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, December 22, 2014

Ebenezer? Ebenezer?

So, how many holiday party invitations have you, er, declined this season?

How much has your training mileage declined since Thanksgiving?

Worst of all, have you caught your 'holiday season bug?'

My loving bride decided this morning to walk to her job, a distance which is a skosh over five kilometers from our house.  I offered to drive her over on my way to the office; the dark, drippy and gloomy conditions topped with semi-attentive shoppers didn't make me feel good.

"I haven't done ANY exercise at all over the past two weeks," was her adamant response.

Under normal circumstances I would most likely mock and scoff.  However, this has truly been a one-off year for the both of us.  A year rivaling that of the 2014 Saints.  Queen Elizabeth's 1992 is a better parallel, perhaps.

Her Majesty (a pretty nice girl, but she doesn't have a lot to say...) called it an 'annus horribilis.'
I consider running and aerobic activity to be a touchstone in a world gone horribly insane.  My family knows this.  With very few exceptions - work being the largest subset - my friends are runners, athletes, exercise and fitness enthusiasts or coaches.

So during those days "when darkness falls early," as Don Henley once sang, not much changes for me.  I might take a day off here and there, or adjust the workout duration by a few minutes to make time for the grandkids (and their parental units), but when it comes to placing a social function over training, Nancy Reagan was right.

"Just Say No."

There's nothing wrong with taking a day here and there, however, when the friends (who are less devoted to your running and fitness than you are) start laying on the guilt trip...well, the pathway to the nether regions are paved by one-too-many indulgences granted.  Show up late ("socially tardy") if you must, but don't surrender.  Here's a couple of good reasons...

First, a calorie burned is a calorie that will NOT be stored as fat.  There's nothing wrong with having that egg-nog, pumpkin pie, turkey and dressing.  Unless you're a complete kill-joy an increased intake in calories is a given.  But don't hit yourself with a double-whammy of "less burned" and "more taken in."

Not unless you want to have that dress waistline taken out.

Second, stretchy pants are over-rated.  It's always easier to keep weight off than to take it off.  Talking to myself here.  After the last couple of years I'm starting to return back to the (slightly-slower) guy I used to be.  It's nice to be able to walk with a minimal limp (car accident from very long ago) rather than a gait which made me look like someone ten (twenty!) years my senior.  Enough said.

Third, the more time you spend out on the roads and trails in the fresh (albeit cold) air means there's less time spent around folks who've been making the social rounds; really it's a bit of an odds and probability thing - they're eating junk food and running themselves ragged at the mall (with a bunch of potentially sick people who feel compelled to shop with the sniffles) before they show up to the same party you're at.  It's crazy sounding, but I think you get what I'm trying to say...

"Chin rule" notwithstanding, dealing with the common cold, or worse yet, the flu, is not conducive to good training.

I'm not recommending hermit-like behavior, or sociophobia - not unless you're already sociophobic, or socially-inept.  There's a fine line between "necessary detraining" and mental recovery and actions which can, over the course of a month, undo years of good training.

In Memory of Ernest Lombard (17 Jan 1939-12 Dec 2014) Spouse, Father, Veteran, Preacher, Friend

Friday, December 5, 2014

...And All I Got Was This Lousy Case Of Granola Bars, A T-Shirt And A P.R...

I truly did not want this topic to "downhill" into a self-righteous diatribe, but I fear it's going to go that particular direction.

For me, holiday races are time to get together with friends, run a few miles, drink a few beverages and remind myself how good it is to be part of a larger running "family."  But if you haven't read the Competitor.com article about what happened during Thanksgiving in Cincinnati, some of our "distant cousins" are in need of a little visit behind the woodshed.

I'm not opposed to a little shenanigans after a race; I've drank my entry fee worth of "free beer" on more than one occasion.  When Suzanne and I put on a small event last year there was this "issue" of one keg which, if not put to its intended use (Insert Ben Franklin's 'desire to make people happy' dictum here.) was going to be really heavy lifting back to the truck.  As the adage goes, 'many hands make light work;' the keg was easily hoisted into the truck bed...about two hours later.

However, there's a vast difference between R.D.-encouraged, er, hospitality gratefully accepted by race participants, and behavior which more likely would have been observed at a major retailer later that evening or the day after.

Stealing food?  Cursing at (youthful) volunteers?  Engaging in borderline battery on the race director? Is this the point to we, the running community, have regressed?

Race directors are a reactive lot.  There's only so much proactive risk mitigation that can be done; more often than not changes come from the 'what worked, and what did not' hindsight.  Not always perfect, sometimes selectively magnified.  In this R.D.'s case, this was not her first rodeo; leftover food items from past editions of the race (11 under her direction) were donated to food banks.

Emergency management folks and sociologists would most likely define the looting which happened at this particular race as that of civil disorder; a response to perceived injustice.

I can hear the question, 'what injustice?'

As racing progressed from a club activity to a business enterprise and the exponential increase in the number of events directors have had to think about value addition.  First it was overall awards for veteran athletes, then it was age group awards.  Then there was the food and drink to keep the participants happy while scoring was completed.  Expand beyond a certain point and it's not reasonable to provide buffets and endless beverage service. At that point in the game comes stratification; some will pay for value-added, others will continue to pay eighty bucks for two skinny beers, a granola bar and a bottle of chocolate milk.  Having put on an event I know the lion's share of money goes into ensuring the infrastructure exists; safety, permits, insurance and the like, stuff the race participant only notes by its absence.

Then came the "participation events," with courses which might be accurate, might have shirts, might have food and beverage, might be more expensive than your local club race, and might give a little bit of the proceeds to a charity.  Don't forget the frauds and hucksters, either.  They exist.  Google Reinke Sports Group, but make certain your fire extinguisher is handy first.

So the race consumer feels like they entitled to more for their dollar.  And they are.

But when the running family decides to foul its own nest by letting it's members steal from an event, the event promoters who were doing the right thing in the first place will get out of the business.  All that will be left are the color runs, the half-marathons which suddenly cancel, and the 2.8-mile 5K races.

Public exposure sounds like a great start, both for events and athletes who steal from each other. Event photos, as well as casual shots, could be used by R.D.s to seek out and sanction individuals or their family members (who often collude or assist in such shenanigans).

We really need to start teaching our running "friends and family" that it's acceptable to police our own.  Neither impunity nor immunity should be granted; we will be the ones who foot the (larger) event bill and suffer decreased event quality...if one even occurs.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Oh Dear, Santa!

I don't particularly care for the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Years' Day.

As an athletically-inclined person, there are too many stressors which have little other rationale than to detrain us. If it's not social functions which we feel compelled to attend, it's "mandatory" time with people we would much rather avoid, less-than-healthy foodstuffs and alcohol, and so on.

And that's talking strictly about the workplace.

Add the demands of those extended family members who don't understand our compulsion to run...or work out...nearly every day, traffic patterns (and motor vehicle operators) thicken exponentially as we approach even the smallest of shopping centers.

That's it. Enough.

Suzanne is terribly smart about the "shopping thing." She begins her end-of-year holiday shopping not long after the beginning of the year; if she sees something which a friend or loved one might like she'll buy it, storing it in her "chick cave." (Yes, there are such things. She also calls it her office space, but really it's the feminine version of my "man cave.")

Giving gifts? Sure. I like to make it something meaningful, like a good book. If I know a friend has a particular passion, I'll try to focus toward it. My close friends and family know I'm all about things endurance-related or kinda-sorta (un-)healthy; gift cards for the local coffee/bakery, or a case of really good beer is something more close to my heart. Otherwise, athletic socks and clothing items will do.

A guy can only get so many pairs of running socks or coffee mugs before things tend to lose their "significance." If I were to write a "Dear Santa" letter the wish list would most likely be limited.

Here's a couple of items - definitely higher in price - which most running enthusiasts might find special:

Be fortunate enough to run faster than your peers and contemporaries every so often, or do enough long distance events, and you're likely to have a lot of award or finisher medallions.  My good friend Dennis Funchess has three or four small boxes mounted on his dining room wall, velvet-lined, dark wood, with possibly half-a-dozen finisher medals mounted on them.  While many participant awards now have ribbons which rival their hanging, it's the bling that appears to be the thing.  The high-end wood-framed boxes of a size which would hold a decades' worth of serious event participation start in the triple-digit range, but the surreptitious snagging of a dozen medals, followed by a visit to your local crafting store and a few hours of wiring and hot-gluing would make for a meaningful giftie. What better gift than to take all that nylon and pot metal off the hangers in the hallway and put them on that runner's "I Love Me" wall?

Another item which runners collect faster than the average human being are event t-shirts.  Whether the person participates or supports the event the chances are very strong they have a shirt from the experience.  And if you or your friends ever get into the world of race directing you will never lack for shirts.  If you're like I am the chances are slim you're EVER going to wear a "Jingle Bell," "Firecracker," or "Turkey Trot" event shirt.  However, there's nothing that says you can't take those well-designed shirts and with a little love (and some time, and a few bucks to someone who knows what they're doing...) have a colorful throw blanket or comforter for around the house...or to hang up on the garage wall.    Starting price for a small lap blanket can be as little 60 dollars, and skyrocket from there up into the hundreds for a queen-sized job.

What says "I know you love your running" like a training camp?  Running enthusiasts love nothing better than to tie a long weekend or a week away from it all to a place where they don't have to do much that doesn't resemble their favorite activity.  A running vacation weekend at a camp in the Great Smokies will run about a hundred bucks a day.  Or you can choose a running-friendly place and do your own thing.  Suzanne and I tried this about two years ago in Key West, and we had a fantastic time; we ran in the morning, bicycled during the day, and walked in the evening.

And if your special runner is truly self-coached but could use a little direction, perhaps some fitness testing at the local college exercise physiology lab, a six-month training consultation with a running or fitness coach, or something as comfortable as three months' worth of sports massages?

I'm not necessarily saying that gift giving needs an "outside of the box" approach, but there are some ideas which, given a little planning and subterfuge, can mean so much to your running friend.

Let's not see each other at the mall, okay?

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Over The River, Through The Woods

Hey...we have a "short" week this week.  Unless you're in the service industry the odds are quite good you're going to have a few extra days away from the office or place where you do your business. Does this mean "road trip?"  A little extra time around the table (or the bar) with family and friends? CTS founder Chris Carmichael always seems to have a little something insightful for his athletes and those time-crunched people who want to - in spite of the unreality of such statements - do more with less.  I'll take his guidance as a starting point for my own recommendations for - depending on your perspective - a three-day week or a four-day weekend:

Watch your work:
I've always been of the opinion that quality mileage is better than junk miles.  If you normally would do an hour of running a day at an average perceived effort level of say, six out of ten, and you’re going to be constrained by social functions, children home from school, shopping, and so on, adjust you intensity level.  Shorter efforts?  Fine, work a little harder.  If your typical workout includes a long, leisurely warm-up or cool-down then shorten the easy stuff and keep "the meat."  Something is better than nothing as long as that something is good stuff.

Stay hydrated as you travel:
Whether it’s airline travel or a long road trip, you’ll feel a lot better when you arrive at your destination – and the following day – if you focus on consuming plenty of water as you travel.  Enjoy the "spirits" of the season in moderation, and preferably not at all if you're the driver.

Thanksgiving Day is a holiday; it's not a "day off":
If you're in a place, or going to a place where there's a "Turkey Trot" or holiday race, or you know of a group of runners going out in the morning, get out and run.  Even a less-than-stellar race situation will make that turkey and stuffing less guilt-laden.  Our little training group used to meet up for an easy one-hour run back in the day; now it's a chance for me to boogie down the road with the missus and a few buddies and race a little 5K.  It's a certified course (I measured) so I can tell my training progress and adjust my paces accordingly.  Even a local trot early in the morning will be great, as most roads will be empty until about midday.

Control your portions:
Holiday meals are made with love and meant to be enjoyed without being overly concerned with nutrition. You have 364 other days to focus on nutrition. But you can do yourself a favor by eating a little bit of everything rather than gorging yourself.  And if you ran good and hard earlier in the day...remember that guilt thing?

Take Black Friday OFF!
People go crazy the day after Thanksgiving. If they behave that way in stores, just imagine how impatient and distracted they are on the road. If you’re going to ride or run, go on routes which are not near major thoroughfares, and definitely NOT near the mall.

If you've been at this long enough odds are great your family will easily accept your need to be thankful for the ability to run just as much as your gratitude for the blessings of family and friends.  Enjoy it!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Marathon On 30K? No Way.

Ever read an article which makes you want to respond with, "well, duh...?"

I had one of those land in my e-mail late last week. Mind you, the article wasn't poorly-written or supported by sketchy claims, and there wasn't any sort of marketing thrust tied into it. It seems that researchers have learned that low-mileage training plans just might increase the chance of a running-related injury.

You can repeat along with me, if you like. Well, duh...

Inquiring minds like mine are always overjoyed when an article of this kind links to the original research. After reading one-too-many pieces written for national-level newspapers and magazines I've learned it's best to look at the original research studies. Sometimes there's more interesting "findings" which the magazine or newspaper writer conveniently decided to overlook.

I'll drop my stone right now, since I'm standing in the front yard of my own "glass house."

Rasmussen, et. al, (Rasmussen, C.H., Nielsen, R.O., Juul, M.S., Rasmussen, S. (Apr. 2013) Weekly Running Volume and Risk of Running‐Related Injuries Among Marathon Runners. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, Vol.8, Iss.2, p111-120, April.) surveyed participants of the Hans Christian Andersen Marathon in an effort to determine whether there was a correlation between self-reported weekly training distance and the self-reported incidence of a running-related injury during or before the event.

What the Danish researchers found was that a weekly training volume of less than 30 kilometers (about 18 miles) increased the chance of injury by 134% when compared to weekly training volumes between 30 and 60 kilometers (18-36 miles). Going beyond 60 kilometers per week saw no change in risk when compared to the 30-60km group. Less-experienced (or younger) runners showed a greater chance of injury; more-experienced runners and runners who were not participating in their first marathon also showed less chance of injury.

It's a given that running more not only encourages adaptations which make runners stronger and less-susceptible to injury, but also better at...well, running. The law of specificity tells us so. We can become strong by lifting weights and doing resistance training, we can enhance (or at least maintain) cardiovascular fitness by performing aerobic activities at a high level, but there are very few fitness activities which provide some semblance of crossover.

Low-mileage training might be good for the person who desires to dabble about with running, or the person who is extremely time-constrained. That's not saying that if a runner only has enough time to run 30 miles a week that they should not participate in long(er)-distance races, just that they might not find them as enjoyable as they might those distances which are shorter.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Good Idea Fairy

I get more than my fair share of e-mail - most likely you, too, if you've been running long enough - from well-intentioned vendors who want to provide us the next level of additional value to our running.  Some are really good; others are the offspring of the creature my day job likes to call the "good idea fairy."

I had heard of this particular beast intermittently during my first few years after college, but at this (late) point in my career there are an increase of coworkers who have been - as it is euphemistically described - downrange.  Thus a sudden increase of sightings; it's like you don't realize it's there until someone else tells you it is...then you tend to notice it everywhere, that 'evil mythical creature that whispers advice and ideas into the ears ... causing ... unnecessary changes and countless wasted man-hours ....

My latest "good idea fairy" sighting found it disguised, or cloaked if you prefer, in the seemingly common-sense running after dark guidance which every runner should consider, now that we've left what is known as Daylight Savings Time (DST).  Perhaps even the concept of DST was inspired by some "good idea fairy" somewhere.  For the love of Pre, everyone knows daylight cannot be saved and certainly cannot be withdrawn at a later time as needed...like those times when the temperatures are less than infernal and you really feel inspired to get out and run, right?

The guidance included:

1. Let friends know where you are.
Perfectly good sense, in my humble opinion.  While the group who sent these recommendations suggested using their value-added application, a simple on-line mapping program works, too.

2. Know where you're going.
Ties in well to #1, if I don't say so myself.  My missus learned this the hard way a couple of weeks ago, when she decided to jog in a neighborhood I told her was not the best...even during daytime hours.  She called it a morning after a mile or so.

3. If listening to music, leave out one earbud and be aware of your surroundings.
No.  No.  A thousand times no.  Human beings stink at multitasking; one of the great deceptions of our society is that we can do more than one thing well at a time.  It's a zero-sum game at best.  Your mind focuses on dissociation from the discomfort of running AND the potential hazards which surround you, like the slightly uneven surface just waiting to trip you up or worse, the soccer parent who's five minutes behind on their evening commute...and in a hurry.  The only thing worse than two earbuds blasting Taylor Swift into your ear while running in the dark is doing the same with one earbud.  Not only can you not hear someone - a cyclist who's not wearing lights, reflectors or helmet - coming from behind, for example - the second source of outside noise scrambles your perception of what's coming up on the other side.  If you need music on the run, please do your run at a gym or some place where you're on top of a nice, safe treadmill.

4. Carry an ID on you in case of emergency.
A great idea.  Too many words, in my humble opinion; just carry a form of identification.  Cell phones have a tendency to break upon impact, and most folks have theirs password-protected.  There are a lot of companies out there with identification options which are affordable and with varieties which align to the desires of most runners.  Even your drivers' license in a pouch or pocket will work.

5. Run against traffic so you can see oncoming cars.
Very common sense.  In many cases drivers will frustrate and or temporarily blind a runner by punching on their high beams.  Learn to focus your vision on a point which is not directly into the beam of oncoming vehicles.  I used to wear running sunglasses with switchable lenses, putting a yellow or amber lens in to cut the glare.  Good sunglasses are out there, but learn to focus where the lights aren't.

6. Make yourself visible with bright-colored or reflective clothing.  Light the way with blinking lights or headlamps.
Both good.  This is not the time to reprise the classic Monty Python "How Not To Be Seen" skit. Sure, there are drivers who don't like runners on the roadway, but I'd put good money on the fact they're the same folks who hated you during daylight, during the summer and on race day.  You can go inexpensive by purchasing a simple reflective (or lighted) vest to wear over anything, or purchase clothing items which have reflectors.  Clip-on lights are cheap, easily-replaced and easily spotted.

7. Buddy up and find groups or a friend to join you.
In many cases, depending on the location, there is safety in numbers.  Just make certain that whoever you join up with follows all of the precautions, also.  I recall an experience several years ago where a weeknight run group allowed two new participants to go out on their downtown course without reflective gear or lights, and with headphones.  They were struck by a motor vehicle at a poorly-lit intersection just half a mile from the run terminus.

8. Watch for pedestrian walkways and stay on the sidewalk or close to the curb.
Refer to #5.  And pay attention at intersections, because in most cases the motor vehicle operator isn't.

9. Avoid rush hour or times when heavy traffic could be difficult to navigate.
Uh huh.  And in many cases rush hour is very close to sundown/dusk, the most common time for vehicular accidents.  Human eyesight is adjusting to the change in lighting, from very bright (to the point of right in your eyes) to quickly darkening.  They're in a hurry to get the two-point-five off to soccer, swimming, and such.  Their mind is not on your safety...and sometimes they're adding on a little more hindrance by texting, phoning and reading stuff off their devices on the way.  Remember how I mentioned that humans suck at multitasking?  Add your multitasking to theirs and someone's gonna get hurt...and they've got a couple of thousand pounds weight advantage and a foot-pound force advantage at 35 miles per hour which is nearly three times the amount of force needed to break a human bone.

So, please, don't let someone else's "good idea fairy" meet up with yours.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

A Computer, Experience, Some Calculations...A Load of Compassion

The casual observer would think the last weeks leading into a target race is easy for a coach.  Not really.  There's only a small amount of physical preparation leading in - more often than not it's ensuring not too much is done.  But the mental work - the calming of fears and genteel reminders to stay as close as possible to the happy place during the days before the race - still goes on.  And of course there's race day, a time where I've spent the past couple of years at our local marathon at an unofficial, er, "Colorado Kool-Aid" station around the sixteenth mile of the course.

For me, it's a little tomfoolery and giving back to the individual runners outside of my other roles as coach, course measurer, chronicler of things-going-on, creator of curriculum...and curmudgeon. Runners who have lived slightly over two decades who slow up at my place on the course, about a tenth of a mile before a genuine event-sponsored aid station, can get a little bit of Colorado Kool-Aid. It's a small amount of post-race refreshment, which comes about ten miles sooner than the first-time event participant expects.  Returnees have greeted me with, "oh, it's YOU again..."

Right before they take the small offering of Rocky Mountain (or Milwaukee, or St. Louis) goodness. Or they continue on to the official aid station and take their spring water (or whatever swill is being offered) there.

But I digress.

I've waited at other points for my athletes, watched them come through the finish, but I prefer to stay at arms' length or farther and let the time after the finish be for the racer and their family.  Do I want to know the "how well" question?  Absolutely.  But in most cases race day is for the racer alone.  The athlete, should they feel the need to pass along the details, will.  When they feel like it.  When my athletes have run well and had a great day I'm elated and vindicated.  When they have a bad day I want to curl up on the couch and not talk to anybody for a couple of days....which I cannot do because I have training and work and family matters which require my attention.  Just like my athletes.

So I can only imagine what the New York Road Runners' marathon coach, a fellow by the name of John Honerkamp, was feeling like this last weekend.  He works to train about 900 runners in a 20 week program which focuses on the New York City Marathon.  E-mail is his modality, which for me isn't the most perfect, but when your clientele is spread across 80 different countries you do what you must.  Personally, I'd love to see the algorithm he's using; if it personalizes what I've perceived as the over-generalization of distance training plans, then more power to him.

There's a difference between a coach and a seller of workout books.  That difference comes when the athlete needs a guy (or gal) who isn't just pushing workouts, but someone who really gives a damn about the individual athlete's well-being.  Taking the time to listen when an athlete's family member, or the athlete, is sick, injured, or worse...well, that can take a lot out of you. It's something a book or an application will never be able to do.  Running is a social activity.  The ability to interact with each other - peer-to-peer or athlete-to-coach has a value which far exceeds any $25 book or $200 twenty-week cycle.

If you're racing in the near future, I wish you the best of success.