Bits & Pieces

As chief cook and bottle washer for this small but vibrant website, I was interested in a recent Huffington Post article, How Sites Like YouTube Are Combating Nasty Commenters.

Not that I learned much. But the article made me think of the wonderful commenting system on SFGate’s sports pages. I submitted a response:

The San Francisco Chronicle’s SFGate online presence had the perfect comment system for its sports section. Users could click on an icon to thumbs-up/down each comment. (Chronic abusers could also be banned.) It was self-governing and worked beautifully.

That is, until SFGate’s managers decided to let the web designers re-do the simple, text-based comment system. And now the magic is gone. Looks good, looks slick – and like so many other pretty-techie things, it lacks charm.

How I miss the intelligent comments, the long, insightful threads from fans with decades of experience.

It’s yet another instance of how so many newspapers, and not a few school administrators, have special brain neurons devoted to foot-shooting.

Steve Magness’s Science of Running website is sporadically updated but always worth reading.

Steve is head coach of the men’s and women’s cross country teams at the University of Houston. A former assistant coach with the Nike Oregon Project, he continues to advise professional runners Jackie Areson, Sara Hall, and Tommy Schmitz.

Steve is a hands-on guy. He’s less interested in theories than in what works. To help his athletes he blends research with clear-eyed attention to their individual needs.

Steve was interviewed recently by Mladen Jovanovic, a multi-sport trainer in Serbia. Here’s an excerpt:

Mladen: What are your thoughts on volume vs. intensity debates in endurance training? How is that related to the level of the athlete (beginner, intermediate, advanced, elite), context (time available, resources, facilities, support, recovery options) and objectives (fat loss, health, performance, competition)?

 Steve: Personally, the whole volume versus intensity debate misses the boat.  It’s your typical polarizing, one-dimensional, argument that really doesn’t accomplish anything.

Of course, you need both, and the answer isn’t at either of the extremes.  It’s practically an impossible question to answer.  For instance, when people ask if I run a high or low volume program, I always answer with “both.”

I have some runners doing 40mpw and some doing 90+. It depends.  And that’s really the gist of training. It depends on the event you are training for, the individual you are training, and their goals.  So if someone, like Crossfit, tells you that you need very little volume to run a good marathon, well, they’re wrong.  That’s an extreme view that goes against everything we know.  But if you’re asking me if you should do speed intervals 2x a week or 3x, well, it depends.  We’re arguing over where that middle ground is.  And that middle ground shifts.

I know I’m talking in circles here, but to summarize it plainly.  You need the right amount of volume and intensity to adapt.  You want to press one of them, or any other variable, to continue adaptation in the desired way.  That’s the long and short of it.  Do what you need to adapt.  Decide whether you need to endure a quality (increase volume), or if you need to qualify something by increasing the intensity.

In other words, your best training is always completely unique to you. Good training is individual. It’s a central theme of The Joyful Athlete.

Speaking of Steve Magness, I recall an interview where he lamented the lack of scientific studies of runners “above the shoulders” – the emotional, mental, and spiritual factors that help us succeed or fail. (Correction: The interview was with Trent Stellingwerff, senior physiologist with Canadian Sport Centre Pacific. You can read the excellent interview, “Trent Stellingwerff: on the belief effect,” here.)

Because that’s my interest, I’ll say a few words.

There are countless physical factors that influence how we perform and feel.

I’m keenly aware, for example, from sad personal experience, that a vitamin B12 deficiency, or a thyroid or adrenal insufficiency, can profoundly change my energy and enjoyment.

I’ve tinkered with vegetarian and vegan diets for 47 years. If my attention wanders for a few days or weeks and I forget to eat foods rich in B12, the effects are devastating. The symptoms include poor memory and focus and diminished energy. The cure is simple. If I eat some salmon, throw some cocktail shrimp in my salads, and consume yogurt for a day or two, my memory quickly clears and I feel 30 years younger.

The dietary factors that can affect performance are endless: an iron or calcium deficiency, an electrolyte imbalance, etc.

Our feelings and thoughts profoundly affect how we perform, too. Depression, mental fatigue, negative thoughts, hurt feelings, the loss of a loved one – there are many above-the-shoulders factors that can sap our energy.

Thankfully, deliberately cultivating upbeat thoughts and feelings is an effective way to impact our ability to generate energy.

I found this nicely demonstrated while reading Clare Balding’s fine book, My Animals and Other Family, over Christmas. (It’s titled after Gerald Durrell’s book and film, My Family and Other Animals.)

Balding is the BBC’s main horse racing presenter. Never mind that. For our discussion, what counts is that she’s a funny, spunky, warm-hearted woman. Her story of growing up as the daughter of one of England’s most successful racehorse trainers (he cared for the Queen’s horses) is a delicious read. It made my energy soar.

Here’s my Amazon review:

Superbly entertaining, wonderfully readable, deeply human, funny, and warmly engaging. I simply cannot understand why this wonderful book had less than a solid five-star rating when I submitted this comment. I didn’t find a dull page in it. Come to think of it, nor a dull paragraph. I cheered for Clare Balding all the way. And I barely know the back end of a horse from the front.

When I read the book we were in the full flow of Christmas. Because I was engaged with singing in three groups, a choir, small ensemble, and quartet, I needed to stay healthy. I often get bronchitis at this time of year. I did a little juice fasting and limited my training. But the book braced my spirits to such an extent that I emerged from the Christmas gauntlet renewed and ready to gallop.

Rx for running in 2014: keep your thoughts positive, diet balanced, and company cheerful. Have a wonderful New Year.

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