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, January 19, 2015

Pure Endurance

Fitness, physical activity and the body which we inhabit are all tied together...naturally.  "A sound mind in a sound body," is a statement attributed to the Roman poet Juvenal and the Greek pre-Socratic philosopher Thales.  Even the maker of my running shoe has a name which is an acronym from the Latin (Gee, I thought my employer was the only organization who had a passion for turning acronyms into words...) tying soul to body.

So how then, is it that when we are faced with an illness, or those close to us (and, even us) become ill we discuss it in terms of combat, or struggle?  As much as we like to think we're war-like and dominant it's a very small population (especially in our society) who have the emotional or mental state to truly grapple with or fight another being.  We avoid (direct) conflict at all cost; we hide behind avatars and screen names, then block the comments or the persons with whom we disagree.

In the year since my father passed (cancer of the adrenal gland, detected late) I've begun to see parallels and contradictions, both in the way we look at life, illness and fitness.  Especially when we talk about cancer.

There are scientists who can probably describe more profoundly than I what a cancer is; I've heard it on at least one occasion to be caused by a variance, albeit small, from the planned cycle of cellular development, down at the DNA level.  At first, the rapidly-multiplying cells don't appear to have any effect.  Eventually it reveals itself (or quite a large amount of itself) as something which at the least is "not normal," either by affecting normal function or a "something's not quite right" feeling.  Ignore it for too long and it might become harmful, in some cases, enough to threaten life as we know it.

So we talk about someone who "struggles" with a cancer.  The word connotes forceful or violent effort to get free of the condition.  When I think of weight training the word "struggle" makes much more sense.  However, when it comes to our sport I cannot rightly say I've ever desired one of my athletes (or myself, for that matter) to physically bludgeon themselves back to health, much less to improve their performance.  A person who's dealing with a cancer is definitely not beating themselves up on a daily basis; not even certain former triathletes-turned-professional cyclists-turned triathletes were beating themselves...there's a profound difference between performance-enhancing and cytotoxic drugs, amigos.

An organism which is able to exert itself and remain active over a period of time, and to eventually resist, withstand, and recover from trauma is said to have endurance.  Endurance is much more peaceful, more simple, and less "look at me."  I tip my running cap to the persons who on a daily basis, as the old song goes, "keep on keeping on."  They're not flying high on Monday and shot down the next day.

My hope this week is that if you know someone who has been diagnosed with a cancer and you are of the praying sort, that you wish for them to have endurance.  Think of the treatment phase as more of an endurance event.  And if you're healthy and working on speed, fitness or any of the other desired attributes which come as a result of, yes, endurance training, well...keep on keeping on.  Enjoy your mornings or afternoons in the sun and the breeze and know there are friends who (temporarily) live vicariously through you.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Accountability Measures

I was ranting about "resolutionists" in the last post; not so much how much I don't particularly care for them as much as the challenge in helping them turn a two-month habit into a lifetime one.  Entry-level exercisers have the potential to become entry-level runners, a form of vocational security for this running coach.

When it comes to a (scheduled) Sunday morning run if the weather is crummy and/or it's only the missus and myself out waiting for the rest of the group I'm always willing to pull the plug; hey, I have a treadmill at the house, if no one in the group feels accountable to one another then why should I panic?  However, get at least one other person out who's near my ability level I'm going to plug away at the planned run; and if it's someone who's slower I still (kinda) don't mind, and most likely enjoy it once it's over.  Several trainers and coaches have written about the benefits of a threesome when it comes to workouts.  A small group of at least three persons is unlikely to leave an individual without a training partner; you might occasionally lose one but rarely will you lose two.

This group accountability for the resolutionist can be virtual - I keep in regular contact with a group which originally started out as a letters and opinions forum, moved to an e-mail list, and finally grouped together on social media.  We post race results, daily workouts, joys and challenges, and such.  There's nothing like being positively-referenced in a friend's status post; and I've lost track of the times when I've seen a post which reminded me to get up off my lazy behind and do the right thing.  If the group is physical and local, it needs to be to the point of near-intimacy; the type of group where almost nothing is off-limits and anything can be brought up as an item of concern.

This may sound kinky, so bear with me.

There's nothing like feedback of multiple forms.  Weigh, measure and photograph each other - or yourself - in as little clothing as possible, on a weekly basis.  Track the weight and measurements, keep the photos in your phone or computer as motivation to press on - you'll need it on both the good and on the bad days.  This is important:  If you can't feel comfortable in as little clothing as possible, with what might be an excess of an excess of body it will almost be gymnophobic to step into a gym where there are a great number of really buff guys and gals, some average folks, and a few sweatsuit-wearing folks struggling to transform.  You're going to be in public.   Yes, people are watching each other.  And yes, people are watching themselves.  Most are paying more attention to themselves than they are you.  Just go in there and bust your chops; if your effort level shows you're working out you'll fit right in.  If you're on a cardio machine pedaling along at a pace which is slower than you would walk, you will stand out.

The workout sessions ought to be difficult enough, and varied enough.  The "exercise thing" can go from hard work to the group ambling along on the treadmill at two miles per hour for twenty minutes three times a week in nothing flat if you're not careful.  Sure, twenty minutes three times a week is what the CDC recommended, but that's the absolute floor.  To get more fit there needs to be more done.  Make a real investment in the fitness by signing on with a gym where there are group exercise classes or fitness trainers on staff.  And use them.

Just yourself - or no trainers?  For cardio machines a decent heart rate monitor might be overkill, but there are some exercises which don't have a way to read a heart rate.  Want to know what's the maximum heart rate for you?  Get in touch with your doctor and ask for a stress test - actually it's a great idea before starting a workout program.  Don't want to deal with doctors but want to know what your max heart rate is most likely?

If you're a man, take your age, multiply times 0.7, then subtract that number from 208.  A fifty-year old guy most likely has a maximum heart rate of 173.

Women will take their age, multiply times 0.88, subtract from 206.  So a fifty-year old woman would subtract 44 from 206 to get 162 as her max.

If you don't like heart rate monitors and all that battery-operated, chest-strapped (now there's forearm straps and Bluetooth for the anti-chest strap crowd) stuff then you can use what's called the ratio of perceived effort.  Researchers found experienced exercisers could "ballpark" their percentage maximum heart rate to within a few beats, based on a ten-point exertion scale.  A "five" was an effort which could be maintained for an hour of few - fifty percent; a "ten" was the 'oh, heavens, my chest will explode in five seconds if I keep this up' - about one-hundred percent.  Sixty-to-seventy percent max heart rate, or a six-to-seven on the perceived effort scale, is what you're going too want to do for AT LEAST thirty minutes a day, three times a week.  And if you can get another two days in of thirty to forty minutes with an effort level of fifty percent/"five" effort, so much the better.

Finally, consistency is going to be key.  Schedule the workout in to the plan of the week immediately after the things which keep the roof over the head, the car on the road and the food in the fridge.  The German philosopher Nietzche said that "a day has a thousand pockets."  Time management is the ultimate goal of any resolution; we need to be the master over our life, not the other way around.  If you're resolving to change exercise, fitness or diet in the coming year know that the main battle will be between you and the watch, the planner and the calendar.  You can do it.

Mars, Venus and the Gymnasium

The last weekend runs of the year are times for observation, reflection and the mental penciling-in of training targets for the new year.  My first draft took place about six months ago.

I'm a coach.  I want to set the example.

Pete, this week's run companion, hasn't finalized his plan in macro.  He knows he wants to do a few half-marathon distance races; he'll most likely spend a lot of his weekends doing the same thing most other local runners do here:  Hop from weekend 5K to weekend 5K.  I guess that's not a bad way to be when your goal is to stay active in your later-fifties.

It didn't surprise him too much to hear I have three target races this year (a 5K, a 10K and a half-marathon), especially when I still am "on-the-mend" after years of ignoring overuse injuries.  What surprised him was to learn eighty percent of my training mileage is indoors on a treadmill, especially the higher intensity work.  Once my strength work and cross-training is factored in eighty percent of my training volume (when measured in intensity) comes from treadmill running.

When the infinitesimal variances between treadmill running and road running are removed I believe it's the most time-efficient way to train.  How can a guy go wrong with pace discipline regardless of the individual workout's intensity level?  And if things go wrong and the first nagging injuries begin to rise up there's always the "STOP" button.  I have a treadmill at home, plus access to the machines at the local gym where I do my cross-training and strength training.

The iron-pumpers at "Fit-O-Rama" have become quite used to the sweaty guy blowing up their cardio machines.  I've run into a couple as they're flying to shows and we're going to races.  It's a mutual admiration society of a sort.  My gym is in an expansion project, just in time to accommodate the yearly (temporary) population explosion.  The first two months of the new year finds nearly every fitness center filled with folks I've come to describe as "resolutionists."  These folks (suddenly) wake up on January first and resolve to get fit.  I could go into the philosophical ramifications of such a statement (refer to S.M.A.R.T. goal-making), or even the folly of setting themselves up for abject failure on or before March first.  While I've never asked health club managers or sales persons, I'm certain they cringe as folks come through the door the day after New Years', fill out their yearly contract and are almost always never seen again.

A couple of years back my wife (former fitness studio manager) and I talked about what a forward-thinking fitness studio owner could do to truly enhance the health and wellness of their newest customer.  When it comes to guys it seems to be no big problem; throw them on the weight and cardio machines for two weeks and they're certain to see a slight change.  Some will be stoked at the outcome and stay at it.  Others might become disappointed.

Women, on the other hand, are a longer-term project.  Few realize that it will take at least six months of consistent workouts to show anything beyond the most rudimentary cardiovascular fitness.  Fewer women still are pragmatic enough to realize that they did not arrive at the state of fitness they are presently at over the course of six, nine or twelve months.  So what can a chick do to make the best of the first - difficult - months of a training routine?

Monday, December 22, 2014

Ebenezer? Ebenezer?

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

How much has your training mileage declined since Thanksgiving?

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Just Say No."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 5, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I can hear the question, 'what injustice?'

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 1, 2014

Oh Dear, Santa!

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

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

And that's talking strictly about the workplace.

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

That's it. Enough.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Over The River, Through The Woods

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

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

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

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

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

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

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