Saturday, May 29, 2010


"Sometimes I lie in bed at night and I ask "Where did I go wrong?". Then a voice says to me, "This is going to take more than one night." - Charlie Brown

Hi Guys - About 31 years ago, I got this bright idea to run a marathon. 26.2 miles? Piece of cake. I was working down in the UAB Medical Center at the time and picked the brain of Dr. Max Michael. After all, he had run TWO marathons, so how much more experience did I need to tap from? Now, this was back in 1979 and many of you reading this were not even born yet, never mind not running yet. So, after 128 marathons/ultras let's take a trip down Marathon Memory Lane and see how things have changed from then to now.

TRAINING - Basically, you had to put miles under your feet. At the time, we were awed by the reports that Bill Rogers was putting in 20 miles a day. There were no foreigners dominating the scene, just good ol' Americans that trained hard. For us midpackers, we pretty much subscribed to the theory that you had to average one-third of your race distance per day. Therefore, for a marathon, we had to average roughly 60 miles per week. That included your weekly long run, which for Bill Tucker and me meant 20 miles EVERY Sunday! We didn't do tempo, pace, or threshold runs - we just ran how we felt, doing a lot of what was called LSD (Long, Slow Distance). One week before the marathon, we ran a 20 miler and ate no (or little) carbohydrates for 3 days. Then we went into our carbo-loading phase till the race. The idea was that by denying our bodies the replenishing carbos for a few days (depletion), our bodies would then soak up the carbos much more then they would have without the depletion. Marathons were a big deal then and this was reflected by our usual Friday Pre-marathon lunch at Mr. Gatti's.

Clothes & Shoes - there were no "technical" fabrics then. Pretty much we wore cotton and used a lot of Vaseline. When polypropylene came out, it was like a miracle fabric. It was so cool to explain to a non-runner about how it "wicked" the sweat away from your skin. I remember running my 2nd marathon (Birmingham's Magic City Marathon, 1980) in a cotton shirt, covered by an Alabama football jersey (don't ask, I don't know!), and wearing a cotton toboggan hat. It was about 20 degrees, but at the end, I was soaked with sweat, freezing my fool butt off, and ice sickles clinging to my hair! Our shoes were not the marvels of engineering they are now. My first pair of shoes were given to me by Versal Spaulding, who owned Birmingham's only store that sold running shoes - RUNNING SOUTH in English Village. Actually, it was just a garage that had boxes of shoes stacked up along the walls and 2-3 folding chairs. Anyway, he gave me a pair of Nike Elite's. I couldn't believe they felt so good! They fit like a glove - unfortunately, they also gave about as much support as a glove and I soon had a rip-roaring case of plantar fasciitis. Another of Nike's journey down the wrong road was something called the "LDV-1000". They realized that pronation (inward rolling of the foot) was a bad thing, so their solution was to eliminate it TOTALLY! The sole under the foot was 4 inches wide!! Yeah, this prevented pronation, but your poor knee, hip, and back went along for a ride that kept doctors and physical therapists like me in business. Anyway, shoes gradually improved to assist your running instead of reinventing it.

Aid stations - OK, every FIVE miles you could get water. Frank Shorter was a big proponent of defizzed cola (usually late in the race), but it was pretty comical watching someone like me trying to shake the fizz out of a coke bottle during a race. It looked like poor imitation of the '69 Mets locker room after they won the World Series. Then a nectar from the Gods came along. Something called ERG was offered at some races. ERG stood for Electrolyte Replacement with Glucose. You felt if you drank this, you would never get tired, never slow down, and suddenly, you were physiological wonder. The power of the mind is wonderful. Eventually, we got Gatorade (which at the time tasted like the sweat it was replacing), and believe it or not, we didn't care what flavor it was. No GU, no Gummy Bears, no cookies.

RUNNING THE RACE - It was pretty much at a pace you felt you could do the whole race at. There was no walking (planned, anyway). This was a running race. Splits were given every 5 miles by someone holding a stopwatch, and the finishing clock was an analog clock that looked like it belonged in a 4th grade classroom. When the race started, they set the the hands of the clock to 12 noon, so when you came across the finish line in 3:45, the the clock read quarter to four! No chip, no chronograph. When I started running, I wore a regular analog watch, but then I bought a digital Casio watch. Man, was I cool or what? It had a silver metal band, was encased in a shiny silver casing, and I can still picture it during a marathon in Indiana literally shorting out right before my eyes from all the sweat. Now, if my watch doesn't give my automatic splits every mile and distance measured my GPS to hundredths of a mile, I feel cheated.

It's been a long and twisted road to where we are. I wonder what the next generation will see. Think I'll stick around and see. I'll see you on the roads - AL

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Al,
This blog (I read it in the BTC Newsletter) brought back great memories. I still have my first pair of racing shoes--essentially a flat sole with cloth across the top--with shoe goo to fix it for the next race.
Does anyone know where Versal is these days?
Ray McKinnis