Saturday, July 31, 2010

It's not the heat, it's the...ok, it's the heat!

"A champion is someone bent over, drenched in sweat, at the point of exhaustion, when no one else is looking" - Unknown, but one of my favorite quotes

Well, can't say we've broken through this heat wave yet. Went out this morning at 5:30 and the "Al Scale" was at a whopping 170 (temp was 79 and the humidity was 91%). Decided to go easy and try to get through a slow 2+ hour run. Once the sun came up, I don't think there was a cloud between here and Oklahoma.Actually, if you cut your pace down to about that of a plow horse, you can get through runs like this. I went through 3 bottles of water and still lost 5#. Maybe I can peddle this..."Lose 5# in two hours! Be ready for your Class Reunion in a snap". Sorry to say guys, this is summer in Alabama. Plan for it, and you've got it more than 50% whipped. Understand that this is simply survival running and you can't put any stock in what your pace is. Getting out the door is the first great hurdle. I've always subscribed to the idea that in order to be a successful long distance runner, you can't hide indoors when the it gets hot as hades or cold as...well, a cold day in hell. Now, of course, we have to go back to a few blogs ago when I talked about common sense and listen carefully to what your body is telling you. It will do all it can to help you get through whatever level of stress you try to put it through, but it does have it's limit. You have to train, you have to acclimate, you have to prepare. You can't spend June and July at the YMCA and then in August you decide you're going to do the Hometown Marathon in September, so it's time to put in a 20 miler...on the Hometown the heat... Yeah, let me know how that one goes.

I remember, about 20 years ago, anywhere from 2-6 of us would meet every lunchtime at UAB (my University) and do 5-8 miles. We would do this 12 months a year, 4-5 days during the work week. We would acclimate to the cold, to the heat, to the rain, to the snow, and everything in between. These runs were at a pretty brisk pace and the last two blocks were always a "balls-to-the-wall" sprint. Those were the days I set all my PR's.Now, all my runs are in the early morning, so I'm not acclimated to anything post 8 o'clock. I've given some slack to my runs in terms of distance and pace, mostly out of necessity, but more importantly because this is what I have to do to keep running. And I love to run. It is ingrained in me. I see a trail, and I don't just picture running it...I can feel myself running it. Physically, maybe I couldn't run that trail, but I can still feel it. I don't want to ever lose that feeling. I still see ads for marathons and say I'd like to run that one, and then I go out on a morning like today and 12 miles buries me. Maybe I could run that marathon and finish before Tuesday, but I still have that feeling that I am a runner.So, I get out there in the heat, and the humidity, and the sky-high Al Scale readings, and I accept "cold molasses uphill" pace. I am a runner. It will cool off soon, and then the real whining begins because I absolutely, positively HATE cold weather. But, my friends, I'll be out there...and hopefully, so will you.

Ok, I've sorta rambled around with this week's RWA. Tomorrow, my wife and I are headed to New Mexico for a little vacation. It's cooler there and the humidity is way low (Al Scale in the 120's). Maybe I'll see if my pitiful pace is really due to the H & H. Wait, maybe I don't want an answer to that one. Either way, I hope you all have a good and safe training week. I'll see you on the roads - AL

Sunday, July 25, 2010


There comes a time to every runner when you just know this is where you're supposed to be and you thank God he allowed you to be there. This morning, I was running a a rather short, uninspiring run, in incredibly hot and humid conditions with 5-6 of my friends. We were taking turns about who could whine the most when we noticed a rainbow beginning to form in the clearing skies. It stayed in front of us and as we kept running, a second, though fainter one appeared. By the time we reached our waterstop a few minutes later, we were absolutely awed - the rainbow was one of the brightest I have ever seen and extended completely across the sky. At our waterstop, there is an open field that extends maybe a quarter of a mile, and there we
actually saw the end of that rainbow touching the ground! I have NEVER seen THE END OF THE RAINBOW until this morning. Of course, none of us had a camera, but that's ok. We all have the memory. We all ran towards the rainbow, but it quickly faded back up into the sky, and no, we didn't find the Pot of Gold. We found something much more precious. Yeah, it was hot,
it was humid, my joints ached, but for a brief time this morning, it was wonderful. Just felt like sharing it with you all.
Have a good week - AL

Saturday, July 24, 2010


A goal without a plan is just a wish.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery (1900 - 1944)

Hi guys - Thought I'd get up early this morning to beat the heat. Guess I had to get up a little March! I mean, it was 81 degrees when I woke up at 4:30. Went to Oak Mountain to run on the trails and let me tell you, trees make for a nice blanket to hold all that 80% humidity in a tidy bundle. I know, summer in Alabama and all that stuff, but I'll tell you this, though. With all the experience I have with running and teaching other runners, I keep learning that you have to always pay attention to the heat. Years ago, I came up with a simple thing I call the "Al Scale". Simply, you add the temperature and humidity and if it's above 160, you better cut back and stash any quality workout (distance or speed) in your back pocket. When you have a long run planned and you're dead set to get the run in, the best chance you have to get your distance is to cut way back on the pace from the start. Make sure you drink enough (12-16oz) within an hour of starting and try to drink constantly during the run. For many years, I have carried a hand-held water bottle so I can sip along the way instead of having to hope there's a gas station around the next corner (there never is in the woods!). When I run on the trails, I'll also wear a belt that carries another water bottle. Once you're water level dips below the "uh-oh" line, you're a goner. There's no catching up and your run turns into a trance-like shuffle/walk. Yeah, that's real pretty! Back in June, somebody said to me "it could be worse", and I said to him "Yeah, it could be July". Well, here it is, and I have a feeling that August is going to be like...well, August in Alabama. RESPECT THE HEAT!

Now, about that quote above. As we get a little deeper into our schedules for the fall marathons, we have to be sure that we have a good plan spelled out, and we have confidence in that plan. You don't want to get on a plane and have the pilot say "I wonder where we'll go today". Many of you are following a schedule that me or Ken have put in front of you and you're following it on blind faith alone that we know what we're doing. Well, let's not dwell on that assumption, ok? But, it's hard in June to think that what you doing then will actually have an effect on what happens in 4 months. Your biggest concern in October is going to be "what cold weather clothes should I pack?" - that's hardly your primary concern today! But, by coming out consistently and training through the hot summer, you will adapt to the rigors of turning your body's energy system into an acclimated machine. YOU CAN'T HELP BUT IMPROVE! Your body may not be crazy about what you're doing, but it knows it better adapt because you just may continue doing this for a while (this doesn't apply to running out of fluids on a long run). Then all you have to worry about is believing you can do this. Most of you won't believe that until you're going under the balloons over the finish line, but we'll work on that. What you have to get out of your mind is negative thoughts that you CAN'T finish your race, or you CAN'T get through the training, or you CAN'T eat another one those awful Powerbars (OK, I'll cut you slack there). If you come to the start line of a training run or a race with the attitude that "I'm too slow, I'm not in shape, I'm a slug of an athlete, etc, etc" you will literally block yourself from having any kind of a positive experience. I don't think there's a run that your body doesn't learn something - it might not learn anything good, but it'll learn something. When you have a bad training run, you'll learn how to cope with it and what to do to salvage the run. You can't learn to deal with trouble if you don't experience it. But you have to keep telling yourself that you're strong just be out there and although you may not be the fastest runner out there, that doesn't matter - you have to feel good about yourself and that you did the best job you could do when all the cards have been dealt. 100% doesn't mean collapsing at the finish line - it means that you can honestly say to yourself "Well, that was all I had today". You never have to look any further than that. You NEVER, EVER have to answer to anybody else but you. I've felt better about some marathons I've done in 4:30 than others I've done in 3:30. And now I'm beginning to accept that my "comeback" marathon from ankle woes will be in the 5 hour range - and although I'm not crazy about it, I'm OK with it because I know I'm lucky as hell to be running at all! Just hang in there and (here I go again), be consistent, take planned rest days, and believe in yourself.

I recently read in the VULCAN RUNNER (the Birmingham Track Club Newsletter) that Ken & I will once again be leading the Mercedes Marathon Training Group. Came as sort of a surprise since we were actually considering not doing it this year because I was afraid I couldn't keep up with the young pups. Oh well, I'm glad we'll be doing this again because it's such a rush to see you guys train for your first marathon or half marathon and through blind faith that training actually works, you fulfill your goal. I may not run with you every step of the way, but we will provide a schedule, maps, drinks, and motivation to complete your event FEELING GOOD (yes, it's a relative term). I'll tell you the particulars of the program in a couple of weeks (or you can email me at . I'll answer the first question - it's free. OK, I'll answer the second question - you don't have to sign up, just show up. OK, OK, I'll answer the third question - you don't have to be registered for Mercedes to run with us (but we encourage it!).

Alright guys, it's time to get out of this heat and put my feet up. Despite the century level temperature, it still hasn't broken my resolve that I hate cold weather. Early in the pre-dawn hours I would still rather say "Man, it's humid this morning" rather than "Holy Crap, that wind is freezing my cheeks off!". Keep reading this blog till winter and you'll see I can whine with the best of them. Until then, I'll see you on the hot and sticky Alabama roads - AL

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

Friday, July 16, 2010


It's never too late to be who you might have been.
George Eliot, English novelist

So, here I was, early Tuesday morning, whining like a big baby about how hot it was, how humid it was, how tough I am to get in 4 sweaty miles before work, when reality hit me - 2500 miles away in the middle of the Death Valley desert, at this very moment, 80+ runners are in some stage of the Badwater 135. The Badwater Ultramarathon, considered one of the toughest foot races in the world, starts at Badwater basin, which at 282 feet below sea level is the lowest point in the country, and 135 miles later climbs to 8,360 feet elevation at Whitney Portal, the trailhead to Mt. Whitney. The temperatures can rise to an egg cookin' 125 degrees, and there ain't no shade baby. The winner's time was 24:44, which sounds like a good 5k time, BUT THAT'S 24 HOURS!! If you finish under 48 hours, you get a belt buckle, and if you get under the 60 hour cutoff, you get a medal. Know what the overall winner got? - Yep, that's right, a medal and a belt buckle! They do this for the pure love of doing it. How can you possibly explain this to a non-runner? You can't.

The other day, one of our runners asked me if weight lifting is good for marathoners. I'm sure she was influenced by my Sylvester Stallone physique (ok, think pre-Rocky I, not Rambo). Anyway, I definitely feel it'll help as long as you don't get carried away and try to look like "Mr/Miss/Mrs Muscle Beach". The purpose of any athlete lifting weights is to strengthen the muscles unique to their sport to help prevent injuries. Therefore, we don't need to be diving into weights with absolutely no plan. For a long distance runner, you don't need to be targeting the lower extremities - they get enough exercise zipping the rest of your body over hill and dale. Looking at those Kenyans winning races, I doubt they're doing heavy weighted Super-Sets on their legs. Surprisingly, one of the main things that drives your legs are the arms and the all-important core (abdomen, back, trunk, butt). Late in the race, the arms will help drive the legs - if the arms move, the legs will follow. The core acts as the supporting anchor for the legs and the arms to attach firmly to. If the core is strong, the body will stay solid in it's form, and won't be wasting energy by wobbling side-to-side or leaning forward at the trunk when you get tired. Remember a couple of blogs ago, I mentioned the importance of running close to erect for the long distance runner. If you watch a marathon near the finish, you'll see many-a-runner wobbling all over the place like they're losing all their nuts and bolts. When the core goes poof, the energy expenditure shoots sky-high trying to keep you upright. So, without mentioning specific exercises, you need to work the shoulder (anterior - chest press, posterior - rowing, lat pulldown), biceps, and triceps (remember, arms pump...legs go!). For the core, simple crunches are great, but don't forget to also do them to the sides so you get those obliques and not just the "six-pack" muscles. Remember, there's a plan here and when you run, your trunk will twist slightly as your legs come forward. Do this 1000 times per mile and you see why developing the whole core is important. Lying on your back and doing "bridges" are great for strengthening the back extensors. In my job (Physical Therapy), I have all of my back patients do bridges. There are many variations from this (marches, one-legged, no-hand assist, etc) that will really fire up the whole core. If you must do lower extremity exercises, keep the weights low and do more repetitions to target tone and endurance. I think it's funny to walk into a gym and see some runner lifting heavy weights on their legs 30 times and think "Whew! What a good workout". Yeah, a good workout if you work in a warehouse, but what the heck are 30 lifts going to do when your legs hit the ground 10,000 times in a 2 hour run? It doesn't matter if you use free weights, machines, Swiss-balls, elastic bands, whatever. There are pros and cons for all of them. If you want more specifics (like number of sets, reps, amount of weight, etc), email me ( and I'll be glad to answer you.

Now, in the glad-I-was-alive-when-they-discovered-this department, it was announced by British scientists this week that the chicken did, indeed, come before the egg. Something about proteins in the chicken's ovaries. Ofcourse my theory has always been that the rooster came first, got lonely, God created the chicken, and voila! - The egg! I'm not saying the rooster's name was Adam, but it does make you smile, doesn't it? Yes, it's been a long work week.
OK guys, we've reach the finish line of this stage of the Tour de Al. Stay cool, stay hydrated, but most of all, stay smart. I'll see you on the roads - AL

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

Saturday, July 10, 2010


“The three great essentials to achieve anything worth while are, first, hard work; second, stick-to-itiveness; third, common sense.”
Thomas Alva Edison

Hi guys - As I've often said, running (or walking) is the simplest of activities until some coach makes it complicated, so I really try to keep it simple and keep hashing over the most important aspects. When you boil all the fat of any program away, the most important key to ANY training is common sense. When some runner asks me a question - I mean a really off-the-wall training question, I take great joy in turning it around and saying "OK, pretend I just asked you the same question. How would YOU answer it?". Usually, they just nod their head and walk off and I congratulate myself on what a great coach I am! You know, I read last year in USA TODAY about the University of Tennessee football team. Just that sentence gets some blood riled up around these parts, but wait, it gets better, and it actually does have something to do with my theme. It seems that because the UT team has a rather tainted history (OK, they're a bunch of thugs, thieves,etc) and before they are given a playbook, they are given a "THINK CARD". This is a wallet size card that spells out for them what to do to avoid getting into trouble. I guess like "DON'T PUNCH OUT A POLICEMAN", "DON'T STEAL A CAR", "DON'T GET DRUNK ON CAMPUS", you know that sort of thing. The tie-in to marathon training is USE YOUR NOGGIN. If you're tired, back off. If it hurts, there's usually a good reason. If you've got a thousand miles on your shoes, it's probably time for a new pair. Remember, your body is a well designed machine and it will do what it can to keep you happy, but if you push TOO far beyond what you've trained it for, it will come down like a house of think cards. We train for 5 months for a marathon or half marathon. You think that's a long time, but I shutter every time I start a new group. It's a real balancing act to get those muscles to adapt to this crazy habit in such a short time, but the real culprit to injuries is the ligaments and tendons. The ligaments connect bone to bone and the tendons connect muscle to bone. These take years to adapt to the rigors of training and they are the usual sites of overtraining pain. Of course, as I've told you so many times, the proper treatment (because it works) is ice, anti-inflammatories, light stretching, and rest to the degree that allows you to actively move without hurting - COMMON SENSE!!

Concerning that, fairly recent research is pretty strict on not using anti-inflammatories (advil, aleve, etc,- but not Tylenol...that's safe) during or before you go running. Mostly, these studies look at running in hot conditions (Hmmm, Alabama?) or participating in long distances (Hmmm, half marathon, marathon, ultramarathon?). Ok,what can be so bad about using these? Well, several things, but here you are, trying to stay hydrated, pumping in the fluids, your kidneys are churning away like some steam locomotive trying to flush this fluid through the filters and then you muck it up by taking this anti-inflammatory that can actually close the small tubes that the fluid is rushing through. So now, the drains are plugged and you're still pumping the fluids in like crazy and what do you think happens? That's right - the system backs up and you blow up like a water balloon. When you can't get rid of fluid, the electrolytes (like sodium) become diluted, and the percentage of electrolytes to fluid goes down, and BINGO! You're a prime candidate for hyponatremia, and you can expect a trip to the medical tent. I'll talk more specifically about hyponatremia in a future RWA, but let it be said it's not a good thing! Now, let's go back to that common sense thing. As a coach, I try to keep things as simple as possible and I'll try to tell you ways to cut corners to make this endurance journey a little easier (not necessarily easy). So, why the heck would you take the risk with anti-inflammatories when you know the possible consequences? You wouldn't text on your phone in the middle of the downhill portion of a trail run, would you? My mantra as a coach - DON'T DO ANYTHING STUPID! I always picture God sitting on his throne, looking down on the world saying "I gave them common sense - why don't they use it?".

Well, after 63 games and four weeks, the World Cup is just about over and I have to admit, I am going to miss sneaking away to the break room at work to watch some early morning or midday soccer. La Furia Roja (Spain) and L'Oranje (Holland) will settle it all tomorrow and 80% of the world can get back to non-soccer things. Then I can settle into following Lance and the boys peddling 2500 miles around France for the next two weeks. I love it. I'm hooked on sports and feats of endurance. And speaking of endurance, this Monday begins the "World's Toughest Footrace". The Badwater 135 is a race from Death Valley, through the California desert for 135 miles in up to 125 degrees, to midway up Mt Whitney. The winner will do it in less than 24 hours! Man, you talk about being broiled, bar-b-q'd, dried up and spit out! It's these kind of races that leave me in awe. Nobody from Birmingham is doing it, but we have one Alabamian there - William Ansick from Auburn. If you want to follow the race, or just read some really cool (no pun) stuff, go to . Not sure where this race fits into the "common sense" category, but...oh, nevermind, it doesn't!

OK guys, that's it from the Batcave for this week. Stay cool, stay hydrated, use common sense at all times and I'll see you all on the hot and sticky roads - AL

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

Saturday, July 3, 2010


"If you start to feel good during an ultra, dont' worry you will get over it." - Gene Thibeault

Well, I must say that a lot of the wind has blown out of the World Cup sail with the USA taking an overtime nosedive out of the competition losing to Ghana. I mean, Ghana...really? I know I said the size of the dog doesn't really matter in the game of soccer, but Ghana...really? Actually, yesterday, Ghana and Uruguay played one of the most exciting soccer games you'd want to see and Ghana literally snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Lots of upsets. Tournament favorite, Brazil has bitten the African serengeti. Both finalists from the last World Cup are out...France went so shamfully out that their soccer federation made them fly home by Coach instead of First Class, and I'm still trying to figure out who was wearing the Italian jersies. At least we're still the best at faking injuries...why? Because we practice, practice, practice. (Don't believe me? View this funny 30 second video ). England got completely pummeled by Germany. I wish all of you could listen to the England sports talk shows like I do (thank goodness for the internet). Believe me, this material is much better than any SEC football stuff. There are Englishmen about to renounce their citizenship. So, now I don't really have a dog in the World Cup fight anymore, so I can just sit back and enjoy soccer at it's supposed highest level. One more week before we can pack up the vuvuzelas. OK, if I haven't put you all to sleep, let's talk some running.
Last Sunday I was running with Bob Evans and I asked him how his training was going. Bob is training to do his first Half Ironman Triathlon (70.3 miles) in September and is raising money for Leukemia research through Team-in-Training (see Bob's fundraising site: As long as I'm around, I'll never for the life of me figure out how anybody has enough time to train for a triathlon. I barely have time to slip on shoes and head out the door, never mind figuring out the logistics of getting in training for running, biking, and swimming. I mean, c'mon, biking is not just riding around the block - a good long ride will take you through several zipcodes, counties, and social structures of humanity. You have to outride dogs that look like something from Avatar, change flats in the middle of nowhere, and try to ignore the hootin' and hollerin' from country folk that make the guys in Deliverance look like a step up. Then there's the swimming. Got to get to the pool before the masses show up or head to the State Park and hope all your shots are up to date. My hat is off to all of you, and the longer your tri is, the bigger my hat is. Anyway, to get back to Bob...I've known him for several years as a runner and this tri thing is relatively new, however, he told me, surprisingly, the running is his most difficult discipline of the three. "How can I get faster for the Half Marathon after the bike and swim?". I guess I should mention, that, like Coach AL, Bob hates track work. So, I started thinking that getting faster in the running portion of a long tri event should be no different than getting faster in a marathon or an ultramarathon. So let's look at a couple of strategies to improve speed and endurance in the running portion of a multi-hour triathlon.
OK, if you want to get faster, you have to train faster. Training at 10 minute miles is not going to get you a 4 hour marathon (9 minute miles). You have to teach the body that you're serious about moving from A to B faster than you used to. So, just like any other daunting project, you break it down into smaller pieces. In my many years of experience (remember, veteran runners say experience instead of mistakes, bumps in the road, and trial & error), I found that hands down, if you want to run a faster marathon, Yasso 800's is the most effective method I can offer. Named after the Runner's World writer, Bart Yasso, it's so simple, it's crazy. First you have to have a time goal - say 4 hours for the marathon, or 2 hours for the half - then you go to a measured half mile course (doesn't have to be a track), and you run. The goal is to run the half mile IN MINUTES what your marathon goal is in hours. Huh? Ok, in this example, you run the half mile in 4 minutes (for a 4 hour marathon)...or 4 minutes, 30 seconds for a 4:30 marathon goal. If you have a half marathon goal, you double that HM time to get a marathon equivalent so you know your half mile goal...a 2 hour Half Marathon would still mean 4 minute half mile laps. In the past, I found the most efficient interval was to walk about 2-3 minutes between each repeat. Start with three to four repeats the first session and gradually build to about 12 over the next two months. Do them once a week. As with all your training, if you have someone to share the misery with, it helps. This method does work!! You just have to be consistent. The tendency is that as you improve, you'll want to run your laps faster. DON'T. The object is that your goal pace will feel easier to do. Why? Because you're stronger, you're producing energy more efficiently, and you're learning to recover from fatigue quicker. Don't keep pushing the fragile envelope.
I asked Bob how long this event would take him and he mentioned probably about 6 hours. Now, the body has absolutely no idea what you're doing. It just knows it has to keep breaking down stuff (carbohydrates & fats) and convert into usable energy. It has to keep throwing coal in the engine. With training for an ultramarathon, you do longer runs to get to that close-to depleted stage OR you run back to backs. This is my favorite method for teaching the body to squeeze the most efficiency in sparing the precious carbohydrates as a primary fuel supply. See, we have a limited amount of carbs and a ton (not literally) of fats. Unfortunately, energy is derived from carbs MUCH easier than from fats, so we have to cajole the energy Gods into accepting fats as an acceptable primer for energy. We could run for hours in training till we run close to dry OR we can run long (say 20 miles)on one day, not replenish the lost carbohydrates after the run, and run semi-long (say 15 miles) the next day. We begin that 2nd run depleted, and voila, we're teaching our body "My-way-or-the-hiway" and it quickly sees that you're serious and the grand transformation takes place. Your ability for doing long endurance events improves significantly while reducing your chance of an injury due to the fatigue of a multi-hour training run. The 20/15 back-to-backs may be pretty ambitious to those training for shorter than a full marathon, but I think the minimum to get usefullness from this method is probably 15 miles the first day and 12 miles the next.
Ok folks, that's about it from near-earth orbit. I just realized the Tour de France begins this weekend. Can't they space this stuff out? Overlapping with the World Cup just won't work. I wonder if France can screw up the Tour as bad as they did their soccer team. I hope you all have a happy and healthy (eating excluded) 4th of July. I'll see you all on the red, white and blue roads. Remember to email me if you have any questions or topics you'd like me to address - AL

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