Friday, September 24, 2010


"In the beginner's mind, there are many possibilities. In the expert's mind, there are few" - Shunryu Suzuki-roshi

Last Sunday, we started a new training group for the Mercedes Marathon. The new runner is always naive to the process of developing this new skill as is any newcomer in any arena of life. They tread very tentively onto unfamiliar ground - "will it be solid, or will I sink like a rock in quicksand?".

It's hard to believe, but for the past 25 years, I have been running with new marathon trainees at least once a week with my various training groups, spanning the Vulcan Marathon, the Mercedes Marathon and my many years with TNT. Their inquisitiveness never fails to fuel my desire to lead them through the thickets and briars of running long distance events. And it also feeds my flame for training, not much different from when I was a Physical Therapy Clinical Instructor with UAB. I always felt that the student's enthusiasm and sponge-like desire to improve kept my professional fires burning.These new runners reflect their enthusiasm that spreads to all levels of runners, no matter what our level of experience. It's a joy to partake in this symbiotic relationship where we all feed off, and benefit, of one another.

I want to say how proud I am of all of you TNT guys that are currently raising money for the Leukemia Society this year. Some of you triathletes complete your event this weekend doing a 70.3 in Georgia (Good Luck Bob), and you runners have San Francisco and Chicago coming up very shortly (YIKES - Chicago is in 2 weeks). Recently, TNT has been having recruitment meetings for the Winter marathon season, and after sitting in those meetings for many years, watching the "let's pump you up" video, I realize how easy it is to lose sight of your real purpose for being out there. The marathon is simply the vehicle you choose to raise money so that you can help to wipe leukemia out. Every 5 minutes, someone else is diagnosed with leukemia, and that's AFTER TNT has raised over a billion dollars for research in the past 20 or so years! The survival rate has increased from 4% to 80% in some forms of blood-borne cancers, but that's not nearly good enough. Heck, 99% is not good enough. You are all bricks in a giant wall. Each one of you is so important to this crusade. Whether you run a 3 hour marathon, or struggle to the finish line just before the sun goes down, that's trivial compared to the good you are doing just by willing to put yourselves on the line. I was with TNT for 15 years, and was always astounded by the continued enthusiasm that the groups showed year after year. Although I only follow TNT peripherally now, I will continue to help you all I can to achieve your physical goals and honor the hard work you have done to reach your fund raising goals. I salute any athlete raising money for ANY charity and I'm sure the same sentiments can reflect on all those charities. I love running and if it can be used to kill the Devil, well then, keep running! Keep running like somebody's life depends on it!!

I know sometimes you wonder how your individual fund raising can really make much of difference. Believe me, it does. The following is one of my favorite stories:

An old man was picking up objects off the beach and tossing them out into the sea. A young man approached him and saw that the objects were starfish. "Why in the world are you throwing starfish into the water?"
"If the starfish are still on the beach when the tide goes out and the sun rises high in the sky, they will die", replied the old man.
"That is ridiculous. There are thousands of miles of beach and millions of starfish. You can't really believe that what you're doing could possibly make a difference!"
The wise old man picked up another starfish, paused thoughtfully, and remarked as he tossed it out into the waves, "it makes a difference to this one."

You are all making a difference guys - we are all starfish throwers!!

OK guys, that's it from Planet Al this week. I'm back up in Boston this week for a week of baby sitting Adam. He's one week short of a year old, and we're going to see if both Adam & I can survive a weeklong edition of Grandpa Bootcamp. This is going to be a ball!! Have a great week guys, and I'll soon see you on the roads - AL

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

Friday, September 17, 2010

...And Now It Begins

"The distance is nothing; it's only the first step that is difficult."
Marquise du Deffand

Hi guys - Beautiful, pre-dawn run with Ken this morning was one of those mornings you wish you could bottle...good company, warm with tolerable humidity, rolling terrain. Except for a not-so-graceful fall on some road trash, it was great. The fall would have been a typical trip on the trail, but to fall on pavement is a little bit of a downer (ha! Downer! Get it?).

Tomorrow (Sunday) we begin our Annual Trak Shak Mercedes Training and Wow! I've been getting a lot of emails about training with us for both the Mercedes Full and Half marathons which will be February 13, 2011. We begin our training at the Brownell Building in Homewood/Mt Brook . If you're using GPS to find us, use 813 Shades Crest Pkwy, Mt Brook as the address. For some crazy reason, Lakeshore Pkwy changes names for about one block before becoming Mt Brook Pkwy!?! Anyway, the answer to the question I get the most is NO, there is no cost to training with us and it's well worth the price. Basically, we provide a place for runners and run/walkers to meet 1x/week and magically transform you into a long distance machine. Well, it doesn't happen quite that easily, but training with a group sure does help a heap. You can find the training schedule at

I have placed the training maps on the right side of my web Blog site ( If you receive this by email or a reader, you will have to go to my site to view the links to display the maps. All groups will always begin together running towards Green Springs.

1)We leave the parking lot at 6:30AM sharp.
2)I'll usually make a few comments about distance, etc, but nobody listens.
3)I run about a 10:30-11 min/mile pace and encourage most runners to surround me and ask questions. If we can talk while we're running, then it is a good pace.
4)Ken does his run/walk at a slower pace and usually does 7 minutes of running and then one minute of walking.
5)We put coolers of Powerade or water out about every 2-3 miles, and if you really want to become an endurance athlete, learn to drink at EVERY water stop!
6)We have many runners training for different marathons, some coming up soon, some many months away - BUT we're all in the same boat. Don't be afraid to ask questions. If you're one of the TNT guys training on Sunday instead of Saturday, you are more than welcome, but make sure I know the schedule YOUR coach gave you, just so we're on the same page, but just know that there's a ton of experience out there.
7)Any money you find during the Sunday run MUST BE GIVEN TO ME!

We take a very laid back approach and focus the training mostly towards the first timer. As I continue to write this blog weekly, I will put tips along the way, but I'll hide them discreetly so you have to read the whole daggum thing. I do not want RWA to turn into some boring training manual. I want it to remain a boring reflection of my weekly ramblings and whims! OK, so everyone just calm down. As P. Diddy said after completing the New York Marathon - "It ain't no publicity stunt". Except for a little better grammar, I couldn't have said it better myself. The training program we put in front of you is pretty trimmed down to get you to the finish line in good shape, but you still have to burn the coal in the engine. None of you will win the marathon in terms of finishing ahead of everyone else, but you will win in that you'll finish ahead of a lot of other folks who don't train correctly or just have no specific training plan. So here's the deal - follow the training schedule. If you have any questions, talk to one of your coaches (TNT) or email me. There's no magic secret to doing this long distance thing, just train smart and be consistent.

Ok guys, you're ready to enter this journey that will take you along a few hundred miles of Birmingham pavement and end at a finish line downtown in February. Welcome aboard and I'll definitely see you on the roads - AL

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

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The ups and downs - take them in stride

"I try to take one day at a time, but sometimes several days attack me at once"- Unknown

You know, sometimes you can train and things are just going great, then wham! out of the blue, you lose the zip on your fastball and your legs just don't want to produce like you expect them to. I have been slowly nurturing my gimpy ankles along and gradually adding mileage, but nothing to write to Grandma about. This past Saturday, it was a beautiful pre-dawn morning, and I set out from home. Surprisingly, ankles felt good, breathing was smooth, and I wound up doing a hilly 14 miler. No big deal for most of you guys, but for me, other than a 15 miler I did in February, it was my longest run in 11 months!! I still view myself as a long distance runner, but my running has been a long, long way from being able to put the rubber to the road for long distances as I self-rehab my wheels. Other than being stiff and slightly achy, I was feeling pretty full of myself on Saturday. Then, on Sunday, another beautiful morning, I wound up doing another 11 miles with my usual Sunday running group. A little stiffer than Saturday, but "Hey, I'm coming back!!". Monday was Labor Day - for my out-of-the-country readers, Labor Day is a USA holiday where we celebrate our Work Force by NOT working!!! Anyway, I took the day off from running and actually slept till almost 8:00 (practically midday for me). Tuesday, I got up at 4:30 to run before work, and from the first step, it was cement-in-the-legs city. Holy Crow! I mean, never mind being as slow as mollasses, I could have been passed by mollasses, cold mollasses at that! Now, with over thirty years of long distance running behind me, I've been down this rocky road many times before, and I know it's no big deal. I knew what the problem was - ME!! I just went over the edge with a little too much exuberance. And I should know better. I'm a Physical Therapist. I'm a marathon coach. My area of interest is Exercise Physiology. BUT, above all, I'm a runner. My friend Danny had knee surgery this week and he said "I love to run, but more than that, I love to run pain free". Well, I think most of us turn it around much of the time..."I love to run pain-free, but more than that, I love to run". So, if we're not limping TOO much, off we go. Stupid? Yes. Changable behavior? Possible, at best!

There are several reasons that you can have a not so stellar run, but when you have a run like I had, you don't need to spend a whole lot of time to think about it. If you're coming back from a hard race, a lingering injury, or an overloaded training program, I think when you do these hard runs or activities back-to-back is when you start to teeter on the fence. Now, that other side of the fence can range from just "no gas in the tank", which is what I'm hoping I suffer from, to falling back onto the injury wagon. Physiologically, there is a two-day rule: the 2nd day after a hard session will be more stressful on your legs than the day after. Glycogen hasn't replenished, injured muscle fibers are beginning to heal and thus you're pulling on semi-hardened glue, and inflammation is causing tissues to swell and be irritated. None of these will help you feel better.

OK, so now I have to sit down and figure this out. Our Mercedes Marathon Training group begins in a week, so that will take care of Sundays. My initial thoughts are to NOT go over 20 miles for two days combined, so if the MM group is doing 13 on a Sunday, I'll limit my Saturday run to no more than 7. Yeah, that's the ticket. I have been improving over the past many months, but one good run throws me into that "cake and eat it too" mode. I want to train smart AND I want to get back to long mileage. That ain't gonna work! Back about 10 months ago, I made a deal with God that all I was asking was to be able to run...I didn't care about distance or speed. Guess she's calling me on that one. Ok, I'll try to be good

Training for a marathon is a long road (literally) that has 4-6 months of goal-oriented runs attached to it, so that's well over 100 training runs and your body will learn something from EVERY run you do, some of it good, some not so good, but it will learn. So, when I do something not so smart and my body says "hey Al, let's review who's boss here", it would pay to listen. Three decades and I haven't completely learned that lesson yet, but I'm working on it. By the way, I went out Thursday morning, ran the same course, and it was 100% better! This morning I hit the trails, and I do love running in the woods. Man, I wish I could figure this out and bottle it...maybe in another 30 years! Yep, the highs are usually never as high as you think and the lows are usually never as low as you think. Have a good week and I'll see you on the roads - AL

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

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Good to the Last Drop

"Everybody should believe in something. I believe I'll have another coffee." ~Author Unknown

First of all, I want to send my best wishes and vibes to my buddies running the Tupelo Marathon tomorrow morning. Never made that one. Any run that has a Flaming Skull as their logo, and "Trample the weak, hurdle the dead" as their motto, just hints that you might want to sidestep around this one. Usually this race is run in terrible humidity and a high morning temperature, but it looks like we can't use that excuse this years fellas. Fifty-four degrees!! Holy Crow! I must say, this morning's long run in 60% humidity was great. If it would just stay like this instead of that doggone freezing crap that's looming on the hoirizon! I complain about hot weather, but I absolutely, beyond any concievable doubt, HATE cold weather!!

The other day, a runner told me she couldn't use any gel that had caffeine in it because it made her jittery. I thought to myself "C'mon, it only has 25-50 mg of caffeine while a cup of joe has 100-125". The bigger question I asked myself was if it only has the equivalent of a half a cup of coffee, what good could it possibly do? This subject has been a pendulum that has been swinging back and forth for many years, but now there actually seems to be some good studies that sheds light on caffeine's effects. I'm not going to go into the deep pharmacology of how caffeine works, but generally, it's a stimulant because it actually blocks a calming chemical and it raises your heart rate, blood pressure and your brain activity, but seeing that you're running a marathon in the first place, we won't talk about the level of that brain activity.

Now, I'm going to skip all the dry results of the studies, but time and time again, those that ingested 1-2 cups of coffee before exercise had better bike time trials than those that didn't. It's much easier to test cyclists than runners, I guess, 'cause that's what most studies are done on. Anyway, if you figure that a cup of coffee typically has about 100-125 mg of caffeine, you figure that one of those little Powergels or Gu's aren't going to do a whole heck of lot (@25mg a packet - some have 50mg). But, some studies seem to indicate that caffeine helps speed the rate at which ingested carbohydrates (100mg in Powergel) are absorbed during an endurance event. That's a good thing. The faster you can get these carbos to change into blood glucose, the faster they can be zipped to your muscles as fuel and spare what little stored energy we have. So, in this case, the caffeine acts as a kick in the butt to get the energy fires burning. But, it seems the more direct effect is that it releases some amino acids (fat energy) into the blood stream that the muscles can use most redily and also spare some of that precious, limited glycogen (stored carbohydrates). So, what this means is that a cup of coffee before you run may get those little fat molecules cruising in your bloodstream and get you down the road a piece before you dip deep into your muscle energy supplies. Then, the small amount of caffeine in those gels can give you a reboot to your blood and again delay the glycogen debt that's always on the edge of a marathoner or ultramarathoner. Once the stored glycogen starts to push the "E" on your fuel guage, suddenly, words like "wall" and "bonk" start to creep into your mind, as do a few other four letter words. But, I have to admit, I still don't think those gels will make you "jittery".

You can develop a caffeine dependence if you drink a whole pot of coffee each day at work, but it seems that you don't build a tolerance to how effective the caffeine will help your running, so drink up. If you are that 10 cup-a-day drinker, then whatever you do, DON'T give up the habit cold turkey the week before a marathon. You're going to be bouncing off the walls enough without going through withdrawal on top of it. Another misconception about caffeine is that it makes you head for the bushes more during your run. Well, it's true, it will make you urinate, but only to the same level that water does. So, stay hydrated, find those bushes, and get back running.

So, all of this says that it is safe for you to intake caffeine before and during an endurance event ( I don't think a carbonated Coke is too good an idea), and it may actually help your performance. In case some of you speedballs are wondering about testing positive for caffeine in a post-race drug test, at the present time, caffeine is NOT banned by the International Olympic Committee, and in order to test positive for the NCAA, you would have to ingest the equivalent of 7-8 cups of coffee AT ONCE - in other words, you really have to be trying super extra hard to use caffeine to give you that extra buzz. At this time, I don't think many Mom & Pop 5k's are testing for caffeine. As with EVERYTHING, try it first in training. If you don't drink coffee, don't dare say on race morning "I'll bet a cup of Java will calm me down!!".

OK guys that's about it from near-earth orbit this week. I hope you all have a safe Labor Day, and take advantage of this cooler weather. For my readers up in the Northeast, thank goodness Earl exited Stage Right and only got you a little wet. Running in rain is most of the time a blast...running in a Hurricane is stupid! I'm a runner - I know what some of you would have done!! Oh, yes you would...I'm Al, I'm one of you! I'll see you on the roads - AL

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