Saturday, November 26, 2011

Dear Diary...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Old Horse Keeps Trottin'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Have Marathon Times Gone Nuts?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I'll see you on the slower roads - AL

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

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Long & Winding Road Begins To Straighten

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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