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" 

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Do I Need To Train at My Race Pace?

"The statistics on sanity are that one out of every four Americans is suffering from some form of mental illness. Think of your three best friends. If they are okay, then it's you."
- Rita Mae Brown

Hi guys. Been quite a while since I last blogged. Actually, it was around the time of my last trail race back at the Tranquility Lake 50k Race back in November. I'm fine, but I was pooped from a second year of the Southeastern Trail Series, and a big upturn in my work level as a Physical Therapist. That, and a big denial that I am slowing down at 67! Man, I hate that, but am accepting it better (honest, I am). Before the Tranquility Lake race, I felt I had repeated as the Grand Master Point Leader again, and resting on my laurels, decided to just run the 25K instead of the 50k (remember I said I was pooped). Well, that plan worked as well as Seattle throwing THAT pass in the Super Bowl...I wound up losing first place by 0.5 points. That was a kick in the butt. Oh well, just like Richard Wilson said after throwing THAT pass...oops!!! I kept running in December and January, though cut down a bit and felt like nothing exciting was going on for you guys to read in RWA, so my writing went into semi-hibernation. I say "semi" because for the past several months, leading up to the local (Birmingham, Al) Mercedes Marathon, I have been writing a weekly training blog "Training With Al". That race is in just 2 weeks, so TWA will soon go into hibernation, and now I'm ready to wake RWA up. As the my "race" season gets cranked up again, I'm sure things will pop up in my head that I'll put down on paper (hahaha, my 6 decade mind knows there's no paper, but "I'll put it down on screen" doesn't sound quite right).

I was running this morning on the Oak Mt trails by myself and feeling I was doing pretty good, glanced at my GPS to see my overall pace. Hey, I'm flying (a relative term), but then I hit the Yellow/White connector and suddenly, I wasn't flying. It's a mile uphill at about a 15% grade, so flying is out of the question. Anyway, I started thinking that when I was coaching marathoners, one of my cornerstones was Specificity of Training...if you're going to run a hilly marathon, train on hills...if you're running in the heat, train in the heat...if you want to run 9'/mile, do most of your running at 9'/mile. And therein is one of the big differences between road running and trail running. On a road, you can pretty much pace yourself fairly evenly, despite some ups and downs, and monitor that pace as you proceed during your run. Even pace is the key, right? Well, hit the trail and all that goes down the toilet. Hills, mountains, roots, rocks, ruts, water crossings, etc, plays havoc with your pace. So, I started thinking, does it even pay to waste your time fretting how fast (or slow) you're going at any particular moment in time during your trail training run?

It’s interesting how the range of view on appropriate training paces is rather narrow for virtually every running event up to the marathon, but once we move into the realm of ultras (particularly trail ultras), the near consensus all but disappears. Many people appear to advocate the value of training at your target pace to get your body accustomed to everything that that pace involves, while others would advise training faster than race pace to better build strength and fitness.

One of the shortcomings in some discussions may be the failure to recognize how a lot of people actually run during their ultras. First of all, except for the gifted few, of which most of the folks I know are not, you better conserve your energy at the beginning or you'll blowup well short of sniffing distance of the finish. Trail ultras force most of us to move at a relatively wide range of paces for various periods of time. We run when we can, walk when we decide that it’s more efficient to do so, or want to, and generally just try to avoid any significant physical or mental breakdowns along the way.

It’s natural (and mathematically convenient) to think about our race goals in terms of a single pace; the minutes per mile pace we hope to average over the length of the course in order to achieve a particular time. This may work fine on the road up to a marathon distance, but unfortunately, this average pace might not be particularly meaningful (apart from the finish time it yields), particularly for those of us who run our ultras in the middle or back of the back. For example, in the Oak Mt 50k Trail Race I ran last March, my average pace over the course was 17:03 per mile (ok, I know I didn't blaze that one, but I got under the 9 hour cutoff) – but I didn’t actually cover much of the course at anything near that pace. I went back and looked at the data broken up by my GPS watch (which died at about 7 hours). I only ran one mile at 17:03! The miles are broken up into 10 points per mile, and in the 250 points in the first 25 miles, 141 points were faster than 17:03 and 109 were slower. When I looked at the one minute zone around my average pace (i.e., 16:03-18:03), I found that only 8 miles fit in that zone – that’s not much more than 33% of the recorded distance.

Looking at the totals for various pace ranges, it becomes even clear(er) that my average race pace might not be particularly useful for structuring my future training because I was usually racing quite a bit faster or slower than that average pace.

If this is how I’m going to run an ultra, why would I try to build my training around that average pace? And if my goal is to run that same race next year and knock 15 or so minutes off my time, and run it at an average pace of 16:30/mile, would it really benefit me to spend more time on my feet at a 16:30 minute pace? The answer, I think, is that becoming more efficient at moving at 16-minute pace probably won’t help me as much as other training would. After all, I probably won’t do much of the race at that pace. If I were to try to maintain a 16:30 pace on the tricky rocky downhill section of the White Trail of the course then I’m going to take a flying header into a tree. And if I cruise the dirt jeep road and easy trail sections at that pace then I’m leaving way too much in reserve. Perhaps on long trail runs, where I’m going to be out for a few hours, I’ll average something that comes close to that goal race pace. But again, I’m likely to be moving faster or slower than that single goal pace during the training run. As with most aspects of life, you just do the best you can...this is where perceived exertion, I think, is the linchpin of trail training. Run hard when you can, run easy when you have to.

Oh heck, this was just a mental exercise to amuse me during my run today. Tell you what, I'm going to go out on the trail, enjoy every aspect about it (except the snakes) and at the end, I'll check my OVERALL pace and see how I did. But you know what? If I'm back at my car, I did good.

I'll see you on the roads or the trails - Al

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

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Passing of a Ballplayer, a Friend, a Hero

"Every player should be afforded the opportunity of at least one season with the Chicago Cubs. That's baseball as it should be played - in God's own sunshine. And that's really living" - Alvin Dark, Ballplayer, friend, hero

Hi guys, remember me? Yes, it's been a while since I've sat down and written in RWA, mainly because there's not a whole heck of a lot going on that I think might hold somebody else's interest for longer than 2 seconds. I'm running fairly well. The fabled ankles, though stiff as cement pylons, haven't been too sore, and with our Alabama trails covered with a thick layer of leaves hiding the roots, rocks, and ruts, ol' Al is pretty thankful for that. And I've had no rants lately and I'm sure the world is breathing easier knowing Al will let it spin smoothly for a while more. I have been writing weekly in my other blog, TRAINING WITH AL, about training for the marathon, mostly directed at those in the Birmingham area training for the Mercedes Marathon, being run on February 22, 2015, so check it out if you're training for a full or half marathon and want some basic guidance getting to that finish line based on my thousand years of successes and failures.

One of the things I do just about each evening when I get home from work, is sit down with my tablet and cold beer (or hot coffee, depending on the temperature) and read briefly through Facebook (I have selectively very few "friends", so don't try) about what my running friends are up to. Also, I'll quickly rifle through a couple a hundred posts on Twitter. Most posts are garbage, but I get a kick out of the few that are funny or point you to interesting sites. 

Last Thursday night there was a short post on Twitter (has to less than 140 characters afterall) that read that Alvin Dark had passed away at 92 years old in South Carolina. Alvin Dark was a baseball player of moderate success (was Rookie of the Year in 1948 with the old Boston Braves, and later played with the NY Giants, Cubs, and Phillies. He was an All-Star three times, played in three World Series, and managed 5 teams). Never heard of  his passing mentioned on Sports Center or the news, so I was glad I was looking at Twitter that evening. You see, as a child, I knew Alvin Dark personally. My dad was an automobile dealer in New Jersey back in the early 50's and sold a car to Mr. Dark. A friendship ensued and for a few years, Alvin Dark was my hero...I knew a professional ballplayer! When he left the NY/NJ area, we still stayed in touch for several years. And as an adult, I collected all his baseball cards, not because I was a collector, but only to have them. Let me share some of my memories:

-- He gave me my first real baseball glove. I was about 8 years old and it was one of his just discarded pro gloves (he was a shortstop). On the back of the glove was written "#19". I used that glove throughout High School.

-- When I was around 6 years old, my dad took me to my first pro game. It was at the now-demolished Polo Grounds and I remember it so clearly. We walked out of the dark runway under the stands into the bright sunshine and I clearly remember two things: how green the grass was, and the red on the opposing player's uniforms (the Reds or the Cardinals?). Looking back, I realize any ballgames I saw on TV were in Black & White, so this color thing was crazy exciting. We got to wave to Mr. Dark as he warmed up before the game.

-- In 1961, the Giants had moved to San Francisco and Mr. Dark was now their manager. My dad and I drove down to Philadelphia one night to see them play the Phillies and were going to have dinner with him after the game. Unfortunately, the game went 15 innings and ended in a 3-3 tie because it went past midnight. So, sadly, no dinner. But, I did get to meet Orlando Cepeda and Jose Pagan, two SF stars, after the game in the locker room. 

-- In 1967, I was going to Jr. College in Miami, which happened to be the Spring Training home of the Baltimore Orioles. Mr. Dark was then managing the Kansas City A's, so when they came to Miami, I went down to see the game. I wasn't sure he would remember me (hadn't seen him since that '61 non-dinner). I snuck down to the rail next to the dugout before the game and called for Mr. Dark to come over. I introduced myself and immediately he smiled and recognized me. Surprised the heck out of me. He leaned up against the rail and talked to me for 20 minutes about my dad and what I was doing. I sure felt like somebody.

That was the last time I saw him...47 years ago! And, though it's been so long, his passing hit me. Obviously brought to the surface many pleasant memories. Maybe it's that next piece of childhood that we have to let go of, or realizing how fast time flies, or just realizing how much of life we have filled up...I dunno. I'm glad I was reading Twitter last Thursday or I might have missed it. Mr. Dark's passing is sad to me, but not knowing...that would have been very sad.

I'll see you on the roads - Al

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