or yourself - in as little clothing as possible, on a weekly basis.  Track the weight and measurements, keep the photos in your phone or computer as motivation to press on - you'll need it on both the good and on the bad days.  This is important:  If you can't feel comfortable in as little clothing as possible, with what might be an excess of an excess of body it will almost be gymnophobic to step into a gym where there are a great number of really buff guys and gals, some average folks, and a few sweatsuit-wearing folks struggling to transform.  You're going to be in public.   Yes, people are watching each other.  And yes, people are watching themselves.  Most are paying more attention to themselves than they are you.  Just go in there and bust your chops; if your effort level shows you're working out you'll fit right in.  If you're on a cardio machine pedaling along at a pace which is slower than you would walk, you will stand out.

The workout sessions ought to be difficult enough, and varied enough.  The "exercise thing" can go from hard work to the group ambling along on the treadmill at two miles per hour for twenty minutes three times a week in nothing flat if you're not careful.  Sure, twenty minutes three times a week is what the CDC recommended, but that's the absolute floor.  To get more fit there needs to be more done.  Make a real investment in the fitness by signing on with a gym where there are group exercise classes or fitness trainers on staff.  And use them.

Just yourself - or no trainers?  For cardio machines a decent heart rate monitor might be overkill, but there are some exercises which don't have a way to read a heart rate.  Want to know what's the maximum heart rate for you?  Get in touch with your doctor and ask for a stress test - actually it's a great idea before starting a workout program.  Don't want to deal with doctors but want to know what your max heart rate is most likely?

If you're a man, take your age, multiply times 0.7, then subtract that number from 208.  A fifty-year old guy most likely has a maximum heart rate of 173.

Women will take their age, multiply times 0.88, subtract from 206.  So a fifty-year old woman would subtract 44 from 206 to get 162 as her max.

If you don't like heart rate monitors and all that battery-operated, chest-strapped (now there's forearm straps and Bluetooth for the anti-chest strap crowd) stuff then you can use what's called the ratio of perceived effort.  Researchers found experienced exercisers could "ballpark" their percentage maximum heart rate to within a few beats, based on a ten-point exertion scale.  A "five" was an effort which could be maintained for an hour of few - fifty percent; a "ten" was the 'oh, heavens, my chest will explode in five seconds if I keep this up' - about one-hundred percent.  Sixty-to-seventy percent max heart rate, or a six-to-seven on the perceived effort scale, is what you're going too want to do for AT LEAST thirty minutes a day, three times a week.  And if you can get another two days in of thirty to forty minutes with an effort level of fifty percent/"five" effort, so much the better.

Finally, consistency is going to be key.  Schedule the workout in to the plan of the week immediately after the things which keep the roof over the head, the car on the road and the food in the fridge.  The German philosopher Nietzche said that "a day has a thousand pockets."  Time management is the ultimate goal of any resolution; we need to be the master over our life, not the other way around.  If you're resolving to change exercise, fitness or diet in the coming year know that the main battle will be between you and the watch, the planner and the calendar.  You can do it.