Saturday, February 26, 2011

Running is So Simple (Ha!)

"The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there." - unknown

How many articles have I read and how many times have I heard "Running is so simple. Just put on some shorts and shoes and go.". Now that I run a lot slower, I have much more time to think, and I was thinking about this the other day. Yeah, sure, when I began running, I'd throw on any old cotton t-shirt, a pair of gym shorts, some cotton socks, a pair of shoes and hit the UAB track. Those shoes were Puma something-or-other that I really did purchase at Walmart. I think they matched my shorts, so they were the right shoes for me. These shoes would practically last me the whole first year I ran. It was pretty simple.

So, back in 1978, there was only one Running Shoe store in Birmingham, and that was Versal Spaulding's Running South. OK, it really wasn't a store, but an old garage in which you walked into and there were stacks of shoe boxes going up all the walls. He had several folding metal chairs, the most personable smile, and a knowledge of running shoes that we didn't even know was necessary. Well, two things occurred at the same time - I happened to treat Versal's wife in my PT clinic (and she got well), and my beloved Walmart Puma's had given me a rip-roaring case of plantar fasciitis. So, Versal got me down to his store and gave me a pair of my first "real" pair of running shoes - Nike Elites. When I put them on, they fit like gloves that were made just for me. I couldn't believe how soft and comfortable these were compared to my concrete Pumas. Unfortunately, these Elites were on the opposite side of the Bell Curve of stability (as in none), so they didn't help the plantar fasciitis, but they did make me take that fork in the road that traveled towards the slippery slope of running technology.

Through the many years, I humorously weaved through the evolution of running gear that at the time was like "the future is now". I remember how excited my neighbor was when he "discovered" this miracle running suit that was supposedly water resistant. I remember two things - 1) it was called Gamex, and 2) it didn't matter if it was water sweated so much wearing it that it stuck to your skin like Saran Wrap. It definitely wasn't water resistant on the inside. Gamex didn't last long.

Then came the miracle running fabrics that "wicked" the sweat from your skin as you ran. Polypropylene was the first I remember about 1980. I recall there was a store called Athlete's Foot and they were the first to sell this. Well, one week, they had a Gambler's Sale where every day the price of items would drop another 10% or so. I went the first day, found a Polypro shirt in my size, and stuck it in the back of the women's shorts so it couldn't be found. I went back 5 days later and picked it out of my secret hiding place and got it for 70% off! Not a great story, but 30 years later, it's still fresh in my mind, so either I'm proud of my cunning, or still guilty from bending the rules. Anyway, I can't say Polypro really kept you dry, but I was convinced I was wearing a miracle, so ofcourse I was running faster. And running shirts would never be the same.

I can never forget the first digital Casio chronogragh I had. It had a metal silver band, could hold 10 splits, and a one-run memory. Yep, 1981 and I'm running the Marathon Marathon (named after the Oil Company) in Indiana. At about mile 18, I'm sweating up a pretty good storm, look down at my watch, and it's literally shorting out right before my eyes. Not sparks and smoke, but all the numbers looked like some alien dashboard. Then the whole thing went blank. I guess it was water resistant to a depth of skin sweat! Ever since, watches have been almost a fetish of mine. Do I really need a watch that tells me the difference of altitude from my first floor living room to my upstairs bedroom?

Once, I ordered a Gore-tex hat (!) from a running magazine. The hat cost $10 and the shipping was $12. To this day, I have no earthly idea why anyone would need a Gore-tex hat.

I've gone through a couple of Heart monitors. Never could get it quite right because I never could quite accurately figure out what my maximal heart rate was, which is a very integral part of the idea of a heart monitor. It just was a constant novelty on my wrist that told me my current heart rate that I never really had any idea if it was good or bad. I guess I got my greatest enjoyment out of it by seeing how low it would go before an early morning run...not to see if I was in shape, just to say "hey, 44, cool". By the way, I now have an app on my phone that gives me my pulse and I do the same exact thing in the morning!!

Yeah, running is real simple. Shoes, shorts, go! The whole idea for this post came about two weeks ago as I was laying out my clothes the night before the Mercedes Marathon:
Dri-release shorts (short or long?)
Coolmax socks (thick or thin?)
Thin long sleeve dri-release top (decision was set because I was a Pacer)
Hat (oh man, the statement decsions to be made here)
Ankle supports (one or two layers?)
ID bracelet (so if I get hit by a car in the middle of 6000 runners, the medics know who I am)
Garmin GPS watch (so I know how far 26.2 miles is)
The RIGHT pair of shoes ( I rotate two)
Gloves or no gloves. Favorites or throwaways? HotHands?
Compression socks (the newest addition to the Running Managerie)

And this doesn't touch on what to wear TO the race, or what to pack to wear AFTER the race. And this is a local marathon!!
I can't imagine how complicated life must be for triathletes!

OK, folks, that's it from RWA Central this week. I have to go lay out my clothes for tomorrow morning's run. Supposed to be cold and that means layers, so I need extra time to think about this. I'll see you on the roads - AL

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

Saturday, February 19, 2011


"Dead Last Finish is greater than Did Not Finish which greatly trumps Did Not Start" - on a marathon t-shirt

What a week! Winter got confused and the temperature is hitting 70 this week, baseball spring training is under way, and ol' AL, for the first time in 2 years, finally finished another marathon!!

Yes, I put a lot of mental eggs into this basket. A year ago, I probably wouldn't have given myself a snowball's chance in hell to finish another marathon. I mean, it wasn't like I got some serious health problem, or fell off a cliff, or gained 100 pounds, I just have had a lot of birthdays and a lot of miles in my feet, and instead of my ankle joints gliding like glass rubbing on glass, I had sandstone rubbing on sandstone. My running went from trying to qualify for Boston (more on that timely subject later) one year, to struggling to get under 10 minute miles the next...then 10:15...then 10:30...and so on. I still had the marathoner's mind, just not the wheels. I had to give up my coaching the TNT group after 15 years, and had my first calendar year since 1979 that I didn't run a marathon. I ran about 20-25 miles on good weeks and didn't put in one 20 mile run in 2010. All of a sudden, writing "The Non-runner's Guide to Marathon Training" seemed in my future. Through all the stretching, grunting, limping, Aleve, ice and whatnot, I always still felt I wanted to pace with the 5 hour group at the Mercedes Marathon and that was my comeback marathon goal. I have paced every year since year #2 (out of 10), although my effort was aborted at mile 15 last year, and I desperately wanted to finish this year.

As the Pace Team Director, one of the advantages is to place the volunteer pacers at the times I think they are needed. So, as I did last year, I deftly placed Marie Bartoletti from Pittsburgh to be the other 5 hour pacer. Now Marie has done 197 marathons and ultras and has also tacked on a couple of Ironman races and cycling adventures. What she spelled to me was my insurance in case I had to bail out again, I knew she was gold to get our group in.

Last weekend on race day, God smiled on Birmingham and gave us the most beautiful day to run. It was 30 at the start and warmed to 60 by the early afternoon. No wind, low humidity. There were a little over 6000 in the race (marathon, half, and relay) and we had about a dozen in our pacing group. I won't go into the details of the race itself, but we paced evenly and a core of 5-7 runners stayed together. One of the runners, Veronica, has been battling ITB problems the last 6-8 weeks, but has been showing up every Sunday at our training runs, having to cut a few runs short. She has (stubbornly) ignored my pleas that she change from the full marathon to the half. So, at about 14 miles, her knee began to complain enough to cause her to slow down. Now, also at this point, my ankles are not screaming, but slowing down was not voted down by internal registered voters. So, I decided if Veronica was going to gut it out, she'd have her coach by her side to watch for potholes (actual and mental). She hurt on the downhills, I hurt on the uphills, so we were a perfect non-match. Marie got her roadies in right at 4:59, and me and Veronica crossed the finish line in 5:09. She was ecstatic to finish her first - I was as ecstatic to finish my 129th. I really didn't know if I was going to last 26 miles when we lined up, and now it's a good feeling to know I can once again say I run marathons without the verbal rope-a-dope. Whether you run it in 2 hours or 6 hours, 26.2 miles is a long way. Congratulations to all of you that finished the marathon, and the half marathon. As I said to Ken after the race "I'm back in the saddle again but I'm not eager to get back in the saddle again".

Before I close this week's edition of RWA, I have to comment on the Boston Marathon once again making the throngs of would-be BM runners spit up. Essentially, due to the warp-speed that the 20,000 slots filled up this year (8 hours), something had to be done. Now, before I give my opinion, you have to realize that this is from a view that I have run 5 Bostons and have qualified 6 times AND the fact that now Grandma Moses has a better chance of qualifying than I do. Essentially, for the 2012 race, Boston is opening the registration process on a "rolling admission"...faster qualifiers get to register first. Then, for the 2013 race and beyond, the rolling admission remains PLUS all qualifying times are reduced by 5 minutes PLUS they are dropping the "59 second lifeline". This meant if you were running for a certain BQ time, say 4:00, you could run a 4:00:59 and that time would count. No more! So, is all this unfair? Of course not. Boston is one of the most prestigious races in the world and one of only two that you have to qualify for (the Olympics being the other). It shouldn't be easy. They can set any rules they want to. Where it is unfair is that they are changing the rules mid-stream. Say you barely qualified by a minute at Chicago in the fall. So, now you've been doing fast-finger intervals so you'll be ready to hit the computer when registration opens next September. Then Bingo! - you have to wait till the SEVENTH day of registration to even have a prayer of getting in! You can't change it to TWO STRIKES AND YOU'RE OUT after you're in the batter's box! It's not first down and 15 yards to go after the kickoff. If you want an elite field of very fast runners (along with few doctors and charity runners), that's fine. But if Jane Doe busts her butt reaching the qualifying standards by the rules you set, don't kick her in that same butt because now you want to change those rules. If Tom, Dick, and Harry meet the standards, they should proceed with the same restrictions they KNEW before qualifying (not being fast enough on the computer). C'mon Boston, show a little more class. You can see the changes at

OK guys, that's all from sunny and warm Birmingham for this week. We will continue to be at Brownell every Sunday at 6:30AM. Now that the temp has gone up, there should be much less whining from the group (ok, from me!). I'll see you all on the roads - AL

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

Saturday, February 12, 2011

And Away We Go....

Weather forecast for tonight: dark. Continued dark overnight, with widely scattered light by morning. - George Carlin (1937 - )

Hi Guys - Well, that above quote is about as close to accurately predicting the weather as I can get. But, for those of you that are going to be running in the Mercedes Marathon or Half Marathon tomorrow, it LOOKS LIKE it's going to be cold (30 degrees) at the start. So, you say to yourself "well, that'll be easy. I'll just put on a bunch of layers and be toasty warm". OK, couple of things wrong with that. #1) if you've been reading RWA, you know one of the few constants in this world is that you will warm up when you start to run. #2) there will be virtually no wind to speak of in the morning, #3) the humidity will be low, and #4) it will be sunny and it's supposed to warm up to 55 degrees by noon. See, the problem here is that you have to walk from your car to the start. During that short time frame is when you'll probably try to make your decision as to what to wear for the race. You're nervous, it's dark, and you're not thinking clearly in the first place. Focus on what you've learned, folks. One long sleeve, and possibly a light short sleeve or singlet over that. If you want to start in a windbreaker, and then toss it to a friend or tie it around your waist, that works. GLOVES are essential!!! Gloves that you really don't care about are great because you can toss them when it gets warm. However, I have been known to wear gloves until the temp got into the 60's - guess they just become a traveling partner. If it's really cold, a couple of those "HotHands" to stick in your gloves are great to generate some heat. They make the equivalent of "HotButts" too, but I haven't tried them, so I can't tell you their worth. I know some of you don't like hats, but that's where you will lose most of your body heat, so it's probably a good idea unless you like complaining (not always a bad thing - it warms you up, too). Probably the thing I'm asked the most about when it gets cold is "Should I wear tights?". Well, not when it's 50 degrees, and unless you can think of quick way to change, you'll be pretty uncomfortable when the temp rises and you feel like you're cooking from the bottom up. If it's windy and cold, I might wear tights - and they feel good - but in a marathon where it's going to warm up, I don't think it's a good idea at all. You'll be miserable enough without adding to it.

This is just meant to be a quick primer for tomorrow and not a overall discussion of all cold weather gear. If you ran last year, it was 26 degrees I think, so just look at last year's photo and see what you wore then. Can't be simpler than that. I wish you all the best of luck. Over and above everything else, remember this is just a run. Put it in it's proper prospective. We all have goals. Sometimes we meet them and sometimes we don't. When you don't, you figure it out and try again. When you reach your goal, pat yourself on the back for a while and then get back to work towards the next goal. Goals are a lot more than 26 miles of pavement in Birmingham, Alabama. For all you TNT folks, your individual goal pales in relation to what you have done - raised monies that will be used to eradicate a most horrid disease that is the leading cause of death from cancer among children. Each of the dollars raised is that much closer to a complete cure. So, tomorrow, whatever your time is, be proud of yourselves. The same goes for those raising money for our local Bell Center for Early Intervention. Whether you've raised money for charity or not, you've put in lot of work over the past few months and tomorrow is test day. Have a good time being the star.

I'll be pacing the 5:00 group, so before the race, stop by and say Hi so I know somebody reads this. Or better yet, run with me for a while. Tomorrow is kind of a personal test for me. Due to having too many birthdays, gradually my once proud marathon & beyond lifestyle has taken a dip in the toilet. If your joints go south, it's hard to log the magic miles. Whereas 20 miles used to be a weekly run with friends, my last marathon was 23 months ago, and I've only banked two 20 milers in the last 18 months, so "nervous as a kitten" is putting it mildly. So yeah, I have goals, but they're way different from even just a couple of years ago. I want to finish with my group (I've niftily paired myself up with Marie Bartoletti as my co-pacer - she's done 195 marathons & ultras and is like dependable clockwork. So, if I falter, she's like gold for the group). If not with the group, I want to finish just to get in that "marathoner" mindset that only us that have done these distances that others call "crazy" know what that mindset means. So, just like you, I'll toe the line and see what tomorrow brings. Whatever the outcome, I thank the Great Runner upstairs that I still can toe that starting line and I always thank Him for friends like you all. Even if you're not with one of the pace groups, run or walk a smart race. And somewhere, maybe tomorrow, maybe next week, I'll see you on the roads - AL

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

Saturday, February 5, 2011


"If you make every game a life and death proposition, you're going to have problems. For one thing, you'll be dead a lot." -- Dean Smith, basketball coach

Hi guys - What the heck happened? I guess Father Nature returned from his vacation and decided to get back to work. Warm early morning runs last week and this week, I'm freezing my butt off again. Had another short ice storm and sightings of snowflakes that nearly shut down the city AGAIN! Could be worse. My son in Boston almost can't see out of his living room window because of the snow! When Bostonians complain about the snow, you've really got something. Kind of like an Eskimo saying "Man, it's chilly out!".

So many things to cover this week and I know I'll leave somethings off that I'll remember later today. Ah, the joys of getting old.

First of all, on a very serious note, we, in the Birmingham running community, were deeply saddened when one our half marathon trainees was hit by a car while running early one morning this week and very sadly passed away. Sundeep (Andy) Caplash was only 38 years old with a lovely sad. You always think something bad will happen to the other guy, but as my dad always said "To the other guy, you're the other guy". My dad was pretty deep! Please, if you run in the dark, make yourself visible with reflective gear, blinking lights, or some other warning. When I switched to early morning running, I was reluctant to wear reflective stuff (guess it was a macho thing). Now, I look like the State Fair. Andy's legacy should be that we ALL vow to be safer. I didn't know him well, but in our close community, it does strike a special chord with all of us when a tragedy like this happens. I know many of us will dedicate runs or the upcoming marathon to Andy. So sad!

Well, here we week from the Mercedes Marathon and Half Marathon. Hope I didn't surprise anybody with that last sentence! If I did, then it's time to get serious about your training. The good thing is that you can just ease right into your taper week. I hope some of you are getting nervous, because if you're calm, then you don't get it, or else you're one supremely confident person. Nervous energy is good as long as you can control it and you keep it positive. Don't let it develop into panic as the week progresses. Keep reviewing the training you've done - you've been out there for months in the rain, heat, cold, wind, snow, everything that Father Nature could throw at you. You've done your 20 miler, you're 17 miler, your 15 milers. Why in the world would you have negative thoughts? When I was training for my first marathon (I think it was the one right after Phidippides died in 300 BC), my mentor, Max Michael, told me if you can get through the training, then you're a marathoner. Yes, so many things can go wrong on the BIG DAY, but let's just put that in the "things we CAN'T control" column. Your body is ready and rarin' to go, Don't let idle negative thoughts muck it up. If you've been following the taper plan, then this will be one easy week. Tomorrow, the full marathoners do 11 miles and the Half Marathoners do 15 miles - just want to see if you're paying attention - you guys do 6 miles. Then the rest of the week is laid back with just a few miles to keep the legs loosened up. NOTHING you do this week will help, but you can do a whole lot to screw up your race. My usual schedule is to take Monday off, run Tues/Thurs, off Friday, then a short 20-30' jog on Saturday IF I feel like it. I like that Saturday run especially if I fly to a race on Friday, but seeing that I don't plan to fly the 10 miles from Hoover to downtown, I'll probably take Saturday off and spend part of the day at the Expo. All runs or walks should be done at the same pace you have been doing in training - don't goof off just because it's taper week and don't try to cram in any speed work! Eat normally, which should mean 60-70% carbohydrates and don't stuff yourselves. The fact that you're running less will cause your muscles to store the extra carbos you're ingesting just by eating normally. Drink often - don't pass a water fountain without taking a swig. Don't worry, you won't get hyponatremia walking around the office! By now, you should know my #1 bit of advice - KNOW THE COURSE!!! Get a hold of a course map, including the elevation, and look at it EVERY DAY this week. Then try to picture yourself running the course comfortably, I don't want anybody to ask me at the start "Are there any hills?". Hopefully, you locals have done at least one of our "on-the-course" training runs. If not...Too late!! There is so much confidence gained in knowing the course.

I've put together a team of Pace Leaders that will pace 4 - 5 hours ( 5 groups at 15 minute increments). If you've never used a pace leader, it does take some of the strain of thinking off of you. All you have to do is run! Once, when I was about to lead a 4:30 group a few years ago, some gruff runner asked me "Do you guarantee I'll finish under 4:30?". I answered, "No, but I guarantee I'LL finish under 4:30!". A Pace leader studies the course and will adjust the pace during the run so energy is spread out to allow the goal. I'll be leading a 5 hour group, and although the overall pace is about 11:30/mile, I doubt we'll run many 11:30 miles. But, we'll get to the church on time.

OK, that's about it from Running With Al Central. Tomorrow is the huge Futbol game and I sure hope Birmingham City can muster the energy to beat West Ham in the English Premier Soccer League. I know you all feel the electricity. Oh yeah, then there's that other Football game with the 3 hour halftime show. I'll be rooting for the Steelers, but I think the Packers have the better team. How's that for covering my bases? Speaking of bases, pitchers and catchers report for baseball Spring Training next week - Yey!! I know, I'm, baseball, running...I hope you all have a good taper week, and most of all, run safely. I'll see you on the roads - AL

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