Saturday, December 31, 2011

Musings from Boston to B'ham

"I'm an idealist. I don't know where I'm going, but I'm on the way" - Carl Sandburg

And so another trip to the frozen north comes to a close. If you've been following along with these RWA posts, you know I have family up in Boston along with two grandchildren, so we try to get up there every 2 months if possible. Adam, now 2 years old, was having his first Christmas where it was evident that something good was going on, and Emma, now just about 4 months old was having her first Christmas period.

We boarded a flight on Friday that I think must've been the "Day-Care Special". I swear, it was filled with babies, toddlers, screaming, crying, and all kinds of young children, hyped up on either sugar or just the excitement of Christmas itself. But, it got us to Boston, and that's what mattered. Adam has progressed from just putting some random words together to now speaking complete sentences, like "Grandpa, go sit over there", and I better sit "over there" quick. His mood swings from the absolute sweetest thing to the absolute poster boy for "terrible two's" is instantaneous. He is a Bell Curve on a see-saw in emotions. Every time his wrath was directed at me, I took it personally, UNTIL I saw this same behavior could be thrown at mommy, daddy, gram, or the Holy Pope himself. Each day it got easier to accept that this behavior was the norm for the course. Doesn't affect my son or DIL (Michael & Joanie) at all. One time, Joanie took a blueberry off Adam's breakfast dish at which point all hell broke loose with Adam yelling "Mommy took my blueberry". My son's only response, while he calmly sipped his coffee, was "Perfect English". He's also gotten very polite, like in...Mommy: "Adam come here right now"...Adam: "No, thank you".

Meanwhile, four month old Emma is a doll. She doesn't sleep a whole lot, doesn't cry a whole lot, but sure does like to hear her own voice all throughout the day and night. It's amazing that she just melts into restful quietness while you walk her, but don't dare sit down, or even stop walking. Then, the dark side of kicking and fussing appears. But, you can imagine that grandpa was way happy to walk her around as much as she wanted.

On Christmas morning, my wife & I took over the breakfast duties and produced pancakes in the shapes of Santa, a Snowman, or a Reindeer. This was very popular all around. Later that morning, with a full tummy all carbo-loaded, I decided to go for a run. As opposed to last year, there was no snow on the ground at all and most of the time the temperature was in the 40-50 degree range. But, when nature heard I was running, the temp dropped into the 20's and there were snow flurries - perfect for a Christmas run. Got a little lost when I decided to do some exploring. Without the sun to guide me through cloudy skies, I got a little turned around and my 6 miler became an 8 miler. I find when I run in Boston that folks you pass while running in the North are just not as friendly as in the South. I tend to say Good Morning or a simple Hey to most people I pass going the other way, but get few responses north of the Mason-Dixon line.

The next morning, I ran with Michael in a "race" called the Operation Jack Marathon, Half-Marathon, and Satellite Run. The marathon and half are actually in San Diego, put on as a fund raiser for autism, but you can enter and run anywhere you want and do basically any distance. We entered a few weeks ago and decided to run a 10k. Now, get enter, and they send you a shirt, a very nice medal, and a race bib! All for $35!!! I mean I just read where the entry fee to the NYC Marathon is $225, and a lot of that money goes to a bunch of Kenyan runners - not exactly a charity. Anyway, we ran a 6.7 mile course along a riverway to downtown Boston, ran the last mile on the Boston Marathon course, bowed in reverence to the BM Finish Line, and returned home. I thoroughly always enjoy running with Michael, and with all the highlights of the trip, this was at the top.

So, now back in Birmingham, this morning, the B'ham Track Club and the Trak Shak put on The Resolution Run. Usually, the End of the Year Run is on the roads at Oak Mountain, but this year we did a trail run on the newly opened trails of Red Mountain. Once, a heavily mined area, it is now turning into a great running and hiking trail system. It's pretty hilly, but not super-technical. On a personal level, I decided to wear my low-cut Mizuno Trail shoes for the first time in 2 years and my ankles didn't squeal at all. I have been wearing Merrill High tops on the trail which I think has allowed me to keep trail running (running is a relative term) to some degree. What I think has really improved my running is switching 2 months ago to Hoka Bondi B running shoes for the road. If you're a minimalist fan, then don't even look them up on the internet or you'll go into spasms. If shoes are a Bell Curve, you've got Vibrams on one side and Hokas on the other. I am completely sold on them. Any questions, just email me.

Tomorrow, a new year descends upon us, and one usually looks back and says we're glad the old year is gone. Sometimes, it has to do with running performance, and that is understandable as running certainly has it's grip on most of us. But, I'm not glad the old year is's just another mile in the race - some ups, some downs - and I look forward to the next mile. I hope you all have a great and wonderful 2012 in all aspects of your life and along the way, I'll see you on the roads - AL.

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

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Sylvester's Fight

"That dog'll know he's been in a fight when he tangles with this piece of machinery" - Sylvester the Cat

Hi guys - You know, that quote is pretty funny, but should reflect the "fight" we all have when training, so that when our race comes, we'll be sure we give it our all, at least all of what we want to give. As Steve Prefontaine said, "To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift". We are all training for different reasons, but they are important to each of us, and once we develop the gift that has been given to us, we need to use it to our fullest extent. That doesn't mean we need to race all out, or train till we drop ALL THE TIME, but #1) we need to keep our goals in full focus in front of us, and #2) we need to enjoy our abilities. I am so tired of reading stories about runners who "ran" marathons and can't wait to tell the world about the trip through hell that they survived. Sure, I don't know these folks, but give me a break - you chose to do this, you (hopefully) knew what was coming. You'll be telling the story of your accomplishment for years. OK AL, off your soapbox, back to your, where was I? Oh yeah...if your race doesn't go exactly how you planned, or what you had hoped, hey!...did you do your best on that particular day? If so, there you go! That's all we have to ask ourselves. You don't have to answer to anybody, but you.

I just love to run. Sometimes it's an easy jog, and sometimes I'm trying to do it like I did in High School (well, that wasn't particularly good either!). But, if I lace up my shoes to race, I'm going to do the darndest to reach whatever realistic goal I have set. Now, granted, that goal may take drastic detours during the race, but there's always SOME goal out there ("Surely I can beat that woman pushing the stroller in the Easter Bunny costume smoking the cigar"). I say all this because I hate when runners and walkers get so down on themselves that they don't realize what special folks they are.

We all run for our own reasons. Maybe we run to escape or perhaps we run to evolve or perhaps we run to experience. We run to live and we live to run. Sounds crazy to tell some non-runner that, but every runner understands.

Most us run because we want to and some among us run because we think we have to. We run to open ourselves up and we run to close ourselves down. It's an intensely personal thing and nobody should tell us how to do it, why we should do it, or what it means to us to do it. We know why, how, and for what we run, and that's all that matters. Running takes us places nobody else knows and makes us into the people we are meant to be. That's the way it has always been and the way it always will be. The rest will take care of itself.

Enjoy what you're doing because it's what you want to do and be kind to yourselves. Every run doesn't have to be a fight, but when it is, keep that fight like Sylvester, but make it your fight.

As I write this, I'm up in the frozen north of Boston, visiting my son, daughter-in-law and TWO grandchildren. I'm not crazy about this getting old stuff, but grandchildren certainly put a brighter light on this whole age thing. I hope you all have a great holiday season, and next week, I'll see you all on the roads - AL

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

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Week In The Life Of...Me!

"The secret to getting ahead is getting started" - Hal Higdon

Sometimes , as I've said several times before, I just don't get slapped on the side of the head with an idea to write in RWA. Most of the time, I'll get an idea early in the week, and periodically I'll be able to go back to it during the week and somehow (more of surprise to me than to you), a finished product comes out and off it goes on Saturday morning to the millions of subscribers - ok, about 150. Well, that idea just didn't POP this week, but several things did occur.

As many of you know, I was a Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Team-in-Training Run Coach here in Birmingham for 15 years, and it was an honor to coach these folks with a mission to help cure cancer by using their bodies as vehicles to run marathons and half marathons in order to raise money for research. It's easy to write a check and doing that you should feel good to donate, but try starting a running program to raise money when you've never run before and be told by some perky TNT Director singing "You can do 26.2" and they show you some video of all these smiling folks in purple shirts dancing across the finish line. Seems easy at the time, but then Coach Grinch (me and all the other TNT coaches) step in and instruct you through 5 months of producing sweat and wearing out the rubber on your shoes. There is nothing more rewarding to a coach than to see these folks pour out everything they have to cross that finish line (and yes, they really do smile). About a year and a half ago, I had to reluctantly step aside as coach, but this week I have been asked (and happily accepted) the position of Alabama/Gulf Coast Flex Coach. This is a program for folks that don't have access to TNT Run groups in the large cities or don't have time to do group training. Their training is mostly done on their own, but strongly reinforced by email, phonecalls, and web provided training and info by the previously aforementioned very special Omnipotent Flex Coach. I'm very excited about being in the TNT fold again. If you have any interest in finding more about TNT call 205-989-0098 or click here.

No matter what sport you follow, there is always that amazingly close game, that special competitive match, that unbelievable come-from-behind moment. With me, I get more pumped up watching a gritty running race than I do watching a close football game...give me somebody coming from way back in an Ironman...Or a marathon runner that has that "Ok guys, here I go. Who's going with me" moment. But, being an ultramarathoner, you seldom see one of these moments because they usually occur in the woods, far from any cameraphones, never mind any TV or Video capabilities. Well, Thursday, I had the extreme thrill of viewing a screening of the movie "Unbreakable". This is JB Benna's excellently made film of the 2010 Western States. I won't name the runners because they don't mean much to most of you (I guess), but this race (which is called the Boston Marathon of Ultras) featured 4 ultra icons: one undefeated at any ultra distance, one undefeated in all his 100 mile races, one who was the two-time defending champion, and one basically the European Ultra Champion. I have no idea how they got the shots in the woods that they did, but I want to know who that cameraman was because he hung with these guys while they were running 7 minute miles over rocks, creeks, mountains, and all kind of whatnot. I won't tell you who won, but it was one of those "WOW" moments. I was ready to go out at 9 o'clock straight to Oak Mountain and put in a few late night trail miles. I was captivated by the whole movie and plan to buy a copy of my own. Just Great Stuff!! If you want to see a trailer of the movie, click here.

Finally, this morning, I delved into a world I have known would be good for me but avoided for many years - YOGA!!! Now, you have to understand, I have a body that has the flexability of a Festivus Pole! As a Physical Therapist, I have to tell my patients "I want you to do this, but I want you to go further!". Well, one of our Sunday runners, Kevin Bokus, is a Yoga instructor, and he has a Saturday morning class. So, after assurance from Kevin that I wouldn't snap, I strapped on a small backback with dry clothes and ran the 3.5 miles to the class. During the hour class, some things were very evident: 1) the Festivus Pole is more flexible, 2) I have absolutely NO balance, and 3) my core is mush. But, I did enjoy the class very much and I think (I know) it will help my running. And I like this Saturday routine of running to and from class - easy way to get 7 miles in before the Sunday long run. If you might be interested in one of Kevin's Yoga classes (he also does Monday and Tuesday evenings), you can email him at

So, that was my week and I found something to write about. Now, don't forget we run from Boutwell Auditorium downtown tomorrow at 6:30AM. There will be Powerade and Gu on the course and the rumor is the Boutwell Lobby will be open for warmth and bathrooms.

I'll see you on the downtown roads - AL

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

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Here's Mud In Your Eye

"There is an eagle in me that wants to soar, and there is a hippopotamus in me that wants to wallow in the mud." - Carl Sandburg

Look through any running magazine lately and you see many ads for these "manly-man" mud & obstacle laden races popping up. Suddenly, there's a niche for falling in knee-deep mud, hurdling fire pits, jumping over barbed wire, and throwing in a little running. Of course, this is all topped off with copious amounts of beer drinking and slapping each other on the butts about a job well done. Guess I'm a little too old for this challenge...well, count me in for the beer drinking. The Muddy-Buddy series around the country seems like a ton of fun where you and a partner alternate running and then riding/pushing/carrying a bike through, over, and around super dirty messy obstacles. But, this fun has morphed into "Warrior Dashes" where it seems you're risking a lot more than an age-group position at the end of the race.

Back, a few weeks ago, I was running with Sam, a friend I've known for a long time but just don't see very often. He told me he had recently done one of these Warrior races in Georgia and how much fun it was. I'm not sure where these races began, but I remember back when I did one of the first Mud Runs back in '99. No fire, no barbed wire, no near death experience...just fun in the mud.

I had just done the Rock 'n' Roll San Diego Marathon with TNT, when, a week later, I got a call from my son, Michael, who lived in San Diego. He and three of his friends found this run called the Camp Pendelton Mud Run. It's run on the Marine base, north of SD, and the 10k run had several mud obstacles including finishing in the "Mud Pits". Turns out they needed a 5th member for the team. Took about 5 minutes for me to have my flight back to the left coast confirmed.

The first thing, well two things, I noticed when we got to the race site was duct tape and goggles worn by folks that looked like they had done this before. I had thought about goggles, but we're real men and we don't need no stinkin' goggles. Now, get this - counting the individuals and the 5 person teams, there were over 3500 at this race! The gun (cannon) fired and we were off. About 200 yards from the start, the marines doused us with fire hoses. They were trying to break our spirits early! Then it was down the dusty trail, and we hit the tire drill, like the football players do. Ok, let's sprain our ankles now and get it out of the way. Then we hit the Steeple Jump - a 3 foot high barrier on the other side of which was calf deep mud for 10 yards. "Is that all you've got?". How 'bout the sand crawl? On all fours, you crawl 25 yards under two foot high wire. Sand hurts! We splash through a stream or two, then it's up mile-long Suicide Hill (Don't ask), past bombed out targets (buildings, tanks, etc) called Combat Town (cute!). Now, it gets interesting as we approached the first BIG mud pit. There was a pit about 30 yards of the gloppiest, thickest, smelliest, knee deep mud. The bottom would suck your legs to the knees, and the "water", which had the consistency of Ovaltine, would be at your hips. In the middle of this was a 6 ft wall you had to scale and splash down on the other side. Ok, now I'm really dirty! And now, I see what the duct tape was for - it wasn't just to try to keep 5# of mud out of your shoes, but to try to keep your shoes on your feet!! A half mile later, we had to traverse a chest deep lake for about 150 yards. Of course, the chest deep water sat atop knee deep mud! Now, it was on to Mud Pit #2, which was like the first one, except the wall was 7 ft high. When you're 5'6", it's not easy to jump up in soft mud and try to grab the top to pull yourself over. I felt like one of those mammoths stuck in the tar pits. I made it, but came awfully close to screaming (or crying). I literally had to scale the wall and fall over into the mud on the other side. Next, it was up 50 yard long "Slippery Hill". Why is it called that? Because the Marines are dousing you from the top again with the fire hoses. There's a certain ettiquite in running and pulling down the shorts of the guy next to you to try to get up the hill is apparently allowed in this part of the country. Remember, the whole run is on trails or dirt roads, so this made it like Wet & Wild. Then, it was the out-of-control run down the wet hill to "the tunnels" - 20 yds of PVC pipe to crawl through that ended in what? You guessed it...MORE MUD!! Finally, right before the finish came the Mud Crawl, a huge pit with unbarbed wire across it forcing you to fully submerge under the wire and belly crawl in this pudding of foul, gross, Marine created slop. Why not just call it the Malaria Run? It was all feel and crawl. I tried to open my eyes and see at one point and all I could see was a brown film, so I tried to wipe the mud off my goggles - Oh yeah! I don't need no stinkin' goggles! I thought "this can't be good. Standing at the end of the Pit, Michael & I looked like chocolate covered gingerbread men. We just stared at each other until finally Michael said "Dad?". Standing next to each other, we literally didn't recognize one another.

This whole adventure was capped off with an ice cold communal outside shower (shorts had to stay on, but everything else went in the trash). I can honestly say that I've never 1) been so dirty, 2) laughed so much during a run, and 3) had such a good time, doing such a crazy thing, and doing it with the one person in the world I would want to do it with. Oh, did I say we did this on Father's Day? Perfect!

OK guys, just a reminder if you're running with us here in Birmingham - next week (Dec 18th), we are running from downtown. We will meet at Boutwell Auditorium @ 6:30 AM and run one loop of the Mercedes Marathon course (13 miles). Half marathoners will do 9 miles. You can view several different distances from Boutwell on maps on this Trak Shak Newsletter. Gotta run...I'll see you all on the roads - AL

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

Saturday, December 3, 2011

So Long Shoes

"I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver."
- Maya Angelou

No, don't think by the title of this blog that I'm discarding my shoes and going shoeless. Nope, ain't gonna happen...ever!! However, if you run barefoot, then you might just want to ignore this post.

I wouldn't consider myself a pack rat, but the other day I had a weird experience. I was trying to get something out of the trunk of my car and I noticed I had three old pairs of running shoes in there blocking my way with their laces tied neatly together waiting for the day I would take them down to the Trak Shak Running Store. Now, understand, I go to The Trak Shak often, and those shoes have probably been in there for months. Just sat in the trunk. Unusable as running shoes. Then I started to realize all the old running shoes I had strewn around the house. I mean I have at least 2-3 pair that have been designated "not-fit-for-running" shoes that I wear when I go out to the store or travel. Then I looked under the futon in my Trophy Room...Ok, our computer room/guest room/son's old room. There were two discarded running shoes that probably still have a good number of miles on them. Let's take a look in the closet. Well, what do you know...another pair of running shoes and TWO pair of old trail shoes. It's so bad, I even have a pair of old trail shoes on the deck designated as "throw-the-garbage-out" shoes! Add to all this are my current shoes; two pair of Hokas (I love them), one pair of Kahru's, and a pair of Merrell high top Mountain Trail Racers.

As I was stumbling over this mess, a thought crossed my mind - why in god's name do I need dozens of old, worn out running shoes? I can't seem to let go! These aren't just shoes. They accompanied me through rain, sun, mud, dust, road, trail. My good runs, my crappy runs, and all those many, many runs in between. It then occurred to me. I had to say goodbye to this old heap of shoes. Keeping an extra "retired" pair or two of running shoes to walk around the Galleria or a ball game is one thing, but having a different pair to wear every day of the month just ain't sane.

So, I decided to do a little looking around and see if there was a better alternative than to giving these shoes to Goodwill or just dropping them in one of those clothing bins you see by the side of the road. Surprisingly, I found there are quite a few organizations you can donate your old shoes to. Here's what I found:

Nike's Reuse-a-Shoe program collects worn-out athletic shoes (any brand, not just Nike) and recycles them (rather than going into landfills) into material used in sports surfaces like basketball courts, tennis courts, athletic fields, running tracks and playgrounds for kids around the world. They seem to cater more towards groups doing shoe drives.

Shoe Bank provides shoes for 20,000 people every year -- primarily children, both in the United States and abroad. I liked this site a lot because they seem to target children and the homeless, but this appears to be mostly a Texas based charity.

Sole Responsibility is a nonprofit organization started by runners in Ottawa, Canada, who donate gently used running and walking shoes to needy people overseas (mostly Africa). They collect running shoes of all shapes and sizes, adult and children's sizes, but it seems pretty difficult to donate unless you're in Canada.

Share Your Sole is an Illinois-based organization that collects, cleans, and distributes gently-used shoes to needy and impoverished people all over the world. Again, a very worthy organization with a strong program, but in the Chicago area and difficult to donate outside that area.

Give Your Sole seeks to provide less fortunate men, women, and children with moderately worn athletic shoes collected at race events. I really liked their website. They only collect at Race events - I have to see if we can maybe get hooked up with them next year at the Mercedes Marathon. Visit their web site to find out what races they'll be at and where you can send donations.

I finally decided on Soles4Souls. They are a Nashville-based charity that collects shoes from the warehouses of footwear companies and the closets of people like you and me. The charity distributes these shoes to people in need, regardless of race, religion, class, or any other criteria. Since 2005, Soles4Souls has delivered over 16 million pairs of new and gently worn shoes. The shoes have been distributed to people in over 127 countries, including Kenya, Thailand, Nepal and the United States. Plus, for those of you in Birmingham, Alabama, they have a local drop-off site. Their website has a "drop off locator" to find the place closest to you by zip code.

So, now I have to collect my heap of shoes, bring 'em down to the drop-off, and feel good knowing they are going to do a whole lot more good than sitting in my trunk, or in my closet, or...well, you get the idea. At least I hope you get the BIG idea.

I'll see you on the roads as I wear down another pair of shoes - AL

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

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Dear Diary...

"Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing" - Ben Franklin

It's funny when running a long distance event how many variables enter in the equation of what the final outcome will be. You try to do everything right, or at least you believe you're trying to do everything right, or at least your mind has your body tricked into believing you're doing everything right. You can't hop out of the sack and decide to do a 26, 50, or 100 mile race. It is a real long stretch for anybody, even when you're trained. You have to plan for these things, and the longer the race, the more planning there is to set your head a-spinnin'. When I was doing 24 Hour races, you don't just plan how to RUN the're literally planning for a day-trip with a 100 miles of running thrown in! You have to consider what CHANGES of clothes/shoes to bring to run in (24 hours of weather change + day/night), what real food to eat 'cause 4000 gels just ain't gonna get it, when to rest, how to rest (sit/lie down, tent, sleeping bag), sunglasses, lip balm, and believe me, the list breeds a life of it's own.

There are so many variables that can happen in a race that lasts several hours, that you just have to concentrate on all those things you can hope to control and leave all that other stuff to the heavens. You know, they say in football when you throw a pass, three things can happen, and two of them are bad (incomplete or intercepted). Well, in running, there are a lot more than two unpleasant things that can happen. I won't go into them, but it can range from how you feel in general, the weather, the terrain, and my favorite, the EVER present "What the heck happened". If you've run many of them, like I have, and it doesn't go exactly as I had planned, I can pretty much feel bad, shrug it off, and "go back to the drawing board".

Sometimes it's pretty obvious what went wrong and too many times for me, it falls into the "that was a stupid rookie mistake" category. But, sometimes, you feel like you didn't stray from the straight and narrow, and everything comes crashing down. Was it something I did...didn't do? Like I just go back to the drawing board and that's where a diary, or training log, comes in handy. After the glow (or anti-glow), of the race begins to wear off, you can review your training and try to figure out if there were any bumps in the road that could have been avoided. There have been several races in my past that when I looked back at my preparation, it looks like I fell out of the Stupid Tree and hit every branch on the way down! Get somebody you trust to review your preparation with you because you'll have a difficult time seeing through the trees of the (stupid) forest. The more experience with endurance events your friend or coach has, the better, because that person gained his experience by committing all the things he'll tell you not to do.

The body was not built to go over 20 miles, so you better train smart and set your goals in order. Then, decide what you have to do to achieve those goals. Try to look at your training from a distance. If your training didn't produce the results you wanted, how come that happened? Was it an outside influence that you had no control over? Or was it a question of confusing will-power with want-power. Will-power will come into play when you have a good training plan and follow through with that plan. Want-power is when your plan is all over the place because you WANT to reach your goal, so you try everything - speed, distance, races, hills, etc. with no consistent basis except the insecurity of your plan. You should try to simplify a plan so it's easy to follow. Ah, there's the key - following the plan! I have always had a big problem trying to follow a plan that had you do something different every training session - hills, track, tempo, long, recovery. It was just too confusing. Some athletes thrive off this variety, but I have always come back to run for distance and the rest will fall into place.

First, you have to have a plan that's simple enough to guarantee that it will be carried out, and second, you have to believe in that plan, and yourself. Sometimes, I tend to make training a little too simple, but over-training will NEVER get you to your goal. Over-training is running suicide! Training for a marathon is certainly one venue where erring on the side of conservation will heed much better results than beating yourself up with an over-aggressive preparation. Maybe you won't reach your goal (yet), but if your goals are realistic, just review what you did prior to your race, and with a little help (diary, friends, coaches, honest self-evaluation), you'll figure it out.

Over the past couple of years, I have found out that personally, I have to have a goal to create a good training diary. Once injuries drove me away from frequent endurance racing, I simply stopped writing my daily running escapades. Now, you have to realize that I wrote an almost daily note from August 8th, 1978 for about 30 years!. Then my writing got a little spotty, and finally I got tired of writing of daily runs with no forward progression, so I haven't written a word in nearly a year. Now, I look back and realize I have no record of what I have, supplements, stretching, exercises, therapies, Witch Doctors, rest...etc. That makes no sense at all! I don't know what works and what doesn't. Crazy, huh? So, my early New Year's resolution is that I am going to begin to write a (nearly) daily log again...handwritten - no computer. Maybe I'll learn something again about planning my running future by looking into my running past.

I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving, had some good runs, found some good sales (I found Hokas for 40% off!!), and I'll see you all on the roads - AL

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

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Old Horse Keeps Trottin'

"Do not lose hold of your dreams, or aspirations. For if you do, you may still exist, but cease to live."
- Henry David Thoreau

Throughout my many years of running, I've run short, I've run very long, I've run on flat, I've run on very steep mountains, I've run roads, I've run trails, I've run from one point to another point 26.2 miles away, and I've run 1000 laps around a 142 foot circular track. For the past 33 years, I just plain love to run. Maybe sometimes I overdid it, but if I had to do it all over again, I'd probably try to figure out how I could do more. They say you don't get old until dreams start to be replaced by regrets, and over the past few years, injuries are pushing me gradually over that fence. I used to be able to plan several marathons or ultras a year and know I was in shape to do them. Marathons became training runs for ultras. Ultras became "short ultras" or "long ultras". I could do a marathon on Saturday and come back with my marathon training class and do a 20 miler with them the next day. I loved the feeling it left in my legs and in my head.

Still, although I feel like I can time my runs with an sundial lately, what I get from running outweighs the struggles. I'm now an old horse runnin' along! The good news is that I am still runnin'. I have run many miles over the years getting close to three times the circumference of the earth, and for somebody who hated running in my teens, that's quite a surprise, but I miss the Superman feeling I had. Life became my Kryptonite, daggum it!

But, I still am a runner, and I still get out there and do the absolute best I can. A few weeks ago, I went with my very good friend (My long-lost brother) Moha to run at the Ruffner Mountain Trail. We had never been there before, and OH MY GOD, it was the hilliest, hardest, rockiest trail I had tried to run on in years. I swore we would never come back there again...HaHaHa!! Before we left the park, we talked about the absurdity that there was going to be a trail half-marathon out there in about 4 weeks time. Ok, I'm sure you can already see the rusty wheels turning. It was like "No, no, don't let that thought seep into my brain!!". The clincher was when Moha (or it might have been me...I really don't remember) mentioned that there was another trail half-marathon THE VERY DAY AFTER at Oak Mountain!! There it was. The fire that burned all those years ago never has gone out and the challenge of doing this double was cast. Oh, we gave the obligatory "That would be stupid" argument, but we both knew it was fruitless to deny the inevitable.

So, last Saturday, Moha & I lined up at the start of the Ruffner Mt High Crusher Ridge 21k. We have run together for many, many years and many, many miles and although he is a better runner than I am, he swore he would go every step with me. And that he did. We laughed, swore, fell, swore some more, and late in the day we came across the finish line. It took almost three and a half hours which should almost be embarrassing, but I felt pumped to have finished not only my longest trail run in probably a year, but to have done it on a course that tried it's hardest to do me in. This course has 2800' of elevation over the 13.1 miles and that's tough no matter what level trail runner you are. Plus, for a reason I guess only I can understand, knowing I had another run in the morning brought back some of the old spark that I used to define myself back when.

So, on Sunday, there were the "lost brothers" again, this time at the Xterra Oak Mt. Trail Half Marathon. Surprisingly, my ankles weren't balking at me too much from the previous day's adventure, maybe because I can successfully divorce my mind from my ankles and they had no idea what was about to happen. Now, Oak Mt is a where I do just about all of my trail running, so I knew it wasn't going to be as punishing as yesterday, about half the total elevation gain, but there were still a couple of whoppers when it came to the hills...that's one reason God invented walking!! Plus, there was a new section that I hadn't ever run on that was 4-5 miles of steady up and down (aptly called the "Jekell & Hyde" Trail). That completely took the starch out of my legs and my ankles were well aware of the deciet I had tried to pull on them. Moha once again stayed every step with me, and we finally came across the finish line in what felt like Tuesday, but was actually only 3:17. I've been telling everyone I did a Negative Split with the two runs!! The Ruffner course was difficult to run hard on, and the Oak Mt course was just flat difficult to finish. I embraced the feeling of my legs hurting because I had made them perform doing a tough job and not hurting just because...well...they hurt. My inner self enjoyed what I had done, because it just doesn't happen too often anymore.

An old horse doesn't race at Churchill Downs anymore, and doesn't plow the fields. But, once in a while, he can still go to the Fair and give some kids a ride on his back and I'll bet he gets a kick out that.

I'll see you on the roads as long as I can - AL

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

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Have Marathon Times Gone Nuts?

"Most people never run far enough on their first wind to find out if they have a second wind" - William James

What in the world is going on with marathon times? I mean, records are falling left and right, and not just by a second here a couple of seconds there. Last week, in New York, both the men's and the women's course records were smashed by over two minutes! And if Mary Kitany had been able to hold herself together, there would have been a new female World Record - she literally put all her eggs in one big running basket and committed one of the very basic errors all runners violate at some time - DON'T GO OUT TOO FAST!

But, more than just the times, the more amazing fact is the ridiculous dominance that Kenya has in the Marathon world. Last week, I quoted Steve Jones, former record holder, when asked why the Kenyans are so dominant..."Because they're better". Yeah, I guess so. They won over 75% of ALL marathons in the world last year. Ok, the Yankees used to win most of the American League pennants, but it wasn't like they anilated all the competition along the way. They simply were better. So, Steve, I think the Kenyans are way more than better and that has been undeniably reflected in what has happened to marathon times so far in 2011. Kenyans now occupy the top 20 places in world rankings,

To date, Kenyans have won every single major marathon this year. No exceptions. They took London, Boston, Paris, Chicago, Berlin, Rotterdam, Amsterdam and the IAAF World Championships in Daegu, Korea. What is more, the course records in every single one of the World Marathon Majors has been broken THIS YEAR. Sometimes, these guys had pacers, sometimes they worked together, sometimes they went out solo, and at least once, God blew a wicked tailwind behind them.

Back in April, at the Boston Marathon, a tailwind pushed the runners from Hopkinton (west) 26.2 miles to Boston (east). When it was over, Geoffrey Mutai had crushed the world record by almost a minute with 2:03:02. But, it was determined that Boston's course should not qualify as a WR course (point-to-point, plus it has an overall loss of elevation), so it was called a World Best. Yeah, I've done Boston 5 times and if anybody tells me Boston's course is easy, well, they better defend themselves. Anyway, Haile Gebrselassie's 2 year-old World Record of 2:03:59 still stood. Now, he's Ethiopian, so that must've really brissled the hair on the Kenyan's backs because it's been attack, attack, attack since then.

Just this summer, Patrick Makau, took down Gebrselassie's world record in Berlin with his 2:03:38. Then, just six weeks later, a relative unknown Kenyan runner, Wilson Kipsang, boldly said he was going after Makau's record at the Frankfort Marathon. Most, including me (the all-knowing, never-wrong pundit) brushed this off as a little too much butt for his britches. Well, he put up a real fight and crossed the line in 2:03:42 - ouch!!

A typical year used to see between 5 and 10 sub-2:07 performers. This year, it's 26 already. When Khalid Khannouchi set his WR in 1999 in Chicago of 2:05:42, I was there, and after I crossed the finish line and my wife told me his time, I was sure she got the time wrong, because 2:06 had never been cracked. Three years later, Ken & I were running the same race together and we were about on mile 17 when some guy yells on a bullhorn "you are now running on a new WR course. Khannouchi just finished in 2:05:38!!". These were times from the stratosphere. In the past 9 years, that time has been bettered 39 times!!! In 2011 alone, poor Khalid's time has been beaten TWELVE times!!! Ten of those times have been by Kenyans. Now, that is crazy fast!! The AVERAGE of the top 10 times in '09, '10, & '11 all bettered that barrier. It gets kind of numbing, but let me put it this way - Geoffrey Mutai's NY Marathon time of 2:05:06 is the like putting the treadmill on 12.5 MPH for 26.2 miles!!! AND THAT'S TWO MINUTES OFF THE WORLD BEST!

So, what is happening? What has caused this seismic shift in marathon times? And why from Kenya? I'm no scientist, so I can only take guesses like you... living in altitude? genetics? Hunger for success? Yeah, those are all a blog in themselves. But, I agree with some others and I really think the "Tipping Point" was with the Olympic Marathon in 2008. It was a hot, humid day in Beijing and the common strategy was to hang back in a technical race and win it in the last mile with a respectable, but not an eye-popping time. The late Sammy Wajiru (surprise, from Kenya) transformed marathoning that day by attacking from the start. All the competitors were more than glad to let him go until it was too late. His early aggression to kill off the competition early produced a Gold Medal with an Olympic Record of 2:06. It was a dominant performance

I think now the marathon is more of a speed event, and no longer just an event of endurance. You watch Mary Kitany take off with a balls-to-the-wall attack (obviously a figure of speech) in NY, and build over a two and half minute lead, only to falter in the last couple of miles, get caught in the last half mile and finish third. But, she decided to "race" it from the beginning, not just "run" it. The men have been doing this for a few years now, and so the times tumble because sometimes this attack strategy works. The runners are not afraid of the distance anymore. They see it as a long 5K or 10K. Boom - take off - try to catch me! I don't have a whole lot of years left, but most certainly, I'll see 2:01 approached...and then the unthinkable, the TWO HOUR barrier will be seriously spoken about. If you love this stuff, then you REALLY have to love that marathon times have gone nuts.

I'll see you on the slower roads - AL

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

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Long & Winding Road Begins To Straighten

"Because they're better" - Steve Jones,'85, '86 Chicago Marathon champ when asked why the Kenyans have dominated the marathon

I had written a blog post last night for today, but decided to hold off on that one because this morning I ran Birmingham's signature running event - the 34th Vulcan Run 10k. I hadn't planned to write about it because I usually don't regard 10k's as being much more significant than a hard workout, and didn't expect to get overly excited. As a matter of fact, I didn't even plan to run it, except back in July, I ran the BAA 10k in Boston with my son, Michael, and got such a kick out of actually being able to finish a 10k in pretty good shape (in 1:03), that when I got home and saw early registration for Vulcan was only 20 bucks, I hopped on that like a hobo hops a train.

Without going into a long blog about the general demise of my running the past few years due to faulty ankle anatomy, let's just say that I went from a fairly competent ultrarunner to being a rather incompetent around-the-blocker. Pace sucked, distance sucked. In general, I was a joy to be around. So, about two years ago, I went to see a local sports doc here in Birmingham. For those of you with running problems, please do your homework and seek out a healthcare person that will understand what part of the twisted universe you're coming from. Anyway, she spent a long time with me, and although what she physically prescribed may have not turned things around directly, it got me to decide that I could go on limping along, or I could finally realize (after years of limping along) that I had to back peddle.

Maybe in a future blog, I'll detail my rather (continuing) convoluted road towards more comfortable running, but all I can say (and don't forget I'm a Physical Therapist, so I should know this stuff) is that if you give things time, sometimes much longer than you want, you do turn a corner and things seem better. It doesn't knock you on the side of the noggin like a baseball bat, but like in my case, you say "Hey, I am better than I was 6 months ago".

There has been no one big, giant light from heaven that improved me, but many little things all added up together over the past two years- cutting back more than 50% on my running, basically no long runs, being more consistent with certain supplements I believe do help, ice, ankle supports, and compression socks for recovery. One thing that was a huge help was that I didn't want to give up entirely my trail running, but it wreaked havoc on my ankles with all of that roots, rocks and whatnot. So, after some research (homework), I ordered some high-top Mountain Racing shoes from Merrell. They're slightly heavy, but weight was not the issue. I love them on the trail, but for sure not for everyone. The other huge help, although it is way too early to measure it's success, is that I finally ordered some Hoka Bondi B shoes. They're French (at least they're not Chinese), they're very hard to find East of the Mississippi (ordered mine from Colorado), they're expensive (I paid $168) and they are VERY MAXIMALIST. There are two ends of a Bell Curve - Vibram's are on one end and Hoka's are on the other end! From the first time I put them on, I have noticed a definite difference in the decrease of pounding my ankles take during a run. I ran the Vulcan 10k today in 59:35...not great by ANY stretch of my twisted imagination, but 4 minutes faster than July. What has me excited is that the only thing that bothered me during the run was that my speed was limited by my (lack of) race shape. It was not limited by my ankles feeling like pile-drivers or jackhammers hitting the pavement. Yey!!

Thanks for reading about my travails through injuryville (I promised myself not to write about my ouches, but that went out the window this morning). Hopefully, the long and winding road will continue to straighten out and hopefully, things won't go south where I'll send these shoes back to France. I'll keep you posted, but try to do it descretely.

Now, before I go any further, I want to remind all of you to turn your clocks BACK an hour tonight. I used to wait up till 2 o'clock in the morning to turn it back, but then somebody told me you can do it before you go to bed - what a great idea! So, now I pass that pearl along to all of you which makes the price of subscribing to RWA well worth it (free). If you forget to turn it back, and you show up at the NBC Building in the morning, I can't figure out if you'll come and find a parking lot full and wonder where everyone is, or you'll find the parking lot empty and you'll wonder where everyone is. Guess the best thing is to go ahead and set it back now (the heck with missing some of the Ala-LSU game - we're talking running here).

Sometime tomorrow morning, I'll see you on the roads - AL

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

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Some Things Just Annoy Me

"Reminds me of my safari in Africa. Somebody forgot the corkscrew and for several days we had to live on nothing but food and water."
W. C. Fields

You know what really annoys me? If you’re thinking cold weather, then you’re right but it’s not the topic of this post. You may also be thinking erectile dysfunction commercials or the New York Yankees or the lady with 45 items in the self-scan lane at the grocery store and those are all good guesses but perhaps you should stop with the incessant guessing and let me tell you what it is before I add “incessant guessing” to the list. Actually, the list changes constantly. Some are running related and some are not. Some directly affect me, some peripherally have an affect on my universe, and some just adversely get my attention.

CHEATING IN RACES - Ok, we all know about Rosie Ruiz and how she jumped into the Boston Marathon in 1980 and WINNING (after taking a subway to the 25 mile mark). Her defense that she ran the whole race..."I woke up with alot of energy!".
And possibly you heard about "Jean's Marines", a group of charity runners who were caught cutting the course by 3-4 miles during the 2005 Marine Corps Marathon. Their Coach's defense that she told them to do so..."I didn't want them to miss out on getting a medal".
Well, apparently, God forgot to break the Cheater's Mold because last week at the Klieder Marathon in England, Rob Sloan I guess didn't like his race place at the 20 mile mark, SO HE TOOK A BUS to a few hundred yards from the finish and crossed the finish line in 3rd place. The real 3rd place finisher told him he never passed him. Ol' Rob's defense..."Oh yes I did!". He was telling the truth - only he did it in a bus!!
I won't say in the middle of a tough trail ultra the thought of "I'll bet this other trail will get me to the finish quicker" doesn't cross my mind, but it's in the same category of "If I fudge on my tax return, I'll pay less". Nice thought, but it will never happen.

WHINING ABOUT A RACE COURSE AFTER THE RACE - When I coach marathon runners, I'm always asked what's the top key pearls of wisdom I can bestow on them. Well, there's always be consistent in your training. Then there's try to eat more healthy food than crap. And one that I try to pound in them is LEARN THE COURSE! You should know that course backwards and forwards, up, down and sideways...uphills, downhills, port-a-potties, what the aid stations are serving. I swear, little bothers me more than to hear complaints about "I didn't know it was hilly", or "I didn't know they would serve Prune Juice instead of Gatorade", or "That course had more turns than I expected". C'mon people, study the course, then shut the hell up and get to the finish line!

COMPLAINING ABOUT CHARITY RUNNERS - As most of you know, I was a TNT Run Coach for 15 years and so, I have a personal dog in this fight. I wrote about TNT back in RUNNING WITH AL in September '10 and how much using this vehicle, or any other charity, does so much good that goes WAY past any personal achievements. Sure, most charity runners are new to the sport and don't know all the etiquette of the road, but if there are charity walkers ahead of you and they spread across part of the road, GO AROUND THEM!! I've seen runners go through them and yell at them to get to the side or to the back of the starters. While this is true of where they should be, if they want the whole road and they're raising money for someone less fortunate than themselves, especially a child, I'll gladly give them the road, give them a pat on the back, and take the sidewalk myself.

SHORT RACES THAT ARE CALLED MARATHONS - A marathon is 26.2 miles long. It usually takes 4-5 months to train to finish one of these in fairly good shape. Now, I'm not taking anything away from the effort that's put into training for your first 5k or 10k, but please don't call it a marathon, or mini-marathon, or (I actually saw this) a 5 Mile marathon. I hate to sound pompous, but after training thousands of runners to go the 26 miles, I think they earned the title of marathoner. Either you ran a full marathon or you didn't. Simple. Got to respect the distance man.

5 HOUR ENERGY DRINKS - You know, those teeny, tiny, little bottles at the checkout register of your favorite gas station or convenience store. How did these vessels of energy heresy force themselves into a multi-billion dollar industry? Ok, if some office worker needs an afternoon kick to stay awake on his stimulating job, call it like it has caffeine and a ton of other STIMULANTS to get you going, but don't use it in a race because you think it's magic energy. There's NO energy there, just an artificial swat in the pants. Assuming running consumes basically 100 calories/mile, no matter how fast you run, a marathon will eat up 2600 calories. Now, look at the label for 5 Hour Energy. How many calories? 4. No, I didn't forget any zeroes. Since calories are the standard measure of energy fuels, there are two ways to regarding this product. Either (1) it will give you enough energy to run 1/650th of five hours, or 27 seconds, or (2) to consume enough of this drink to sustain your pace for 5 hours (instead of drinking legitimate athletic energy drinks), you'd need to chug 667 of these expensive little bottles in the course of your run. How 'bout just trying to train for a marathon instead of looking for magic. W.C. Fields was right and somebody is making a mint off of some suckers. I just get myself frosted when somebody's trying to take advantage of runners.

There, I feel better. Blew off some steam and got my blood pressure down. I'll have to do this again someday. Meanwhile, I'm going to summon my inner 2 hour energy and go for a run. I'll see you on the roads - AL

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

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Absolutely Best Tip For Running Long Distances

"It's what you learn after you know it all that counts." - John Wooden, former basketball coach

Hi guys - Yes, no matter how many marathons you run, you will never, ever figure it out so that it will work every time. Just when you say "hot dog, that's the key", the hammer will fall the next time you do the exact same thing and you're thankful to be dragging your tail across the finish line. No matter what I tell you, no matter what your friends tell you, no matter what you read or hear, it won't be easy. What works for me (not much lately) will not necessarily be your answer and what works for me today will, for sure, not necessarily work for me tomorrow. That is the oft-repeated voice of experience. I don't say this to scare our new virgin marathoners just coming into the a matter of fact, that's one of the tempting lures of endurance events. When you line up at the starting line, you're just not sure what the end of the racing road will deliver that day. You can't predict what lies 26 miles, 50 miles, or 100 miles away, at least not any more reliably than your local corner bookie can predict who will win the next big ball game.

But, one thing is definitely set in stone if you want the odds to lean in your favor before you lace up your shoes on race day. You have to do the work. You have to get out and train. You have to make it so your body knows what to do, what to expect, how to react. Your body will learn from every run you do, even the crappy ones. It will learn when you feel great, just as it will learn when you drag yourself around the training run. It will learn something when the sun shines and it will learn something different when it's as dark as a black hole. It will learn in the heat and as much as I really can't convince myself, it will learn in the biting, numbing cold.

After you put in the training, then, like I said, it still won't be easy, but you will have built up your body both physiologically and mentally to accept the challenge of completing an endurance event in good shape. You've given your body the opportunity to succeed - still no guarantee, but you can rest a lot better at night when you know you've done all you could. But it is pretty fascinating that just by lacing up your shoes and going out and doing a few miles CONSISTENTLY that you can alter how your body uses oxygen, blood, glycogen, fats, proteins, etc and now you can do distances that at one time seemed possible much more in your head than in your legs. To me, as a coach (more as an experienced advisor), the most important thing that makes a long distance athlete is not doing the event itself, but rather getting through the weeks and weeks of the doggone training without looking for ways to cut corners.

As the winds of winter begin to blow mildly enough to remind me what's about to come, I wrote this post more for me than for you, my readers. At times I feel like I've still got some smoldering sparks in my legs. Not for speed, and not for crazy distances. But enough to still be a member of the endurance club. I will fight not to lose that membership. Many of my friends, both closely and peripherally, are very good ultrarunners, so if I find myself not being able to do "what the big boys do", I feel a chunk of ol' Al is missing. Logically, I know that's not the case, but there it is. So, I know I have to do the work, plain and simple. That's the pearl of any training plan...doesn't matter if your goals are fast, slow, long, short. Know your limits and progress smartly to them, not past them. Go past the breaking point and you'll spiral down in flames. I don't know what will happen to this "maturing" body if I try to do the work, but I definitely know what will happen if I don't.

So, with modest goals, I'll keep on truckin', hope for the best, and one major factor that keeps me going is that I know I'll see you on the roads - AL

Be sure to read this week's TRAINING WITH AL about dressing in the cold

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

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The (non)Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner

"In 10 year's time, we probably won't remember the races, but we still might have the friends we made while we were training for them" - Mike Rice, Irish friend and blogger (Running Through Fog)

One of the many joys of being a long distance runner is that no matter what the title of that movie says, you never are really alone. Oh sure, probably in another week or so, I'll write a blog post about how happy I am to be a runner so I can escape from everything and everybody while I glide down some trail, or have the darkened early morning roads to myself. But, even when traveling solo, the many years I have been running, I have met thousands of folks I never would have bumped into had we not had the common thread of running. And it is the showing up at the start line that is the secret handshake to this club.

In my 30+ years of long distance running, I have been to so many places where I didn't know a soul when I approached the starting line, and yet I am not in the company of strangers. Even the race itself is a friend. When I line up in races, I know I have friends that I don't know I have and I am a friend to runners in marathons that they don't know they have. It is the beauty of the sport especially for those of us that run marathons regularly.

Most of us turn out to be crazy to some degree - running marathons or ultras on consecutive days, consecutive weeks, a few times a month...whatever, interspersed with a 50k or 50 miler here and there. Years ago, I used to take great pride in saying if you call me up on Saturday night and asked if I wanted to run a marathon on Sunday, I'd be ready. We'll run any marathon, not just the check-it-off-life's-list Rock 'n' Roller. We run marathons that are small, hardly heard of runs, without pacers, without bands, without cookies, without fans. We have each other. We pace together, we chat, learn a few things about one another and move on. But, show up at the start line, and the first time marathoner is as cherished as a freind as the old codger that's been around longer than Phidippides himself.

We always have fun - what wind? What rain? It's just water. I don't care. Water doesn't care. There is always sun on marathon day - a day of brilliant rays of hope and friendship. Doesn't matter what the course is - we are doing this together. Sometimes, they take us out 26 miles and drop us off - "run back to Boston", they say. Other times, we run in a circle - 26.2 miles around Birmingham, resulting in net 0 miles gained. Other times they tease us. They take us close to the finish line in Nashville at mile 20 and then torture us with, "you're almost there!" Hills are strategically placed for all of us...could be Atlanta, could be the trails of San Diego County. All along, your friends are there. For those brief few hours, we are with those who pull us along, encourage us, laugh with us. Heck, we'll even slow down our own races for each other. During the race, the faces next to you may change many times, but running is the tie that binds us. The, the many hours of preparing for the the DNA that will never separate us. The race may kick my butt when I didn't expect it to or give me exuberant joy when I least expect it. But I know those surrounding me, whether on a training run, or during the race itself, truly feel the same emotions that come from such a simple act as running.

Those that I feel are as close to me as family during a race, I may never see again after race day. And I may not remember their name or what they looked like, but I know in my next race "they" will be there for me and I, most certainly, will be there for them.

Yes, without a doubt, I will see you all on the roads - AL

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

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Is My Mojo leaking?

"Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm" - Ralph Waldo Emerson

I usually do all my running early in the morning. Like before work. Like before the sun comes up. Like before whatever the Army "does before 9AM what most of us do all day" does. My radio alarm is set for 4:30, so I usually hop out of bed, shut it off, and grab the running clothes I had put out the night before. Get dressed, brush my teeth, shave, and just like that, I hit the road. Well, one morning this week, I woke up before the alarm at 4:25, so I decided to get up, sit on the side of the bed in the dark for the five minutes waiting for the radio to go off. And just like that, I succumbed. The alarm went on. I turned off the alarm. And I climbed back into bed.

#1) What the heck happened?, and #2) do you know how terribly guilty and worthless I felt the rest of the day? I mean, skip an evening run and you only have a couple of hours to mope around. But, I had ALL DAY!

Motivation. Sometimes you have it, sometimes you don’t. Over the long running haul, it’s the reason we keep going, through thick and thin, fatigue and frustration. I don't exactly know why, but I'm usually motivated to get up and going. Oh, I don't mean that crazy "oh boy, I'm so glad I woke up so I can go for a run" feeling, but the "this is me and it's time to get me going for today" feeling. Motivation comes to us in different forms and from different places. It is intellectual and emotional. It is in our head and in our hearts. Without it, we would never be able to meet our daily runs with any consistency so important to any endurance-based lifestyle. With it we are colorful players on the field, ready to take on the greatest opponents our minds and bodies can throw at us and that's what progresses us through the many stages of running.

But where does it come from? Motivation. Are we born with an innate supply of it and some of us just learn to channel it through different pathways? Do we learn to "become" motivated through life's experience? Some are motivated athletically, some are motivated educationally, and others find their own spark. This may well be forever unknown. What is known, however, is that motivation comes in different forms. Intellectual motivation, for example, is different than emotional motivation.

Like everything linked to the mind, intellectual motivation comes to us through rational thought. The desire to win trophies, gain kudos from friends and peers, run longer miles, or just simply to be "known" as an athlete. These are all intellectual "motives" to which we often succumb. They are motives of the ego. But are these motives long lasting? Will they get you though the most grueling and challenging times? For a time for sure...sometimes for decades apparently. But lately it has me wondering. Oh, not just because I succummed to a single run sitting on the side of the bed. But as my progression as a runner wains, these intellectual motivations have got to be losing their edge to get my engine started every early morning to run. It's just like sugar, it'll get you high one moment, and leave you low the next.

Emotional motivation is different. It runs through your body. It comes from your gut, enters the spine, then without warning seeps through your skin. Before you recognize it, it will give you goose bumps. Wherever it starts and ends, you can feel it. And what's best, it doesn't even have to make sense! THIS is what I never want to lose and what had me bummed out about this one particular morning.

Over the past few years, due to a mechanical glitch that I can't seem to shake, my marathon and ultra running have taken a huge hit. I can't plan races. I can't glide through long distances in training. The running "me" has to be somebody I don't necessarily want to be, but am stuck with it. But, I love to run and just because I can't be that old AL, I don't want to lose that motivation to get out there day after day, even if it's slow, even if it's short. Running becomes a habit, but lose the spark too often, and THAT becomes a habit. OK, it wasn't the first morning I bailed on a run, and for sure won't be the last, but this one just seemed too easy and this one had me wondering if I had a leak in my mojo.

As I write this, I'm in Boston, visiting my son, daughter-in-law, and TWO grandchildren. Adam was two years old this week, and Emma was 5 weeks old yesterday, and I am really into this Grandpa thing...yep,it's motivation to keep moving. And this morning, I stepped out the door and went for an 11 mile run on the Boston Marathon course, and that's a big personal motivation boost because every time I've been on this course (both racing and just running), I feel the enrgy from it. I'll never be able to do the BM again, but don't tell me I can't hear the crowds when I'm running down the empty streets. That's when I say "I love to run". Yep, motivation is inside me, but sometimes I guess I just need a recharge and the aftermath of this time sitting on the side of the bed was just the dolt-slap on the back of the head that I needed. Time to plug that leak

That's all this week. Time to go rock Emma or run after Adam. Haven't figured out how to do both at the same time, but I'm working on it. I'll be back in Birmingham next week, so let's all go for a run and I'll see you on the roads - AL

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

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Free or Not, I Hate Butterflies

"But even so, I still get nervous before I go onstage."
Etta James

Now, let's get this straight. I was not a good High School runner. I did HS Track for one reason only - to get a HS letter and give it to some girl. Man, what a jerk, but that's a subject of another blog...but, I did get the letter back when we said Sayonara. Well, we said more than that, and it wasn't Japanese. During, those years, I also played baseball, soccer, and even some Ice Hockey. When the teams would line up before the starting whistle, there was no gnawing in the pit of my stomach. There was no weakness in my knees like I suddenly needed to sit down before falling down. There was no hope that a storm would whip up out of a blue sky and cancel the game. But, when I ran track, I absolutely dreaded the sound of some big, official bellowing "440 yard runners to your line". God, it was like being punched in the belly.

"To your lines" this non-running adult would beckon. "Where the hell is that storm?" I would ask nobody in particular.

"Runners set"...."No, no, wait". Then the gun would fire and off we would go...everybody speeding away on fresh legs. All, except for me it would seem. I would be trying to mentally direct blood back into my legs that had drained out in that pre-race ritual that would repeat itself before every race. Not exactly the peak-at-the-right-moment strategy for doing well in a race.

You think I would outlive those teen fears, but when I began running again when I was in my early 30's, these feelings followed me to all my races. Didn't matter if it was a 10k, a marathon, or an ultramarathon - there was ol' wobbly-legged Al dreading the start of something I had trained months for, actually looked forward to doing, bragged to others about what I was going to do. It made no real sense, but I can't recall any race I ever ran where I didn't have these butterflies fluttering around.

It wasn't like the obvious nervousness that would build up in the weeks and days leading up to the race. It wasn't obsessively checking the race day weather at least 3 times a day starting 10 days before the race. Or spending most waking hours planning out how the day before and day of the race will go, from what time you will wake up, to what you will eat, what clothes you will wear, to listing out every item you need to pack for the weekend. Or studying the pace chart, memorizing your target splits for each mile on the course. It wasn't the "I wish I had just one more week to train and I'll be Ok" type of nervousness. This was "I'm fine till I step into the starting chute" type of nervousness. And don't give me that "take a deep breath and relax" nonsense. My pre-race mantra becomes “I hate this. Why do I do this? I hate this”, even though I know full well that I don't mean it. Now, understand that I've been doing marathons and longer since 1979, so it's not like I'm a stranger to long distance running or lack confidence in my ability to finish these things. But, I've run hundreds of races, and although the "competitiveness" has shriveled down to zero (except with my present self), the start of these races - that I say I love doing - still scares the begeezus out of me in the mere moments before the "go".

I'm not afraid of disappointing those around me. I’m pretty sure that if my wife ever leaves me, it won’t be because I failed to place in my age group, or worse, DNF’d. Many of my friends and patients don’t run and have no concept of what’s fast or slow. The very fact that I’m running by choice and not because my house is on fire and I’m running for help is impressive enough for them. With the friends that do run, we share a complete understanding of every facet of our running and we don't question any of each other's quirks.

Do you remember your first race? The anticipation, the butterflies, the sweet taste of the unknown. Well, that's me, to some degree anyway, every race. It's kind of addicting, I think, facing something new and outside of our comfort zone and I guess every time I toe the starting line I feed that addiction because every race is new and certainly outside my ever shrinking comfort zone. Can't help it...maybe I don't really want to help it...who knows?

One last note of remembrance. I ran the first 12, and 19 of 20 Vulcan Marathons in total here in Birmingham back in the 80's and 90's. The VM was pretty tough in that we hit one mile hills at 5 and 21 miles. At the crest of that last mile hill, for many years, was sitting a longtime friend of mine, Dick Casler. Dick was a casual runner, but didn't do many (if any) marathons. But, he would be sitting at the top of Red Mountain playing his accordion (yep, that's right) for the gasping runners. It was usually some polka or rendition of a song (un)suitable for an accordion. But, one year, as I gasped over the mountain, I wasn't in the mood for the Beer Barrel Polka so I asked Dick if he knew "Fly Me To The Moon". He said "no". I didn't see Dick for a year (who knows why), but as I crested that same hill 52 weeks later, Dick saw me coming and played the most off-pitch rendition of "Fly Me To The Moon" - definitely not a song to play on an accordion,as if there really is one. Every time I saw Dick after that, I always thanked him. It's funny how a little thing sometimes means a ton to you and you never forget. Dick moved to north Alabama several years ago and I lost touch. I read this week that Dick passed away. The world lost a good person. Dick had a giant soft spot and loved to help people in need...handicapped, homeless, etc., saying "God doesn't make junk".You hold onto memories and Dick occupies a golden one for me. I wonder if he ever really knew. I should have told him more.

That's it for this week guys. Don't forget to read Training With Al if you're gearing up for a marathon in the near future. Hopefully, I'll see you all on the roads - AL

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

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Hmmmm...Road or Trail?

"You won't find reasonable men at the tops of tall mountains" - Hunter S. Thompson

Well, at the beginning of this week, I realized I had reached Al's official beginning of Fall. Oh sure, some folks signify Fall with when the sun shines through Stonehenge in a land far away or when the stars are lined up just right. Nope, my Fall is when I finish my morning run in exactly the same amount of darkness that I begin it in. Unfortunately, I know then that it won't be long before the wind will be blowing from the North and I'll be whining like a little girl about the cold. Well, if Fall is here, Spring can't be far behind, right? We just don't recognize Winter in Al-World.

Once in a while a run will come out of nowhere and just be much better than you were expecting. This happened to me last Saturday. I had planned to meet my good friend, Moha, at the South Trailhead of Oak Mt. For the past couple of years, the technicality of trail running has done a number on my achy-braky ankles, but by cautiously babying them on easier (sissy) trails, I've been doing better for the last several months, even venturing onto what would be the equivalent of a hard green rating trail (as in skiing). Still, I'd have to be super cautious with my foot plants. But, on this Saturday, I felt like I was running at least a little offensively, rather than completely defensively. One of the best purchases I ever made was to buy a pair of Merrell High Top Mountain Racers. They're a little heavy (like small cinder blocks) but I've gotten used to them and they keep me from turning my ankle over like a short-order cook doing pancakes. Going up hills is still a chore and going downhill is just mildly better, but I just absolutely love to run trails. There is nothing, to me anyway, that comes close on the road. Running on a dew-laden trail at the first hint of daylight just a pure joy. You can feel that you belong with the trail in the woods.

I ran my first trail ultramarathon in 1998 outside of San Diego. It was in the "Apple Capital" of California, Julien. Now, it's true that apple growing probably doesn't garner a whole heck of a lot of competition in the Wine State, but they have two things there that are etched forever in my poor, fading memory - the best warm Apple Pie EVER with ice cream, and the best post-race stew...big hunks of veggies made with the tenderest beef. I'm breaking out into a sweat just thinking about it!! Whew! Anyway, for the next decade, I fell in love with trail races and found they differ tremendously from the roads. For instance:

When you start a trail race, don't expect a gun to go off. I've been sent forth by a guy in flip-flops either lighting a cigarette, blowing into a conch shell, or dropping his hat, and yelling "Go!"

No mad dash off the line to get to the front of the pack. No, we take off over a line drawn in the dirt to a lot of laughing and a slow jog There is no applause or cheering—just the soft patter of the runners' shuffling as they disappear into the woods.

No trail runner is anal about the distance like a road runner. A race's stated distance is more of a guide rather than any actual measurement. Our own Oak Mt 50k is actually closer to 33 miles per my Garmin measurements, rather than the 31.2 miles you'd expect on a road. I suspect most trail race directors get a kick out of the occasional surprise mile or 3. As a matter of fact, it's frequently said a race is measured in "Horton Miles", named after a friend of mine, David Horton in Virginia. He directs several races and you can pretty much count on a Horton mile being probably at least 10% long.

In a hilly trail race, walking early in the steeper sections of technical trails is not only an accepted part of the sport, it is considered wise racing strategy. It's not like a run/walk strategy of road races, but it's a "walk the up/run the down" process. Actually, not to use this strategy is usually suicide.

A trail ultra is like a 31 mile (50 mile, 100 mile, etc) buffet table in the woods. When you're spending 5, 10, 20 (or more) hours running, you're going to need more than a handful of energy gels. So, I've seen not only more candy than Hersheys has in Pennsylvania, but I've gulped down everything from whole peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, to potato wedges to pierogies to turkey & cheese to bagfuls of crushed potato chips. Many a runner, I'm sure, has gained weight during his several hour jaunt.

Two things you need to know about trail runners: They're a laidback bunch, and they love their food & beer. The draw to the finish line is not the medal (there seldom is one), but expect an after-party with a lot of good grub. There's always burgers on the fire, fresh baked cookies, pizza, and loads of beer in the coolers.

While Birmingham is not the trail mecca of the southeast, we are making some pretty cool strides. A few months ago, the Oak Mt trail system was named by Runner's World as one of the 25 best trails in the country...whoa!! That's quite a feather in anybody's bonnet. And recently, I read where the "Red Mountain Park Trails" will open soon. This is an area of Southwest B'ham along Red Mountain that is being developed over 1200 acres. When completed, there will be dozens of miles of new trails to run.

And slowly, the Birmingham area is getting more trail races every year. At first, the Xterra series were the only trail races around. Couple of years ago, me & Moha were doing an Xterra Half Marathon at OM. When we came out of one of the trails to a road crossing, the race sentry said "turn right for a straight shot to the finish" - well, it was the finish alright...if it was a 9.2 mile race!! Never got a straight answer from the Race Director as to what happened, but even in negative Horton Miles running terms, 9.2 is WAY different from 13.1. Anyway, another trail system is getting more and more attention as it develops is out at Ruffner Mountain in East B'ham. In November, there will be the very challenging Ruffner Mountain High Crusher Ridge 21K. My good friend, Vanessa Stroud, is directing this race if you are interested in trail running and are in the area, I very much recommend this race. For info and a race app click here. Oh, and Xterra has announced a 21K at Oak Mtn the very next day so we really want to get folks out to Ruffner. Both races are trying to put together a Slim Slam Challenge – complete both and get some good swag. That's the sucker punch kind of thing that ALWAYS gets me!!

I'll see you all on the roads (or the trail) - AL

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

Saturday, September 17, 2011

In The Beginning...

"From small beginnings come great things."

Back when I was a wee lad sitting in church, and the priest would bellow "In the beginning..." I always thought, being a super baseball fan, he was saying "In the Big Inning..." and he was about to tell some story about how
Jesus was a great third baseman or could hit a wicked curveball. Of course, he wasn't doing anything of the kind and went off making me drowsy with tales of Adam & Eve, burning bushes and the like. Later in life, I found that throughout my years, life was chock full of both "Beginnings" and "Big Innings".

This week, we have a beginning all over again. Back in 1984, I was asked to help coach runners train for our local Vulcan Marathon along with my friend, Murray Binderman. I was nervous about someone actually listening to me about how to cover 26 miles...afterall, I had been running these things only 5 years at the time. But, I found that new runners just want some direction from somebody who has "been there" and not killed themselves in the process. I guess I fit that criteria. After a year, Murray had enough and the reins were handed over to me. I continued in this position, even as this race morphed into the present Mercedes Marathon, until the present. So, along with my co-coach, Ken Harkless (since 1998), we will again present our super laid back Sunday Mercedes Training Group. No hand-holding. No hard book-learnin' facts and workouts. Just a friendly group of folks training together. It's free, and well worth the price.

As another beginning, I didn't want this Running With Al blog to become simply a vehicle for training tips, so I began another blog - Training With Al . I think this will make it easier for all concerned (ok, mostly me), to separate my training thoughts from my random-whatever-my-fingers-decide-to-type thoughts. Be sure to go to TWA for all the particulars about our training group, weekly tips about all the terribly exciting aspects of long distance running and be sure to subscribe NOW here!!! I don't intend for it to be "Long Distance Running According to Al" with just tips you can find in numerous books and running magazines, but I want you to realize that it's not done with smoke or mirrors. I always approach training with a common-sense outlook and try to keep things as simple as possible. It's done with hard, CONSISTENT work and no hocus-pocus. If you come to me looking for that magic pearl to make marathoning easy, I promise you this...I will let you know AS SOON AS I FIND IT!! Hope you continue to enjoy both blogs.

As I begin another training group, I was trying to remember back 32 years ago when I decided to run my first marathon (Vulcan '79). You know, I really can't! I vaguely remember training for it. And if you ask me about the specifics of the race, I'd have to stare at you and finally say..."Nope, ain't got nothing". The only thing I really remember was crossing the finish line, not because of the great, individual accomplishment, but because I was so happy to hit the end that I jumped up and tried to slap the finish line banner over-hanging the road. Both thighs immediately cramped when I came down and for several seconds. I couldn't move - wonderful finish line picture! But, you'd think that something that caused your whole life to take a huge turn in direction would be more scorched in your brain. Well, not in this brain. I can remember my first 10k, and my first trail 50k pretty clearly, but most other "first" races are a blur. Ok, it was three decades ago, I know, but how come I vividly remember hitting a baseball in High School over 50 years ago, that traveled at least 500 feet (ok, it was 350) - the sweetness of that bat/ball contact at that very moment can instantly be recalled. That didn't change my life, and I was still a benchwarmer after that prodigious shot, but there it is...clear as a bell. Are all of you like that? Can all of you "veterans" remember your first marathon? Or was it just not as important as I would like to think it was? Just strikes me as funny that this "beginning" into marathoning didn't brand itself into something monumental. Like I said...sometimes my fingers just start typing.

So, we've come from the beginning to the end...the end of this post, that is. Every run, every sunrise, even every breath is a new beginning. Hopefully, this week, some new runners will discover the beginning to a new phase of their lives as they begin training for their first marathon, and no matter how many years I do this, that is always a new beginning for me and I love it.
I'll see you on the roads - AL

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

Saturday, September 10, 2011

All You Need Are Shoes...Baloney!!

"If you don't think too good, don't think too much" - Ted Williams, baseball great

Not long ago, as I was about to go for my run, I turned on my watch to sync with the 9 satellites it could find, I set my mp3 player to the podcast I wanted to listen to, I filled the bottles on my fuel belt, tied the laces on my very technical shoes and put on my moisture-wicking shirt, shorts, and, yes, hat.

As I began my run, I thought about a line I recently read in one of the many running periodicals I subscribe to..."the only thing you need to start running is a pair of shoes". Yes sirree, all you need is the open road or trail and a pair of shoes. So, before I let my mind wander all over the place during my jaunt, I began to foolishly tally up what I put out of my wallet and into my running. As usual, I probably forgot half of what I thought about on the run, but here goes. First of all, you can't run naked. Or, at least you shouldn't...well, at least I shouldn't... so let's look at the basics.

SHOES: Most of us use them unless you are a barefoot runner in which case you will probably pay more for your shoes that are made to look and feel like you are still in your bare feet. How’s that for great marketing? You can go to a place like WalMart and for 40 bucks, you can get a pair of running shoes off the rack that are Nikes...oh wait, the swoosh is upside down! Look out hips, knees, and feet - there's a pounding-a-comin'. OK, don't do WalMart. You really owe it to your body to hit up a specialty running store, like Trak Shak here in Birmingham, and get your feet and gait examined by folks who know what they're doing. They'll run you usually $90-120, but that's all there is between you and the cold, hard, glass and gravel-filled pavement (yes, the hyperbole is for my barefoot friends). And, I’ve read that you should have 2 pairs of shoes, because, like human beings they require recovery time. Seriously? They are a piece of clothing people, not a pet. I just designate my recently retired shoes to 2nd tier - to use when my #1 shoes are not my #1 choice.

APPAREL: Like cheap shoes, you can buy cheap clothes to run in, but nothing is worse than soaking a cotton shirt with sweat and having it get all clingy and heavy on your body (cotton can absorb 17X it's weight in sweat, or just plain water, if it's raining). And, believe me, you don't want shorts that rub and chafe between your legs. That will really make a shower feel like the flaming pit of hell!! So, you better get yourself a moisture-wicking type shirt to run in. There are plenty of big brand names out there that will cost you close to $50. You can get some pretty good cheaper shirts and shorts at Walmart or Target, but just don't expect them to last as long. In the winter, if you're a cold-weather weenie like me, layering is the key. You require a base layer, an insulating layer and an outer layer on the top half, each about $50 a pop. Then, tights will run you from $30 (for fancy long-johns) to 80 bucks for "real" running tights. Moving on to socks, I'm really not too picky, except on the trail. You do much better, again, with a moisture-wicking variety. After that, additional padding, blister free and other specialties are up to you. You don't need to spend $20 on a pair of "Smart Wool" (as opposed to what? Dumb Wool?), but a good pair will set you back $8-10. Lets add another $75 for a Rain Jacket, hat, gloves, etc.

ELECTRONICS: Whoa! Here we go. This is where the cash register really goes cha-ching! You've got to have a GPS watch. How will you know EXACTLY how doggone slow you are running? Or how will you know if the course you run every day is the EXACT same distance everyday? $150 or more. If you want to listen to something other than your own breathing when you run there's the iPod/mp3 player, and what it costs to put music/podcasts on them. Let's say another $50-150. Want to do some high-tech training? Better get a Heart Rate Monitor. Add another $100 to that GPS watch.

EXTRAS: If you run at night you should wear an outer layer with reflective materials and lights. That way, when old folks see your reflectiveness at night, they will gravitate towards the light wondering "What the hell is that?". $20.
Let's not forget the fuel belts you'll have to buy to hold all the supplements and liquids you'll need while out on your longer runs. $15
If you want to find like-minded people to hang around and train with you can join a running club, and they're not free (although probably worth the cost). $30
Finally, during the spring and fall you can run a race pretty much every weekend if you want. But most 5K races alone will cost $20-30 each. True, you normally get a t-shirt and post-race refreshments, and a good portion of your race fee usually goes to some worthy cause, but if you wish to run races regularly, you're going to be out hundreds of dollars a year. And the further the distance, the higher the cost. To make matters worse, the closer you get to race day the higher the entrance fee is. I'm not sure what the point of that is. Let's say a nice round $300/yr and I won't throw in the travel expense.

So, there you are. The "all you need are shoes" tally is over $1100, and that's probably a little on the conservative side. I didn't count gels, drinks, bars, travel, sunglasses, subscriptions to running magazines (that got this whole blogpost started), a bike/gym membership to use when you get injured, or the ever-so-personal jogbra or windbriefs.

Now, with this barefoot thing, I guess the next Runners World article will be "Running is so cheap, you don't even need shoes!". I'll take the shoes, thanks. I'll see you on the roads, and I'll have all the hoopla that goes along with it - AL

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

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Sometimes I Just Sits

"Sometimes I sits and I think, but sometimes I just sits" - Satchel Paige

There are times I sit down at the computer and my fingers go off on a journey that I have no idea what they're going to type. But, I just sit in the passenger seat and before you know it, there I am saying "I'll see you on the roads". This is not one of those times! I am having complete RWA block tonight, so I think I'll just serve you a big helping of RWA Mess. What's that you say? Well, there's an Italian restaurant outside of Boston, I think the name is Camella's, that we always frequent when up there to visit my family. It's more of a walk-in kitchen for great take-out. Well, one of there "specialties" is called Mess - it's literally all different shaped pastas cooked together with sausage, beef, chicken, whatever is sorta leftover from the other dishes they make. It's a mess, but it sure is good. Not sure if this is good, but here's tonight's mess.

Has there ever been a satisfactory answer to why running shoe companies constantly change or discontinue their popular models? Just when it seems you have found that shoe that works, there it goes, replaced by the newer step-up with the next consecutive number. I can see replacing shoes that sell like old Yugos, but why do they replace the popular ones? I mean it's not like you stop buying shoes if you like the older model. You need shoes if you run (OK, let's not go down the barefoot rocky road tonight). Maybe the Trak Shak guys can answer that one.

Why do big marathons sometimes hit you with strange drinks at the aid stations? Here I am, just like hundreds of marathon coaches around the country, branding rule #1 into the minds of new runners - DON'T TRY ANYTHING NEW ON RACE DAY! Then Wham! You find out this huge race is serving Cytomax, or Ultima, or some other vile tasting electrolyte drink on the course. Probably 90% of the runners, including the coaches, have never even had the opportunity to try these drinks out. You don't want to find out on Race Day that Accellerade gives you the runs (I won't mention any names, but...nevermind). That new nector might be the missing link to that miracle marathon, but that's not where I'll bet my 2 bucks. C'mon guys, stick with Gatorade or Powerade, or at least something we can find during training.

Want to try a new flavorful snack? How 'bout Hot Dog flavored potato chips? I kid you not. I think they're exclusively the property of 7-Eleven stores, but you have to hand it to them, it does peak your interest a little bit, doesn't it? One thing that doesn't peak my interest at all is the deep-fried butter they were selling at the Iowa State Fair. Oh man, this country's eating has gone to hell in a wheelbarrow!

On the Red Trail at Oak Mountain, one day, about two years ago, I was going through a section called the Rock Garden (no explanation needed, just run with caution). At a slight bend in the trail, I noticed a little area off the trail that had about 4 or 5 little gnome statues. One had a note around his neck, stating his name and that he was lonely. About a month later, I ran the same trail and the little gnome-dom had grown to about 15. My next visit, I brought a gnome of my own to add to the population. Well, it was about then that my ankles had me looking for smoother trails, so I didn't return to the Red Trail until about three weeks ago. THE GNOMES WERE GONE! Now, I can conjure up a cute story that they packed up and are now living under a bridge someplace, but it really bothered me that some no-good decided upon himself that this was some intrusion on the pureness of the forest. Anybody know where the Gnome nomads went?

You know how something sticks in your head and you keep coming back to it? Well, this has been rattling around in my head the past couple of days...Does Vibram make gloves called Five Toes? Afterall, they are well known for shoes called Five Fingers!! Just wondering.

Finally, this has nothing to do with RWA Mess, or even running, but this morning my son, Michael, and daughter-in-law, Joanie, became the parents of Emma Katherine, my 2nd grandchild. Now, Adam has a sister to protect, a sister to boss around, and most importantly, a sister to love. Emma comes into a world of hotdog flavored potato chips and gnome-stealing no-gooders! I guess if grandpa can take it, she'll learn to also. Welcome to the world Emma.

My bones may be creaking, my blood pressure may be rising, and lately an 11 minute mile sounds pretty good, but as long as my shoes have some rubber on them, I'll see you on the roads - AL

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

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Twin Sons From Different Mothers

"The Fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm is terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore" - Vincent Van Gogh

As I was lacing up my trail shoes not long ago at Oak Mountain, I noticed that whenever I'm there, there is an intermingling of the runners and mountain/road cyclists at the trailhead. We usually don't talk, just a friendly wave or a "how-ya-doin' " nod of the head. Half the bikers will roll on down the paved roads on their carbon fiber bikes that are probably lighter than my trail high tops, while the other half get on their huskier bikes and disappear into the woods. As I began my footed travails through the forest, I began to think about my biking brethren and about when I dipped my toes into the cycling sea. Although we are all in this endurance thing together, we really are in separate worlds in relation to our sports. I feel a camaraderie with them as I do with any endurance athlete, however, I'm always amazed by how much work goes into riding a bike.

About 25 years ago, I decided to buy myself a 40th birthday present and got a bike - I think the brand was Nishiki - surely not American made - and cost a mint. Something like 300 bucks! Then I had to get special shoes that "clipped-in" though I had no earthly idea how to clip-in, or more importantly, how to clip-out, especially in the millisecond it takes from when the bike comes to a complete stop to the "oh-crap-I'm-going-down-because-my-damn-foot-is-stuck-in-the-pedal" moment. Then there was the helmet (obligatory for the aforementioned clipped-in accidents) and special cycling pants, which I never got used to because of their extreme snugness and that area of "extra-padding". Add to that the extra gloves, tubes, cycling computer and tools, and I was getting away for under a grand for the whole biking experience.

Now, I got pretty serious with the riding for about 6 years, though never giving up my long distance running. I was pretty much a fair weather & weekend rider, but I even progressed to doing six century races (100 miles). Funny thing about those - I NEVER got the same thrill as I did when running a marathon or longer. It seemed like the rides were much more laid back without the urgency of a race. And Good Grief...I have never seen a group of athletes eat so much during a competition. We'd come to an aid station and I would be used to flying through, grab something and keep flying. Other riders would get off their bikes, stroll around, fill their jersey pockets like they were going to be stranded in the woods for a week and finally get going again. Like I said, the urgency was missing.

But, compared to running, which I have always enjoyed, biking to me seemed to be either end of the Bell Curve. I mean there were aspects that I loved...the mailboxes go by a lot faster, screaming 55 MPH down a hill is a white-knuckle experience I'd never get running, and actually learning how to use 15 gears was somewhat fulfilling. But, the other side of the Bell Curve was totally unpleasant. A flat tire can ruin any good ride. Riding in the middle of who-knows-where, and Psssssssss....flat as a pancake! Then you have to go through the whole show of taking the tire off, getting the old tube out, then either patching the tube or getting out a replacement tube. Here comes the real fun that I never mastered - getting the new tube back in the tire. This would invariably happen on a 95 degree day and of course I would pick a Fire Ant bed to kneel in to change the tire. Even on days when nothing went flat (tire), broke (spoke), rubbed (brakes), or fell off (chain), I still had to load my bike on a carrier on the car, drive someplace, pump up the tires, oil the gears, and I can't remember what else before I finally was rolling down the road to fitness.

When I rode, even when it was wicked hot out, I could create a breeze and it felt good. I could eat and drink to refuel while I rode without it bouncing around in my stomach. And I can coast down a hill to recover. But no matter how hard the "up" side of the hill was, I could never get over the feeling that it did kind of feel like cheating when I was rolling down without doing a doggone thing.

I outraced dogs, I rode with my son through long country roads, I freaked myself out riding in a lightning storm, and I carried my bike down 7 flights of stairs when our hotel in Gulf Shores had their fire alarm go off in the middle of the night. I have some biking memories for sure. But the big difference in them and my running memories is I think the biking memories have long reached the finish line, while I still have hope for more to bank in the running log.

To those of you who bike, to those of you who swim, to those of you who have your own individual endurance loves, I'm with ya! Running is my love, biking was a passing friend. All the pieces just never clicked between us, but when I see you bikers at the trailhead, or on the road, as Dan Fogelberg once sang, we are "Twin Sons of Different Mothers."

I'll see you all on the roads - AL

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