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.

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 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.

Monday, October 13, 2014

You're Not Cutting Back Everything

Boy, do I love mornings when I "feel" healthy.  By that definition - healthy - I mean "can run up to a half-marathon distance" and function the rest of the day.  Oh, and define functional as "can walk the d-a-w-g around the park without complaint."

It's easier to teach from ground level than from a bike saddle on the run.  Since Labor Day weekend Angela's Sunday runs are - in part or in full - solo, depending on whether the Sunday morning group sleeps in or goes to a race.  Two hours, tops, is what my tendons will tolerate...that means I bicycle along during two-and-a-half hour runs with extra water bottle and cell phone, just in case "stuff" hits the fan.

"You picked a great week to come back, Coach."

So began my rhetorical question time, at mile one, no less.  "Tell me what you already know about tapering."

"That's where you cut back on mileage during the last week or two before the race, up to one-half."

Very well.  She's read the articles that every other runner training for a marathon has.  Curve ball time; see if Angela puts this one into the bleachers...

"What's the ideal run intensity during the taper?"

Have you watched the first "Major League" movie, specifically the scene where the Cuban defector crushes a series of fastballs?  Then the assistant coach tells the batting practice pitcher to throw a few curve balls...therein lies the essence  of comedy.  Whiff.  Whiff.  Whiff.  "Easy-peasy."


My old college coach used to say, "you can run hard, you can run long, but you cannot run both at the same time."  In the final weeks before a target event it's either the intensity or the duration being run that needs to be cut back.  But not both.  The rule of thumb for rest, recovery and the ideal amount of time before to ramp up to full intensity after a race can be used in the opposite direction when approaching the home stretch of training before a race.

So, a target race of marathon distance can merit a taper period of three weeks, give or take.  A runner taking a three-week taper - sixty-mile weeks or more leading in - could trim a quarter of their duration or distance three weeks out, decrease by one-third the second week, and drop down to fifty percent on the last week.

What's important during this time is to maintain the overall intensity.  A runner doing sixty miles a week at a perceived intensity of five on a one-to-ten scale would ideally want to, during a three-week taper, run up to 45 miles the first week at a six.  The second week would be a 40-mile distance at a seven or eight...the first couple of days on the third week would be at a nine.

How many easy days would I recommend during the last week before the target race?  If my training were targeted toward a four-hour finish I would probably cut intensity and duration/distance during the last four days before the race.

"Taper madness" is only maddening for the athlete who fails to prepare.  Everything gets cut back but the dietary thing you know the athlete is five pounds heavier and sluggish, rather than rested, ready and sharp.  Needful things can be prepared during the two to three weeks before a marathon (or week before a half-marathon), such as pacing strategies, quality time with the family members who helped you get to the start.  Definitely not time to go out and hammer the roads into submission.  Take it easy, but don't take it too easy.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Professional?

"pro-fes-sion-al:  1  a : of, relating to, or characteristic of a profession.  b : engaged in one of the learned professions. c (1) : characterized by or conforming to the technical or ethical standards of a profession. (2) : exhibiting a courteous, conscientious, and generally businesslike manner in the workplace. 2 a : participating for gain or livelihood in an activity or field of endeavor often engaged in by amateurs. b : having a particular profession as a permanent career. c : engaged in by persons receiving financial return. 3 : following a line of conduct as though it were a profession" - Merriam-Webster Dictionary On-Line

"I'm looking into possibly hiring a running coach. Does anyone know of a good professional in the area?"

Occasionally I see a post like this in social media; a "help wanted" advertisement of sorts. The very question or statement is at best incomplete, yes, in my humble opinion. It is, in many ways, the reason I act less emotional when the occasional phone call or e-mail comes about...

I wonder if the athlete who states they're looking for a professional coach wants a person who spends their waking hours working with athletes? "Economics 101, Rule Number One," states the world has unlimited needs and limited resources. Like chicken lips, prodigies along the lines of Mary Cain or Galen Rupp come around perhaps once or twice each generation. Odds are good that if a door is going to be beaten down in the courting dance of athlete and coach it will be the athlete doing the knocking.

Any coach who remembers the pub scene from the classic film Chariots of Fire can empathize with Sam Mussabini.  Mussabini, in the film at least, reserved the right to select who he wanted to train.

Athletes all want a coach who is good, but how many coaches have earned or subscribe to a technical or ethical standard? I've met good coaches who were world and Olympic caliber, but the "I Love Me" wall shouldn't be the only standard of quality. Patrick McCrann of Marathon Nation/Endurance Nation, and Jay Johnson in Boulder are smart guys in which I'd gladly place my trust and confidence; both possess knowledge and commuincation skills which far exceed their performance C.V. A coach who has undergone some sort of training which covers the psychology of coaching, injury prevention, principles of training, running physiology, and have been tested by a national-level governing body like the Road Runners Club of America or USA Track and Field could also meet the need. Both organizations have academically-challenging and rigorous certification programs, backed by the latest scientific information, and updated on a regular basis when science proves conventional wisdom wrong. RRCA also requires their certified coaches to renew their paperwork yearly; USATF has multiple levels which, like academic degrees, allow coaches to focus more closely on their area of passion.

If the coach is not in business for themself...or affiliated with an academic institution, civic organization or running club...are they aligned with what I would call for lack of a better term, a "training 'and'" entity? What is "training 'and'?" Like fitness trainers who work at a gym or fitness center, is run coaching something which attracts the masses through the front door, ideally to purchase something else within the emporium?

Enough beating on the coach and their incentive...what does the athlete bring to the coaching relationship? Does the athlete's passion for running match that of the professional they demand as a partner? Preconceived notions and personal philosophies of training have to be put aside, directly aligned...or at least be the "eighty-percent solution." Athletes want running to be fun, but there's a time and a place; every training session has to be approached as a day at the office, every race situation is a performance appraisal. Coaches can vary in their level of empathy, compassion and just plain "niceness" (my wife reminds me I CAN be a complete jerk when it comes to communicating...). Sometimes coaches are needful for little more than to say, to paraphrase one writer (Jack Daniels?) "you look good today." And I've worked with one or two runners on little more than preparing their head for the race; they did all the physical work on their own. But there are times when the coach has to say things the athlete doesn't want to hear, assign workouts they flat out hate, or recommend (shorter, usually) race distances they'd prefer not do? If there's money changing hands, remember: The coach isn't a friend, they're part of a business proposition.

Oops, there goes one preconceived notion.

Runners pay for coaching with the intent - at least what most say - to improve. How many times does a runner approach a training program or a coach grossly under-prepared physically or mentally for the demands? More times than I care to admit. A training program, especially one developed with a coach, is a collaborative process; give and take, trust and confidence.

Patience. Pace. Pace. And patience.

Before anyone reach out to bludgeon me because of my (percenved) cynical views, it's not that I don't want the "job," or don't want to help people become, as coach (and 1964 Olympic 5,000-meter champion) Bob Schul used to say, "a better engine." I know my potential clientele will most likely not clamber through the hatchway to the scholastic-to-professional running pipeline any time soon.

A runner should insist on a modicum of background knowledge and research, flexibility and intuition from their coach...if nothing else a professional approach to making average runners better...but they also need to take a long look in the mirror. Can they say they intend to approach run training in the same manner as if their livelihood depended on its success? If so, the purely "professional" coach will be the perfect fit for them.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Tacking On

So, most of the folks who read this stuff know I'm still barely 5,000-meter road racing fit; my high-end training distance is in the 6-to-8-mile range, four-to-five times a week...with a dash of repeats at threshold (for now) thrown in for good measure.  I didn't suspect it would be an issue at the beginning of the summer when I started laying out a plan for Angela, but who knew iliotibial band issues and strained hamstrings were going to happen?

Not this old guy, let me tell you.

Top the typical marathon training "embrace of the suck" with several months of physical and mental obstacles on her part, and you had a gal who was definitely long overdue for a really good day. This particular run was going to be the acid test - run well; I'd stay the course of training for the full.  A bad day would mean recommending she drop to the to fight another day.

I pulled my bicycle out of the car with expectation of a perfect training morning. We had scheduled two and a half hours to run up to 16 miles, taking a familiar and well-shaded out-and-back path.

Angela's first three miles had me a little concerned for what the next two hours were going to be like. The worst possible thing a coach can endure is watching an athlete who's proverbial "wheels" have fallen off. In that particular case, it's all about the coach. I've been the "wheel-less one" on a couple of occasions, usually solo; all you want to do after a solo run of several hours which goes south more closely resembles a well-oiled temper tantrum.

Or suicidal ideation.

Throughout the run I kept a close eye. After the turn-around point I asked the question, "How you feelin'?" I was enthused to hear Angela say she was having the first really good day since we started the marathon training. She then told me she wanted to modify her training plan for the next four weekends leading to the marathon, specifically to do 18, 20 and 22-milers over the next three weeks. I had a ten, another 2:30, an eight and another ten penciled in.

Sure, she needed to increase the training volume

Rather than immediately agree, I felt it was time to ask whether she had enough mileage in during the week. Three miles here, four miles there, another five miles there...and the long run? Yes, there's a need for more mileage, but it surely does not need to be part of a single run on the weekend. Wise men and coachly rules of thumb advise runners to make the long run no more than 25 percent of their weekly training volume. So why is it that the training plans used by most recreational marathoners will have a long run which approaches one half of the week's training distance?

To paraphrase the tail end of a radio message sent by a hapless radioman serving in the World War II-era fleet of Admiral William "Bull" Halsey..."the world wonders."

Well, this coach does, to say the least.

I get it; the first reaction of most runners is to add mileage to the long run on the weekend - whether that be on Saturday or Sunday - because that's where the "spare" time is. However, the concept flies in the face of physiological truths, namely the 2.5 hour tipping point. Physiologists and researchers, the guys with initials after their names, with names like Daniels, Costill, and Noakes, just to name a few. They found that the runner is more likely to do ill than good to themselves with a run lasting longer than 150 minutes.

Look at the overwhelming majority of training plans, with very few exceptions, and it's a guarantee the long training run is based on DISTANCE rather than time. So why twenty miles? And more?

My first reaction was to think that the coaches writing the plans followed the guidance of Hippocrates of Cos...that's the first doctor, the guy who said "first, do no harm." Considering that the most notable of training plans was written in the early 1980s, when at least half of male marathon participants ran 8:00/mile pace or faster, it's possible the 150-minute window of effect was still considered. But that would mean that as the marathon distance became more democratic, as evidenced by Running USA's yearly State of the Sport data, the median finishing times slowed by almost two minutes per mile over the course of last quarter century...which could represent the de-evolution of marathoning, or at least a failure of training plan writers to be aware of the zeitgeist.

The second possible reason is that the writer needed to find a nice round number which to recommend as the upper limit. To account for individual differences would make things a little bit, er, entertaining. You think I'm kidding? When one looks at training plans written for runners who live in the world of meters, liters and grams the longest run is 30 kilometers.

That's 18.65 miles for us English-measuring folk.

The runner who feels a need to tack-on mileage usually does it more for the benefit of the mind than of the body. While it's a given the marathoner in training is eventually going to have to do the entire distance, it's not necessary to risk injury or excessive fatigue by lots of training runs which go longer than 2.5 hours. Add-ons of up-to-five miles can be safely done the afternoon before a long run, or the afternoon after. What the runner loses in raw endurance they'll make up for in a different form, specifically the ability to run on legs that have accumulated fatigue.

Personally, I'd rather see an athlete accumulate fatigue over the course of several weekdays, topped off by a decent-length run at the weekend. Big runs on the weekend, with little training mileage during the week, place too much physical and emotional stress on the runner. One bad weekend run can do more damage to the runner's mental state than a series of hard runs during the weekday ever could.

Monday, September 22, 2014


"So, does the Pareto Principle have any relevance to run training, specifically to runs of three-to-four miles, runs of one hour, and runs of 1.5-to-2 hours?"

Leave it to my friend Carlos to drop a difficult question in my lap.

For those of you who have not dealt in matters economic or sociological, the Pareto Principle (not to be mistaken with the Peter Principle, where a person is always promoted one level beyond their competence), also known as the "80/20 principle," states that 80 percent of one measurable quality is produced by 20 percent of a population.

The first mention of the theory, attributed initially to an economist by the name of Vilfredo Pareto, had to do with crop yield; four-fifths of the harvest was produced by one-fifth of the farmland.

Management consultant Joseph Juran said that when it comes to gaining effectiveness in human endeavors, correcting 20 percent of the known weaknesses will, in theory, correct 80 percent of the problems. Once again, that's a theory.

When I began to think more closely about Pareto and the 80/20 ratio I found it aligned almost perfectly to several coaching observations:

"A person training for a marathon runs eighty percent of their training mileage at paces which are too fast, and twenty percent at a pace which is too slow."  In a perfect world, the longest training run during the week would not exceed 25 percent of the training volume. Unfortunately, most of the packaged plans, regardless of the coach, are not prescriptive enough as to how intense the long run should be.

I guess its the Donald Rumsfeld theory of coaching; those knowable known, unknowable unknowns and perfectly good running socks which end up going missing in the dryer.

A marathoner who is capable of running continuously for two and a half hours at eight minutes per mile can reasonably consider twenty miles as their longest marathon training run. What drives me insane is to see a runner with a marathon goal performance of three hours, thirty minutes doing all of their long runs at nine minutes per mile for every mile of their long training runs. Oh, and the same pace goes for every mile of their "recovery" runs during the training week.

In order to race at a particular pace it's important to train at that particular pace. Long runs which start at 30 seconds per mile slower than the target pace and finish up at the target pace or a little faster, averaging out to the target pace, that's good.

"Eighty percent of a runner's mileage ideally are 'easy' runs, with the other twenty percent at lactate threshold or faster."  Even the 5,000-meter race distance on the roads is an aerobic event, with more than nine-tenths of the race run using the aerobic energy system.

Dr. Jack Daniels recommends, in his "Running Formula," ten percent of the weekly training mileage to be run at the lactate (or aerobic) threshold, eight percent to be run near VO2max pace, and five percent at VO2max. The rest is to be run at intensities which are a minute slower than marathon goal where a runner could most likely engage in a discussion on the Pareto Principle.

A runner who takes the time to look at the biggest training bugaboos, having to do with training intensity and training mileage, are likely to take care of most all of the big problems which hold back their run performance.