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 Certified Coach. USATF LDR Surveyor. USAT (Elite Rules) Certified Official, Category 3. Observer Of The Human Condition; sometimes what I write is *smooth and drinkable.* Other times it needs a little bit of lime and salt.

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.