Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Wheels On The Bus Go 'Round and 'Round...

"Now is the oldest you've ever been, and the youngest you'll ever be again" - Greg LeMond, USA Tour de France multiple time winner.
 Bear with me for a little bit. As you know, I am a big baseball fan. Not fanatical...I just enjoy it. If the Red Sox lose, I grumble. If they lose to the Yankees, I'll swear grumble a little louder and "we" (as in "we beat them") becomes "they" (as in "they stink"). And if they blow a 9-0 lead to the Yankees and lose (as they did last Saturday), then "they..." becomes "that" (as in "My God, that team is pathetic!"). But, I never get to the I'm-going-to-jump-off-the-roof depressed - I just enjoy the game. Yes, it does help that Sox seem to be righting the ship. Anyway, there is a pitcher on the Colorado Rockies, Jamie Moyer, who showed up in spring training this year and battled his way to make the team, and got a starting role in the rotation. Walk-ons are always a good story, but Jamie Moyer is 49 years old! I mean he's only 3 years younger than the states of Alaska and Hawaii!

When Jamie Moyer started pitching in the big leagues, 263 current ballplayers hadn't even been born yet. That's BORN...not playing ball.

The Colorado Rockies, Moyer's current team, didn't even exist when he broke into the majors.

Jamie Moyer has thrown a shutout in FOUR different decades. I've run marathons in FIVE different decades and when I admit that, I sound ancient, even to myself. In order to throw a shutout, you have to pitch a full 9 innings and in this mamby-pamby age, pitchers are praised if they regularly go 6 innings. They've evolved into position of wussie-arms!

Jamie Moyer has been the oldest player on an opening day MLB roster 6 different times.

Jamie Moyer has pitched to 8.9 percent of all players to ever make a MLB plate appearance since the early 1900's. (Roughly 1,400 of 16,000). If you're interested in that "Six Degrees of Separation" stuff, it takes just 6 players to go from Jamie Moyer in 2012 to Harry Wright, who played for the Boston Red Stockings in 1871!!

In his debut, Jamie Moyer's opposing pitcher was Steve Carlton. Carlton is now 67 years old and was elected to the Hall of Fame EIGHTEEN YEARS AGO!

Moyer got his 268th victory last week despite never cracking 79 miles per hour on any pitch the entire game. Now, even I pitched to one of these radar guns once at Turner Field and I hit 72 MPH. Nearly dislocated my shoulder in the process, but the point is he's throwing creampuffs up there! Smartly directed creampuffs, but creampuffs none-the-less.

So, this blog is RUNNING WITH AL, not baseball musings with Al, so how do I connect this to running? Well, although Moyer is 16 years YOUNGER than me (that's not comforting), I find a connection as I continue to run despite mechanical breakdowns that prevent me from floating down the trails or roads. My "races" can be timed with a sundial! Ice has become my drug of choice. But, you can either cry in your beer or you try to adapt to what you have. I think of where I was 5, 10, 20 years ago and wish the me then was the me now, but that's stupid if you dwell on that. Water goes under the bridge and that's that. So, I go on.

This week, I sent in my entry for the Run For Kids 50k to be run next Saturday. Used to send in my entries 6 months before a race, but it seems harder to jump on the "I'm going to run this race" ship. I haven't done an ultra in 5 years, but in my mind, I'm still an ultrarunner. I've been training on the trail and sometimes I feel pretty doggone good (relatively speaking) and sometimes (like today), let's just say it wasn't a giant confidence builder. The course is easy, the race is local, and I feel confident I can get around the course before the sun goes down - my actual goal is to try to finish before my watch battery goes out (a different type of virtual race partner). As my grandson says...the wheels on the bus go 'round and 'round. All I hope for is my wheels go 'round and 'round till someone says STOP!

Me and Jamie will keep going because today is the youngest we'll ever be again. I'll see you on the roads for a long, long time I hope - AL

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

Thursday, April 19, 2012

First Reactions From Boston

"You don't need to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows" - Bob Dylan

So, I'm here I am sitting in the Atlanta airport, waiting for my connection back to Birmingham. It is one day after the Boston Marathon and I am returning from a long weekend visiting my family and grandchildren in Boston, that surprisingly coincided with the Boston Marathon. In my last RWA post, I wrote about my feelings of the Boston Marathon and had no intention of writing about my Patriot's Day, spent standing and cheering on the sideline....but my plans seem to go in another direction often, whether I'm running a race, doing a training run, driving home, or planning dinner, so here are my reactions and observations.

From last Wednesday, the weather forecast gradually increased it's prediction of what it would be on Marathon day from a slightly warm, but acceptable 67 degrees, to a scorching 88. Apparently, the weather service looks at all available data and then pretty much throws a dart at a target that gets larger as you approach T minus 1. The fellows who sit in big chairs and direct the organization of the marathon were afraid of another 2006 Chicago Marathon fiasco in which the race was halted midway through due to the heat and nearly caused mass chaos. They decided two days before the race that anybody who has picked up their bib at the Expo and doesn't start the race, can defer their entry to 2013. They'd have to forfeit their entry fee and pay again next year, but essentially, you have another year to train. Most runners standing at the starting line always have the thought "If I only had another month to get ready...". Well, here's your get-out-of-jail card to have another year to get ready! Of course, most of these runners (except for the 2000 charity runners) are seasoned veterans from miles far off who have invested a lot more than the entry fee, and probably have put in a long training run or two in conditions far worse than moderate heat. But, I'm not going to diss anyone who didn't feel safe doing the run, and I read in the paper that initial indications are that only 457 folks took up the "Too hot to pass up" offer.

I filled a cooler with bottles of ice water and a couple of cloths soaked in the ice and headed up to the course with Michael and Adam (son & grandson). I positioned myself just past the 23 mile mark in Coolidge Corner a little before first female runners came by. Now, I must say that after WALKING less than a mile to this vantage point, I was sweating! It was 79 degrees and was only 11 o'clock...two hours before I expected Ken, my best friend from Alabama. Folks, I hate cold and I love heat, but this was HOT and having run a couple of these runs through hell, I knew I was about to see marathoners as I had never observed.

First came the females - I won't name most names, because I'll get them wrong, and this is not meant to be a race report, but a report of the racers. Two came down the little Beacon Street hill stride by stride, but looking in their eyes I could see they were trying to focus on just themselves...three miles out is way too far to surge, and besides, surging was a strategy long left on Hearrtbreak Hill. About 30 seconds later came female #3 and she looked like she was losing some nuts and bolts in the heat with her head and shoulders bobbing side to side. Being the astute all-knowing veteran marathoner, I declared to my son "She'll be lucky to finish!" She held on for third! The first 15 of the females (and also the males) have just their names on their front bibs and their number on their back bibs. It was interesting to see when the front numbers began coming (the not-so-elites). Some were having good races, while every once in a while came another "name bib" who was not having their best day, or 2nd best day, or even their 15th best day.

Next came the elite men (who started 28 minutes behind the women). Runner #1 was Matebo who had about a 20 second lead on the quickly fading Kisario, who in turn lead Wesley Korir by close to 30 seconds. To me, the first 2 guys were reeling from the heat. Looking at their faces, I felt that they might be thinking the same thing I think about at this point "Oh God, just 3 more miles...hold together, hold together". Of course, they were thinking this 6 minutes per mile faster than I think it. Anyway, Korir looked so steady...not necessarily fast, but in control...sweating like a pig, but in control...two runners in his sights and in control. I made my second prediction..."He's gonna catch them". I wound up 50% in predictions. Korir would win in 2:12, nine minutes behind last year's winning time, but he finished Magna Cum Laude from the school of "Run smart. Run your own race. Run even pace". The Kenyan method of marathoning is to insert some crazy surges during the race to break apart the pack. Today, in hot Boston...At Hot was no place to throw in surges and run your body temperature up another notch or two. Korir simply ran his race and said "See you in the parking lot, boys".

Following the leaders came the masses...over 20,000 of them, each with their own stories, and each with their own reactions to the pie in the face Mother Nature had thrown at them. The further back in the pack, the further back their eyes appeared in their sockets. These runners, many turned walkers, had left Plans A, B, & C way back in Newton and now were trying to complete Plan K - just finish this damn race! And finish most of them would. We were three miles from Boylston Street. I handed out some ice and gave two an ice cold rag. I poured a whole bottle of Ice water over one runner and wished I had a truckload more. I've been where they were and knew how much an understanding aid from the crowd means, so if I helped one or two for just a short minute, that was my Boston marathon.

A little behind schedule, but still standing upright came Ken. I don't think I've ever seen him so whipped. But, he was in a good mood because he understands you have cards dealt to you like this and you just finish the game and play your best hand another day. An ice cold drink, an ice cold "Al Bath" and Ken was off towards downtown. Not his best, but he has a Boston Marathon medal around his neck. Good on ya, Ken!

So, they're calling for me to board the flight home (where it's 59 degrees!). Another year of Boston Marathon memories. Not necessarily from the side of the barricades I really want to be on, but I did feel like I was part of the greatest marathon in the world (my opinion of course, but don't even think about debating me on this one).

OK, time to put my seat in the upright position and put my tray table up and locked. Soon, I'll be back in Birmingham where I'll see you on the roads - AL

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

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Hot Time In The Old Town Tonight (Tomorrow)

"At Boston, you're on the biggest stage, under the hottest lights" - Ryan Hall

Dagnabit (real word? fake word? southern word?), I wasn't going to write about the Boston Marathon this week. I mean, if you get me started, I just cannot stop (as my family well knows). Heaven help some of the runners I coach if they dare ask me "Have you ever run Boston?". Holy Crow! They're doomed. I don't reflect on Boston as how I felt in terms of the miles - it's how I felt in Wellsley, the turn at the Fire Station, Heartbreak Hill, Coolidge Corner, and the almost religious experience of "right on Hereford, left on Bolyston".

This weekend, here I am back in Beantown for what feels like another overdue visit with my grandson, Adam, grandaughter, Emma, and my family. Funny how it coincides with the Boston Marathon. Life weaves a strange tapestry sometimes. Once again, I won't see the starting line this Monday, or the finish line for that matter (a major case of the too's - too old, too slow, too rusty), but I plan to hug the sidelines at 23 and give my best "suck it up", "just 3 more miles", or steal Ken's line "nuts and guts, baby, nuts and guts". I PROMISE not to say "lookin' good". Last year, I stood at mile 23 as I saw the leaders motoring by me at a 4:30 per mile pace on their way to a World Record (the heck with those bigwigs who say no WR because Boston is too much downhill or the starting line is too far away from the finish line...yeah, let them line up in Hopkinton and then come up with rules that make sense). Anyway, the top two leaders ran 2:03, almost a full minute below the then WR. Ryan Hall came flying by with his USA singlet on and the crowd was going nuts with "USA, USA, USA", having the race of his life...It was crazy... "Here I was running a 2:04 pace, and I couldn't even SEE the leaders!!". Not long after Hall (ok, relatively speaking...ok, an hour later) came my buddy Ken. He was on his way to a great 3:29, but would have no part of me saying "Pretty good tailwind, huh?". Once again, this year it seems the weather god will take a holiday, for as I write this, the forecast for this Monday is 88 degrees!! Going to be more a test of re-prioritizing ALL your goals.

But, what is it with this Boston thing? Like a rock rolling downhill, marathon running has gotten crazy popular. Everyone and their grandmother seem to be doing it. Used to be just the hardcore runner would even entertain the thought of tackling what was thought of to be the top of the running mountain, and now it has almost become common place to see marathons pop up for this charity or that cause and BOOM! - 10,000 runners line up. A half million finishers a year! And that's great because so many folks are finding out about that person locked up inside them and not only getting off the "Couch of Doom" but throwing that couch in the trash pile.

But if marathon running is the mountain, then Boston is Everest. I've done Boston 5 times and can honestly say there is something very different about being there. Something that gets in your gut and won't let go. Standing at the starting line in Hopkinton is the culmination of a dream for most marathoners, because not only have you survived having run a previous marathon, but you have had to run it well, often an over-your-head effort to just qualify to run Boston. Very few make the Boston qualifying time (a BQ) on their first attempt. It is based on age and for most, it is just out of range. Back in the 90's, when I had completed probably close to 40-50 marathons, I still didn't think I had much desire to go to Boston, but everyone kept asking "Ever been to Boston?" and the answer was no. It was like I was cast to the minor leagues. I wasn't validated as a "real" marathoner. Then one day, running the old Vulcan Marathon in Birmingham in 1993, I surprisingly got under the cursed qualifying time and screamed "I'm going to Boston!".

For many, Boston has become a quest, beginning as a dream, then a goal, then, finally, a reality. Anytime you set limits, you will exclude some folks and that might seem elitist, but I don't think so (of course I realize I'm talking from the "been there" side of the fence). The limits are based on performance, and are set at a point where most, given time and discipline (ah, that doggone training) can reach them. After I ran Boston the first time (199
5), I said I would never go back because the experience was so over and above anything I expected, I felt it would never top that. But, you ask any first timer, or 20th timer, and they will tell you that from the expo, where everyone is wearing a shirt from a different marathon, to Copley Square, where you recieve that most coveted medal, Boston lives up to it's billing. And once you run it, you are infected with the Boston Bug and for most, there is no cure.

The crowd noise is incredible as you go through the 7 different towns from Hopkinton to Boston, getting louder and louder with each town, but it is the last half of the race that defines this marathon above others for me. At about mile 12, just a quarter mile west of Wellsley College, you begin to hear this high pitched squeal that is getting louder as you run. You are entering what is known as the "Scream Tunnel". The girls of Wellsley is all it's cranked up to be. A deafening wall of sound. Imagine about 200 yards of young, excited girls stacked 4-5 deep along the road, screaming their heads off and clanging cowbells. Now, throw is signs of "Kiss me", "Kiss me, I'm a senior", "Kiss me, I'm Mormon", "Just kiss me". And if a women goes by...the noise ratchets up a few hundred decibels...and if a girl wearing a Wellsley shirt comes-a-runnin', Holy crow!! - hold your ears. When you leave the Scream Tunnel, you are whipped from the excitement. Unfortuneatly, you're only halfway to Boston. When you make the right turn at the Newton Fire station to begin the famous humps known as Heartbreak Hill, the bombardment of noise for the last 10 miles is constant. Going up Heartbreak, if you're struggling, someone will jump from the crowd and run along side of you yelling "You can do it! You're almost to the top. Suck it up". Now, from my standpoint, Heartbreak is WAY over-rated. It's actually a series of 4 hump-flat, hump-flat, hump-flat, big hump. It's just that at the end of 16 miles of mostly downhill and flat running, the startch in the legs are a little stale and Heartbreak is wringing out of them whatever is left. Rolling into Boston is a loud, loud, LOUD moment in the race. And what had been a strong spectator turnout up to that point is ratcheted up another notch. Seriously. People and people and people for the entire rest of the race. I remember, the first year I ran, there was a large Billboard near Fenway Park, about a mile from the finish, that read "Welcome to Boston. You earned it!". I love that.

By writing, I could never do justice to the last half mile, but I'll give it a go. Remember, there has been pretty much a continuous deafening cheering for the past 10 miles or so. Then, there is a 50 yard tunnel under Massachucetts Avenue in which no spectators are allowed - the screaming has become silent except for the runner's feet slapping the pavement - it is sureal to say the least. Then, my favorite moment. You exit the tunnel to an incredibly huge wave of spectators and a flood on noise as you make a right turn onto Hereford Street. Two blocks of struggling uphill, and then the most glorious left onto Boylston Street. In plain view, 600 yards ahead, you can see the finish line. In my life, I have never been bombarded by sound the way I was for those last several minutes along Boylston. The crowd is 5-10 deep, screaming their heads off, the sound reverberating off the buildings, and I am almost crying because I'm about to finish The Boston Marathon! God, it's great to be a runner!!

No, I won't be running this year, but I can always close my eyes and not only see the past, but feel it too. Good luck to all the runners and I'll see them, and ofcourse, I'll see you, on the roads - AL

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

Monday, April 9, 2012

Plugged In

"50% of running is half mental more than 90% of the time" - Charlie Engle, Ultrarunner

A little late this week with RWA, but computer difficulties have put a dent in the smoothness of my routine. Essentially, I couldn't connect to the Internet which was an integral part of delivering this piece of literary genius to you. I guess I could've delivered it to each of you door-to-door like the Pony Express and gotten in some real long runs this weekend. Well, if you're getting this, then obviously, things are honky-dory now.

Rules of the Road say don't do it...Most races say you'll be disqualified if caught doing it...but, the fact of the matter is that most days when I am running solo I run with my mp3 player. I know, I know, and I'll be the first to tell you that it is safer to be COMPLETELY aware of your surroundings when out sharing the road with cars or bikers or other runners. Running at 4:30 in the morning, believe me, I see the lights of cars long before I can hear them, but in the daytime, it's totally foolish to run on some highway tripping out to Mettalica and never hear that car bearing down on you, that biker yelling "on your left" as you drift to the left, or that other runner trying to do a time trial and doesn't want to waver one extra yard off a straight line. But, I must say, I've kind of gotten hooked to my primitive little player when I'm running alone, be it on some LONELY roads or even on the trail.

Never thought I would use one of these, but one day, my son passed along one of his old ones that had...get this...256 mb of memory. I was amazed - this thing the size of a Gu pack could hold maybe 50 songs. Who the heck would need that much memory in one of these? Prior to this, I would listen to my small radio. I would listen to music for a while, then switch to NPR or sports, or some other form of talking. But, I decided to give the mp3 player a shot and downloaded some favorite songs from CD's I had - goodness knows I wasn't going to spend money on itunes (whatever that was) for songs!

Well, that ancient relic (the mp3 player, not me) met it's demise in a drenching downpour during one long run and I was forced to buy another one - this time with 1GB of memory...FOUR TIMES AS MUCH!! I don't know that many songs! I don't think I've even HEARD that many songs, but it had a good price and that's the main thing when I'm in Best Buy and I'm trying to get out of there quick before some 18 year-old salesperson asks me what I'm looking for. "Well, I don't know, Sparky, because I haven't got the slightest idea how these new Walkmen work! Look, I have this much money and I want something VERY easy to use...Got it, young man?" And for Goodness sakes, please don't ask me what's on my "playlist". It borders from the hilarious to the embarrassing. I don't have polka, but how 'bout Barry Manilow...Gordon Lightfoot...John Denver...Celine Dion...Frank Sinatra...Celine Dion AND Frank Sinatra sing a duet...Patsy Cline...this list goes on and on like that. I even have a whole folder of just Japanese Taiko Drum music - fell in love with those giant drums after doing the Disney Marathon one year. Essentially, I have all kinds of music that is just the right musical motivation (or distraction) for me. No head-banging-kill-your-mother music...I have found that easy listening music is what my wandering mind needs on a long run. I don't need anything to help power me through a fast run because I just don't do those fast runs anymore. My runs are Mary Chapin Carpenter pace, not Megadeath pace. And yes, sorry to say, I do sing along!!
But, you know, I probably listen to music about only 20% of the time. Mostly I listen to podcasts when I run. I now even listen to podcasts in the car and hardly ever listen to the radio on my way to and from work. I have subscribed to a great list of podcasts on iTunes that automatically update new content. I listen to a couple of non-running pods like Car Talk (very funny), This American Life (interesting "60 Minutes" type stories), TED Talks (quick 10-15 minute talks by very smart people on a variety of topics), Football Weekly (no, not THAT football...this is an English podcast wrapping up the week's play in European Soccer), and The Moth (funny on-stage comic stand-up comedy). But, the majority of my favorites are endurance related. I get a chance to listen to great “articles” and interviews on a variety of running related topics. Some provide practical training and racing advice, some provide motivation, but mostly I enjoy the podcasts that are interview oriented. I've tried dozens of podcasts, but I don't have that much time to listen to all of them, so I've whittled them down to a few favorites. So, even though nobody has asked (well, except for a couple of people maybe) here are some good podcasts (totally in my opinion) that I listen to.

Remember, these are mostly long distance running oriented and in no particular order:

Endurance Planet (about 45-60 minutes long) – This site actually has several different podcasts and I generally listen to three: Ask the Ultrarunner, Ask the Doctor, and Sports Nutrition. They also have a "Multisport" cast that is mostly triathlon stuff.

The Competitors (about 45 minutes long) – Hosted by two long-time endurance athletes, They get interviews with top runners, triathletes and cyclists and have great insight into the sport. I don't think I've ever heard a bad interview on this site.

Low Country Ultras (30-45 minutes)- Just started listening. Done by 3 ultra guys in NC I believe. Focused on promoting the sport of Ultra Running on the East Coast by highlighting Ultra Races and some of the top runners East of the Mississippi.

Marathon Talk (75-90 minutes) - English podcast about, well, marathon talk

Talk Ultra (2:15- 2:40 long) - this podcast is WAY too long, expertly done by two well-known Ultrarunners. Comes out every 2 weeks or so, so you can split it up, or use it on one mighty long run.

Trail Runner Nation (45 minutes) and Ultrarunner podcast (45-60 minutes) are two of my top favorites. Both are highly entertaining because they don't believe in editing, love ultrarunning, love beer, and just have a good time with good guests.

So, there you have it. I bared my soul and admitted I'm plugged in when I go running (or driving, or flying, or...). So, next time you want to talk about some English ultra runner,soccer-playing, smart-guy, funny car mechanic, or talk about the best Barry Manilow songs, I'm ready for you!.

I may not hear you, but I will see you on the roads - AL

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