Thursday, May 17, 2018

No Water For Formation Runs But You Need It For A Race

  I recently ran in a 5k race in Greenville, South Carolina, and I noticed something out of the ordinary out there.  They had no water stations along the route and those who participated did not have water readily available at the finish line. We had to walk a little bit to the refreshment tables to get our water.  This got me thinking about how I never needed water while running with my Soldiers, but when in a race, I almost always seek out the water stations.

  One of my more memorable moments in the military are the formation runs.  For those who don’t know, a formation run is when a unit runs together, usually in a rectangular shape with three to four people in the front and everyone falling in behind them.  A unit formation run can be as small as a squad run with only four to twelve people, all behind one person and as big as division with hundreds of rectangles comprising thousands of people if the commander wishes.  But usually, a formation run will range from a platoon (about 30 people) to a battalion (between 300 to 800 people).  Each rectangle gets a cadence caller, a singer if you will, who is charge of keeping everyone in step so no one trips over another person’s feet.  I could go on about some of the songs used for cadences, but that can be for another day.

  These formation runs are intentionally slow, too, at least by military standards.  Most people like to keep them at basically a ten minute per mile pace, though I have run in some that went at a nine minute per mile pace, and then there were the rare seven minute a mile pace runs.  These formation runs can usually go for at least 45 minutes, though I remember a brigade run taking over an hour to do. 

  There’s no water along the route for a formation run, either.  Instead, you’re expected to be already fully hydrated, drink some water before the run, and have water readily available once you’re dismissed from the formation run.  I always kept a container of water in my car on days like those.  Because the pace was so slow compared to how fast we were supposed to run as individuals, you can say I was accustomed to not having water during a run.  Even with the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT), while we ran as fast as we could for two miles, there was no water on the course; only after you were done. 

  Now, when I participate in a 5k race, I’m not running at six miles per hour (the ten minute a mile pace), so I’m going to need some sort of liquid out along the course.  And while I could go without water the entire race, I know there is always someone out there who is participating in the race for the first time, underprepared for the race, or have the weather (heat, humidity, glaring sunlight) severely affect them.  This past weekend in Greenville, I was actually thirsty along the course while running the Zoom Through the Zoo 5k.  I did drink plenty of water the night before and I had several cups up to two hours prior to the race, but for some reason, I still craved liquid refreshment while running.  Before I hit some discouraging hills about two miles in, I was working an eight-minute mile pace, which is a little faster than I have been doing, so on the positive side, I’m slowly getting back to my old self.  Then I started to run out of steam, figuratively, because I needed to cool off with some water, yet none was nearby.  If I was feeling this way, how did the people I passed at the beginning of the race feel?  And I wasn’t the only one seeking out water after the race, either; another runner asked me where I got my water bottle from when I walked back to the finish line.  This particular race was the first time I’ve ever run a 5k race and there were no water stations set up on the course.  

 This is one of those perplexing mysteries to me.  Why do I not need water while in formation, but if I’m running more than two miles in a race, I crave it?  Maybe it’s all the cadence calling and responses of a formation run. Maybe it’s the slower pace.  But whatever the case, I need to keep an eye on it.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Double time and Dance: Why a Song About an Airplane is More Important Than Audiobooks and Podcasts

  For 25 years of my running life, whenever I ran, there was a song being heard aloud.  Sometimes, that song involved a cargo plane. Other times, a song about where everyone was at during the run could be heard.  These songs were cadences and very familiar to anyone who has been in the military for more than a couple of weeks.  Cadences are rhythmic and set to a beat that is roughly 180 beats per minute. That sounds fast, but it is really just a beat that strikes every time the left foot hit the ground. 

  Cadences keep the military in step because whenever you have a large mass of people moving in the same direction, the most efficient way to do so is to have them in step so as to not have random people trip over each other and create some Looney Tunes falling scenario.  With the double-time march, each person starts by leading with their left foot as they move forward.  When I ran in formation, we usually had three or four columns of troops, depending on how many people were available and how big the overall operation encompassed.

  The cadences themselves would sometimes entertain the runners, but more often than not, everyone would end up with a “C-130 rolling down the strip,” and be one of “Sixty-four paratoopers taking a one-way trip.”  A few times, an adventurous person would sing this cadence with gusto or change up the routine a bit.  

  Cadence calling and cadence singing are a part of life in the military.  If you are running by yourself one day, you might mentally hear a running cadence in the back of your head and your feet adjust to the cadence rhythm.  I know my feet have… on multiple occasions.  I eventually hit a certain rank in the military where I could just do physical training on my own and my preferred choice of exercise is always running.  Weight training by myself? Uh, nooo. Plyometrics? I’ll pass. Run? Heck yeah!  If I wasn’t running with a select group of people, I would venture off and knock out six miles on my own, which probably scared some of my company commanders because in Texas, the temperatures creep up and we’ve heard reports of single runners getting hurt or even having a heart attack and no one was around.  But I would run and sometimes that mental C-130 would visit me.

  Which brings me up to my current running situation.  I usually run to music now. I slap my Zune into my right armband (because it still works and I love that thing), and I set out on workouts or 5k and 10k races with a preset playlist.  My running playlists have a tendency to be dance songs while I’m out there.  As much as I love genres like classic rock, old Motown, and current top 40, dance songs have a range of beats between 110 and 180 a minute.  Those beats help push me to go further and the slower dance songs help with a guy who has slowed down over the years. 

  I’ve had quite a few people tell me that I should listen to podcasts while running, but I just can’t.  For me, podcasts are reserved for non-exercise activities, to include driving.  But the biggest thing that stops me from doing podcasts and even audiobooks during a run is the lack of a beat.  I can’t run to someone conducting prose or explaining how the latest Intel processor will benefit a third world country’s school system.  But having Avicii and Carly Rae Jepsen going? Yea, that helps a lot more.

  Though, I have been known to start a race or two with the theme to Halo 3, or even the opening song to Chariots of Fire. 

  But that C-130 is always going to be with people like me.