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"