Saturday, October 30, 2010


"Trying to sneak a fastball past Hank Aaron is like trying to sneak the sunrise past a rooster.
Joe Adcock

Had to get a World Series quote in there before another baseball season sadly comes to an end. To me, football is just a bridge between baseball seasons. Not the general accepted contention here in the Southeast, but neither is my feeling that the real futbol is the round one the rest of the world calls soccer. Boy, I'll bet I woke up a lot of folks with that one!

For as long as I can remember, I have been a morning runner. Well, let me rephrase that...for as long as I can remember, I have always enjoyed morning running much more than any other time of day. When I began running in the late 70's, I worked in a hospital that had showers and so I developed the habit of running at noon. Didn't matter if it was January with the temperature hovering around the freezing mark, March with thunderstorms looming on the horizon, July with it's oppressive Alabama heat, or October with it's chilly fall winds. Noontime would come and out the door I would go. All during this time though, I had always cherished my early morning weekend runs. Now, my current job dictates that my weekday runs must mostly be done before work, which means a 4:40 alarm in order to give me enough time to run, shower, dress, and get to work before my patients show up. It really has come as a blessing because the early morning has a unique aire about it that most other times of day have no opportunity to match. It's a feeling from deep down that each day should start with a run that begins before the day's birth at sunrise and ends around the time the sun begins rising and marks another of the earth's revolution. Now, don't get me wrong - this doesn't mean that I happily spring out of bed like a male Mary Poppins, rarin' to go, but once I'm out there, it's like being surrounded by an old friend. Besides the obvious of no traffic, cooler temperatures, and muffled sounds, I have been blessed with memories that now I know will last a lifetime.

One morning while vacationing in Seattle, I got up before the sun to run along the Puget Sound. When I got to the Sound, I decided to turn right (East). After running a few miles, the sky was beginning to lighten in front of me , so I stopped like Forrest Gump and felt it was time to turn around. When I turned, there in front of me was the most unforgettable, majestic sight - Mt. Ranier (which, even at 60 miles away is a VERY formidable site) was golden with the morning sun rays shining on it's upper half. I had to stop dead in my tracks, because to continue running was to do this view a severe injustice.

Another vacation early morning run had me in Paris, France. One dark, Sunday morning, I ran from my hotel to the Louvre Museum - nobody was in the plaza at the time. It was all mine. I then ran through the Louvre Gardens, still probably much the same that Louis XVI would see had he been a morning runner. From Louis' garden, I headed up the middle of the Champs-Elysees...I mean slap dead middle of the road!! Even Lance Armstrong didn't have it more to himself when he won the Tour de France! This led to the Arc-de-Triumph. As I circumvented the Arc, dawn began to accompany me and I took a spoke off the rotary that sent me on direct line to the Eiffel Tower. Parisians are famously late sleepers, and because of that, I was ALONE at the Tower. It was surreal to be next to (and under) one of the most famous landmarks in the world, and not to have to share it with anyone or anything except the first rays of this glorious Sunday morning. I ran back to the hotel on a path along the Seine River, passing Notre Dame, picturing all the spirits of past starving artists that have tried in vane to capture this same sight I was embracing. When I got back, my wife said "let's go to Mass at Notre Dame" (the Cathedral, not the school). As I sat in the French spoken Mass, I looked at my watch and it was 9 o'clock. I thought about all I had done and seen on this morning - so unbelievable!

I've seen lunar eclipses, blood red moons, full moons so bright you didn't need any other light to see the road or trail , shooting stars, at least 6 of the other planets in our solar system, and of course, the first rays of a giant red, summer sun. I've been the first to run down a forest trail on a morning filled with dew, spiderwebs, and countless noises of critters unseen. I've run with friends and I've run with strangers, but most of the time alone, and each time, sunrise was my constant companion.

When you run is sometimes chosen out of necessity, sometimes out of choice. For me, I'll run whenever I can, but given the choice, let me begin my run during the last gasps of night so that I may greet the sun and a brand new, glorious day.

And so tomorrow morning, our Mercedes trainees will greet the sunrise with a 13 miler for the full marathoners and 6 miles for the half marathoners. I can't seem to get in touch with Valerie at the Trak Shak, so for now, our run from the TS next week is a no go. Stay tuned for further news. Have a Happy Halloween and don't forget...wait...forget to put your front light on so you won't get any little gremlins and you get to keep all the candy. Yeah, good plan. Hey, we're runners. We need the extra calories!! I love rationalization. I'll see you on the roads - AL

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

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Registration Mania

The size of your success is measured by the strength of your desire, the size of your dream, and how you handle disappointment along the way.
Robert Kiyosaki

Holy Crow! Holy Mackerel! Sufferin' Succotash! Great Caesar's Ghost! Good Grief! I AM SO VERY GLAD I DIDN'T QUALIFY FOR THE BOSTON MARATHON! Now, don't get me wrong. Boston is one of the top two running events I have ever done, and I've done it 5 times, and would gladly do it EVERY year, but the running Gods have toyed with my anatomy and qualifying has become a distant memory. In years past, I would fire up the computer on the first day that I could happily send my money to the Boston Athletic Association, be one of the first to register and then would know for six months where I would be on the third Monday of April. The last time I ran Boston was 2007 and from the opening of registration until the day the race filled to capacity was exactly 183 days. Last year, it filled in two months, clearly reflecting the popularity of this most prestigious race. So, it was evident that if you had already run a qualifying time you better break the piggy bank a little sooner and get your entry in. Had I qualified this year, I would have circled October 18th on the calendar as the first day of registration, hustled home after work, got on the computer, dialed in the BAA site and seen the message "RACE ENTRIES CLOSED". I think initially I would have stared at the screen thinking I was looking at last year's site, but somewhere and sometime, reality would set in and I would have to accept the fact that Boston filled it's 26,000 slots in 8 hours!!! Never would you think this could happen. I mean, other than the Olympics, Boston is the only race that you have to meet a qualifying time in order to have the opportunity to enter. Now, about 2500 slots go to charities, but the rest are fast, honest qualifiers! I mean, saying you're going to Boston puts you in a select group - even folks that know absolutely nothing about running have heard of Boston. I honestly feel so deeply sorry for 1) all those folks that reflect my hypothetical scenario above, however, for them it was painfully real, and 2) all those that set sites on near marathons, like New York and Marine Corps or Huntsville, sure that they would qualify there and then register for Boston, and are now watching those plans go up in smoke.

I don't know what should be done to make this right and fair, but just talking as a mid-pack, multiple Boston qualifier, I know the discipline that runners hit the road with once the Boston Bug infects you. Nobody should be subjected to working hard and believing they will get their chance only to see it evaporate because their fingers were not as fast as their legs. There are many probabilities of what the BAA will do in the future to help level the playing field for competitors: lowering the qualifying times, have some sort of lottery, have a rolling registration over several months where they fill a portion of the slots each month with a new registration. Who knows? Certainly not me.

This is not a new problem. It just happened on the largest stage in the fastest time imaginable. Most of the major Destination marathons, like Disney, Marine Corps, Chicago, etc. will fill their slots quickly. New York has a tough lottery - you enter and you pray! The Western States 100, the "Boston" of 100 mile Ultramarathons, has you run a qualifying 50 miler, then register for a lottery, then work so many hours doing volunteer work at another ultra before gaining entry! Locally, the Rocket City Marathon - a race that you could ALWAYS register at the expo the night before, sold out in a few weeks. Mountain Mist, a tough 50K TRAIL race that I've done 7 times, filled their 350 places in less than 3 days!!! I recently read about an Ultra Marathon in the midwest that every year had trouble getting even 150 entrants, so this year they advertised that entries would be capped at 250 - they filled it up in less than 2 weeks!

It's crazy to begin training for a race many months away that you're not sure you'll even get in to. It's crazier when you do everything right for Marathon's biggest stage; work your ever-living butt off for maybe a couple of years, finally qualify, and get shut out by technology. Maybe they should step back and take mail-in registration only (that's my freaky long-term memory saying "it was better in the old days"). I guess they'll go back to tougher standards. That seems to be the most logical. I think Boston is an experience far beyond any other marathon, and is one every serious runner should get to immerse themselves in at least once. But, let's be fair. Boston is not a meant to be an "everybody that can run gets a ribbon" race. It's a century-long tradition that has maybe lost site of it's exclusiveness in an effort to get more runners (hence, more bucks) in. Now, by lowering their qualifying times in a time when marathoning is at it's height of popularity, those that could qualify at faster standards are left stranded. Maybe it should be a case of quality over quantity. Having run it, it's easier for me to say that because I never would have qualified with tougher standards (once I qualified by 12 seconds!), but I never dreamed that one day I might meet their very special times and still get shut out. Nope, never would have dreamed it!

I feel a hurt for all my friends, near and far, that gave it all they had in races past and planned for qualifiers in races future, that have now seen their Boston dreams crushed. My buddy, Ken, got in because he registered on his iphone during a business meeting - kind of a "fight fire with fire" analogy - he fought technology with technology!

Well, dream on my friends. One saying I hate is "It is what it is", but I guess that's what it is!

Ok guys, that's it for this week from RWA Central. For those of you training tomorrow for the Mercedes (guaranteed not to close it's entries), we will doing 9 miles for the full and 7 miles for the half. We're planning a Shoe Clinic at the Trak Shak on Sunday, November 7th. We'll plan to have the Sunday group leave from there on that day. I'll have more info after talking to Val at the TS, so stay tuned. I'll see you on the roads - AL

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

Saturday, October 16, 2010 works

"It's the road signs, 'Beware of lions.'"
Kip Lagat, Kenyan distance runner, during the Sydney Olympics, explaining why his country produces so many great runners

Hi guys - OK, I broke out the long sleeve this morning. Orion is overhead. Halloween is around the corner. Guess I have to concede that winter is on the way. I hate it, but there's nothing I can do about it. They say there is no bad weather, just inappropriate clothing, so be sure you're stocked up. In the coming weeks, I'll write more specifically about materials and what you're going to need when it really gets cold (as opposed to this coolness that I call cold). Just be sure to stay away from cotton - it's the material from the devil! If you're running or walking short, well then, OK, but if you're doing a long training session, once you start to sweat, it's curtains! The sweat won't dry. It'll get cold. You'll be miserable, and even a hot shower and coffee won't warm you up! Once again, I plug the Trak Shak because that's where you'll get the best advice if you really don't know what to look for. Those guys are trained, they run, they want to help, and if you're with TNT or the Birmingham Track Club, you get a discount.

Well, tomorrow TNT's Nike Women's Marathoners and Half Marathoners hit the streets of San Francisco. I ran with several of the trainees last week, and I know they're nervous wrecks right now and it's almost impossible for any coach to calm them down - Good luck Prince! Some nervous energy is actually a good thing, but worrying yourself sick is definitely going to be throwing the pre-race balance towards the dark side. For you guys training for the Mercedes Marathon and Half, just remember that every time you lace on your shoes and pound the pavement, your body is going to learn something about endurance training - how to produce energy, how to strengthen ligaments and muscles, how to have the most efficient stride, how to "go" in the woods, how to spit know, everything! The point is that it does learn and adapt and there's no magic about it. As we get stronger, the long distances don't get shorter, but they do get easier. The muscles don't just get stronger, but they learn to fuel the muscles more efficiently so you're getting more coal in the engine.

Tomorrow, many of you training for Mercedes will be doing 11 miles for the first times in your lives. And this is only the fifth week of training. It sure makes a coach look good when you improve, but most of the time, my most important duty is to make sure you don't try to run too fast or do too many miles, or forget to drink. George Sheehan once said "We are all's just that some of us are in training and some us are not.". Well, now you're in training and the number one, most important element of training is consistency. We've got essentially 4-5 months of training weeks, and these weeks should consist of one long day and 4-5 other days that are shorter, easier days. Don't worry about speed. It literally takes years to build up the tensile strength in your ligaments and tendons to take the pounding of a HARD marathon. But we're not talking about HARD marathons. We're talking about learning to run a very long distance. When I first started coaching marathoners 26 years ago, generally, I was coaching runners who had run for a couple of years and had done 10k's and Half Marathons. But then, in 1995, I was asked to become Leukemia's TNT Coach. At first, I didn't have much faith in a program that was going to take folks that literally had never gone over 4-5 miles and whip them into shape to run a marathon in 4 -5 months. They didn't even offer half marathon events back then. So, it was a learning experience for me too, and what I learned was that if you slow down (always run at a conversational pace), run moderate, and not high, mileage, ice your aches and pains right away, pay attention to proper athletic nutrition, and stay in contact with your coaches so your schedule can be flexible, then it was amazing what you can accomplish. I'll bet the success rate of the TNT runners that Ken & I have coached has been at least 95%. But. coaches don't do the sweating - we just tell you the things that will make you sweat. After the months of training are over and you're standing at the starting line of some race in some town, just let your body take over. As far as it's concerned, this is just another in a long line of training runs that you've been doing for week after week. There's no magic, no voodoo, no secret supplement. Just good old fashioned hard work and grit.

Yes, there's a ton of hoopla going on around you, and you should be excited, but scared, no! If you're new to long distances and train with us at the Sunday training sessions, you'll be surrounded by runners who have done this many times, but are still learning. But you know what they like to do 2nd best (to running)? They like to talk to new runners about running. So, ask questions. I'm not saying all the answers are 100% accurate, but they are helpful. Once, we all took our first steps just like you and were scared witless. Now we're just witless. Show up, ask questions, eat your vegetables, don't run with scissors and most of all, pat yourselves on the back for getting that first foot out the door. When that San Francisco group crosses the finish line tomorrow, they'll wonder what all the fear was about. They'll be tired as all get out, swear they'll never run another marathon (that promise will last about 10 minutes), and be proud beyond words what they just accomplished. Until YOU cross that finish line, you'll just have to take my word.

Ok, so for you Mercedes guys, tomorrow is 11 miles for the full and 7 miles for the half. Check out the 11 mile map at Now, remember, when I reference a map, this is the map AFTER the 7 miles we do every week, so this map will be a 4 mile map to add onto that initial 7. I hate to keep repeating that, but it saves me answering a few predictable emails.
Hope to see a crowd out there. Dress warm and I'll see you on the road - AL

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

Saturday, October 9, 2010

(Don't) Be Like Mike

"If you believe that if you tie a clove of garlic around your neck that it will help you, then it will help you" - One of my Grandma's "grandmaisms"

Throughout the many years that I have been training runners to do marathons, I have been always asked, "What kind of shoes do you wear?", "What do you eat before running?", "What kind of vitamins do you take?", "What's your favorite shape pasta?". And that's just the tip of the inquisitive iceberg. We all believe that if we just do what successful folks do, then we will be successful (not that I was all that successful). Doesn't matter if it's athletics, business, or watching Emeril do the cooking (I think it actually helps my cooking if I yell "BAM"). Do it somebody else's way and Whammo, we can do it too! BE LIKE MIKE! If Mike ties that clove of garlic around his neck, then I'll do it and I can slam dunk too! If my running partner runs 90 miles a week, and recently ran a 2:58 marathon, then if I double my mileage up from 45 miles/week, I'm bound to improve my 4:40 marathon time! My Grandmother also used to say about that clove of garlic that if you wear it around your neck, you wouldn't get a cold - it's true, but I think it's because nobody will get close to you!

I have always tried (though also not always successfully) to keep things as simple as possible when coaching runners. After all, what is there to running...right foot, left foot, and repeat a few thousand times, and there you are a few miles down the road. There are many more ways to mess somebody up then there are to help them. God taught you how to run when you were just a wee one, so don't let a coach drill into you that you have to change too much. I think the main purpose of a coach is to keep you from doing the wrong things that will send you down the road to ruin and hope that you figure out what most of the right things are. But, I think a lot of the problem happens when you hang around with some runners who have been out there doing their thing for a long time and, wanting to do "their thing" too. You follow their program, eat like them, wear their shoes, and feel like this has got to be the right answer to get the results you want in the fastest time possible.

"What's the best shoes?" is the question I'm asked the most. I don't have any idea what the best brand is. I do think that if you stay with a known brand name, you'll pretty much do ok. In my three decades of running, I've probably worn every brand shoe, and honestly, I couldn't tell you much difference. Now, I'm in Nike Air Pegusus's (Pegusi?). But, through the years, I've sworn by (and at) Saucony and New Balance mostly. At their specific time, they were THE answer. Now, I know, the brand is not as important as what YOU require for your specific needs. Don't worry about what I wear, or what your coach wears, or the latest fastest Kenyan wears. Don't go barefoot because it's the latest nut-case craze fueled by a book about some peyote stoned Indian wanna-be. Find what works for you. George Sheehan, the late, great philosopher of running said we are all an "experiment of one".

As I said in a previous blog, learn the basics...I mean really learn them for yourself. When I was in Therapy School, I used to try to come up with some nifty rhyme, or acronym, or something to help me remember all those strange nerves and muscles. One day, one of my Professors, who was also a friend, asked me "Why don't you just learn it?". Hmmm, novel idea and good advice. So, why don't you just learn what's good for you? Don't mirror somebody else. Don't go against things that are right for you. Learn how to be a good runner from those that made mistakes before you, but gain experience by learning about what works for you. A successful athlete, salesperson, carpenter, whatever, learned how to do their thing by finding what worked best for them. Sure, ask for advice, learn by observation, read some books and magazines, but don't do things blindly like Mike just because you want to "Be like Mike". Learn to be you and you might just wind up being better than Mike!

By the way, my favorite shape pasta is Orzo, but it's followed closely by Rigatoni.

That's about it for this week from the Batcave. Hope to see a bunch of you Birmingham folks out there tomorrow with our Mercedes training group. I understand there was a pretty big crowd out there last week while I was in Boston. Nine miles for the full and 6 miles for the half. I'll see you all down the road - AL

For those of you that may have a tiny bit of interest, and as a follow up to last week's blog, the day after we left Boston, ADAM TOOK THE FIRST INDEPENDENT STEPS OF HIS LIFE!! As Confucius said "Every journey begins with a single step". See you down the road Adam - Grandpa

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

Friday, October 1, 2010

Cross Training at Grandpa Bootcamp

"It's kind of fun to do the impossible."
- Walt Disney (1901-1966)

Ok, so while my son and daughter-in-law are vacationing, they asked my wife and I if we would babysit our nearly one-year-old Grandson, Adam for one week. So, as they used to say in the old Dragnet TV show: This is the City: Boston Massachusetts. I work here...I am a Grandpa.The story you are about to hear is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent...Well, actually none of the names have been changed, but it's a great beginning to a TV show!

Holy Crow! I thought this would be snap. I trained for over 30 years for this (actually 63 years, but many of those were, shall we say, less aerobic) and Adam has been training for less that a year. I've got a ton of experience, know how to complete long endurance events, and everything he does is something new - therefore, he is breaking one of the cardinal rules of endurance sports...NEVER DO ANYTHING NEW! I try to pace myself and he is full-bore-ahead every waking minute. I thought squats were good, but I guess several hundred a day, plus many of those combined with lifting a 22# weight has been doing a number on these trail and road worn legs. But, it's got to be beneficial to my long distance training, right? So, we're up early and Adam gets some early pre-event nourishment (I, on the other hand, am too involved with his breakfast to see after my needs, and so I hit the first training session in carbo debt). We then dive right into some fairly light work of moving all around the house at a leisurely pace, but ever so imperceptibly, the pace picks up and the next thing you know, we're headed for places not allowed at a brisk pace, with Grandpa in hot pursuit. At times, it's easy to lift up this sack of hay, but other times, when he's not so willing to leave what he's doing, it's like picking up an egg yolk! No kicking and screaming, just not willingly helping in any way at all. Then, Adam, who is not too adept at this walking thing (actually hasn't taken an independent step in his whole life!), wants to test out his bipedal motion, so Grandpa acts like his pacer and walks alongside, hunchback style, grasping his hand for balance (his and mine). This goes on room-to-room, with periodic stops to see if this drawer opens, or this cabinet is child-proofed yet, or this pile of books needs pushing over. Finally, after the initial two hour salvo, he hits the first rest break and a truce is called for an hour or so while he naps. I try to pick up the debris left behind, try to take a short (very non-productive) run, shower, and am ready for the second leg of this day's stage. He begins with getting his legs loose by darting around at short intervals interspersed with periods of checking his gear (toys). He then has a balanced lunch and we head for the great outdoors (no time for my nourishment, thus again breaking a cardinal rule of my own - keep those calories coming in!). So, I lift the stroller from the back of the car, swearing this thing is built so there is no way to lift it with one arm while holding the squirming aforementioned egg yolk in the other, slowly cramping arm. Now, we hit the park for a couple of hours of playing on the swing, pushing his wagon, picking up acorns (lots of bending), and sitting in the sand pit trying to build sandcastles faster than Adam can destroy them. Falling in the mud is also great fun for both of us as I picture a definite affinity to trail running in his future. Of course, all of these changes of venue involves Grandpa to again and again lift the growing trail runner. Starting to feel my energy levels recede like low tide, but all this is great practice for my mental "push-through-the-wall" encounters in my runs.

And so home we head for another well deserved rest (nap). I am pooped and put my feet up hoping the blood realizes that it has to circulate around a few times to replenish the energy used - oh wait, maybe I better eat something quick - good, I find some pretzels! After about an hour and a half mental recharging (me) and physical recharging (Adam), we are at it for the final joust of the day. It's like the final hill of the marathon - it's best to just take a deep breath and pace yourself up it 'cause it ain't gonna go away. Adam has some secret white energy drink that is made from a powder that says "formula". Ah-ha, now I know what I need on those long trail runs, but that's another blog. So, we tear into another couple of hours of swinging and lifting and playing on the floor and climbing under furniture, until finally, it's supper time. I think I'm finding his secret - the doggone kid eats super-healthy!! I mean he has this formula thing 5 times a day, then carrots and sweet potatoes and spinach and broccoli, not to mention bunches of bananas, mangos, and blueberries. The secret weapon must be beets, because there is nothing, I MEAN NOTHING, compared to poopy diapers after a full serving of beets - Holy looks like he swallowed purple dye! Beets in...Beets out!! It takes special internal fortitude for a Grandpa to say "Good Job" when you're changing this diaper, believe me! "Holy Crap" is more like it, I just have my doubts how holy it is!

I didn't realize I had signed on for a duathlon, but here comes the swim portion of the competition, otherwise known as Bath-time! I thought the egg-yolk was hard to pick up. Well, let's just lather up that yolk with soap and see how hard it is to pick up while on your knees and the yolk is happily splashing away. Now, he's in the tub, but I swear, he's not much wetter than I am! Finally, dry and in clean PJ's, we begin to settle down. The whole chaos of the day, the constant pinball-like atmosphere, the mental push of "did-I-do-everything", comes to this moment. Adam is in my arms, drinking his last bottle of the day. We are in his dimly lit room and while I rock him, I am reading him a bedtime story that by week's end I will have memorized and can recite with my eyes closed. He is drifting off and I am softly singing him the A-B-C song (it's the only thing close to a lullaby that I know). As I kiss him on the forehead and place him in his crib, I thank God for so many things... And I can't wait till he wakes in the morning and we go at it again.

And so my friends, tomorrow we wing our way back home to Birmingham while you Mercedes trainees do 9 miles (full) or 4 miles (half). Be kind to Coach Ken without me there. I hope you all have had a good week running and training in the (finally) cooler weather and next week I will see all of you on the roads - AL

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