Saturday, June 25, 2011

Musings in Boston (Again!)

"It takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that" - Red Queen, Through The Looking Glass

Flew up yesterday to Boston for my bi-monthly visit to see my son Michael, daughter-in-law Joanie, and especially our 20 month old grandson, Adam. Man, it is amazing how much they change in just two months. When I last saw him, Adam could barely say "dis" and "dat". Now, he's got a pretty good array one word thoughts and ideas and seems to understand a whole lot more than I anticipated. I never envisioned being Grandpa could be such a joy. Plus, it's a great way to try to stay in shape. I mean it's constant up and down, throwing him around, riding him like a 25# weight on the end of my leg, and being my own private medicine ball. He's running all over the place, so I'm planting all kinds of seeds to nurture this into a talent he can enjoy his whole life. Long distance running my boy...honest, it's a real chic magnet. Think he'll fall for that one?

Tomorrow, Michael and I will embark to downtown Boston for the 1st Annual Boston Athletic Association 10k. Now, I haven't run a 10k in a few years, but this will be just for complete fun. A couple of years ago, Michael and I ran a Half Marathon together and it was a complete blast for me. Michael had never gone that far, and it was on my birthday. The medal we got is one of those special "bookcase" medals I have displayed that I wrote about a couple of RWA posts back. We'll get a medal tomorrow and I plan to display it right next to that HM medal. Sometimes your favorite mementos have nothing to do with how you do in the race. As a matter of fact, I keep saying I hope my time tomorrow for the 6.2 miles is faster than the last time I did a 10 mile race! It's probably going to be close. I'll let you know next week how the run went.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the RAAM - the cycle race across America. 3000 miles of the-clock-doesn't-stop-till-you-reach-the-finish-line from California to Maryland. Well, the winner in the men's solo division finished in 8 days/8 hours. The female solo leader is still racing, but should finish today (11 days +). The first 4 man team did the 3000 miles in 5 days/11 hours!! Just amazing. I don't cycle (used to, but my butt got sore and I hated, JUST HATED (!), changing flats) but I now those of you are awed by this, because I sure am.

In the running scheme of big events, this morning, The Western States 100 Mile Run began in California. Now, this is not the steepest 100 miler, or even the toughest, but it is pretty dang tough, and old, and certainly prestigious. It's like the Boston Marathon of Ultra runs. Every Ultra runner, somewhere deep inside him wants to give WS a shot sometime. What makes this run so tough (well, the 100 miles has something to do with it) is overall, you ascend more than 18,000 feet of altitude, and the temperatures can range from the 20's to over 100 degrees - on the same day!! There's definitely snow...there's definitely mud! That's what running through mountains and canyons will do. If you finish under 24 hours, you get a silver belt buckle and under 30 hours earns you a bronze buckle. Over the 30 hour cutoff gets you and "Atta-boy" or "Atta-girl". About 60% of the starters will finish. There's another world out there folks.

On top of all this, this weekend I began reading Scott Ludwig's book "A Few Degrees From Hell" about the Badwater 135 Mile race through Death Valley. I'm halfway through it and just reading it gets my heart a-thumpin'. I'll write about this race in a couple of weeks, but all I'm trying to point out is 98% of me is stoked about Ultrarunning. Too bad my damn legs won't cooperate. Let's see how the 10k goes tomorrow.

Ok folks, gotta go. Adam is waking up from his power nap and grandpa has to be ready to get his butt in gear. I'll see you all on the roads - AL

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

Saturday, June 18, 2011


"I ain't in no slump. I just ain't hitting" - Yogi Berra

OK, guys, this won't be long. I'm on my way to my cousin's 5 year old birthday party and if there's anything that I enjoy more than a dozen pre-schoolers jacked up on sugar, I just don't know what that might be! I'll tell you one thing that wasn't jacked up on anything this morning was ol' AL during his run. Let's just say 7 of my 9 miles wasn't bad at all, but then, WHAM! Good Morning!!! The hills were steeper, the temperature shot up, and the cement in my legs began to set, I mean really hard. Despite stopping twice for water, I still lost 4# along the way to the environment. Funny thing...I put my water bottle out, but after going out to get the paper before the run, I smartly said "I don't need no stinkin' water bottle". I mean, this is from a brain with over 30 years of long distance running experience! I may learn someday, but time is running out.

I made a huge decision last weekend and wound up changing shoe brands. I ran in New Balance for about 15 years straight, Then, in an effort to improve my ankle mechanics, and at the suggestion of Jeff down at the Trak Shak (DON'T go anyplace else if you're in Birmingham!) I switched to Nike Air Pegasus (Pegasi?) for the last 3 years. The pain improved some, but I was getting desperate for the magic shoe, so back to TS, and had a good long talk with Scott Strand (Birmingham legend and Olympic Marathon Trial runner). Essentially, he said take a deep breath and let's look at the Kahru Fast Ride. Now, the reason you have to take a deep breath is because they are a BRIGHT Lime Green!!! But, as I told Scott, I would wear Dorothy's shoes from the Wizard of Oz if he thought they would help. They have some technological gizmo in the sole that is designed to take some stress off the ankle transitioning through the roll and push-off cycle. After a week, I feel they may be helping (this morning's putrid finish had nothing to do with my ankles). The whole point is that if you are having any issues with your running that might be shoe related, speak to guys who know this stuff. There's a lot out there, from minimalist shoes (DON'T SAY BAREFOOT SHOES!!) to the Hoka OneOne that looks like a clown shoe rising you up with a 40mm sole. But, surprisingly, the Hoka is getting some excellent reviews from noted runners (mostly ultra guys). I'll keep you posted on how my Green Lanterns are doing.

Finally, a good friend of mine, John Gordon, will be flying to Kona, Hawaii this week to run the Kona Marathon. For the past 8 years, John has been on a quest to run a marathon in all 50 states, and this will be the cork in the bottle! Having followed John through this journey, I can tell you that though most folks pass it off as just "50 States" and what sounds like not that big a deal, this is one heck of a hard, expensive, and tiring accomplishment. With just about all of them, he travels and runs alone, and he sure doesn't boast about it - he just keeps doing them for his personal achievement. For the 49 so far, he has averaged 3:55 for each marathon. I asked him what his favorite was and the hugely surprising answer was Detroit! He loved running into Canada on the Windsor Bridge and coming back to the USA through a tunnel. The fact that he qualified for Boston with a 3:28 there didn't hurt either. Good luck John and a big congratulations.

Ok, guys gotta go. What do you get a 5 year old Princess for her birthday? I'm leaning towards a birdfeeder. Cinderella fed the birds, didn't she? Next week, I'll be in Boston. While I'm there, I'm "running" the BAA 10k with my son. That should be a whole lot of fun...not fast, just a whole lot of fun! So, either here, there, or someplace else, I'll see you on the roads - AL

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

Friday, June 10, 2011

RAAMing Speed

"You gotta have a dream. If you don't have a dream, how will you know when a dream comes true?" - from the musical South Pacific

As many of you know, I love feats of endurance and although my attempts at it have been mostly bordering on pitiful, middle-of-the-pack-living-as-Walter-Mitty examples of pushing to the limits, it's still a passion of mine. Yes, there have been times in the woods where I was sure death was around the next tree (maybe hoping?), or in hour 21 of a 24 hour run wondering if Relentless Forward Motion was some sort of twisted dream, or thinking "Damn, 100 miles is one hell of a long way". But, somehow, having done dozens of these runs, my mind could get into a certain place, hide, and come awake at the other side of the tunnel. It comes down to four words...YOU JUST KEEP GOING!

I have always been enthralled by events, books and tales of overcoming staggering odds - you know, like Earnest Shackleton, or climbing Everest, or crossing the Sahara. And when you couple that with an athletic event, like Badwater, Triple Ironman races, or RUNNING across the Sahara well, I think my mind sounds like Gomer Pyle looking up at the skyscrapers in New York City...GOLLLLLLYYYYY!! Once you step onto the sideroads of ultra events, like I have, you marvel when you see or read about some athletes that do their events on relative interstates compared to my sideroads. I'll review some of my favorite books in a future post, but beginning this week will be one of those athletic events that 1) literally is so amazing that it is hard to get your head around, and 2) it goes basically unnoticed by 99% of the population. This is the RAAM - The Race Across America cycling race. Within Ultra-endurance athletic circles, it is one of the most respected and longest running annual endurance events. Since 1982, each June, cyclists dip their feet in the Pacific Ocean somewhere near San Diego, the gun goes off, the clock starts, and the clock doesn't stop till they dip their feet in the Ocean on the Right Coast in Annapolis, Maryland - some 3000 miles away!

This race has different categories, from solo to teams of 2, 4, & 8 persons, but it is the solo riders that awe me. This is a Race. Unlike other famous races, like the Tour de France, RAAM is not a stage race. The race is one stage that is almost 1000 miles longer than the famous Tour! This race is essentially a time trial...a 3000 mile time trial! In stage bike races, a time trial is usually called The Race of Truth. Well, my friend, this is more than a race of truth. It is a race to find out exactly what you're made of, what's inside you, who you are, and really, what is the breaking point and can you somehow get around it to finish.

In the heart of the race, in the solo division, this transcontinental crossing competition goes through 12 states and has greater than 170,000 feet in elevation (>32 miles!). They will usually ride 250 - 350 miles per day and will finish the race in 8 - 12 days averaging less than 3 hours of sleep per day. Now, while the clock is running, a support crew handles all of the logistics – food, fluids, navigation, clothing changes, medical needs, bike repairs, etc. so that the racers can try to focus on racing while they also must coordinate their nutrition with mostly staying on the bike and dealing with the many injuries, hallucinations, mechanical and mental breakdowns so unique to this long bike race (no, I won't go into them, but just use your imagination).

Just to get a taste of this epic ultraendurance event, take a look at the trailer of the movie BICYCLE DREAMS http://youtube/alEHvr-zKm0 .There is also a book recently released called HELL ON TWO WHEELS by Amy Snyder. I heard an interview with her and it sounds like she's captured the passion of these cyclists, but I don't think you can ever get them to eloquently answer the question...WHY? Several posts back, I tried to convey that there is no answer. It's just "in your blood". You can follow the race at

Ok, one more thing staying somewhat on this biking theme. This morning, I was running and listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Competitor Radio ( ). I have NEVER heard a bad show on this podcast. Anyway, they were interviewing Conrad Stoltz. He has won 40 Xterra competitions and 4 World Championships. Been an Olympian twice and obviously raced the world over. He was asked what his favorite race is and he said...get ready...Xterra Alabama!!! He went on about what a great venue Oak Mt is and how he loves the course going around the lake and talked about Blood Rock. It was really pretty neat. If you download the episode, the Oak Mt part is about 30-35 minutes into the interview.

Hope you all have a good week and whether you're on your bike, in a pool, or pounding the pavement or trail, I'll see you on the proverbial roads - AL

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

Saturday, June 4, 2011


We must not be hampered by yesterday's myths in concentrating on today's needs.
Harold S. Geneen

There are a lot of myths about running. I think I’ve heard them all, but here are a few.

You really shouldn’t run so much. It’s bad for your knees

FALSE. The most common heard myth about running is that it will ruin your knees. This has never, ever been proven in a well-designed study. Studies on osteoarthritis of the knee and hip in runners and non-runners have found that it is a problem in both groups equally. If genetically you're doomed to get arthritis, then the road has been paved for you. Running makes little to no difference in whether you will develop arthritis or not. Running may actually help to maintain a healthy joint. Now, if you have a pre-existing joint problem because of a previous injury or arthritis, then running may accelerate it. I find the biggest contributor to knee arthritis is weight. Every pound translates to 1.5 pounds of force in the knee joint with every step while walking. Assuming the average adult takes 5000-10,000 steps per day, you can see where just a few extra kilos can add up.

Don't run if you have a cold

FALSE. Generally, the old adage applies - if the cold is in your neck or above, it is usually safe to run. Now, I'm not saying you're going to have the run of your life. As a matter of fact, I'm prone to say you'll probably feel like crap, but if you must run, then you most likely will not endanger your health. If the cold is in your chest, or if you have a fever...c'mon, use some common sense and bag the run. You might spread the infection in your lungs, prolong the symptoms, keep throwing up, but're keeping your running streak going!

You should buy a new running shoes every 500 miles

TRUE. Back when I started running (with the pilgrims), I would take great pride in getting close to 1000 miles on a pair of shoes (no foolin'). But, this is where shoe technology has developed to protect your joints by discovering new materials. Unfortuneately, this technology also breaks down sooner. Modern shoes can still look as good as new after a year, but their impact-absorbing properties drop off significantly after 350-500 miles depending on your style and weight. Some conspiracy theorists view this as a way for shoe comapies to up their sales, and this might not be 100% nuts, but in an effort not to limp around any more than I do, I say Bring On The Technology.

Running on a treadmill is not as effective as running outdoors

FALSE. Although there is arguably less impact on a treadmill, which is more forgiving than the road, the big plus of a treadmill is that it will make you mighty honest to running at a cetain pace or you will be off the back of the treadmill like George Jetson. The effect of air resistence that is lost on a teadmill can be easily compensated by raising the incline 1%. I remember training for Pikes Peak and here in Alabama, the steepest hill I could find was an 8% grade and Pikes rises at 11% for 13 miles! I found out you can almost die on a treadmill when you put it at 11%!!

I’m a runner, so I can eat anything

FALSE: HOO-BOY, that's a good one. Yeah, you can eat anything, but you'll be big as a double-wide! The truth is that most runners burn about 100 calories per mile (same as walkers), so you do the math...5 miles equals 500 calories...come home, eat 1000 calories and your 500 in the hole. Plus, now you're whipped and the lawn doesn't get cut, the car doesn't get washed, and the Couch of Doom draws you in like a black hole. See where I'm going with this? Unfortunately, old habits die hard, and I really, really like my peanut M&Ms.

Running is counterproductive to strength training

TRUE: But only if your goal in life is to compete in the national weight lifting championships. A good exercise program combines both strength training and intense cardio, whether running or not. Weight lifting will protect your joints from the pounding of running, especially if you emphasize a low weight/high rep program. I know some pretty big Arnold-looking dudes who are fast runners.

You've got to run hard to sweat

FALSE: I love when folks say to me "I'll bet you can run a mile and not even break a sweat". The truth is I just THINK of running a mile and I sweat! A runner's cooling system is much more on alert to cool you off, hence you sweat like a pig pretty easily. Think of how many times you over-dressed in the winter and were drenched under your 3 layers two miles into the run.

You aren’t a runner until you’ve completed a marathon

BIG FALSE: You’re a runner if you run, period. The fact that I can run a marathon and you run 5k's just means we run different distances loving the same sport.

You must carbo load before a marathon

FALSE: What’s a marathon without the traditional pre race carbo loading dinner? Now, I can eat pasta every night of the week. I mean look at all those different shapes. To me they're as different as potatoes are from tomatoes! And they're all just jammed packed with tons of carbohydrates...and isn't that what we were taught our little running muslces craved in RUNNING 101? Those heaping plates of pasta the evening before your marathon have become an accepted part of marathon racing. But, do you need those huge helpings of pasta? Not really. Your pre race taper combined with your normal high carbohydrate helpings of food will get you ready for your race. You neither need nor want excessive portion sizes before your race. The large amounts of food can actually make you sluggish and tired on race morning. And let's not even talk about becoming friends with Mr. Porta-potty.

Higher Mileage is always better

FALSE: Higher mileage isn’t always better, but it may be under certain circumstances. Of course, it depends on what your goals are. There are a lot of runners out there that think the more miles they put in the better they will do. That is only half true. It’s true that more mileage will usually result in better performance, but only up to a point. Several studies have shown that up to about 70 miles per week you will reap a lot of benefits from increasing your running volume. After 70 miles per week you still see some gains but they are much smaller. Most runners can perform very successful marathon running on 40-45 miles per week, or sometimes, even less.

Running will give you a heart attack or other heart problems

FALSE: This is one of my pet-peeves. Every time there is a marathon in which a runner unfortuneately dies, all these non-runners come off their couch to tell you "See what happens if you run?". Look, let's take 50,000 runners in a marathon and 50,000 couch-potatoes and see how many of each has a heart attack. OK, the truth is that DURING a vigorous exercise, like a marathon, , there is a 7x greater chance of having a heart attack, but regular running and other forms of endurance exercises can reduce your overall risk of a heart attack by up to 50%. So, once again, I ask you to do the math. You're damned if you do (exercise), because every workout carries a small, transient risk. However, you're much more damned if you don't (exercise), because you're far more likely to suffer from heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and similar lifestyle diseases. Simply going out for a run most days of the week is doing far more good than bad for your heart.

Wow, RWA went way too long this week folks. I better go for my run before it gets too hot. Thank goodness it's not the winter, because you know if you run in the winter, you can freeze your lungs! I'll see you on the roads - AL

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