Your permanent record

Someone did me the favor of forwarding the link for a Harlem Shake video yesterday. (Thanks a lot, btw., and in the spirit of paying it forward: http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=cd8Fmh7nIrQ#) I had managed to avoid witnessing this viral craze until Wednesday afternoon, but watching a clip of a dance move that has been recycled, following its heyday in the 80′s, got me thinking about the evolving nature of the historical record

Months or years from now when today’s Harlem shakers apply for government jobs, run for office or look to join the teaching staffs of our public schools, some odd things are going to show up in the process of potential employers checking the background of these currently-carefree souls. Like it or not, we all leave a lasting, maybe permanent, footprint of almost everything we do these days, but perhaps in this day and age gyrating in a gorilla costume to Baauer will not be held against you in the long run.

It seems a little funny to me that just the other day, after writing about the importance of the training log, I was struck today by the fact that my GarminConnect data may very well be around somewhere long after I am gone. Aside from the fact that such information represents no readily apparent value added to human existence, it also makes it impossible to fudge the numbers on workouts, races, etc. in true ‘the older I am the faster I was’ fashion.

I’ve searched on various occasions for the time from my first road race-a 10k at 12 years of age- to no avail. That race result, like many of the well thought out, and some of the more impulsive and foolish, things I did back in the 80′s may very well exist somewhere. While the race result is most likely to be buried on microfiche in a public library, I can confidently and gratefully say that most of my youthful missteps from the Beastie Boys era were not chronicled for time immemorial.

In the running works, if we can’t watch a webcast or follow live results from a meet or race, it’s almost as though that event fails to exist. As we all should realize, however, virtually everything that happens nowadays exists in real time and forever more.

That seemingly cryptic tweet, breakout race result, friend’s 21st birthday party or flirty snap chat? Make them count. They’re all going down on your permanent record.

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Running vs. training

Over the weekend, I had occasion to give some thought to the real, yet hard to define, difference between merely running and actually training the run. Early this morning, I was pleasantly surprised to read that Vern Gambetta had beaten me to the punch with a blog based on the same topic: http://bit.ly/126bHrQ

While Gambetta’s observations were spurred by watching a variety of age groups and skill levels at a swim practice, I am often reminded of the presence of a learning curve, or evolutionary continuum, in training when observing the athletes in our program here at UC Davis on a daily basis. Comparing our routine with many of the tales I hear through the recruiting process, and them again when frosh arrive on campus each fall, merely serves to underscore the existence of a true split between running and training.

In truth, there is no measurable component that defines the line between a run and a training session, and rather than rewrite Gambetta’s blog I will try simply to offer an additional point or two to the discussion.

I too believe that a good coach or educated bystander can discern the difference between true training and recreational running simply by observing an athlete. I also think that a good athlete should be able to employ an internal measure to tell whether he or she is engaging at a level that properly stresses the body without doing either too much or too little. Many developing athletes struggle to strike this balance and end up under or overtraining a workout, and that makes this internal governor a key element to reaching your training potential.

Although perhaps it only further muddies the subjective waters, I also believe that an athlete’s mindset and approach go a long way toward dictating whether the body (and mind) are undergoing real and useful training during any session. We have all seen athletes that let the workout ‘beat them,’ often times before it has even begun. An athlete that is excited about training and ready to apply him/herself will gain more from a session than one merely going through the motions. Here again, a coach can play a pivotal role in the process, but it is the athlete that must exert final control over the mental side.

A final point to which I have been giving a lot it thought recently surrounds an issue that Toby Tanser touches on in his book More Fire (http://www.amazon.com/More-Fire-How-Run-Kenyan/dp/1594160740), which offers a lot of valuable insight into the background of the Kenyan Way of training. Tanser talks about the tendency of the Kenyans to do more on days that they feel good and can reasonably increase the workload while also dropping out of runs and workouts once there is nothing productive to be gained. This is a notion that defies the strict structure and control that may coaches feel necessary when prescribing training or facilitating a workout, and I can truly see the value of both the Kenyan practice and the need to stick to the plan as written. Here again, I think that age and experience are the keys to allowing an athlete more autonomy in terms of how a training session can take a different form than what is down on paper. Each day should have a purpose, but we also want athletes to learn their own limits, and I have begun to consider more ways to help stimulate this process through workout design.

Gambetta aptly hits on a central element when he cites the importance of getting comfortable being uncomfortable. Any athlete can get to this stage, but it is only a true master of his/her craft that can embrace dwelling outside the comfort zone properly and when it counts – at the late and critical stages of a workbout, and then hopefully in a race.

Maybe like me, you will share in the feeling that too many of your days involve simply fitting a run in instead of completing a session with a true purpose. Then again, I don’t earn my living with my legs, but rather based on what others can do with theirs, and most days simply getting out the door has to suffice for this coach.

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The training log

Distance running is, in practice, a simple pursuit. It requires little equipment and essentially just the will or impetus to get out the door.

Even in the age of Garmins to track mileage, pace, heart rate and myriad other variables, one of the most rudimentary tools remains central to the foundation for any runner with whom I work. Over time and an evolutionary process, the logs employed in my training scheme have two distinct and crucial components: a running log and a recovery log (sample attached below).

The running log provides a snapshot of the day; run or workout specifics, general comments, distance/time run, pace(s), weather, and the like. With many athletes, this portion seems to serve as almost a form of confessional- where athletes will admit they feel a cold coming on or the fact that they went out way too hard – even when they might never verbalize such feedback.

The other element of the training log is a recovery matrix that allows athletes to chart various aspects of recovery according to a point system. Here too one can see whether meals are eaten or skipped, whether athletes are sleeping 8+ hours a night and if stress is creeping into the daily routine.

Looking back over a season, year or more to find repetitive patterns or performances on marker workouts can serve as a very powerful tool, and I believe firmly that the training log should be used as a means of enhancing the coach-athlete working relationship rather than as ‘evidence’ to be used against an athlete. The logs should help refine the training process rather than assess or evaluate the effectiveness of training; that’s what races are for!

Despite the availability of numerous online and electronic logs these days, I still prefer paper logs, which can be taken anywhere and allow for notes and comments to be jotted along the way. Ultimately, a training log can positively impact the quality of, and confidence surrounding, an athlete’s performance, two outcomes that make logging well worth the time.

RecoveryGuide

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I could care less

Technology in general, and the internet specifically, have made us lazy. We don’t have to remember information when we can Google just about anything, and as long as ‘facts’ can be found somewhere on the web, we must hold such truths to be self-evident.

For better or worse, humans do sometimes still have to speak, and not just text, in order to communicate and express ourselves. The ability to express oneself accurately, and maybe even eloquently, is lost on many these days, and I don’t merely refer to common errors like ‘supposably’ or a ‘statue of limitations.’ (For the record, the word ‘irregardless’ even exists in the auto correct lexicon, so it must be appropriate for usage.)

We don’t all have to be grammar police, but saying what you mean and meaning what you say can be powerful tools. Not important, you say? Well, I could care less what you think.

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Olympic Touchstones Part III – Land of the Cascades and the Olympics

I have always approached challenges with a tendency to throw myself fully into the task at hand, a fact which typically means that I remain unable to play the role of jack of all trades. There are many that tout the skill of multi-tasking, and while I do believe in crisis management and a need to sometimes juggle, I also don’t buy into the theories that encourage or enable fractured focus.

It’s not surprising that, on occasion, I have to make some difficult choices about what are and are not a feasible pursuits or uses of time, and in turn I have always coached athletes to do the same. In my own life, I only lasted a limited amount of time as a coach of both distance running and soccer, dedicating myself to cross country in the fall, which overlapped with early soccer season, which in turn overlapped with the beginning of track. Just as I was often told by HS soccer players that I attempted to ‘recruit’ out for running, or by runners whose commitment I question as less than 100%, I do understand such positions and decisions because I have been faced with similar dilemmas myself. I make no bones about the fact that I am a demanding coach, but I will always meet an athlete 50% of of the way, whether that takes an ounce or ton of investment on my part.

I spent my last several years in S. California as one that drank the running Kool Aid and become completely committed to the lifestyle. And still, faithful to one of my other innate flaws, I yearned for new challenge. This tug, along with a number of other personal, practical and quality of life considerations, led me to the beautiful Pacific Northwest and a job at another small school in Tacoma, WA.

Mt Rainier frames the city of Tacoma

Rather than assuming the reins of a powerhouse program like Mead HS, across the state, where my eventual friend Pat Tyson coached, or even across town at Bellarmine Prep or Gig Harbor HS, I landed a teaching job at a school that was in the process of resurrecting cross country, with no certain success as part of the prognosis at the time.

Looking back now, I still laugh at how bleak the prospects were, but I was enticed by the tales of a frosh that had a mustered a solid frosh track season, running right around 4:30 for the 1600 with a decent 800m to match. The only bad news? Tom also played goalie for the HS and a club soccer team. Upon arrival in WA, I learned that the cross country coaching duties were to be shared with a fellow teaching colleague, and as the boys’ coach I had a list of five guys that comprised the roster at the time. One of those boys was described as a ‘nice kid’ and a ‘definite maybe’ that might run but might also serve as a team manager instead. I don’t know what possessed me to place any real stock whatsoever in the future of that team. There were no real elements of success waiting to be assembled. The brightest spot was a muted, literally, promise from Tom to give cross country some thought over the summer.

That August, as I introduced our small group, seven strong when all was said and done, to the notion of pre-season training, I began to see in practice what I knew in theory was going to be a real challenge. After a lot of waffling from Tom – I had put him in a tough spot – and a some days of missed practice to finish summer reading, he did make the unpopular move of leaving the soccer program to join our team. Regardless of your situation, success starts when you find ‘The One’ around whom you can build, and Tom was just that. Not long after I planted my feet at Charles Wright, I wrote out a set of three-year goals that included what must have seemed like some ludicrous objectives. Among them were the following, in no particular order here:

  • roster 20 runners
  • podium team finish at state
  • win league as a team
  • coach a Foot Locker finalist
  • have the team attend summer camp

Charles Wright cross country goals

The full list of goals , scrawled onto a legal pad, features items with far more basic underpinnings, but it still represented a recipe. I had selected a logical, if lofty, progression for my goals, and once down on paper I did share them with my Athletic Director, also new to Charles Wright Academy from the college ranks that year. I didn’t realize if right away, but Bob Beeman (no, not that one, folks) played as pivotal a role as any on my road to present day. He had vision of his own, didn’t mind kicking up some dust in the process and showed faith in me beyond what I had in myself.

After the fall season Bob sat me down and told me that I was going to be the head track coach. I bucked that notion. There was already a distance coach in place (never mind that she had nothing to do with cross) and the whole situation seemed way too prickly. Bob won (again), and the dye was cast. I coached the sprint group that spring and weathered some rough days. One of my clearest memories is of standing on the backstretch of our then dirt track; rain falling in slants; my useless umbrella limp and battered; urging Tom on as our distance coach had him assault the 3200m school record. As a sophomore determined never to run more than 4 laps on the track, Tom was not destined to run a notable time that day, and I uttered aloud to myself as I stood there, ‘ What the f*@k am I doing here?”

Tom Wyatt at the Bellarmine Invite

Things couldn’t go anywhere but up, but in my remaining five years at CWA we did meet some of those goals, win individual and team titles and make success the hallmark of the program. In cross country, on the track, in league, at State, nationally… Tom became a FL finalist, and I had two other athletes that together formed a troika of the best HS athletes I could have imagined over a 6-year period. We were only small-school competition in Washington State, you might say, and you’d be right. Still, I have always believed that winning, at any level, is just that. Coaches, athletes and teams either know how to win or they don’t. There is no middle ground on the score sheet or in the standings. The coaching and talent rich surrounding of the PNW provided a perfect place for me to truly forge my philosophy as a coach, and the ability to meet coaching colleagues, attend clinics and travel East for Level II school did almost as much for me as the time spent living under the same roof with Matt Ellis, who taught and coached across town in the perennial powerhouse Bellarmine Prep program.

In the several years that Matt and I were housemates, I ran more miles in Point Defianceand on the other WA trails, and thought/talked more about coaching than anyone outside of the two of us could bear to tolerate, even this guy:

Mike, Mike Lynes

The proof was in the results when all was said and done though, and while I also believed that there was probably no reasonable way in which the Matt and I could have coached in the same program, in some ways we did that on a daily basis by putting everything to the test at home before it every hit the practice plan at Charles Wright or Bellarmine. Good times indeed.

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Olympic Touchstones Part II – Atlanta ’96 and taking the plunge

I wasn’t born a runner. All the way through college I didn’t even run for running’s sake. It was always a means to a different end, mainly that of making sure that I was in the best shape possible for many years of club, HS and eventually college soccer. I ran track in middle school – lots of unattended, unsupervised laps, just like any 11 or 12 year old distance runner in the making – and competed in a 10k the spring of 7th grade. There was a kid a year older than I that I remember running with (against?) late in the race. Obviously more clued in than I was, he asked me my age and explained clearly that he was two years older, putting us in different age groups. After the race, in which he had beat me, I found out the we were in the same age group after all. For his victory he got a cheap trophy while I won a free pair of running shoes – Etonics- as age group runner up. I thought I was the luckiest ‘runner’ there and the joke was on him. I had beaten all my friends anyway, and that was the real reason I was there that morning.

In any case, after my life as a brainwashed soccer player that took me right through my time at Wesleyan, followed by a period spent figuring out my next steps during a year and a half working in Mexico, I landed my first teaching job at Chadwick School in S. California.

Chadwick School

Part of my duties included coaching soccer, a winter sport there and a fact that left a void in my fall season. It was that first year at Chadwick that I met Scott Guerrero, one of the people responsible for pushing me down the running road. Scott had arrived at Chadwick a year before me to assume the unenviable task of breathing life into a cross country program desperately in need of bodies and direction, and he harangued me into hanging around and running with the team some, as well as dragging me along for training runs with South Bay running fixtures like Dean Lofgren, Jeff Atkinson, Ed Avol and others.

As was the case in my own story, I firmly believe that in many instances running ends up finding the runner. Over the course of my first few years at Chadwick, I resisted the opportunity to jump in with two feet and really affiliate myself with the distance program, continuing to coach soccer each winter even as I abandoned my own playing days, ran more, raced some and played a lot of pick-up basketball. In 1996, the Olympic Games returned to US soil in host city Atlanta, and I decided to figure out a way to spend part of the summer there despite the fact that I lived on a teacher’s salary and was still paying off student loans every month. In the end, I landed work through a temp agency that was hiring droves of people to help IBM greet, host and cater to their guests throughout the duration of the Olympics. I was a lot further from the pulse of things than the Pan Am Games in ’87, but a knack for being in the right place at the right time and a willingness to take any assignment available helped me find my way into the opening and closing ceremonies. Sandwiched around 40-60 hour work weeks we also were free to fly under the radar at IBM events, and extra tickets to events abounded if you were on hand when they were deemed fair game.

Little did I know at the time, but an Olympic head coach that year would end up figuring prominently into my life years later, although in 1996 we couldn’t have been more different in our roles at the Summer Games. I spent the better part of a month sleeping on a friend’s floor, keeping late hours and soaking in all that I could while feeling very far away from any real connection to track & field. I did have a seat high above the finish line the night Michael Johnson set the WR in the 200m and Dan O’Brien won gold in the decathlon, but I think I was equally focused on making sure that I had gold medal game tickets for soccer, and I never really watched any track from a coach’s perspective that summer. That soccer game, however, still stands as my one, and only, Olympic moment in Athens, even if it was only Athens, GA.

Before I jump years ahead, though, I still had to drag myself from Atlanta to NJ and then all the way back across the country for the year to come at Chadwick. That year Scott Guerrero had decided to pursue work in the real world, working market hours as an analyst at firm in LA, while also landing the cross country job (there was no track team) at Loyola Marymount. Weird choice, I remember thinking at the time. (If only I had a crystal ball to look into my own future.) Scott’s coaching replacement was George Ramos (who coincidentally emailed me out of the blue this evening), and after continuing to hang around George’s program that year he laid his bait in the summer of ’97 by convincing me to attend camp with the team.

Camp Cherry Valley on Catalina Island

After initially thinking a week of cross country camp would allow me to get some good training in over on Catalina Island, I ended up getting far more than I bargained for. Mark Celestin and the Runner’s Workshop crew of Ken Reeves, Bob Larsen, Tim O’Rourke, Steve Scott and others hooked me for good. A week of great runs, open ocean canoe paddling, cliff jumping and great conversations about running won me over. I also remember meeting a quiet UCLA grad name Meb Keflezighi and hearing about his Olympic aspirations, and one of Meb’s Bruin teammates worked camp that summer and now years later works alongside me at UC Davis (more on that later). Following camp week I caved to George’s patiently executed scheme and made the decision to officially call myself a cross country coach, a pivotal step that started a rewarding chapter in a journey that continues to unfold.

That summer, on Catalina Island, running had found the coach.

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Olympic Touchstones Part I – Pan Ams 1987

Almost everybody discovers the Olympics at some point during childhood; you simply can’t escape the excitement that builds for each four-year cycle. Jim McKay, and later Bob Costas, helped bring the Games into homes in every corner of our country, and like many others, I spent hours as a kid paging through Olympic pictorials or histories of the Games over the years. Depending on where you grew up or happen to vacation, you may have been lucky enough to visit iconic Olympic locations like Lake Placid, Squaw Valley or even the Greek locales that link the ancient roots and modern manifestation of the Games.

The Olympic Stadium in Athens, Greece

While some competition venues do not stand as permanent Olympic monuments, other sites like the Olympiastadion in Berlin are steeped in a sense of history that far surpasses the simple rules and bounds of sport, and simply setting foot in such locations can evoke the spirits of events long past.

Jesse Owen on the podium in 1936

The past two weeks have provided both the time and impetus for me to reflect upon my own connection to the the Olympic tradition within the sport of track & field. Before anyone begins to form mistaken notions of a lofty personal relationship to the sport’s history, let me begin by saying that over the years my presence and part has represented a largely coincidental and casual role. Having observed the pageantry and drama that surrounds the events played out on the track, in the field, in the grandstands and behind the scenes from a variety of different vantage points over the years, I feel fortunate to have left even a very small footprint on the sport. Even as a very young track fan, I was introduced to the sport by people like the legendary coach Larry Ellis, who coached for over two decades at Princeton University and served as a national coach on a number of different teams, and experiences like watching the Penn Relays as a boy that thought I was way faster than I was in my ‘running shoes.’

The summer after my junior year in high school I had the opportunity to spend some time in Indianapolis, the host of that year’s Pan-American games. Back in that day, the Pan-Am Games enjoyed a far greater prominence than we assign to it in the US nowadays, and the stars of that period included JJK, Johnny Gray, Steve Scott, Carl Lewis and Gail Devers. During my time in Indy that summer, as a callow rising senior with months of driving experience under my belt, family friend Craig Masback was  gracious enough to find me a position working for CBS Sports performing tasks involving any and everything that nobody else wanted or had time to do. My ‘network TV job’ earned me a media credential that allowed liberal access to the press box, trackside, infield and anywhere else I, or anyone, thought I could be of use. In addition to moving freely amongst and around athletes, officials and meet personnel I also had free time to explore other venues, although I don’t think I missed much track & field action over the course of my time in Indy.

Carl Lewis in flight

Swept up in the excitement, I remember helping set up and film a piece that interspersed interview clips with shots that showed the distance of a Carl Lewis long jump in comparative terms the layperson could relate to (distance across a city street, length of a Coke delivery truck, etc.) and then standing foolishly close to the LJ pit and watching as Lewis won gold with a jump well over 28 feet. At an age where I was old enough to understand the importance of such athletes without yet possessing a fully developed sense of deference the probably also deserved, I felt as though I was intermixed as one of the many pieces that made the meet go that summer. In reality, I don’t think anyone would have missed my presence had I not been at the meet that year, and little did I know at the time that the summer of ’87 would establish a course for my connection to many national track meets to follow. I know that I felt fortunate at the time to have been granted the opportunity to combine an early work experience with a sport that I also enjoyed a great deal, and as I trace my own trajectory as a participant in the world of track & field I will attempt to parse out the impact and path formed during that formative summer of ’87.

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