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, 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.

Monday, April 27, 2015

What's In It For Me?

"I want to start a run group.  What do I need to do?"

Was I surprised?  Sal's question was identical to one Suzanne brought up during the dark, drippy and miserable days right after the new year.  For Suzanne things don't change all that much based on the weather.  On the other hand; I start to ask the second question of the existentialist dilemma, once I get through the 'solitary person, placed into a world seemingly without meaning' realization...and the 'I exist here, doggone it' announcement.

So Sal's question was my reminder.  I sat back, took a sip of my beer and asked myself, as I told him, "I can help you figure this out."  The second question of the existentialist dilemma, by the way, is asked, often internally, when a person figuratively finds themselves hip-deep in a murky body of water with a hand pump.  And an overabundance of large, green reptiles.  And the original plan to drain water from said body.

"Now what?"

The nice thing was that we weren't treading an overgrown pathway.  There's at least 2400 clubs (affiliated with the Road Runners' Club of America (RRCA)) which started out as a twinkle in the eyes of one or two runners.  I'm sure the vision of a bartender and a couple of runners probably isn't far from the norm, either.  Especially in my town, where at least a half-dozen establishments have affiliated run nights.  Nothing brings runners together like a few miles and a few beers.

So, if you were thinking about starting a run group from the running surface up, what might be the most important 'got to have' factors?  Naturally, this is not a one-size meets all needs assessment; for those of us in parts of the country where the seasons are "'hot,' 'really hot,' 'humid and hot,' and 'holidays'" we're actually blessed with the lack of a "plan B."  We can run, adjusting for sunrise and sunset on occasion, year-round.

And if you're a smart guy you can drop all of the little details into the classic "what's in it for me" category.

Take a good course or courses, as a start.  There are clubs with which I've run whose run courses traverse the heart of the downtown business district.  Not such a bad thing if you're one of the drinking establishments the runners pass by each week.  Then again, this might be a mixed blessing; having the potential for hot, sweaty runners barreling through the area where your business' tables and seating happen to be.  And impacting your servers.  Busy intersections - word to the wise would be to follow all relevant traffic rules and signals.  But if I had a dollar for every time I've seen someone streak across the street and barely miss being a hood ornament...I could probably buy a few nice things.

Not every person wants to run the same course week in and week out.  Well, some do because they want to know how they're progressing or regressing over time.  A blend of relatively runner-safe courses is a good draw.

While I'm on the topic of "runner-safe," the rhetorical question often expressed by the RRCA's executive director, Jean Knaack has stuck in the back of my mind, 'are you willing to lose your house based upon this particular decision?'  I love runners; I trust many of them, I don't trust motor vehicle operators, owners of large, aggressively-nurtured dogs, or lawyers.  So, keeping courses as residential as possible, and minimizing the number of places where traffic flow and runner flow may potentially intersect without signs and lights is a good idea.  Paperwork, both of the list of persons running, and their agreement to abide by some common sense guides, minimizes the chance of the tail-end of my "don't trust list" coming to play. 

How about insurance which covers those activities?

Not too many chop houses want to put their livelihood on the line because Joe Dailyjogger stumbled and broke his nose while dodging Timmy Bagohammers' "Fast and the Furious" re-enactment, too.  So RRCA clubs can avail themselves of inexpensive insurance, with the understanding they'll operate as a non-profit and abide by the Safe Running Guidelines.  Get dinged at a recognized event, or while volunteering, and the insurance should take care of you, a'la a certain duck.  Which is just as good as money.

Other "WIIFM" details include recognition for number of runs attended, or miles run, or longevity.  Some places will provide light food and beverage specials for the benefit of the runners, too.  I've seen shirts as recognition for club membership or fidelity...not much else. 

Is there anything you as a runner, or your club if you belong to one, does which meets that "what's in it for me" to draw in runners?  I'd love to know.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Perfectionist Streak

Finally had the chance to toe the line at a 10K a couple of weekends ago.  I didn't harbor any unrealistic expectations about how well (or poorly) I was going to run.  After a few years of just plain running because my ego overcame good counsel - with the only racing being the twice-yearly half-marathon beat-down by the missus - I was grateful for the single week of the common cold/flu which occurred sometime back.  Conservative mileage and speed training meant I was 5K race fit, barely.  I set three performance goals for the race; one achievable if every potential factor fell into place, one which was a little more reasonable, and, lastly, the 'all I want is to be happy, not throw up and not fall down' outcome.  


Once the gun went off I knew the high goal was out of the question.  I guess the ability to pull that particular card off the table and not mourn my initially-perceived training failure is the difference between 'me ten years ago' and 'me now.'  At that moment my friend Johnohon rolled up next to me, swatted me on the behind and said, "Waah-Waah!"  It wasn't being addressed by my hash name that bothered me so much as it was the hand imprint which most likely could be seen on my left cheek.  That's pretty much the wake-up call for me at any race distance.  
The next time he saw me was probably ten minutes after the race finish.  We took a few minutes to exchange pleasantries and commend each other on the race performance.  He asked me how I felt and I almost instinctively went into 'coach mode,' dissecting every little shortcoming of the morning.  I suddenly sensed the fact that I was "just this close" to whining about the race when I stopped myself cold.  I then smiled and said, "You know what?  I could dwell on the negatives, but I'm actually happy about how I ran today."


"Complaining is mouth (flatus)." - message seen on local tattoo/paraphernalia shop marquee.


Rare is the person who races who doesn't try to make their "today self" better than their "yesterday self."  That's the reason we keep track of personal best times for races, it's why the newest Garmins now trumpet the longest run, or the fastest speed-work split or the best 5K performance.  There's nothing wrong with desiring to be better, as long as it comes from within.  Right?


The drive to set the standard of perfectionism comes in much the same way as motivation; by internal or external forces.  Naturally, the internally-derived is more valuable and more long-lasting than the stuff which comes from outside us.  A self-oriented perfectionist sets high standards and defines themselves based on the ability to meet those marks.


Persons who let their social environment set the standard deal with what is known a socially-prescribed perfectionism.  Let your racing performance tie directly into your self-esteem because your significant other or your circle of friends?  Those relationships are going to suffer, and so might you.


Both forms of perfectionism in the most extreme cases have been related to negative outcomes; depression, stress-related problems, body-type concerns, and such.  But the internal perfectionist streak looks toward steps along the path, copes with problems as they arrive, and has a positive affect after success is reached.
How many times have I groused about not quite meeting any of the marks I set before me?  Way too many times, I have to admit.  As a coach I try to find at least one positive thing about an athlete's performance; naturally it's simple to look at the abundance of dark cloud.  But if I open my mouth and focus only on the shortcoming it's probably going to be sonically-and-aromatically, um, unwelcome.


Sure, let me go ahead and "stink the joint up."


And I bet if you take enough time after a race you're probably going to find at least one thing you did well on the day, even if there's a preponderance of evidence to the contrary.  It doesn't necessarily mean you don't need to go back and see where your training went wrong, just that it's not going to do you any good to blow off effluvium (or steam, for that matter) around everyone else after the race.