Saturday, November 27, 2010

I Love my GPS...kinda, sorta!

"Be careful if you don't know where you're going, because you might not get there" - Yogi Berra

As we steam through Thanksgiving, and prepare to slam head on into Christmas, I know many of you see me running with my Garmin watch and sigh and say "I want to be like Coach AL and know to the hundreths of a mile how far I've run every step". Well, first of all, if you're a regular reader of this blog, you know I wrote a piece a while ago about "Don't be like Mike" or anybody else, especially me! Second of all, although I am in love with my watch (my therapist says I'm showing some slow progress but would show more if I tried), it distressingly will show SLIGHTLY different distances over the same courses, so why the heck does this happen?

We've all seen it. You're at the finish of a long training run waiting for the rest of your group to come in. Here comes one of your buddies, flying into the parking lot, staring at his watch. Out of his mouth comes "Damn Garmin", and around the parking lot he goes for 0.17 more miles to get that FULL mileage in. The fact that we've run this same course a thousand times and call it XX miles does not phase our anal runner. OK, that anal runner is me, but that's beside the point. What has GPS technology done to us? Well, for one, it has us questioning every race director that his course is a smidge short or WAY long. Afterall, we've measured this course in our car and now have this fancy $300 watch to tell us EXACTLY how long the course is, and the RD is telling us something different?

Like every owner of a GPS watch, I have this picture of locking into a satellite (actually several) and that satellite has a laser locked on just my head and doesn't waver one iota to let me know to the inch how far I've traveled. So, how come when I run my same course on my morning runs, it might be a couple of hundreths of a mile different (I told you I was anal) with each run. I decided I was going to research this and here's what I found.

Surprising to me, there is no direct line laser beam shot from the satellite to the top of my head that will stick to me no matter where I go. Instead, the GPS on my wrist must recieve a radio signal from at least 3 satellites - the more the better. Now, this is cool - the satellites then "triangulate" me and the distance from my fancy watch is then calculated to EACH satellite. From here, my watch says "here you are". Then, a little time later (usually 1-5 seconds), a virtual Captain Midnight raygun shoots at me and lays a dot in the land. Now, me, being the principle component of this whole deal, literally keeps moving, dots are laid, and my Garmin, like a faithful puppy dog follows me along. and when the dots are connected, the distance is proudly displayed. Man, that is cool, BUT there are a few flies in the soup.

We all know about these Garmin rayguns not being strong enough to penetrate buildings, tunnels, or even a thick canopy of trees. If you plot out your course on the computer after running a downtown route, it might look like you've taken a jolly jog through the buildings instead of along the sidewalks. Like to run the trails? Well, Mister Garmin doesn't like that because he loses you once in a while. Now, when he does spot you down the trail here and there, he will fire another shot at you and connect that dot to the last dot he fired. The fact that you've run 1.2 miles zig-zagging along a single track means nothing to technology that sees the last two dots only 0.3 miles apart. It has done it's job finding you and laying those dots. Technology has improved significantly from those very first Garmin 101's that would lose the signal if the bill of your cap got inbetween the satellites and your brick-size watch, but it still can be frustrating for the aforementioned, trail-running Coach Anal.

Finally, when Garmin's satellite shoots it's raygun at you, it is only guaranteed to land within 3-10 (about 10-30 feet) meters from me, and that's if I'm running with no "blockages". Remember that faithful puppy dog analogy above? Well, sometimes Fido sees a squirell and takes off after it. Fido will return, but he's putting in a little different mileage that his master (you or me). A good test is to go to a 400 meter High School track, run on the inside white line for a mile, go home and plot the run on your computer. You'll see that tracing of your run weaving like a drunk sailor from the infield to the second lane.

One other problem I hear often is with running hills and "how can the mileage be accurate if I go up and down?". Well, even though Coach Anal doesn't like it, the fact is if you run up an 11% grade for a mile (roughly the grade of Pikes Peak), you will run only about 30 FEET longer than you would if you ran that mile on a completely level mile. Ah, the good ol' High School Pathagorean Theorem.

So, on a long run, add up all those extra dots, missed dots, and general "chasing squirrels", you can see that your incredibly accurate GPS has it's limits. BUT, and it is a big BUT, remember, this is a running watch... on your wrist...while you are running! It is not some part of the NATO Strategic Air Command. I still think it's pretty incredible and a very welcome training device compared to the old days when I would finish my run, jump in my car, and clock the distance with my always incredible car odometer.

Ok guys, that's about it from RWA Central this week. I hope you all had a good Thanksgiving. I got through the whole post and didn't even mention the Alabama/Auburn game. All I can say is WOW! It's going to be hard for UAB/Rice to top that. For any of my out-of-Alabama readers, just ignore the last sentence...this state is sort of manical about it's college football. Meanwhile, my son, daughter-in-law, and granson, Adam, are spending Thanksgiving with us, so I will be absent from our training run tomorrow. Had to choose between running 17 miles or making pumpkin pancakes. Decided to practice the carbo-loading! Surprise!! I will see you all on the acurately measured roads (by my GPS) next week - AL

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

Saturday, November 20, 2010

10th Week Training Thoughts

"Be yourself - everyone else is already taken" - Oscar Wilde

OK, it's back to the cold weather early morning runs. I feel like I'm boxing with the weather gods. First, I'm holding them back pretty good (the cold weather has not come), then they get in a few jabs and I begin to falter a little bit (a few mornings of pretty nippy runs), but I come back off the ropes and feel pretty good about myself (a few warmer days). Now I'm hit with a right, then a left and my legs are wobbly (a REAL cold snap). I'm still on my feet, but I know it's just a matter of time before I get hammered and I'm down for the count till March (Winter has arrived). The referee is asking if I'm OK, and all I can tell him is I have nothing left except whining. Brrrrr!

Well, as we begin our 10th training week for the Mercedes folks, we're almost halfway home to February and I'm not hearing much about anyone hurting, so from a coach's standpoint, that's a good thing. Either everyone is doing things right, or you are not running enough to get hurt. A runner asked me the other day about her legs being sore and tired all the time. I reminded her that since we began training, she's run the rough equivalent of a round trip between Birmingham and Atlanta! They should feel tired just about all the time. Not to the point of "ouch", but that athletic soreness that you should just get used to. Follow the schedule. Some other things that might help are to: 1) run on the asphalt road when you can - I know, in Mt Brook you're risking a ticket, but the fact of the matter is that running on the roads will place 2-3X your body weight on your legs, while running on concrete crashes down with 4X your body weight. If you figure each mile is 1000 steps per leg, then you can see how it piles up. 2) Make sure your shoes are properly fitted and maintained. I can't emphasize enough how important the support that shoes give you are - you barefooters can't change my mind. You know, we don't drive cars with solid rubber tires anymore!!! Why? Because technology showed us that air in the tires HELPS!! Anyway, problems with your shoes don't always show up as foot problems. They can manifest themselves as gremlins in your knees, hips, or back. AT LEAST go to Trak Shak for your first pair of shoes. That way you can find out what types of shoes you really need. Of course, you should be buying all your running goods at the TS. This isn't a one-way street guys, and the TS does sooooo much good for the running community. Fortunately, we have our run this Sunday beginning from the TS at 6:30AM, and the store will be open after the run just for us. Discounts and advice galore. If you've been running in the same shoes since we began training, then you have somewhere around 250 miles on them, and THAT time is coming up to think of new shoes. If you don't want to buy now, just see what the right shoe you need is and ask for it for Christmas - see how easy it is?

If you do have aches and pains, the general rule-of-thumb (rule-of-foot?) is that if you can run without limping, then it should be safe to run through it - unless of course you're one of those guys that can run with an arrow in your hamstring without limping. Use SOME common sense!! If you have to limp, back off of the runs that cause the pain (distance, hills, speed, etc). Start with the simplest cures because most injuries are going to be simple inflammations. Use rest, ice (the miracle drug), and anti-inflammatories. Remember, you don't HAVE to do ALL the miles of ALL the training runs. Training is putting a bunch of training runs together to teach your body what to do. Every season, I see runners working themselves into a worrisome frenzy because they missed a training run or two or three. Believe me, your event in February is not going to hinge on a run you were supposed to do in November. Now, you can't miss too many of these runs, or there will be holes galore in your training tapestry. If you have to take time off from running due to an injury, try to substitute another activity. One mile of running equals about 2.5 miles of brisk walking, 3 miles of cycling, or 1/4 mile of swimming. Basically, you want to mimic in time and intensity of your missed run with the related activity. Your body just wants to keep pouring coal into the engine to keep your aerobic system going. No smoke, no mirrors, just basic physiology. One of my favorite rehab quotes (you have to keep these categorized) is: DON'T PULL UP YOUR CARROTS TO SEE IF THEY'RE GROWING - COME BACK CAREFULLY!!!

I decided to plot out the courses for our runs Sunday on . I think I made them easy enough so nobody will be lost past, maybe, Tuesday. No, seriously, I made them simple with few turns.
The first course which both marathoners and half-marathoners will do is 8.6 miles long:

Then, the marathoners will do an additional 6.6 mile course to the Clock Tower and back:

Please, oh please, at least look at the maps. I'm hoping we'll all stay together, but I'm also hoping to get a call soon to be George Clooney's double in his next movie with Nicole Kidman!

Finally, the other morning, I was running and listening to one of the many podcasts I subscribe to, and there on The Marathon Show was our own Mary Creel talking about running and nutrition. It was a great interview and you can download it at
OK guys, hope to see you tomorrow, but if not, somewhere, I'll see you on the roads -AL

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

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Everything in a Nutshell

"Victory or defeat is not determined at the moment of crisis, but rather in the long and unspectacular period of preparation" - UNKNOWN

Just finished a trail run at Oak Mountain on an absolutely beautiful morning. Last week, it looked like we were headed straight into the throws of winter, but this is the kind of weather that I wouldn't mind if it lasted forever. However, the weather is going to deteriorate from here till springtime (don't get me started), so you may as well get out there and get acclimated when it does turn awful ...I mean colder! I love when some new trainee tells me he (or she) cannot run in the cold weather because their lungs will freeze, so they just train on a treadmill. Well, the last I checked, those treadmill marathons are hard to find! OK, if you're having any trouble or questions getting out there, email me @ and I'll probably just tell you to call 1-800-GET-OVER-IT.

As much as I don't care for cold weather - OK, I absolutely hate it - I must admit that it does help your running. If the air temperature is cooler, your body doesn't have to work so hard to keep the engine heat down. People are always saying to me "I'll bet you can run a mile without even sweating!". The truth is that I can work up a sweat just THINKING of running hard. As you train your body, the sweating mechanism gets more efficient trying to cool you off, so with activity, you actually begin to sweat sooner than the untrained runner. When the ambient temperature is down, you can divert some of that precious energy to other running further, faster, easier! Running is not that difficult, though books, magazines, videos, coaches, etc will make it so hard to understand that Einstein would've given it up. First, you don't need much equipment. Sure, if you're like me, you get sucked into the techno age of watches and gizmos that don't help me run any faster, but give me a nice graph of how slow I actually am running. Shoes, shorts, socks, a couple of shirts and you're good to go. The local weather will dictate what else you might need, but then you can fall into the (other) techno age of waterproof, windproof, breathable, and sweat wicking, etc. It's all just hot fudge on the sundae.

OK, so now you have clothes. From here, it's fueling the body so it can go. Tomorrow, our marathon trainees go 13 miles and from here we enter 12 straight weeks of running a weekly half marathon or more until the Mercedes Marathon!! There are several in our group that had run one or two half marathons in their life and now got the itch to dive into the full. Essentially, I said "Ok, dive in. Saddle up. Hold onto your hat because here we go". We better learn how to get "coal" down the pipe becasue coal is burned and feeds the engine. Despite all the articles in all the running magazines in all the world, here is a pearl from Coach AL - PRACTICALLY EVERYTHING YOU EAT IS CONVERTED TO FUEL!!! Sure, some things are better energy producers than others, but the bottom line is that you have to get some kind of coal to the engine to be burned and it really doesn't matter what! If you eat too little, then amigo, you're on thin ice. Calories in, calories out. Got it? As complicated as some of these "fuels" are, I really believe that this is one of the areas that can benefit runners and endurance athletes as a whole as much as they want to be helped. You can burn carbohydrates really good, fats not so good, and protein is the pits for energy. But, there are different forms of carbos - some convert fast and some much slower, different forms of fats, and the protein you need for recovery. Some combinations are good to store for later use, some are better to get you down the road or trail right now, and some are good for right after you finish. Guys much smarter than me have developed drinks, gels, bars, jelly beans, and whole slew of products to fit your every need. Do you need all this stuff? Goodness no. You'd go broke faster than it takes you to do your run. My love is endurance. I want to go far, and lately, don't really give a flip how fast I get there. So, I look for what products will keep me from hitting the wall like a raw egg hits the floor. I know that and are great sites if you're interested in the physiology of this stuff. I love it and I really don't understand why everybody doesn't!

So, now you've got clothes and some kind of fuel. Next is the hardest thing to get, and the hardest thing to get is going. It's really pretty simple...right foot, left foot, and repeat a few thousand times. When new trainees want to know if I'll teach them to run, I usually tell them God taught them how to do that. I'll just teach them to run further. (If that doesn't work, Danny & Micki Haralson have an absolutely great program called COUCH TO 5K. You can check it out at .) Anyway, every week you add to previous training and pretty soon (well, relatively soon) you're doing distances you didn't think you could do. You're doing this because just like that efficient sweating mechanism that has me sweating just thinking about running, all the other systems are getting efficient at burning fuels, getting blood to the muscles, getting oxygen to the cells, strengthening the muscles, ligaments, and tendons, and most of all you're building your confidence that "Yes, I can do 26.2".

So, in a nutshell, there it is. Train right and you will improve. I kind of bounced around this week violating any writer's creed to have a direct point you're trying to get across. My direct point is always the same...enjoy what you're doing, work as hard as YOU want, and above all, thank the heavens above you have the ability to have a BAD run.

Tomorrow, our Mercedes Marathon group lines up to do 13 miles as we enter Coach AL's 12-week-whirlpool-of-doom. For the next 3 months, we will do a half marathon or greater EVERY Sunday morning. So, hold on to your hats, kiss your family goodbye and tell them you'll see them on the other side. No, it won't be bad at all. Every week the body adapts to the stresses you put upon it, and getting out there week after week is the key to a successful long distance runner. Our half marathoners will be doing 7 miles. Remember, next week, we will meet at the Trak Shak in Homewood for our run, followed by our exclusive Sunday morning shoe and clothing sale. Thanks to Val, Jeff, and Scott for putting this on.
Have a great week guys, and I'll see you on the roads - AL

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

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Where's that Extra Hour of Sleep?

"The most valuable function performed by the Federal Government is entertainment" - Dave Barry

Hi guys - Before I forget, be sure to set your clocks back one hour tonight. If you forget, I'm not sure if you'll get to the run an hour early or an hour late, but I guess you'll be able to tell by the number of cars and runners in the Brownell parking lot. If the parking lot is packed and nobody's there, you're late - wait a little bit, the crowd is coming back to the parking lot. If you get there and there is not a soul to be seen and there are NO cars, you're early - once again, wait a little bit and on-time folks will be arriving. I THINK it'll be lighter in the morning, which is a good thing and a bad thing. The good things are that we'll get an extra hour's sleep, we'll get to start at a time when the cars on Lakeshore Drive can see us, and it'll warm up faster.

That last one is the bad thing - how the heck do you dress when the temperature is 30 something when you start and 50 something when you finish? The answer is NOT to overdress! When ol' Coach AL is out there before we start, complaining about the cold and threatening to cancel the training run, think about how you feel. If you're comfortable standing around listening to my whining, then you're overdressed. Dress like it's 10-20 degrees warmer than the actual temperature. I guarantee you'll warm up before we go a full mile. The best method is to dress in layers with the top one being one that you can take off and tie around your waist. Just be aware that if I see any guy out there with a jacket tied around his waist, he MAY be subject to some constructive coaching comments he may not want to subject himself to again! IN no case, wear a thick cotton top. Cotton can absorb up to 17X it's weight in sweat (or rain). You just don't know the joys of running until you're out there on a cold morning, completely soaked, and your butt is so freezing that you're close to crying. I think a good technical wicking shirt is one of the most important things you can invest in for running, especially for the cooler (or as I call it...COLD!!) weather. Others items at the top of the list would be shoes and windbriefs (Ok, jogbras for you girls). Yes, these come ahead of shorts - as a matter of fact, there have been some mornings where I would have rather forgotten my shoes than my windbriefs! If it's cold, you have to protect your head (toboggan hat) and hands (gloves). There are a couple of "Thermostats" I've learned along the way to try to control your body heat as it gets warmer during the run. The first two is that something like 60% of your body heat is given off by your hands and your head, so by removing your gloves and/or hat as you run will lower your over-heating. Also, wearing a tech shirt with a zipper works like an air-conditioner. Get hot, zip it down...getting cooler, zip it back up. How simple is that? Finally, these Mobean Sleeves are getting pretty popular. They instantly make a short sleeve shirt into long sleeves. When you warm up, pull 'em up or down. I really haven't figured it out yet. They're too bulky to stick in your shorts. Years ago, when I would run a cold marathon or Ultra, I would wear long tube socks on my arms and trash them when I would warm up, but these fancy sleeves are way too expensive to throw in the dumpster, so I'm still not sold on them. One of the few inventions that rank higher than the wheel are HotHands. For about a buck, you get two disposable chemically heated bags that slip into your gloves to keep you toasty. They last for about 8 hours, so after the run, you put them in your jacket pocket, and you're set for the rest of the day.

One other quick clothes item. I was asked about a good rain jacket. If you 've looked for one, I'm sure the prices made you gasp the same way the first time you saw gas for $3/gallon. But, about two years ago, I found a waterproof, breathable (essential for running) jacket at for $32!! It works great. It's actually a cycling jacket so it's cut a little tight, therefore order at least one size larger than you think you need. They have a few different styles so it's worth checking out! I think the price is about $35 now.

We have finalized our Trak Shak Shoe Clinic Run. It will be in two weeks on Nov 21st. On that Sunday, we will leave from the Trak Shak in Homewood instead of Brownell @ 6:30AM. We will put in our scheduled mileage and return to the TS and gobble up their shoe deals just in time for the Thanksgiving runs. A big thank you to Valarie, Jeff and the whole TS staff for opening up for us on a Sunday morning.

Ok guys, that's about it from RWA Central for this week. The NY City Marathon is tomorrow and I'd like to wish one of our Sunday trainees, Cathy P., a big GOOD LUCK and hopes she dresses warmly. You can see the marathon recap Sunday on NBC from 1-3 CST. Also, this weekend, Coach Prince Whatley is somewhere in the Alabama woods running the Pinhoti 100 Mile Run. I've done that distance several times, but it still flabbergasts me when somebody I know does it. I worked the 60 Mile aid station at that race once and was amazed to see ultrarunners from a different perspective. In reference to last week's blog, Prince said as much as he likes the sunrise too, he didn't want to be lapped by the sun and see TWO sunrises, so he's hoping for sub 24 hours!

OK, now I'm really gone - I'll see you on the roads - AL

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