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.

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.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Thirty Seconds At A Time

High noon on Sunday is a dangerous time.  Especially for the guys I run with.

We got into a discussion about an upcoming triathlon event, and I asked one of the group perched at the bar whether he was going to participate this year.  Last year he was ill and not able to be part of a troika of walking wounded competing in the relay division.  In hindsight, he said, it was fortunate for the very reason the group never made it past the swim.  Working shoulders are often necessary, even for a distance of 600 yards.

"And [blank] can barely run; he's the only guy I know who's trained for a (half-iron) triathlon and gained weight in the process."

A perfect case of "in vino veritas."  And not always the truth which should be revealed.

I know the guy in question, and in his defense it would be difficult to tell the difference between adipose burned and muscle mass gained over the course of five or six months.  I've been (more) pudgy and I've dropped weight, and sometimes it's difficult to tell the two apart until one is out on a run.  Several coaches have opined that a one-pound difference in weight, excess, can add an extra five seconds pace per mile.  I'm not so certain about you but if I knew I could drop a minute off my 5K on the road by losing five pounds of excess weight...  

The hard part - well, there are a lot of hard parts - is avoiding the danger areas.  Two danger areas come together on Sunday noon in this part of the country, namely alcohol and food.  If I could completely drop beer and french fried [blank] it would be easy.  Naturally, nobody said it would be.

A couple of other things to remember:

Many folks can get by with guesstimating 100 calories of energy expended for every mile run or walked.  If you want to be honest with yourself you can take your weight and multiply by 0.75. Walking and easy running is going to burn less calories for every mile than the hard, steady run; kind of like how long you can stand to have your hand on the hood of your car.  If you're driving the four blocks from the house to the grocery store you'll probably be able to set your hand on the hood not long afterward.  Drive halfway across the state at fifty-plus an hour and you'll generate more heat after the car has stopped.

It's not a perfect analogy but it makes it easier to understand.  And men burn more calories than women because of the greater degree of muscle mass.  So you might benefit more from having a single beer for every two miles rather than every one.  Researchers studied the calorie intake and expenditure of men and women and learned that both groups overestimated how hard they worked and underestimated how little they ate or drank.

Want an eye opener?  Set up an account on a food tracking/diet site, such as FatSecret, and log everything you take in.  Even after a week you're likely to be amazed, not only at what a serving size truly is, but the amount of empty calories being dropped into your fuel tank.  Other sensations, such as thirst or cold, can be mistaken for hunger.  I bulked up while participating in masters' swimming because I felt like I needed energy after swimming for an hour in an 82-degree pool (mind you, if it had been the pool we raced in at Auburn getting warm again might have been an issue).  Hindsight being not only perfect but magnified, I probably would have been all right with the large coffee with skim milk and a couple of teaspoons of honey, plus a slice of toast and PB rather than that SuperSonic breakfast burrito.

Suzanne and I have started to grab a low-calorie sports supplement drink or some nonfat chocolate milk after our Sunday runs, which staves off hunger until we can scramble up a couple of eggs and toast some bread.  We're less likely to jones for that brunch with the mimosas; do it once a month and keep track of what we suck down.  And we don't drink anything but water for the run; I used to do one or more sports drinks religiously but figured out all I was doing was shooting myself in the gut, er, foot.

Running regularly enough and hard enough has made me feel better about how I look.  I kind of miss the hanging out at brunch every Sunday but the feel of my clothes (and my head) the next day kind of makes up for it.  Getting that old self back thirty seconds at a time seems to be worth the trouble.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

"Hair of the Dog"

I crawled out of bed feeling a little less-achy than I crawled into it the evening before.  I really like when that happens on my "rest" day.  I got just enough over the previous few days that the one-to-ten scale of "how bad am I hurting" was only a two, and not in a place I was used to feeling pain.  So I decided to take a little "hair of the dog."

Not "that" "hair of the dog," but a very brief aerobic workout.  Just a little "something-something" to make me feel less guilty about doing "nothing."

The problem, I've learned, is that any real increase in training volume has to happen in a very gradual and incremental manner.  Sure, I'm only doing 35 miles a week, but I need to be up to forty about three weeks from now.  With some speed training, too.  Which means stretching out three or four of my weekly runs beyond sixty minutes.

What to do?  My favorite (shaded) running route is on the opposite side of town; once I get near home after work I'm not inclined to go out far.  That leaves me the option of running on a shorter loop a few miles away or indoors on a treadmill.  Weather conditions being the way they have been - infernal or electrical - the treadmill has been my go-to.  I'm suicidal only one or two mornings a week; even then the morning run is as early as practicable.

Rare is the soul who can stand a treadmill for longer than sixty minutes.  Even the best gyms aren't air-conditioned well enough to keep the sweat at bay; there's going to be the need to "stop and mop" if you want to go longer.  What's a driven athlete to do when getting up at three o'clock in the morning is beyond unsatisfactory?

How about splitting the workout?

The time of day you best perform - and most runners who deal with time constraints have figured it out - is probably going to be the best time to do the "main" workout.  I once was blessed with the ability to be one of those "doesn't matter what time of the day" folks, but that had a lot to do with being very single, having a flexible work schedule and only one graduate school class.  Like Friedrich Nietzsche said "when one has much to put into them, the day has a hundred pockets."  Now it's a different story.  I can get the quality workout in the evening and get just enough in during the early morning hours (should I decide to do so) that I'm almost not dripping after the shower while rushing out the door to the car, cup of coffee in hand.

It might be the best strategy for guys who have physical or stand-on-your-feet-all-day jobs, but the sedentary desk worker can benefit from that little extra piece of workout 12 hours or so to the opposite of the main workout.  I wouldn't recommend splitting it up evenly into two halves unless it's during those seasons when the weather conditions are closer to arbitrary and capricious.  That way if the spit hits the fan you haven't lost much beyond half that day's workout.

The bad news would be that dirty workout clothes multiply at an astounding clip. And the shoes which need to dry.  Work out too hard on one workout and you run the risk of going into the second piece incompletely recovered...risk of injury awaits.  This strategy would merit making certain all efforts are easy, vary between hard and easy, or vary between running and low-impact activities like the elliptical trainer or spinning bike, swimming or bicycling, rowing machine, and so on.  Let your conscience be your guide.

Imagination and ingenuity, as well as self-knowledge, can help you figure out how to get those little extra bits of training volume in without doing damage to your schedule or your body.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Brains or Shoes?

Okay, what is this with the marathon?

Obviously someone, or a lot of "someones," have bought into the mystical outcome of running 42-plus kilometers at a single sitting.  A bunch of well-intentioned book authors, such as (Olympian) Jeff Galloway, have written platitudes like, "to finish will leave you feeling like a champion and positively change your life."

I'm not buying it, personally.  I've completed three marathons in the space of three decades.  Like two-time Olympic marathon medalist Frank Shorter, the memory of the discomfort (pain, really) looms large in my mind.  Not only of the 26 and a quarter miles on race day, but also the thousand miles before it.  My first marathon was fun; I knew nothing about training and went into it completely as a babe in the woods.  I ran on a scenic course.  On the other hand, I learned a great deal about myself while training for the second and third ones; mostly that I am brittle and that I need to focus on one thing and one thing only during 18-to-24 weeks of run training.  Obsessive-compulsives fare better than attention deficients when it comes to the marathon, in my humble opinion.

Marathon training is an exercise in (selfish!) time management, undertaken by those whom, in the words of my loving bride, "have plenty of days but too few hours to train."  One of my Monday night companions registered for a race and has done little in the way of training outside of ten miles (maximum) a week, topped with gym workouts.  The bright side is there's 20 weeks to build base before the gun fires.  They must have read the counsel of (1976 Olympic marathoner) Don Kardong and chosen shoes over sense.  There's no doubt they'll finish, but it might not be pretty in the slightest.

So go ahead, try it at least once if you feel the need to finish a marathon.

I have a short list of smaller races I recommend because of their accuracy, event and course quality, but when it comes to the first-time "participant marathoner" the large corporate events are tailor-made for them.  Accurate course, plenty of spectator support, no lack of scenery and music to help when it comes to dissociating.  1980 Boston Marathon women's champion Jacqueline Gareau gave a good reason to dissociate, saying "the body does not do this....It tells you to stop but the mind must be strong.  You always go too far for the body."

So what's the secret to finishing?  Gareau said it wasn't age or diet, but the will to succeed.  Kardong's take was shoes were more important than brains, because "more people finish marathons with no brains than with no shoes."

I still haven't figured out the "why" of marathon participation, and I don't mind working with runners who feel the compulsion to do at least one.  The challenge comes when it comes to choosing a plan of action and a place to execute.  Brains are just as important as shoes when it comes to marathoning.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Love Yourself

Writers' block is not pretty.  Not in the slightest.  And the few ideas which suddenly pop into my mind are immediately countered with a suspicion that I've written on this before, or the topic has become irrelevant.  Perhaps that's why guys retire, huh?

I promised I'd get up early this morning and type this all down while things were quiet and I had a full (rest) day ahead of me.  Alas, the blanket monster got me.  Thank you, Pandora; thank you Journey, for reinforcing this topic...

So, there I was, out on the Monday "easy run."  It's kind of insane to be out running at 5 or 6 in the afternoon, especially in the late spring when temperature and humidity are one step shy of suicidal.  Yes, that's the very reason my friends do all their outdoor running before the crack of dawn.  But the effort level is supposed to be easy on that day, at least for me.  If I need to go harder it's indoors and on the treadmill.  Another topic altogether,

I go out with one or more friends who are a little more relaxed in their pace, which gives me the opportunity to pull them along and be a social kind of guy.  It's a different dynamic than the Sunday morning long run, because the folks who run with me on Monday night wouldn't get up early on a Sunday to run.  Not even if a gun was pointed at their head.  For some it would only serve as a hangover remedy.

About three miles in, my (female) companion starts to mutter about her midsection and all the work she's doing to try and make it go away. 

Her:  "I have what looks like a beer belly but I don't drink beer.  I spend three mornings a week at the gym..."

Me:  "Mm hmm..."

Her:  " on the beach on Wednesdays..."

Me:  "Childbirth..."

Her:  "...doing sit-ups and weights..."

Me:  "...raising two boys..."

Her:  "...portion control..."

Me:  "...husband and a household..."

Her:  "...bicycle tire..."

Me:  "...not a Michelin Radial X, at least!"

Finally. she says, "you got any recommendations?  Is there anything missing that I can do to take care of this?"

I decided to bring out the big guns.  "The only thing you're missing, as far as I can tell, is patience.  You need to learn to love yourself.  All the other things will fall in line."

We are all too often haunted by the Dickensian "ghost of runner/athlete/person past;" the lean, mean, high-speed, low-drag version of our present selves.  Even a medical professional, when met with a potential patient for augmentation, will most likely say that a positive self-image is more beneficial than all the nip-and-tuck and saline and silicone they can provide.

I'm not going to stop working out in light of this "kind-of-revelation;" the gym visits will still continue.  I can look toward any of the mirrors at "Iron-O-Rama" and see enough (near-unhealthy) self-love, and some self-loathing for that matter.  We're amazing creations, no matter the creation tale you believe, so we should do what we can with what we are as often as we can get away with it.  We never can tell when the ability to run, bicycle, swim, lift weights, dance, you fill in the blank here, is going to go away.  And we can choose to do two things when be begin to see the latter pages in the playbook; accept it gracefully or go down kicking and screaming.

Suzanne likes the graceful exit.  I, for one, choose the kicking and screaming because I want  someone to hear me.

I'll accept my physical limitations but I won't accept or tolerate my laziness, or justify my bad habits. We need to realize we didn't get to the state we're in overnight and it's going to take as long, if perhaps not a little longer, to return to where we believe we should be.  It's going to be a journey, so enjoy the might not ever get to what you thought was the destination.

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."