Friday, September 7, 2018

BUTS in Iceland

Iceland is a tough place, man. When they have a good summer that means there has been more than eleven sunny days. And it can turn in a drop of a hat, the weather. It was pretty extreme ... It was very challenging but so, so beautiful. If you have a chance in your life to go and look at the sights and feel the culture of Iceland, do it,” - Russell Crowe, actor

So, what happened in August?...

Well, I go out to the mailbox one Saturday and there, like a punch to the gut, is a Jury Summons! I stood there staring at it, saying in a low , gravely voice, Oooooh noooo! I don't actually mind the idea of doing my Civic Duty, but it's 1) not something I really want to do, based on previous experiences of sitting and being rejected for 2-3 days and then being told "we don't really need you anymore", and sent home, and 2) my job is such that it is very difficult to find coverage when I am out.

So, first thing Monday morning, I send out a few texts to other therapists to see if I could get any coverage. Then I get on the phone to "Jury Central" and prepare myself to sound as pitiful as possible and try to plead my case to be excused. I had heard it is now nearly impossible to get excused without actually going down to the Courthouse and begging in person to some sympathetic judge why even though I love the democratic process, it would do immeasurable harm to the well-oiled wheels of Economic Society if I was sucked out of the work environment:

Them: Courthouse. Can I help you?
Me: Good morning ma'am. How are you?
Them: Fine. Can I help you?
Me: I need to talk to some (kind) person about getting excused from Jury Duty.
Them: Why do you need to be excused?
Me: I'm a Physical Therapist and it's awfully hard to find coverage and my (happy) patients can't be treated.
Them: Ok, we'll strike you.
Me: (Incredulously) That's it?

As soon as I got off the phone, I almost immediately saw that I had texts and I had coverage for 3 days! Now I had a week off that I hadn't planned for. So, I tell my wife, who is happy that we'll have some vacation time, but we don't have any idea what to do or where to go. After about a week or so of no idea, I say "What about Iceland?". Her facial expression is along the lines of "huh?". You see, I absolutely HATE cold weather, and here I am suggesting that in the middle of a perfectly good HOT Alabama summer, we pack up and go to ICEland. Crazy, right? Turned out to be a great vacation and not nearly as cold (or rainy) as expected.

I won't go into a detailed description of the trip, but here are some of the highlights:

-- ALL HOT WATER IS NATURAL...Iceland is the only country in the world that can claim to obtain 100% of it's heat and electricity from renewable sources. Geothermal water is heated deep in the ground due to the fact that Iceland sits on a gigantic fault line between North America and Europe that is responsible  for 140 volcanoes (not all active) and the country being very earthquake prone. Geothermal water is used to heat 90% of Iceland's homes, and most of the hot water in the country is tapped through boreholes (where the water can be boiling) and transported through pipelines to the cities and houses. No hot water heaters! Hot water smells like rotten eggs because of the Sulpher Dioxide in the water. Can't drink it! All through the country, you see thick steam coming from these cracks in the earth. Some places it looks like a scene from "The Day the Earth Ended".

--NO TIPPING....The prices in Iceland are high, but there is absolutely no tipping...taxis, restaurants, hotel, tour driver, anywhere! So, you basically save 15-20% right there! I must admit, I did feel rather guilty.

--10,000 WATERFALLS...They are everywhere. Beautiful 200-300 foot falls. Absolutely gorgeous. Did I say they're everywhere?

--EVERYONE SPEAKS ENGLISH...all children are taught English in school from age 10 through High School, which goes to age 19-20. Amongst themselves, they speak Icelandic, which is basically the language of the Vikings and impossible for a southerner originally from New Jersey to even attempt to stumble through. Remember the volcano that erupted in 2010 in Iceland that shut down European air travel for 2 weeks? It's name is Mt Eyjafjallajokull. I rest my case!!

-- ICEBERGS AND GLACIERS...when I was in grade school a hundred years ago, we learned about glaciers, but it was like learning about Mars - it was pretty abstract. I mean, a solid river of ice so big and so heavy, it moves due to it's own weight  hundreds of miles  (or even thousands in an ice age) and literally destroys everything in its path, carving the shape of the landscape. When it reaches water, it breaks off in pieces, and ta-da, you have icebergs. Some are gigantic (the Titanic mean anything?). To see these boyhood curiosities was magnificent. Glaciers cover 11% of Iceland's ground surface and the one pictured in the backround below is bigger than Kentucky! my beer, and Stout beer in particular. I always say Lite beer is just for people who like to pee. Anyway, found me a friend, and so did Wendy, at The Drunken Rabbit.

--BLACK BEACHES...Alabama has the most beautiful pristine white beaches you could ever find,  and I've seen pink beaches in Bermuda, but in Iceland,  when the glaciers grind all the volcanic lava to fine dust, you wind up with black beaches. Pretty cool!

--SHEEP...ok, no big whoop. Sheep are everywhere, but in Iceland , sheep are literally EVERYWHERE. Around May or June,  all the sheep farmers let their sheep (and wild horses) loose to roam free all over the country to go and get fat. Wherever you go away from the towns, there are grazing sheep. Come Autumn, in a huge holiday-like celebration,  the herders roundup ALL the sheep and determine who belongs to who by their ear markings (the sheep, not the herders).

--FINALLY RUNNING...Unfortunately,  I didn't get a chance to run too much while there. Running around the city of Reykjavik presented a little problem in that you don't just try to remember the street names so eventually you can find your way back to the hotel.

...however, you will see some beautiful scenery in the early morning (gets light by 5)

...and artwork and sculptures all over the city

And best of all...there are NO SNAKES in all of Iceland. That gets them the instant Al Seal of Approval.

And so, a week that was supposed to be spent sitting on some metal chair outside some jury room in Birmingham, Alabama transformed into a vacation in a wonderful country that even a month ago never crossed my mind of visiting. Like MC Hammer said..."Life comes at ya fast".

I'll see you on the road and trails - Al

Friday, August 3, 2018

Four Decades on the Road and Still Loving it.

I don't mind growing old. I'm just not used to it. (Victor Borge)

Well, it's hard to believe it's been over 2 years since I've written a RWA post. I used to crank these out weekly, and enjoyed doing them because I like running and I like writing so I just figured I would combine the two and see if I could get somebody to read whatever I could figuratively put down on paper. After (just about) 2 years of  weekly posts of my doings and thoughts, I just sorta hung it up for a while because the brain had run dry and I didn't want to subject those few of you that were reading RWA to my dwindling mileage and whining that even I hated. However, I continued running and I would occasionally run into other runners on the road, or on the trail, who would sometimes ask "When are you going to write RWA again?". My answer would usually be "My running isn't interesting enough". You see, gradually, I just got slower, my miles decreased significantly, and although I still would get out there and enjoy it, there was literally nothing new. I'd still race some, but I usually don't like to write race reports, especially when it's not really a "race", but a trot in the woods at the same time a lot of other runners are trotting much faster way ahead of me. So, RWA took a nap.

Anyway, just for fun, as this month marks my 40th anniversary of consistent running, I thought I'd take a stab at writing a celebratory post of what's been going on with Al (at least in the running world)...and see if anybody reads it.

In a nutshell, I have always been active growing up living in New Jersey. In High School, I played soccer and baseball. I loved those sports (still do), but the one aspect I HATED was the running. It was punishment..."Hey DiMicco, you're out of position. Take a lap", "Hey DiMicco, you let that ball go through your legs. Take a lap". "Hey DiMicco, don't swing at pitches over your head. Take a lap". My defense at that last dig was I wasn't tall, so the pitch was closer to the ground than other player's heads. Had to take another lap for being a smartass. Well, I never played enough to earn a High School letter (do they even still have those?). So, comes the last sports season of my senior year and I knew if I went out for baseball again, I'd just sit on the bench. I knew I could run (if I had to), so I went out for track. That's like somebody who hates cold weather moving to Alaska! Anyway, at first I ran the 440 (this was the 60's, so this was yards, not 400 meters) and then the 880. I couldn't believe some guys that actually ran a one time...without stopping or throwing up! I hated the 440 because it was like four 100-yd dashes tacked together without a break. I did ok for about 300 yards, and then my legs started screaming "I can't breathe". Compared to that torture, the 880 was a long distance endurance event that I could pace a little, so I "enjoyed" it more. I got the letter...gave it to a girl...broke up with the the letter back...not sure where it is now.

Now, we fast forward through the next 15 or so years. Moved to Birmingham, Alabama. Went to Physical Therapy School, got married, had a son, worked, and generally tried to stay active but consumed more calories than I burned, and developed a significant "pudge" (50 pounds worth). Then, on August 4, 1978, my mom passed away. Four days later, I found myself on the UAB track...not sure why. It just seemed like running might help my pudge and get my mind settled. I ran one mile on that rectangle track and felt pretty good about myself. "That wasn't too bad. Let's run another one!!". No problem...the next day I couldn't walk! And so my running journey began.

It was a rather rapid progression with my running with 10k's (no 5k's in the 70's) and a half marathon or two. Then, 14 months after that first UAB mile, I ran the old Vulcan Marathon. I did 3:14 and was hooked. The real transformation came about in '81 when I amped my mileage up and for some god-forsaken reason did the Mississippi 50 mile Run in Leland, Miss...36 times around a 1.37 mile park loop!! 6 weeks later I ran the Strolling Jim 41.2 Mile Run in Tennessee. Hard to explain the high I got from pushing myself to go distances I never dreamed of. I was having a party...I just don't know who invited Father Time to my party!

I don't want to go into the whole running history (that's even boring to me), but, thus far, I've done 151 marathons/ultras, run almost 86,000 miles, did Boston 5 times, seven 100 mile runs, and run from point A to point B in many states and several countries. I've run in 5 decades, and if I make it 18 more months, I'll make six!

I've met the most friendly, kind, and giving people anybody could ask for. I've run for hours piled on hours and miles upon miles with groups that I've coached or Pace Groups that I've led in Marathons. I've run for hours piled on hours and miles upon miles with some great friends where we talked and laughed for many hours. And I've run for hours piled on hours and miles upon miles where it was just me...all were wonderful.

I've pushed to what I thought was the outer fringes of my limit, and I've constantly found those fringes had new limits. David Goggins (a former Navy Seal who I have followed for years) says when you think you've reached your limit, you're about 40% done. I used to think that was pure garbage, but his mantra pushes me even now...that along with MY mantra for 40 years...Every Step Is a Step Closer.

When you're older than the Harry Truman administration, maybe things are catching up. When you've run more miles than 3 times around the Earth, maybe things are catching up. When you've averaged almost 4 marathons/ultramarathons per year for 40 years, maybe things are catching up. All I can say is "Well, shoot!"...I don't like things catching up!

My current mile pace for one mile on a flat paved road is SLOWER than the pace I've run 100 miles in the past! Geez!!!!

So, where am I now? I still love to get out on the trails on an early morning. Well, you know what? A 15 minute mile is still as far as a 7 minute mile, and an hour is still 60 minutes, and a 50k is still 31 miles! So, I take that 15 minutes to run that mile, use up all those 60 minutes to fill the hour, and watch those 31 miles roll by slowly on my GPS. Yes, things take longer, but the alternative is don't do it, and that ain't gonna cut it.

Yeah, it's harder to get through those long runs because you just don't glide through them anymore. I think one of the things I miss most are the stray thoughts I would have while running. I could solve all the problems in the world while running, but even in my younger days, by the time I finished my run, I forgot those solutions. Running takes a lot more effort now, and it doesn't give my mind a chance to that root, run through that creek instead of jumping it, here comes a hill, walking feels good, etc.

I don't really train anymore. My pace is the same no matter what. When a race is coming up, my emphasis of training is getting familiar with the course. That doesn't always work because when "raceday" comes along, I don't know what's in store. Somedays my body responds by moving forward fairly smoothly and somedays it's "failure to launch".

I still love to get involved in a "race" (God knows I need another shirt), but I look for races with HUGE cutoff times, get the geriatric "early start", or run the (one-loop) shorter distances and race the guys doing the full two-loop distance. I hardly run roads anymore, but love to be on a trail with runable hills. If I'm on a course with these killer inclines, I know I look like those Discovery Channel clips of guys about to summit Everest...take a step, pant pant pant, take a step, pant pant pant. I've learned to talk to myself a lot, as in "What the hell are you doing?".

So there we are with the current state of Running With Al...much less ultras, much less miles, much less zip in the legs. But, I have just as much addiction to the sport, if that's what you want to call it, and just as much gratefulness for being able to lace 'em up a couple of times a week and get my Hokas dirty, get myself sweaty, and no matter how slow I am, I'm still Running With Al.

I hope to find some things interesting enough to write about at least monthly...we'll see. Glad I'm back, but I never really went anywhere.  Meanwhile, I hope to see you all on the roads and Trails - Al

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Apple Finally Fell From the Tree...But Not Far

He followed in his father's footsteps, but his gait was somewhat erratic. ~Nicolas Bentley

Last week, I got a call from my son in Boston..."Dad, yesterday I think I did the stupidest thing I've ever done. Ok, let me first tell you the second stupidest thing that I did a couple of days ago...".

Now, let me give you some backdrop to the 2nd stupidest thing. Despite both of our fair amount of Good Sense, we are completely devoid of any ability to deal with a plumbing problem and some of our encounters have almost become legend. One time, for instance, I was in our second floor bathroom and a sink was leaking...just leaking! No BIG deal, but just enough for my male genes to begin to awaken and clamor in unison, "We can fix this".  So, I get my trusty wrench, because all I was actually going to do was tighten the faucet thingy at the top of the sink...Hmmm, a little tight... Better push a little harder. All of  sudden, the faucet comes flying off the sink, I mean like an ICBM missile, HITTING THE BATHROOM CEILING, and water comes gushing out of the sink hole like Old Faithful where the faucet used to be. On top of all this (prepare yourself for a couple of "on top of all this"), it was the HOT water side!! Instant panic. The water is actually pouring out of this hole like the iceberg hole in the Titanic, flooding the bathroom floor. I'm grabbing towels left and right like a madman, trying to somehow stop a million pounds of hot water pressure with some hand towels! Remember, HOT water.  I open the cabinet under the sink to try to cut the water off, but of course it's rusted in the open position and a Sumo wrestler ain't gonna budge it. I start screaming for my see, ON TOP OF ALL THIS, she is about two weeks out of back surgery, and is trying to avoid stairs, but she makes her way upstairs to the horror of water everywhere, her husband drenched with hot water, an inch of water on the floor, and a literal fountain of hot water spraying all over...I mean ALL over. 

ME (screaming): "I don't know what to do". 
HER:  "I'll hold the towels and you go down in the crawl space and shut the water off".
ME: "You can't hold the towels. It's hot water". 

I start thinking the only thing to do is just let go, run real fast down three flights of stairs, open the combination lock, find the cutoff valve in the dark crawl space, and not worry about the great flood upstairs. All of a sudden the water goes off! My first thought is we've drained the reservoir, but then I noticed my wife is gone. She ambled down the three flights of stairs and found the cutoff valve. Before coming back upstairs, she also called the plumber for a late night call. I did not volunteer that I could fix this. Except for my Blood Pressure being around 500/300, it was a great cardio workout, and I got my wife off the couch to test this new back!! Plus, the floor (and the walls, and the ceiling) all got cleaned. And all with only minimal leakage down to the first floor. Holy Cow!!

So, back to son #1 and the 2nd stupidest thing...see if this sounds familiar...leaking sink...."I can fix this". The big difference is he is working on an original sink in a house that's nearly a century old. He sees he cannot tighten this bolt (or whatever the heck it is) from the top. So, underneath the sink is a totally rusted bolt that he gives a pretty good tug on...won't budge...must need a gooder tug...AND HE CRACKS THE WHOLE SINK!! I'm so proud of him. That's my boy!

Ok, on to what he calls the stupidest thing. Although he has periodically tried to get running in his blood, it never really lit his fire. But, he has always been interested in cycling, going back to his High School days when we used to cycle some together. The Tour de France was an annual father/son bonding experience that we still enjoy. But, life got in the way of being able to cycle regularly or seriously, until this past fall when he bought a very good road bike and has been cycling around the streets of Boston or on his trainer (because snow is slippery). He's been enjoying working up a sweat and setting PR's on Heartbreak Hill. 

This past weekend, he decided to sign up for a 200 mile, 2-day, fundraising cycling jaunt across Massachusetts. After being a Leukemia Team-in-Training Run Coach for 15 years, I'm proud of him for signing up to help folks that will never be able to thank him, but also, I'm really tickled that he is taking that first dive into endurance sports. Someone once asked me what describes an endurance activity and I said it was one where you had to eat during the event to keep going. Yes, some carry that eating thing a little far! After doing dozens and dozens of marathon and ultramarathon running events (and 6 cycling centuries), I sure feel like it's in my blood, and it's not something that's easily described to someone who has never experienced doing an athletic event for hours upon hours. I can't wait for him to get deep into the training for this and then to feel the pride of doing something you never thought you'd even attempt to do. I hope he gets hooked.

No son, it wasn't stupid. I like to think it's just something that I passed down to you and you finally answered the calling. Ok, I also passed that plumbing thing down to you...hahaha...cracked the whole sink....that's hilarious. I love it!Guess I'm next up.

Time to go for a run. The trails are calling. No cycling for me. Too much time lost changing flat tires. I'll see you on the roads and on the trails - Al

"One child lost is too many...One child saved can change the world"

Monday, February 8, 2016

When The Planets Align

"I don't pretend to understand the Universe -- it's a great deal bigger than I am" - Thomas Carlyle, Life of Carlyle

Back last April, I wrote a post about how very much I enjoy running in the early morning, and although I positively HATE cold weather, the best part of running in early winter mornings is that I get to run with the dark, morning sky (you can read that post here). You see, I am a secret astronomy nerd. There, I've said it. No, I don't have telescopes in my backyard and I don't have a glow-in-the-dark map of the Universe on my bedroom ceiling (but it would be cool). But you sure can see a whole heck of a lot more when the sky is dark than you can when the closest star to us is high in the sky at noon.

So, as the sky of my morning runs got darker and darker in the lengthening of the to Fall nights, I greeted Orion, which to me signals the cold weather, so we have a strained relationship. He rises early in the evening, so by the time I run the following morning, he is high in the sky sporting 3 of the 10 brightest stars in the heavens, and that in itself makes him stand out pretty easily. With the dark, cold skies this past fall and winter, I also got to see a couple of meteor showers. Now, those are pretty tricky to see while you're running because...well, it's pretty obvious that running while looking up is not too safe, especially for someone who has trouble keeping his balance walking across the living room floor. But, if you're willing to actually stop on your run for a few minutes, it is so impressive to see a piece of stardust the size of a grain of sand streak across half the sky in a flaming display reminiscent of those sparklers I used to play with as a kid. And as I also mentioned in my post almost a year ago, you really have to subscribe to this site so you know when you can see the International Space Station zoom across overhead (it's the brightest thing in the sky). Probably goes over Birmingham about 4-5 times a month. I'll plan some of my runs around the ISS's schedule - it's that cool!

But, probably the cherry-on-the-cake is happening right now and will be going on for the next two weeks and I wanted to be sure you all knew about the treat waiting for you outside. From when we were kids in elementary school, we (I have to be careful here because I was taught in the pre-Sputnik age) were taught there were 9 planets circling the same sun that keeps us warm. Well, if you look up early in the pre-dawn morning, all five naked-eye planets known since antiquity are visible at once. This is actually pretty cool, and it’s visible from anywhere in the world. Very generally, if you go outside well before dawn (4:30–5 in Birmingham CST) and look south (in the Northern Hemisphere; face north if you’re in the upside-down part of the world), you’ll see the planets lined up across the sky.

I had read that this array was going to be visible, but we've had so many cloudy, rainy mornings lately, I almost forgot about it (it doesn't get much press coverage to remind you), so when I went out this past Thursday, it was a crystal clear morning and I immediately saw above me a very bright "star" that I knew had to be a planet. Knowing Jupiter was the brightest object compared to Venus, and since it was too early for Venus to wake up, it hit me like a dope-slap on the back of the head of what I was looking at (or for). The waning crescent moon (about halfway between a quarter moon and a New Moon) was fairly high up there at about 45 degrees from the horizon. I knew the order from their apparent positions from the Sun in the sky were Mercury, Venus, Saturn, Mars, and Jupiter.So, to the right of the moon (and in order from the far right), I could make out the very bright Jupiter, the rust-colored fainter Mars and then the pretty bright Saturn. A cool thing I found out later is that Pluto was right next to Saturn, but you'd need a telescope to see it. I know, I know, Pluto is not technically a planet, BUT I was taught that it was and I think it got a raw deal, so there! I was looking at ANOTHER planet!

Well, time was a-wastin', and I still had to get this run out of the way and get to work, so down the road I traveled west. When I turned around and faced the slightly illuminating sky, I was surrounded by many trees and couldn't see anywhere close to the horizon. At about halfway home, there was a break in the trees all the way to the ground, and there it was in all it's glorious brightness - Venus! And a little below it, right off the horizon was it's fainter companion, Mercury. I looked above, and without any problem, I could see all five (or six, if you count where Pluto was hiding) of the of the visible planets in our Solar System. Plus, as an added bonus you might not remember, we're standing on another orb, Earth! So, the only ones missing from Al's Celestial Parade were Uranus and Neptune. Wow!

My run wasn't all that great, but you know, all of sudden, running didn't seem like the most important thing going. The sun came up and the planets were gone like a puff of smoke. Oh, they were still there, but all that was left was the memory. No proof. But, I knew they were there because I saw them!

This show will be going on until about February 20th. It hasn't happened in the past 10 years, but if you miss it this time, there will be an encore performance this year from August 13-19. It'll be a lot warmer then, and for you night runners, this time it will be in the evening sky.

If I'm not looking up, I'll see you on the roads and on the trails - Al

"One child lost is too many. One child saved can change the world".

Friday, January 29, 2016

The Return of Running With Al!?!

"Father Time is undefeated" - unknown

Hey guys...been a while since I sat down at this computer and opened the drain of my mind and let my thoughts (mostly about running) pour out. After (just about) 2 years of  weekly posts of my doings and thoughts, I just sorta hung it up for a while because the brain-well had run dry and I didn't want to subject those few of you that were reading RWA to my dwindling mileage and whining that even I hated. When you've been a long distance marathon and ultramarathon runner for eons, the last thing to go is the mind. So, I still picture doing fast paces and running up and down the hills on the long trails because my mind is in good decent shape, but shoot, between my chronic ankles and some persistent back crankiness, my running sure has taken a huge hit. I've hated not writing these running posts but I was afraid it would be so repetitious and would just turn into a big Pitty-fest. Heck, I even gave up keeping any kind of meaningful running log (except for the very cold stats that I download onto Strava). Whereas I used to keep a very daily detailed written log of my running for years, it became very repetitious and vanilla even to me, the beloved author. When I began entering many more zeros in those little blocks than monthly mileage numbers, the writing interest waned. So, I put RWA on the shelf for a few months (since last April actually), and continued running what I could, trying to find the right things to improve. Hasn't gone quite as good as I had hoped, though I'm not done trying.

Those that don't run will probably say "All that running is no good for you", but those that do run know better...much better! However, when you're older than the Harry Truman administration, maybe things are catching up. When you've run more miles than 3 times around the Earth, maybe things are catching up. When you've averaged over 4 marathons/ultramarathons per year for over 35 years, maybe things are catching up. All I can say is "Well, shoot!"...I don't like things catching up!

Now, I'm not saying I am giving up on running, especially the trails (where running seems so much easier), but maybe I have to reset some goals. I mean, I'm not washed up!! But, I can no longer be concerned about things like how long it takes me to run at a trail race - I just have to find races that have a generous enough cutoff time to allow me to drag my butt around the course (having fun while dragging said butt, of course) before everybody packs up and goes home. Maybe I shouldn't be concerned about "running" downhill on some of the technical trails and have my ankles screaming "How do you like me now?". After all, I can probably walk down them at the same speed. Maybe I can't handle a road marathon (or half-marathon, or 10k even) anymore, but where I once could run 50 miles on the road with fair regularity, roads just don't light my inner fire much these days. But if "these days" will let me run/walk surrounded by nature or friends on the roads or the trails with it still being fun, then what the heck would I complain about?

It's just this mind adjustment that's got me bumfuzzled. I mean, it's not that I don't want to be the runner I once was, but I'm not stupid (some will contest that) and in my profession (Physical Therapy), I know what the inevitable slowdown is. Slowdown is acceptable, but rust from inactivity is not, so I won't stop trying to do the thing I love. But, it's not like flipping a light switch where I decide to accept the runner I am today rather than the runner I was a couple of decades ago. When I run with my same-age buddies, Moha or Ken, we fill up much of our runs with rehashing old stories about runs and races we've done in the past. This is usually followed by one of us blurting out "Usta", as in "We Usta do that", or "Who was that person". I can picture gliding along without a running care in the world, while in actuality, I feel like a jalopy traveling down a bad dirt road! My current mile pace for one mile on a flat paved road is SLOWER than the pace I've run 100 miles in the past! Geez!!!!

Ok, so here's the deal. I want to continue to run, but I'll make the necessary adjustments so I can continue to do what I can do and work to enjoy every doggone moment of it. I don't want to be beating myself up after my runs. That's absolutely NO fun! But, I love to run...much more on the trails than the road. And I will work like the dickens to be thankful for the fact that I am still moving forward. If I have to wear Hokas because of their cushioning and my ankles say "thank you", and if I have to wear a sacroiliac belt to give my back a little help along the way, then that's fine. I've run for almost four decades, and have a boatload of memories and two boatloads of friends just because of running. And I want to add a few more of both. If I move slower than cold molasses, then well, I'll have to accept that. 

RUNNING WITH AL has returned, and hopefully, running Al will never have to stop. I may be slower, and at times, I may be cranky, but hopefully I'll  keep it to myself and most importantly, I'll continue to see all of you on the roads and trails - AL

"One child lost is too many...One child saved can change the world"

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Running With the Night Sky

There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened.
DOUGLAS ADAMS, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

This morning, as I usually do on a Saturday, I headed out to Oak Mountain for a long trail run. Those long runs have been more moderate (as opposed to challenging) as of late and I can't seem to get my groove back to grind out a good 3+ hour run just because. I understand that if I want to keep taking part (not saying the word "racing") in trail races and the Southeastern Trail Series, then I better keep my butt moving forward down the trail at a pretty consistent clip. But, working on my feet all day, running a couple of early morning runs each week, and running on the weekends takes a lot out of this old thoroughbred's giddy up.

But one of the things I really enjoy about running is that I've become a solid early morning runner. Now, it has it's downside. Like if I miss that early morning run, there's just about no way I'm going to make myself get it together to run after work. Put a zero in the books. End of story. That's unfortunate too, because the few times I have run later in the day, I find that run is much more smooth than the ones where the alarm goes off, I hop out of the sack, and 20 minutes later I'm bounding shuffling down the dark road. But, that's me, and that's what I do.

There is one big...make that giant...advantage to going out before the sun pokes it's head above the horizon. It's just me and the sky. Since I was a wee lad, I have always been enthralled by the immenseness of the universe. It has amazed me since long before I took field trips to the Hayden Planetarium in New York as an Elementary School student in New Jersey, that we are rather insignificant in the totalness of it all. Astronomy was always my favorite subject in all levels of school, and probably if I could have figured out a way for it to pay for life, I might have gone down that avenue instead of Physical Therapy. However, there never was that fork in the road, so a "decision" never had to be made, but the interest still fascinated me.

So, what the heck does this have to do with my running? Well, three things came to mind today as I had a ran around the beautiful Yellow, Red, and White trails of Oak Mountain:

1) At the beginning of fall, when the early runs are starting in the dark, the constellation Orion (“The Hunter”) hangs low in the eastern sky. It is unmistakable and nearly everyone recognizes it from the 3 classic stars that comprise his belt. When I first see Orion, I know the cold weather that I absolutely hate is right around winter's corner. But, Orion is like the Big Dipper, you've seen it since you were a kid, and he's as reliable to show up when it gets cold as snakes are to show up on the trails when it gets warm (hate cold, hate snakes). Orion's been with me once again all winter, every morning. Now, he hangs high in the sky, but soon he'll be gone for his summer vacation. I'll miss him because of his brightness and clarity...on his right shoulder is the red star, Betelgeuse, which is the 10th brightest star in the sky. On his left knee is Rigel, the 6th brightest star. And then just off his belt is Sirius, the very brightest star in the whole night sky! Hard to believe that light from Sirius took 8.6 years to reach my eyeball, traveling over 50 trillion miles (a lot longer than my run).

2) Being the closet sky nerd that I believe I am, I sign up for an email that will let me know when the International Space Station will be flying (?) over my home in Birmingham. The email will say something like "the ISS will pass over at 5:09am, at 58 degrees, traveling ENE to WSW and will be visible for 6 minutes". The first time I got the email this winter I knew about how far into my run I would be when I might be able to catch a glimpse. I've seen many satellites in my day...Good grief, I'm so seasoned I actually saw the Russian Sputnik in 1957!!...but when I saw the ISS for the first time, I was a kid again. It was, by far, the brightest object in the sky, and it was really moving fast! Actually, it's going over 17,000 MPH, which is fast, but IT LOOKED FAST! I stopped dead in my tracks and just stared at it until it was gone. How utterly cool! Over the winter, I've probably seen it about 20 times. I'm gonna miss that pre-dawn show. If you're interested in getting ISS alerts for your home area, click here

3) Finally, here's what prompted this post - this morning, I'm about to run at OM and I see the moon about to set in the west. Pretty, but no big deal, but then I noticed the shadow just didn't seem right... the left side of the moon was covered, and my semi-nerd mind realized that the sun was going to rise FACING the moon...there should be no shadow! Holy crap! It's a lunar eclipse! I had seen them before, but never unexpected. Unfortunately, right before it went total, this big frickin' cloud comes along and kills the moment. But what a cool moment it was.

As the days get longer, I won't miss running on those cold mornings, but I will miss running with the night sky.

I'll see you all on brighter roads and trails - Al

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Rambling Thoughts From the Mercedes Weekend

"So, I ran to the end of the road. And when I got there, I thought maybe I'd run to the end of town" - Forrest Gump

This past Sunday, I "ran" the latest (14th) local Annual Mercedes Marathon and although it was my slowest marathon ever (at least I'm pretty sure it was), I had a ball. I'm not crazy about reading race reports, but I thought I might give a quick view from my place in the back of the pack.

1) Can you run a marathon mostly from memory? - Although I've been fairly consistently running with middle distance runs and races (15-22 miles) on the trails, I really haven't had any desire to run long on the roads. If you've been reading RWA, you know that I just absolutely love the trails, especially Oak Mountain. When I hit the road, it's usually an early morning run before work, or to be with friends, or it's just more convenient. As the Pace Team Director for the past 13 Mercedes, I'm lucky(?) enough to get a free entry into the marathon. Well, when you don't feel trained for 26 miles of pavement, but you've been handed a "gift", it tends to add some pressure in your innards. I wasn't crazy about doing the marathon, but felt  "I'm Al, I can run this from memory". We'll get to the mechanics of the run in a minute, but I pretty much keep proving one of my principal coaching axioms (I've got a million of them)...It's hard to get into long distance shape, but it's not hard to stay there!

2) The Run/Walk - A friend of mine, Jim, has done several marathons in the past and has been experimenting with run/walk for a while now. Those who know me at all know that I am VERY old school and have always referred to r/w as "the girlie thing"... Please, please, don't get all PC on me!!! I know, I know! Anyway, to me r/w has always been run a mile, walk a minute, or run 10' and walk a minute. But, to me, you're supposed to RUN a marathon...the whole damn thing! Well, that was the old me and I guess running trails has softened me with it's hills that make walking  pretty strategic to not falling apart. But Jim, who I did three long runs with, had taken this to another ridiculous level...he would run two and a half minutes and then walk one! I broke out into a rash when I first heard that. Good grief, we'd NEVER finish! But, to make a long story a little shorter, we did both our 13 mile training runs on the course and a 20 miler three weeks before the race  at surprisingly the same overall pace I had been struggling with trying to run the whole thing. In the race, Jim got some unexpected cramps the last 6 miles, but up until then, we held strictly to our plan and were on pace to finish about 5 minutes faster than last year when I pretty much crashed and burned trying to run the whole thing! And the biggest surprise is I felt great at the end, not completely wasted and ready to burn my shoes.

Ok, a couple of other short observations:

3) Dressing for the weather - the forecast was for rain the whole day with a temp in the 40's. I'll bet I got a dozen emails asking how to dress...Long sleeve? Short sleeve? LS+ SS? Rain jacket? You know, I've been running almost 40 years, and it's these inbetween conditions that still drive me nuts! You don't want to be cold, you don't want to overheat, you want to stay as dry as possible, but it's not a 5k, it's 26 freakin' miles!! All you can do is have a basic idea mixed with common sense, listen to very latest ACCURATE forecast, step outside right before the gun goes off and then race with your decision. Remember, you make good decisions from experience, and you gain experience from making poor decisions... and at almost 4 decades of running, I'm still learning.

4) The BUTS aid station - I am so proud to be a member of this group - the Birmingham Ultra Trail Society. Once again, they manned (and womanned) the aid station at 11 & 24 miles and what a party they had! Their aid stations are becoming legendary. The runners were greeted by loud music, a mix of Mardi Gras dancing,  pancakes, bacon, beer, all kinds of aid station eats, and the best gauntlet of BUTS guys that each runner got to run through. And if you were a BUTS member, like me, it was Superhero time. Ever see a baseball player get mobbed at the plate when he hits a game-winning home run? That's how BUTS treats their own. I loved it!!!

5) The Pace Groups - Any leader's (sports, business, whatever) principal goals is to surround themselves with good people. This was the 13th Mercedes Marathon that I have directed the Pace Groups. For many years, I was one of the pacers myself, but now-a-days, the Balloon Lady gives me a run for my money. So, year after year, somehow God smiles on me and sends me the greatest pacers. This year, each Pace Group got their followers under the balloons less than 3 minutes under their desired times. It is incredibly hard to be a pacer...keep everyone in a group, try to run an even pace, allow for hills, aid stations, etc, and most of all, no matter how crappy you feel, you have to be positive ALWAYS. Thanks guys (and girls).

6) Going the wrong way - apparently, at the end of the half marathon, the 3 lead guys took a wrong turn and the 4th place guy got an early Christmas present. There were some scathing emails and comments that Mercedes was in the wrong. First of all, the pace car can't go over the finish line and had to turn off. Second, there were course sentries pointing the right way and a gazillion spectators yelling at them that they were going wrong. And third, apparently they weren't trained by Coach Al because another one of my absolute axioms is learn the (damn) course. Know where the aid stations are, the porta-potties, the hills, and certainly the turns near the finish. Good grief guys, don't blame the race because you didn't do your homework! Sure, you're giving it your all, busting a gut and slobbering all over you chin and your shirt, but as in every other sport...keep your head in the game!

Ok, guys, that's it for Mercedes for another year. If you get a chance head on down to The Trak Shak and tell them what a great job they did, and/or send Valerie McLean, the Race Director, an email ( Believe me, her job must be one HUGE headache.

Whether I'm running or walking, I'll see you on the roads (or trails) - Al

"One child lost is too child saved can change the world"