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, September 22, 2014

Eighty-Twenty

"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 pace...one 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.

Monday, September 8, 2014

It's NOT All About You.

Q: "How did the girl know her blind date with a runner was half finished?"
A: "He said, 'Well, enough about me, let's talk about running.'"

I thought the "Navy blue and gold" water bottle and the hand towel on the console would have been a subtle hint.  In any case, there was absolutely no need for the elderly gentleman to shut down the treadmill on which I had been running.  ALL six treadmills in the room besides that one were NOT being used.  Fortunately for the both of us there were only three other persons exercising in the room, and a couple of staff members.  I raised my hands to shoulder height and said, "Whaaa?"

"I didn't notice your stuff was there until I got up here."  The gentleman in his mind was perhaps correct, but the white of the towel and the gold of the bottle...  I don't like to attribute to malice what might be more readily put down to ignorance, but every once in a while the passive-aggressive behaviors of the more seasoned citizenry in that gym facility borders on the dynamic of a kindergarten.  It gets more entertaining during certain times of the year.

The "it's all about me" mentality has gained more traction over time, to the point where journalists in the electronic media have started to discuss.  My trip last weekend to Virginia was also a brief detox from social media stuff; I left the computer at home, there were no e-mails worth reading on my cell phone.  But the missus and the kids had seen an article title, which got us to talking about polite society and the failure of people to behave in such a way.  Then, four days after I get home, I get the reminder that etiquette may not necessarily be dead, but appears in need of resuscitation.  And quickly.

Here are a couple of helpful reminders for those of you who run in a public place, with other persons, for recreation or fitness reasons...

At The Gym:
Are there specific time limits for the machines, especially when patrons are waiting?  Many gyms see treadmill workouts as a prelude to strength training; many runners, for that matter, would rather shove a sharp stick in their eye than stay on a treadmill for any longer than thirty minutes.  That appears to make half-an-hour the gold standard when others are waiting.

If you're playing music to help pass the time, keep the headphones turned to a reasonable level.  I've heard, in the past, music coming from headphones which were fifteen feet away.  On a runner's ears. MiracleEar stock, anyone?  Television sets for visual distraction and entertainment are lovely.  But I'll admit there are programs and channels I do NOT want to watch.  Always ask of your fellow patrons before doing the clicky-thing.

And ALWAYS wipe down the treadmill console.  The deck is also important, because you don't want to see the next person on the machine go slipping off the back.  At least, not until you have a video camera ready.  But wipe down - preferably with mild disinfectant - any surface where a runner is going to place exposed flesh.

At The Track:
If you have an all-weather facility for speed work, thank the school district or municipality which had the foresight to install it.  Now it's up to you to take good care of it; schools don't like throwing good money after bad, and will replace a worn-out polyurethane track with (cheaper) asphalt in nothing flat.  Most facilities will have signs which tell people to not bring strollers, skateboards, bicycles, roller skates and dogs; both for safety and for damage reasons.  A wheeled conveyance places more pressure in a smaller area for a longer period of time than most shod or shoeless runners.

How do you know if you should be in the inside or outside lanes?  Persons who are walking should almost always use the outer half of the track lanes.  As for runners, if you find that you are passing more people than you are passing you, you probably should use the inside-most lanes, and vice versa. In the case there are very fast persons doing speed work, or organized team workouts, it's best to stay wide.

Group Runs:
If you know one or more persons who have time schedules and ability levels which align with your own, you are blessed.  There aren't many things you need to do to make life nice for all.  When it comes to headphones, I say 'not unless everyone has them.'  If everyone has a pair of headphones and a music player, why would you want to be all together for a run?  Is it not a social thing?

The second concern has much to do with pace.  I would much rather have the overall group pace drop back to keep the slowest runner in the group with the group than faster and have them struggle.  The group can always get faster as people improve, right?  Dropping a person on a run is an unforgivable sin of the highest order.

Races:
"Racing," wrote the running philosopher-king Dr. George Sheehan, "is the love-making of a runner." Everyone fancies themselves a great runner, but when we toe the line with a hundred, thousand, or ten thousand of our closest friends, that's where all the inhibitions (and illusions) go by the wayside.

Jumping onto a race course without registering, or "banditing," is a cardinal sin of the highest order, and if one wishes to place legal terms, it's a form of theft.  A person who jumps into an event without paying the requisite entry fee is STEALING, from the race director (in all cases), the organization for which the event benefits (in the case of a non-profit) and the other stakeholders who have helped by their entry fee to pay for the insurance, course protection and whatnot.  Simply put, don't do it.

It's okay to wear the race shirt on the day of the event, but the one thing which will draw a runner out as a grade-A "newbie" is placing the run number on the back of the shirt.  If your name is recognizable by a single name to thousands of track or running enthusiasts and the race promoter provides a bib with your name to place on your front side, then it's acceptable to place the number on the back.  Otherwise, you're just a number like the rest of us.  It's okay.  You'll get used to it.

Self-seeding is good.  Race directors who place pace group signs are very good people.  Corrals are also very good.  People who think they're faster than they are and stage themselves too far forward, not so good.  Why?  When I have to place a hand on your shoulder as I'm running by in the first one-hundred yards and you look like I hit you with a cattle prod, it tells me that you placed yourself too far to the front of a race.  Moms and dads:  Your six-year-old standing at the starting line with the Kenyans might look cute, but you're obstructing the hard work and training of a lot of persons who have trained for longer than your child has been alive.  Mary Decker retired long ago.  Mary Cain deserves to be there..

While you're at it, think about how you move along the race course.  Three-or-four-deep running or walking abreast, playing like "red rover" is not a good thing.  Quite simply, you're obstructing other participants, in most cases this injustice is compounded by the sensory loss of headphone use.  The RRCA asks member clubs and events to discourage the use, and some have taken steps to ban them. How many of the top-shelf runners have you seen wear headphones at a race?  That should tell you something.  Don't do it.  If you absolutely have to, then TURN THE MUSIC DOWN.  Nine times out of ten you've got it on too loud, I guarantee it.

During The Rest of Your Life:
We all love running.  It permeates every aspect of our lives, from the sticker on our car to our personal e-mail address.  Trouble is that we live in a world with people who still think it's bad for our knees, leads to evil degenerative diseases, and is, in the words of the late astronaut Neil Armstrong, a waste of perfectly good heartbeats.  We all love to talk about our training, the last killer workout we did and the epic race for which we just registered.  To the discomfort of our family, co-workers and non-running acquaintances.

I learned an important lesson during the first season of triathlon refereeing.  I knew I was going to see a lot of people I knew while working in the transition area before a race.  My mentor, Jay reminded me that it was all right to say hello and exchange pleasantries, but to limit my conversation to a brief thirty-second period of time.  That way I could help educate other athletes and remain as fair and impartial as possible.

If you feel the need to talk about running with non-runner companions or family, perhaps you can try to limit it to thirty.  Then ask them about their day.  At least by that point they'll know the date is half over.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Simplify, Simplify

"Our life is frittered away by detail.  Simplify, simplify." - Henry David Thoreau

Endurance, in the mind of a runner, is usually defined in terms of distance or time.  How far can you run?  How long can you run?  And, in the words of one of my favorite musicians, the hope is you may run long.  Thank you, Neil.

For the rest of the world it's pretty much the ability to suck it up and drive on; that seemingly endless move from one living space to another.  Less enjoyable than even the worst long run, in my humble opinion.  And, worse yet, often more social than we would care to admit.

A friend will help you move.
A good friend will help you move the body.
A parent will help you choose the body to be moved.

Suzanne and I managed to coincide our visit to Virginia Beach to run the Rock n' Roll Half Marathon with the weekend our son and his wife were to move from a 3,000 square foot house to an apartment of about one-half the size.  Thankfully, they divested themselves of a butt-ton of stuff before we came to help, er, visit.  When it was all said and done - more done than said, frankly - I was reminded that we fritter our training life with too may details.

Especially when I saw many of my fellow participants the next day.  A distance event produced by an organization who obviously are not participating in their first rodeo, like CGI, have most of the hydration, transportation and other (capitalistic) factors figured out.  Water bottle holsters and music players at these events: Needless fritter in light of thousands of fellow supplicants, a dozen bands and cheer squads of varying qualities, and plenty of aid stations, regardless of the recommendations of pseudo-scientific beverage-funded research groups and the American College of Sports Medicine.

But, back to the simple thing.  I knew from the outset of my training this summer the chances I would NOT be prepared for a strong half-marathon were strong.  Inflame an iliotibial band and strain a hamstring, and those chances become a near-certainty.

Face it; 5K fit is not half-marathon fit.  Never has been.  Anyone who thinks otherwise is most likely going to endure a good hour or two of discomfort on the course and a day or two of discomfort on the job.

Smarter coaches have pontificated on the deep specifics of what it takes to get ready for a race.  To me, it all boils down to four workouts.  I'm going to talk specifically to the five kilometer distance for purposes of simplicity.

Long run - six-to-eight miles.  Run at a pace where you can hold a conversation.  Once a week.

Tempo run - three-to-five miles, run at a pace which is "comfortably hard."  Once a week.

Race pace work - one-to-five minutes of fairly hard work with complete recovery in between.  When I say complete recovery, I mean where the runner can say "I can repeat this piece again."  And do it. No more than three miles a week.

Easy runs - four-to-six miles, run at a pace where you can talk in single sentences, at the least.  Rest of the week.

Naturally, as the time progresses from the beginning of the training year to the last six weeks. the runner can adjust the long/tempo run distance.  Listen to your body and keep things simple; it's likely you're going to have a good day more often than not.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Stretchy Laces

When one has much to put in them, a day has a thousand pockets. - Friedrich Nietzsche, philosopher.

I believe in empty spaces.  They're the most wonderful thing. - Anselm Kiefer, painter.

I've written about the joy of elastic laces in the past; I truly do like them for the obvious reason of comfort.  Tension, once set at the beginning of the run or workout, does not lessen.  Even better, the tension on the foot does not increase when the foot swells.

But what do you do when there's an eyelet-to-lace mismatch; too many eyelets or too little elastic lace for comfortable use?  A "snug" fit without need to adjust the toggle might be acceptable when sliding the foot into the shoe for many.  But take a runner with a highly-arched instep, caused by a foot broken many years before, and let's say there is such a state as "too snug" a fit.

A revelation of sorts came to me when dealing with that pair of Asics Gel Noosa I referred to in passing two months ago.  Perhaps the shoe manufacturers and the lace makers have seen a future shortage of elastic laces.  Maybe they're cutting back on the length of the stretchy strings, because when I looped all the elastic in the classic "bar at the bottom, X at the top" layout there was no room for the fastening toggle, much less any slack.

When I looked more closely at the problem it struck me that I didn't need to use every last eyelet to ensure the shoe upper fabric would securely cradle my foot.  In fact, a "blank" eyelet between every two used for lacing gave just the right mix of security and comfort.  Joy returned again to my running.

The issue with the shoe eyelets appears also as an allegory for run training.  Think of shoe eyelets as days of the week on the calendar.  Runners who can fit a run in every day of the week without risking an overuse injury - soreness and aching muscles is one thing, overuse injuries is another - live in the best of all possible worlds. Runners who regularly deal with overuse injuries would do well to leave a little empty space during the running week.  Empty space in the calendar is a little slack; it gives the runner the option to tighten things up or let things relax.

Our running life isn't always swell...but sometimes it is.  Be ready and willing to find a way to adjust rather than meekly submit to the pain.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

"Happy" Place?

I love music.
I always have.
But I also love good food - especially good beer. Love, or obsession, often leads to overindulgence and undesirable medical outcomes. Thus, I'm forced by necessity to run, not sit in my living room with a musical instrument in one hand and an adult beverage in the other...pondering the mysteries of the universe; searching for the missing (and perfect) chord.
I learned the effect of music on athletic performance while dabbling in sports and playing in school bands. My Little League coach decided the world needed to hear the Eagles' new album in its' glorious entirety during a late season batting session. We both realized that my (shaky) hand-eye coordination, timing and swing mechanics amazingly improved during the second verse of "Life In The Fast Lane."
Sure to make you lose your mind.
Years down the road, running became therapy. After spending months and years listening to, learning and playing there were entire albums of music I could recall down to the note. A "Walkman with legs." So, when I reached a point where a run became daunting I could recall a tune which would allow me to forget whatever part of my body was uncomfortable and go to my happy place.
Some tunes are perfect for those easy days when the goal is, just simply, put time on the feet. This last Sunday I kept Angela company on her 12-miler; spare water bottle, cell phone and what-not. And "Little Wing" running through my head. A strange sense of coincidence (perhaps) came over me yesterday afternoon as I hit the last mile of my treadmill run...
Butterflies and zebras.
I had Sting's version in my head, but there's nothing like Jimi Hendrix in your treadmill loudspeakers. Or any loudspeakers, for that matter.
Music and running are individual tastes. Some folks who love to do really long runs, and dig pastoral or classical pieces. Then there are the short, fast, intense experiences which lend themselves to heavy metal or thrash. Occasionally a runner will show up for a speed workout at the track with a music player...I'm less cranky about it than I used to be, but I often tell them the music player will not be necessary:
First reason - a rare, occasionally strange activity in which I engage, called "coaching."
Second reason - fitness clubs who play music in the background will use a driving beat to keep the patrons pumped up...to a certain degree...during their workout. There are some workout studios where the music is more relaxed; those are the places where one might find the iron-slingers sporting headphones and pushing Drowning Pool into their brains.
Let the bodies hit the floor. As long as it's not mine.
My regular spinning instructor loves to play Motown during her classes; nothing says "torment" like a 17-minute standing climb while listening to Isaac Hayes. A friend of mine who substitute taught for her this week hit us with the "guitar god" playlist - Carlos Santana, Derek Trucks, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Eric Clapton.
Good stuff, Maynard.
One of my co-workers complained that he was less likely to follow the cadence calls of the instructor than to the song tempo. Got it. Research shows we tend to lock into certain tempos and beats and stay there. That's the reason Pharrell Williams, Daft Punk and Nile Rodgers are so, um, infectious right now. They make us, er, "happy." We do what it takes to stay in that happy place.
Racing, however, is all about not staying in ones' happy place, but of going a little beyond it. So if I come beside you at a race and I can hear the faint strains of "Blurry" I'll safely assume you have a very intense happy place.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

What Gets Measured?

"What gets measured gets done."

During the first years of my brief career as a performance improvement technologist that particular phrase was drilled deeply into my head. If an individual, shop, business or organization wanted to know it was successful at doing their prime mission it was important to find a way to tie nice, firm numbers to what they did. In the case of a school it could be how long it took to take a learner from the beginning of their learning experience to the point when they were ready or able to go out into the world; the number of tasks a learner could accomplish at the end of their schooling compared to the beginning, the increase in accuracy, perhaps even the cost of the schooling. Decreased time or cost; increased skill or accuracy, naturally, are considered good results.

Measures which have deep meaning to the individual, the business or the organization - especially when an improved measure benefits their cause - lend themselves to devices or plans to gauge accurately what is going on. I worked on a project with an organization that measured performance of a particular task by the number of times the task was performed during a particular period of time. More, as you can suspect, does not always lead to better. You can either end up with too much of a good thing or too much of a less-than-good thing, neither of which are a good thing.

I encounter a good example of a wrong unit of measurement quite often. If I had a dollar for every time I heard a race participant complain that a course was “thirty seconds too long” I could buy a few nice things. Lesson number one: With perhaps the possible exception of light-years, units of time are not the most-valid measure of linear distance. A tool which was never meant for the purpose the operator has decided to employ it will frustrate the performance improvement consultant.

I now work in the instructional systems design world; we use a model which asks us to first plan for training, analyze what needs to be trained, design and develop the instruction. Lastly, we implement and evaluate the training’s end result. The planning document we use tells - like most newspaper articles - the who, what, where, when, why and how…as well as the “how much” and “how many” questions. The head of my organization, however, wants to use the planning document for a time frame which goes way beyond the lifespan of the planning period. Why do well-intentioned measures of valued qualities persist in being measured with the wrong tool? The psychologist Abraham Maslow said it best, “if the only tool you have is a hammer every problem is a nail.”

Runners, cyclists, swimmers and multisport athletes, not to mention fitness enthusiasts and folks like me who work to drop a few pounds have at our disposal a myriad of on-line and off-line tools to track nearly every unit of measure which means something to us. I play with several of them on a regular basis so I can answer the important “which one is best for my need” question. Like every other piece of technology I am frequently torn between frustration and fidelity when “1.0 transforms into 2.0,” and so on. It’s bad enough to have to re-think how to measure what’s important when hardware dies on you and you move up the technological food chain. But when the maker of your device does a complete scrub of your on-line measurement software, your computer’s software, and the partnerships to which you’ve become accustomed…well, let’s just say I’m about to stop trying to use my hammer as a monkey wrench.

Keep your measures of performance simple and you're less likely to be frustrated.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Wrong Questions?

"If they can get you asking the wrong questions they don't have to worry about the answers." - Thomas Pynchon

Not surprisingly, being a coach of (adult) runners is not what pays my bills.  I possess a (small) mercenary streak; my relationship with the running/multisport world provides more emotional and psychic income than it does direct compensation.  Analysis in one form or another, for over three decades, has been my thing.

Situation - Question - Isolation - Solution - Action - Resolution.  Sounds easy, right?  Only if the incentive for "resolution" is in the best interest of the person...or the organization...enduring the situation.  If incentives don't exist, trust doesn't happen.  And the analyst is seen as a pain in the back side: a person you steer to ask questions you don't mind answering or to justify your own planned action.

So, when I got a "do this-or-that" question from Angela she had the question partly right.  She asked it in terms of workout; the problem was that she'd been wrestling with one nagging illness after another.  And as if motherhood wasn't challenging enough, her husband Chris is a trainer at the organization where I work.  Doesn't matter what level of education you're in, a school is a petri dish.  Most offices are that way, too, but schools are the exemplar.  One sick kid leads to two dozen others...a "gift" to teacher which keeps on giving.  And that's what happened.

I had to tell Angela that it wasn't a "speed work-versus-long run this weekend" choice, but a "recovery-versus-stupidity" one.  (She's not stupid, just driven, like most every other runner looking into a marathon.)  Sick or injured?  Your focus no longer on training, but on getting better. Once you're better you can go back to training.