Saturday, September 29, 2012

Some Reflection

 "Though we live in trying times, we're the ones who have to try. Though we know that time has wings, we're the ones who have to fly" - Neal Peart

Although I consider myself a very youthful 65, it would be OK with me if you wanted to take 10-20 years off my age, but that ain't gonna happen. Yeah, each time the Earth spins it's wheel once, that's 24 hours I won't get get back, but I don't dwell on that. I've been running marathons and ultramarathons since 1979, and still don't plan to stop, because I just love The Long Run. There is one advantage to the aging process, however, and that is that for most with age comes the attainment of a certain amount of wisdom that's gained from your life experiences. For those of us who have running as a major aspect of our being and have been at it for years, we've learned many things about running and training. With me, when I think about some of the things I once did and thought in regards to running, training and racing, I just shake my head. Much of what I did wrong was done either in ignorance or because I allowed myself to get so neurotic about trying to be a better runner. Back in the day, as "they" say, most of our training was done with the old tried and true trial & error. I ran a lot, I raced a lot. And I loved it a lot. We ran hard, we ran long, and much of the time, we ran stupid. I'm not regretful of it - I'm sure the Wright Brothers did a lot of stupid flying before they traveled 120 feet above Kitty Hawk. 

But, with increasing age comes a drop off in not only racing performance, but there is also a change in your ability to train hard and recover from workouts. Everyone has a different age where they reach that drop off. For me, it seemed like my times fell off the Continental Shelf about 7-8 years ago (my late 50's). I didn't slowly lose seconds...I rapidly lost minutes! Consistently! Every experienced runner who is at least mildly in tune with their body recognizes when that point is. It's foolish to recognize this point and continue to train as you once did, but you're going to try to keep it at a level that at least resembles the runner you were (and believe you still are). Injuries may be a catalyst to this decline, as it was in my case, but that's just another variable added to the aging process. Do you just throw your hands up and say "I quit"? Well, if you're an ultramarathoner, you know you don't quit unless there is bone showing through the skin. You're like the GPS in your recalculate! You slow down, you go shorter, you take more days off, you change shoes, and see if all that works. My running is better than it was 2-3 years ago, and I am thankful for it. As a once somewhat fast runner who is coming to grips with where I am and doing more than his fair share of pitifully slow running, I can assure you that nothing makes you feel more like a runner than the Long Run. I run most Saturdays on the trails around Birmingham and the trail technicality forces me to run at a slower pace, but I am going long and I am doing it better. After several years of fits and starts, I feel somewhat like a runner again, and have no regrets that I am nowhere like the "old" Al, but am now the new OLD Al.

I still look at race results these days and say "Man, I would've finished up there in that race". Of course, I'm plugging in my PR from 20 years ago! I'll quickly add that this doesn't mean you shouldn't try and want to race faster, but you have to be realistic as to what your body can handle now, not compared to eons ago. Hard training and racing month in and month out is not conducive to a long, healthy running life, and a long, healthy running life is one thing I sure want.
Yes, I had a good, long run today up at the Ruffner MT trails with my buddy, Moha, and that's probably why I'm in a positive reflective mood...maybe if I have a rotten run next week I'll write a blog about how much aging and running sucks. But for now, All is good and Al is good. I'll see you on the roads - AL

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

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Who's knocking? The Mercedes Marathon, that's who?

"The hardest thing to get is going" - unknown, but every runner's creed

As the Marathon Training Director for the Mercedes Marathon here in Birmingham, Alabama (2/17/13), I try to write a weekly blog directed at the new marathoner, TRAINING WITH AL for the runner whose main goal is to finish in good shape. I will continue to write this other blog, RUNNING WITH AL, that reflects my thoughts about running marathons and ultras over the past 30+ years (and whatever else crosses the recesses of my brain), and I certainly hope you will subscribe to both blogs. TWA will have weekly common sense tips as we train towards the Mercedes starting line. I began TWA a year ago, and some of my new posts there will be sort of redundant if you go back and read my earlier blogs. I did a lot of thinking (Ok, during one run, it briefly crossed my mind) about how I would make this year different from last year. Well, basically, I'm not making it philosophy about basic marathon training has not changed, so I decided to frequently plagiarize myself and present aspects of training in a timely way over the next 5 months, but essentially, except with a few new twists, it's training the laid back Al-way (to be a better runner, you have to run...nothing fancy). So, here is what I wrote on this week's TWA. You can head on over there or just read it here.

If you are in the Birmingham area, Join me, along with Ken Harkless, as we will have an easy running group. We are very relaxed and gear our program towards the beginning half/full marathoner. Training will begin this Sunday, September 23rd, and we will meet every Sunday until the marathon in February. We meet at the NBC Building, formally the Brownell Building (813 Shades Crest Parkway, Mt Brook). Here are the particulars:

1) We leave the parking lot at 6:30AM sharp every SUNDAY morning.

2) I'll usually make a few comments about distance, etc, but nobody listens. The colder it is, the shorter I talk.

3) I run about a 11:00-11:30 min/mile pace and encourage most runners to surround me and ask questions. If we can talk while we're running, then it is a good pace. We talk about everything along the way, but the object is to have a good time, SO NO POLITICAL ARGUING.

4) Ken does his run a little faster (as do most of my "friends" lately), but Ken is more of a politician - he whoops, hollers, tells jokes, kisses the girls, and will gladly talk to anyone about running.

5) We put coolers of Powerade or water out about every 2-3 miles, and if you really want to become an endurance athlete, learn to drink at EVERY water stop! You might want to carry a waterbottle with you when we get to the longer runs (>11 miles).

6) We have many runners training with us for different marathons, some coming up soon, some many months away - BUT we're all in the same boat. Don't be afraid to ask questions.

7) We are not a hand-holding group. We are a fun-oriented group with the philosophy of "26.2 miles is not THAT far". We will give you the pearls of experienced wisdom, on the run or through my blog, without getting crazy technical. There will be several training groups for the marathon around Birmingham this Fall. The Trak Shak is a good resource to find out about all the other training groups and when they train (several will train on Saturday). If you're looking for a more formal training experience with a Certified Running Coach, contact Danny Haralson. He will hold your hand while kicking you in the butt at the same time, BUT, he will get the results that YOU want.

Also, on the right side of this web page of both my blogs, I have the schedules and most of the maps of the course we run. Also, our training schedule can be found under "training" at

Hope you decide to join us - AL

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

Saturday, September 15, 2012

My Six Degrees of Boston Billy

"I want to run until I can't run" - Bill Rodgers

Man, you talk about my Six degrees of Separation importance level taking a giant leap. Last night, I had the big thrill, for me, of having dinner with Bill Rodgers, the 2-time former American marathon record holder and 4-time winner of both the Boston and New York Marathons in the late 70's. As a matter of interesting fact, he is still the LAST American born winner of the New York Marathon in 1979! Bill (I can now call him Bill because after one dinner, he is my personal friend) has always been a special icon of mine in that we were both born in 1947, and he was rising into running prominence just when I was beginning to become a serious (in terms of consistency) runner back in '78. I followed his running exploits and actually got to meet him back in the late '70's when he came to Birmingham to run the still popular Vulcan 10k four times, winning each year. I remember how kind he appeared to be to take the time to answer all the questions of the runners that were surrounding him. It's still is clear to me how he congratulated a runner who said he was going to run the next day's Vulcan Marathon in about 4:30 - Bill saying "My hat's off to anybody who can run THAT long".

Bill continued to run, and I followed him through the pathetic coverage of the newspapers, magazines and (thank goodness) the early Internet. He won 22 of the 59 marathons he entered (most of them against the stiffest competition the world had at that time) and most of those were at or under 2:15. As the marathon wins began to lessen, he continued to enter and win shorter races. I remember he suffered a fractured leg that took him a while to get over and I don't think he ever got that Boston Billy stride back, but his most serious health setback came in late 2007 when he was diagnosed with Prostate cancer. His prostate gland was removed in early 2008 and a month later he was back running for the sheer enjoyment he felt when running. And that's what brought us together last night.

Two things...first, we have a great local running store here in Birmingham called The Trak Shak. Been operating since 1995 and now has 3 locations. Valerie McLean is the owner and Val was in my first TNT group that I trained to go to the Marine Corps Marathon way back when - I remember being at her house shortly before we left for DC that year and her asking me about her idea to open a Running Shoe Store. I still kid her that I probably told her that was the stupidest idea I ever heard. Anyway, me & Val have been great friends since and despite my early misgivings, the Birmingham running community owes everything it is to the Trak Shak. They sponsor many local races and a couple of years ago, she started started the Talladega 21000 Meter Race benefiting Prostate Cancer. It's a Half Marathon (and 5k) with part of it being run on the Talladega NASCAR Track. Pretty cool! So, this year, Val pulls off the coup of inviting Bill Rodgers down, seeing his connection to Prostate Cancer. He accepts and tomorrow he will line up with thousands to do the HM (a self-admitted challenge).

In addition to all the usual things that surround a runner like Bill attending your race (media appearances, meet & greets, book/poster/shirt/etc signings), Val thought it would be a good idea if she just arranged a few of the "old" gang to have dinner with him. I was thrilled to know I filled the "old" criteria, and so, me, Val, and four other long-time Birmingham runners joined Bill at an Italian restaurant in Mountain Brook and had the most pleasant evening. I managed to plant myself right next to Bill, and although I shouldn't be surprised, Bill just fit in like one of the old guys instead of the runner of honor. We told as many stories as he did, and he was as interested in our (much exaggerated) stories as we were of his. Of course, our stories were of running in B'ham, Atlanta, and the occasional distant race, while his were of Stockholm, Tokyo, and Melbourne. All of us had done Boston numerous times and tale after tale knitted us together on the streets Hopkinton to Boston. Bill actually ran Boston in 2009 (after a 13 year hiatus) and ran with the masses, finishing in a "proud 4:06".

After dinner, we broke up, but I had the knock-out kick of getting to drive him back to his hotel. I mean, it was just me and my early-running idol for the drive and a very special time sitting in front of his hotel, literally shooting some running related breeze. He asked me more questions about MY running than I would ever ask him. And he seemed genuinely interested! He told me he has a long-range goal of running Boston again in 2018 when he's 70 years old. I didn't ask him if he has to qualify! I guess it amazes everyone how most of these "untouchables" are just like the rest of us. They do incredible things, but they enjoy just yukking it up with friends, new or old. That's who they are.

And so, my brush with Boston Billy comes to an end - won't be doing the race tomorrow - and it's one evening I'll remember for a long time. He asked me to stop by his store next time I'm in Boston (I go every 2 months). I may just do that...after all, that's what you do when you travel...visit old friends!! In the meantime, here in Birmingham, I'll see you on the roads - AL

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

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Running & Visiting in Beantown

"Think How stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that" - George Carlin

, another trip up to Boston to see my family (son Michael, D-I-L Joanie, and our 2 grandkids, 3 yr old Adam and 1yr old Emma). This is a trip my wife & I make about every other month for a long 4 day weekend. Being called Grandpa (in any context at all), is a wonderful experience. Since we last saw Emma in June, she has grown her first eight teeth and can now walk anywhere independently, although a sudden loss of top-heavy balance, followed by an equally sudden over-compensation, causes a well-padded butt crash.Everytime we go up, I gain a renewed appreciation for families that EVERY DAY have to juggle/balance/deal with a brood of infants/toddlers. After just 4 days, I'm whooped and ready for a 2 month rest period.

I volunteered for the early morning shift to get the kids up (well, they did that themselves), get 'em fed, diapers changed - ok, not one of my favorite Grandpa duties - and then play and read them stories - yes, one of my favorite Grandpa duties. This alone would have been plenty for our visit, but our trip had a couple of gold stars. One was that Sunday was Emma's first birthday, and although she had no idea what was going on, she did enjoy it as she got to literally dive into her first birthday cake. What a holy mess! Her & Adam's parents try to point their nutrition in a healthy direction, but you can almost read Emma's mind while she was devouring the cake..."Wait, this a WHOLE lot better than green beans!". Reminds me of the old Bill Cosby skit where he had to watch the kids for the weekend and all the kids dancing around the breakfast table singing "Dad is great...he gave us chocolate cake!".

The other Gold Star was that one of my sisters (Lin) and her husband, who live in New Jersey, were in Boston with 2 of my nieces for a soccer tournament, so we all got together for a great visit. Always good to see family that you don't see nearly often enough.

Now, this is RUNNING WITH AL, not FAMILY VISITING WITH AL, but I can't just ignore it, now can I? But, I'll try not to completely bore you, and I won't post any cute grandchildren pictures. So, what about my running while in Boston?

I pretty much had to fit my runs during the afternoon when both kids were down for naps at the same time. It wasn't that I HAD to be there when they were awake, but I sure WANTED to be. Usually, I run on the Boston Marathon course because I know it so well, and I just feel the energy of the course itself, and I have so many memories of doing that marathon. But, on Saturday, I ran along a bike trail along the Riverway section of what's known as the Emerald Necklace. The Emerald Necklace consists of an 1100-acre chain of parks linked by parkways and waterways in Boston and Brookline. It is approximately 7 miles of bike or footpaths that weave their way, mostly through traffic-free, wooded, shaded parks. The run is beautiful, but unfortunately, my legs didn't want to float through this bliss and instead felt like two anchors on the USS Constitution floating in Boston Harbor. I trudged back home after an hour feeling like I had just run a marathon. I hate that feeling, but once again I have to be thankful that I am healthy enough to have a bad run.

On Monday, Labor Day Holiday here in the USA, Michael & I got to get out. Running with my son is always a treat for me. He travels a lot for work, but always carries his running shoes and tries to get in a couple of runs/week. Consequently, whenever we run together, I always accuse him of trying to kill me and collecting his inheritance (which I'm spending on airline tickets), but also consequently, I usually put in a well-paced-better-than-usual run. Anyway, we ran down the Riverway to Boston and circumnavigated Fenway Park, the home of the Red Sox. I am a huge baseball fan, and although my allegiance used to be with the NY Mets, for the past 15 years or so, the Sox are my team - though this year is kind of washout in enthusiasm as they scrape the bottom of the table. Their is a postcard on my refrigerator of a mural painted in 1934 on one Fenway's walls, so we tried to find it. Turned out it is actually on one of the inner walls so we couldn't see it, but we still stopped and read the numerous plaques around the stadium. Also, their is a bar (I think called The Bleacher Bar) that is open all year 'round, so we went in briefly because one side of the bar actually opens to the playing field. On game days, you can go in, grab a brew and watch some of the game for free (I think you're limited to 20 minutes or so at the window side of the bar). It was pretty neat. We then retraced our steps home, showered, gathered up the family, and went out for some great pizza and beer. Excellent day!

The next day it was back to Birmingham. We have this routine of flying from Boston through Charlotte for our connection pretty down pat - always land at the same gate at Terminal C and always catch the flight to Bham from the same gate in Terminal E. The Charlotte Airport is pretty unique in that they have Rocking Chairs all through the airport. Only danger there is falling asleep and missing your connection. Another nice touch is that next to all the drinking fountains, there are water fountains made to fill up your water bottles so you don't have to tilt your bottle and actually spill half the water out. Pretty simple, but well-appreciated idea. Also, as is important to nerds like me, there is FREE WiFi. I love it, even if I have to sit some stupid advertisement before it will allow me to connect. One other we were sitting waiting for our flight home, we actually surprisingly got to see what I think was Michelle Obama's plane landing in Charlotte. No matter what party you support, you have to get a thrill to see one of these jets with UNITED STATES OF AMERICA plastered along the side.

So that wraps up our latest trip to Beantown. Always a good time that we manage to fill most of the hours. Got back on the Oak Mountain Trails this morning and will return to the Lakeshore Greenway tomorrow morning. Looks like we're shifting into cooler weather with the low tonight at 57 degrees. Almost time to begin complaining about the cold! Well, I'll try to keep it to a minimum, but I can't promise. I'll see you on the roads - AL

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

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Something Bothers Me, and It's Not My Running

"The world belongs to the energetic" - Ralph Waldo Emerson

You know, I love America, but a couple of things about it bother me. No, I'm not going to be so foolish as to go down the political highway...that is social suicide. But, actually, THAT is one of the things that make the USA great. I may think your ideas are way the heck off base, but it is ingrained in us that we have the right to say what we believe (no matter how off the wall they are!!).

What bothers me is this country, in a very short period of time, is getting dumber and fatter and the fact that the dumber and fatter majority seem to be making the decisions so that we never will climb out of this hole. We used to be the leaders of the world in science and math and education. We used to value fitness and activity. Now it seems like these values have circled the drain and I'm not sure we can get it back. This is supposedly a running blog, so I'm not sure how far I can dive into this education part of the sinkhole, but when kids are graduating from High School and can't read at a seventh grade level, doesn't that raise a red flag somewhere with people that can change it? Some kids are not even taught to write cursive anymore! Not a BIG thing, but a THING. They can text a million "words" a minute, but their phoneticized abbreviations spill over into their ability to communicate when needed properly - like a job application. And things are getting worse. Here in Birmingham (Alabama), our school board would be the funniest show since I LOVE LUCY and THE HONEYMOONERS if it wasn't so utterly sad. Where do we dig these folks up from? But, it's not just here in Alabama, though here, education seems to take a huge backseat in funding to sports, and if it wasn't for football, I think many folks wouldn't know why we have High School in the first place. They (there's that "they" again) say that sports drive the engine, but it seems to me that sports sustains it's own huge appetite while the other programs starve to death (English, Math, Science, etc). Poor us, and poor USA.

Ok, let's get to this "fatter" thing. It is amazing how obese this country has gotten. During my bi-monthly visits to see my family up in Boston, I fly twice through Logan and Charlotte International Airports. Just sitting there watching slices of America walk by, it reinforces to me that the United States has the highest rate of obesity in the whole wide world. The latest stats show that 35.7% of American adults are obese, as are 17% of American children.
Every day, as a Physical Therapist, I see it in the clinic. I work in orthopedics and so a large portion of my patients are total wrecks who have had to have total knees. The greater majority of these knees have just worn out from years and years of abuse - not the abuse of physical exercise as many non-exercisers would like you to believe will happen to runners - but the abuse of every WALKING STEP putting 1.5 times their body weight on their knees. So, for a 300 pound office worker, just the 500 steps he takes from his car to his office is 450 pounds of crunching stress on EACH knee with EACH step. So, eventually the cartilage between the two long bones that meet at the knee are flattened away and you have bone-on-bone. Ta-da: Total knee! And that's just one little segment of our health demise. I heard once that something like 85% of all non-accident hospital admissions are contributed to by a preventable cause (smoking, drinking, eating, etc).

I'm asked several times a day by well-meaning patients how to lose weight. Well, what they usually say "I can't lose weight", "I wish I could lose weight", or my favorite, " I can't find the time", to which I say 'Look harder!". My approach, though, is simple: calories in have to be less than calories out. But folks are resistant to this thinking. So, I add a few side doors to this thinking: DON'T give up the things you love. Crave ice cream? Fine, have some. Love chocolate?

Great, have a piece or two. The point is don't gorge on it. If you try to give up something you love, that'll last a few days and then you'll eat a whole half gallon of ice cream or a whole giant bag of chips. A fad diet will NEVER work over the long haul. It's doomed before it gets off the ground. If you want to lose weight, it doesn't have to be some crazy-off-the-wall restriction "here" and stuff yourself "there" type diet. But, it has to be a lifestyle change that will allow enough food to fuel you through the day's normal activities, PLUS any crazy extras you tag on...I choose running miles and miles!! But, that's excessive, and I know it, but c'mon people, take some responsibility.

For much of these folks, it starts as children sitting in front of the computer/TV. Sure, I can sound like my grandfather talking about the good ol' days when we used to play from morning till the sun went down. A whole day would pass without going home and Mom would say "What did you do today?". The response, "I don't know...messed around I guess". But messing around was constant moving, playing ball, tag, running from getting caught after doing something bad! We had "social networking" - it was called OUTSIDE!! We moved around outside, and we moved around in the sun. Our friends were real friends. Now, one of the prime vitamin deficiencies is vitamin D.

And, what is it with bacon? This country has gone bacon crazy!I don't often give nutritional advice on this site but I'm going to today. Don't eat the Baconator. That's it. Pretty simple huh? Now I know that you're probably thinking what could possibly be wrong with two hamburger patties, 2 cheese slices, cheese sauce, mayonnaise, and 6 (count 'em 6)slices of bacon? And the answer is nothing at all, providing you spread that out over 4 meals and 3 days, but I don't think that's quite what Wendy's had in mind. On the other hand, bacon sure is tasty so let's say you head in to Wendy's to "do what tastes right" and you order the Baconator. Why yes, I will make that a combo meal. No, I don't want to Biggie size the fries, I'm trying to control my portions! I'd better do a diet coke too. Here's the stats on your lunch: 1250 calories, 71g total fat, 175mg cholesterol, 88g carbs and well on your way to taking big chunks off your life. We won't even get into the sodium! Whew! Good thing you went with the DIET coke!

Boy wasn't that good? But your sweet tooth is kicking in and you could really use something chocolaty, something like the Brownie Earthquake from Dairy Queen. So you head over to DQ because you want to "DQ something different" and you figure you'll reward yourself for being so good by getting that diet drink with your lunch. Besides, you've already screwed today's calorie count straight to hell so why not? At 740 calories, 28g total fat, 60mg cholesterol and a whopping 149g carbs it can't hurt right? Right? In one meal you're now pushing 2000 calories and almost 100g total fat! You could drink bottled water for the rest of the week and you'd still gain weight. Do you realize that you would have to run for over 18 miles to burn off the calories from that one meal? (Based on an estimate of burning 110 calories/mile).

Is it any wonder that America continues to get fatter and fatter by the day? It's making me feel fat just to sit and write about this, on the upside I have plenty of motivation to go workout today. I realize I got a little off the tangent this week, but yesterday, I flew through Charlotte to Boston, so I got a new infusion of viewing my fellow Americans. I don't recommend going nuts with a wild-off-the-wall diet, but just a little restraint people. You don't have to become a vegetarian, though I just read Scott Jurek's book, Eat & Run", and I highly give it a thumb's up. Remember calories in/calories out. It's not quite that simple, but it's a good start.

Ok folks, time to take the grandkids to the park and do some messing around. Hope you all have a good weekend and I'll see you on the roads - AL

One child lost is too child saved can change the world