Friday, March 30, 2012

Full a Piss an' Vinegar

“Try to learn something about everything and everything about something.” - T.X. Huxley

Several years ago, while on a long training run with my Leukemia TNT group, I had as one of my trainees a UAB Nutrition student from Kenya whose name was pronounced Knee-me-yey. I'm utterly awful with names, but I remember his after all these years because after mangling his name countless times, he finally said in his thick Kenyan accent "Luuk, here ees how you reemember my name"...he then pointed to his knee, said "knee"...pointed to his chest, said "me"...threw both hands in the air and said "yey". I have not forgotten it yet, so I guess it worked. I was his coach. He was Kenyan about to run his first marathon. Nothing ego building here. All I had to do was tell him to put one foot in front of the other, take some Gu along the way, and let genetics take over. His ancestors from the Rift Valley would make me look like the TNT Coach of the Year. Unfortunately, we hit a snag in Coach Al's Road to Glory - he couldn't meet his fund-raising goal, retreated to his studies, and I never laid eyes on him again.

During one of our long runs, Knee-me-yey started to tighten up (apparently, I was running this Kenyan too hard), and said "I need some Mustard". I was sure I just misunderstood his not-perfect-english accent. But, no. He wanted mustard...a packet, like you get at McDonald's. Trying to be as diplomatic and understanding as possible, I asked "What the Hell do you need mustard for?" at which point (remember he was a Nutrition student) he said you use it to relieve leg cramps in 2 minutes. He said he had done this several times in 10K's to half marathons. "What, do you rub it in like Ben-Gay" I innocently asked. No, what you do is squirt it in your mouth, think to yourself real loud "YOWWEE", and swallow hard. If you think a Vodka Screwdriver burns all the way down when you're 10 years old (personal reference), I can imagine how this feels. But, supposedly, the cramps are history and you're back on your merry way to the finish line. After telling him I thought he was out of his ever-loving mind, I decided to do some research.

Turns out that for years, coaches (mostly the old codgers with the stopwatch draped across the front of their sweatshirt) have given mustard to their athletes with leg cramps. Cramps are sometimes caused by a deficiency in acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter that stimulates your muscles to work. Mustard has acetic acid, which helps the body make more acetylcholine pretty darn quick. Now, to make a real picnic buffet out of this, I read that coaches also gave pickle juice to these cramping runners for the same reason - guess it was runner's choice! Now, THIS rang a distant bell. When I would run ultras that had been organized by older ultrarunners, at some aid stations I would notice a jar of small pickles or pickle slices. I never asked about it and passed this off as just some grandma putting the jar on the table because her grandson was running and he liked pickles when he was 8. But no. These were placed there because these older runners knew that the pickles would help with those cramps late in the race that will pull down the strongest runner like an antelope being felled by an arrow. Apparently, pickle juice is a niche market for athletes who do an event for several hours. It has a limited role, to help people who run marathons, ultra-marathons (50-mile-plus events) and Ironman triathlons. It’s not for the everyday person who works out for an hour or so.

Originally, it was thought that it was the electrolytes in the pickle juice that got rid of the cramps, but studies done testing the blood and urine of athletes found no change in the subjects' sodium, potassium, magnesium or other levels. It is now thought that the magic potion is vinegar (also found in mustard packets) that triggers a neurological response in the mouth, which then signals the brain to stop the doggone cramping.

So, I guess #1) I owe an apology to Knee-me-yey for doubting a Kenyan UAB Nutrition student, #2) I will make sure pickles and mustard are in my drop bags at races, #3) I need to carry a little flask of vinegar in my water belt, and #4) I need to contact some of these companies about looking into marketing some Mustard flavored Gu or Pickle Chews. Mmmmmmm

Keep learning and running. I'll see you on the roads - AL

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

Saturday, March 24, 2012

One Hundred...

"There are not traffic jams along the extra mile." - Roger Staubach

100 miles, 100 marathons, 100 weeks, 100 RUNNING WITH AL blogs! Yep, this post represents 100 weeks in a row of RWA. Now, back in 1999, I began writing a weekly training email for my Leukemia TNT trainees. Then, 2 years ago, I decided to enter the 21st Century and try to design a blog page and see how that went. I love it. My own colors, my own font, and whatever flies through the empty recesses of my mind. I must admit, I get a kick looking at the blog map that shows that for some strange reason, runners in French Timbucktoo are reading my blog. Now, what they're commenting about the blog, I have no earthly idea, but I'm sure it's something along the lines of "Sacre Bleu!! Thees ees magnifique!!".

There are two things I really enjoy doing...well, I guess there are a lot more than least I sure hope so. Anyway, as I sit in front of my computer about to snap off another weekly RWA, I realize this brings those two pleasures together; running and writing.

In my 33 years of pleasurable running, not counting High School, which was definitely NOT pleasurable at all, running has become a part of me. I enjoy doing it. I want to do it. I don't believe it's life or death, but it does make my life richer and I sure believe it keeps me healthier. It doesn't define who I am in it's rawest basics, but it defines who I am by the friends I choose to run with, the conversations I have with them, and the topics I choose to post for the world to see (which, surprisingly, is more than a metaphor). But, for something so simple, running sure can be one of the most diverse things you can do.

You can run distances from sprints to ultras...on flat roads or in the mountains...on trails and on pavement. On sand and on treadmills...on indoor tracks, 30 laps to the mile or outside tracks, 4 to a mile. You can run alone, with your buddies, with perfect strangers, with huge crowds. You can run local or you can run anywhere around the world.

I've raced as short as 100 yards and as long as 111 miles. I've run midpack most of my life, but I actually won a couple of races outright. I was a scrub on my High School Track Team, but I've competed in 5 Boston Marathons and in the USA National 24 Hour Championships. Recently, I finished dead last in a trail race without even getting lost! But, it's better than the couple of times I didn't finish at all.

I've run this great country in places East to West from Boston to San Diego, and North to South from Alaska to Miami. I've run and drank Guinness in Dublin, and I've run and drank Dos Equis in Mexico, and I've run and drank Molson in Canada. And I have PR's that were set when my 38 year old son was in elementary school.

In 1978, I took a single step on the UAB track and ran a mile, which to me was forever. Last December, I passed the 77,000 mark for miles since that single mile and forever is not in the vocabulary anymore! Mingled in all those miles, I've competed in 130 marathons or ultramarathons. And so, you see, I have 30+ years of memories that just pop into my head now and again and I enjoy writing them down. A hundred weeks ago, I began this blog, and hopefully some of you still enjoy reading it, because I do enjoy to write. And I sure do enjoy to run. And when we can combine the two, Al is happy!

And somewhere along this journey, I hope to see you all on the roads - AL

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

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Hoops and Dirt...They Both Have Holes!

“There’ll be two buses leaving the hotel for the park tomorrow. The two o’clock bus will be for those of you who need a little extra work. The empty bus will leave at five o’clock.” David Bristol, Milwaukee Brewers baseball manager

So, how's everybody's bracket doing? After Thursday's first round of games, I thought I just might quit my Physical Therapy gig and become a full time handicapper in Vegas. I was flying. Now, my bracket looks like some hillbilly took a shotgun to it and blasted it full of holes. Holy cow! It's like God said "What's March Madness? Let me pick one of those bracket things!". For all you Tar Heel fans (North Carolina), I may as apologize up front because I picked UNC to win the whole thing!

Around these Alabama parts, we are two weeks from the annual Oak Mountain 50k Trail Run and I know there are several of my running buddies attempting the ultra distance for the first time. After a 4 year hiatus, I was hoping to take part in the race this year, but after a trial run a couple of weeks ago, I think my days of ultras with technical trails are history. My trail trial (that's a typographical tongue twister) was a mechanically physical implosion. It is something that I WANT to do and not what I HAVE to do or what someone is telling me to do. I WANT to go out and run very far. I WANT to be challenged mentally and physically for no other reason than to put myself on the edge. But, life is not always a bowl of cherries, and I've certainly had many, many memories running ultras up to 111 miles. No need to mope about it. I'll keep running the trails that I can, and I am currently training for a tamer trail 50K in May. We'll see soon how that plan evoles. But, over the years, trail ultras have taught me that the mindset has to be quite diverse when comparing it to it's more sedate, older sister, the road marathon.

Road marathons have the pre-race hub-bub and excitement, the fireworks at the start, and the always-too-fast-first-mile. Ultras have a low key, casual, relaxed atmosphere. Ultras usually start in the forest somewhere or at least run through some heavily wooded section for all or most of the race. These days, very rarely is an ultramarathon a road race. Back in the 80's and early 90's, The Birmingham Track Club had a very successful 50 miler on the roads at Oak Mountain...4 laps of 12.5 miles! How in the world I did that race, I have no idea, but I managed to complete all 14 of them! Now, for 99% of the gang who run these events, it’s a run, not a race. There’s a very social atmosphere before the start, during the race, and afterward. In marathons, you usually have to go a little deeper towards the back of the pack to get that "social run" atmosphere. Ultras rarely hold awards ceremonies because the nature of the run makes it tough to do that – the finish times can be stretched out across as much as a 6 hour period, no wait, make that 9 hours. No, can be 12...oh heck, it can just be a real long time. Finishing is the goal, but you finish and drink beer and eat! You put down your burger and brew to clap when some other runner ambles across the finish line and then he/she joins in the post-race hoopla.

In ultras, training is about endurance above all else. To run fifty miles, you have to be able to run fifty miles. I know that sounds, well, almost stupid, but it’s true. You absolutely have to be able to last for a long time on your feet. And, you have to juggle a lot of other things while continuing to put one foot in front of the other. You have to learn how to carry a bunch of crap with you (how many marathoners carry toilet paper with them?), how to drink a LOT while running (when there aren't aid stations every mile), how to eat normal food while running (can't live on Gu from dawn to dusk you know), and how to be very flexible in how you do all these things (because Plan A never works). And while you do all these things, you better stay alert and not start thinking about what kind of Sam Adams you'll have at the finish. Lose your focus, and you'll hit what my buddy, Moha, and I call banana peels. These banana peels can be in the form of roots, rocks, ruts, kudzu, and many types of Whatevers, just existing to cause some unexpecting trail runner a glorious face-plant. Several times, I've hit those ever present invisible banana peels. As I dusted the dirt off, I looked around and there is absolutely NOTHING that could have caused me to do a half-gainer into the bushes.

One of the smartest snippets of advice I’ve ever recieved about ultras is to keep moving forward. Dwayne Satterfield, one of the Southeast's top trail ultrarunners told me to keep repeating...Baby steps, baby steps, especially when going uphill. It sounds so simple, but when you get tired and can’t think clearly and you have all these things to do to take care of yourself, it’s easy to stop dead in your tracks and start rambling on to someone about what you need to do, how you feel so bad, etc., etc., on and on. Walking along while you get your stuff together not only prevents a lot of lost time from standing there like an idiot, but it minimizes the impact of said lost time. Think of it this way: in a 50 miler, if you stop and whine for, oh, say seven and a half minutes and then get started again, you’ll have the next mile go by in 7:30 PLUS however long it takes you to go through that mile (let’s say 12 minutes because you’re tired or you wouldn’t have stopped to whine); so, that mile took 19:30; if you had grabbed your stuff and walked along getting organized, you couldn’t have wasted the time whining and you would have covered over a half mile in the same 7:30, so then you would start back running and get through the rest of the mile in less than 6 minutes (let’s say 5:30); so, now, your organized self is six and a half minutes ahead of your whiny self. If that happens several times in the last part of the race, you could easily be talking about over an hour eaten up by not simply moving forward. Learning to keep moving forward comes from running a long way in practice … when you’re tired … when you’re hungry … when you’ve given out mentally. You can apply this "moving forward math" to any race of a marathon distance or longer. It's just that...and I know this from many-time experience...the Space/Time Continuum gets severly distorted in an ultra race. You can set a goal in a road marathon and miss it by 15 minutes and you sulk around about what a crappy runner you are. But, transpose that to even a trail 50K, which is only 5+ miles longer, you can set a goal of 7 hours, cross the finish line at 9 hours and say "That was close enough"! Being "out there" changes your outlook on a lot of things!

Mark Twain once said "A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn no other way". I wish to all my buddies about to enter the new ultra world all the luck, but hopefully they won't have to resort to luck. If you've done the prep work, both physically and mentally, ride with the wave. You can buck against a marathon and sometimes let it know who's boss. Don't try that technique with an ultra, especially on the trail. Most of the time, somewhere along the course, you will enter a dark place that you are sure you will never get out of. One of the good things is you have a lot of time to get out of it, and you will...remember, it doesn't always get worse.

Have a grand experience and when you cross the finish line, we'll share a burger and a brew. I'll see you on the roads - AL

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

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Guess Who's Ship Came In?

"I have a feeling that when my ship comes in I’ll be at the airport." - Charles M. Schulz

Millionaire!! That has a such a nice ring to it. Some days I can just thank my stars that my luck has been more than I could ever hope for. This has been one unbelievable week. I just can't believe that the stars have aligned like they have. While all of you are worrying about the economy and how to pay your bills...I don't have to ANYMORE!! Know why?? BECAUSE I'M A MILLIONAIRE...that's why!! Hahahahaha!

It all began early this week when I woke up as usual by waking up (Yep, that's how I do my eyes and I'm up). I put on my running clothes in the pitch black, thinking of my day at work ahead of me, had my usual smooth "hop-out-of-the-sack, legs-as-stiff-as-telephone-poles" morning run. I showered, dressed, and sat down for a minute before going to work by checking Twitter and the email I had gotten during the night. Usually, those emails just tell me what soccer games are being televised that day on stations that I don't get on my cable, or the day's specials from Office Depot, or the Runner's World Daily News. And that's when my whole life changed right then and there.

So I had two emails. One from Office Depot about a $10 coupon if I spend 50 bucks...but who needs that now? Huh? Because I'm a millionaire and could buy Office Depot! That's because the other email was from someone named Maria Borin da Cunha (Actually it was "From the Desk of..."). Talk about regal names. It's certainly a name I'll never forget. She has a title of Legal Adviser. Anyway, in her email that began "Hello Dear Friend" (which immediately put me at ease) she stated that she was representing a couple in England that had won a lottery worth 101 million pounds. I don't know if that's the currency or the weight, but it sure does sound like a heap of coin! This (very large-hearted) couple decided this was WAY too much money for them, so they are donating much of it to charities. However, to add a little frivolity to their fortunes, they decided to give one million pounds (again not clear: weight vs. currency) to 20 anonymous folks. One guess who one of these fortunate (and well-deserving) individuals is - yes, ME!!! All I have to do is send them a confirmation email with some personal info just to verify I really am me, and it's all mine! How easy is that? It can't be a scheme or a scam, because Ms. Cunha says she is a legal adviser and you know you can't throw that title around casually.

I have no idea what I'll do with this 500 tons of money (assuming this is weight based). Can finally get that computer tablet, a spare pair of Hokas, and might join the Pasta-of-the-Month Club. Oh sure, I'll give some to a few common folk because I'll never forget the little people, and I'll still put water out on Sunday mornings for our run (or hire somebody to do it). And just because I'm rich beyond my wildest dreams, don't feel anything is different between me, and you, my fellow runners. If you have any training questions, I'm still willing to answer your concerns - just call my secretary and make an appointment when we can talk.

Ok guys, I have to get all this info together for Ms. Cunha and email it back to her so we can get this ball rolling. I am so stoked. Hope Bill Gates doesn't become a pest wanting some advice all the time. Well, Sunday morning is off limits, because that's when I'll continue to see you all on the roads - AL

PS - Before I forget, be sure to set your clocks ahead one hour tonight. Now, don't ask me what happens if you don't. When you show up at NBC in the morning, either there will be a parking lot full and no runners (you're an hour late), or you'll show up at NBC and the parking lot will be empty (you're an hour early). Just be sure to get up at 2:00 AM so you turn the clock ahead at the right time! I was reading in the paper about Indiana. Most of Indiana has just ignored DST since the 70's, but (follow along now) 77 counties observed Eastern Time without changing their clocks, 5 counties were on Eastern time and observed DST, and 10 were on Central Time observing DST!!! Just use a sundial and forget about catching any of your favorite shows on TV!!

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

Saturday, March 3, 2012

What's Up Doc?

"I find that a duck's opinion of me is greatly influenced by whether or not I have bread." - Mitch Hedberg

When I was teaching Physical Therapy students in the clinic many years back, I would always try to direct my teachings with interventions that were unique to what they would encounter elsewhere. To direct me, I tried to realize how nervous they must be and by remembering how nervous I was when I was in their shoes. One of the things they had to do was to interview new patients and gather a history. This is essential to coming up with a good game plan on how to treat them. I told them, most importantly, they had to try to understand what was important to the patient. If you just open the door with something simple like "So, what's going on with your shoulder?", and then shut up, the patient will usually tell you 50% of everything you need to know, and then you can go from there. If you try to understand the patient, they will trust you to try to get them better, which is HUGE in PT.

I remember, several years ago, I sat in a Doctor's office, and when she asked "What brings you here today?", I answered, "Well, I'm a long-distance runner and lately when I get to mile 12-15 of a long training run, I'm feeling more tired than usual...I mean really shot!". The doctor stared at me for what seemed to be ages, then put her head in her hands, and shook it. Questions like "Why do you run that far?" were not the questions I wanted her to ask. After some useless in-office clinical tests, I think she might have given me some vitamins or something, but I left there feeling like we weren't exactly two puzzle pieces fitting together.

When I sit down with a new patient at my Physical Therapy clinic, I go through the usual range of motion and strength tests, get an accurate history of the problem, and try to calm the patient that despite what their well-meaning friends told them, I am not going to try to kill them! It doesn't matter if the patient is very athletic looking with a shoulder problem or a little old lady trying to get over a total knee surgery, I always ask the patient "What kind of things do you want to get back to doing?". A patient may HAVE to return to work, but they may REALLY WANT to get back to bowling, walking, crocheting, working on their car, hunting, golf, RUNNING, etc. The "have-to" and the "want-to" are two very different animals with very different levels or degrees of desire to work towards that goal. And the goal towards "want-to" usually far exceeds the goal towards "have-to".

However, even with me being a PT/runner, I have noticed that a runner, especially a marathoner, or worse, an ultramarathoner, will do nearly anything to keep on the road or the trail. At least I can empathize with this athlete. The problem is that most healthcare providers do not understand (much less empathize with) these athletes and the runner does not understand the clinician. Can you imagine the delemma the non-running doctor or therapist is put in when the ultrarunner comes in seeking care and advice for an injury that occurred at mile 87 of a 100-mile event? Most of the time the answer is “Do not do that again”. The clinician will fail to recognize, specifically for ultra-endurance athletes, that the mental fortitude and commitment to their sports is immense. On the other hand, if a runner can feel the clinician is really listening, and at least trying to understand, then the process can progress much smoother. The practitioner must understand the sport in order to treat it fairly. If I, as a PT/runner, tell this runner not to run, I want him to believe I mean's more than a suggestion.

There are many injuries, aches, niggles, and knacks that you can run through, but there are many levels of running (speed, hills, level, short, long, and so on) and it helps to have a health professional who understands the limits a long distance athlete will adhere to. An endurance athlete cannot make that decision rationally by themselves, and will usually push too hard or too far (guilty in the first degree!).

When you make a decision to see a healthcare person, all you can ask for is someone that will listen to your goals, your complaints, but mostly understand your "want-to's". I don't have an answer how you stumble across this pearl of a medical person, but I find the most time proven way is to ask around. There is nothing more glowing or more damning than the old word of mouth. Same with buying running shoes, getting your oil changed, or who serves the best lasagna in town. So, you ask your fellow runners where they got proper care - not necessarily if the doc had a magic pearl, but rather, did they empathize with your inabilities to do the "want-to's" and one that did things that actually appeared to reflect a thought process with a goal to get you back to that precarious balance act between running healthy and injuring yourself again.

There are many docs, PT's, chiropactors, massage therapists, etc, that are runners (or participants of a similar sport) and will empathize with you. They will give you care with the understanding of an athlete. They understand what the small goals are that will lead to your BIG goal. All you want is this understanding along with their expertise. I won't make any recommendations here, but I am one of those folks you can ask for a recommendation as we run down the trail. As a long-distance runner for 30+ years, and a PT for 40+ years, you can say I've been around the block. Don't misunderstand me, there are many,many good health professionals that will give you great care and have never run a step, swam a lap, or cycled a single crank revoloution. It's difficult to trust someone with your health, and being an athlete should NOT be the main criteria for your choice of the guy who's going to get you back chugging happily. But to get you back on the road, or trail, go with one that understands why you do what you do. At least you won't have to answer the question "Why do you run so far?".

I'll see you all on the healthy roads - AL

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