Saturday, January 25, 2014

Ask the Banter- Getting Started

It's sort of the end of Resolution time. Right around the beginning of the New Year (the Gregorian Year, not the Athletic Year, Academic Year, or Fiscal Year), the average person's motivation to start a new exercise routine is high. Society has taught us that January 1st is a sort of re-birth of positive behavior. Countless would-be do-gooders pledge to turn over a new leaf and finally improve their lives. The motivation to continue said behavior typically wanes after about 3 weeks. This is why is was a little in shock when one of my work colleagues recently came up to me with the following news (some details may be embellished).

Her: Guess what?
Me: Um, you've become a billionaire and are willing to give me a few million because you like my smile?
Her: No. Not even close.
Me: Well, you can't blame me for trying.
Her: I'm going to start running
Me: [sincere smile- which probably isn't worth any cash] That's awesome!
Her: So, umm, I have no idea how to get started. Help please.

On the surface, I seem like the right guy for the job. I advise/ coach several of my co-workers on their athletic endeavors. I'm a semi-runner by trade. For some reason, the other people of whom I service don't seem to have any complaints.

Me: Let's set up a more formal meeting.

Intake Interview
As a coach, I will always do an athlete interview before taking on a new client. I need to know a few things about the soon-to-be glutton for punishment before I agree to move forward. During this discussion, I try to learn the athlete's background, measurements, commitment, goals, social security number, and reasons for needing a coach. This specific interview was easy, since I already knew most of what I wanted.

During the meeting, a couple of interesting points were exchanged. First, she asked me if she should start with running 5 miles a day for 4-5 days a week. Keep in mind that the amazing specimen of a human is a working mom who hasn't done anything close to organized exercise for more than a decade. Her question highlights the reasons why people enlist the services of a coach in the first place. (Just in case you're wondering, the answer is no.)

Second, she asked me what her first step is in getting started. "Go out and buy running shoes?" Possibly. But, not for my athletes. Purchasing gear is around step 3, depending on the athlete. For most of my peeps, step 1 is to have a conversation with your family. Here's why:

Becoming an athlete, recreational or professional, is a lot like an invitation to a party. The invitation is to yourself and the party is your life. Any decent invitation should answer the Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How questions. Some of the answers are very easy. In the case of my newbie runner, it went like this...

#1- Who- You
#2- What- Running
#3- Where- ???
#4- When- ???
#5- Why- to get healthier
#6- How- Coach will tell me

Communication Problems
The Where and When are the reasons she's talking to her family. The ones who love you the most are also going to be your biggest supporters and biggest barriers. If you want their support, you need to include them with your plans. If you want them to be a barrier, you simply start changing the family routine. Communication is key in any relationship. Like it or not, she is in a relationship with her kids and husband. Their support is crucial to her success.

Sure enough, she went home and had the conversation. Sure enough, upon hearing her intentions, they were almost teasing and in disbelief. In their defense, I get it. My new athlete doesn't have a history of activity (past being an outstanding wife and mother). We are right smack in the middle of Polar Vortex 2.0, happening during the traditional coldest time of the year. She doesn't have a gym membership nor any indoors training equipment. She doesn't own any gear or cold weather running clothing. She thought that she'd start running in the wee hours of the morning, despite the fact that she's never been a morning person. She's basically in over her head. I can easily see how the family would be hesitant. They weren't on board.

A Collaborative Approach
She came back to me deflated. This was a good test for her. Her reaction was still positive. She was serious about getting started and wanted ideas on how to bring her family around. This fact, in and of itself, was all the information I needed to convince me to take her on as an athlete. She was faced with the strongest of demotivational circumstances and still wanted to move forward. She's mentally in a good place. And, there are strategies to bring the family around. On it's most basic level, anytime they throw up a roadblock, toss it back and have them come up with a solution.

-When they say that she's not a morning person, ask them when is a good time for her to do her work (she needs to set aside 1 hour per day).

  • Show them some commitment by taking them shopping for clothes and gear. If they want something, purchase that too. Who knows, she may get a workout partner or two.
  • Suggest a trial period. She's going to need about 6-weeks of introductory training before a habit forms. Ask for leniency or grace during the initial stages.
  • Get them to come up with routes that would be appropriate for Mom/ Wife to run on and give them piece of mind.

The idea is that she is to go into the family meeting with an open mind and leave the meeting with concrete answers of the Where and When. This, in my experience, is the most challenging part of getting started. Without these answers, running shoes are essentially useless.

As it stands right now, I'm fairly confident that she can swing her family. I hope that it won't take too much work. If needed, I'll host a mediation. I could convince the family by using the same techniques that I've trained her to use. I doubt it'll come to that. Only the most stubborn of families won't negotiate with moms wanting to workout.  She's got a lot of power in that family. If worst comes to worst, I'll remind them who's in charge of cooking dinner.

With the Where and When answers, planning workouts are simple. She'll be starting at 20 minutes times 4 days a week. Her initial runs will be run/ walk variations with subsequent weeks trying to increase the run portion until she can comfortable do the entire 20 minutes without walking. Conveniently, I expect this to take about 6 weeks (see how that works?!)

So, let this serve as a reminder to all you youngins out there. The actual act of working out is one of the easier details of your venture. Start slow and be consistent. The Where and When are the bigger challenges. Neither are likely to be successful without the help of your support crew. If necessary, threaten them with starvation. They'll come around.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Getting the Belt

I am a product of old school, lower middle class disciplinarian mentality that is nearing extinction in modern society. Back in my youth, when we messed up or broke the rules- such as talked out of turn, lied about our homework, made faces, borrowed daddy's car at the age of 7, cooked the family bowling ball for dinner, slaughtered some vampires for no particular reason, bounced on your bed and 'accidentally' shoved your brother's head into the drywall... I could go on for a while as there were a lot of instances of hilarity that needed correcting- we got paddled.

Nowadays, paddlins are few and far between in the world of discipline. There may or may not be a good reason for this and the conversation is very emotionally charged when it comes to paddlin philosophy. People in the anti-paddlin movement have a powerful lobby in DC and are ever aggressive in their tactics. Therefore, the discipline du jour seems to be non-violent timeouts, to grounding to your room (an oldie but a goodie), to no correctional actions at all (ya know, it's not the kids' fault they messed up).

Looking back and analyzing my own youth, I think I'd still rather have the paddlin. It's over with in moments and the anticipation was worse than the act. Timeouts or groundings can take hours, days, months, or years in some cases. I'd prefer to get on with life ASAP. Mommy had a number of paddlin tools available at her disposal and my bum felt it all (seriously, I was not an angel). On the list of paddles and the final fate of those tools:
  • wooden spoon (broken over bum)
  • cutting board (broken over bum)
  • Mom's hand (broken over bum)
  • hot wheels race car tracks (warped beyond use)
  • sticks (burned in the camp fire)
  • the belt (fate unknown but still have occasional nightmares )
Finally, I moved out. Nothing helps you avoid a consequence better than putting mileage between you and the consequence giver. No, I didn't become better behaved, I'm just as deviant as ever. At least the paddlins have stopped. Or so I thought...

The belt has returned to haunt my nightmares. And my daymares. No, my mommy has not moved in with me (yet). Worse, I'm getting belted again. The belt has grown. It's bigger. Stronger. And much more painful than ever.

You guessed it. I've started running on the treadmill. And I hate it. This vile, evil contraption is the spawn of the underworld. 

Sure, it's a great way to avoid the weather. Granted, you don't have to wear copious amounts of clothing. Yes, there are no objects of which you could trip and injure yourself. Admittedly, you don't have to worry about traffic and the bright lights, near misses, utter oblivion of motorists. True that the risk of encountering wild life, such as skunks, coyotes, bears, and herds of antelope is non-existent. Some even say that the ability to control speed and elevation make for better training. I'm not so sure it's worth it.

I'm am on the belt about 2 times a week. Typically, I use the trainer to add mileage to my weekly volume. I go slow, at roughly 60-90 seconds per minute slower than my easy outdoor pace. It's still hard. Not mentally. I have the Netflix to take my mind away to a happier place. But physically, the treadmill is exhausting. Unlike the belt from my arse, this isn't over in an instant. The pounding continues for 30-40 minutes.

To add insult to injury, the Garmin has no idea that I did any work. The Garmin is a global positioning system that triangulates via satellite communications. The 3 (up to 6) satellites that lock on to my whereabouts simultaneously can do so while I'm in the confines of my garage. However, from their lofty vantage point, I haven't actually gone anywhere. If the Garmin didn't see the workout, did it actually happen? I know that there is a periphery device known as the foot pod purposely invented to solve this problem. I'm too much of a pansy to add any additional weight to my feet.

One has to ask, why? Why do you do this? Because, in the world of running, volume is the key. The more miles I can put on my legs, the better runner I can be. And, let's face it, I'm not much of a runner. Any help I can get, I'm willing to take. And, I am fully determined not to suck this year. 

So, when I get off the bike and have a little bit of time left in my day, I get belted. My treadmill logs about 15% of my weekly mileage. It allows me to hop off the bike and get to the run without adding copious amounts of clothing to my body.

When I'm finished, I have to manually enter workouts to my Garmin Calendar. I like to leave myself little notes about how the treadmill run went. Here are a few:

Once the weather breaks, mid-July around here, the dreadmill's services will no longer be necessary. It will sit in my workout room collecting dust like everyone else's machine (let's face it- there's only a few of these devices relatively speaking that see much action). That will be a glorious time indeed.  Plus, should the anti-paddlin people get smart and force the paddlers to run on a belt, they may win the war.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Triathlete's Hydration Gauge

I'm pretty sure Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit was a triathlete, despite the obvious liability that he died a good 240+ years before the first actual triathlon. A little known fact: The original purpose of the Fahrenheit scale was was to recommend rehydration levels after a grueling workout or race.

History has a way of obscuring the details, so allow me to enlighten you... Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit was a Polish/ Dutch guy who was known as Danny G by those in his inner circle. He was one of the first athletes in the world to recognize the importance of proper race hydration and post-race rehydration. Here's his story...

Leading to the Problem
Danny G was an aspiring young triathlete back in the early 1700s. He was a rare triple talent in that he could swim with the swimmers, bike with the cyclists, and run with the runners. Or so he thought. Residing in northern, yet non-Scandinavian, Europe, Danny G did not have a ton of events to choose from. Sure, there was Roth in Germany and Ironman Switzerland. But since Danny G was both Polish and Dutch, he couldn't bring himself to do either one of those races. He did crush the field in inaugural 1717 Ironman Copenhagen and earned a slot at Kona (this was obviously before the WTC implemented the KPR system).

Given his talent level and penchant for destroying the competition, Danny G was a bit confident going in to the World Championships. He had a horrible race. He finished dead last amongst the pros, men and women, and got spanked by several hundred age groupers. This hadn't happened to him before. He was down but not lost.

The Epiphany
It took Danny G some soul searching to learn what had happened on the Big Island (this was after the race had moved from Oahu). He did another couple of races back on the mother land and his form was as fine as ever. 

It wasn't until much later until he was being teased by one of his friends. "Ha ha, you can't take the heat!" The light bulb suddenly turned on in his head. Maybe there was something about the heat. Northern Europe is not known for its blistering temperatures. This fact makes training ideal in non-winter conditions. Danny G had never experienced anything like the Queen K or the Energy Lab (which he believes is aptly named since the amount of juice that patch of road steals from the average athlete and placed into Hawaii's electricity grid could power most of the island's small appliances). 

Danny G now had a new goal in his athletic life- learning how to beat the heat in Kona.

The Experimental Process
Danny G knew that one of the best ways to learn in sport is to pay attention to what the other athletes do. He decided to take things one step further. Back in the 1700s, scientists had just learned that substances placed in sealed glass tubes would expand and contract when experiencing different levels of heat.

Danny G loved the element mercury for several reasons. First, he felt a kinship with the liquid since the symbol was Hg and he was Danny G. Second, he appreciated shiny things. Third, he was a big fan of sniffing the vapors.

Danny G took a small batch of his silvery goop and locked it up in a small cylinder. He got to work. First, he went north to the colder climes of Finland. It was winter by the time he arrived. After convincing the locals to go for a 1 hour run, he carefully noticed how much water they drank during the hour and in the 10 minutes immediately following the workout. He marked this as zero on his mercury shaft, since the Fins didn't actually drink anything. 

Danny G started working his way south. Every time he hooked up with a new group of triathletes (he actively tried to avoid solo-sport runners lest the peer reviews in the journals use that as a potential flaw in the experiment). The Parisian French drank 15 ounces, on the average, after their hour. Danny G marked and labeled. The French near Nice drank 25 ounces. Marked and labeled. The Egyptians drank a whopping 70 ounces in 70 minutes. 

Danny G noticed that there was indeed a direct relationship. He could easily calculate a scale and predict where imbibing benchmarks would exist. 

Sadly, Danny G was no longer much of a triathlete. He took roughly 3 years to compile his data. During that time, he only had logged sporadic 60 minute runs. His power numbers on the bike were way down and he couldn't keep up with the next generation of swimmers working their way through the pro ranks. Even worse, Danny G's skin had developed a pinkish sheen, which he thought was a reaction to the sun and heat. He was an itchy, shedding mess. His chances of qualifying and making it back to IM Kona went out the door.

However, Danny G made a fortune selling his "Hydration Gauge" to athletes all around the world. It was common knowledge in the sporting world that the 'drink 8 glasses of water every day' was pretty much BS. The Hydro Gauge provided a nice, easy to read system for taking in fluids. Records started breaking at record breaking speeds.

It wasn't long before non-athletes started buying the device. This was right around the time when non-athletes bought more athletic gear than the actual athletes. Both this purchasing trend and the hydration gauge can be found in today's society. Both have changed functions. Athletic gear is now called 'fashion' (unless you are talking about running, swimming, cycling, triathlon, or any just about any other sport not including a ball). The Hydration Gauge is now called a thermometer for some reason that most outside of only select country cannot understand.

Just think, if it wasn't for one man's struggle to become a decent athlete in a small race in Hawaii, the Fahrenheit thermometer may have never been invented. And where would the world be without that?

There's a rumor floating around that Danny G relocated to Australia. He believed that was the best place to find a doctor and consistent weather so he could care for his depleting health conditions. He made sure to bring a large stock of fresh, raw mercury and his condition never improved. His DNA did survive. Historians believe that Danny G may in fact be a distant relative of 2012 IM Kona Champ Pete Jacobs. I'll let you decide.

So there you have it.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy Birthday!

Happy Birthday to You
Happy Birthday to You
Happy Birthday dear current and future 2014 USAT members,
Happy Birthday to You

(Thank goodness this is in print. Otherwise, you'd have to hear me sing and there's a very high probability that you wouldn't enjoy that.)

If today is you actual birthday, happy birthday and I wish you all the best. If your birthday is at sometime in the future, you who are a triathlete and will be competing in at least one race during the 2014 calendar, today is also your birthday and I wish you all the best.

A couple of years ago, it wasn't always the case. You would show up to a race with your USAT card and a government issued ID. They would check both and your race age would equal your actual age. For some, they could race on Saturday at one age and on Sunday at a different age. Even better, they could actually change age groups in the middle of the season.

Then, something miraculous happened. USAT started keeping track of your race results. It's true. Then, for some reason, they started keeping score and giving you a ranking. In 2013, I was roughly in the 83.5 percentile with a ranking of 755. I have absolutely no idea what this means. The Ranking Site can be found here in case you are interested in not understanding your percentile and ranking number.

It was right around this time that the ranking people noticed a problem. They were having issues providing accurate ranking numbers (I don't think this has changed much). Of course, they blamed something else. You. You were the problems. See, many of you people were having birthdays. And, as I mentioned before, some of you were aging up to a new group dead smack in the middle of the season. This fact crashed the algorithm and was one of the reasons for the housing market crash a few years ago (you'd have to read the entire manuscript, it's buried near the back).

Well, the USAT ranking people didn't want the housing market to continue it's downward slide. Therefore, they came up with this brilliant idea. What if- and they were just thinking out loud during one of the staff meetings- everyone on the planet had the exact same birthday?

Now, the executives were immediately hooked. The Techs didn't think this was realistic but since when to execs listen to techs? Therefore, they changed the USAT rules. You race age is now whatever your age will be on December 31 (yesterday, for those of you reading in real time). Here's the exact rule:
3.2 Age Group Competition.a. All age group athletes must participate and compete in the age group division corresponding to the athlete’s age on December 31 of the year of the event.
Given that the USAT follows the traditional Gregorian Calendar, once the clock stuck 12 last night, not only did your carriage turn into a pumpkin, but you got magically older. So did I.

This year, I am racing in a different age group category than my chronological age would have me believe. I got old and I didn't even know it. And, it'll happen to you.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy your birthday today. You should go out and celebrate. Think of it like this, you have your fake USAT birthday and your real mother-gave-birth-to-you-on-this-date-oh-so-many-years-ago birthday. Have some extra cake. Live it up. You only get one birthday, right? Unless you're a triathlete. Then you get 2.