Saturday, December 31, 2011

Musings from Boston to B'ham

"I'm an idealist. I don't know where I'm going, but I'm on the way" - Carl Sandburg

And so another trip to the frozen north comes to a close. If you've been following along with these RWA posts, you know I have family up in Boston along with two grandchildren, so we try to get up there every 2 months if possible. Adam, now 2 years old, was having his first Christmas where it was evident that something good was going on, and Emma, now just about 4 months old was having her first Christmas period.

We boarded a flight on Friday that I think must've been the "Day-Care Special". I swear, it was filled with babies, toddlers, screaming, crying, and all kinds of young children, hyped up on either sugar or just the excitement of Christmas itself. But, it got us to Boston, and that's what mattered. Adam has progressed from just putting some random words together to now speaking complete sentences, like "Grandpa, go sit over there", and I better sit "over there" quick. His mood swings from the absolute sweetest thing to the absolute poster boy for "terrible two's" is instantaneous. He is a Bell Curve on a see-saw in emotions. Every time his wrath was directed at me, I took it personally, UNTIL I saw this same behavior could be thrown at mommy, daddy, gram, or the Holy Pope himself. Each day it got easier to accept that this behavior was the norm for the course. Doesn't affect my son or DIL (Michael & Joanie) at all. One time, Joanie took a blueberry off Adam's breakfast dish at which point all hell broke loose with Adam yelling "Mommy took my blueberry". My son's only response, while he calmly sipped his coffee, was "Perfect English". He's also gotten very polite, like in...Mommy: "Adam come here right now"...Adam: "No, thank you".

Meanwhile, four month old Emma is a doll. She doesn't sleep a whole lot, doesn't cry a whole lot, but sure does like to hear her own voice all throughout the day and night. It's amazing that she just melts into restful quietness while you walk her, but don't dare sit down, or even stop walking. Then, the dark side of kicking and fussing appears. But, you can imagine that grandpa was way happy to walk her around as much as she wanted.

On Christmas morning, my wife & I took over the breakfast duties and produced pancakes in the shapes of Santa, a Snowman, or a Reindeer. This was very popular all around. Later that morning, with a full tummy all carbo-loaded, I decided to go for a run. As opposed to last year, there was no snow on the ground at all and most of the time the temperature was in the 40-50 degree range. But, when nature heard I was running, the temp dropped into the 20's and there were snow flurries - perfect for a Christmas run. Got a little lost when I decided to do some exploring. Without the sun to guide me through cloudy skies, I got a little turned around and my 6 miler became an 8 miler. I find when I run in Boston that folks you pass while running in the North are just not as friendly as in the South. I tend to say Good Morning or a simple Hey to most people I pass going the other way, but get few responses north of the Mason-Dixon line.

The next morning, I ran with Michael in a "race" called the Operation Jack Marathon, Half-Marathon, and Satellite Run. The marathon and half are actually in San Diego, put on as a fund raiser for autism, but you can enter and run anywhere you want and do basically any distance. We entered a few weeks ago and decided to run a 10k. Now, get enter, and they send you a shirt, a very nice medal, and a race bib! All for $35!!! I mean I just read where the entry fee to the NYC Marathon is $225, and a lot of that money goes to a bunch of Kenyan runners - not exactly a charity. Anyway, we ran a 6.7 mile course along a riverway to downtown Boston, ran the last mile on the Boston Marathon course, bowed in reverence to the BM Finish Line, and returned home. I thoroughly always enjoy running with Michael, and with all the highlights of the trip, this was at the top.

So, now back in Birmingham, this morning, the B'ham Track Club and the Trak Shak put on The Resolution Run. Usually, the End of the Year Run is on the roads at Oak Mountain, but this year we did a trail run on the newly opened trails of Red Mountain. Once, a heavily mined area, it is now turning into a great running and hiking trail system. It's pretty hilly, but not super-technical. On a personal level, I decided to wear my low-cut Mizuno Trail shoes for the first time in 2 years and my ankles didn't squeal at all. I have been wearing Merrill High tops on the trail which I think has allowed me to keep trail running (running is a relative term) to some degree. What I think has really improved my running is switching 2 months ago to Hoka Bondi B running shoes for the road. If you're a minimalist fan, then don't even look them up on the internet or you'll go into spasms. If shoes are a Bell Curve, you've got Vibrams on one side and Hokas on the other. I am completely sold on them. Any questions, just email me.

Tomorrow, a new year descends upon us, and one usually looks back and says we're glad the old year is gone. Sometimes, it has to do with running performance, and that is understandable as running certainly has it's grip on most of us. But, I'm not glad the old year is's just another mile in the race - some ups, some downs - and I look forward to the next mile. I hope you all have a great and wonderful 2012 in all aspects of your life and along the way, I'll see you on the roads - AL.

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

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Sylvester's Fight

"That dog'll know he's been in a fight when he tangles with this piece of machinery" - Sylvester the Cat

Hi guys - You know, that quote is pretty funny, but should reflect the "fight" we all have when training, so that when our race comes, we'll be sure we give it our all, at least all of what we want to give. As Steve Prefontaine said, "To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift". We are all training for different reasons, but they are important to each of us, and once we develop the gift that has been given to us, we need to use it to our fullest extent. That doesn't mean we need to race all out, or train till we drop ALL THE TIME, but #1) we need to keep our goals in full focus in front of us, and #2) we need to enjoy our abilities. I am so tired of reading stories about runners who "ran" marathons and can't wait to tell the world about the trip through hell that they survived. Sure, I don't know these folks, but give me a break - you chose to do this, you (hopefully) knew what was coming. You'll be telling the story of your accomplishment for years. OK AL, off your soapbox, back to your, where was I? Oh yeah...if your race doesn't go exactly how you planned, or what you had hoped, hey!...did you do your best on that particular day? If so, there you go! That's all we have to ask ourselves. You don't have to answer to anybody, but you.

I just love to run. Sometimes it's an easy jog, and sometimes I'm trying to do it like I did in High School (well, that wasn't particularly good either!). But, if I lace up my shoes to race, I'm going to do the darndest to reach whatever realistic goal I have set. Now, granted, that goal may take drastic detours during the race, but there's always SOME goal out there ("Surely I can beat that woman pushing the stroller in the Easter Bunny costume smoking the cigar"). I say all this because I hate when runners and walkers get so down on themselves that they don't realize what special folks they are.

We all run for our own reasons. Maybe we run to escape or perhaps we run to evolve or perhaps we run to experience. We run to live and we live to run. Sounds crazy to tell some non-runner that, but every runner understands.

Most us run because we want to and some among us run because we think we have to. We run to open ourselves up and we run to close ourselves down. It's an intensely personal thing and nobody should tell us how to do it, why we should do it, or what it means to us to do it. We know why, how, and for what we run, and that's all that matters. Running takes us places nobody else knows and makes us into the people we are meant to be. That's the way it has always been and the way it always will be. The rest will take care of itself.

Enjoy what you're doing because it's what you want to do and be kind to yourselves. Every run doesn't have to be a fight, but when it is, keep that fight like Sylvester, but make it your fight.

As I write this, I'm up in the frozen north of Boston, visiting my son, daughter-in-law and TWO grandchildren. I'm not crazy about this getting old stuff, but grandchildren certainly put a brighter light on this whole age thing. I hope you all have a great holiday season, and next week, I'll see you all on the roads - AL

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

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Week In The Life Of...Me!

"The secret to getting ahead is getting started" - Hal Higdon

Sometimes , as I've said several times before, I just don't get slapped on the side of the head with an idea to write in RWA. Most of the time, I'll get an idea early in the week, and periodically I'll be able to go back to it during the week and somehow (more of surprise to me than to you), a finished product comes out and off it goes on Saturday morning to the millions of subscribers - ok, about 150. Well, that idea just didn't POP this week, but several things did occur.

As many of you know, I was a Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Team-in-Training Run Coach here in Birmingham for 15 years, and it was an honor to coach these folks with a mission to help cure cancer by using their bodies as vehicles to run marathons and half marathons in order to raise money for research. It's easy to write a check and doing that you should feel good to donate, but try starting a running program to raise money when you've never run before and be told by some perky TNT Director singing "You can do 26.2" and they show you some video of all these smiling folks in purple shirts dancing across the finish line. Seems easy at the time, but then Coach Grinch (me and all the other TNT coaches) step in and instruct you through 5 months of producing sweat and wearing out the rubber on your shoes. There is nothing more rewarding to a coach than to see these folks pour out everything they have to cross that finish line (and yes, they really do smile). About a year and a half ago, I had to reluctantly step aside as coach, but this week I have been asked (and happily accepted) the position of Alabama/Gulf Coast Flex Coach. This is a program for folks that don't have access to TNT Run groups in the large cities or don't have time to do group training. Their training is mostly done on their own, but strongly reinforced by email, phonecalls, and web provided training and info by the previously aforementioned very special Omnipotent Flex Coach. I'm very excited about being in the TNT fold again. If you have any interest in finding more about TNT call 205-989-0098 or click here.

No matter what sport you follow, there is always that amazingly close game, that special competitive match, that unbelievable come-from-behind moment. With me, I get more pumped up watching a gritty running race than I do watching a close football game...give me somebody coming from way back in an Ironman...Or a marathon runner that has that "Ok guys, here I go. Who's going with me" moment. But, being an ultramarathoner, you seldom see one of these moments because they usually occur in the woods, far from any cameraphones, never mind any TV or Video capabilities. Well, Thursday, I had the extreme thrill of viewing a screening of the movie "Unbreakable". This is JB Benna's excellently made film of the 2010 Western States. I won't name the runners because they don't mean much to most of you (I guess), but this race (which is called the Boston Marathon of Ultras) featured 4 ultra icons: one undefeated at any ultra distance, one undefeated in all his 100 mile races, one who was the two-time defending champion, and one basically the European Ultra Champion. I have no idea how they got the shots in the woods that they did, but I want to know who that cameraman was because he hung with these guys while they were running 7 minute miles over rocks, creeks, mountains, and all kind of whatnot. I won't tell you who won, but it was one of those "WOW" moments. I was ready to go out at 9 o'clock straight to Oak Mountain and put in a few late night trail miles. I was captivated by the whole movie and plan to buy a copy of my own. Just Great Stuff!! If you want to see a trailer of the movie, click here.

Finally, this morning, I delved into a world I have known would be good for me but avoided for many years - YOGA!!! Now, you have to understand, I have a body that has the flexability of a Festivus Pole! As a Physical Therapist, I have to tell my patients "I want you to do this, but I want you to go further!". Well, one of our Sunday runners, Kevin Bokus, is a Yoga instructor, and he has a Saturday morning class. So, after assurance from Kevin that I wouldn't snap, I strapped on a small backback with dry clothes and ran the 3.5 miles to the class. During the hour class, some things were very evident: 1) the Festivus Pole is more flexible, 2) I have absolutely NO balance, and 3) my core is mush. But, I did enjoy the class very much and I think (I know) it will help my running. And I like this Saturday routine of running to and from class - easy way to get 7 miles in before the Sunday long run. If you might be interested in one of Kevin's Yoga classes (he also does Monday and Tuesday evenings), you can email him at

So, that was my week and I found something to write about. Now, don't forget we run from Boutwell Auditorium downtown tomorrow at 6:30AM. There will be Powerade and Gu on the course and the rumor is the Boutwell Lobby will be open for warmth and bathrooms.

I'll see you on the downtown roads - AL

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

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Here's Mud In Your Eye

"There is an eagle in me that wants to soar, and there is a hippopotamus in me that wants to wallow in the mud." - Carl Sandburg

Look through any running magazine lately and you see many ads for these "manly-man" mud & obstacle laden races popping up. Suddenly, there's a niche for falling in knee-deep mud, hurdling fire pits, jumping over barbed wire, and throwing in a little running. Of course, this is all topped off with copious amounts of beer drinking and slapping each other on the butts about a job well done. Guess I'm a little too old for this challenge...well, count me in for the beer drinking. The Muddy-Buddy series around the country seems like a ton of fun where you and a partner alternate running and then riding/pushing/carrying a bike through, over, and around super dirty messy obstacles. But, this fun has morphed into "Warrior Dashes" where it seems you're risking a lot more than an age-group position at the end of the race.

Back, a few weeks ago, I was running with Sam, a friend I've known for a long time but just don't see very often. He told me he had recently done one of these Warrior races in Georgia and how much fun it was. I'm not sure where these races began, but I remember back when I did one of the first Mud Runs back in '99. No fire, no barbed wire, no near death experience...just fun in the mud.

I had just done the Rock 'n' Roll San Diego Marathon with TNT, when, a week later, I got a call from my son, Michael, who lived in San Diego. He and three of his friends found this run called the Camp Pendelton Mud Run. It's run on the Marine base, north of SD, and the 10k run had several mud obstacles including finishing in the "Mud Pits". Turns out they needed a 5th member for the team. Took about 5 minutes for me to have my flight back to the left coast confirmed.

The first thing, well two things, I noticed when we got to the race site was duct tape and goggles worn by folks that looked like they had done this before. I had thought about goggles, but we're real men and we don't need no stinkin' goggles. Now, get this - counting the individuals and the 5 person teams, there were over 3500 at this race! The gun (cannon) fired and we were off. About 200 yards from the start, the marines doused us with fire hoses. They were trying to break our spirits early! Then it was down the dusty trail, and we hit the tire drill, like the football players do. Ok, let's sprain our ankles now and get it out of the way. Then we hit the Steeple Jump - a 3 foot high barrier on the other side of which was calf deep mud for 10 yards. "Is that all you've got?". How 'bout the sand crawl? On all fours, you crawl 25 yards under two foot high wire. Sand hurts! We splash through a stream or two, then it's up mile-long Suicide Hill (Don't ask), past bombed out targets (buildings, tanks, etc) called Combat Town (cute!). Now, it gets interesting as we approached the first BIG mud pit. There was a pit about 30 yards of the gloppiest, thickest, smelliest, knee deep mud. The bottom would suck your legs to the knees, and the "water", which had the consistency of Ovaltine, would be at your hips. In the middle of this was a 6 ft wall you had to scale and splash down on the other side. Ok, now I'm really dirty! And now, I see what the duct tape was for - it wasn't just to try to keep 5# of mud out of your shoes, but to try to keep your shoes on your feet!! A half mile later, we had to traverse a chest deep lake for about 150 yards. Of course, the chest deep water sat atop knee deep mud! Now, it was on to Mud Pit #2, which was like the first one, except the wall was 7 ft high. When you're 5'6", it's not easy to jump up in soft mud and try to grab the top to pull yourself over. I felt like one of those mammoths stuck in the tar pits. I made it, but came awfully close to screaming (or crying). I literally had to scale the wall and fall over into the mud on the other side. Next, it was up 50 yard long "Slippery Hill". Why is it called that? Because the Marines are dousing you from the top again with the fire hoses. There's a certain ettiquite in running and pulling down the shorts of the guy next to you to try to get up the hill is apparently allowed in this part of the country. Remember, the whole run is on trails or dirt roads, so this made it like Wet & Wild. Then, it was the out-of-control run down the wet hill to "the tunnels" - 20 yds of PVC pipe to crawl through that ended in what? You guessed it...MORE MUD!! Finally, right before the finish came the Mud Crawl, a huge pit with unbarbed wire across it forcing you to fully submerge under the wire and belly crawl in this pudding of foul, gross, Marine created slop. Why not just call it the Malaria Run? It was all feel and crawl. I tried to open my eyes and see at one point and all I could see was a brown film, so I tried to wipe the mud off my goggles - Oh yeah! I don't need no stinkin' goggles! I thought "this can't be good. Standing at the end of the Pit, Michael & I looked like chocolate covered gingerbread men. We just stared at each other until finally Michael said "Dad?". Standing next to each other, we literally didn't recognize one another.

This whole adventure was capped off with an ice cold communal outside shower (shorts had to stay on, but everything else went in the trash). I can honestly say that I've never 1) been so dirty, 2) laughed so much during a run, and 3) had such a good time, doing such a crazy thing, and doing it with the one person in the world I would want to do it with. Oh, did I say we did this on Father's Day? Perfect!

OK guys, just a reminder if you're running with us here in Birmingham - next week (Dec 18th), we are running from downtown. We will meet at Boutwell Auditorium @ 6:30 AM and run one loop of the Mercedes Marathon course (13 miles). Half marathoners will do 9 miles. You can view several different distances from Boutwell on maps on this Trak Shak Newsletter. Gotta run...I'll see you all on the roads - AL

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

Saturday, December 3, 2011

So Long Shoes

"I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver."
- Maya Angelou

No, don't think by the title of this blog that I'm discarding my shoes and going shoeless. Nope, ain't gonna happen...ever!! However, if you run barefoot, then you might just want to ignore this post.

I wouldn't consider myself a pack rat, but the other day I had a weird experience. I was trying to get something out of the trunk of my car and I noticed I had three old pairs of running shoes in there blocking my way with their laces tied neatly together waiting for the day I would take them down to the Trak Shak Running Store. Now, understand, I go to The Trak Shak often, and those shoes have probably been in there for months. Just sat in the trunk. Unusable as running shoes. Then I started to realize all the old running shoes I had strewn around the house. I mean I have at least 2-3 pair that have been designated "not-fit-for-running" shoes that I wear when I go out to the store or travel. Then I looked under the futon in my Trophy Room...Ok, our computer room/guest room/son's old room. There were two discarded running shoes that probably still have a good number of miles on them. Let's take a look in the closet. Well, what do you know...another pair of running shoes and TWO pair of old trail shoes. It's so bad, I even have a pair of old trail shoes on the deck designated as "throw-the-garbage-out" shoes! Add to all this are my current shoes; two pair of Hokas (I love them), one pair of Kahru's, and a pair of Merrell high top Mountain Trail Racers.

As I was stumbling over this mess, a thought crossed my mind - why in god's name do I need dozens of old, worn out running shoes? I can't seem to let go! These aren't just shoes. They accompanied me through rain, sun, mud, dust, road, trail. My good runs, my crappy runs, and all those many, many runs in between. It then occurred to me. I had to say goodbye to this old heap of shoes. Keeping an extra "retired" pair or two of running shoes to walk around the Galleria or a ball game is one thing, but having a different pair to wear every day of the month just ain't sane.

So, I decided to do a little looking around and see if there was a better alternative than to giving these shoes to Goodwill or just dropping them in one of those clothing bins you see by the side of the road. Surprisingly, I found there are quite a few organizations you can donate your old shoes to. Here's what I found:

Nike's Reuse-a-Shoe program collects worn-out athletic shoes (any brand, not just Nike) and recycles them (rather than going into landfills) into material used in sports surfaces like basketball courts, tennis courts, athletic fields, running tracks and playgrounds for kids around the world. They seem to cater more towards groups doing shoe drives.

Shoe Bank provides shoes for 20,000 people every year -- primarily children, both in the United States and abroad. I liked this site a lot because they seem to target children and the homeless, but this appears to be mostly a Texas based charity.

Sole Responsibility is a nonprofit organization started by runners in Ottawa, Canada, who donate gently used running and walking shoes to needy people overseas (mostly Africa). They collect running shoes of all shapes and sizes, adult and children's sizes, but it seems pretty difficult to donate unless you're in Canada.

Share Your Sole is an Illinois-based organization that collects, cleans, and distributes gently-used shoes to needy and impoverished people all over the world. Again, a very worthy organization with a strong program, but in the Chicago area and difficult to donate outside that area.

Give Your Sole seeks to provide less fortunate men, women, and children with moderately worn athletic shoes collected at race events. I really liked their website. They only collect at Race events - I have to see if we can maybe get hooked up with them next year at the Mercedes Marathon. Visit their web site to find out what races they'll be at and where you can send donations.

I finally decided on Soles4Souls. They are a Nashville-based charity that collects shoes from the warehouses of footwear companies and the closets of people like you and me. The charity distributes these shoes to people in need, regardless of race, religion, class, or any other criteria. Since 2005, Soles4Souls has delivered over 16 million pairs of new and gently worn shoes. The shoes have been distributed to people in over 127 countries, including Kenya, Thailand, Nepal and the United States. Plus, for those of you in Birmingham, Alabama, they have a local drop-off site. Their website has a "drop off locator" to find the place closest to you by zip code.

So, now I have to collect my heap of shoes, bring 'em down to the drop-off, and feel good knowing they are going to do a whole lot more good than sitting in my trunk, or in my closet, or...well, you get the idea. At least I hope you get the BIG idea.

I'll see you on the roads as I wear down another pair of shoes - AL

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