Mental Games: Do They Really Mean us Harm?

running-advice-bugI went on a long, long ride yesterday. 110+ miles from Portland to the Oregon Coast. I was out there on the highways and by-ways, mixing up with cars, trucks and RVs. I waved at a few cops along the way and happily got where I was going on-time and in one piece.

But along the way, I got honked at, crowded, jostled and nearly cut-off a few times too.

I’m sure any of you reading this have had your share of run-ins with cars, seemingly aggressive drivers and people that seem to have it out for us runners and cyclists. My question today: do they really hate us or is it just in our minds?

Think about your reaction when a car jams down on the accelerator as they go by you or cuts closed enough that you feel the wind of their side-mirror go by your shoulder. How do you feel? Do you feel angry, mad, scared — or maybe a combination of all three? Those a strong feelings and I’d like us to think about where those powerful feelings come from.

In psychology there is a model that looks at things like this. It lays out four elements: an event, your thinking about the event, your feelings and then your behavior or reaction to the event. Let’s simplify and just refer to this as “Event – Thinking – Feeling – Behavior.” In our case, the event is say a car cutting close to you. The feeling is anger or rage. The behavior could range from yelling at the car to making an angry gesture, but is most likely something anti-social because it is stemming out of your feelings of anger or rage.

But the key element here is really the “thinking” piece of the equation. Why do we feel the anger or the rage? This stems from a thought that the driver “did that on purpose” or “was trying to scare me” or “is an a-hole” or “meant to hit me.” The list could go on and on, but all of these thoughts stem from our own internal thinking that the other person meant your some harm.
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Training — How Three Pairs of Gloves and a $2 Hat Saved My Ride

running-advice-bugThis is the story of nine dollars worth of gloves and a two dollar hat — and how they saved my ride yesterday. But it really isn’t about those things. This is really a story about making decisions and taking action when you’re in the midst of a workout or a race. What I hope you take away from this story is that you need to keep focused on making it to your goal and do something about it when something doesn’t go as you planned.

Three pairs of $3 gloves.

Three pairs of $3 gloves.

Yesterday I had set out to ride 100 miles in preparation for an upcoming Ironman distance triathlon. I prepared all of my gear, including a backback full of full or food, spare tubes, money and the like. I was fully loaded to spend several hours out there on the road. The weather called for a dry day. There was supposed to be no chance of rain. It was over 40 degrees (F) out, so it would be perfect weather. I dressed accordingly, wearing what I would consider more than enough clothing for the weather. Multiple layers on top and bottom and — this important — wind-stopping gloves and outwear.

This is a critical detail. There’s a difference, as I was reminded, between wind-stopping and water-proof clothing. I was plenty warm as I set out and for the first 20 miles things were going great.

Then the rain started to fall. The skies darkened. It started to pour. I could see that this was no passing shower. Indeed, for the next three hours the rain pummeled me seemingly from everything direction. My gear was completely soaked. I could feel the water pooling up in my cycling shoes, even despite having neoprene booties over them.

So now I’m almost 50 miles from home and completely freezing and soaked. This where the advice comes in. I had to take an inventory of my options and you need to do when things go awry. My fingers were number and starting to tingle in that way that I knew I wasn’t going to be able to use my hands much longer.
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Commentary: Lance takes a step back up onto the marketing heap

Coach Joe English

Coach Joe English

As Lance Armstrong yesterday made his shocking announcement that he will return from retirement to rejoin professional cycling all I could think of was one person: Michael Jordan.

Let us remember Michael.

Michael Jordan was perhaps the greatest basketball player of a generation – or maybe of all time. He was amazing. He was unbelievable. He was rich, marketable and highly branded. He was huge – no pun intended.

Then he retired from basketball. He went out for professional baseball instead. He did OK. Nothing great. At least we got to see a giant man in a baseball uniform, right? But after seeing that he wasn’t going to do to baseball what he had done for basketball, it was back to the court. Back to what he did best. Back to the sport in which he had been so dominate.
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Breaking News: Lance Armstrong to return to pro cycling

The Associated Press and other news agencies are reporting that Lance Armstrong is coming out of retirement to ride professionally in 2009. The athletic world is suddenly abuzz with the speculation that Armstrong might try for an eighth win in the world’s biggest cycling spectacle.

The Tour “is the intention,” Armstrong’s spokesman Mark Higgins told The Associated Press, “but we’ve got some homework to do over there.”

Added Bill Stapleton, Armstrong’s lawyer and longtime confidant: “We’re not going to try to win second place.”

In a statement issued by Armstrong, he explains: “I am happy to announce that after talking with my children, my family and my closest friends, I have decided to return to professional cycling in order to raise awareness of the global cancer burden.”

Lance Armstrong video message

Lance Armstrong video message

Armstrong also posted a video message about his intentions on his web-site. You can watch the message by clicking here.

Lance Armstrong won seven consecutive Tour de France titles — the most in history — after surviving a battle with cancer. Since his retirement he has remained highly active in securing funding for cancer research and has also run three marathons with some success.

What do you think of this news? Your comments are always welcomed.

Running Advice and News
www.running-advice.com

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Filed under: Cycling Tags: ,

Commentary: Drugs are undermining the soul of sport

In the wake of the seemingly endless drug scandals at the Tour de France, the on-going investigations into drug use in baseball and track, and the not-so-distant drug case at the Ironman World Championships a few years ago, everyone is talking about drugs in sport today. Honestly, I wish we didn’t have to spend any time on this subject at all. But since it’s on everyone’s mind, I thought I’d share a piece that I wrote on the subject a year ago in the wake of last year’s Tour de France scandals.

The use of performance enhancing drugs in sport is a complicated issue with elements of black, white and the gray areas in between. As I write about this issue, I want there to be no mistake about something: nothing that I say should be construed as condoning the use of banned substances or techniques to enhance athletic performance. For those of us that love sport, there is no place for cheating or breaking the rules, no matter what the reason.

When athletes gamble with drugs, they put the credibility of their sport on the line. And if we don’t want cycling, running, and triathlon to become a theatrical show like professional wrestling, then we all need to take this issue seriously.


An issue of black, white and gray

Drug use in sport is not a simple matter. It may appear so at first blush, but there are deep ethical issues at stake. What complicates the matter is the gray area in which performance enhancement bumps against violation of rules. Performance enhancing drugs that have been ruled illegal in sports should never be used. Period. But that’s the black and white. Performance enhancement in general resides in the gray area in between.

Performance enhancement can span many different topics, from training methods and nutrition, to geography, to drugs. In one respect everything that athletes do in their training is intended to enhance their performance. If we look at our methods today and those of athletes in the past, they are in stark contrast. Today’s athletes benefit from decades of research on athletic performance. And everything from what they wear, to how hard they train, to what they eat is carefully tweaked and monitored to gain the greatest output from their bodies.

We know that nutrition and hydration are keys to athletic performance, for instance, and we embrace these tools whole-heartedly. Should it be against the rules not to eat certain foods or drink specially formulated hydration drinks?

Consider the impacts of high-altitude on an athlete for a moment. We know that people that live in high-altitude environments benefit from increased oxygen carrying capacity in their blood, which makes them more competitive when racing at lower altitudes. Should it be against the rules for a person to move to high altitude to live in order to gain these advantages? What about creating a high-altitude sleeping chamber in your home at sea-level? And if you see that these raise issues, what do you do about people that have lived their whole lives at high-altitude? Should they somehow be handicapped for the sake of their ancestral geography?

Those are a lot questions that ride right on the edges of the gray areas involved. But we have methods for dealing with them: the black and white rules that are set out by international governing bodies. These rules tell us what drugs we can and can’t take. They tell us that athletes must make themselves available for testing. They tell us that lying about one’s whereabouts to avoid a test is as bad as failing a drug test.

The job of athletes and coaches then is to maximize performance within the accepted rules.

Yet this raises another ethical issue. Coaches, doctors and scientists have the responsibility to work within the spirit of these rules. Developing new techniques and drugs simply to evade detection, ones that are not yet on banned substance lists, is not within their ethical responsibilities. It is not ethical to “work the limits” of tests to avoid detection. It is not ethical to develop new methods simply to evade drug testing. These are serious violations of the spirit of the rules.

Many people will say that athletes are simply pawns in a much larger chess game, one that involves billions of dollars in advertising, TV ratings, and sponsorship endorsements. Some would say that the system encourages athletes to work the edges of drug testing regimes, for the sake of getting to the front of the pack or breaking an elusive record. But that is an excuse of the highest order. Athletes need to stand up and tell those that would encourage them to cheat that their bodies are not tools in a war to win advertising dollars.

Athletes need to reclaim their bodies and remember their reasons for getting into sports in the first place: to see how far, how fast and how high they can go on the merits of their natural talents.

The use of drugs by the champions of sport today is a huge ethical digression that takes away from the amazing things they do. It’s disheartening to me and saddens me. Sports, especially endurance sports, are about pushing the limits of the body and proving to others where those limits lie. Cheating entirely undermines the spirit and motivation of the competition.

I have witnessed people cheating in races. I recently saw four guys blatantly drafting off one another in Ironman triathlon. They blew by me at 35 miles per hour. I just had to ask myself “why are you guys out here?” The point of the Ironman is to test your individual limits. Just like some of the stars of the big sports today, those four guys forgot what it’s all about it.

Let’s hope, for the sake of sport, that athletes find a way to remember what it’s all about. I can tell you one thing: it’s not about EPO, blood transfusions, testosterone or steroids. It’s about something much greater than that. It’s about competing fairly with other human beings to see who is best.

Today the entire history of sport is on the line. It’s time that athletes, and everyone else involved, understand that never before in the history of sport have we seen so many blatant violations of established rules. We need to get back to basics and find the soul of sport that appears to somewhere have been lost. We can get there. It feels like we’ve started in that direction. But we still have a long way to go.

Coach Joe

Running Wild with Coach Joe – a blog focused on marathon, triathlon and ultra-endurance racing, training and motivation. Bookmark us at http://coachjoeenglish.wordpress.com or use your favorite RSS feed reader to get the latest news and articles. Running Wild is also now available on Facebook and My Space.

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Filed under: Commentary,Cycling,Running

Breaking News: Now it’s Rasmussen out at Tour de France

It’s been a tough week at the Tour de France. First Alexander Vinoukorov and his Astana team were sent home for a blood doping violation. Now, today after an amazing performance in this morning’s Tour action, Michael Rasmussen is on his way home as well.

This has been an unprecendent time for cycling. Over the last year so many great cyclists have been caught using, admitted using, or just caught up in drug scandals, it’s become just plain hard to keep track of them all.

Rasmussen’s trouble stems from rules violations this past June, when he apparently was not in Mexico training as he told drug testing officials. The Danish cyclist was dismissed from the Danish National cycling team last week after an investigation.

Tour director Christian Prudhomme was quoted on VeloNews.com as saying, “What I regret more than ever is that we didn’t have this information on June 29, or on the following days before the Tour started. We would have made the Rabobank team face up to their responsibilities.”

What does this mean for the Tour de France? Well, in racing action, it means that the lead rider is out of the race and that moves everyone up a spot. But more importantly, it means that the drug problems in the sport just continue to be systemic. Cycling seems to have a drug problem that it just can’t kick.

Someone asked me recently if I had ever thought about taking performance enhancing drugs. I thought about it for a minute and here’s the answer I gave: “No. It never crossed my mind.” Never once did I ever even think about it.

Many people have expressed sadness at the continuing problems with the sport. I’m sure that we’ll hear even more of it now. It’s really time to stop. If not, there may not be a future for the sport at all.

For a story on Rasmussen’s exit on VeloNews, click here.

Coach Joe

Running Wild with Coach Joe – a blog focused on marathon, triathlon and ultra-endurance racing, training and motivation. Bookmark us at http://coachjoeenglish.wordpress.com or use your favorite RSS feed reader to get the latest news and articles. Running Wild is also now available on Facebook and My Space.

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Filed under: Cycling

Breaking News: Alexander Vinokourov out of Tour de France

In a very sad turn of events at the Tour de France, Alexander Vinokourov and his Astana Cycling team have withdrawn from the grand tour due to a suspected blood doping violation. Sources are reporting that an initial blood sample taken after his stage victory on Saturday in the individual time trial has come back positive for blood doping.

Vinokourov, one of the pre-race favorites, had crashed early in the Tour, suffering serious injuries, but he was able to continue the race. On Saturday, he won the individual time trial and then on Sunday he bonked on the first day of riding in the Pyrenees, losing close to half an hour to his rivals.

In a dramatic comeback Monday, Vinokourov broke away from the field on to win the next mountain stage. Although he did not make up enough time to move back into contention for the race win, he showed that he still had the power to win a tough stage. The course of events is reminiscent of last year’s Tour, when Floyd Landis melted down on a mountain stage in the alps and then came back the next day to break away dramatically and win the stage.

Today the news breaks that Vinokorouv may have been blood doping.

Blood doping involves taking a transfusion of blood from either yourself or someone else, to increase oxygen carrying capacity of the blood. In this case, initial reports suggest that Vinokourov may have used another person’s blood. Additional “B” samples will now be tested, in addition to samples that were taken after his stage win yesterday. For an article on blood doping, click here.

David Millar, one of the UK’s top riders, was quoted by VeloNews as saying: “I wanted to believe it was a really good day [for Vinokourov]. It makes me very sad. Vino is one of my favorite riders. He’s one of the most beautiful riders in the peloton. If a guy of his stature and class has done that, we all might as well pack our bags and go home right now.”

We’ll have to wait and see how this plays out, but this initially appears to be yet another devastating blow for cycling.

For additional details as they become available, visit VeloNews.com by clicking here.

Coach Joe

Running Wild with Coach Joe – a blog focused on marathon, triathlon and ultra-endurance racing, training and motivation. Bookmark us at http://coachjoeenglish.wordpress.com or use your favorite RSS feed reader to get the latest news and articles. Running Wild is also now available on Facebook and My Space.

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Filed under: Cycling

Commentary: would it really be nine in a row for America at the Tour de France?

I don’t mean to be a jerk or anything and I hate to pick on people while they’re down. But I heard something that caught my attention this morning that’s got me a little put off.

During their daily Tour de France coverage, Versus is playing a promotional message exclaiming with great excitement: “Who will win the Tour de France!?!” The spot then goes on to list all of the major contenders and ends up with American Levi Leipheimer.

In summarizing Levi’s chances, they conclude with another question: ‘Will Levi make it nine Tour de France victories in a row for America!?!’

That’s where I said, ‘wait a second!’ Is Versus bold enough to really ask that question without any disclaimers on it?

Let’s do the math here. Lance Armstrong won seven Tours in a row. Check. Number eight would be last year’s win by Floyd Landis. That’s where the problem comes in.

After Landis was accused of doping, his Tour victory became clouded. Over the past year, there has been a lot of legal action over the issue and the appeals with the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) have not yet been concluded. But should Landis lose his appeals, he will be stripped of his Tour title. (Read an excellent recap of the issues by clicking here.)

The UCI, which is the national governing body of cycling, still officially lists Landis as the winner of the 2006 Tour de France, as does a listing on the vernerable resource Wikipedia.

But Tour officials do not. The official website of the Tour de France has the letters “NC” next to the results of Floyd Landis in its database of rider history for 2006. Oscar Pereiro, who would move up into the winning slot if Landis was stipped of the title, also has an NC (rather than a ‘2′ denoting second place) next to his name.

I also find it interesting that the official web-site has the results in its history archive for every race from 1903 to 2005 – but excludes 2006.

So whether Landis wins his appeals or not – whether he is cleared to keep his title or not – doesn’t it seem a bit circumspect for Versus to ask this question about making it nine straight for the USA? It seems like Versus might be getting a bit ahead of themselves.

Like a good juror, I’m waiting until all of the legal appeals are concluded before I decide who won the Tour de France in 2006. But until then, I think it’s a stretch to have us counting down toward nine American titles in a row. It could end up being seven American titles and one for Spain in the last eight years after all. And there are still a lot of miles left in this year’s Tour as well.

Coach Joe

Running Wild with Coach Joe – a blog focused on marathon, triathlon and ultra-endurance racing, training and motivation. Bookmark us at http://coachjoeenglish.wordpress.com or use your favorite RSS feed reader to get the latest news and articles. Running Wild is also available on Yahoo! 360 and My Space.

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Filed under: Commentary,Cycling

Commentary: Is it really nine Tour titles for America?

I don’t mean to be a jerk or anything and I hate to pick on people while they’re down. But I heard something that caught my attention this morning that’s got me a little put off.

During their daily Tour de France coverage, Versus is playing a promotional message exclaiming with great excitement: “Who will win the Tour de France!?!” The spot then goes on to list all of the major contenders and ends up with American Levi Leipheimer.

In summarizing Levi’s chances, they conclude with another question: ‘Will Levi make it nine Tour de France victories in a row for America!?!’

That’s where I said, ‘wait a second!’ Is Versus bold enough to really ask that question without any disclaimers on it?

Let’s do the math here. Lance Armstrong won seven Tours in a row. Check. Number eight would be last year’s win by Floyd Landis. That’s where the problem comes in.

After Landis was accused of doping, his Tour victory became clouded. Over the past year, there has been a lot of legal action over the issue and the appeals with the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) have not yet been concluded. But should Landis lose his appeals, he will be stripped of his Tour title. (Read a very good recap of the issues by clicking here.)

The UCI, which is the national governing body of cycling, still officially lists Landis as the winner of the 2006 Tour de France, as does a listing on the vernerable resource Wikipedia.

But Tour officials do not. The official website of the Tour de France has the letters “NC” next to the results of Floyd Landis in its database of rider history for 2006. Oscar Pereiro, who would move up into the winning slot if Landis was stipped of the title, also has an NC (rather than a ‘2’ denoting second place) next to his name.

I also find it interesting that the official web-site has the results in its history archive for every race from 1903 to 2005 – but excludes 2006.

So whether Landis wins his appeals or not – whether he is cleared to keep his title or not – doesn’t it seem a bit circumspect for Versus to ask this question about making it nine straight for the USA? It seems like Versus might be getting a bit ahead of themselves.

Like a good juror, I’m waiting until all of the legal appeals are concluded before I decide who won the Tour de France in 2006. But until then, I think it’s a stretch to have us counting down toward nine American titles in a row. It could end up being seven American titles and one for Spain in the last eight years after all. And there are still a lot of miles left in this year’s Tour as well.

Coach Joe

Running Wild with Coach Joe – a blog focused on marathon, triathlon and ultra-endurance racing, training and motivation. Bookmark us at http://coachjoeenglish.wordpress.com or use your favorite RSS feed reader to get the latest news and articles. Running Wild is also available on Yahoo! 360 and My Space.

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Filed under: Commentary,Cycling

Commentary: does the media ignore endurance sports?

I sat down to write a piece questioning why the mainstream media ignores endurance sports. It’s not everyday that you flip on the tube and catch a running of a marathon somewhere in the world. There’s a large audience, and it’s a valuable one, so why aren’t we seeing more of these events on TV.

But as I thought about it, perhaps the mainstream media doesn’t ignore our sport at all.

If you think about it, the Ironman World Championships, the New York City Marathon, and the Tour de France are all televised. These are the crowning events in our sports: triathlon, marathon and cycling. The Olympic Games are on every four years too, although NBC seems to like gymnastics a lot more than they like running and triathlon. But even with all of these, the broadcasts are far and few between.

Perhaps we make it too hard on the media to follow our sports. For one thing, the top athletes in the marathon, Ironman and some other endurance sports only race a few times each year. Unlike baseball or football that have games daily or weekly, the major endurance sports events only come around once a year. Hardly a way to create a viewing audience.

And then there’s the fact that these sports are hard to follow on TV. If you’ve ever watched running on television, you’ll know what I mean. Imagine the commentator saying: “It looks like he’s making a move now. . . or maybe he’s just going over to the other side of the street for some water. Oh yes, here he comes back. The lead pack has regrouped again.” Hardly compelling viewing.

But there’s a difference between the audiences for mainstream sports and endurance sports. With many sports, the viewing audience doesn’t actually participate in the sport. In other words, just because you watch baseball, doesn’t mean you play baseball. This isn’t true of endurance sports. Most of the people watching a marathon on TV are likely runners. The impact to advertisers of this distinction is a great one: people watching running on TV might be very inclined to buy running products. That should make advertising to that audience more valuable that placing running oriented ads on some other show tailored to a wider audience.

And the people that participate in endurance sports tend to be the type that advertisers seek out. In a study on Ironman distance triathletes, their average income was about $100,000 per year and a high percentage had college degrees or higher. This speaks to the fact that it takes some financial and career freedom to have the time to participate in Ironman triathlon. These folks should be a key audience for all kinds of expensive consumer products.

What we see however is that the coverage on television of the key events in our sports don’t draw viewers in great numbers. TV programmers measure the success of their shows primarily by their share of available viewing audience, rather than the quality of the individual viewers to a particular advertiser. Small audiences discourage programmers from adding more events.

The audiences may be small, but they may be mighty in their purchasing power. The viewers of endurance sports events are “qualified” potential buyers, who should be valuable to anyone making products for endurance sports. If we could get broadcasters to understand that these smaller audiences could be a mighty force for their advertising customers, perhaps they would seek out more events to broadcast.

Endurance sports after all may be the ultimate reality TV experience. They feature real people torturing themselves through difficult athletic challenges. Reality TV shows have been doing well in the ratings. Maybe what we need to do is to help people see these broadcasts as another form of reality TV.

So if my original question was “why does the mainstream media ignore endurance sports?”, perhaps a better question is “how can we help advertisers see the value in us as an audience?” If they want our dollars, they’ll encourage broadcasters to put more of the stuff we do on TV. It may be a different view of the world, but it could make a difference in our advertiser-dollar driven media world.

Of course, at the end of the day, perhaps you just want to be out running and have no desire to watch running or triathlon on TV. That’s probably fine too, but as someone that really enjoys our sport, I like to see all that I can.

Coach Joe

Running Wild with Coach Joe – a blog focused on marathon, triathlon and ultra-endurance racing, training and motivation. Bookmark us at http://coachjoeenglish.wordpress.com or use your favorite RSS feed reader to get the latest news and articles. Running Wild is also available on Yahoo! 360 and My Space.

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