Saturday, July 28, 2012

Push Just a Little Harder!

People will watch this race and say "Why didn't that guy who finished 2nd by one-tenth of a second run a little harder? It's just a tenth of a second!" And the answer is: Because he couldn't. That guy couldn't run a one-tenth of a second faster. - Dave McGillivray, Boston Marathon Race Director

Every one of us, no matter what level runner we are, have been in a situation during a race where we were in a race, giving it everything we could and finish just short of...our time goal...our adversary...our goal finish place...a myriad of goals we set up for ourselves. A few minutes later, we're thinking "Where could I have picked up just a little more time" and here and there memories pop up as possible places where in our minds we just didn't push. The fact of the matter is that we did push. It doesn't matter most of the time, but if we're in a race, we're going to give the best we can on that given day at that given time in the race.

A few weeks ago, during the Olympic Trials, there was that now classic race where Jeneba Tarmoh and Allyson Felix finished in dead heat for third place in the 100 meter finals. Tied to 1/1000th of a second for the last place for a Olympic Team berth! Couldn't one of them given just a little more? C'mon, just a final last ooommmph? No, they couldn't. I guarantee you some joker was sitting on some couch, eating Cheetos, saying "I would have pushed just a little harder". Yeah, right! These girls were pukin' their guts out for that finish line and no chronograph was going to separate them. It was finally settled when Tarmoh pulled out of a one vs. one run-off.

It doesn't have to be a sprint to the finish for that "Couldn't he push a little harder" thought to enter your mind. Last week was the Badwater 135 race in Death Valley, California. I wrote about it in a blog two weeks ago - 135 miles through the desert, with temps approaching 120 degrees, from 262' below sea level to halfway up Mt Whitney at 8800' above sea level. Three major climbs (one 17 miles long!). Now, in this race is a fellow named Mike Morton. Mike, back in the 90's set a course record at the Western States 100 Mile Trail Run in a little over 15 hours. Mike had a severe hip injury shortly after that and had to quit running. He joined the Marines, made that his career, did a tour or two in Iraq/Afghanistan and then was reassigned to an office job back in the States. He decided to pick up running again and has been putting up some super-human times at 100 milers (13+ hours) and 24 Hour runs (163 miles) since...and this is at 40 years old! So, he decides to try Badwater and finishes in 22:52:55...misses the course record by 86 seconds! Surely his crew let him know how close he was to the record. Surely he could have pushed a little harder. Wouldn't you or me pushed a little harder? No, I'm sure Mike was pushing his tachometer into the Red Line the whole last 11 miles (did I mention the last 11 miles of the race is uphill?). On this day, in this race, Mike could not push any harder.

As we always say in endurance training, just worry about the things you can control. Train your best, whatever your "best" is. Run your "best", whatever your best is. And when you give it your all, that's your ALL, and there is no room for "Where could I have done better". If you had to slow down during the race...if Mike had to slow down at's because it was needed at the time so you could finish your best. I've hit the finish line many, many times where I was disappointed with my times, but I must say, more times than not, I said to myself as I hit that line "As crappy as that run was, that was all I had today". You have nobody to answer to you but yourself, but under NO circumstances should anybody ever say "Couldn't you have gone just a little faster? Couldn't you push a little harder?".

Ok, we're two days into the Olympics. Here's my quick observations:
1) Let's just admit that Beijing pretty much ruined the Opening Ceremonies for all Olympics to follow. London was too disjointed, too much attempted humor, too much rap singing, and with NBC throwing in their "Be sure to show our spoiled basketball players in the crowd", I just felt I wasted a couple of hours of my life that I'll never get back.
2) It's going to be a long Olympics because this morning I actually got excited watching the USA beat World Champion Korea in...are you ready?...ARCHERY!!! How the heck can I get excited watching Archery? I better not watch Fencing because I sure will never admit that I got excited watching THAT!
3) As an endurance athlete, I know just a touch of what goes into the training of all these athletes and what a thrill it must be for them to be at this level. One of my favorite quotes is "A champion is someone, bent over, drenched in sweat, at the point of exhaustion...when no one is watching". All of these Olympians have been there.

That's it for this week guys. Hope you all stay hydrated, run smart, don't run with scissors, and I'll see you on the road - AL

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

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Do You Remember Your First....?

"Whenever a thing is done for the first time, it releases a little demon" -
Emily Dickinson

My running has now spanned over five decades (Ok, it hasn't been FIFTY years, but I have run in the 70's, 80's, 90's, 00's, and now 10's) and it seems the more my running goes objectively and subjectively south, I think of those Good ol' Days when things flowed a little more smoothly. Recently, I tried to think of how many "firsts" I could think of. Time goals that were met are fun to think about, but I was wondering how many of you can remember some universal milestones that most of us have. So, do you remember...

THE RUN THAT BEGAN YOUR SERIOUS RUNNING - When I worked at Cooper Green Hospital, I used to go to the UAB Gym next door at lunchtime and knock out 3 games of Racquetball. Well, I only had an hour for lunch and 3 games took longer than that, causing me some heat in my Department about my after-lunch-back-to-work-punctuality.Then, one day, a few days after my mom passed away, I decided to see if I could run a mile around the UAB Track, figuring running would take much less time than racquetball games and it would be a better stress reliever. To my surprise, I did that mile, felt good, and ran another mile. I was late again from lunch, couldn't walk the next day, felt much better, and that day in August 1978 began it all

YOUR FIRST COMPETITIVE RACE - In February, 1979, I had some friends running the old Magic City Marathon. So, being interested in photography back then, I grabbed my Minolta SLR and took a few rolls of black & white photos. Although I marveled at their extreme endurance to be out there for 26.2 miles, I knew I could never do something like that, or WANT to do something like that. However, a racing bug was fed that day and a month later, I ran my first race ever...The Hungry Fisherman's 10k. Holy Cow...6.2 miles! A hilly, 2 loop course. There was no stopping me. I flew in at 47:01, not having any idea what I was doing and was hooked on racing. Now, back then, we had 10k's and 2-mile fun runs. No 5k's. After a few 10k's, it didn't take long for that marathon seed to be fertilized and by summertime, I was training for that impossible 26.2.

YOUR FIRST MARATHON - Vulcan Marathon, November, 1979. I used to work with a friend of mine, Max Michael, who was Chief of Medicine at Cooper Green. He had run, now get this...TWO marathons. I literally absorbed everything he said about training and we ran most lunchtimes (yes, it took more than the allotted hour) over the hills of Southside Birmingham. Doesn't matter if you're a young buck in '79 or a not-so-young-buck 30 something years later...26 miles is a long way. But, I held together to come in at 3:14. My most vivid memory is going under the finish banner on 20th Street, leaping up to try to slap it, coming down and both my thighs cramping like steel pillars. I couldn't move!! Kind of a Phiddippides moment...Rejoice! We Conquer!! I can't move!!! Great finish line photo. I still remember Max telling me before the excitement wore of "You're not a real marathoner until you've run your 2nd marathon, because then you know what to expect!". Not sure I believe that, but I keep running them.

YOUR FIRST ULTRAMARATHON - Ok, this is not necessarily a "universal" first for everyone, but seeing that it's my blog and ultras are an important part of my running, I wanted to include it. The marathon bug had bitten and wouldn't let go. I had run 2 or 3 when I heard that there was some crazy races that would go further! And to top it off, there was a couple of my friends going to this crazy-ass race and wanted to know if I wanted to take the dive. Sure, why not? So, in May, 1981, I was off to the 3rd Annual Strolling Jim 40 in Wartrace, Tenn. This race was in the country - I don't mean the suburbs - I mean the Tennessee country. 70% rolling county asphalt and 30% dirt jeep roads. Aid stations were 5 miles apart and were simply 5 gallon jugs of water placed on the ground with no cups. My wife and my friend's girlfriend would meet us with the car every couple of miles with the theme to "Chariots of Fire" blaring from the car's tape deck. 41.2 miles and 6 hours later I crossed the finish line and although I, of course, didn't realize the significance at the time, I was now an ultrarunner for the rest of my life. Strolling Jim just ran it's 34th edition this past May, but it's gotten pretty sissified...all paved roads, actual aid stations with food and drinks, chip-timing (good grief!!) and probably a fancy medal too! Oh well!

YOUR FIRST RUNNING SHOES - Nike Elites. Now, my actual 1st pair of shoes that I ran in were some Puma's that I probably picked up in the shoe department of Sears, but my 1st REAL shoes were given to me by Versal Spalding, who owned Birmingham's First Running "Store" in Crestline. I say "store", but it was just actually a garage with some metal folding chairs and boxes of shoes lining all four sides of the garage! Anyway, I had treated Versal's wife and as a thank you, he gave me a pair of these super-light Nike Elites. I couldn't believe how light and comfortable they were. Looking back, they were probably equivalent to the minimalist shoes of today. I did ALL my running in them...70+ miles/ shoes... except fpr the rip-roaring case of Plantar Fasciitis I got because of the zero support they gave. This is probably one reason I have such an inborn aversion to minimalist shoes today!

YOUR FIRST RUNNING INJURY - I mentioned the plantar fasciitis above, but the big 1st injury I remember getting was a pain in my foot about 3 weeks before one of the early Vulcan Marathons. I went to the doctor and he confirmed a metatarsal stress would take 6 weeks to heal. So, I did no running for 3 weeks, but a lot of biking. I went back to the doc and told him I had no pain - "What would happen if I went and ran the marathon?". I'm a Physical Therapist, so it was really a question that I knew the answer. He just shrugged his shoulders and said "One of two things: 1) you'll get through it fine or with some pain, or 2) it'll crack like a pencil and you'll have a full blown fracture". I decided to run on it, did a 3:18, and said a real loud "Whew".

So there you have my little jaunt down another of my many memory lanes. What are some of the "firsts" that you hold near and dear? Let me know in the Comments section below. In the meantime, I've been doing this quite a long time, but I'll bet I still have a few more firsts to be had. Maybe you'll be there with me because I'll see you on the roads - AL

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

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Endurance Events Overload

"There are times in our lives when we are drawn uncontrollably to some dangerous source of misery."
- Suzi Thibeault

This weekend is quite the time if you get off on following endurance events like I do. With a deep appreciation in what goes into completing an event that takes longer than should be possible without extreme dedication, mental and physical toughness, and just plain ol' nuts & guts, I am amazed by the athletes that take part in these competitions. Being extremely interested in Exercise Physiology, it also boggles my mind how these athletes can fuel and refuel themselves DURING their event to give them the best shot of an upright finish. This week, I am in endurance sports overload. I did go out this morning for a 5+ hour trail run (same distance that used to take me 3+ hours!), so it's not all couch-potatoing (?) - Here's what's-a-happening this weekend:

Tour de France
Every summer, for decades it seems, I get wrapped up for three weeks in this 2000 mile bike trek across France. Stage after stage of 100 mountainous miles or more, day after day, 198 riders (22 teams of 9), battle it out, but not necessarily just against each other. The team battle is just about as big as the individual race. Each team member has a specific job in the pecking order to take care of the head honcho rider of his team. And each rider's position on his team is displayed for the world to see on his bib number - i.e. #87 would be the 7th rider of the #8 team. There is a ton of internal racing etiquette, many races within the big race ( general points, points for sprint races DURING the stage, and mountain leaders), and of course the race for the leader's Yellow Jersey (the big fromage). You have to marvel at their day-in and day-out performance and recovery of riding a bike at speeds up to 60 MPH downhill and 15 mile climbs of 15% grade over the Pyrennes and Alps Mountain ranges for over 2000 miles (Yeah, yeah...they do get 2 rest days!). Yet, every stage, it is always a breakneck, balls-to-the-wall sprint to the finish...and some finishes are at the TOP of the mountains!

I read that these riders will burn 6000-8000 calories per day, but they consume at least half of that during the ride! It's interesting that the illegal drugs you hear about being connected to bike racing has to do with increasing their ability to recover quickly, NOT race faster! Every year, the Tour seems to be embroiled in some sort of drug investigation, but yesterday, I read an excellent blog written by the current leader, Bradley Wiggins of Great Britan, on why he would never do drugs. I realize that some of these guys, and athletes in all sports, have the pressure of "keeping up" and "everybody does it", but it's great to hear an athlete who puts it out there and says "I'll give you my best (clean) shot". Click here to read that blog.

Hardrock 100
The Hardrock 100 mile Endurance Run began yesterday (Friday) morning in Silverton, Colorado.This is an ultramarathon of 100.5 miles in length, plus 33,992 feet of climb and 33,992 feet of descent for a total elevation change of 67,984 feet, at an average elevation of over 11,000 feet. Now, I've run Pikes Peak and I know there is a WHOLE lot less air above 10,000 feet...and all I did was run up and then run right down. I didn't hang around up there for any longer than I had to. The cut-off time for this trail run is 48 hours - sounds longer if I say TWO DAYS! The course covers extremely rugged terrain including steep scree climbs and descents (scree is loose, shale-like rock on an incline about the same as your house roof!), snow packs, river crossings, and boulder fields. The race starts at 6am, so runners who finish in over 40 hours see the sun set twice before finishing. There's something about running a race where you're lapped by the sun.

Badwater 135
This Monday morning begins the Badwater 135 Race in Death Valley. Now, try to follow begins Monday morning in Death Valley, the lowest point in the United States at 262 feet BELOW sea level, during a daily average temperature of about 115-125 degrees (at night it'll drop way down to the mid 90's!). The course is entirely on black asphalt roads with no race-provided aid stations and no shade. You are at the mercy of your crew who usually drive ahead in a van and meet you every mile or so. You then "run" 135 miles to halfway up Mt Whitney (the highest summit in the 48 states). If you finish under 48 hours, you get a belt buckle, and if you get under the 60 hour cutoff, you get a medal. That means if you start on Monday at 6am, your cutoff is 6pm on Wednesday. Holy cow!! Man, you talk about being broiled, bar-b-q'd, dried up and spit out! Know what the overall winner gets? - Yep, that's right, a medal and a belt buckle! No money, and not even a mention on page 6 of the Sports Section of the paper! Probably not even a pat on the back from their crew - they just wanna get the hell outta there!! The runners do this for the pure love of doing it. How can you possibly explain this to a non-runner? You can't.

I guess I'm a little mixed up, but I get off on this stuff like the deep south gets off on football or Wisconsin gets off on cheese. I love it. A little more media coverage would be nice, but that ain't going to happen - thank goodness for the internet. I'm not those guys I wrote about this week, but I can still get around the block, and as long as I can do that, I'll see you on the road - AL

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

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Slowly Stirring The Pot

" 'Man, I really regret that run' - Said no one. Ever."
Altra Running Advertisement

Sometimes, do you feel like just giving up? Oh, you're not going to really give up and stop running, but clouds of doubt filter through as to why you're really out there. A couple of posts ago, I made the observation that I can't really call my daily runs "training runs". Training runs are done with a purpose to get you further up the road towards a goal race or event. All of my runs are at a pace of whatever the road will give back to me on that day. My very short term goals are to not have a worse run today than I had the day before, but that's a goal that I meet maybe 50.1% of the time. Oh, don't get me wrong, I am tons better than I was two years ago when I thought my running days were very definately numbered. I've managed to chip away at the "hurts" here and there and now I can run down the road or a (mildly technical) trail at a lumbering pace. My ankles are constantly in the back of my mind and I do not think I can do heavy mileages at the moment as much as I would love to. I can only try to establish a pattern that is sustainable and then gradually take it from there. Its not too bad most of the time when I run...I mean things are fine, but I am a bit fed up with listening to my body - I wish it would just shut up for a bit.

But, here I was running this past week and I was not having one of those wonderful runs we always think about when we're sitting at our desks. I was alone at 5:30am, running (?) down the flat Lakeshore Greenway (a paved bikepath) and my legs no more wanted to move forward than a stubborn donkey in one of those old Roy Rogers shows. The more I tried to run at a reasonable pace, the more I seemed to be running through mud and the more puzzled I became. It wasn't my ankles begging for some sympathy. Instead, it was my leg muscles pleading with me for some pity. I think my legs were made of molasses, cold molasses at that! Maybe it's that I run mostly the same routes, at the same protected pace, with the same lack of purpose except to get some miles in. But, that's what I want to to do - get out there and put some miles in. That's me. That's the running I want to do. That's what my mind was trying to dictate this day. But my legs, yes, those pistons of hardened steel, were saying "you know, stopping and sitting down would be nice". AAARRRGGGHHH!! Stop it!

But, and this is a big but, you cannot give up just because you are having a bad day. Maybe I learned a lot of this from running ultramarathons. In just about every ultra, you're going to hit a Dark Place and it is only through experience from past encounters and confidence in your (at the time, crumbling) abilities that you can climb out and finish the daggum race. If you love to run, which I do, the only thing you can do is carry on. So, right there, on the fly, of this very ordinary Sunday run, I changed my attitude, had to say that this was not a race but a long slow Sunday morning run (easy to say because it was both of those things). Instead of just turning around and heading home, I decided as long as I was having such a crappy run, I may as well make it a super-crappy run! At the end of the Greenway is Columbiana Road. It goes steadily up for one mile at an 8% grade and was one of the hills I trained on when I was getting ready for the Pikes Peak Marathon 100 years ago. So, I said "Hey, Molasses Legs, let's see if we can crest the hill without stopping". Why? I don't know, but sometimes you have to stir up the pot. So, up the hill I chugged and noticed I wasn't having any pain, just tired as all getout. Well, for any long-distance athlete, that is what you're looking for. Doesn't matter if I'm pushing my limit up the hill at Grandma speed, the point is I'm pushing. I got to the top, ran along the ridge on the winding and somewhat hilly Shades Crest Road and then took the downhill mile switchback road back to the Greenway...great for those grumpy, molasses legs. A completly lousy run was not only salvaged, but it turned into something I was proud of. Legs still felt like crap, my pace was awful, but it was a glimmer of runs of days gone by.

In answer to the question do you feel like giving up? No, I'll never give up. I'm not even close to that. What I really feel like doing is changing things once in a while to get better, but my only objective at the moment is just 4 (maybe an occasional 5) running sessions a week. 3 of them can be anything but the long (or longish) run is fixed. I love running long.

And I want to feel good running long. If I do this, I will be able to congratulate myself on some consistency and although "fast" is MUCH slower, and "long" is MUCH shorter, that bungee cord between yesterday and today may be stretched, but I'll do all I can to keep it from snapping. As the guy in the Dos Equis Beer ad says "Stay thirsty my friends".

This heat will keep you thirsty, so be sure to stay on top of it. Along the way, I'll see you on the roads - AL

PS - In my other blog, TRAINING WITH AL, this month I explored a new study that shows when is the best time to run your last long run during marathon training. Seems I've been doing right all these years! Imagine that!!

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