Thursday, February 23, 2012

Impatience and Memory Loss

As a coach, I get to see a perspective on training and racing very different from my own since I am privy to the diverse outlooks of my athletes. Despite their varying ages, abilities, goals and time in the sport they all have two things in common: impatience and short-term memory loss.


There are two parts to the impatience. The first is a question I get asked a lot this time of year, “Why can’t I do more?” I gently explain that in January and February one cannot and should not train as much as during the summer. Most of the important races are later in the year and it is hard to stay fresh for those races if the training load is too high too early. Winter offers a natural break in the training cycle with unpredictable weather and less daylight. A progression needs to occur so the body adapts, does not break down and absorbs the training load.

The second part to the impatience is this statement, “I want to get faster. Now.” This is a real problem with all athletes, myself included. Our desire for success and improvement is what compels us to keep training year after year. We set goals for ourselves giving us a very good idea of where we would like to be. But, it does not, should not and cannot happen overnight.

Making improvements in sports must be approached systematically. Training paces or watts must be advanced in a manner that keeps an athlete from getting injured or overtrained. Pushing the limits week after week and setting PRs in training on a regular basis is not necessarily ideal. I always know when a top athlete is headed for destruction when I hear them say, “I just put in the best training of my life”.  Not infrequently, they are injured the next day.

Those who make slow and steady improvements in training are generally the athletes that are able to show up on race day. It is not about crushing it, hammering, or flogging oneself. You should always leave a little left because it is never about any single workout; it is about consistency over the long haul.

Now, I am not saying that athletes shouldn’t push themselves or try to find their limits. I regularly test my athletes by giving them workouts that are on the edge of what they are capable of handling. I  share their enthusiasm when they accomplish that workout. What I am saying is that those types of workouts cannot occur all the time. Getting faster is not something that happens “now”. It is something that happens over time with hard work and patience.

Short term memory loss

Here is where the short term memory loss comes in. If you recall, the first part of impatience was the desire to do more. Very often, the same athletes that are begging to do more are the same ones who, several months down the road, are begging for a week off or looking forward to tapering for the big event. In February, they forget about the grind of training for a key race and how hard it was fitting in all of the workouts around a busy life.

There is also short term memory loss when it comes to workouts. Just today I got a call from an athlete incredibly frustrated over a dreadful swim. I reminded him that for the last few weeks he has been making progress with his swim and most of them had been quite good. “That’s true. I kind of forgot about that” was his response. How easily we overlook the good workouts in the face of a bad one or two. Write down your successes so you can go back and look them over during a rough patch. It helps.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Cross Country Nationals 2012: Race Recap

Dear USA Track and Field:

Let me start off by saying how much I appreciate your continued support of Masters running (although something has to be done about the age-grading crap). Staging championship events at multiple disciplines allows for competitive fields all year round and gives people an opportunity to excel at their best/favorite events. Particularly, placing the Masters cross country championships in conjunction with the Open and Junior championships, provides a full day of fun for racers and spectators.

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the Cross Country championships in St. Louis. Kudos to the organizing committee, they staged an excellent race.

The host hotel was convenient to the race site. The staff was accommodating. We really enjoyed the free breakfast.
Nothing like a gigantic sign to make you feel welcome.
The staff: don't they look like they stepped out of the movie "My Fair Lady"?
I realize the weather is beyond the control of mere humans, but… It was deplorable! When I woke up race morning and walked outside, I saw that it snowed over night.

Race morning this year.
Race morning last year.

In the mid-West, there is no such thing as absolute temperature. In the winter, they go by “wind-chill factor” and in the summer the “heat index”. I found this really cool Java script calculator that computed the wind chill factor on Saturday as 0 degrees (16 degree air temperature with 20 mph wind). That is mighty cold! I am sure you felt the nip in the air while attending the race. Did you notice that there weren’t very many spectators? They were at home drinking hot coffee.
The flags are blowing in the wind
My teammates and I had a lot of discussion about what to wear during the race. Shorts? Tights? Gloves?  I opted for tights over shorts, a heavy long sleeved shirt with my singlet over it, two pairs of gloves, wool socks and a hat. I was still cold! My crazy teammates wore much less clothing.

Pre Race: Lydia,
please put some clothes on!
After,  bundled up!

I am very psyched that I won the race. But even better, my teammates Mary Alico (4th) and Lydia Dissly (8th) kicked butt and we won the team competition.
I could barely lift my arms with those heavy boxing gloves.
We stuck around to watch the Masters men run. It was unpleasantly cold! While waiting for the men to pass by, we huddled around this tiny heater. I actually tried to crawl into it, but I couldn't fit.

Four hours after the race, my toes were still thawing out. We finally ventured out mid-afternoon to do some sightseeing.
The famous St. Louis arch.
USATF, if you insist on keeping the cross championships in February, I formally request that it be moved somewhere warm. Most of the country is blanketed in snow this time of year. A warm weather respite in a family friendly venue would do a lot to boost your participation and spectator numbers. Might I suggest moving the race to San Diego again? Or, Florida? If you do, I will send you this commemorative snow globe.
Ok, so I didn't actually buy this because I only had carry-on.

Joanna Zeiger

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Nerve Block Redux

About 18 months ago, I had an intercostal nerve block, which I wrote about here. In short, an intercostal nerve block is a method of injecting a numbing agent and cortisone, under x-ray guidance, right into the nerve root between a particular rib with the hope of reducing pain and inflammation. The original block I had done was at the wrong rib, so, naturally, it didn’t work. The experience was awful and I was reluctant to repeat the procedure. However, the cortisone injections I had late last year offered temporary relief and my rib pain has been escalating over the last month even with time off and reduced training; a nerve block was the next step in pain management.

I called the doctor’s office on Tuesday and had the following conversation:

     JZ: I would like to make an appointment with Dr. Tobey.

     Assistant: Have you been here before?

     JZ: Oh yes. I am a frequent flyer.

I explained my problem and she said she would confer with Dr. Tobey. An hour later she called back.

     Assistant: Dr. Tobey wants to do an intercostal nerve block at ribs 11 and 12. Can you come in Thursday?

     JZ:  Sounds good. Can you ask him if he has punch cards? You know, have 6 procedures and get the 7th free? Or, maybe I can purchase a deal on Groupon?

     Assistant: Ummm….

    JZ: I’m just kidding.

It would be an understatement to say that I experienced some anxiety about having the nerve block done.

Here is how it all went down.

I had to put on a very oversized gown that barely tied in the back. The room was freezing. How did they expect me to stay warm with a flimsy piece of cotton?

The x-ray technician came into the room. As I mentioned, this procedure is done with x-ray guidance to make sure the needle is in the right spot. We had some banal banter. I asked her to turn off the soothing music, it was making me agitated. I requested some AC/DC, but apparently that agitates the doctor.

The doctor came in and examined my ribs. He poked and prodded – yes, it all hurt.

My back was swabbed with iodine and then draped with a sterile sheet. Tobey injected a local anesthetic and then he went in for the kill. Basically, he took a gigantic needle and touched the rib with it and then came off the rib into the nerve root and injected the cortisone. Since he was doing two ribs, I endured this twice. He told me to expect a little pressure. Excuse me, but a little pressure is a Swedish massage. This felt like the massage therapist was doing jumping jacks on my back! And, the dizziness. It was overwhelming. Kind of like the bed spins when you drink too much (oh, come on, you know you’ve been there).

Tobey was making polite conversation during the procedure, presumably to keep me distracted. He asked me when I was racing again. He probably expected me to say in a few weeks. I sheepishly told him I was getting on a plane tomorrow to go to St. Louis. He was somewhat relieved when I told him it was only 8K and not a marathon.

And then it was done. I requested a photo of the x-ray for posterity and I was on my way.

Here is my souvenir! Those are some big ass needles.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Diesel the Dog: Snowshoeing

I love winter! Crazy Blonde doesn’t like the snow and the cold, but I do. It is so much fun to jump around in it and eat it and make it yellow.
They say not to eat the yellow snow, but I think it tastes just fine.
Imagine my incredible surprise when I woke up the other morning and I went outside to do my business and the white fluffy stuff was up to my stomach. Yippee!

My good buddy Bogart was over for the weekend, so we had lots of fun playing around. One afternoon, Crazy Blonde and Deep Voice packed up the car with these weird looking objects called snow shoes and drove us up to the mountains. I hate being in the car, it makes me feel funny. But, this time, I managed not to puke. Deep Voice drove the whole way with the window open so I could put my head outside. It was really cold, but it made me feel better.

Finally, we got to a place called Brainard Lake. My friend Riley was there so I knew it would be a fun time.
It took a while to decide which trail to go on.

What are we waiting for? We're ready to go!
The group decided to hike up to Left Hand Reservoir. They had to find a trail that allowed dogs and snowshoeing.

Look at all of this snow. It is so much fun to go underneath it.

Even the trees were covered with it! I wonder if they are cold?
We hiked up this big hill for a long time. There were lots of people sliding down on these narrow sticks. Some of them went really fast and almost took me out and some of them were wobbly and fell.

Crazy Blonde looks really happy here. This is before she got really cold and bitchy.

Deep Voice with us doggies

Poor Bogart got lots of snow stuck on his face and in his paws. He had to stop a lot to bite the snowballs off of his feet. Deep Voice even stopped a couple of times to help out.

See all the snow on his face? Well, it melted in the car on the way home and he smelled terrible.
When we got to the top, Crazy Blonde and Deep Voice oohed and ahhed over the view.

I was so happy I gave Crazy Blonde a big kiss. I think she was a little grossed out.

The snow in background is a big lake in the summer.
 What a super fun day! I was so tired when I got home, I took a big nap.
Bogart made the best pillow.