Saturday, July 30, 2011

Who Let The Dogs Out?

"Nice doggie" - famous last words

I like dogs. They don't seem to hate me but I'm no "dog whisperer". When I run and I see a dog ahead of me I know that nothing good can come out of that encounter. The best I can hope for is to be ignored. The smaller the dog the bigger the problem. Even if the small mutt is actually friendly, it might make a sudden move and I might crush its little paw, right in front of its owner. Big dogs mostly just want to sniff you out (literally) and run between your legs, but there is the occasional Cujo that will scare the living bejeezus out of you.

In our training groups, we have had some wonderful dogs that became a member of our group. We all fell in love with Tamara's dog Mahogany and Mahogany seemed to love all of us. I have never seen a dog so well behaved, or one that loved to run as much as him (her?). Mahogany would stay right next to Tamara, eyes fixed straight ahead, and unlike many of my running companions (or myself, for that matter), he never complained. Unfortunately, Mahogany went to dog heaven. Not too long after that, Tamara showed up with Diesel, a Great Dane that looked like he needed a saddle. He was huge. But just as well behaved and just as accepted as one of us.

But, most of the time, an encounter with a dog will be enough to cause your heart monitor to start beeping "out of HR zone". It's seldom you'll encounter a feral dog. Usually, it's the owners that think Lassie is just spooked by YOU, and YOU should be more considerate and let their dog bite your leg! Actually, they like to say "He won't bite!". Well, he's putting on a frickin' good act like he's going to!! Once, running down Old Rocky Ridge Road, two mongrels came screaming across the lawn at me like Al-seeking dogs. After screaming like a girl and jumping up and down, I saw the (toothless) owner sitting on his porch, smoking a cigarette, smiling at the scene. I'm definitely not an advocate of shooting somebody, but my mental needle shifted closer towards "acceptable".

The most effective method I have found to thwart an aggressive canine is to bend down like I'm picking up a rock. Usually this stupid acting job is enough to cause Fido to slam on his paws and retreat. If that's not enough to convince him, then I continue to a deeper level of my acting ability and raise my right arm like I'm going to fling this imaginary rock right into his side. I'll also say "Maybe I have a rock in my hand, and maybe I don't. In all the excitement, I've sorta lost track myself. So, Punk, I guess you have to ask yourself do you feel lucky today? Go ahead Fido, make my day!!". Now, usually Fido has backed up with a stare trying to figure out what the heck I'm doing and by now I'm too far away to deal with. Also, jumping up and down yelling "Go home" sometimes works. I think this works better if you're 6'4" tall instead of 5'6" like me.

Once, I was running down South Lakeshore Drive and a Doberman came running down this huge lawn towards me. I was about to go into my "rock" routine, when one of my synapses said "Wait! It's a doberman, fool! You raise your hand with your imaginary rock and he'll rip your arm right out of the socket". So, I stood frozen still and let him sniff anything he wanted to. Long after he lost interest and trotted home, I took my first breath in 10 minutes and I was able to whimper away.

I've never been bitten while running, but I'm always afraid I will trigger its hunter instinct (if a pug dog has any that is). Saw the other night on the news, two bad rifle-wielding dudes trying to rob a convenience store. These tough guys were run out of the store by Paco, the killer Chihuahua. Funniest thing. Bet these guys would rather go to jail than to face there hysterically laughing buddies!

I've learned two important things: NEVER try to stare down a dog. Once I tried to stare down a German Shepherd , kind of like "You picked the wrong runner today Rin-Tin-Tin". That dog showed his teeth and growled - when I came to, the dog was gone!! The 2nd thing is dogs are very territorial. If Bad Dog is sitting on his porch, go to the other side of the road...slowly!! Dogs love to chase running things! Either you are a threat or a potential morning snack. Never turn your back.

So, there you have it. As I said, I don't hate dogs, but when I'm running...alone...on a dark morning...zoning out, I just don't have enough ticks left in my ticker to handle Rover sneaking up along side of me and saying "Boo" in dog-talk! Guess it's better than a bear in the woods. Hope I never have to write a blog about that. Well friends, that's it for this week. I hope you all your doggie encounters are pleasant and I'll see you all on the roads - AL

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

Saturday, July 23, 2011

You ask. I answer

"Explain to me how an Apache brave can chase down a runaway mustang and I've got kids who get tired playing basketball" - Abe Lemons

Thomas Voekler is my hero. If you haven't been following the Tour de France, you have absolutely no idea what I'm talking about. If you have been following it, no further discussion is necessary. He is every endurance athlete's hero - big underdog...bigger heart...never, ever gave up. NEVER!!

When you've been around as long as me and God have, you find yourself frequently amongst runners or non-runners, and when a conversation ensues, there is usually certain frequent questions and comments that arise. Now, don't get me wrong. If I had to ask my mechanic a question about my car or my agent about how insurance works, I'm sure they could write a much better post that this. But I thought I would try to collect a couple themes that pop-up in my running life around my non-running and running acquaintances.

I'll bet you can eat anything - Sure I can. And so can you. Oh wait, you're talking about not becoming what is politely called "big-boned" or "husky". Well, running is NOT that great a weight loss tool, but it does help. Plus, you will generally navigate to a healthier way of living in general.

Don't your knees hurt? - My ankles scream, but my knees are super. No studies have been done to show running increases your chances of getting arthritis. Of course, running does keep the weight somewhat under control (see above), and as a PT, I know 50 extra pounds makes your knee cartilages wear out like the midsole of your running shoe.

How fast can you run a mile? - I haven't the slightest idea. Can't ask how fast I can run 26 miles, can you? Wait, lately, I don't want to answer that one either! Last time I ran a mile for speed was in High School, and that was too long a distance that almost killed me. I mean it was FOUR times around the stupid track!!

Don't you get bored? - Yeah, when I get asked questions like that I get bored! I've been running over 30 years, and there have been many downsides to my running, but I wouldn't put boring in there. I could run the same course every day and it's a new day for my running.

(In cold weather) Won't your lungs freeze? - That's always a laugher. Depending how well I know the inquisitor, I'll tell him what part of my body I'm afraid of freezing - ain't my lungs buddy! Whoever invented HotHands should be King for life. And as a tip, HotHands don't HAVE to be only used to warm up the hands!

Why do you run? - Why do you not run?
This is one question that most runners don't have to ask. However, if they do, the stream of thought can be endless, philosophical, insightful, intriguing, unique, and as special as any given run. Being runners, we understand why we run - how we feel when we don't run - what we run for. Non-runners ask this question of runners more than runners ask it of themselves. Unfortunately, most runners, including myself, struggle to answer this adequately.

I run some, but I'm not a real runner! - So, you're a fake runner? If you run, you're a runner. If you run/walk, you're closer to a runner than a walker. If you walk, you're a walker. BUT THEY'RE ALL REAL, MAN.

Do you run or do you jog? - AAARRRRGGGHHH! Just see the previous question. If you're bothered when somebody asks you this question, then you are DEFINITELY a runner!

How far is that marathon? - Usually followed with "I ran a 3 mile marathon walk-a-thon once!" The answer "26.2 miles"...other runs are shorter than a marathon or longer. Got it? Doesn't even compute to most non-runners.

Do you run the whole way? - Now, here's where some fudging comes in. Answer "NO, I walked a little" and their heads nod approvingly as if they want to say "Well, I could do that!". So, the stock answer usually is "Yep, cowboy. Sure did"

Did you win (the marathon)? - Yes, I sure did.
How long did it take you? - A little over an hour
That's pretty good, isn't it? - Yeah, pretty good. The subject quickly changes and they never check

How many miles a day do you run? - well, that varies. I tend to feel compelled to explain my weekly program, with the big emphasis on the long day. Usually comes down to "Oh, an hour or two, maybe more". Again, it means nothing to them.

When's your next race? - This is usually asked in the finishing chute of the race you just finished. Sometimes it's asked at the starting line before the gun goes off, at which I like to answer "This one".

Do you like those shoes? - No, they kill my feet, but I paid money for them, so I'll wear them till I wear them out and I can throw my money away on another crappy pair.

What pace are you going to run? - Usually asked at the beginning of a marathon. I guess it's an honest question, but whatever the answer, most likely that plan will evaporate fairly quickly.

Did you read BORN TO RUN? - God, I hate that question. What is it? A right of passage into the Running New World? Yes, I read it. Now, the fun begins because I thought mostly it was a pile of non-substantiated theories that will lead to a whole host of new running injuries. Wait, I'm a Physical Therapist, so, yeah, business is good...Keep reading...Keep running's my card...see you soon!

Despite my occasional angst at having to answer these questions, I love it. In my clinic, if I can sway one non-exerciser to begin a program, another brick is put in Al's life-mission wall. When training new runners, I try to drum it into their heads to ask a million questions. I don't know all the answers (or even a small percentage of them), but the more you ask, the more we both learn. Whether you're a teacher, a doctor, a politician, or whatever, there are going to be some questions you will hear again and again. You've just got to smile. If you're a runner, lace up your shoes and go. If you're not yet a runner, get some shoes, lace 'em up, ask questions, and I'll see you all on the roads - AL

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

Saturday, July 16, 2011

It's All About Moving Forward

"You know you're an ultrarunner when you go to bite into a hamburger at the finish line bar-b-q and get a cramp in your jaw" - Thomas Kennedy

Well, this has been quite a week. First, I want to thank all of you that have sent your prayers and thoughts for my wife's recovery after surgery. On Thursday, she had a back fusion and I'm happy to report she is doing excellent. I don't know how happy she is about living with a Physical Therapist, but at least I try to keep her on her feet with laps around the house and using proper form with her ups and downs. I think wearing a stopwatch around my neck adds a nice coaching flair to all of this. We've begun some hill training (stairs) and intervals are coming up soon. I've about convinced her to wear a pedometer to see how much she walks everyday. Yes, I've planted seeds of PR's and time goals. I thought getting her a GPS watch might be pushing it a little. Hmmm, maybe I'll give her my old one and heck, what could I do but get a new one? Anyway, thanks again for your thoughts and we both hope her "marathon" training goes smoothly.

I know I promised a couple of times that this blog wouldn't be a review of endurance events going on around the world, but Good Grief, this stuff just doesn't stop amazing me and it keeps coming. Last week, I wrote about a new Ironman World Record of 7:45 and how amazing it was. Well, that "unbreakable" record lasted all of one week!! Andreas Raelert did a 7:41:33 at the Ironman Roth in Germany. This is getting ridiculous with the times. He did a 2:41 marathon! In addition, at the same IM, Chrissie Wellington also set a Women's WR with a 8:18:13. Not only did she run a 2:45 marathon, but she did a negative split!! For you new guys to running, that means she did the 2nd half of the marathon faster than the first! In the 30+ years I have been doing marathons, I don't know if I EVER ran a negative split. I was lucky to finish on the same day I started. With that time, she would have a qualifying time for the USA Olympic Trials! Too bad she's Australian.

Also, last week, I wrote about how tough the Tour De France riders were. I was talking about their endurance - NOT riding along at 30 MPH and getting hit by one of the Press cars, careening the rider into a barbed wire fence!!! Holy crap!!!! Now, here's where the toughness comes in. This guy gets 33 stitches, zips up his man-suit and gets back on the bike, finishing the 118 mile stage! There are definitely different levels of toughness, and this guy is near the top of the pyramid.

Got an interesting email yesterday, wanting to know if the marathon training clinic had any fee attached. I answered him, asking what clinic he was referring to. He forwarded me the latest Trak Shak (our great local running store) newsletter, stating that "Once again, starting September 18th, Al DiMicco & Ken Harkless will be conducting the Mercedes Training Runs". Sometimes, you're the last to know! But yes, as we have done for the past hundred years or so, Ken & I will be gathering up the troops on Sunday mornings and yelling "go". I have put the training schedules for both the half and full Mercedes runs on the sidebar of my website You can also find the maps there for most of our runs. We won't begin the training for 2 months, but it won't hurt to build a base now. I'll write more about the philosophy of the runs (pace, courses, schedule,etc) as we get closer. Email me if you have any questions. Oh, and yeah, it's free, so no whining!

Finally, it seems like I'm doing a lot of reading this summer and most of it seems to be revolving around the great running endurance events. This week, I'm about halfway finished with Tales From Out There: The Barkley Marathons, The World's Toughest Trail Race by Ed Furtaw. For the past 25 years, every March, an almost impossible trail run is held in Frozen Head State Park in Eastern Tennessee. Every year, the race director changes the course a little in an effort to make it impossible for "runners" to finish. He's been pretty successful with only 10 finishers in the 25 years! It is advertised as a 100 mile run with an accompanying 60 mile "fun run". There are 20 mile loops that have time limits you have to meet to be allowed to continue the next loop, but generally, the total time limit is 40 hours for the fun run and 60 hours for the whole enchilada. Sounds pretty liberal with the time, doesn't it?
1) the loops were finally measured by GPS and found to be 26 miles long making the total of the runs 78 miles/130 miles with 49,000 feat of elevation in the long run!!!! But, the Race Director still calls the distance 60/100.
2) The Race Director is Gary Cantrell, who I used to know pretty good in my formative Ultra days. He lives near Brushy Mt. State Prison and in the early 80's, James Earl Ray (the assassin of Martin Luther King) escaped into the Frozen Head area. FIFTY-FOUR hours later he was caught TWO miles from the prison completely lost, dehydrated, severely cut up, and probably glad to be caught. Gary thought, "Hell, in 54 hours I could be halfway across the state!". So, he ran in the park, saw the difficulties James Earl encountered, thought about the possibilities, and he designed this poorly marked, brier-laced, incredibly mountainous, nearly impossible race.
Good reading when you want to see what that "there's-another-world-out-there" is doing.

Ok folks, that's about it from the RWA studio for this week. Good luck to the USA Women in the World Cup Gold Medal soccer game tomorrow. I'm in the great minority here in Alabama, but this is my kind of football. I won't be at Brownell on Sunday this week, but I'll be sure to see you all someplace on the roads - AL

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

Saturday, July 9, 2011


"I always start these events with very lofty goals, like I'm going to do something special, and after a point of body deterioration and the goals get evaluated down, the best I can hope for is to avoid throwing up on my shoes."
- Ephrain Romesberg (65 miles into the Badwater Ultramarathon)

I'll say this - these feats and events of endurance just keep coming like a runaway train this summer. I get so jacked up watching, reading about, and following these events. This blog should be a reflection of MY experiences of training and racing, but it is endurance that drives me and that sucks me towards these events like a black hole. Over the years, it became a part of what defines me. It is one of the areas my mind wanders to when it wanders to areas my mind wanders to. Back several years ago when I was doing 24 hour runs and racking up 100+ miles at a time, I had an inner strength that I felt was virtually indomitable. That's not to sound braggish. It was just that I knew any race I began, I had trained myself into a pretty good position to finish it. That feeling was built through hard miles in training and smaller races leading up to the main event. It was a confidence of knowing who I was, and what I was capable of enduring. Didn't always hit my goals, but I was usually in the ballpark. Just because you age (like me), or just because your anatomical mechanics hit a snag (me again), that causes you to physically take yourself off the Endurance Interstate onto the Service Road of running, the mind doesn't give in so easy. The bucket of my Bucket List gets smaller by the week, but all these endurance events going on get me so fired up. Let's see what's going on...

Belgium's Marino Vanhoenacker set the fastest time ever recorded in an IronMan event, when he produced an extra-ordinary 7:45.28 performance at the Ironman Austria. It came thanks to a 46:49 swim(1.2 miles), a 4:15:24 bike leg of 112 miles (that's over 25 MPH) and a marathon time of 2:39:24 (how 'bout 6:05/mile?). He beat the 14-year-old previous best mark by nearly four and a half minutes. I've never attempted even a kid's mini baby triathlon, but I tried to do biking followed by running once and I felt like my legs were a foreign attachment to my torso. I'll never understand how triathlete's ever find time to train, nevermind compete.

Next going on is the Tour De France. Every summer, for decades it seems, I get wrapped up for three weeks in this 3000 mile trek across France. Stage after stage of 100 mountainous miles or more, day after day, 198 riders (22 teams of 9), battle it out, but not necessarily just against each other. The team battle is just about as big as the individual race. Each team member has a specific job in the pecking order to take care of the head honcho rider of his team. And his position is displayed for the world to see on his bib number - i.e. #87 would be the 7th rider of the #8 team. There is a ton of internal racing etiquette, many races within the big race ( general points, points for sprint races DURING the stage, and mountain leaders), and of course the race for the Yellow Jersey (the big fromage). I read that these riders will burn 6000-8000 calories per day, but they consume at least half that during the ride! It's interesting that the illegal drugs you hear about being connected to bike racing has to do with increasing their ability to recover quickly, NOT race faster! I start whining when I run 3 days in a row! I ran The Pikes Peak Marathon in 2004 and I think I'm still recovering!

Finally, is the one that really makes me break out into a sweat..The Badwater 135. This race begins on Monday (July 11th) when roughly 90 runners line up in the desert of Death Valley (the lowest point in the United States - 282 feet below sea level) and run through the desert to the portal of Mt Whitney (the highest mountain in the 48 contiguous states). That's 135 miles of being exposed to constant sun and temperatures up to 130 degrees!! You might think this is a fairly flat course - nah, this ain't no sissy race. You traverse 3 mountain ranges and there is a total elevation gain of over 13,000 feet. If you finish under 48 hours, you get a Belt Buckle!! I just don't get these races that give out Belt Buckles. Anyway, there is a 60 Hour cutoff (AND you earn a medal!). Several runners, after they finish (and rest a while for sure) continue their unofficial trek another 11 miles to the summit of Mt Whitney (adding another 6000 feet of elevation). I remember when this race used to be the Badwater 146 and finished on the summit, but the Park Service put the quash on that. Some non-running bureaucrat said something about red tape stuff. I've read two excellent books about Badwater - Just finished "A Few Degrees From Hell" by Scott Ludwig, and "To The Edge" by Kirk Johnson. If you're in the Birmingham area and ever thought about the mechanics of doing this race, give Prince Whatley a call. He crewed a couple of years ago for his friend, Sarah Powell.

OK guys, I'm getting winded just writing about these events. I guess in the past few years my fascination has elevated to another level with the ability to follow them instantly on Twitter, Facebook, or the race's website. I remember the days when you'd run a marathon and the results would be mailed to you 2-3 weeks later. If any of you remember that, drop me a comment. Or drop me a comment anyway, or follow me on twitter @ runningwithal47. I'm not crazy about Facebook, so let's stay away from there to keep in touch. Hope you all have a good week and I'll see you on the roads - AL

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

Saturday, July 2, 2011


"Without ice cream there would be darkness and chaos."
Don Kardong

I'm writing this as I'm winging my way at 35,000 feet back from Boston. Had a great trip visiting my family and wearing my grandson out trying to prove to him who had more energy and endurance. Of course, he has the advantage of a mid-day nap, a somewhat perfectly balanced diet, 10 hours of sleep at night, and a whole array of these cool nutritious snack things. I, on the other hand, am lucky to get 6 hours sleep at night (self-induced by my attraction to reading, TV, and computer technology at night, and getting up basically at 4;30 every morning), a poorly balanced diet heavily tilted towards carbohydrates in the form of pasta, and having a history of 64 years of life behind me. I think I kept up pretty good, though I did have moments of mental thoughts of "Good Grief, slow down". I did try to put a dent into his diet thing though with a trip to the Italian Ice Cream store. You know what? We both sure enjoyed vanilla ice cream mixed with peanut butter (hey, carbohydrates, fat, AND protein - perfect!!)

Another total joy was doing the Inaugural Boston Athletic Association 10k with my son, Michael. We did a half marathon a couple of years ago and had a blast. This one was just as blastful. Because we knew we weren't going to "race" and also because of an ill-timed per-race porta-john visit, we began in the very back of the pack...I mean THE VERY BACK! The race began in three waves, each about 4 minutes apart (still haven't really figured out why - there were only 3000 in the race) and we were so far back, we heard the volunteers basically saying "Ok,that's it" as we crossed the starting line. I don't want to give a "race report" because those are usually pretty boring, but let it be said that the second half of the race is basically the last 3 miles of the Boston Marathon course. For those of you who know me, this is like sacred ground to me. And because my endurance is several levels below marathon condition these days, when we went under the Citgo Sign (one mile to go) I was able to very accurately relive those wonderful late marathon feelings after only 5 miles of running instead of 25! In other words, I generally felt like crap! Finishing time was not important (that's what you say when your time is a little foreign to times of past races...ok, it was 1:03), but we had such a grand time laughing and talking most of the way that it was a perfect run. After the race, we got the obligatory Gatorade and bagel, found a patch of grass in the Public Garden and rehashed the race, wondering how we got hammered by the Kenyans. Actually, I had the leader in my sites at 5 miles - of course he was on the other side of the street and I was only at 2+ miles but I'm sure he felt me pushing him! Michael & I decided next year we would skip the running and just come get the Gatorade and bagel and come sit in the grass.

One of the funniest moments of the race was just as we passed 4 miles. Now, most of you know how I feel about this minimalist shoe craze going on. Not crazy about the way it's buffaloed it's way into the running scene, but that's fodder for a future RWA. Anyway, here we are, just flying past spectators like they're standing still, when we catch up to this guy CARRYING his Vibram Five Finger shoes and running completely barefoot. So, I saddleup next to this guy and said "I have to ask you...does completely barefoot actually feel better than the Vibrams or...well...what the heck's going on?". So he says "I just LOVE (his inflection, not mine) these shoes, but I haven't run many long runs in them and I got a bad blister on my little toe, so I took them off". Long runs? We're at mile 4! How long a run is long? OK, I wondered how bad must his feet feel wearing the Vibrams that the best option is actually running barefoot in the streets of Boston. I told him to cut the toes of the shoes off and maybe it'll feel better. Hey, maybe real shoes would feel better. Just a thought. As I say, give me the technology, and some rubber between me and the Mother Road.

Finally, on Sunday, I got a call from John Gordon. If you remember from a couple of posts ago, John was going for his 50th state. Well, he made it, finishing Kona. A big congratulations to John. He said it got hot the last 6 miles. Yeah, yeah, John, but no matter how bad it was, the finish line was still in Hawaii!! Now, I just have to keep hammering about the fact that he hasn't done a marathon in Washington DC. Of course, his excellent comeback is "It's not a state!". You win, for now.

Ok folks, about to put wheels down and I'm getting a scary look from the flight attendant. Better close here. I'll see you on the hot Birmingham roads - AL

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