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 (val@trakshak.com). 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 many...one 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 many...one 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 many...one child saved can change the world"  



Monday, September 8, 2014

Sticks and Stones (and Hills) WILL Hurt Me!!



"She went past me like I was sitting in my bathtub reading a book" - Anita Ortiz commenting on Darcy Africa passing her at 92k of the 100k Miwok Race









When I was a kid growing up in New Jersey about a hundred years ago, I used to wonder what it would be like to be all grown up. My last post dealt with the craziness of being active daily in those younger days and how I wonder if that helped shape the 67 year old body that I carry around now. Here I am, still wanting to get up early in the morning and shake it up with nature for a while. I feel like Sylvester Stallone or Robert DeNiro in "Grudge Match"...going through the same motions, but in slow motion.

I’m really struggling with my race-goal times these days (This is where we insert the Serenity Prayer, especially the part about “…the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.“) Ah, the wisdom part. It’s so damn intangible. Last Saturday, I ran another of the local Southeastern Trail Series Races. This one was the Ridge to Ridge race and consisted of 21+ miles of hilly, rooty, rocky, trail that gradually (from about a mile into it) eats you up. It has about 3100' of elevation, which if you're reading this in Colorado sounds like a flat single track. The worst part is the Yellow/White connector which is a trail that rises 600' over exactly a mile and has suitcase sized Lower-Appalachian-Trail-hardness rocks that don't give any when you trip into them. You do this loop twice and there is no doubt the second time is a real "let's get that heart rate up to maximum" test. As you know, I don't like to write race reports and I won't write one here. I have read some great race reports, but I just don't have the journalistic talent to make mine sound in any way interesting, at least to anyone but me.

But, the gist of this cloud over me is that I am 67 years old, which is not THAT old, but older than I've ever been. The age doesn't bother me, it's the daggum slowness that accompanies it on the road or trail. It's the declining balance that usually makes itself known as I'm trying to navigate a stream by stepping on the well-placed (for anybody else) rocks. Near the end of a long race, you know, that point where you're close enough to realize you might finish this god-forsaken test, but not close enough to say Yahoo yet...actually, I usually don't say yahoo until I'm directly under the finish banner...actually, there is no Yahoo, it's just a very slight pumping my fist into the air about the height of my chest, I feel like I'm nine million years old. I’m past-dead. A Coke will usually re-ignite the spark of life, but I am spent. A happy, proud spent, but spent none-the-less. And MUCH more spent than the runner in my head should be.

I’ve been running marathons since 1979 and Ultras since 1981 with a somewhat varying degree of self-competitive success this entire time. In the first 20 years or so, I put in some pretty good times, was competitive with the general group of runners around the same age, and hit some peaks that I'm rather proud of. Running was fun. Running faster and farther was funner. In my mind, the party was just starting. But dang, who’s the jerk that invited Father Time? In the early 2000's, I began to have some ankle pains that began to limit my performances. I realized that as I grew older, there was, of course, a birthday-candle-to-race-performance ratio that was not going in my favor, but this ankle thing was a wildcard that was dealt. I watched my times go off the Continental Shelf but I kept at it because I just didn't want to let go. I'm a PT, did my exercises, got orthotics, wore all kinds of supports, but when you pound down 3-4 times your body weight on your ankles EVERY step, it just doesn't give it a very good chance to improve if you keep trying to run long distances. So, I eased up for a couple of years, ran VERY slow and cut down the training mileage a heap. Gradually, very gradually, the ankles got better, not great, but better. They still stiffen up after sitting a while, stairs are a test in mental tenacity, and there is a loss of range of motion that doesn't allow me to jump higher than a cup or further than foot or two. If I see a snake on the trail, I can't jump out of the way, so I just scream like a little girl and hope the snake laughs itself to death. A few years ago, I re-entered the Ultra world and have been testing the the limits since.

Two things are incredibly different. First, any speed is non-existent. My morning "training runs" are like a caboose going uphill without an engine. If I try to drop my speed to faster than a trot, my ankles are shot the rest of the day, and a limping Physical Therapist doesn't lend itself to instilling much confidence in your patient that you're going to get them better. And secondly, my endurance has taken a huge tumble. Oh, I can run-trot-walk for several hours during a race (did it for 7 hours Saturday), but the little energy-producing mitochondria in my muscles are screaming the whole way. I can pump them with Gu's and Coke and electrolytes, but they are just a bunch of flat piss-poor inefficient energy producers. Every race, I finish last or pretty doggone close to it. So many candles on the running cake these days means it–or I–could blow up and/or fizzle out any moment now. When IS the ‘expiration date' on my running?


Here comes the intangible part: at what age do you go, “Yeah, I’m gettin’ kinda’ old… could I really meet my goals, or should I re-think them? Can I think more positively and self-talk my way into turning this around, or is the door closing?”. I mean, I don’t have "verygross" veins (well, ok, I do in ONE leg), I don’t have cataracts and I can still touch my knees! Of course, there is the morning show of getting out of bed and stiff leg it to the bathroom before you get dressed for your morning run. How many mornings have I said to myself "Oh yeah sure, you're gonna run for an hour and you can't even get your leg high enough to put your shorts on!".

After how many merry-go-rounds on this planet do you logically accept REAL slow race and training times? Is there a formula? Do you factor in ‘X’ number of sucky runs plus ‘Y’ number of missed goals plus a few bad falls and five or more niggling ouchies and divide it by 12 or something?


In the ultra world, we are hardwired to ignore any physical or mental glitches that might for a zillionth of a moment bring us down. Our culture emphasizes that we "suck-it-up-buttercup" (favorite quote of my buddy, Eric) and re-frame any bummer thought. We are trained to visualize any deterrent to our plans before they happen so we can deal with it. It’s mental leprosy to start allowing doubtful thoughts to crack one’s rock-solid confidence veneer. I train to perform at and to reach my genetic potential. You can’t get any better than that, correct? At some point, inevitably those DNA strands start unraveling and turning to slush. You can’t will or Pollyanna positive-think or train harder to outrun that process, literally. It sucks, but you’re just not going to run as well at 70 as you did at 50. I am guessing that it has something to do with cellular regeneration beginning to lag far behind cellular destruction, and probably a hormonal shift that makes your muscles shrivel. Or something like that. When your DNA starts to go haywire, it ends your heyday. Or maybe the running fairies go, “Time’s up little guy.”

This post went down a darker road than I wanted it to. I'm not moping around because of my run performances. Oh, I ain't happy about it either. But hey, give me the choice of speed on the roads or sluggishness on the trails, and I say bring on the dirt. I like to run long. I like to run on trails. I DON'T like to run extremely slow. I DON'T like to make race officials wait for me (though they never seem to give it a second thought). I'll keep setting goals, but those goals are less specific, like "Let's see if I can finish this run before my watch battery dies". I can still run and I am always thankful for that. I keep telling myself to run in the moment, not in the memories of the past. Much of the time it sinks in...sometimes, not so much. But, as always, I'll continue to see you on the roads and trails - AL

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

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Young Self, You Made a Monster

Al's note: I have been having trouble sending RWA to those of you that subscribe by email, so I'm trying some tricks using paperclips and gum and see if that works. I apologize if you get this post twice - Al D.

"Where'd all the days go, when all we did was play? And the stress that we were under wasn't stress at all, just run and jump into a harmless fall" - Paolo Nutini

One day recently while having one of my solo run-arounds, my mind, as it usually does, started to wander. Here I am, a runner for 35 years and numerous marathons and ultramarathons, a runner who still likes to just get out there in the rain, heat, cold (ok, not so much the cold), and all kinds of conditions just to get in my fix. I was wondering on this run, how did I get in this way? I don't mean how did I start running, but what formed me to want to live part of my life outside, running up and down hills, on the roads, on the trail, sometimes for hours at a time.

Have you ever wondered about how the experiences you have as a child form what type of adult you become? Me neither, until this run where it just popped into my noggin. As I grow older, I begin to sound and act just like the stereotypical grandfather...I don't mean complaining about everything in site and passing gas all the time, but having some strong opinions about the world that surrounds me. I keep having the thought that the youth of today is going to hell in a wheelbarrow. I know it's not true, or even 50% true, but for goodness sake, so many kids today are so reluctant to get off their butts to do something physical. On top of that, we live in a world that protects kids from doing anything dangerous or allowing them to get themselves into situations that they have to figure out how to get out of. They can't play with anything sharper than a ping-pong ball or anything smaller than their foot!

What I remember of my young childhood, or what I perceive I remember, was playing all the time outside. In the summer, or on Saturdays, I would go out early in the morning, meet friends, and "mess around" all day until it was time to get home for dinner. Some days, we would play baseball, football, or soccer, but most days were spent playing games we made up as we went along. Games that would begin as tag would evolve into some form of tackling each other until you got your friend in a hold that he couldn't escape. Bike riding would become this mad dash down a hill on a road until you made a hard right into the woods at full speed and see how far you could get before you smacked into a tree. The further you got, the more adoration you got from your friends. I can recall jumping off this 100 foot cliff (probably 20-30 ft) onto the soft dirt below. The object was to see who could jump the furthest from the point at the top of the cliff you took off from. Probably explains a lot about the ankle problems I have today - can't even jump a log on the trail. And races...we always had races - bike races, running races, tree climbing races. No rules, just "I'll race you to the ____". Of course, this usually began when you were already running someplace, so the guy who called the race usually got a head start, which was ok because things always evened out and you got left in the dust just as many times as you were the first to kick up the dust.

So, how does this tie into my running self? Does the type of play you have as a youngster smolder until one day it becomes the type of play you have as a full-fledged grownup? I'm 67 years old and my play is to lace up my shoes and go for a run for a couple of hours down the road or through the woods. Sometimes I run down a singletrack and smack into a tree. Sometimes I jump over streams to see if I can get to the other side dry. Sometimes I "race" myself or my fellow runner, though you'd be hard pressed to actually say I was racing. If I didn't play as a child, would I be playing now? If it wasn't fun then, where would I be now? What kind of future are today's kids being pigeon-holed into with more video games, more social media relationships, more homework, and year-round organized sports. Oh, I know these kids will turn out fine. They'll learn that sharp things cut and hot things burn. My world was different from my child's world, and his is different from his child's. But, don't you think that so many aspects of your childhood mold your adult self? I do, and I think one of the biggest reasons running and me have this bond now is because we had this bond a long, long time ago. Yeah, it was different. Yeah, it was the same.

Maybe I shouldn't write RWA sitting on my deck on a hot summer day with a good, cold beer by my side, but this idea spawned in my head on a run, not from the heat or the beer. I've said many times in these blogs that running is a part of me. I used to think it was because I had nurtured it in all these years that I have been running, sorta like a good habit. But, now I think that fire was sparked many years ago when I was running a block, not a mile. Jumping over a cliff and not a log. Running with friends and...well, thank goodness, I'm still doing that.

I'll see you on the roads and trails - AL


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

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Young Self, You Made a Monster

"Where'd all the days go, when all we did was play? And the stress that we were under wasn't stress at all, just run and jump into a harmless fall" - Paolo Nutini
One day recently while having one of my solo run-arounds, my mind, as it usually does, started to wander. Here I am, a runner for 35 years and numerous marathons and ultramarathons, a runner who still likes to just get out there in the rain, heat, cold (ok, not so much the cold), and all kinds of conditions just to get in my fix. I was wondering on this run, how did I get in this way? I don't mean how did I start running, but what formed me to want to live part of my life outside, running up and down hills, on the roads, on the trail, sometimes for hours at a time.

Have you ever wondered about how the experiences you have as a child form what type of adult you become? Me neither, until this run where it just popped into my noggin. As I grow older, I begin to sound and act just like the stereotypical grandfather...I don't mean complaining about everything in site and passing gas all the time, but having some strong opinions about the world that surrounds me. I keep having the thought that the youth of today is going to hell in a wheelbarrow. I know it's not true, or even 50% true, but for goodness sake, so many kids today are so reluctant to get off their butts to do something physical. On top of that, we live in a world that protects kids from doing anything dangerous or allowing them to get themselves into situations that they have to figure out how to get out of. They can't play with anything sharper than a ping-pong ball or anything smaller than their foot!

What I remember of my young childhood, or what I perceive I remember, was playing all the time outside. In the summer, or on Saturdays, I would go out early in the morning, meet friends, and "mess around" all day until it was time to get home for dinner. Some days, we would play baseball, football, or soccer, but most days were spent playing games we made up as we went along. Games that would begin as tag would evolve into some form of tackling each other until you got your friend in a hold that he couldn't escape. Bike riding would become this mad dash down a hill on a road until you made a hard right into the woods at full speed and see how far you could get before you smacked into a tree. The further you got, the more adoration you got from your friends. I can recall jumping off this 100 foot cliff (probably 20-30 ft) onto the soft dirt below. The object was to see who could jump the furthest from the point at the top of the cliff you took off from. Probably explains a lot about the ankle problems I have today - can't even jump a log on the trail. And races...we always had races - bike races, running races, tree climbing races. No rules, just "I'll race you to the ____". Of course, this usually began when you were already running someplace, so the guy who called the race usually got a head start, which was ok because things always evened out and you got left in the dust just as many times as you were the first to kick up the dust.

So, how does this tie into my running self? Does the type of play you have as a youngster smolder until one day it becomes the type of play you have as a full-fledged grownup? I'm 67 years old and my play is to lace up my shoes and go for a run for a couple of hours down the road or through the woods. Sometimes I run down a singletrack and smack into a tree. Sometimes I jump over streams to see if I can get to the other side dry. Sometimes I "race" myself or my fellow runner, though you'd be hard pressed to actually say I was racing. If I didn't play as a child, would I be playing now? If it wasn't fun then, where would I be now? What kind of future are today's kids being pigeon-holed into with more video games, more social media relationships, more homework, and year-round organized sports. Oh, I know these kids will turn out fine. They'll learn that sharp things cut and hot things burn. My world was different from my child's world, and his is different from his child's. But, don't you think that so many aspects of your childhood mold your adult self? I do, and I think one of the biggest reasons running and me have this bond now is because we had this bond a long, long time ago. Yeah, it was different. Yeah, it was the same.

Maybe I shouldn't write RWA sitting on my deck on a hot summer day with a good, cold beer by my side, but this idea spawned in my head on a run, not from the heat or the beer. I've said many times in these blogs that running is a part of me. I used to think it was because I had nurtured it in all these years that I have been running, sorta like a good habit. But, now I think that fire was sparked many years ago when I was running a block, not a mile. Jumping over a cliff and not a log. Running with friends and...well, thank goodness, I'm still doing that.

I'll see you on the roads and trails - AL


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