Saturday, February 25, 2012

When The Other Shoe Drops

"Great things are not accomplished by those who yield to trends and fads and popular opinion" - Jack Kerouac

This rock rolling downhill - called the minimalist shoe movement - just keeps getting more out of control. Years ago, I read an excellent book by Malcolm Gladwell called The Tipping Point. I refer to it often. It's about how fads, movements, crazes, etc. all of a sudden become so popular, while other similar situations fall flat on their faces. Just what is that tipping point that puts something over the edge? Whatever it is, the barefoot...minimalist...natural...running movement is in full swing.

As many of you know by now, I'm not a great promoter of this development, as a runner, as a Physical Therapist, as an old fogey, long-time traditionalist marathoner and ultrarunner. First and foremost, I am a firm believer that whatever works for you, works for you... It's that simple. Hey , let me coin a phrase...if it ain't broke, don't fix it! Some can run barefoot, completely pronated with six toes on one foot and four toes on the other and do just great. Some folks can't get their feet out of their own way, and no amount of shoe technology is going to get them to glide down the road. Some folks can run marathons and others can't run a step! But, I do believe that there are more people who can run because of shoes than can't run because of shoes, which seems to be what some of these "Born to Run" followers want there torch to be.

So, let's look at this logically. The major minimalist argument is that the more minimal "the drop", the more you are forced to run with a gait that lands on the forefoot, or if you're really a clunker, than at least you'll land on your midfoot. The "drop" is the differential between the height of the heel and the forefoot and has become a more important factor in how some runners decide what shoes they want to buy, not necessarily what shoes work for them. In general, minimalist shoes have a 0-6mm of drop to allow for good forefoot articulation, while heel strikers are generally comfortable in 10mm+ drop shoes. Actually, many shoes have a drop of 14-15 mm. Essentially, that's almost like running on a downhill incline all the time. The idea with a higher drop is to encourage a heel strike to allow a rolling into a forefoot push-off. No question a more efficient foot strike will put less stress on the body and make you more efficient, but you can also develop a beautiful gait in the most clunky super corrective footwear just as easily as in Vibram Five Fingers.

Now, here's where the Physical Therapist side of me emerges. In traditional heel-strike running, the calf muscle's ONLY job is concentric work -- meaning contraction while shortening. This occurs as the calf shortens, plantar-flexing the foot and creating propulsion. In the more forefoot-strike style of running, the calf muscle has to do an entirely new job -- deceleration -- which is an eccentric action, meaning contraction while LENGTHENING. When your forefoot hits the ground, your calf has to lower you WHOLE body weight down onto the heel gently and then immediately do it's old 2nd job, which was lift your WHOLE body weight at the heel so you can push off and go forward. Translation: minimalist style running essentially DOUBLES the workload on the calf, and the new work is of a type with which the calf is relatively unfamiliar (eccentric contraction), since this action is not performed in traditional running style. This can cause an excessive load on the Achilles Tendon a thousand times EVERY MILE per foot. I'm not saying it'll happen, but it might be a good idea to Google "Achilles Tendinitis" just to familiarize yourself with the treatment. Most muscle and tendon injuries occur during ECCENTRIC muscle contraction. Why? Because most of us never train our muscles & tendons in this action, therefore our muscles & tendons are unprepared for and unprotected during these events. This is why most first-time Boston Marathoners destroy their quads on the first 16 downhill miles. Next time, they learn to do squats and train to run downhill before lining up in Hopkinton.

So, we come down to this. My contention is that too many runners are doing just fine, then read a book like "Born To Run" and decide "I want to run like my African ancestors". They don't realize that our ancestors probably also had some tribal members that could run down gazelles (elite hunters) and some that couldn't hunt down a one-legged turtle (back-of-the-pack hunters). If things are hunky-dorey, don't change for the sake of change. If you think the minimalist idea sounds like something you'd like to try, then PLEASE enter in to this brave new world carefully and gradually. Talk to a professional shoe-guy about how to transition from one type shoe to another. These guys WANT to sell you shoes, so they don't want you to get hurt and give up running - they want you to come back and buy more shoes. Also, they can set you straight on exactly what each shoe can, and can't do for you.

One last thing...looks can be deceiving too. Minimalist shoes don't necessarily have to have paper-thin soles - the aforementioned drop is the key. My savior shoes - Hokas - are commonly called "Clown Shoes" because of their HUGE soles. I wear them because I'm trying to decrease the pounding on my arthritic ankles, and they seem to be helping along those lines. BUT, in actuality, you can call them a minimalist shoe...their drop is only 4mm!!! How's that for a kicker? Maybe that's why my ankles feel better but my Achilles is sore. Oh well. Gotta go hunting...Where's that one-legged turtle?

Whatever shoes you are wearing, I hope they work for you, and if you have any questions, you know I'll see you on the roads - AL

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

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Grandkids, Pitchers, Catchers, and Runners...Oh My!!

It's the fans that need spring training. You gotta get 'em interested. Wake 'em up and let 'em know that their season is coming, the good times are gonna roll.
Harry Caray

Well, here I am in chilly, though not freezing-your-butt-off-cold, Boston, as my wife and I descend on Michael, Joanie, and our two grandkids, Adam & Emma. It is amazing how fast they grow up - Adam & Emma, not Michael and Joanie - to where Adam (almost 2 and a half) can hold almost a complete conversation (or argument), and Emma (6 months) has a personality to (try to) wrap me around her little finger. We try to make this trip every two months, and I increasingly don't understand how a family with more than 2 kids can ever come out of it in any resemblance of sanity, or be able to ever function as a useful member of society following being a multiple parent. I think China has it all wrong trying to limit each family to one child. I mean if they don't want their people to rebel, keep them busy raising a family instead of having time to think independently and coming up with ways to be a thorn in the Government's butt.

Tomorrow, (Sunday), is one of those days that to some, seems to be a turning point in the seasons of the year. I am one of those twisted, dwindling few. For, tomorrow, pitchers and catchers report for Major League Baseball's Spring Training in Florida or Arizona. From when I was a little boy (yeah, yeah, I know...a hundred years ago...real funny...just get it out of your system), the beginning of baseball season meant a start of hating the Yankees, loving the NY Giants as a little guy, and then when they sold their collective souls to the devil and moved to California in '58, moving my allegiance to the Mets. Once I moved away from New Jersey in '65, like a glacier, my love for the Mets has been gradually waning and been supplanted by the greatest Anti-Yankee team of them all - the Boston Red Sox. I don't have a lifelong history as a Red Sox fan, but the Yanks - UGH!!! There is no trying to hide my disdain for them. I don't even want to treat patients in my clinic if they're wearing a Yankee hat! Ok, I'm just kidding with them, but I let them know I might just turn that Electrical Stimulation Unit up a notch or two during their treatment. But, beginning tomorrow, we'll have baseball in one form or other every day until November. Now, living in Alabama, that doesn't hold even a tiny candle to the inordinate amount of coverage college football gets, but I don't fight that. I just try to pass it off as best I can and I just wait around till some ump yells "Play Ball". And if anybody out there has any openings in their fantasy league, give ol' Coach Al a call. If I can win my Football Fantasy League when I don't know what the heck I'm doing, then look out!

It's pretty obvious that my post-Mercedes Marathon, play-with-the-grandkids, wait-for-baseball-season-to-start, mind is not on running, but I did want to hand it to all those folks that ran the Mercedes last week. Cold start (19 F), but really great weather. Wonderful organization as usual from Val McLean and all of The Trak Shak, and a special thanks to The Darkside Running Club from Atlanta (of which I am a member) for handling the bulk of the Pace Team duties. As Director of that team, I may have grown over confident with their ability to deliver their Pace Group year after year right on time. Great job guys. As for me, I finished marathon/ultra #130 in good shape. Was on target through 18 as a Pacer for the 5 hour pace group, but dropped back with one of my best buddies having a very unexpected cramping problem and we came in laughing and joking before the sun came down in 5:19. Now, this was his 74th marathon, so it just goes to show you once more that you never know what will happen on THE DAY. When a race wants to bite your butt, it'll bite your butt!!

Well, everybody's about to wake up from their nap, so I guess I better get the engine started for the afternoon session of DiMicco Crossfit. I hope to get out tomorrow on the Boston Marathon course. Every time I come up here, I have to remind it who's boss!! It has it's version...I have mine!!!

I'll see you next week back on the Birmingham roads - AL

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

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Fire?...Anybody Got Some Fire?

"Satisfaction lies in the effort, not in the attainment. Full effort is full victory." - Mahatma Gandhi

So, here I sit, 24 hours before the Mercedes Marathon, having a cup of coffee and watching the end of the Manchester United/Liverpool soccer game (I love soccer). I slept till 7:30 this morning because I knew I wasn't going to run so I didn't set an alarm and getting up at 7:30 really felt late. Maybe the object was to make me feel rested, but right now, I just feel lazy.

After 30+ years of running marathons/ultras, you develop a cetain routine, a certain anticipation, a certain fire. But lately, that just just seems harder and harder to light. Oh, don't get me wrong, I still love to run, and when my ankles allow me to, there is nothing better than a good long run. I can be alone, or I can be with friends, but the feeling of your legs carrying you over 10, 15, 20 miles is pure joy to me. But now that the PR's are history, the novelty of new challenges has past, and the inner embers merely smolder. I miss the, well...fear is I guess what you would call it as you would approach the race. I am looking forward to the race tomorrow, but it's with the same excitement that I approach a long training run. I love that I'm going be out there for a long time with only my legs powering me along, but I guess I feel a hole where that burn used to be.

Maybe a lot of it is that my energy for Mercedes has shifted to being the Pace Team Director and this has been a joy to do. I ran the first Mercdes in 2002 as a race, and then for the past 10 years, I have directed the Pace Team. I guess it's that "Coach" in me. If you pace somebody through a marathon (or longer), I guess you're a short-term coach. Telling a new marathoner to just hang close to me and don't worry about anything except moving and I'll get you there, is a ball. I remember a few years ago, right before the race, some guy asked "Do you guarantee I'll finish in 4:30?" I said, "No, I guarantee I'LL finish in 4:30!". Once, in the early years, I was pacing the 4:30 group, and GOT PASSED by the 4:45 pacer!! It was his first time pacing and he was a little too fiesty. I had to calm him down! Throughout the years, my job has been made easy because all my pacers are rock solid. Every year, I have a central core of my friends from the Darkside Running Club in Atlanta come over and all are always spot-on with their pacing. This year is no exception. But, we also had a couple of local runners that stepped up late when a few pacers had to drop out. That sure lowered my stress level to have these guys fill in. I'll be with the 5 hour group, but I reserve the right to drop back and pace the Balloon Lady (I made sure I assigned TWO other 5 hour pacers!).

If I finish the race, I'll be ecstatic that I notched another marathon. If I don't, well, then I don't. But the plan is definately do to do well. But where is the fire? Where's the mojo?

As me and my best friend, Ken, always say "Just shut the hell up and get to the finish line". So, that's what I'll do...supposed to be 20 degrees! Now, for that, I REALLY need a fire!!

I'll see you all on the chilly Birmingham roads - AL

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

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Thoughts Rattling Around

"THEN FOR GOD'S SAKE MAN, STOP CLAPPING YOUR HANDS!" - A man yelling as Bono was performing a benefit in Scotland before a crowded house. Bono had started slowly clapping his hands and told his audience, "Every time I clap my hands, an elephant dies in Africa!"

As I run down the roads, I usually will have a lot of time to think about a whole slew of things. I'll forget most of what I think about, but sometimes, usually sparked by something I hear on a podcast, I'll hear something pretty interesting...sometimes related to running, and sometimes not. So, for lack of a riveting subject to write about this morning as I recover from my morning run, let's travel through Al's mind and see what's rattling around.

The Colorado State Fair Grand Champion goat has been stripped of it's title...after failing a drug test. He will of course appeal.

There are TWICE as many people in the world as when I was born. I was born a looonnnggg time ago.

Facebook has over 850 MILLION subscribers. If FB was a country, it would be the 3rd largest country in the whole, wide world.

From a complete stop, a human can outrun a formula 1 car for about 30 feet.

The Chicago Marathon opened registration this past Wednesday (Feb 1st), and will fill up it's 45,000 slots this weekend. It's terrible these races fill up months before your training for them starts.

Leukemia's TNT program has trained more than 540,000 folks to run their first marathon and I'm so blessed to be a coaching part of that program.

The average dropout rate for any given ultramarathon of 50 miles or more is 40%. This surprised me because I would think most folks running 50+ miles know what thy've gotten themselves into.

Every one dollar increase in a barrell of crude oil gives Exxon $450 million dollars a year more income. No comment...yes I do - "thieves!!".

Ed Whitlock set a new 80-84 Age Group record for the marathon in Toronto...3:15:25. I'm beginning my 15 year training program.

Fauja Singh from India, ran the same marathon as Ed at 100 YEARS OLD in 8:11. Guiness refused to recognize the time because he couldn't produce a valid Birth Certificate...the man was born in rural India...100 years ago!!! Good Grief!!

Michael Wardian ran the Olympic Trials in 2:21 and came back the very next day and ran the Houston Marathon in 2:31. And his specialty is ultramarathons!

The Goofy Challenge in Orlando, where you run a Half Marathon on Saturday and a Full Marathon on Sunday, had 9000 participants! This event still seems pretty hardcore to me.

At the Dubai Marathon last weekend, four runners ran UNDER 2:05:00! Those were 4 of the top 20 times in HISTORY! We're talking All-time! Like forever! Anywhere! Ever! Two hours is coming. I give it about 8-10 years.

The Pacific Ocean is so large, that if you Google Earth it from space, it fills almost a full hemisphere! You can hardly see any land.

Our Sun (a star) belongs to the Milky Way Galaxy. Astronomers estimate there are about 100 thousand million stars in the Milky Way alone... and there are millions upon millions of other galaxies. How can we be alone?

With the Super Bowl being played tomorrow, there are literally dozens of different bets you can place...What color Gatorade will get thrown on the winning coach...coin Flip: heads or long it will take Kelly Clarkson to sing the National Anthem...color of Madonna's can even bet on who wins the game! Go Giants...I was raised with the Giants. I'd go with my dad to the old Yankee Stadium. One blustery, snowy day, we were sitting in the End Zone, freezing our butts off. My dad reaches in his jacket, pulls out a flask and says "Take a sip of this". WOW! Screwdrivers burn all the way down! Dad was a good man. And he loved his Giants.

Hope you all enjoy the game. As for me, I'm more looking forward to my run in the morning when I'll see you all on the roads - AL

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