Saturday, January 28, 2012

Let's Be Social - But Not Too Much, OK?

"I don't Twitter. I don't Myface. I don't use Yearbook. I don't do any of that stuff" - Bill Belchick, football coach

So, one of the things I have gotten into the habit of doing lately when I get home after working all day is sitting down with a cold one, or a hot one, depending on the temperature, and flipping through Facebook and Twitter. Just one of those habits I've developed. I actually continually rail against FB people that are posting constantly and carry their Social networking to the Nth degree of being non-social, but I enjoy scrolling down the list to find the couple of things that actually interest me. I'll be honest, I really don't understand anywhere near the full potentials of this media - I can bearly post anything at all, and after I've done it, I have to wonder if it really went where I intended it to go. When I hear that countries are being overthrown because the rebels coordinated their revolution using Twitter, I have to say "WHAT??". You've got to understand this is coming from someone that still gets excited about email! I'm not an introvert, but I haven't opened my life to Cyberworld yet either. However, it seems Cyberworld is finding me wherever I am.

Lately, I've tried to pare down my Facebook contact. The main thing I get out of it is reading family stuff and I like seeing what friends are doing in their running lives. There is even a political site, written by a Congressman of the party opposite to my leanings that I enjoy because he seems to be impartial, fair, self-thinking (WOW!), and continually writes about what's going on in congress. But, my posting is minimal - an occasional comment on someone else's post or letting you know when I post a blog (I even question if anybody wants to know that, but believing they do feeds my literary ego). But, I just don't understand all the levels of FB, and if anybody understands their Privacy Policy, please step forward. Just accept that anything you put on FB is: #1) there forever, and #2) there for everybody to see.

I do like Twitter much better because the comments have to be limited to 140 characters, so most TWEETS - God, I hate that term - are short and have a link to an article that I have the choice to dive into or not. If I have a particularly good, or more often bad, run, I might tweet just to get it off my chest. Some folks follow me for some unknown reason, so I just let them know I'm still around. I follow runners, baseball & soccer players and sites, politics (still searching for an impartial political site), and a couple of miscellaneous places that make me laugh.

But, lately, Social networking as it pertains to running, and everything else to be honest, has really been getting on my nerves. When you buy a new gadget to run with, it usually comes with some software that not only tracks our runs, analyzes our workouts with graphs and charts, but now we have the ability to upload it to "the cloud", write a note about how we "feel" during the workout, and let everyone else see how and what we're doing, so they can offer their suggestions and/or encouragement and/or critique, and it lets us be generally as open about our running lives to others as we are to ourselves. Even, my watch wants to get sociable - after a particularly horrible run, when I hit "end" on my watch, I have to tell my watch to shut up because it says "Great Job!". No it wasn't. It was awful.

It's funny how you share some information you don't even realize your sharing. Do you have one of those sites where they force you to publish your running route overlaid on a map, even if you don't want to? It shows the world in exacting detail where the front door of your house is. I know people with a pickaxe can find my address and stalk me if they want to, but do I have to put it on a silver internet platter for them? Google came out this week with a new Privacy Policy that takes effect March 1st. If you go to their site, essentially they are screaming at you READ THIS OR WE'RE NOT RESPONSIBLE!! As my paranoia grows, I picture someone at Google going through my emails as they pour into my Gmail inbox(es) and then calling all my friends to tell them about it. I like the internet and want to be friends with it, but it's getting scary.

There are a couple sites out there that allow you to discover new routes and places to run, such as MapMyRun, and they're nice, but even they're morphing to become more social. Share your run. Share your life. Let us all become one...the collective...THE BORG!!

Why does my phone track me? Does it really send, via 21st Century technology, my location to someone named Peggy, sitting in old Communist Russia, who then sends a T-mobile sales rep to me to sell me a new phone? Is there a big War-room map in some underground bunker that flashes "DiMicco's on the move" when I drive home?

I could go off on my John Wayne imitation and say I'm from the days when men were men, work was work, and we didn't have a need to let everyone know what we're doing and how we're feeling all the time. Maybe I'll post that on Facebook and see if I get any "Likes". I know at the end of the day, social networks are just tools of expression and a means for us to communicate with others, but I think the world is changing a little too quickly for this slowly aging runner.

And that's the end of my cynicism for today. And I even had a good run this morning - imagine if I had a crappy run and wanted to take it out on the world. So now, I have to go check my Twitter account, so I'm a hypocrite I guess. Maybe somebody will tell me in 140 characters or less that they read this and I'm overly critical and paranoid.

Have a great week (post it and I'll read it). I'll see you on the roads (in person!) - AL

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

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Walter Mitty Dips His Running Toes in Reality

"There are times in our lives when we are drawn uncontrollably to some dangerous source of misery."- Suzi Thibeault, in a letter to David Horton during his conquest of the Appalachian Trail: 2144 miles in 52 days, 9 hours, 41 minutes

Last week, I closed RWA with saying that I had listened to The Marathon Show podcast about Disney and how entertaining it was. Well, this morning, I went out running before the thunderstorms descended on Birmingham, and once again was listening to this week's Marathon Show and in it, Joe Tariconi interviewed Leah Thorvalson. Leah is a 2nd or 3rd tier marathoner who ran in last week's USA Olympic Marathon Trials in Houston and gives a delightful insight into what goes on at one of these events. She talks about how they tape over the sponsors on your running gear, how the elite aid tables are organized, and how she watched the 1st tier runners pulling away. There's a lot more she talks about concerning the race, and for someone like me that gets wrapped up in this stuff, I loved it. Maybe one day, we can get Birmingham's Scott Strand to write about his experience running the Trials. If my fading memory serves me correct (Ha, fat chance of that!), I think he did the Trials twice - once in the Steeplechase and once in the marathon (here in Birmingham 2008).

Most of us will never get close to the upper levels. That's a whole 'nother world. The closest I ever came was back in 1988 when I ran in the TAC/USA 24 Hour Championships held in Atlanta. Ok, not exactly the Olympics, but for a perennial middle-of-the-pack runner who has become a now very back-of-the-pack long distance runner, this was HUGE for me. After listening to that podcast this morning, I dug out my 1988 diary and re-reading my entry from that race was like I was listening to a total stranger's story.

For a lack of anything exciting happening around here, I thought I'd relive one of those thrilling days of yesteryear. Even before the race, all kinds of signs were trying to point to disaster - drove to Atlanta in a driving rain, compliments of Hurricane Gilbert in the Gulf. When I got to the Hotel late the night before the race, the car literally died with a dead battery! Had to get a jump and then searched for an open garage to check it out. The mechanic could have told me I needed a new engine and I would have just handed him my credit card and said "Just fix it", but he was honest and $69 later, I had a new battery. So much for a relaxing night before the race.

The morning of the race, I had a couple of cups of coffee and waffles before heading to the Atlanta Water Works with plenty of time to spare - so I thought! I went to the start line to fill a Thermos, and I noticed a lot of runners by the start line for it being an hour before the race. I asked a friend of mine, Doyle Carpenter, what time the race started, and he said "Oh, in about 3 minutes!!". PANIC MODE!! I ran back to the car, ripping my sweats off, telling my wife and son that they would have to set up the tent without me (like THAT would be a handicap to them). I grabbed the Vaseline, the gun went off, and there I was trying my best to grease up myself during the first one mile loop. I had one more obstacle - seems I had volunteered to take part in this medical study that had me taking a breathing test every 3 hours. The first test was to have been before the race started, but at that time, I was in some coffee shop enjoying a waffle! So, a mile into the race, they're pulling me off the course to breathe into some contraption. FINALLY, I had to collect my emotions, and relax, telling myself I still had 23 hours and 50 minutes to smooth all this calamity out. Not exactly the relaxed atmosphere you picture yourself in before a race.

I don't want to go into the details of the race, but one thing that amazed me when looking back was that I ate very little - my diary said all I had was a yogurt, some bananas, half a turkey sandwich and some grapes! That was it!! I drank something called Body Fuel the first 12 hours and then some OJ, coke (which gave me the hiccups), one V-8, a yogurt shake, and mostly water. I find that amazing considering all our present emphasis on "staying fueled up". I had no cramps and my toe pains were relieved when I cut the toe box off the top of my shoes!! Shoes were cheaper then, not that it matters when your toes are crying. The night gets pretty long and I'm sure I put in extra mileage with my weaving along the course, but once the sun comes up, you get that new kick in the butt. I hit 100 miles at 21:53 and wound up doing over 9 miles the last 2 hours. My last mile was even 8:06 (a time I would KILL for now!!).

My goals going in were 105 miles and finish in the top 20 (remember, this was the USA Championships). I wound up with 109.4 miles and 13th place. There were 30 runners that broke 100 miles, which at the time was the most ever in a 24 hour race. Probably, this one event is in the top three of my biggest running thrills in my 33+ years of running, and although it's not the Olympics, or even the Trials, it was my one day to sweat with some pretty elite runners at (to me) a pretty elite event. My wife often accuses me of being Walter Mitty, but on this very special day, Walter stepped over the line from wishing/hoping/imagining into reality.

Have a good week guys, and I'll see you on the roads - AL

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

Saturday, January 14, 2012

My Garmin...R.I.P.

"Technology... is a queer thing. It brings you great gifts with one hand, and it stabs you in the back with the other." - Carrie P. Snow

Ok, I know it's me. Or as Scott, down at the Trak Shak calls it...User Error! Let's back up a little and paint a VERY clear picture. I am a numbers freak. I always loved math, I know how to figure out pitcher's Earned Run Averages (ERA's), I can tell you the incline of any hill in percentage and NOT degrees (degrees makes a whole lot more sense to me, but I just can't generate a meaningful argument with anyone on that front). I know how many miles in a light-year, and I'm fascinated by the fact that Pi has no repeating pattern after the decimal point...NONE, NADA...not a million places, not a BILLION places!! So, because of this, knowing EXACTLY how far I run is insanely important to me.

About 5 years ago, I bought my first Garmin for running - the old 101, I think. Anyway, it looked like an iphone on your wrist. If you've never seen one, stop Prince Whatley one day and ask to see his watch. He still uses it! Anyway, it was a little too clunky for me and after about a year, I pawned it off to John Gordon. Then, about three years ago, I upgraded my GPS watch to a Garmin 405 and most of the time it has performed very admirably. As a matter of fact, a little over year ago, I wrote a blog post about how these little running computers actually work. If you want to read (or hopefully re-read) that piece of literary genius, click here

Now, it had way more bells and whistles than I could ever need. It definately had a ton more technology than my first home computer, which, in turn, had a ton more technology than the first satellites I marveled at as a kid (heck, I marveled at a dial phone!). Some of it's peculuarities were sorta day I'm running along and look to see my distance and instead I'm staring at a compass!! A DAMN COMPASS!! I didn't even know it had a compass. What's worse is I couldn't get it to revert back to the original screen. I also later learned the Garmin wasn't designed with a sweaty runner in mind (duh?) or that running in the rain wasn't considered by Garmin Research and Development. Nope, unless you locked the touch bezel before your run, you were set up for all kinds of visual (or blank screen) surprises. I had several "Aw, crap" moments when that happened in the middle of a run.

So, now we fast forward to a couple of months ago when I was given a Nike+ Sportswatch. I won't go into all the issues I had with this watch, but it's GPS was a show in itself. Once, when running in Boston, I downloaded my 6 mile run (which it recorded as 9.78 miles!), and the GPS map had me running through buildings, in the Charles River, and over to Cambridge, which I never came within 2 miles of. Then, on another day I pushed the pause button and the whole watch went blank. I was sure it was charged. I was hacked because the record of my run was gone, regardless of how terribly inaccurate the watch was...or how terrible my run was. About every other run did the same thing. I never trusted it on longer runs - that was reserved for my more semi-reliable Garmin. I finally called Nike, explained my concerns, and after "kicking the tires" for an hour, the very nice Tech-guy said "exchange it!". So, down to The Trak Shak I went and they replaced the watch without blinking an eye.

Well, I'll be damned if the 2nd watch didn't do the same BLANK SCREEN thing again after pushing the start/pause/stop button. Not every time, but enough to cause me anxiety during my runs, and if there's one thing I don't need in my runs lately, it's MORE anxiety. So, I decided to just give the watch back to Trak Shak and not even ask for a replacement - it was just causing too much angst (I never get to use that word). Jeff (the Nike+ expert at the TS) wasn't there, and that's when Scott came up with his "user error" zinger - but I had to agree with him.

So, all was good. Until…
I was on a long training run a couple of days later and noticed that the display on my Garmin was starting to fade in and out. By the time I got to 11 miles...yep, blank screen!! This was ridiculous. Two watches and I can't even SEE an inaccurate time or distance on either one!I charged it up and it worked on short runs, but then, Mohammed Guivi and I were running the Ruffner Mountain High Crusher 21k Trail Run the very next weekend...full battery...plenty of hills yearning to have their elevation measured...plenty of miles to have their exactness measured...and me with a hunk of dead technology hanging on my arm.

So, here's the kicker of kickers!! I couldn't find anything in the user's manual or on the web about how to replace the battery. Wanna know why????? Well, do you???? It turns out that the battery is NOT replaceable!! The battery is welded to the innards of the watch and that's that. Dead battery = dead Garmin!! I found that if you jump through enough hoops, you can send your watch back to Garmin (in Austrailia, I think) and they will sell you a refurbished watch for about $185! Excuse me for a moment while I blow a gasket!
I just don't get it. Garmin does a great job of hiding the fact (at least from me) that your $300 watch will fail after about 3 years and then it will be Kaput! Just doesn't seem right.

But, the happy ending for me is that later that same week, Jeff (remember, the Nike+ expert) went for a run with my Nike watch #2 and it blanked out on him too (Thank God!) and he emailed me and said they would replace it AGAIN! Now, that's great customer service. So, I've been running with the Sportswatch for about 5 weeks now without a hitch. It's been accurate, it links up with the satellite quick (even in the house), I found a website to download to (Nike's site is TERRIBLE), and you know what? The battery is replaceable! Life is good again and I feel confident that my 4.06 mile morning run will always be 4.06 miles...give or take a few hundreths.

I'll see you on the roads, no matter how far they are - AL

Addendum: When I run alone, I usually listen to podcasts and pretty soon, I'm going to write about Pods I listen to. But, this morning, during a long run, I listened to the latest The Marathon Show. It's done by Joe Tariconi and this week's episode was recorded WHILE he ran the Disney Marathon. He is a funny, happy-go-lucky, guy and this epeisode was great and had me smiling, even at 16 miles! Give it a try.

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

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Coach Al's Simple Training Principles

"The marathon is every runner's horizontal Everest" - Hal Higdon

Got my new RUNNER's WORLD this week, and even after 30 years of reading this magazine, I still flip through it with some excitement that probably should have faded a long, long time ago. I remember when I first started running, right after the Titanic sank, RW came out and I still recall they had a deal that instead of renewing your subscription every year, you could get a lifetime subscription for $200!! Of course, I thought "What a rip that is!". I'm pretty shrewd...can't pull one over on me!

One year. I recall talking to Bart Yasso...we're old friends...well, I talked to him once at the Boston Marathon Expo. I remember him telling me that RW will always be popular because every runner wants to lose 5#, every runner gets injured, every runner wants to know about new shoes, and every runner wants to run faster and longer,.And it's that training thing that always gets me intrigued. Good grief! How many different ways are there to train? A lot apparently. At least one way per month times 12 times per year times enough to fill up a lifetime subscription! Some folks need complexity, specificity everyday, and no flexibility to the program, so for those folks, voila! But, I find myself looking quickly at the RW program, and if there are every week intervals on the track (which are more like work to me than fun) or mid-week long runs (which is impossible to fit into my work/life schedule), I know to just "walk away slowly".

There are no short cuts on the road to marathoning and beyond. It is long, and unforgiving. Since I first began training beginning marathoners things to do right and, more importantly, things NOT to do wrong, I have always tried to keep the tips and philosophies as simple as I could. I just hate when training programs get overly complicated. Unless specifically asked to do so, I rarely will write out a very detailed training schedule for one of my trainees. I know I’m better off not establishing a daily (anal) schedule. If you look over the training schedule for the Mercedes Marathon on the right side of my RUNNING WITH AL or TRAINING WITH AL blogs you'll notice it has a weekly total, a distance for the long run, and that's it. No hills, no speed, no Heart Rate goals. Now, I gear this schedule to the new or non-competitive marathoner, but I have always felt that if you want to be good at running long distances, you have to train at long distances...the rest is icing on the mashed potatoes.

Now, don't me wrong, or work yourself into a lather, because I know that to become the best runner you can possibly be, you better get your butt on a track, or run up some tortuous hills, or do some long tempo runs. But, the bulk of long distance training is putting your feet to the road or trail for an extended period of time CONSISTENTLY. It's pretty simple.

But still, it's funny that I have always been an avid reader of training philosophies and techniques. Indeed, next to my bed sit dozens of books on how to train for endurance running. Some of my favorite books on training, which tend to be loaded with many types of workouts, are my favorites because of my love for exercise physiology and how the body can literally transform to an endurance machine simply by making the body adapt to the stresses you put upon it. There are hundreds of workouts one can do, but there are really only a few training principles that I need to follow to achieve the results I want. Sticking to these principles "in the long run" is more important than focusing on specific workouts.

There are five basic principles in my training program. These are quite simple.

Principle Number 1: build and maintain the aerobic base. In its most basic form this is simply building up and sustaining weekly miles. To a beginning long distance runner, the most important thing is to run long distances. So, my training has always built around intelligently building your base. I'm not a fan of doing cross-training as a substitute for running mileage. To round out a fitness program, fine. But if you want to be a good runner, you have to run...period...end of discussion. How many Kenyans have you seen riding a bike?

Principle Number 2: Build strength in your legs. Don't avoid a hilly course. You have to develop both the front of your thighs (quadriceps) and the back of your thighs (hamstrings) through the rolling hill courses. Run on some uneven terrain (trails) to develop the lower leg (calf) muscles and ankle stability.

Principle Number 3: Grow the body's capacity to run faster at a lower heart rate. There are many methods to do this. Running hill repeats are pretty fail safe, but I like to just slowly pick up the pace gently over a distance. Doesn't have to be real long, but don't make it a short sprint.You can use a Heart Rate Monitor (I don't) to control your effort, but I find these efforts should be hard, but smooth and not in the "I'm absolutely dying" category. These run at or below my anaerobic threshold (basically always conversational).

Principle Number 4: Specificity of training. Teach the mind to deal with the adversity that it will face come race day. This requires doing long runs and shorter races on similar terrain and under similar conditions as the race I'm training for. Be it heat or hills or trails or rain/snow.Training in these elements prior to race day is critical not only to perform well but to be safe. If you plan to use gels, or drinks, or any other aid during a race, you better use it in training.

Principle Number 5: The bulk of your training should be done at the pace you intend to run your race. I'll never understand how the heck your body will ever get comfortable at your intended marathon pace if you're doing fast intervals on the track and doing your long runs 1-2 minutes per mile slower than race pace. As a caveat (fancy word for exception to my rule) to this Principle, I do believe Yasso 800's are valuable for a runner trying to improve his previous marathon time.

This, of course, is pretty basic about some of my coaching philosophies, and because they're my Principles, I could change them tomorrow. But, through many years of making a ton of mistakes on myself, I keep coming back to this premise: Keep it as simple as possible with a solid foundation and then tool all that other stuff to what fits you. If you don't like it, you won't stick with it, and there lies the absolute, #1 Principle of consistent.

That's it for this week buckeroos. Ok, gotta go and finish that new Runner's World I got. Maybe there's another training article that I'll be intrigued with and then ignore.

I'll see you on the roads - AL

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