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, 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 want...to 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:  "...run 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 ride...you 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."

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

But...Naked?

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 decoration...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.