Sunday, December 30, 2012

Not Running With Al in Boston

"Nothing endures but change" - Heraclitus

As I write this on Sunday night, tomorrow is New Year's Eve, and as this is Running With Al, I have to think that this week, I have been somewhat of a fraud. You see, I haven't run since LAST Sunday. That was a pretty good 17 miler with my training group back in Birmingham. Then things (life) began to get in the way of my running. We had a trip planned to go up to Boston on Wednesday, the day after Christmas. My wife & I would spend a day with our son, daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren, Adam (3) & Emma (16 mo). We would then be thrust in-charge of babysitting for 3 days while mommy & daddy go on a playdate (to Las Vegas). Well, I hadn't planned to run on Monday (the day after the 17 miler), and Tuesday was shot as I woke up to a terrific, down-south series of  spring-like thunderstorms and tornado warnings. Wednesday was also derailed with a full day of traveling, so that made 3 days without running.

Things just careened from there once we got to Boston. Oh sure, I could have squeezed in a run pretty late at night or in the wee-wee EARLY morning hours (talking 2-3am), but my heart just wasn't in that. You see, babysitting these two was a lot more challenging time-wise, and physically, than I anticipated. I mean it was constant with two extremely active little humans from basically an hour before sunrise to about 8-9 at night. They both take one nap per day, but they kind of overlap some, but not totally, so they get that power nap, we don't, and I guess I could squeeze a run in then, but  I always had this fear that what if something happened while I was out galloping through the streets of Boston...It just didn't sit right. Plus, after doing my power lifting all day (the two kids), my back was pretty stiff (something that seldom bothers me), and my ankles were worse than after I do my long runs! What the heck is all that about?

So, as I said, now it's Sunday night, 7 days without running. I will try to get a run in tomorrow ( the playdate kids get home tonight), but it's supposed to be 15 degrees in the morning and the high tomorrow a windy 33. Great!! Then travel all day Tuesday, so there's a good possibility I may extend my runless streak another 2 days, making it 9, the longest I can remember EVER taking without an injury. Not crazy about it, but it came at a good time - end of a year in which I reached my mileage goals, 8 weeks out from the Mercedes Marathon, and taking care of the kids was still the shoveling I did today after a 5 inch snowfall last night! I hate cold and I'm sure not crazy about how fast your fingertips can freeze making a snowman (but, yes, it was worth it because Adam said "Grandpa, can we make a snowman?"). 

As a physical therapist, I know a week without running won't destroy 34 years of the base I've built up, but I sure do miss it when it goes a few days. I look forward to days off, but when you string a week or so together, nah, not how I'm wired these days. I don't have speed to worry about, my races are not races, and my challenges have become to put one foot in front of the other for a rather extended period of time. I think I've gotten that part down. This grandparenting thing though, it has got a lot of challenges that I have to work on...Wonderful one's, terrible two's, troublesome three's...all the way up to the stupendous sixties...hopefully, like those tough long runs I've been through, it all smooths out. But, they change, and we change, so next time we come up, the challenges of what to make for breakfast/lunch/dinner, how long I can take Richard Scarry cartoon videos, what's the right clothes for them to wear, and how many adjectives I can come up with when I encounter a poopy diaper will all change too. Just flow with it and do the best you can.

I hope you all have a great 2013. I plan to. As I always say...I'll see you down the road...I just might take an unexpected short break here and there - AL

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

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Going to a PT - From the Inside

"I intend to live forever. So far, so good" - Steven Wright

Almost every Sunday, I'll be asked, in the parking lot before our long run, a question about a little niggle or strain that one of our runners is having. Having been a Physical Therapist for over 40 years and a long distance runner for over 30 years, I guess I have some street cred on both counts. The streetside consults I give are pretty superficial and very brief - after all, I'm usually ready to run, just finished running, freezing cold, or the question only requires a brief response. I honestly don't mind at all giving some honest, fairly straight-forward advice to my fellow runners, but sometimes, things happen and you don't have a friendly runner/PT right there in the parking lot and you find you actually have to go to a medical office for your care. What to do and how to act?

First of all, if you have an injury that requires medical attention, find a Doc and/or a Physical Therapist that understands what you do and your passion for the sport. The most effective path to take for this is simple word-of-mouth through your running community or the local running shops. Whatever you do, don't go to the Yellow Pages and blindly pick a health professional just because they say they treat sports injuries. Once you choose someone, go in with the open frame of mind that you are going to do exactly as he/she says. Sure, you've already researched your problem on the internet, but put your faith in a specialist that you trust, rather than throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the problem. If you enter a therapist’s clinic with the preconceived notion that you are beyond repair, you’ve already created a self-fulfilling prophecy for yourself.  I have much better outcomes with patients who have a positive attitude throughout their treatment. Patients with an optimistic mind-set are generally more likely to follow their rehab program and get better faster.

When a patient (athlete or not) presents to me, I like to give them a simple question like "So, what brings you in?" and let them open up. Usually, I find a patient will tell you 50% of what you need to know before you ask another question. After gaining a fairly comprehensive history and physical, my first treatments will usually consists of teaching them some home exercises to begin with. That's when the fun begins.

One of the first questions I like to ask my clinic patients during a follow-up treatment is “How are you doing with the exercises I gave you?”  If they look at me like a deer in the headlights and they say “umm, I didn't really do them”, then chances are it will be a prolonged recovery and a lot of frustration on my part and the patient saying therapy doesn't help.  A major reason for patients not performing their recommended exercises or stretches is because they fail to see the correlation between the exercise and their injury.  They think “how can this possibly help?”.  Athletes will usually have a good grasp on the connection between rehab exercises and their injury, but with non-exercisers, well, it's a battle for them to connect the dots.

It amazes me that even the first time I see a patient may be right after they get a cortisone shot, which is a strong anti-inflammatory...then they're compliant with their therapy for 3 weeks, start to get better and then hit me with "I guess that shot is starting to take effect". Geez!! But, some will make the connection and continue to be compliant with their program. However, some will stop there and the mechanical cause of their injury will resurface and they're back in the same boat.

It's like when you first began running. Let's face it, all the pieces didn't fit together just like that unless you stayed with it. Rehab has to start easier than you want it to. I'll get these super-fit folks (except for their injury) and they're very reluctant to start with the pink "girlie-weights", but that's where they HAVE to begin! Most of my common folk (non-athletic) patients don't do as much as I want them to, and most of my athletes want to do more. It's a balance I go through all less...Aw heck, just please do what I tell you! Percentage-wise, I see many fewer athletes than I see regular folks, and so, I try to make every rehab program for them as simple and fundamental as possible. But, I like to think the fact that I'm a runner sways some of the athletes into thinking that I might actually have an idea what I'm talking about and they might actually accept what I say. The point is, if you go to a therapist, LISTEN, like you would your mechanic, plumber, accountant, or whatever. I may not know a fuel pump from a sump pump, but I can help you understand why running downhill hurts like the dickens and running uphill doesn't. Or why you can run some days and the next day you can't walk. Or why some days you can't even walk without your knee buckling. If you want to frustrate your therapist, perform some hill repeats when you’re nursing a strained hamstring, hammer out a set of fast intervals on a bad Achilles, or get that 20 miler in when you’ve been told you need two weeks off running..."Al, this therapy doesn't seem to be working!". Good Grief!!! 

Sometimes, a Parking Lot consultation just doesn't get it, so if one day you find yourself engaging the assistance of a therapist, the best thing you can do for yourself is to enter their clinic with an open mind, positive attitude, and willingness to put as much effort into recovering as you do training. Sure, it can be frustrating to be sitting on the sidelines lifting the Girlie-weights, but take it from me, if you have a plumbing problem, DON'T try to fix it yourself - call a Plumber before all hell breaks loose!! That is not an analogy, but the plumber story is the subject of a future blog post.

By the way, along the PT lines, on my post this week on TRAINING WITH AL, I addressed form while running, so some of you might be interested in reading that.

Also, I just want to repeat that those of you training with us for the Mercedes Marathon, we will be running on the Mercedes course on January 13th and February 3rd. Email me for more details.

I hope you all have a great Holiday and be mindful of things to be thankful for. For those of you in Birmingham, I'll see you on the roads - AL

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

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Piles of My Stuff

“Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans” - John Lennon

Good grief! Have you ever looked around and seen how much room your running stuff consumes? I mean, I was thinking that I have little stuff to speak of and if you concentrated my stuff into one pile, that pile would be pretty puny. That was UNTIL I took a quick inventory. I won't even count all my old running shoes since I just donated a slue of shoes that were worn out or just didn't work out for me (I guess they weren't fast enough). Even after this generous donation, I still have 3 road pair (1 old for rain, one new for everyday, and 1, that despite having more miles than the tires on my car, I surprisingly just wear for long runs - don't ask!), and 3 trail pair (1 Hokas, 1 high top, and 1 pair of Merrells that for some reason I can't part with). So, what's left? Here's an inventory:
3 drawers -
Drawer #1 is just for cold weather! You see, I hate cold weather and refuse to EVER be unprepared. Don't know what to buy me? Get something to keep me from feeling cold and you're safe. I've got something like 16 long sleeve shirts, but I'm so anal, I have them split into LIGHT long sleeves in one stack and heavier ones in another! Then there are (Good God) 12 pairs of gloves of various protection, 3 tobaggon hats, and arm sleeves.
Drawer #2 houses all my shorts and tons of shortsleeve shirts separated into 3 stacks - technical, cotton, and singlets. Also, in this drawer are two pair of  worn-once-in-a-while compression socks. I like the idea of the compression socks, but mostly just for recovery. I haven't quite been able to hurdle the "dorky" aspect of wearing them on a run.
And then Drawer #3 are my socks, sweat cloths, and as an overflow from Drawer #1, my cold-weather tights and the all-important windbriefs (Don't laugh - you don't know the thrill of getting caught without them on a 20 degree windy day!).

Ok, so now let's move on to my closet. We have a windshirt (which is great), one running vest (also great), one cycling rainjacket, one perfect lightweight technical, waterproof, breathable rainjacket, a nylon running suit, and 6 pairs of various weight and material running pants (though I hardly EVER wear pants when running). In addition is my most used jacket - a non-breathable, non-waterproof Tyvek Extra-Large jacket that I picked up as a $5 throwaway at an Expo at least 9 years ago! You've all seen them - white, thin, funky feeling. You'd think this thing would have been discarded long ago, but it has been to a ton of ultramarathons with me because it's light as a feather, can be stuffed literally into a  pocket, and if it's warmth you're looking for, remember, it doesn't breathe, but if it's real cold out, believe me, you won't sweat up a storm. I wear it on most of my early morning, dark, cold runs because of the above accolades plus it's white, so I wear it under my reflective vest - perfect. Oh yeah, did I mention it was 5 bucks? Pick one up at your next Expo - I know Mercedes will have them, but I think they're up to $7 now. Oh, and don't forget the 15 or so hats I have to run in...what do I need 15 hats for? There are only 2-3 different ones I wear. But don't even talk to me about which ones I would get rid of. Any runner understands this line of thinking.

So now we move to my downstairs closet. Here is a box that houses my 2 waterbottle belts (each with one 20oz waterbottle) and one Fuelbelt with 2 8oz bottles. There is also 2 handheld bottles, one of which I use MUCH more than any of the belts or the other handheld. In addition, for some reason that completely eludes me, in this box are also 6 loose waterbottles. Do I think I'll keep these in case the other waterbottles wear out? I don't know. I really don't. Also, in another area in the closet are one box of Gu and two boxes of Clif Bars. Oh, don't forget the carton of recovery Boost and the box of the VERY important HotHands. 

So, you can see the pile just grows and grows. I go to the local running stores or to a race expo and just stare aimlessly saying "I really don't need anything". It's almost disappointing not to be snapping up new stuff, but doggone it, I've got way more than enough old stuff. And I'm sure you do too...oh yes you do - just look around. But, like me, just try to clean out a little...ha, that's a good one. Too many memories in all that junk. And no need to beat around the bush - you're going to just add to it. 

Ok guys, that's about it except to let you know that if you're training with us for the Mercedes Marathon, we have scheduled two training runs on the marathon course for 1/13 & 2/3. Details to follow (or if you can't wait, just email me). In the meantime, stay warm and I'll see you on the roads - AL

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

Saturday, December 8, 2012

How 'bout Just a Friendly Wave

"If you run 100 miles a week, you can eat anything you want - Why? Because: (a) you'll burn all the calories you consume; (b) you deserve it; and (c) you'll be injured soon and back on a restricted diet anyway."- Don Kardong

Several months ago (maybe years, who knows?), I was running on the Lakeshore Greenway with my buddy Moha, and this runner comes up the opposite way. Being the jovial, friendly runner that I think I am, I give a hearty "Good Morning" as my runner-friend zips hi, no wave, no grunt. Moha saves the day with a "Good Morning Al". I immediately answer with a "Good Morning Moha". Ever since then, this has become pretty standard between us whenever a greeting to another runner goes unacknowledged....Good Morning Al...Good Morning Moha. I had to let out a laugh the other day when I was running with my training group on a long run. Moha didn't make it (read: slept-in, hung-over, too cold, etc) and when a runner coming in the opposite direction failed to even notice my "Good Morning", one of our new trainees stepped right up to the plate with a "Good Morning Al". Perfect! 

I remember, way back when in the olden days of yore, when two runners would pass each other, they would exchange cordial hello's, waves, or some other greeting that would convey that we are each members of the secret Society of the Running Brotherhood. The unusual thing was when a runner lumbered on by and didn't say anything. Boy, when that happened, it really would frost me! I always took that junk personally. Of course, I would just let steam blow out my ears, but my old sidekick, Bill Tucker, would dog-cuss the old fool. Yeah, Bill was quite the piece of work! Can't count how many times we had to put our running skills to work to keep from getting chased - I remember we were running early on a long training run one Sunday when these yahoos in a pickup truck, probably returning from an all-nighter at the Fuzzy Mule, whistled at us. Without hesitation, Bill yells back "Your mother loves it!". My initial reaction was "crap" as brake lights lit up and the truck doing a u-turn. All I remember was running through back yards, down alleys and up a wooded hillside to elude Bubba and his buddies. You know, they say a good friend will bail you out of jail...but your best friend is sitting next to you in the cell saying "man, that was fun". Geez!!!

Ok, where was I? Oh yeah. These days, we runners hardly ever exchange verbal greetings anymore. At best, we'll give a slight wave, or my favorite, the-serious-game-face-nod. Still, we are better than cyclists. Usually, it's nothing at all, BUT, if I'm lucky enough to get any recognition at all, it will more times than not be the standard, secret cyclist club wave - four fingers extended downward from the unmoving hand positioned on the handlebar. Quite subtle, but in the right light you can catch it! That's what you get from a "friendly" cyclist. I must say, when I do yell in semi-anger, it's usually more at a cyclist than a runner, I guess because I know he's moving away from me at 20 MPH and probably can't hear me. Actually, I must admit, there are several times when a cyclist will go whizzing past me in the opposite direction at 20MPH and yell "Hey, Al", but honestly, with sunglasses and a helmet, I haven't got the foggiest idea who it is. I do good enough to remember folks names when they're standing next to me, not moving at all, undisguised. My standard default..."Hey buddy"..."Hey Girl".

Ok, let's get back on track here. About 6 months ago,  I was running along with another of my running pals, Mark, and I greeted this oncoming runner with my usual "Good Morning" and was answered with a lively "Thank You"! Still don't have a comeback for that one except "you're welcome". Then there was the time recently when a runner beat me to the punch and rather sheepishly said "how-ya-doin?". I was so surprised, in answer, I very enthusiastically said "Let me tell you, I am doing GREAT". I know he thought "What a frickin' nutcase".

Ok, I'm finished letting off some steam about 21st Century runners. It's not really a big deal, but then again, what is? No sense getting all steamed about something I can't control. I think I'm probably exaggerating some and really most runners are happy to initiate or respond with some form of Hello to another athlete in misery agony training.
If I see you running along one morning and I say "Good Morning", for Pete's sake, at least give me one of those serious game-faced nods. For sure, I'll see you on the roads - AL

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

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Consistent Running...Consistent Blogging

“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” 
― W. Somerset Maugham

I love to write. I wish I could write better than I do. Ever since my early schooling, I always enjoyed writing and felt I could do it pretty well. I was one of those weirdos in school who didn't wilt like a dieing flower when I came to the essay questions at the end of a test. If I didn't know the answer, I still felt pretty confident I could eloquently present a wheelbarrow of BS and maybe be able to slide by. I found that tactic worked easier in Junior High than it did in college. 

I always marveled at newspaper writers that can put out editorial pieces and news opinion columns 3-4 times per week and always wondered how do they do that? Especially the ones that are do they come up with these one liners and catch phrases over and over again? Surely they must crash against a wall of solid writer's block once in a while. Heck, I don't have any deadline, but I've put out this weekly blog for over two and a half years, but sometimes when I sit down to write RWA, I stare into my mind and all I see is a void. I mean, there is just no idea at all. Most of my ideas will hit me during a run, either like a bolt from above or because of something one of my running buddies comes up with. Most of the time, I'll forget this brilliant stroke of genius before I get home, but sometimes from that void comes something that I can share with whoever chooses to read it. And then, maybe, I'll get some comments that make me feel good - I
 love to get comments, so keep them coming - and other times the comments are not that great...I try to stay clear of politics and God knows I'll never mention Sarah Palin again. Four years and my butt still stings from the whippin' I took on that one! 

But, to me, blogging is so cool. I can sit down in almost complete anonymity and have the freedom to write whatever I want. I'm not sure that anyone really wants to read my thoughts and I'm certainly not fulfilling a service, but after running long distances for over three decades, I have all these memories and feelings about running, so I believe there is some catharsis in it. Maybe it's my own form of self-therapy. I just know I feel good after clicking the "publish" tab on Blogger. There are thousands of blogs out there. I have read well written ones and some not so well written but they all provide insight into the blogger's psyche and that's what you have to read into when you're reading somebody's blog. True, they're not all literary masterpieces like mine, but there are some very excellent blogs to read. And they cover all aspects of all subjects, and each blogger decides which direction his or her blog will go. 

I decided long ago that this blog wouldn't bore you with daily posts of my mileage, because my daily mileage bores me! I feel pretty confident no one wants to read the blow by blow details of my workouts day after day. I don't care if you're an elite runner or not, it's boring. If you want to know my training secret for blazing along year after year, you'll have to slow down on a training run and I'll be glad to share the exciting details with you. 

Also, I hardly ever talk about the newest running fashions and try to convince you that you have to have these to run better. As much as I go on & on about my Hoka shoes, I will never say they are the shoes for you. They are the shoes for me. Period. I've got rain jackets and arm warmers and compression sleeves and wool socks. Are they for you? How the heck should I know? So, I don't blog about that they are the latest and greatest.

At my age, I also will spare you with the hyping of books that claim to have a new and revolutionary way to train. Sorry, you can't reinvent the wheel and there isn't a new way to throw or catch a ball, so I don't preach that there is a new way to train for distance running. Maybe we are Born To Run, but figure it out for yourself. Nobody taught me how to throw a rock at a squirrel, but I just threw the rock. Running is base conditioning, strength conditioning and sharpening, that's how it is and always will be. Run to run better. Run long to run long well. Run fast to run fast well.

And finally, I'll try not to tell you about new foods, supplements,etc. that will improve performance. I've seen them come and go over the last 35 years. Many are designed to pick your pocket. Eat well, eat balanced, don't eat stupid too often and you'll be fine. As somebody said "Everything in moderation, including moderation". Sometimes, there are some pretty awesome breakthroughs like Gels and Gatorade, but you don't need me to break the news to you.

So my friends, I plan to keep blogging away and I hope you keep reading. The only way I know is if you comment, so c'mon, don't be shy. Let me know what you think. In the meantime, like always, I'll see you on the roads - AL

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

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Why Are You Staring At My Shoes?

"Determine never to be is wonderful how much may be done if we are always doing" - Thomas Jefferson

Just about every Sunday when I run with my marathon training group, somebody just has to make a comment about my Hoka running shoes, such as "What are those?". I tell them "these are my big-boy Vibrams".

In the running world, all you have to do is utter the word "minimalism" and suddenly everyone has an opinion. And the argument can get sort of spirited, usually ending with something along the lines of "your mother wears combat boots!".

Although many would say "The Book" has been a primary driving force behind the burgeoning minimalist and "barefoot" movement, the fact of the matter is that modern-day running shoes have endured many trends over the years--from light and basic to big and clunky and everything in between. When you look at what many runners, especially in the 1970s and even 1980s wore (pretty low-profile racing flats but nothing like Vibrams), what folks wore in the 1990s and early 2000s (big, clunky shoes) and what's hot these days (Vibrams and barefoot running), you could easily argue that what we're experiencing now is really "minimalism 2.0 on steroids." My first pair of "real" running shoes were Nike Elites which fit me like a custom-made glove, had absolutely no support, and gave me the most clinically perfect case of Plantar Fasciitis.
So, now with the minimalist movement, shoe stores are full of Vibrams, and the similar versions put out by New Balance, Nike, and the such as they jump on the "less is more" bandwagon. And then along comes the Hoka One One, a European company that has introduced innovative--and super-expensive($170)--shoes that appear quite bulky and heavy and are sometimes dissed as looking "clown"-like. Ah, but looks can be deceiving. As almost any proud Hoka owner would attest (I'm on my THIRD pair of Hokas with another new pair sitting in the closet and will likely be a lifer), Hokas are anything but bulky, heavy and Bozo-like (Ok, maybe they ARE Bozo-like). Yes, they have a lot of EVA, but EVA is light (10 oz.), soft and protective. The uppers are pretty simple, contributing to the relative light weight of Hokas. On top of all this, despite the purist-minimalist folks calling the Hokas the equivalent of the Anti-Christ shoe, they have a very low heel-to-toe drop (4mm) making them a shoe that helps to deliver your foot to a midfoot plant rather than the dreaded heel plant. So, they are a light, supportive, low heel drop shoe that has a lot of cushioning. Yes, I can't feel every daggum pebble I step on, but what's wrong with that?

Many of the minimalists contend that we have been sold a bill of goods by the "big shoe" companies that want us to believe more support is better and will help prevent injury. But, Hokas DON'T offer more support, just cushioning. We are, the minimalists say, born to run barefooted, and so why impede the natural movement of the foot with tanks like Hokas?

For whatever it's worth, here's what I think: We weren't born to run per se. We were born to be active and work hard for what we need. It could be said that running was to "prehistoric" beings a means to an end. In "prehistoric" times, when there weren't Publix and Winn-Dixies around every rock, we put a lot of physical effort into hunting and gathering...because our lives depended on it. Meat was a big deal; you had to work super hard to kill an animal, sometimes running dozens of miles until the exhausted animal DNF'd, collapsed, and died. But that was only part of the effort. You had to work almost just as hard bringing the dang carcass back to your loved ones and defending your catch from invaders. And animals weren't just a source of food; furs and hides were used for clothing. And when you weren't eating, you worried about things like fortifying your shelter, staying warm (or cool), protecting your family and friends, finding clean water, figuring out how to use the wheel, etc. All of that required some level of activity, including running and hiking.

But our ancestors didn't run for fitness. If a "caveman" ran 20, 30 or 40 miles, it wasn't training; it was to chase down a deer, evade capture, maybe deliver a message or get back home. And those who did the running were usually the best athletes, i.e., the ones who were the most physiologically gifted. Being fit was part of survival; the best athletes reigned supreme and brought home the dinosaur bacon. Also, they didn't have paved roads like we do. Their pursuits took them across pastures, meadows and calderas, up and down mountains, along treacherous ridges, and over downed trees and big rocks. Well-groomed trails were rare. Their feet, unlike ours today, were conditioned from childbirth to withstand tremendous punishment and were strong in muscle and connective tissue. Our feet today are none of that, in large part because we've been wearing supportive shoes since birth, sitting down a lot, driving our cars to Publix for food instead of chasing down and/or picking our grub, living in relatively low-maintenance shelters, etc.

All of that said, no one really knows for sure whether minimalism today is a good or bad thing, or even the "natural way." People who run in Vibrams, New Balance's line of minimalist trail shoes, and the like swear by them. By the same token, people who run in Hokas (like me) believe their way is the best way for what they need. I believe they saved my running when my ankle pain was so bad I thought my running days were very numbered. So essentially what shoes you wear, if you even choose to wear shoes, is a matter of personal preference. Me? My preference is Hokas. I'll take the ribbing, but my feet are saying "Good Boy!".

No matter what you wear, I'll see you all on the roads - AL

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

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Walking Through the Rooms of My Mind

"God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December" - J.M. Barrie
Last Sunday, I was running along with my friend, Mark, and we got to talking about what we think about when the road or trail gets long and you're just traveling along. I don't mean one of those runs like I had this morning where I was just gutting it along and just about every step got my full attention. I was NOT in love with running this morning, but that was just between me and my ankles. Tomorrow will be better. Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, where do I go to occupy my mind when I don't want right-left-right to be my only thought. I've talked in several posts about solving all the problems of the world, carrying Pi to a hundred decimal places,  or trying to figure out  how the heck the Alabama politicians, at any level, were actually ELECTED! I mean, one of them this week actually said this..."I will stand my ground till the cows come back to Capistrano"!!!!

Ok, back to Running With Al. During my formative years, we moved just about every year. I think my parents were in the Witness Protection Program. Then during my summer vacations from school, my parents would ship me away for a couple of weeks with my Aunt Frances and Uncle John in Massachusetts, which I was not crazy about, and then about 6-8 weeks with my grandparents in South Florida, which I was crazy about because I had 4 cousins down there that were like brothers and sisters. It was just acting crazy and young for 2 months. So, during all this moving around, I lived in many, many houses, and so, sometimes along these runs where I need to find a mental diversion, I retreat to the deep recesses of 50 years ago and try to recreate the floor plans of these houses. I'm not talking about a quick walk-through...I actually can see me walking through the front door and then picture, clear as day, what room was to the right, what closet was to the left, what was down the hall, how was the kitchen set up. If you really sink it to it, you get engrossed in seeing the whole house, the windows, the doors, the chairs, even the smells and the "feel" of the house. I mean, ALL the details. The miles go by and you have some wonderful memories. Take your time and I think yu will really enjoy the trip.

Couple of months ago, I was running with my son in Boston, and we began talking baseball. This was right before the playoffs and I asked what teams have been in their parks the longest (it's the Red Sox of course). That involved just trying to come up with all the teams in each league - we're talking 15 teams in each league! And some of these teams moved around more than I did when I was a child. Washington to Texas, Montreal to Washington, Kansas City to Oakland, Philadelphia to Kansas City, St. Louis to Baltimore, and of course the curse of curses, 2 teams from New York to California! But, the point here (not at the time) is that this totally consumed the mind in a task that was doable while your legs just took over and moved you down the road. It's something that you dive deep into. It's not the shallow end of the's seeing how many layers you can peel away of those years.

If you've been running races for a while, here's one of these tasks right up your alley. Go back to your first few races and try to reconstruct the course in your head. Not just the overall start and finish - try to picture the turns, where the aid stations were...don't just say there were hills, try to feel and picture those hills...not the pain or the fatigue, but just the undulations of the course. If you've run Mercedes for years, we've gone through 4-5 course changes - try to remember as many of these courses as you can. Picture going up Montclair Road at mile 21, or conjure up the twists and turns through Crestline Village...see it! Like those rooms in my Grandparents house, try to be there. Heck, I can go back to the old Vulcan Marathons of the 80's or even the Magic City Marathon in the late 70's running through East Birmingham (Crap! I'm old!!). What you're doing is seeing how far back you can regenerate those memories that haven't been lost, but are buried under years of other memories. Maybe I can call it reverse visualization where visualization is trying to picture what will be...this is trying to relive what was. 

You can play this little memory game during a run with what ever you want - an old neighborhood, a school, even an old job. But, sink into it and try to invoke as many small details as you can, the colors, the smells, the people you thought you may have forgotten. It's all still there, but sometimes it takes a good long run to remember where you've been, not just take you to where you're going.

I'll see you on the long and winding roads - AL

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

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Ying &Yang? Nah, Just Dirt and Pavement

"Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. wisdom is knowing not to put a tomato in your fruit salad" - Unknown

Back about a year ago, one of my posts reflected on my choice of road or trail (read it here) and I touched on a few differences. Having just come back from putting in a couple of pleasant hours on the trail this morning, I thought I would put down a few specific differences between the dirt and the pavement.

In marathons, we eat gels and shot blocks.
In ultras, we eat chicken soup and PB&J sandwiches.

In marathons, we run on pavement and roads with thousands.
In ultras, we run on trails, mostly alone and cross rivers/streams.

In marathons, you could walk up to any starting line on race morning and pretty much have no worries that the course is USATF certified to be 26.2 miles long
In ultras, the distance advertised is most of the time more-or-less a guide. If the advertised distance is within, say 10% of the actual distance, there is no basis for any complaint and there is no extra charge for running the extra distance.

In marathons, we run according to pace & measure training in miles.
In ultras, there is no set pace and training is measured in hours.

In marathons, you carry as little as possible to try to be as light as possible to save energy.
In a 50k, you strap yourself down with 20oz water bottles, energy gels, bars, dried fruit, toilet paper. Basically, you carry a bunch of crap in case you need SOMETHING!

AT Aid stations - In marathons, you slow down, grab a cup of water, crimp the cup so you can drink on the run, and promptly spill half of it on the front of your shirt or up your nose.
In ultras, you lose tons of time in aid stations as you peruse the buffet of anything you could possibly want, as a volunteer fills your 2 water bottles (one with gatorade and one with water).

For marathons, you run 10k's for training runs.
For ultras, you run marathons for training runs.

Marathon shoes are designed for lightness and lack of frills. Just enough cushioning to get you through the 42,000 steps it'll take you from point A to point B. You may be going up or down, but your foot strike always hits a flat surface.
Ultramarathon shoes can be anything from wafer-thin Vibram Five Fingers (ouch!) to my favorite, the "clown shoes" Hokas. You may be going up or down, but your foot strike is always going to be unstable and "banana peels" are always waiting to trip you up.

In marathons, you worry about what the starting temperature is going to be and what the temperature might be a few hours later at the finish.
In ultras, you wonder about the low temperature for today, the high temperature for today, AND in some cases, TOMORROW!!

In a marathon, you will probably hit a down patch with your energy.
In an ultra, you will hit a down patch, an up patch, a down patch, an up patch, and so on till the finish.

In a marathon, the finish line will usually have cheering spectators, your name blasted over a loudspeaker, a medal placed around your neck, finish line photos, and fruit, bars, chips, gatorade, and all sorts of snack-size goodies.
In an ultra, sometimes you have to tell the race director you just finished (because he's been out there for half the day - I mean 12 hours!! - and not very attentive), you might get a finisher award, but there is always bar-b-q, sandwiches and plenty of beer.

In marathons, you expect volunteers at every twist and turn on the roads to point the way so you don't take a wrong turn and lose valuable minutes.
In ultras, you are directed by little colored, fluttering ribbons or tiny construction flags, that if you miss one in your tired, confused, energy-depleted state of mind, could mean hours!

In a marathon, when you finish, you feel like you have accomplished something that will make you proud for the rest of your life.
In an ultra, when you finish, you feel like you have accomplished something that will make you proud for the rest of your life. 

My personal preference these days is the trail, but it probably reflects my forced slowdown physically from bad wheels and my mental slowdown saying "Don't push it, man!". There is gold in both types of races. They both involve right foot...left foot...and repeat till somebody says STOP. I'd love to hear the comments of you that have done both races, and especially if you any more differences to add to the list.

In the meantime, I'll see you both on the roads and on the trails - AL

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

Friday, November 2, 2012

Tragedy Trumps a Marathon

All day today, I have been collecting information for this week's RWA. I was going to write a post about whether it was right to continue with plans to run the New York Marathon or cancel/postpone it. As my post was pretty much composed (at least in my mind), the Mayor of New York has just (5:00pm CST - Friday) cancelled the Marathon. So, I thought "Well, there goes that post", but I thought I would still proceed and present some of the arguments and give my slant on them. I must say, I am glad they did cancel it, but, on the other hand, I know that thousands of runners who probably went through holy hell to get to NY, must be crushed by the decision. 

I must admit, I am not totally looking from the outside. I am a runner who has done over a hundred marathons and ultramarathons. A long distance runner does not want to hear any reason to cancel a race. In marathons that have been cancelled in the past due to heat or cold or wind or whatever, we always hear of large groups of runners that go out anyway and complete their planned run, and I'm sure some will still try to do an unofficial version of this one. No, I have never run New York, but that has been my decision to never even try to get in the lottery. 

But, in addition to being a runner, you see, I was born and raised in New Jersey. I was personal with the Jersey Shore decades before it was a TV show. See all those videos of torn-up Seaside Heights? That was our High School go-to place. Walked many, many miles on those boardwalks that are now floating someplace in the cold Atlantic. Yep, rode that Roller Coaster that is now sitting 100 yards off the shore, isolated in the ocean. It breaks my heart to see all these little beach-front towns destroyed that I knew so well as a young child and later as a nothing-can-happen-to-us teenager. I have an emotional connection to that area, the same as anybody has to an area they grew up in. I still have 2 sisters, along with precious nieces and a nephew that live in Northern Jersey, but except for being cold and inconvenienced by still not having power or gas, they are all safe and have tons to be thankful for, and for that, so do I. We see on the TV news everyday areas that are torn apart, and then we look to see what else will be on TV that night...that is, unless it hits closer to home. 

Loss brings emptiness, so try to picture what these folks hit by Sandy (too nice a name for such a monster) are going through. Staten Island was one of the hardest hit areas in New York and apparently one of the areas slowest to receive relief aid. Staten Island is where the Marathon was to start, closing the Verranzano-Narrows Bridge, forcing any first responders or relief efforts to go miles out of their way, through New Jersey to get to Staten Island. Plus, the marathon would close over 20 miles of roads to any traffic. It just didn't seem right on any level to have a huge "runner's party" while so many were suffering losses beyond any of our senses. The mayor said earlier this week that no resources to the relief efforts would be compromised by putting on the race. C'mon Mayor, if you're gonna say something, say something believable. I understand it takes about 1500 Policemen to man the Marathon (that comes to 57 police per mile!!) and that would have had to put a big strain on these poor heroes. Yes, I'm a serious runner, but it didn't seem right.

The NYRRC said they were donating $1 million to the relief efforts and sponsors also put up another $1.5 million. I hope this wasn't contingent on the race going on. I can imagine the terrible ramifications this does to all the efforts put into staging this race. Planning for this race, I'm sure, begins as the final runner comes across the finish line last year. Runners, sponsors, exhibitors, volunteers, plus all the businesses that benefit from the $340 million dollars the race brings into the city are severely affected and to just say "Sh*t Happens" is extremely cold. These are real folks that are affected, but it is nothing to compare to folks that Sandy tore apart. Holding a non-essential event through the storm-ravaged city literally blocks from where people lost their lives and their possessions would have been totally wrong. This is not a place to fill the streets with thousands of cheering spectators and runners thinking The Wall is 'the worst thing ever". This tragedy is less than a week old. You cannot forget THAT soon. I remember runners doing the Marine Corps Marathon 6 weeks after 9/11 saying how quiet it was when they ran by the Pentagon - only the sound of running shoes hitting the ground. That heaviness affected every runner doing that race. And that was after SIX weeks. This is five DAYS. People are still reeling, wondering which direction their life will go from here.

I feel for all involved in this tragedy. Because this is a runner's blog, I write this from a runner's view. I don't want to go into the logistics of moving the runners around the damaged areas before or after the race or the many resources used to put on the race that might be used to a much more sympathetic need. No decision is 100% correct, but I think the decision to cancel was the most correct and the most compassionate. I'd like to hear your views. Just leave a comment below (I think I fixed the bug that previously "bugged" me).

I'll see you on the roads - AL

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

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Sweep Patrol

"The best argument against democracy is a 5 minute conversation with an average voter" - Winston Churchill

This weekend, there was a unique event for these parts - a 3-day stage race that comprised running three trail races at Ruffner Mountain (16 miles), Red Mountain (15 miles), and Oak Mountain (20 miles) for a total of 51 miles. Not sure how you rate this. Certainly not an ultra, and not even a recognized marathon on any of those days, but it seems the Race Director, David Tosch, has taken the roughest trails from each of these systems and said "Have at it boys and gals. See ya on the other side". Better have your recovery plan pretty firmly in place for this one guys.

Just a few short years ago, I would have jumped or flew to do this one. I love this kind of stuff...slow, difficult, unique, and hard to explain to anybody (other than other runners) what it's all about. I just can't handle all the stuff I used to do when I was young (late 50's...good grief!!!), so I have to be very selective in the "races" and I can do, and more importantly, recover from. A couple of weeks ago, I did a tough trail marathon up at Ruffner, and I knew that this would put me on the cusps of that recovery envelope, and it did. My legs are still asking me what the heck that was all about. I try to tell them to just be quiet and man-up, but they're still taking their own sweet time feeling run-worthy.

So, me and my buddy Moha, who also got beaten up by the Ruffner monster, decided to give RD David a call and tell him we had some spare time and would he like a couple of volunteers. It took him about 2 nanoseconds to say "What race director doesn't want volunteers?". He asked if we could sweep the course after the last runner and pick up all markings. Sure, sounds like fun, we would be giving back, plus we'd get our run in instead of freezing our butts off at an aid station. 

Usually, during the week, I'm on the road before 5am, and on weekends, it's 5:30 -6:30, but this morning, the race didn't begin till 8. We toyed around with the idea of going out there and doing some early miles, maybe even doing the first 7.5 mile loop and then sweeping up the second loop. Well, we woke up to a cold, windy morning morphed into coffee at McDonalds, a trip for a deposit at the bank, and a side-stop at the bakery to pick up some fresh baked pita bread (Mmmmm). We got to the race site about 9:40 and were told there were still about 7-8 runners on their first loop. Of course, I wanted to go start picking up the course markings - after all, these guys had been around the course once. Surely, they're not so oxygen deprived that they can't remember all the twists and turns around the rocks and trees of Red mountain! That got quickly voted down, so me & Moha went out and did 3.5 miles on non-race trails. When we got back, we were cleared to do our job.

We set a goal to try to catch the last runner, who had probably a 25-30 minute lead on us. Ha, that was a good one. We should've set a goal to catch the first runner - had about the same chance. Before we knew it, we were going up long rocky trails, and although there was little chance you could go wrong, David was going to make sure and put these little construction flags much more than needed along the course. In addition, his "few signs" turned into about 25 "race in progress", or "this way" signs. Our 2 reusable shopping bags quickly filled up and got pretty heavy. Near the end, I felt like a pack mule going over the Donner Pass. As we passed the 7.5 mile point on my watch, I realized we were getting into Horton Miles territory - in other words "about 7.5 miles". Now, I have to be honest, my VERY dodgy Nike+ watch never did connect with any of the many GPS satellites above us, so the 9.9 miles my foot pod registered for the (7.5 mile) loop is probably not near exact, but let's just concede that David needs a new Garmin for Christmas. As we went up ANOTHER HILL, I remarked to Moha, "Brother, we can' t be lost, as usual, because we're still picking up flags!". Finally, we made it back to start/finish line, our goal shattered as the last finisher was probably home and showered. The difference is that I was going to go home and not worry about another trail adventure for another week, while he had to worry about tomorrow's race - he shouldn't have gone so fast!

We all need to volunteer sometimes - you just don't realize what goes into putting on a race - like putting out a million construction flags. When we do a race, there is lot we expect for spending our money, but by volunteering, you tend not to be so harsh with your criticism. But, out of all the ways you can volunteer, today was great...a day in the woods with my good buddy, helping out a friend, getting in a run in, and realize that I can still move up, down, but most importantly, forward.

I'll see you on the roads - AL

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

Saturday, October 20, 2012

My Foreign Policy Thoughts

"Pain is a wonderful thing and now I was feeling wonderful, really
- Unknown trail runner

As this week's Election debate will focus on foreign policy, it sends me down a different trail and I got to thinking about how International Track & Field and marathon running was even before I began doing this crazy stuff back in the late 70's. Before I began long-distance running, as a High School Student, I was still very interested in watching the running events of T & F meets. Didn't care much for guys throwing things or jumping over things, but running around a track as fast as you could had some perverse magnetism that drew me in. These were usually international meets, so you got familiar with the stars of the day. But they weren't all African runners, like today. Instead, the stars were pretty much spread around, so there was much international pride. I remember up north (where I was brought up), the biggest indoor meet was the Millrose Games, and drew all the fastest runners of the day. The last event of all these meets was always the mile. Eleven laps to the mile around a banked wooden track, with elbows flailing each other. It was like NASCAR at Talledega.  Ah, the excitement of watching Irishman Eamonn Coglan win that mile year after year, earning him one of the best nicknames ever..."The Chairman of the Boards". And seeing American Jim Beatty, becoming the first person to run under four minutes indoors. I can still recall broadcaster Curt Gowdy screaming..."I think he's going to do it, I think he's going to do it"...and yes he did it in 3:58.9! There are still very intriguing indoor meets around, but the excitement seems to be local in Boston, New York, San Diego, etc. but it's hard to follow when the TV coverage is either on some Shopping Channel or Internet Pay-for-View. You know, it's funny, but 40-50 years ago, I was watching an indoor 3000 meter race (basically 2 miles, so not a breakneck pace at 11 laps/mile). During the race, one of the local High School or College bands began playing a song popular at the time "Midnight in Moscow". It had the perfect beat for a 3000M race I guess. Anyway, half a century later, sometimes I'm lollygagging down the road and that song pops into my mind! Crazy, not very interesting, but there you go! 

There wasn't too much track stuff going on outdoors that I recall, but most of you are probably too young to remember but there used to be yearly U.S. vs. U.S.S.R. (Russia) track meets held that were riveting. This was a time when the "cold war" was going on between us and them. Russia was the Evil Empire that I remember as a kid, and these meets began a year after "they" beat us in the Space Race with the launching of Sputnik and were held every year between 1958 - 1985. We hated the Russians, and they didn't think very kindly about us Capitalistic Americans. I remember the meets were usually televised on the old Wide World of Sports on Saturdays. Pride and nationalism, as well as tremendous competition captured the whole nation's attention. We wanted to beat them SO BAD. It surpassed any type of watered down competition you see in the Summer Olympics these days. It was high drama. Someone should write a book about those meets. Doubt we'll ever see Country vs. Country intensity again, though there doesn't seem to be much love between Kenya and Ethiopia these days.

 Speaking of those two marathon dominating countries, I sure am glad the African "invasion" onto the world distance running scene started in the late 80's instead of the early 70's, otherwise most of the American, British and European stars would have been relegated to being also rans. Just think, for those of us in the U.S., runners like Salazar, Rodgers, Shorter, Curp, Beardsley, Tabb, Sandoval, Meyer, Gregorek, Wells, Eyestone and like so many others would not have had the success they did if the Africans had been on the scene in the numbers they are now. Their times of 2:08, 2:09, and 2:10 would have gotten buried into the graves of the 2nd tier of runners. In the infancy of the Internet, sometimes we would agonize to get marathon results, at times 24 hours later, to see if Rodgers won in Amsterdam, or Frank Shorter won in Japan. 

So, the Foreign Policy of politics will take center stage this week, but it doesn't take much to send me down a very different and much more enjoyable path. Ah, memories...I got a million of 'em.

I'll see you on the roads - AL
"One child lost is too child saved can change the world"

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Ruffner Mountain Conversations

"You're never really beat until you believe it" - Joe Perrella

Well, as a follow-up to my last RWA post the other day, I thought I would wrap-up my trail marathon at Ruffner Mountain - the Crusher Ridge 42k. This was my 132nd marathon or ultra and I can honestly say I don't ever remember one as tough as this. I've been in trail runs where I have stopped at the top of God-awful hills, with my hands on my knees saying "I have never been this tired", but at Ruffner, this was repeated several times. 26 miles, about 5000' of elevation gain, and nature galore in the form of roots, deep ruts, and rocks made and broken at the foot of the Appalachian Mountain chain.

But, it was a pleasant day, as all runs are when they're over. I ran into a fellow named Jim, who used to train with us when I first started training marathon runners back in 1984! He dropped out of running, gained weight, then decided to get back in shape. He was ready to do this race last year, when life got in the way and he had to have by-pass cardiac surgery. He said he asked his cardiologist if he could get back to his usual activities, and his Doc said sure, so here he was. I really don't think he told his Doc what those "usual activities" were.

Ran into another guy, Wayne, who said "I'm blaming this all on you. I read your blog last week and decided to come out and do it". I apologized and questioned the power I have!

Meanwhile, I ran the whole way, as usual, with my lost brother, Mohammed. He is about as good a friend anybody could ever want. We call each other "lost brothers" because a few years ago, we were doing a trail run and leap-frogged these two girls on the trail a couple of times. After about the third time, one of the girls said "Are you two brothers?" and Moha says "Yes. I lost him in the woods years ago and today I found him. I am so happy". The girl thought we were nuts, but we had a good laugh, and now we're lost brothers. I don't like to particularly read (or write) race reports, so I thought I'd try to remember some of the spontaneous quips that went between me & Moha along the 8 hours we were out there defending our "last-finisher" titles". And by the way, I did finish before my Nike+ GPS watch battery bit the dust.

Mo: Seriously...this is ridiculous (halfway up a 1/4 mile 20% grade)

Al: Damn it! I'm sick & tired of these frickin' constant ups and downs...come to think of it, I don't like the flats either!

Al: You didn't see her? She was buck naked (convincing Moha there was a girl sun-bathing on the rocks when we went down deep in the quarry)

Mo: Yey! Chips (rubbing hands together) upon hearing the list of things at the aid-stations
Al: What language are you speaking?(Sometimes he gets hard to understand when we both get tired)

Al: What do you mean "we" white man? (When Moha starts talking about when "we" run this race next year)
Mo: This is not a trail, this is a damn road - going up a quarter mile service road

Al: There's a 100 mile race next year at Lake Martin (brought up at mile 21)
Mo: Why are you telling me?
Al: Well, 50 miles is twice as much fun as this...can you imagine what a ball we'd have doing 100 miles?
Mo: Shut you mouth!

Mo: Too many banana peels - what we call roots, rocks and anything else that grabs your feet when running
Al: "Crap" as Al does a slam dunk on one of those banana peels

Al: Is it cloudy or is the sun going down?

Mo: It's not Ruffner, it's ROUGH-ner

Al: Is it still Saturday?

Al: My "up" muscles are fried - when I just couldn't lift them to get over a fallen tree

Mo: No, I want a 16oz T-bone (when I asked him if he wants a mint)
Al: A taxi (when asked by an aid-station worker if he can get me anything)

Mo: If you run in the back of the pack, you don't have to worry about spider webs

Al: Why don't they make lasagna flavored Gu?
Mo: (No response...just a stare)

Mo: (after hearing a strange noise) - What was that, an ambulance? 
Al: Yeah Moha, an ambulance in the middle of the damn woods

Mo: Was that here before? (looking at an old rusted-out child's metal rocking horse in the middle of the woods)
Al: No Moha, somebody put it there since we came by 4 hours ago!

Al: Thanks for staying with me, brother
Mo: No, thanks for staying with me, brother

Mo: See you next week
Al: Yep, see you next week

My races (runs, events, whatever you call them now) used to be based solely on how I compared to my previous efforts or the efforts of those around me. Now, the effort is to complete the challenge, but my goals are a little different...beat my watch battery, get over the next hill, don't slip on banana peels, but most of all spend my running day huffing, puffing, laughing, falling, and thanking God along the way that I can still enjoy doing something I love just plain doing.

I'll see you on the roads - AL  

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

Friday, October 12, 2012

I Need a Counselor

"It's like deja-vu all over again!" - Yogi Berra

As I sit here trying to come up with a riveting topic for this week's RWA, I find my usually crystal-clear thought process (yeah, right!) somewhat clouded by my impending immediate future.

Let me back up a little - last October, I saw a race advertised at Ruffner Mountain, probably the most technical trail system in the Birmingham, Alabama area. It was a 21k (half-marathon), and knowing (and feeling) the state of my ailing ankles, I knew it would be stupid idea to sign up for, of course, I signed up for it, and yes, it was a stupid idea. I gloriously finished dead last! Here is a link to that post a year ago.We have really progressed with our trail systems at Oak Mountain, Red Mountain, and at Ruffner, and as trail runners do with single trails in a system, or with whole systems at a time, we rate them on their difficulty. We rate them on elevation gain, from flat to mountainous (usually a gain of over 250' gain/mile). And we also rate these trails on the terrain itself, from paved or very smooth to a very rough trail with rocks, roots, ruts, downed trees, streams to cross, and all manner of hellish obstacles to wish you were someplace else. Each trail system has it's own personality, and to me, Ruffner is the wicked witch of the East. You just can never get into a rhythm with it's steep hills, rocks, short, twisty turns, etc. But, as I say to my running buddy Moha...Red Mountain is for beginners with it's mostly wide double track, Oak Mountain will make you a better trail runner with it's undulating long ups and downs on mostly single track, BUT Ruffner will make you strong with it's tight turns and sudden dramatic changes in elevation, some short, some long.

So, where is all this leading? Last year, I SWORE to Vanessa (my friend and Race Director) that I would NEVER come back. So, what does she do this year? She adds a 42k (full marathon, more or less)!! My God, girl! Get a grip! I made the huge mistake of reading the race application. Why? I don't know...I just told you I would NEVER come back. I see the race fee is the SAME for the 21k or the 42K! I see you can sign up for the full, but drop at the half and get credit as a half finisher! I don't see a downside in this. Before remembering that I would NEVER come back, not only had I registered myself for the 42k, but I registered Moha also and then told him he owed me the race fee! Pretty slick, huh?

My next move was to call my buddy Ken, who is a High School Counselor, and plead "I need a counselor!". When I explained what I had just done, Ken's response was "You're calling the wrong guy" - you see Ken is a serious marathoner with numerous Boston's under his belt. He even registered for last year's Boston on his iPhone during a meeting! So, you see, Ken dips into the same kool-aid of rational thinking that I do. And now, the race is tomorrow. It's only 26 miles, but it's a challenging 26 miles...challenging, my foot, it's gruesome! Ok, I'm exaggerating. My plan is simple - run, eat gel, run, eat gel, walk, eat gel, swear, run/walk, until somebody tells me to stop, then eat pizza and beer. And I want to do all this before my Nike+ GPS battery gives up the ghost (advertised as an 8 hour battery).
What is it with us long distance runners? We see a challenge (while we're sitting at our desk at work) and it's immediate: "I can do that. It'll be fun". Good Grief! The double-edged sword in all this is that if I do good (some degree of OK), I'll figure I'm back and look for other "challenges". If I don't do good (some degree of a NASCAR crash), I'll be safe for at least a little while anyway, and retreat to my safety cocoon of "training" runs. But, these are the runs I love...long and hard and sweaty and deep and, in the end, they are the kind of runs that make a difference in who I am and who I want to be. No, that's not right. These are the kind of runs that weave a thread through my running past, where I am now, and where I will be in the, hopefully, many tomorrows. I know my best running days are behind me, and I am at peace with that, but going back when I say I will NEVER go back, somehow that feels good down deep. Yeah, maybe I do need a counselor. Or maybe, I'm just a long distance runner ready to write, and live, another chapter tomorrow.

I'll see you on the roads - AL

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

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

"The statistics on sanity are that one out of every four Americans is suffering from some form of mental illness. Think of your three best friends. If they are okay, then it's you."
-  Rita Mae Brown

Two of the non-running questions I'm asked most when I'm running with others (usually on Sundays with our Mercedes Training groups) are 1) "Why did you deactivate your Facebook account", which I'll address in a near future RWA, and 2) "how do you come up with a new subject to write about each week?". It's true that I've been writing this weekly blog since May of 2010, but finding a subject each week is really not that difficult. The problem is that I usually come up with an idea for the "the best blog post ever" during a run, and of course by the time I finish the run, that idea is buried beneath other lost ideas of how to cure cancer, how to promote world peace, why the Braves can't win a post-season baseball game EVER, and wondering why this run I'm on feels like the end of a marathon.

But, with a personal running history of greater than a third of a century (MY GOD!!), when I do have a mild case of writer's block (senility?), I can always reach back into the deep recesses of my mind and come up with some goodies of Days Gone By. 

For instance, two weeks ago, I was getting my stuff out to prepare for a trail run the next day. My go-to trail shoes these days are an old pair of Hoka Bondi-B's. I noticed that the outside heel was worn down (after all, they have about 900 miles on them, basically because they have a ton of midsole!!). So, I reached for my old reliable tube of Shoe-Goo, which is like liquid rubber, and deposited a new quarter of an inch of protection to the heel. Shoe-Goo used to be staple of any long distance runner in the 70's and 80's. Oh, I can hear the argument now about how the midsole flattens out after so many miles (certainly NOT 900), so it's not really the outsole you have to worry about. But you see, back then, the midsole was more hardy, and you could get more miles out of a shoe if you could keep that pesky outsole from wearing down. Ta-da...enter Shoe-Goo! Put it on like thick toothpaste, spread it around with a tongue depressor, let it set overnight,
 and your set to go. They still sell Shoe-Goo, but as the good side of technology has brought us lighter shoes, it is usually because the midsole is "blown" instead of solid, so it becomes a pancake sooner and 300-400 miles is usually the limit for your shoes. For those of you who run in these minimalist shoes that snicker at any midsole at all, I guess you could Shoe-Goo your shoes for years and never have to buy a new pair of shoes until you're just tired of the color. 

For those of you young whipper-snappers that find the use of Shoe-Goo pretty funny, how 'bout this for Level 2 of Running in the 80's...after you had Goo'ed you shoes 5-6 times, it was time to take the big plunge. For $13.95, you could send your shoes off to New York City and get them RE-SOLED!! Yep, those shoes would LOOK like new. No new midsole, just the rubber that meets the road! Now, you have to remember that running shoes cost something like 35 bucks back then, so 14 bucks was a bargain to get basically (in our warped minds) a new pair of shoes. Your uppers of the shoes looked like they had gone through years of the mud puddles of hell, but man, the bottoms were pristine. Honestly, back in the 80's, I was doing well over 3000 miles/year, but shoes lasted a good 6-9 months. Might be one reason why I'm nursing aching ankles these days, but Runner's World hadn't progressed enough back then to tell me DON'T DO THAT! 

See how easy it is to come up with a subject to write about? Didn't say it was a riveting subject, but it's just a glimpse into running in yesteryear. I've got a ton of these stories, but I'll share them with my buddies at the Old Runner's Home...where everybody knows your name...where "remember" is the most used word...where I can Shoe-Goo my shoes every night!

I'll see you all on the roads - AL

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

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Some Reflection

 "Though we live in trying times, we're the ones who have to try. Though we know that time has wings, we're the ones who have to fly" - Neal Peart

Although I consider myself a very youthful 65, it would be OK with me if you wanted to take 10-20 years off my age, but that ain't gonna happen. Yeah, each time the Earth spins it's wheel once, that's 24 hours I won't get get back, but I don't dwell on that. I've been running marathons and ultramarathons since 1979, and still don't plan to stop, because I just love The Long Run. There is one advantage to the aging process, however, and that is that for most with age comes the attainment of a certain amount of wisdom that's gained from your life experiences. For those of us who have running as a major aspect of our being and have been at it for years, we've learned many things about running and training. With me, when I think about some of the things I once did and thought in regards to running, training and racing, I just shake my head. Much of what I did wrong was done either in ignorance or because I allowed myself to get so neurotic about trying to be a better runner. Back in the day, as "they" say, most of our training was done with the old tried and true trial & error. I ran a lot, I raced a lot. And I loved it a lot. We ran hard, we ran long, and much of the time, we ran stupid. I'm not regretful of it - I'm sure the Wright Brothers did a lot of stupid flying before they traveled 120 feet above Kitty Hawk. 

But, with increasing age comes a drop off in not only racing performance, but there is also a change in your ability to train hard and recover from workouts. Everyone has a different age where they reach that drop off. For me, it seemed like my times fell off the Continental Shelf about 7-8 years ago (my late 50's). I didn't slowly lose seconds...I rapidly lost minutes! Consistently! Every experienced runner who is at least mildly in tune with their body recognizes when that point is. It's foolish to recognize this point and continue to train as you once did, but you're going to try to keep it at a level that at least resembles the runner you were (and believe you still are). Injuries may be a catalyst to this decline, as it was in my case, but that's just another variable added to the aging process. Do you just throw your hands up and say "I quit"? Well, if you're an ultramarathoner, you know you don't quit unless there is bone showing through the skin. You're like the GPS in your recalculate! You slow down, you go shorter, you take more days off, you change shoes, and see if all that works. My running is better than it was 2-3 years ago, and I am thankful for it. As a once somewhat fast runner who is coming to grips with where I am and doing more than his fair share of pitifully slow running, I can assure you that nothing makes you feel more like a runner than the Long Run. I run most Saturdays on the trails around Birmingham and the trail technicality forces me to run at a slower pace, but I am going long and I am doing it better. After several years of fits and starts, I feel somewhat like a runner again, and have no regrets that I am nowhere like the "old" Al, but am now the new OLD Al.

I still look at race results these days and say "Man, I would've finished up there in that race". Of course, I'm plugging in my PR from 20 years ago! I'll quickly add that this doesn't mean you shouldn't try and want to race faster, but you have to be realistic as to what your body can handle now, not compared to eons ago. Hard training and racing month in and month out is not conducive to a long, healthy running life, and a long, healthy running life is one thing I sure want.
Yes, I had a good, long run today up at the Ruffner MT trails with my buddy, Moha, and that's probably why I'm in a positive reflective mood...maybe if I have a rotten run next week I'll write a blog about how much aging and running sucks. But for now, All is good and Al is good. I'll see you on the roads - AL

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

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Who's knocking? The Mercedes Marathon, that's who?

"The hardest thing to get is going" - unknown, but every runner's creed

As the Marathon Training Director for the Mercedes Marathon here in Birmingham, Alabama (2/17/13), I try to write a weekly blog directed at the new marathoner, TRAINING WITH AL for the runner whose main goal is to finish in good shape. I will continue to write this other blog, RUNNING WITH AL, that reflects my thoughts about running marathons and ultras over the past 30+ years (and whatever else crosses the recesses of my brain), and I certainly hope you will subscribe to both blogs. TWA will have weekly common sense tips as we train towards the Mercedes starting line. I began TWA a year ago, and some of my new posts there will be sort of redundant if you go back and read my earlier blogs. I did a lot of thinking (Ok, during one run, it briefly crossed my mind) about how I would make this year different from last year. Well, basically, I'm not making it philosophy about basic marathon training has not changed, so I decided to frequently plagiarize myself and present aspects of training in a timely way over the next 5 months, but essentially, except with a few new twists, it's training the laid back Al-way (to be a better runner, you have to run...nothing fancy). So, here is what I wrote on this week's TWA. You can head on over there or just read it here.

If you are in the Birmingham area, Join me, along with Ken Harkless, as we will have an easy running group. We are very relaxed and gear our program towards the beginning half/full marathoner. Training will begin this Sunday, September 23rd, and we will meet every Sunday until the marathon in February. We meet at the NBC Building, formally the Brownell Building (813 Shades Crest Parkway, Mt Brook). Here are the particulars:

1) We leave the parking lot at 6:30AM sharp every SUNDAY morning.

2) I'll usually make a few comments about distance, etc, but nobody listens. The colder it is, the shorter I talk.

3) I run about a 11:00-11:30 min/mile pace and encourage most runners to surround me and ask questions. If we can talk while we're running, then it is a good pace. We talk about everything along the way, but the object is to have a good time, SO NO POLITICAL ARGUING.

4) Ken does his run a little faster (as do most of my "friends" lately), but Ken is more of a politician - he whoops, hollers, tells jokes, kisses the girls, and will gladly talk to anyone about running.

5) We put coolers of Powerade or water out about every 2-3 miles, and if you really want to become an endurance athlete, learn to drink at EVERY water stop! You might want to carry a waterbottle with you when we get to the longer runs (>11 miles).

6) We have many runners training with us for different marathons, some coming up soon, some many months away - BUT we're all in the same boat. Don't be afraid to ask questions.

7) We are not a hand-holding group. We are a fun-oriented group with the philosophy of "26.2 miles is not THAT far". We will give you the pearls of experienced wisdom, on the run or through my blog, without getting crazy technical. There will be several training groups for the marathon around Birmingham this Fall. The Trak Shak is a good resource to find out about all the other training groups and when they train (several will train on Saturday). If you're looking for a more formal training experience with a Certified Running Coach, contact Danny Haralson. He will hold your hand while kicking you in the butt at the same time, BUT, he will get the results that YOU want.

Also, on the right side of this web page of both my blogs, I have the schedules and most of the maps of the course we run. Also, our training schedule can be found under "training" at

Hope you decide to join us - AL

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

Saturday, September 15, 2012

My Six Degrees of Boston Billy

"I want to run until I can't run" - Bill Rodgers

Man, you talk about my Six degrees of Separation importance level taking a giant leap. Last night, I had the big thrill, for me, of having dinner with Bill Rodgers, the 2-time former American marathon record holder and 4-time winner of both the Boston and New York Marathons in the late 70's. As a matter of interesting fact, he is still the LAST American born winner of the New York Marathon in 1979! Bill (I can now call him Bill because after one dinner, he is my personal friend) has always been a special icon of mine in that we were both born in 1947, and he was rising into running prominence just when I was beginning to become a serious (in terms of consistency) runner back in '78. I followed his running exploits and actually got to meet him back in the late '70's when he came to Birmingham to run the still popular Vulcan 10k four times, winning each year. I remember how kind he appeared to be to take the time to answer all the questions of the runners that were surrounding him. It's still is clear to me how he congratulated a runner who said he was going to run the next day's Vulcan Marathon in about 4:30 - Bill saying "My hat's off to anybody who can run THAT long".

Bill continued to run, and I followed him through the pathetic coverage of the newspapers, magazines and (thank goodness) the early Internet. He won 22 of the 59 marathons he entered (most of them against the stiffest competition the world had at that time) and most of those were at or under 2:15. As the marathon wins began to lessen, he continued to enter and win shorter races. I remember he suffered a fractured leg that took him a while to get over and I don't think he ever got that Boston Billy stride back, but his most serious health setback came in late 2007 when he was diagnosed with Prostate cancer. His prostate gland was removed in early 2008 and a month later he was back running for the sheer enjoyment he felt when running. And that's what brought us together last night.

Two things...first, we have a great local running store here in Birmingham called The Trak Shak. Been operating since 1995 and now has 3 locations. Valerie McLean is the owner and Val was in my first TNT group that I trained to go to the Marine Corps Marathon way back when - I remember being at her house shortly before we left for DC that year and her asking me about her idea to open a Running Shoe Store. I still kid her that I probably told her that was the stupidest idea I ever heard. Anyway, me & Val have been great friends since and despite my early misgivings, the Birmingham running community owes everything it is to the Trak Shak. They sponsor many local races and a couple of years ago, she started started the Talladega 21000 Meter Race benefiting Prostate Cancer. It's a Half Marathon (and 5k) with part of it being run on the Talladega NASCAR Track. Pretty cool! So, this year, Val pulls off the coup of inviting Bill Rodgers down, seeing his connection to Prostate Cancer. He accepts and tomorrow he will line up with thousands to do the HM (a self-admitted challenge).

In addition to all the usual things that surround a runner like Bill attending your race (media appearances, meet & greets, book/poster/shirt/etc signings), Val thought it would be a good idea if she just arranged a few of the "old" gang to have dinner with him. I was thrilled to know I filled the "old" criteria, and so, me, Val, and four other long-time Birmingham runners joined Bill at an Italian restaurant in Mountain Brook and had the most pleasant evening. I managed to plant myself right next to Bill, and although I shouldn't be surprised, Bill just fit in like one of the old guys instead of the runner of honor. We told as many stories as he did, and he was as interested in our (much exaggerated) stories as we were of his. Of course, our stories were of running in B'ham, Atlanta, and the occasional distant race, while his were of Stockholm, Tokyo, and Melbourne. All of us had done Boston numerous times and tale after tale knitted us together on the streets Hopkinton to Boston. Bill actually ran Boston in 2009 (after a 13 year hiatus) and ran with the masses, finishing in a "proud 4:06".

After dinner, we broke up, but I had the knock-out kick of getting to drive him back to his hotel. I mean, it was just me and my early-running idol for the drive and a very special time sitting in front of his hotel, literally shooting some running related breeze. He asked me more questions about MY running than I would ever ask him. And he seemed genuinely interested! He told me he has a long-range goal of running Boston again in 2018 when he's 70 years old. I didn't ask him if he has to qualify! I guess it amazes everyone how most of these "untouchables" are just like the rest of us. They do incredible things, but they enjoy just yukking it up with friends, new or old. That's who they are.

And so, my brush with Boston Billy comes to an end - won't be doing the race tomorrow - and it's one evening I'll remember for a long time. He asked me to stop by his store next time I'm in Boston (I go every 2 months). I may just do that...after all, that's what you do when you travel...visit old friends!! In the meantime, here in Birmingham, I'll see you on the roads - AL

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