Saturday, July 19, 2014

Me and The 10,000 Hour Rule

"At first people will ask why you're doing it, but eventually after the hard work pays off, they will ask how you did it..." - Steve Prefontaine

While looking at some of my awesome adequate pitiful statistics on Strava, I wondered how much of this is really meaningful. Except for those extremely frustrating occasions when my Nike+ Sportswatch doesn't makes friends with my personal running satellite, I download my runs to Strava (I hate the Nike Website). Strava will track all types of numbers that have to do with your run, and probably none of it has helped me become a better runner at all, but sometimes it's fun to look at.

Years ago, I used to be almost obsessed with getting in the miles, so that's what I would look at most. Could I get in my arbitrary weekly/monthly quota? Several years, I ran over 3000 miles, averaging better than 50 miles a week. Holy cow! That's a bunch. My all-time weekly high was 108 miles. Nearly killed me...did it in July...in Alabama...running to and from work from my home to downtown...over two significant mile-long hills each way. Yeah, did that once!

Now, when I download my runs, I still look at miles, but mostly as an interesting curiosity. I only run 4, or occasionally 5, days a week. I average about half of those "glory day" mile totals. These days, I like to look at elevation gain because I run about half my miles on trails over hill and dale and because I have no idea how to measure dales, I keep track of the hills. When I struggle through a Sunday run on roads with my non-trail running friends, I usually mention that I ran trails yesterday - "How far did you go?" - "Well, it was only 12 miles, but it had 2500 ft of elevation". Deaf ears...means nothing...may as well have told them it was 25,000 feet. But, I follow it. I know several thousand feet climbing will knock me on my can the next day! The time that used to get me 20 miles on the road barely gets me 10 miles on the trail now, but I usually don't keep close track of how the hours pile up.

In Malcolm Gladwell's book, Outliers, he repeatedly mentions the "10,000-Hour Rule", claiming that the key to success in ANY field is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours. This nonsense controversial idea has been pretty much disproven, but seeing that he is one of my favorite authors, the premise has stuck in my mind. So, as usual during my solo trail runs, like this morning, I got to thinking. I began to wonder exactly how much time I spend running. Do I really spend that much time preparing for the "events" I choose to do? I know I get up early in the morning for just about all of my runs and I feel like that's pretty doggone dedicated to do that, but how does my training fit into Gladwell's "flat-earth" theory?

So, I consulted Professor Strava. Last year I ran 1370 miles in 303 hours. In 2012, I did 1424 miles in 290 hours (sigh! I know, slower!). So, in 2 full years, that's 2794 miles in 593 hours. I'll save you the trouble...it's 12:42 min/mi - hey, those hilly trails slow me down!!! Now, looking at elevation gain, in the past 18 months, I've climbed over 119,000 feet...That's over 4 times from sea level to the tip of the summit of Mt Everest! Still, even with the elevation excuse of slowing me down and adding to the "hours" spent running, the 300 hours per year average is not really that much of a dent in the 10,000 hour rule, is it?

I began running obsessively regularly in 1978 and have since run over 80,000 miles. Now, I was faster "back-in-the-day", so why don't we say the 36 years all averages to about 9:30/mi. Let's see, applying my New Jersey education, 9.5 x 80,000 = 760,000 minutes divided by 60 = 12,666 hours!! Obviously, this is well and above Gladwell's threshold for excellence! So, why am I so damn slow and always finish in the buttend of races? Yeah, yeah, age...blah, blah, blah. Ankles from hell...blah, blah, blah.

So, while I plodded around Oak Mt, I realized that the 10,000 Hour Rule doesn't just require lacing up your Hokas and moseying down the trail or road. Learning how to improve any skill requires top-down (brain-feet) focus. We have to strengthen the old brain circuits and build new ones for a skill to become sharpened and improve our outcome. It requires paying attention. When practice occurs while we are looking at the scenery or talking to our friends about that & this, the brain does not rewire the relevant circuitry for that particular routine, in this case, running up the Yellow/White connector. So, what happens is that each time I hit that Y/W connector, I huff and puff, stop and take deep breaths, slowly step over the boulders, and generally don't practice attacking the weak parts of my running. Daydreaming defeats practice. Complacency defeats practice. And yes, things like age and ankles defeats practice. But, paying full attention is what we have to do for everything to sharpen us into that "success" that Gladwell proposes in his 10 Grand Rule, not just simply putting in the time.

So, although I've worn down hundreds of pairs of shoes past the magic 10,000 hours, what Strava doesn't tell me is how many hours were actually spent focusing on those skills in order to get the most out of the vehicle I carry around. Oh, I wish I could run the hills just a little better, but you know, my mind was wondering on the trails this morning because it was warm, it was raining, it was quiet...yeah, that's fine with me. Do I really want to make work out of it? Nah. Maybe in the formative years, that's fun, but not now. Maybe I didn't use all those hours to it's utmost to achieve "success", but I did OK. For now, as Popeye said, "I yam what I yam".

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

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

Monday, July 14, 2014

Jabbering On The Trails

"A long run is easy until it gets hard" - unknown, but well known to experienced endurance athletes 

Man, it is hot out there. There being Birmingham, Alabama...in July...where it's supposed to be hot. I used to relish running in the heat, but as I get as old as Methuselah, the heat melts me down pretty quickly. Actually, yesterday, I ran better on the very hilly trails of Oak Mountain than I did this morning on the flat roads of Homewood. I was a wilted cowboy when this one was done. I'll never be ready for winter, but I won't argue with a little cooler weather.
Today, while running with Moha on the roads, Ken joined us in the middle of his 2nd 20+ miler of the week. Ken's one of these runners that just runs until he's tired and then checks his watch to see how far he's gone. Anyway, me and Moha were bantering back & forth and Ken said "Is this how it goes on for hours on the trail?". Well Ken, yes it does. Here's just some short snipets of the many conversations we had huffing and puffing and hammering up and down the hills yesterday:

Moha: We didn't go up this hill last week, did we?
Me: Yes we did.
Moha: I must've been in better shape last week.

Talking about James Durant, a local runner. I was mentioning that he's a very good runner -
Me: You know, he's a year older than me (68) and he'll finish the Hotter 'n' Hell race an hour faster than us.
Moha: Yeah, but he doesn't have your bad ankles or my big belly.

Both of us love soccer and Moha was trying to convince me that soccer is really catching on here in the states -
Me: You're full of baloney Mo. Soccer will never catch on. Folks won't support it here.
Moha: Oh, it's very popular. People in Atlanta support their team a lot.
Me: They don't even have a team in Atlanta, except maybe a women's team.
Moha: Yes they do. I remember seeing them when I lived there in 19...
Me: STOP right there. You're argument just fell apart. 19?? was at least 15 years ago.
Moha: Well, IF they had a team, they would support it

Standing under Peavine Falls, which is no more than a low-pressure-garden-hose trickle due to the lack of rain -
Moha: Can you drink that water?
Me: Yes, you CAN drink that water. How much toilet paper did you bring?

Coming out of the trail and onto road for maybe 20 yards to hit the Green/Yellow connector trail, we encountered the transition area of the popular Buster Britton Triathlon going on -
Moha: Now I have to suck in my gut
Me: Yeah, like that's gonna happen!

Just recently got my new Hoka Bondi 3's after 4 pairs of Bondi 2's -
Me: I don't like them as much. The tongue is not padded, the loop on the heel is too small to fit your finger(s) to pull the shoe on, the cushioning doesn't feel as soft, and they just seem more cheaply made.
Moha: Anybody else complain?
Me: Well, I went on line, but I couldn't find anybody else complaining.
Moha: So, shut the hell up!

Moha was recalling the recent Peavine Falls race on July 4th, an 8.2 mile race, 90% on road, last 10% on a twisty trail-
Moha: I came out of the trail and there was this guy just ahead of me. So, I ran as hard as I could and passed him. I was feeling good and then the son of a b*t*h passed me right at the end. Should have beat him.
Me: But you didn't
Moha: Nope.
Me: So, shut the hell up!

Just as we're finishing up our run, we come on the road to the parking lot and I noticed the gate to the Peavine Road is locked -
Me: Why is the gate locked?
Moha: I don't know. Why do you think it's locked?
Me: I just asked you because I didn't know
Moha: Do you think it's locked to keep cars from going on the road?
Me: Um, I would guess that's the point.
Moha: I wonder why they would lock it.
Me: Geez!!

Near the end of the run, coming down the Tree Top Trail -
Moha: How much more to go?
Me: A little over a mile
Moha: We're there, brother!
Me: Yep, we're there.
Moha: If we're there, why do we have to keep running?
Me: Excellent point. Keep running

And that's a piece of how I fill up two and half hours of running with Mo. Runs like this weekend I feel like an ice cube melting in a coffee pot, but laughter will get you to keep moving forward. So, yes Ken, this IS how it goes for hours on the trail when I run with Moha. Now, if I can just get these dang legs moving a little better. Next week....yeah, that's it...next week.
I'll see you all on the trails and roads - Al


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

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Jabbering On The Trails

"A long run is easy until it gets hard" - unknown, but well known to experienced endurance athletes

Man, it is hot out there. There being Birmingham, Alabama...in July...where it's supposed to be hot. I used to relish running in the heat, but as I get as old as Methuselah, the heat melts me down pretty quickly. Actually, yesterday, I ran better on the very hilly trails of Oak Mountain than I did this morning on the flat roads of Homewood. I was a wilted cowboy when this one was done. I'll never be ready for winter, but I won't argue with a little cooler weather. 

Today, while running with Moha on the roads, Ken joined us in the middle of his 2nd 20+ miler of the week. Ken's one of these runners that just runs until he's tired and then checks his watch to see how far he's gone. Anyway, me and Moha were bantering back & forth and Ken said "Is this how it goes on for hours on the trail?". Well Ken, yes it does. Here's just some short snipets of the many conversations we had huffing and puffing and hammering up and down the hills yesterday:

Moha: We didn't go up this hill last week, did we?
Me: Yes we did.
Moha: I must've been in better shape last week.

Talking about James Durant, a local runner. I was mentioning that he's a very good runner -
Me: You know, he's a year older than me (68) and he'll finish the Hotter 'n' Hell race an hour faster than us.
Moha: Yeah, but he doesn't have your bad ankles or my big belly.

Both of us love soccer and Moha was trying to convince me that soccer is really catching on here in the states - 
Me: You're full of baloney Mo. Soccer will never catch on. Folks won't support it here. 
Moha: Oh, it's very popular. People in Atlanta support their team a lot.
Me: They don't even have a team in Atlanta, except maybe a women's team.
Moha: Yes they do. I remember seeing them when I lived there in 19...
Me: STOP right there. You're argument just fell apart. 19?? was at least 15 years ago.
Moha: Well, IF they had a team, they would support it

Standing under Peavine Falls, which is no more than a low-pressure-garden-hose trickle due to the lack of rain -
Moha: Can you drink that water?
Me: Yes, you CAN drink that water. How much toilet paper did you bring?

Coming out of the trail and onto road for maybe 20 yards to hit the Green/Yellow connector trail, we encountered the transition area of the popular Buster Britton Triathlon going on -
Moha: Now I have to suck in my gut
Me: Yeah, like that's gonna happen!

Just recently got my new Hoka Bondi 3's after 4 pairs of Bondi 2's -
Me: I don't like them as much. The tongue is not padded, the loop on the heel is too small to fit your finger(s) to pull the shoe on, the cushioning doesn't feel as soft, and they just seem more cheaply made.
Moha: Anybody else complain?
Me: Well, I went on line, but I couldn't find anybody else complaining.
Moha: So, shut the hell up!

Moha was recalling the recent Peavine Falls race on July 4th, an 8.2 mile race, 90% on road, last 10% on a twisty trail-
Moha: I came out of the trail and there was this guy just ahead of me. So, I ran as hard as I could and passed him. I was feeling good and then the son of a b*t*h passed me right at the end. Should have beat him.
Me: But you didn't
Moha: Nope.
Me: So, shut the hell up!

Just as we're finishing up our run, we come on the road to the parking lot and I noticed the gate to the Peavine Road is locked -
Me: Why is the gate locked?
Moha: I don't know. Why do you think it's locked?
Me: I just asked you because I didn't know
Moha: Do you think it's locked to keep cars from going on the road?
Me: Um, I would guess that's the point.
Moha: I wonder why they would lock it.
Me: Geez!!

Near the end of the run, coming down the Tree Top Trail -
Moha: How much more to go?
Me: A little over a mile
Moha: We're there, brother!
Me: Yep, we're there.
Moha: If we're there, why do we have to keep running?
Me: Excellent point. Keep running

And that's a piece of how I fill up two and half hours of running with Mo. Runs like this weekend I feel like an ice cube melting in a coffee pot, but laughter will get you to keep moving forward. So, yes Ken, this IS how it goes for hours on the trail when I run with Moha. Now, if I can just get these dang legs moving a little better. Next week....yeah, that's it...next week.

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

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



Monday, July 7, 2014

Karma on the Trail

"Youth ages, immaturity is outgrown, ignorance can be educated, and drunkenness sobered, but stupid lasts forever" - Aristophanes, Greek Playright

So, this past weekend, me & Moha ran the Oak Mountain Hotter 'n' Hell course AGAIN, trying to get comfortable with the constant ups and downs of going over Johnson Mountain, up the one mile BUMP Trail, down into the Peavine Gorge, climbing out of said gorge, soon climbing up the 20+% grade of the white/green connector, dumping out onto the rocky Green Trail downhill, and finally trudging back the final 1-2 miles to the beginning. And that's loop ONE! Ok, the total 2 loops is only 18 miles (David Tosch "miles"), but there is no way you are crazy about doing loop #2 after winding up at the aid station/finish line after loop #1. But, in three weeks, I plan to do it, as I did last year. I'm getting older and definitely slower, but it does please me that I continue to get out on these trails and try to push all the juice out of the lemon.


But, in addition to getting slower, I seem to be getting more cranky. Now, granted this was the July 4th weekend, and I'm sure that there were a lot of "cityfolk" on the trail over the holiday that thought it would be a good idea to go see Peavine Falls. Ha, that's a good one! First of all, it's a pretty strenuous trek to get to the falls and I'm sure there were many well-meaning "hikers" that reversed course halfway up, and another group that literaly cried when they got to their destination, because due to the lack of rain around these parts, Peavine Falls has been reduced to no more than a very small trickle. Now, for any trail runner climbing down the gorge, this was still a welcome site because the water is ice cold...OH YES!!! The hell with Giardia, I'm dousing myself with this stuff!


OK, so what do I have to be cranky about? It was the disgraceful amount of trash littering the trails. Every week, I'll pick up a few Gu or candy wrappers, or Honey Stinger/Powerbar wrappers (which I know can only be bikers...no self respecting trailrunner can down a Powerbar on a run!). But, this week was crazy. By the time I got to the Treetop Nature Center 8 miles into the run (the 1st trashcan), I had my pockets and waterbelt stuffed with 4 waterbottles, including a 32oz Gatorade bottle, wrappers of all types, plus a large Potato Chip bag! Moha had his pockets equally filled too. I know it wasn't the bikers, because we weren't on the Red (bike) Trail TOO much. And it wasn't trash from the Peavine Falls Run July 4th, because that's 90% on road. And I doubt it's from any trailrunner, because we do respect the trails. Under no circumstances are you allowed to litter. Period. You carry it in, you carry it out. We all know this. In a race, the items you take from an aid station are fine to take on the trail with you, but you keep your garbage with you until you see the next trash can. There is a zero tolerance policy here. Littering is unacceptable. As this sport grows, this is one sure way to ensure races get cancelled by state parks. But, I guess all we can do is police ourselves.


I am amazed by the growth of trail running lately (especially thanks to BUTS in the Birmingham area). We have many new runners joining our races that have never run trails before. In October, the SouthEastern Trail Series will have another free race for Birmingham Track Club members. Last year, it was incredible how many showed up. And they all loved it, despite David Tosch's attempt to discourage them with his usual up-the-mountain/down-the-mountain course. Those of us that have been doing this for a while must serve as a mentor to new trail runners. New trail runners may not know the rules. Tattoos are not a rule...facial hair is not a rule! But, trail running is a different culture than road running. In road running you’re not expected to carry your own water bottle. It’s ok to throw your cups on the ground during a race. In some cases, new trail runners may not know the rules of the trail. It’s our job to coach and mentor.


Birmingham has great trail systems all over the area. It really pained me to see the trash on the trails this weekend. We are fortunate to be able to run in great places. But as this sport grows, each and every one of us has a responsibility to leave only footprints.


As I get older and slower (and more cranky), I keep telling myself that I have to look for all angles to keep myself going. TAKE CARE OF THE TRAILS AND THE TRAIL WILL TAKE CARE OF YOU.


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


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

Saturday, June 7, 2014

My Running and Blogging...Like Google Search, It's Loading Slow!

"There's no such thing as writer's block for writers whose standards are low enough" - W. Stafford, writer


This morning, on an incredibly humid morning in Birmingham, Alabama, me and my buddy, Moha, went out to Red Mountain and had a very pleasant run for a couple of hours on the trail. No falls. No snakes. Lots of laughs. We met some trail runners we had never met. And, I discovered a new favorite Gu flavor...Chocolate Peanut Butter!!! Yes, even better than plain, old Peanut Butter.


Now, wasn't that interesting? Of course not. One great thing about blogging about running is that you always feel there is something new to say. There's definitely a symbiotic relationship between my workouts and my posts. One inspires the other. And, I have a bunch of thoughts rattling around in my head that I'm sure you're just itching to hear. But hold on a second...maybe you're not itching to hear these rattling thoughts after all. How interested are you in what I think? You have to admit that it's a leap of faith I take every week or so that what I put down will actually hold your interest longer than it takes you to find and hit the Delete button. There is NOT always something new or interesting to say. Every blogger likes to to think he has the hook in every reader that has read his or her mental meandering, but the fact is that that intellectual thunderbolt is not always there for the blogger and boom!...you've lost your readership.


This blog started as way to capture my singular experience as I ran over 3 decades up hill and dale from here to there. Marathons and ultramarathons. Roads and trails. From my young self to my current older self. I didn't want it to be simply a chronicle of my training and racing, but rather a reflection of how running changed my life, how my views of running had changed, and most importantly, how these scattered thoughts might relate to you. Many times I write "It might just be me, but..." and then I get a ton of comments saying, "No, it's me too!". That is always comforting. But, you know, I haven't got a ton of comments yet saying "Yeah, my trail pace has become slower than a slow boat to China too", I'm sure you'll let me know it can't be just me.


Seriously, by shear stats, and word of mouth from my very kind friends and family, I've discovered that many other people relate to the site. I recently checked my traffic and saw that Running With Al has had almost 40,000 page views since I began posting four years ago. It's awfully hard for me to believe that I have 262 subscribers that get RWA delivered to their already crammed mailboxes every week or so. I have readers in all 50 of the United States, and most astoundingly to me, I've had readers in 89 countries. I understand there are about 204 countries in the world, so I guess I have to send a few cold posts to folks in those countries to boost my stats. Yes, I know 90% of these readers don't say "Oh yey, another RWA has arrived" and devour it word for word. Sadly, most readers probably hit that handy Delete button before even opening it, but for those that do read it, I honestly thank you. And just a word that I'm sure is universal...all bloggers are voracious for comments, so please don't hold it in. Let me know what you're thinking. How else do I know you're reading?


Obviously, this week is what is commonly called a blank slate as far as an interesting subject is concerned. Hey, this happens in running and blogging. I love to do both, but each effort is different. Like the song, "Somedays are diamonds, somedays are stone". Thanks for reading.

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



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

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Running...What's It To Ya?

"You're in pretty good shape for the shape you're in!" - Dr. Seuss

This past weekend, I "celebrated" my birthday and as a birthday present to myself, I ran a tough 12 mile trail race that will literally suck the air out of your brain. Actually, it has nothing to do with a birthday present, it's just that the race was scheduled the day before my birthday, so I figured I'd close the old year with a bang. Running that race, and the other solo runs of the Holiday weekend put me in a reflective state--thinking about my life, what's important, where I came from, where I am and where I'm going. That's what having another birthday does! I mean, c'mon, this was the 67th anniversary of me coming into this crazy world. From the moment I was born, I guess the majority of my plans have taken a right or left turn from their intended destination. Oh, not a hard, 90 degree turn most of the time, but rather a wide turn like a giant steamship trying to avoid the iceberg up ahead. Oh, there was nothing deep about my reflectiveness...nothing with a large meaning, but just
drifting.
  
After running for over 3 decades, I think often about where running has brought me. It's about far more than lacing up the shoes and putting one foot in front of the other in pursuit of my own goals. Running has helped make me who I am. Running is not me, but it is definitely a major part of me. I've said often in this blog that running (or whatever your interests are) can't help but define your very nature. Running brings peace amid the occasional chaos of life. I remember when I worked in a clinic that allowed me to run at lunch, how much I looked forward to that escape. When I'm out the door, problems can disappear, even if only for an hour or so, and I return with a new sense of calm and better perspective. 

Running provides quiet times of reflection. Life often gets so busy that simple reflection takes a conscious effort. When I run, I have time to reflect. I often think about my dad. He never saw me run and passed away in 1982, one year after I did my first ultramarathon. As the years pass, he gets bigger in my mind, and thankfully, those memories stay crisp. I think of him often because I want to think of him often and running on a smooth single track trail provides the perfect opportunity for me to do just that. 

Running provides friendship. Most of my closest friends today are fellow runners who I see every Saturday and/or Sunday. But it's more than that. Like any runner, I can go to any race and even if I don't know anyone there, I'm still surrounded by friends. I meet folks that I've jabbered with on Facebook, but never officially met "in life". I'll introduce myself to folks more often than not with "I'm sorry, but I don't remember your name". At least these days I can blame it on age! We all share the many threads that make up our running selves.

Running has allowed me to figure out what I'm made of. Whether at mile 20 of a marathon, mile 35 of a 50 miler or mile 80 of a 100-miler, I always learn at these critical junctures in a race what's deep inside of me and will it keep me going forward. Oh, it's not an instant revelation of "So, this is what I'm all about", but rather one that hits you sometime long after the race has finished. You think about those dark moments in the run when the thoughts of quitting really didn't sound that bad, but something said "Ha, that's a good one" and on you pushed. One's character often comes out in times of great stress and suffering. And I've come to realize that, amid my flaws, I must have a strong character and the courage to endure because as much as I usually want to, I will hardly ever FULLY pack it in. But man, I sure can whine a lot during a race (just ask Moha). 

Running allows me to plan my day. My early-morning run  before the sun rises takes off the edge, making me just tired enough to focus on what's in front of me. My job as a Physical Therapist is not necessarily hard, but trying to convince some of these folks to exercise when they have no more desire to exercise than the Man in the Moon can be taxing, especially to somebody like me who loves to sweat! On the mornings I run, I can approach my patient load with a "Get-through-them-one-at-a time" attitude. 
 
Running brings emotion. Not the wide swing of emotions, but the ones that catch you by surprise. Running doesn't usually make me sob, although some of my runs have been pretty sad, but I remember when I finished my first Boston Marathon in 1995, I had a very unexpected, but controlled rush of happy tears. It just meant a lot. It was a different scene when I crossed the finish line at the Pikes Peak Marathon...instant uncontrolled sobbing. Not sure if it was just a release of emotions from finishing the toughest race I can remember being in, or if I was just relieved to get off the damn mountain before the thunderstorm got me. Another emotion is just one big "WOW". This happens every time I come to the top of a trail ridge where you can see what seems like forever. We have one such place here at Oak Mt called King's Chair. If you're blessed enough to make it to the top of the Blue Trail, you can literally see for 40 miles across the valley. If you don't say WOW to that, your heart is harder than the stone that King's Chair is made of!
  
Running brings out my competitiveness. I know, I'm 67 years old, and I pretty much finish last or daggum close to it in every race. I'm not racing anybody, but I get out there and think I'm moving along pretty good and although it might be pushing times I could clock with a sundial, I am running with (not against) my younger self. In the race I did Saturday, climbing up the 15-20%, one-mile long, White Trail (twice) is a killer. Back in the Day (God, I hate that term), I could run up at least part of it. Saturday, I looked like those newsreels of climbers taking their last steps before the conquering of Everest. But, I wasn't trying to conquer the trail this time. I was competitive to the point that if the mountain gave me anything, I would take it and give a big Thank You back. 

So I run knowing running makes me a better person, at least to myself. Those of us who have such a pursuit--be it painting, cooking, building model airplanes, etc.--I guess we're the lucky ones. We have an inner call that has to be answered. I don't want to make it more than it is, but to many of us, it is more than lacing up our shoes. 

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

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

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Doing It By Memory




"Sometimes distance running is as effortless as floating. Other times it's like giving birth" - Katie Arnold, ultrarunner

Surprisingly, mostly to myself, I managed to run another ultra a week ago, completing the Run For Kids 50k at Oak Mt. I meant to post this at least 5-6 days ago, but I was mired in a much too unfamiliar bout with bronchitis. More on that later. Ok, back to this 50k thing. Now, don't get me wrong, I wasn't blazing it and my only goal was to finish the daggum thing in fairly good shape. The RFK50 is run on what I affectionately call the "Sissy Trail". Oak Mt can have some significant long mother climbs that seem to go on forever at about a 15% grade, but this 3.3 mile loop has about 90' of elevation each loop. Just some constant PUDS (Pointless Ups & Downs). On those tougher runs with those long mother hills, the walking sections are pretty much determined for you..."I've got to walk this hill"..."I've got to walk. There's a hill coming up"..."I see a hill way out there. Think I'll walk now". But, on the Sissy Trail, you're reduced to walking when you get the first wave of  fatigue (or the first wave of imagined fatigue). Without it being set out before you, it's damn embarrassing to walk a piddly incline that's barely more than you'd see on a residential driveway. But, there it is.

So, this run is basically 10 loops through the woods, which to some sounds incredibly boring. But, if you set your head right, it really is quite pleasant. The main (and only) aid station is never far away. You really don't have to carry anything at all. I chose to carry a water bottle because I always train on the trail with one and would feel positively nekked without it. By the 6th loop or so, you pretty much have every rock and root memorized and know how far it is from here to there. That makes it cozy mentally. It's pretty impossible to get lost...Well, almost, as Moha, my invaluable running partner, actually ran off course during the 8th loop. If I wasn't right behind him, he would have merrily ran his way into the next county.

I'm not going to give a loop-by-loop account of this race, because that WOULD be incredibly boring. But, here are some of my observations from last weekend:

I've gotten extremely slow in doing these runs, but it's amazing how satisfied I feel that I'm doing them. I think I said to Moha during the race "Why do I feel so good about doing these when we suck so bad?". Actually, the only thing that sucks is my speed when I compare it Days of Yonder. But, that shouldn't come as any surprise...I'm a hundred years old, I've got two ankles out of warranty, and most of all, for the past three years, I've only averaged about 25 miles a week in training. But, I find great delight (and surprise) that I can slowly cruise through 31 miles where I'm not really going THAT much slower at the end than I am at the start. So, with all this, I guess you can pretty much do this by memory as long as you have a good base and don't expect more out your body than is realistic. I really think the most important part of trail running is that most races are going to have some steep hills in them, so you better train on the hills. I think this is more important than putting in God-awful mile upon mile for hour upon hour.

My nutrition during this run was pretty straight forward. Up until about mile 25, I drank strictly water, and had one Peanut Butter Gu each loop. I used to be Gatorade junkie, but the more I read about hydration, it seems that there are better ways to get electrolytes in you than Sugar Water. I carry some Nuun tablets with me if I feel my electrolytes are tanking, but I didn't use any in this race. You just add these to your water bottle and are purely electrolytes. The last two trips through the aid station, I drank Coke (I know, the Ultimate Sugar Water), which I wish was de-fizzed, and a bite of great Ham & Cheese wraps (plus the Gu). As I do more of these runs (this was #141 over 3+ decades), I seem to have discovered Coke, both as a late-in-the-race drink and as a go-to drink immediately after the run. I'm not saying Coke as a brand name, but as a generic sugary soft drink. Anybody else find that this really works quick to pick you up? Guess it doesn't matter if it's in my head or not, but I'm convinced it helps, so I'll keep it up until I crash on it someday and then I'll find another miracle.

Friends are invaluable. I've posted many times about my runs with Moha. We run basically the same pace, fatigue at the same points, argue enough about everything and love the game of European Soccer. We basically have a good time for a whole day in the woods every time we run. But, in addition, on a course like this, we are constantly being passed by the front runners. This race also had a 12 Hour Run going on, but unless you saw the color of their bib (which is pinned on the front, making it hard to see when they come screaming on you from behind), you mostly didn't know what race they were in. But, I will say that, without a doubt, every runner that passed always had a friendly word to say, be it encouragement, friendliness, or concern (as in "Are you OK? You're moving mighty slow"). When you finish the race, the leaders are on their 3rd beers, but they still take the time to clap and offer a genuine form of "Good Job". It seems like at the end of most races up to the marathon, the first question other runners ask you is "What was your time?", but honestly, when you finish one of these, time just doesn't seem that important. A hand shake, a fist bump, or a good ol' slap on the back is what you want and it's what you get. Yes, friends are invaluable.

Usually, I recover pretty quickly from these runs, but this has been a little different. The weekend before the race, somehow, my Superhuman immune system allowed it to be taken over by some alien strain of bronchitis, stopping my running for a week...Crazy tapering! So, I reluctantly made a trip to Dr. Doc-in-the -Box, got a shot and anti-biotics and was able use smoke and mirrors and finish the 31 miles through the forest. Can we all say relapse? I wasn't as sick, but these coughing attacks brought about by what feels like a hairball of feathers in my throat is driving me nuts. I went out for something this morning for 8 miles, but it sure wasn't what I call a run. Holy cow! I felt like I was in the last stage of a stress test. Oh well, I've got two weeks before my next race. The Crazy Taper continues.

Ok, finally, a word of praise for a couple of fellow BUTS (Birmingham Ultra Trail Society) buddies. 100% of the proceeds of this race went to Camp Smile-a-Mile, an Alabama camp for children with cancer. Donna Arrington, still coming back from foot surgery, raised over $2000 doing over 54 miles in the 12 Hour Run. Great job Donna. And then there's Suman. Surely you remember him from a few posts ago...he's the one that bumped UP from 50 miles to the 100 miles at the Lake Martin Ultras the night before and finished his 1st hundred miler in 25 hours! Well, he did it again...get this...bumping up from the 10k to the 12 Hour the day before. He did 60.5 miles! I saw him this morning and he sounded like the 60.5 miles pretty much did him instead of the other way around. Quite a string of performances Suman. He swears he's cutting back for a while...yeah, right!

Ok, and now I have to figure out the antidote to this Kryptonite poisoning and get my Superhuman powers back. Until next time, welcome the warm weather, run smooth, force fluids, and be sure to wash your hands.

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

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