Saturday, August 25, 2012

LiveStrong Lance

"Fame is a vapor, popularity an accident, riches take wing, only character endures."- Horace Greeley

Last week, I read where Lance Armstrong had won a marathon a couple of weeks ago over a tough course in Pennsylvania. I had to say to myself "Well, good for him". And I meant it. When I began to write this post earlier this week, there seemed to be an obsession with exposing Lance Armstrong as a drug cheat. He won the Tour de France seven times...beat cancer...was named Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year...4-time AP Male Athlete of the Year...donates a gazillion dollars to cancer research. Of course, that has nothing to do whether he doped or not, but there seemed like there was this constant vendetta out for him. The Drug Police have been after him for more than 15 years. He has NEVER failed any of over 500 drug tests! The blood tests that USADA (The US Anti-Drug Agency) used for the latest allegation were from 2009! The results have not been released, but USADA were going to use them against him in a trial this year. Maybe he did "enhance", maybe he didn't. What the heck do I know? My knowledge of professional cycling is not extensive, but from what I've seen in professional cycling, there did seem to be a lot of that going around. Anyway, late this week, it all became mute because Lance dropped his fight against USADA, saying "Enough was enough". That ended the need for a trial and essentially meant he would be stripped of all his victories since 1998, including his 7 Tour de France victories and his Olympic Bronze medal. Also, he received a lifetime ban, though I'm not quite sure from what...biking, yes...running, don't know...fantasy football, hope not! As they say "Specifics need to be worked out".

I'm in no way condoning drug use in sports here, but it's just funny how I see myself viewing it. Last week, Melky Cabrera, a baseball player for the San Francisco Giants, was suspended for FIFTY games for drugging up. What an idiot is how I see it. I mean, after he was caught, you have to give him credit for admitting it and apologizing to his family, fans, God, the seven drawfs and all humanity. Then, this week, Bartolo Colon, another Bay Area baseball player, also was banned for 50 games for the same damned thing! But, c' has a "we-can-drug-test-you-anytime" policy, so why risk it? Just take your talent and hit the damn ball! Throw the damn ball!! And this is why it's even contradictory to me how I'm looking at this Lance thing. I love baseball, and so I hate Barry Bonds, the biggest ALLEGED drug cheat of all time. Hit the most career home runs in the history of baseball, thus tainting one the most sacred records of our National Pastime. His feigned denials were almost as big as the size of his suddenly growing head. He's not the only seems like baseball of the 90's and the early Aughts should be called the pumped up era. In the summer of '98, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGuire put on a Home Run battle that captured America with it's excitement. Both men broke the single season HR record, but in essence, it just turned out to be a battle of "My drugs are better that your drugs" and both men left the game in disgrace.

Then we get to running. This year, the winner of the famous Comrades Marathon, a 56 mile ultra in South Africa, was kicked out of the winner's circle when he was found to be using some super-duper nasal decongestant. And I think more than a dozen Olympians were sent packing from London, including one Gold Medal winner, for dipping into the magic potion. I think, from a scientific point of view, it's interesting that the Statute of Limitations on Drug Testing is EIGHT YEARS, so the labs now hold the drug tests of all the athletes until the testing gets better to catch least up to 8 years. Just this year, a Gold Medal Belarus Shot Putter from 2004 was stripped of his medal for failing his stored-up blood test! Man, he was so close to the eight year get-out-of-jail rule.

All of these athletes cheated (allegedly). They went outside the rules most athletes follow....the sweating, panting, build-my-own-endurance-limits. The black hole that draws the bad guys to try to get that extra edge is too tempting sometimes. Baseball, football, track or doesn't matter...they cheated and they must accept their punishment in disgrace.

Anyway, back to Lance. I understand that if he really is guilty, I will go through a short "Say it ain't so, Joe" period (obscure baseball reference) and accept that another sports icon has gone down the black hole, but here's the deal. This October, he was going to line up in Hawaii to do the Ironman Hawaii. This is the World Championships! I was sure looking forward to that because, let's face it, here you have all these clean shaven (I'm talkin' full body shaven), chisel-cut Europeans and Aussies and Canadians who have trained for Triathlons all their lives on one side, and USA's own 41 year-old Lance on the other. So, the gun goes off, they jump in the water and Lance holds his own for 2.4 miles getting back to dry land. Now, I think he probably has that bike-thing part of the race down pretty good, so he should be at or very near the lead after the 112 miles of biking (a short leg in the Tour de France). Then the marathon begins - Lance had a 2:46 PR at a time when his main focus was still biking. However, just this last May, he won a 70.3 Race (Half Ironman, but they don't like to call it that) where he finished it off with a 1:15 Half Marathon (I don't mind calling it that, but I REALLY hate when somebody calls it a "Half Mary"). Yep, this would have been one heck of an Ironman, but the Drug Police have banned him from competing. Now, we can only speculate what would have happened. I think I feel cheated from not being able to see how this would have panned out.

So, I feel cheated because Lance may have cheated. What do I BELIEVE? I believe USADA has treated Lance as guilty until he could prove himself innocent, which he chooses now not to do. How do I FEEL? I feel sorry for Lance, whatever the truth is. If he is guilty, I feel sorry that sport has sunk so low that athletes with the talent of this icon has to sink as low as the other vermin that feels they have to cheat to keep up. If he is innocent, which I want to believe, I feel sorry that he has been dragged through the mud & muck created by others. LiveStrong Lance!

And so another exciting week comes to a close. I hope you all keep your performance enhancing supplements to your morning cup of coffee. Clean, slow, and slowly recovering, I'll see you all on the roads - AL

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

Saturday, August 18, 2012

I'm a Little Jealous

"I used to think youth was wasted on the young. Now I think middle-age is wasted on the middle-aged" - Drabble

I must say, I'm a little jealous this morning. You see, although my engine doesn't hum like it used to, I still consider myself first and foremost, an ultrarunner. My favorite running is far and away (could put the period here) being in the woods, with the starting line hours behind me, and the finish line too far ahead to realistically think about. Vicariously, I read running magazines and picture running those trails of Colorado and California for hours at a time. No bears or mountain lions in my daydreams. Maybe in a previous life, or maybe in the next one, I'll find myself on that side of the country and have that opportunity, but with my luck, I'll wind up being some stranded city slicker wondering why I'm stuck in such a God-forsaken place.

But, back to why I'm jealous. Today is the both the Leadville 100 Mile Run and the first half of the Pikes Peak Weekend. About a year ago, I wrote here about my experience in 2004 doing the Pikes Peak Marathon. Of all the 131 marathons and ultras I have done, that one still tops the list for awe, excitement, challenge, but mostly, personal pride. Boston was a race I was always be proud of doing. Running 100 miles in 24 Hour events has always been a thrill. But, going from training in relatively flat Alabama to go run up and down 26 miles of trail on a 14,115 foot mountain...well, that's where faith and trust come in. I trained at Oak Mt State Park, where the highest point is 1036 ft, and did my excessive "hill climbing" on a treadmill (Pikes Peak AVERAGES 11% grade for the first 13 miles!). On top of that, it takes at least 2 weeks for the body to make cardiovascular adaptations to high altitude. During those two weeks, your body is making hundreds of thousands of changes on a cellular level. But, some of us work and have a life and just can't give up two weeks to "adapt". Strategically, showing up in Colorado two days before the race doesn’t appear to make any sense - but logistically, it was the best I could do. If you can’t be in the thin air for 2 weeks or more, your next best option may be to just show up as close to the race as possible in your best shape possible, and limit your expectations while hoping that your body can function sufficiently well on 50% of the oxygen it's accustomed to processing. As it turned out, I didn't kill myself, and that was goal #1, but seriously, it was an experience I will always put at the top. I had a fantasy of one day going back to do the Double - the Ascent (13 miles UP) on Saturday, and the Full Marathon on Sunday. Sounds good sitting in my chair writing this blog, but those are days missed and gone. So today is the Ascent for those in Manitou Springs and tomorrow is the Marathon. Wish I was with you guys.

Also, this weekend is the Leadville 100 Mile Run. This "Race Across The Sky" is one of the Ultrarunning classics that I have known about since I began doing ultras. It begins in Leadville, Colorado, which is the highest town in the US - I believe about 9600'. The race is totally above that level, up to 12,600', for the 100 miles. Now, that has to do a number on your physiology. It won't make you "Everest" crazy, but I'm sure you'll hear voices from deep inside asking "What the hell are you doing?". The challenge of these 100 mile trail runs have always intrigued me, and I always find it interesting how the times are thrown around like we're talking about 5K times - "Oh, he finished in 23:04" - that's 23 HOURS!! Like staying awake, in the woods, up & down mountains, eating on the run, hallucinating, hoping you don't get lost. Doesn't get better than that. And this year, I've actually got a Twitter friend running (Now, there's a term I never would have used a couple of years ago). Eric lives in St. Louis and is a flatlander ready to run the toughest run of his life. He's also put his wallet where his mouth is, raising over $13,000 for the local Cancer Hospital. You can read his blog here and I'm sure he would still welcome any donations to his Life & Hope Fund.

And so, that's a couple of things going on this weekend in Al-World. To try to divert some of feelings of jealousy for all these runners doing their thing, I set out early this morning in the rain to do an epic long run...ok, only about 2 hours...but was turned back a couple of miles into the run by a thunderstorm that just wouldn't go away. When the time between the flash and the thunder is less than "one-thousand-two", it's time to head home. As Eric said last night "the temperature at Leadville will be between freezing and 8000-10,000 degrees if I get hit by lightning!".

Hope you all have a great weekend and you all have a great run, whether you're running high, low, slow or fast. I'll see you all on the roads - AL

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

Saturday, August 11, 2012


"A lifetime of training for just ten seconds". - Jesse Owens

For the past two weeks, I, like most of you I guess, have been absorbed in the every 4 year spectacle of the Summer Olympics. With it being based in London, the hardest thing for me is avoiding knowing the results before I see it on the nightly recap. I mean, the plague could break out, or downtown Birmingham could sink into a giant sinkhole, and I wouldn't know it because I'm avoiding the news. I tried watching the NBC national news one night and they said they wouldn't spoil it, so you could look away from the screen and they would show the results without a voice over. Fine, but then later in the show, they're doing one of these sappy human interest athlete closeups, and Brian Williams starts off with something like "On top of the USA's monumental gymnastics results today...". Good grief, give me a break.

Like many people, I’ve spent the last two weeks soaking up as much of the Olympic coverage as I can and with that, NBC has given us an Olympic amount of commercials. The Olympic experience has reacquainted me with the “commercial break” bigtime. In the men's 10,000 meter race, a race that only goes about 27 minutes, there were FIVE commercial breaks! Nothing like getting into the flow of the race, seeing the Kenyans battling the Ethiopians, and the crowd going nuts for the home favorite, Mo Farrah, and his American training partner, Gaylon Rupp, beginning to make a move..."And we'll be right back"!!!...then I have to sit through 2 minutes of some new show ad starring a monkey.... A FRICKIN' MONKEY!! I could certainly live without the vast majority of commercials, but I understand the necessity of advertising to help pay the bills, and let's face it, NBC is still bringing this to us free. The days of free sporting events is gradually fading away, so I'll sit through some monkey Doctor commercial to see it free.

Of all of the commercials I’ve seen, Nike put together a series of (I think) 13 "Find Your Greatness" ads. My favorite was of "The Jogger". If you want to see the series, click here. It only takes about 5 minutes to see the whole series.

I think the nationalism is the neatest part of the games. I'm as patriotic as the next guy, but I really pull for an athlete who excels at what he does. Oh, sure I pull for the Americans (except for the basketball team - it doesn't make my patriotic muscles tingle seeing some spoiled rich professionals crushing lesser powers at a game we invented, but that's a discussion for another day). Does it matter if China wins more medals than we do? You better believe it does! I want to beat China at EVERYTHING!! But, watching a Chinese Archer shoot a bullseye in a driving rainstorm to win a medal, with the rain pouring off her visor sure got my attention. How many arrows has she shot in practice in the rain, in the wind, in the dark, when no one was watching? Then she steps up on the biggest stage and bangs a "10" so Al DiMicco in Birmingham, Alabama can say "Wow".

Usain Bolt of Jamaica has my attention too. Track & Field is my Bread and Butter of the Olympics, and Bolt's domination is inarguable. He literally plays with his competition. But, what got my attention was during an interview after his 100 meter win, he paused the interview because in the backround, the Star-Spangled Banner was playing as Sonya Richards-Ross was recieving her 400 meter medal. He's Jamaican...she's American...What class!

OK, one more class moment. In the Men's 400 meters, the Gold Medal winner was Kirani James from Grenada. It was the first medal of any kind gained by his island nation. Yes, that was a BIG deal, but the class moment was when immediately after crossing the finish line, he went up to last place finisher, Oscar Pistorious, to exchange his race bib with him. Oscar is the first amputee (a double amputee at that!!) to participate in the summer Olympics. Just a local side-note...Kirani Jones ran Track at the University of Alabama (but I certainly won't hold that against him).

It's almost finished. Sunday is the men's marathon - the Olympic high point for me. But, I have thorouly enjoyed it all ( a few less commercials would have been nice). It has been one great time and I'll be back in 4 years. In the meantime, I'll see you all on the roads - AL

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

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Ever Heard of Edgewood Lake?

"Happiness is good health and a bad memory" - Ingrid Bergman (1917-1982)

For what seems like a thousand years, the go-to running route for Birmingham long distance runners is what's called the Lakeshore Trail or the Lakeshore Greenway. Even before the Greenway was built about 10 years ago, we used to gather at the old Brownell Travel Agency Building and run along Lakeshore Drive, dodging early morning traffic. But, one day we noticed that parallel to Lakeshore was a cleared dirt path that extended basically through the adjoining bushes and briers, next to Shades Creek, which is a meandering small river that never widens to more than 8-10 feet. This cleared dirt path was eventually (everything constructed, repaired, or planned in Birmingham must also be preceded with "eventually") paved and is the first 2.5 miles of an "eventual" 5+ mile bike/run path - remember I said this was completed about 10 years ago, so I'm not sure we'll ever see that additional 2-3 miles. Anyway, we usually start a mile to the east of the path, at the NBC Bank Building, and add a 1.5 mile loop on the west end to have a total 8.5 flat circuit by the time we get back to NBC. This has been essentially the default that is included in most long Sunday long runs. From this basic start you can morph into any long run distance you want through Homewood, Mountain Brook, and the Southside of Birmingham. All of the run courses on the sidebar of this blog under "Mercedes Training Runs" include this loop.

So, what's the big deal about all of this? Well, one of my major interests is local history, and in my search as to why this area is called "Lakeshore" I came upon a bit of almost forgotten history that probably most runners who traverse this area never had the slightest idea ever happened. Then again, maybe everybody knows about this EXCEPT me! But, I'm going to tell you all about this. Hopefully, those here in Birmingham will find this interesting, and those of you living elsewhere...well, I'll be back next week.

You see, many years ago, this loop of ours ran along the shore of a 110 acre lake! Edgewood Lake, as it was called was an artificial lake created by damming Shades Creek at Green Springs Highway in Homewood. Lakeshore Drive was so named because it paralleled the northern shore. The dam was first announced in June 1910 as part of the proposed Birmingham Speedway to be constructed for the Birmingham Motor Club. A streetcar line ran from downtown Birmingham, 5 miles to the north, to a point on Old Columbiana Road just shy of where it crossed Shades Creek. This is usually one of our turn-around points on our long runs and there is a sometimes working water fountain at this point where a trolley once dropped off folks from the city. I never realized that Shades Creek, which runs next to the water fountain, was dammed here in 1912 and became the western bank of a lake over twice the size of East Lake, which is still currently in East Birmingham. From this current runner's watering hole, Homewood would become a "streetcar suburb" to downtown.

A log clubhouse was erected for the Edgewood Country Club that same year. It was purchased two years later by the Birmingham Motor and Country Club. The club lobbied for the paving of the streetcars right-of-way to allow for Birmingham's new elite class of motorists to make the journey into the valley. They planned a "motor speedway" circuit around the lakebed. A great race track, designed after the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, was begun and graded but never completed. It's north and south straightaways are now today's Lakeshore and South Lakeshore Drives (which used to be part of the route of the old Vulcan Marathon in the 80's and 90's). Amenities at the club included a swimming pool, dance pavilion, fishing, boating and parking for hundreds of automobiles. Similar to golf or tennis clubs, this was instead a driving club since the ownership of an automobile was the latest rage. The place became a favorite locale for dances, barbecues and meetings for as many as 25,000 people at a time.

By the fall of 1915, the lake, 6,500 feet long and no more than 750 feet wide at its western end, was filled and stocked with bass and bream for fishing. It was the signature feature of the club's 400 acre property. In the mid 1920s the clubhouse was opened to the public to what was then known as Edgewood Park.

Early in the 30's, and again in 1933, the lake was dry because torrential rains had destroyed the dam, emptying the lake and causing flooding downstream. In 1934, Edgewood Park was joined by Homewood's Shades Creek Park to the east, at the present site of Brookwood Village mall, in providing recreational opportunities in the valley. A walking path connected the new public park with the circuit around the southern shore of Edgewood Lake, basically South Lakeshore Drive.

In 1935 Jefferson County repaired the dam, restoring the lake. The vacant clubhouse was demolished in 1938 and the land deeded to the County, which had difficulty maintaining it (things don't change, do they?). The county claimed that the lake was too shallow for good fishing anyway and that extensive improvements were needed. Thus, Jefferson County drained Edgewood Lake in the spring of 1946 ostensibly for repairs. The repairs never came about (surprise!), and they turned over 100 acres of the again-dry lake bed to Howard College, which later became the present Samford University. Attempts by residents to have the lake restored failed and redevelopment of the area was allowed to proceed. And now, this once magnificent area is home to Homewood High School, Samford's Soccer field and a beautiful Track and Field Stadium. It also has a Retirement Home and assisted living houses that I'll bet house several elderly folks that very well remember what history lies beneath their feet. And of course, it is used daily as a central gathering area for Birmingham's long distance runners.

I hope I've brought to light a little history that sadly seems forgotten. I do find some pleasure and a distant connection in the fact that our frequent running visits keeps this area alive. It's still a place to meet friends, to have fun, and now, a place that I'll have a lot more appreciation when I see you all on the roads - AL

If you want to see what the lake looked like superimposed on a map, click here

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