Saturday, May 26, 2012

Oops! I'm Getting Older!!

"If you want to be functional at 80, you better pay attention at 40" - Lew Hollander, Ironman

How do you notice you are getting older?

I must say that most folks seem surprised when I tell them how old I am. That's always a nice compliment. If it wasn't for the dang ankles acting like they were 100, it wouldn't be bad at all. Maybe it's because I'm treating patients all day long that are quite a bit younger than me and they're complete train wrecks. It's hard to do Physical Therapy on a lot of these people, not because of their Total Knees or Rotator Cuff Repairs, but because they have no connection with exercise at all. Their muscles were deconditioned before they ever had the problem that brought them to the Doc in the first place. And believe me, they have no concept that their deconditioned body MAY be the reason they broke down. UGH...another blog!

But what about me? I sometimes notice this increasing creakiness of my body and aches and pains mysteriously appear and just as mysteriously disappear. You go for a fairly standard run, everything is OK and then sometime afterwards there is a pain in your foot or leg or back or little finger. How did that happen? You have no idea as there was no warning on the run and nothing unusual to link it to. It is difficult to know if it is a minor inconvenience or something more serious. The rule is to listen to your body but as I get older I increasingly find I haven’t a clue as to what my body is saying. It’s as if it has started talking in a different dialect.

In general, recovery takes longer so you have to be more flexible in your scheduling. I used to run 6-7 times a week and put in some hefty miles. Then, I gradually cut back the days to five, but still looked forward to the long weekend runs. These days it is down to 4 days a week - usually Tues/Thurs/Sat/Sun. I just can't seem to give up those back-to-back Sat/Sun runs. Occasionally, I'll throw in an extra Wednesday run just for kicks (mainly when I have a real crappy Tuesday run). So now, I find that it is not that you necessarily cut back more on the number of your sessions but that you must pay attention to how you feel and adapt your session accordingly. Some weekday mornings, I'll wake up at 4;30 and think "It ain't gonna happen today", but I lace my shoes and start rolling down the road. I often heard a piece of advice that said you should run one mile to warm up and then decide how hard or long the session should be. Well, my early morning runs are short to begin with, so as soon as I roll down the road behind my house in 30 seconds, I'm pretty much committed. Now, there are some days that you'd think it was the first time I put on running shoes, but unless I'm "ouch-hurting", I'll do the whole 45-50 minutes. The young me would say if you have a plan, do it regardless, but the present me is a little more flexible in the easiness of the run, or even having to take an occasional stroll (run/walk) if the legs ain't chuggin'.

But having to adapt your schedule is the same at every stage of your life: studying, working, socializing, having kids, etc. Adapting your schedule affects the training of everybody apart from professional athletes. So adapting for age is nothing special. Neither is adapting to your level of performance as speed becomes harder. Whatever your age or level of fitness you are always pushing against your own limitations. Those limitations might expand with increasing fitness or contract but you run according to your capabilities at the time. Aging makes no difference to your perception of effort regardless of the actual pace, distance or any other parameter you set. "Fast, hard, and pushing it" might be replaced with "slow, easy, and holding on", but if you can finish your run with SOME sense of accomplishment (Sometimes I think my new mantra is "At least I got out there") then slow and steady is still upwards.

Because of the damned new technology, I know my pace every run seeing how fast slow I run - I can now see that my internal judgment of how fast I run at different levels of effort is, to put it mildly, delusional optimistic. And I know my morning run is 4.1 miles EVERY time. But I'm not trying to go faster each time. And 4.1 miles is my morning limit so I can get to work. I don't think of age. I love to run. I connect with the the sun. the dark, the trails, my friends. I would love to run faster...I would love to run longer...but most of all, I would love to run smooth all of the time, and I like to do it for a long, long time. I don't want my runs to fight me. So, I adapt and love it when things go my way (don't we all?).

I ran in High School and believe me, it wasn't my favorite thing - I gave it up for 13 years. Then I laced up a pair of old Pumas and ran 2 miles around the UAB Track. Couldn't walk the next morning, swore I'd never run THAT far again, and a relationship was forged. My running has gone through many phases and modifications, but it all comes down to right foot...left foot...repeat. I may be older than I was yesterday, but I'm younger than I'll be tomorrow, so as long as I can put one foot in front of the other, I'll see you on the roads - AL

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

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Bare Truth

 “When I went to Catholic high school in Philadelphia, we just had one coach for football and basketball. He took all of us who turned out and had us run through a forest. The ones who ran into the trees were on the football team.”- George Raveling, Basketball Coach

I read a lot of running magazines, and because I like to read (or at least look at) every page, I get way behind and have this stack that is a perpetual pile of running stuff. Well, I usually quickly and blindly flip through anything that has to do with speed, hills, fartlek, intervals...well, you get the idea. I just read about long and slow stuff because...well, you again get the idea. So, here I am the other day going through an older issue of Trail Runner mag when I come across this article that I was sure was an April Fool's joke. It was titled "Bare nude running in your future?".Ok, #1) we're talking TRAIL running here, and #2) self-explanatory!!!! I mean, this is not a good mental image (No, there are no pictures in the linked article, least not one you can blow up suitably be offended by). But, the thought of running in your birthday suit through sawbriars is not a pretty image. Well, the article wasn't talking about speed work (though High School humor makes "fartlek" come to mind!), so I read the article. I was amazed by the number of nude races and (get this) nude running clubs around the country. I mean, I'm not an Amish Monk who lives in a cave and reads by candlelight, but I was amazed that this stuff is running rampant around the country.There's even a Butts-a-Runnin'-Enterprises Running Series! OK, and I'm not kidding about this - the Events Director is named Gary Butts!!!! I wonder what the Age-Group trophies look like. Surely, they won't get the male and female awards mixed up. And please, no pictures of the Grand masters winners.

I personally have some questions about naked running. For example, how do you... I mean... wouldn’t your... you know... hmm, I’m not quite sure how to ask that one. Does the word "bouncing" come to mind to anybody but me? An easier question perhaps - can you wear running shoes? Where do you carry your keys? Your Gu? What do you pin your bib number to?? Wait, don’t answer that. I’m trying to have this blog be a PG-13 kid friendly blog, but we might have crossed that line already. Gives a whole new meaning to the finish sprint being called "balls-to-the-wall". And this all began with me reading a Trail Running Magazine! When I'm cruising down the trail, I'm afraid a snake may bite me on the leg. I wouldn't go within a mile of a trail if I had to worry about biting me know!!!

Reminds me of an old joke: Ken and Al are in the woods. Ken has to relieve himself next to a tree. While he's doing this, a snake bites him on the end of his manliness:
Ken: Call a doctor. Find out what to do
AL: Hello Doc, my friend was bit by a snake. What should I do?

Doctor: You have to suck the poison out.

Ken: What did the Doctor say?

AL: He said you're gonna die!

Then I saw one sort of related story on the Internet (so it has to be true):

Ever smash your finger while closing a door? It's that pain that you have a microsecond to know what has just happened and the pain that is about to shoot like hot electricity through your whole body. Well my friends, the excruciating pain of a smashed finger is small potatoes compared to the pain suffered by a 73 year old nudist in Florida.

While "Mr. Destiny With Pain" was staying at the RV campground section of the Cypress Cove Nudist Resort near Orlando Florida, the sun worshiper’s slip up almost cost him his junk privates. After backing his small camper into its parking spot at the resort, he and his wife were gathering some things out of the back seats of their car. The man had his arms full and attempted to close the car door by shutting it with his rear end. Ok, there is no way I can begin to describe what happened next, but it has to do with Mr. Destiny swinging his back-end and therefore counter-swinging his front-end. What got caught was not his finger! Just writing this makes me cringe...and I know what I was about to write. I'll bet every male who reads had to sit down and take a deep breath. I'm sure somebody in the ER said "Now, there's something you don't see everyday!". The quote of the year was from our poor victim, "As soon as I shut the door I knew I had messed up in a big way". No kidding Stumpy!! 

OK, I think we've strayed from running topics enough for this week. See what happens when I try to catch up on my reading? No matter what the temperature is, I'll be fully clothed and I'll see you all on the roads - AL

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

Friday, May 11, 2012

My Return To Ultrarunning

"You may be disappointed if you fail, but you're doomed if you don't try" - Beverly Sills

I ran my first ultramarathon back in '81 (no, not 1881) when I went to Leland, Mississippi and ran in the 1st annual Mississippi 50 Mile Run. Wasn't sure what I was doing and for sure didn't know why, except that two years removed from running my first marathon, I wanted to try a little longer. It was 36 loops around a park with two bridge crossings. Absurd as that sounds, following that race, I was hooked on long distance, but there wasn't much of those crazy-ass races around back then. Two months later, I ran in the 3rd annual Strolling Jim 40 Mile Run in Wartrace, Tennessee (this past weekend, they ran the 34th edition!). Throughout the next decade and a half, I ran road ultras, and it wasn't until 1997 that I ran my first trail ultra...a 50k in California. I did 50 miles, 100 miles, 12 Hour Runs, 24 Hour Runs, plus the dozens of marathons that I did mostly as a coach for TNT.

As has been too-well documented in this blog, my ankles started to rebel in the mid-aughts and in 2007, I ran my last Boston, and also ran my last ultramarathon. I was convinced I might never run another marathon under 5 hours (I have a PR of 3:03) or an ultra of any length again. Pretty hard slap to the back of the noggin for a guy who just LOVES to run long distance. Little things that I did for the ankles helped very slowly; chugging along like a truck trying to start on a cold morning. The storm clouds began to break a little and I began to run a little longer, but still doing less than 30 miles per week and all on road. The biggest jump that pushed me forward, unequivocally, has been buying a pair of Hoka One One shoes about 8-9 months ago and running in them exclusively. They have saved my running (slow as it is), to where each step is not a venture into discomfort that causes me to limp along. Maybe in a future blog, I'll talk more about Hokas, but, in February, because of them, I could do the Mercedes Marathon at a pace that would have gotten me under 5 hours (though other non-running circumstances put a dent in that and I finished in 5:19).

We have an annual 50k here at Oak Mountain in Birmingham in March that is quite technical. I've done this race 7 times in the a matter of fact, the OM50 was my last ultra back in '07, and I got some wild-hair idea I might be able to run it this year. So, I delved into the training, but once I hit the tough (not toughest) parts of the trail, I crashed like a raw egg hitting the floor. I was sure that was the do-or-die test and I was "all-in" on the die side. The ankles, Hokas or not, could not handle the roots, ruts, rocks, or hills that the OM trails threw at me. But, like everybody who has a baby or runs a long distance event, you have no memory, and I saw this entry for the Run For Kids Challenge 50k to be run in May. It was also at Oak Mountain, but on what me and my good buddy, Moha, call the "Sissy Trail". It is a 3.4 mile trail around OM Lake that we had run often. No killer hills, no creek crossings, no downed trees to go over or under. So, on a silver platter, here was handed to me 9+ loops on the semi-flat sissy trail that would lure me back to ultras (sissy or not, 31 miles is a long way!). So, we trained, running multiple laps, up to 20 miles, with varying degrees of feeling not-too-bad to holy-crap-I've-got-to-be-out-of-my-aging-mind. But, one week before the race, I reluctantly sent in my entry. I must say that through my many years of doing long distance runs, planning got to be fairly routine, but not this time. I planned more meticulously for this race than I can remember. (If you want to read about exactly the type of planning I did and how the race panned out from a run/walk/nutrition/heat adaptation/clothing, etc point of view, I've gone into more detail in my other blog, TRAINING WITH AL, so when you finish this, swing on over to there).

The goal I set for this race was very conservative, even too conservative for me, but what I told myself was an hour per lap, so I was thinking 10 hours if I was purely pedestrian, and between 9-10 hours as a realistic goal. Sub-9 was that A,#1 goal that would only happen if all went better than even I expected. Everything, of course, depended on how my "I-wonder-how-we'll-let-Al-run-today" ankles performed. Race day dawned with a forecast of close to 90 degrees, but I never felt anxious about it - control what you can and I felt I had prepared. Apparently, I had planned well because the laps went by without any ankle pain (sure, there was some soreness, but PAIN was the lightning bolt to avoid). The course was one that could be broken up very easily (after all, it was only 3+ miles long!) and the familiarity of each lap made the run feel more like it was pulling me instead of me pushing it behind me. I remember reading recently an article by Scott Jurek how he talked about running trails picturing himself like water in a stream bed just flowing along. That's how I felt much of the time and it's a feeling I haven't felt in a long, long time.

I ran basically alone, except for one lap with my good friend Ken, and one lap with Moha when his back was hurting. That allowed to me to just focus in the mile I was in. I knew from the 15 mile point that things were in my favor and I would probably have a good run. When I finished in 7:52, I felt like I had a great weight lifted - I was an ultrarunner again. I was an hour ahead of my A#1 goal and never felt like I was pushing into the danger zone. I had surpassed all my goals and I still felt good (as in still standing). I had no misgivings that this was an easy course. No, this was a 50k, no bones about it! And my fear of never doing a run like this again was dashed in the dirt.

I don't know what the future holds, but I got this one chance to put it together and see if I could do the distance with a fairly good result, and it worked. That's all I wanted, that one chance again and run with it. I will continue to work on these bad wheels I've got because I want to run down more trails, through more woods, around more lakes. I'm not ready to hang up these Hokas yet.

As much as I love to write, I find it very difficult to accurately put into words what this race meant to me. I have felt like my running has sorta fell off the Continental shelf the last few years - running competitively one day in marathons and longer, and suddenly stinking it up in just my daily short jogs. This wasn't exactly Ted Williams hitting a home run in his last at bat kind of moment, but it was my moment, and I'll sure take it. Like I say to my trainees after they run their first marathon..."Nobody can ever take it away from you".

OK, new mindset, same body. Another finish line, same legs. Don't you just love to run? I'll see you on the roads - AL

PS - Don't forget to read the particulars of training and running the Run For Kids 50k at TRAINING WITH AL

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

Friday, May 4, 2012

Good Luck

"Luck is the residue of design." Branch Rickey, former owner of the Brooklyn Dodger baseball team

What do you say when a friend (or foe) is going off to run a race somewhere, or even when we're all just standing at the starting line? We say "GOOD LUCK". What do we mean by that? Are we so insecure in their preparation that we believe luck better be intertwined in this race to produce a successful ending? Of course we don't, but, as long distance runners, we know that there always has to be some luck involved or the whole show can come crashing down.

The transition between training and a successful race is, at best, 95% hard work, and 5% luck, but more likely in the 75/25 range. The same is true in most of our areas of our lives - a promotion, catching fish, getting to the dentist on time, or just about anything. We put in the work at our job for when a promotion is deserved, or we study where the doggone fish are gonna be and what lures are best, or we know the best routes to drive to the dentist. But, there better be some luck involved for that job opening to occur, the fish to be where you expect them, or the traffic lights to be synchronized to deliver your mouth to Dr. Pain (nothing personal Todd!).

The problem is that many people rely on the luck and don't do all the hard work. I see this all the time in my PT clinic...folks have surgery, the Doc says "See ya, go to therapy" and the patient thinks they can do 10% of what I tell them and miracles will happen.

You train at 11 minute miles and expect to run 8 minute miles in the race. Or you don't run longer than 10 miles in training, and you expect to keep an even pace in a marathon. That's not luck, it's stupid extremely faulty thinking. Hard work is putting in the 8 minute miles in training, and luck is having perfect weather for the race. Hard work is hitting the trails for frequent long runs in training, and luck is not stepping in a hole and twisting your damn ankle (my ankle is a damn ankle - yours may not be a damn ankle). As the saying goes, "Don't worry about the things you can't control" - that's where luck will smile upon you (sunny skies and no holes) or slap you down (30 MPH headwinds and a trail that looks like the moon).

Hard work is having prepared yourself to the best of your ability. How many of us can honestly say we haven't gone into a race and thought to ourselves "I'm going to try to do this on memory". That is PRAYING for luck. Praying for it usually doesn't work. Hard work is having spent the last 12 weeks doing long runs, tempo runs, hill repeats, and course specificity training and luck is showing up on raceday with a 20 MPH tailwind (Boston '11).

I wish there were a secret store of silver bullets: one for the weather, one for the course, one for that mysterious "Where did that come from?"People ask me all the time what is the secret bullet, pearl, nugget of wisdom to keep doing long endurance. There isn't one. There is no secret store. It's just hard work, and a little bit of luck.

Tomorrow, despite what I have just written, I will be looking for all the luck I can muster up as I run my first ultra in 5 years - the Run For Kids 50k at Oak Mt here in Birmingham. I am understandably nervous about doing this, more about how my ill-natured ankle will absorb the toll of 31 miles on the trail than I am about the rest of the adventure. I've tried to put past performances in the memory vault and approach this purely as the mental challenge of an experienced ultrarunner on how is the best way to finish. I think I've put in the miles that my ankle-knack will allow, though it's way below what I would suggest to anybody asking advice on training. My running will be slow, and I will try my darndest to adhere to a run/walk approach. I think my plan is solid with my on-the-trail nutrition, including the hydration. I know from experience that you can't allow yourself to get behind early.

As far as "luck" goes, I can't really think of anything that HAS to happen that's out of my control for me to do this. The weather is hot...temp near 90 with a heat index about 100...but I always feel that weather is going to affect shorter distance (faster) runners, than it will experienced ultrarunners who have learned (through mistakes) how to cope...RUN SMART is one of my mantras. Although I won't rely on luck, it's ok if any of you want to send some Good Luck my way. I'll appreciate the vibes.

Whatever's in store tomorrow, I'll keep smiling, and for sure, I'll see you on the roads - AL

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