Saturday, June 26, 2010


"Summer is the season when the air pollution is much warmer."- Anonymous

Is anyone out there excited about the World Cup yet? You know, that soccer thing going on in South Africa. I almost hit my head on the ceiling on Wednesday when the the USA scored in extra-time (soccer's overtime) to advance to the "sweet sixteen". Today, we play Ghana to try to advance to the Elite Eight. I know, Ghana is an itty-bitty country and we're the big-bad USA, but the size of the dog doesn't matter in this game - Ghana knocked us out of the last Cup in '06. Now that my beloved, ex-defending Champions, Italia have taken a shameful exit, it's all USA...USA.
Man, it's hot. Please be drinking all day, and carry a water bottle with you during your runs. I know it looks great when you step on a scale after a run..."Hot dog, I lost 6 pounds!!!". Quickly step back into the world of reality and hear the voice of Coach Al..."You lost water weight because you sweated like a pig in a sauna. You didn't lose fat weight!!". You will lose weight if you burn more calories than you throw into your body, but it's a gradual process that only works if you're consistent with your training. You need fluid for EVERYTHING your body does physiologically, not just trying to cool down the engine. I know I sound like a broken record (which is a term that half the folks who read this don't even know what that means because they've never even seen a record, but that's another story) , but it's so high up in "Al's Non-Fallible Tips For Successful Marathon Running" that I will keep repeating it until you learn. When my son was growing up, saying "Clean up your room" to him repetitively didn't work very well, but repeating is the only technique I know of as a coach. Actually, Mark Twain once said, "Holding a cat by the tail, a man learns a lesson he can learn no other way!", so maybe brushing up against heat exhaustion a few times will create new beneficial habits.
When I run with one other person, or a group, I'm more than happy to share any training pearls I can share and those that run with me on Sunday mornings will pick up on a few tips that I just spout out as we go along. One of the tips I like to give as we get into our longer runs is on form. New runners that I've coached for TNT or for the Mercedes and old Vulcan Marathons come with preconceived thoughts that I'm going to take their hands and teach them how to run and a marathon will be easy. Well, there's 3 mistakes in that sentence - first, I'm not going to take you're going to take yourself towards that finish line. I'll give you tips and tell you how to make this marathon thing more efficient nutritionally, mentally, and physically, but YOU have to do the work. Next, I'm not going to teach you HOW to run. You've been doing that since you learned how to climb out of that crib that your parents put you in to get a break from you for a while. Running, next to walking, is probably one of the most natural things you do. Our caveman ancestors found that out when the brain suddenly sent a message to our legs that said "Saber-toothed tiger comin' at you. Get the heck out of here!", we got the heck out of there! I just have to teach you how to run for a long time! If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Don't fiddle with Father Nature. Some folks hit on their toes, some on their heels, and most, someplace in between, and don't let anybody tinker with it if it's working. I think that's one of the problems with this crazy barefoot running fad. Here are these folks doing perfectly well with shoes and then they read some book that says barefoot running is the greatest thing ever, and the next thing is they're in my therapy office asking me why they have plantar fasciitis. "Well gee, changed anything in your training lately?". Finally, a marathon is never easy, but through training, we make this difficult task a whole lot more pleasant. Now, to get back to form...the whole thing is be as efficient as possible. In other words, we're going to expend a ton of energy, so let's not waste any. We're not trying to overcome gravity, we're trying float as smoothly along as gravity will allow us. If you live on Earth (and MOST of the runners I know I'm sure live here, but I'm not sure they came from here), gravity wants to pull you DOWN, so bouncing up and down wastes precious energy. The higher you bounce up, the more force you have to absorb when you come back down. This is bad unless you own a shoe company because it makes it easier to sell those cushioned shoes. One way to work on decreasing that pesky bounce is to picture your feet just gliding barely off the ground (don't trip). Try to run "quietly" - it's almost like ice skating (I'm sure that's a great example in Alabama). Think of pushing off with the ball of your foot more than the whole leg. Gliding and running quietly will also cause you not to crash down on your heels and have you land closer to a flattened foot strike. This is one of the things that barefoot proponents say will occur if you trash your shoes. I happen to like not stepping on glass, so I'll glide and run quiet with shoes. Finally, the most efficient posture for long distance runners is straight up - balanced over your hips and feet, not leaning forward like a sprinter. If you lean forward, your center of gravity is way in front of you, and your body has to chase it like the greyhounds chase that fake rabbit at the track. Your back has to tighten up to keep you from falling forward, you crunch your diaphragm which limits your breathing, and you actually shorten your stride. Jeff Galloway likes to have you picture yourself suspended from a string, like a puppet, that goes through your head, shoulders, hips and feet - whatever works. The point is to make your body work with you and not against you.
There are no magic bullets or pearls that get you to your goal, but committing to the little things over and over make this a lot easier.
That's about it folks. If you have any specific questions that you'd like me address in one of these RWA's, just drop me a note to . In the meantime, keep cool, stay straight, and I'll see you on the roads - AL

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

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

RUNNING IN BOSTON - 2nd or 3rd try

If some of you are getting this for the 2nd time or even the 3rd time, I apologize. For some reason, my subscriber thing didn't send this post out to those that subscribed by email after I wrote it yesterday, so I'm trying again. Between the airline industry screwing me up and cyperspace taking it's shots, maybe it's time to go back to dirt roads and long hand letters!

"Boston's freeway system is insane. It was clearly designed by a person who had spent his childhood crashing toy trains". - Bill Bryson

Hi Guys – Sitting in the Charlotte Airport filling up a 3 hour layover caused by my recently documented US Airways fiasco when my flight was cancelled in Birmingham 4 days ago and my ticket to Boston had to be-invented. Actually, Charlotte’s not bad at all. Just had a chicken wrap and I’m sitting in a rocking chair in the sun about to take a snooze. I’ll probably miss this flight and have to deal with the same customer service goofballs I dealt with last Thursday. So, we’ll consider this a RWA Extra and I’ll tell you about running in Boston this weekend.
For those of you who have never been to Beantown, it’s sports crazy and with something like 37 colleges around, there is always running events going on. Usually, I head down to the Charles River and have run along the running trail that goes on for 11 miles one way. There are maps you can pick up in the running stores that will tell you, to the hundredths of a mile, how far your run is if you cross any of the several bridges to the other side along the way. This time, however, instead I ran through Brookline to a reservoir called Jamaica Pond. There is a 1.42 (plug for Garmin) mile running/walking trail around the pond that is gorgeous. Folks running, walking, fishing, whatever suits their fancy. I think every Thursday night they have a 4.2 mile fun run that is pretty well attended each week. What was real great was that the humidity was 52%! Now, for those of you reading this that don’t know it, I live, and run, in Birmingham, Alabama where the humidity hovers around 120% during the summer. Holy crow, it’ll downright smother you. Had the best run I’ve had in a while. The next day, I decided to do my Boston Marathon run. OK, it was just 3+ miles from my son’s house to the finish line, but after having done the BM 5 times and I don’t think I ever ran the WHOLE last three miles, this was unique. I absolutely love the Boston Marathon, and to run the final stretch down Beacon Street, hear the ghosts of crowds past, glide up Hereford Street to screams in my head “You can do it…half mile to go”, turn left onto Boylston Street and picture the finish line 600 yards away was “Walter Mitty” incredible. It was early enough on Sunday morning that I actually could run down the middle of the street to the finish line – they never remove it…always painted across the road! I bent over, touched the BM Unicorn logo, turned around and headed back home, hoping the few folks watching me thought that I had started in Hopkinton, 26.2 miles away, and was now headed back on a 52 mile odyssey. On my way back, I had to take a detour and circumvent Fenway Park, an absolute Mecca for any baseball fan. Whenever I run in a distant city, I always try to find the local professional sports stadium and see if I can find an open door and sneak a peek of the field. It actually works about half the time if it’s early enough – this time was no-dice. Oh well!
I had a great time this weekend visiting with my family and especially with Adam, my grandson. Three generations together on Father’s Day is an experience not all fathers get to experience. I hope you all had a great Father’s Day, and if you got to throw in a personal running adventure, then all the better. Now, let’s see if US Air can get me back home without any mention of “we’re sorry, but…”. I’ll see you on the humid Alabama roads - AL

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Run today?...Yes, no, maybe

"You can't live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you". - John Wooden

Hi guys - Well, here I am up in Boston for the weekend, enjoying my family and grandson, Adam. The flight up here turned into a marathon itself. After being settled in our seats in Birmingham, our flight quite abruptly got cancelled due to mechanical problems (that the pilot had assured us, 10 minutes earlier, would be a quick fix). US Air told us there were no more flights to get us to Boston and that they would gladly put us on a flight the next day. What really got me frosted was that there was absolutely NO compensation for this being THEIR voucher, no waving the absurd baggage fee, no free coke, no pass to use the first class lavatory...nothing! So, after a few phone calls, I got us on a flight from Atlanta. Two and half hours later driving down I-20, we were set. So, Birmingham to Atlanta to Charlotte to Boston and here we are.
Not too hot here, but back in Alabama, some days are close to too hot to run. I always say that every run you do, fast or slow, good or bad, your body learns something. Well, I think my body is learning that this weather will flat wear you out! From asking most of you, it seems that you run in the morning. I guess it's better to run in 95% humidity than 95 degrees, but either way, when you finish, you probably can get in the shower TO DRY OFF!! Well, at least your consumption of hot coffee will go down. Remember, you won't gain weight by drinking water. There are no "points" in water - that's for all of you on diets that equate eating into some mathematical challenge every day.
As I write RWA, I try to direct it towards subjects that I feel most of my reading audience ("audience" sounds big, doesn't it?) are most attuned to. There are a ton of marathons and half marathons in the fall, but unfortuneately, that means you have to train through the teeth of the summer, and here in Alabama, IT IS FRICKIN' HOT!!! When I coach a group of runners to do their first marathon, I tell them we will only do one 20 miler during a typical 20 week training schedule. My philosophy is to build your strength with 13-17 milers. Therefore, there is a stretch I would call Coach Al's Valley of Horrors. We do 12 straight weeks of 13 miles or more for the long run!! It's during this time that you have to decide what conditions will MAKE you stop. You have to toughen up mentally. You don't want to be out there saying, "well gee, I think my legs hurts, I'm a little dehydrated, I'm sleepy, I'm tired, it's hot, it's windy, it's raining" and you talk yourself into quitting before you even get out the door. Many times I have said "Nope, I'm not running today. I'm too whipped". Ofcourse, I'm saying this as I'm lacing up my shoes. I've already made the decsion in some deep recesses of my warped mind that I'm getting out there, but I'm going through some chirade like I'm making this spontaneous decision. If you make your decision ahead of time what conditions will negate going out, you're set. You look out the window and say "No hurricane today, I'm running"..."It's less than 95 degrees, I'm running"..."Lightning bolt just hit my house, I'm not running". If you are going to make a decision every time a negative thought slinks it's way into your blood and oxygen deprived brain, you'll probably make the wrong decision. Just get it into your head that you made the decision to train for this event (running, walking or cycling) and you are going to teach yourself how to do it the best you can, and training is high up there on the list of things that need to be done. Everyone is an individual, but as a coach, I can look at you collectively directly in the eyes and tell you this is a very attainable goal. BUT, you have to get off your duff and find out who you really are - and most of you are going to be very surprised when you turn that final bend, see the finish line, and yell inside your head "I did it!!!". It will be a moment you will never forget, or want to forget. That moment is something you can't explain to ANYONE who has never done it, but can share it with EVERYONE who has. Don't you love it?

If any of you would like a generic 20 week training schedule, drop me an email to and I'll get it to you. It's a schedule I've used for many years with my new Leukemia TNT marthoners and half marathoners. If you have special concerns about training, I'm here to help. It's not easy training for an ultramarathon, marathon or a half, and because it's not easy to begin with, it helps to have a helping hand. I don't mean to blow my own vuvuzela, but I have been around the block a few times. I'm not a professional coach, though I do have sort of an official rating imparted on me by Jack Daniels at a TNT Coaching Workshop in San Diego years ago, but more importantly, I've made many mistakes along the path of trying to get it right, and hopefully learned from some of those mistakes. Get kicked by the mule 5 or 6 times, and you finally get the idea to walk in front of the mule. Oscar Wilde said "Experience is the name every one gives to their mistakes." and I have a ton of experience.
I'll see you on the roads - AL

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

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Gentlemen, start your engines

"Food is an important part of a balanced diet". - Fran Lebowitz (1950 - )

Hi guys - First of all, let me just say that I am a soccer junkie and I am super-pumped about the World Cup which began it's 3 week, 32 team, 64 game, Odyssey yesterday. I know that 98% of you don't give a flying flip about it, but to the rest of the world (and the 2% of us here), this is a BIG DEAL! Picture the excitement before the Alabama/Auburn football game (the OTHER football). Now, picture a tournament with your team - let's say Alabama - and 31 Auburns!! I'm beginning to hyperventilate, so I better change subjects, but as soon as I finish writing this, I'm plopping myself down and watching the USA/England game. Nobody here will kill themselves if the USA loses, but in England...well, this is MORE that life and death!! USA...USA... USA!!!
OK, I've calmed down from last week's blog and decided to get back to the crux of the purpose of these weekly ramblings. I have a strong connection to long distance running and any time I can impart some of my experiences to somebody that will listen to me, I jump on that. There are dozens of correct ways to train, fuel oneself, or dress appropriately to slant the chance for success in your favor. Goodness knows, I've been on the downside of that slope many times, usually chastising myself..."what made you think that was a good idea?". Sorta like the pitchers on my fantasy team that think a 65 MPH change up is a good idea to throw to the other team's best hitter, but that's a different blog. There are times I'll go off on some tangent, just letting off steam or writing about something only on the outer fringes of running, but for the most part, I want to keep the new or fairly new marathoner or ultramarathoner in mind, and one area that can have a blog of it's own is endurance nutrition. So let's start with what to do before you even get out the door on a typical "long run" day.
Almost every Sunday morning, someone will ask me if I eat before I run. It almost amazes me that most new runners, and some veterans, are afraid to eat before running because they're afraid of getting sick. Early in your marathon training schedule, it's OK to skip breakfast, but when you get about to the 4th week of training and are putting in around 90 minutes to 2 hours in your long run, we better start fueling like a marathoner so we can train like a marathoner. If you skip breakfast, realize that you've probably gone 12 hours without food, so you're in partial glycogen (stored energy) depletion. When our training goes more than about 90 minutes, then we need to start addressing the "fuel in our muscles" problem. See, we can only store about 2,000 calories of carbohydrates, and only about 1500 of that is stored in the muscles. The rest is racing around the bloodstream or hiding out in the liver. The body LOVES to burn carbos because they provide energy so much better than fats and proteins, but seeing that we burn close to 100 cals/mile, it doesn't take long for the brain to say "ok, time to go to plan B". Plan B is burning fats and that doesn't work so good. I'll talk about the muscle physiology sometime in the future and explain how you can train your body to store more glycogen and burn fats more efficiently, but let's get back to filling the tank the morning of the long run. Now, you don't want to have King Henry's feast before a run, but there are two general ways to get a good blood sugar level and provide carbohydrates to the system to delay the draining of the muscle glycogen.
The first is to have a light breakfast. Donuts and a coke are not a good idea! Eggs and sausage are not a good idea! We have to be a little smart about this. We need some carbohydrates that can be digested easily. I usually have a cup of coffee with toast and jelly. If I'm going be going closer to 3 hours (or before a marathon) I'll add peanut butter and to complete the absolute Gold Standard of pre-race foods, I'll top it off with a banana. So with this "Al Special", we have both simple carbohydrates (jelly/ripe banana), complex carbohydrates (toast/not-so- ripe banana), and some fats & protein (peanut butter). The coffee provides caffeine which has been shown to improve endurance and free fatty acids into the bloodstream which can be used as fuel before the stored glycogen. If the thought of food still gets you gagging, try a pre-run energy drink. Something like boost or ensure will get you a bundle of carbs, fats and protein (about 300 calories) and is very easily digested.
The second good idea for a pre-run breakfast is Powerade (or Gatorade) and a couple of fig newtons. Several studies have shown that Fig Newtons provide almost the same nutritional value of Powerbars! Plus, they don't have the consistency of shoe leather. The Powerade will also hydrate you. Anyway, the point is that you don't have to eat a whole lot to get you off to a good fueled start for your morning run. Be sure to try these methods during training - don't wait till race day! Don't wait till race day to try ANYTHING new. I have several threads that keep reappearing throughout my coaching, and the "Anything New" rule is one of those absolutes.
Now, on to the World Cup. Hope you all have a great training week, and I'll see you on the roads - AL

Saturday, June 5, 2010


"You learn a lot about people when you play games with them". - Laura Moncur

Hi guys - OK, my cork has popped. Over the past decade and a half I have had the opportunity (and the privilege) to coach runners for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. When I first began, this was a little scary in that most of them had decided that they were going to run 26.2 miles as a vehicle to raise money to help find a cure for this killer. As a coach, it was literally a "Couch-to-marathon" program (with apologies to Danny Haralson's incredibly excellent Couch-to-5K, Couch-to-10K,...etc). I had been running marathons for over 15 years and coaching for 10 by this point, and KNEW that you had to take it in steps, putting your body through increasingly progressive distances of races and's done this way because it's always been done this way! But, these marathon newbies didn't know any better, so off we went here, there, and everywhere, raising money and running marathons, dispelling my fears that you can't go from zero to 26.2. Yes, these runs were slow, especially to us veterans of the 70's and 80's who regularly raced with a "nuts & guts" attitude and had absolutely nothing left in the tank at the finish line. Believe me, I was more surprised, even as their coach, that they COULD finish a marathon. Seeing them train in the same conditions, put in the same long runs, have the same aches, pains, and injuries, it never occurred to me that some grumpy veteran marathoners would take serious offense to these "stragglers". They actually felt that this new breed of athletes somehow "disrespected" the distance. What a giant bunch of hooey!! The charities grew with TNT, Diabetes, Arthritis, Fred's Team, Dana-Farber, etc., and race numbers swelled. Runners who could run fast, could still run fast, but felt that the bar they had held so high was suddenly lowered to a level that cheapened the marathon. The cry "you can do 26 point 2" was followed with "no matter how long it takes you". Most of the time I just steamed inside, knowing, as usual, that I was right and they were wrong. Even Boston Marathon runners complained about all these "charity runners" taking up slots of "deserving" runners. THEY'RE SAVING LIVES FOR PETE'S SAKE!
Now, to me, a former (almost) 3 hour marathoner, a coach, a 5 time Boston Marathon participant, and currently a near Medicare age slow runner with arthritic ankles, I view it this way. Even putting aside the charity benefits, this new breed have set a bar themselves that is much higher than us "older marathoners". Good grief, 26.2 miles is a long way, no matter what time zone you finish in. In their attempt to reach a goal, they are an example to those fighting the ravaging obesity problem and inspiring others to get off their rumps. Some point out "they're not racing - they're just participating". What kind of lame-brained, holier-than-thou statement is that? Let me tell you that the shirt and the medal mean a lot more to someone who has laid everything they have out on the road for 6 hours than a runner who is hacked because he just ran 3:22 instead of 3:20.
So, what finally popped my cork? This...Pearl Izumi has had an ad campaign for the past couple of years - WE ARE NOT JOGGERS. If you get any of the running magazines, you've seen their full page ads and I spew smoke every time I read one. The latest ad I read last night in Runner's World and obviously I'm still smoldering. I'm sure you can find all their ads on the Internet, but here are some excepts from previous ads:
...They're jogging - a half-hearted movement of the legs that, mechanics aside, has about as much in common with running as billiards.
...If it feels like something you would do on a treadmill, or at the helm of a tricked-out baby stroller, you're probably jogging
...No matter how fast you run on a treadmill, you're still jogging
...Runners sometimes jog, but joggers never run
...Joggers can never run. It feels terrible to them - like they've been doused with gas and set ablaze'll see a lot of people out there with MP3 players. Blasting some Indie music to make the miles go by a little faster. Everyone of these people is a jogger
...Jogging is a synonym for half-assed
...Now you have all these joggers calling themselves runners. We won't stand for it
Well, what I won't stand for is blind, bigoted meanness to a group of good folks that I know are a positive influence to the sport and an inspiration to others, and putting forth an effort just as tough and as meaningful in their 6 hour effort as my buddies putting in their 3 hour marathons. Why does everything in this world have to be "US verses THEM"? Why would Pearl Izumi have an ad campaign so idiotic that it alienates half their client base? This is too much for me. I think I'll go out for a jog. I'll see you on the roads - AL