Saturday, February 23, 2013

Reflections of Mercedes

"You really don't notice it at first. Then it becomes a little annoying. Then it gets really annoying. Then it hurts. Then you die. At 20 miles, I was afraid I would die. At 25 miles I was afraid I would live and have to finish the damned thing" - Micah Ward

And so, last weekend, we wrapped up the Mercedes Marathon and Half Marathon for the 12th year and what a great event it was. The Expo was vibrant, and although not very big, had many new vendors. The registration went as smooth as can be expected and of course, there was a boatload of Southern Hospitality to impress our out-of-state gusts. I'm sure there were some problems, but I'm part of the staff and I heard of no snafus at all. Even the weather cooperated with a cool (ok, cold - 25 degrees) morning that warmed up nicely to the sunny mid 40's. 

It continues to surprise me for some reason, but even as the event gets bigger, the Race Director, Val McLean, pulls this off smoother and smoother every year, despite the fact that we never have an "All-committee-free-for-all" meeting. If it was me, we would have all the committees get together frequently, order pizza and beer, gossip for an hour, shout at each other to establish territorial rights about which committee is more important and leave 3 hours later having accomplished very little, which would have to be rectified with another meeting. Val just surrounds herself with people who know what they're doing (the Pace Team Leader and Training Director is a little shaky) and she is readily available to right any listing ship. Thanks Val.

Some of my personal reflections: 
Once again, I took a page from Val's book and surrounded myself with a solid Pace Team for paces from 3:45 to 5:00. Every group got in within 4 minutes of their goal! It certainly echoes the idea that even pacing is the best way to run a marathon. Every Pace Group Leader had a plan and each one delivered. The same as any runner or ball team or whatever, once you settle on a plan, don't deviate from that plan unless you get into panic mode. At less that 2 miles in, a runner from Michigan pulls up to me and asks me what my pace plan was (she wasn't part of our group, mind you). I told her we were going to run even pace and walk through every other aid station (there were ELEVEN AID STATIONS each 13.1 mile loop!). She then began to berate my plan...while we're running...and saying I should do run/walk and my results would be better! When I told her I had my plan and this was my 11th year of pacing, she said she had run 29 marathons and I still had time to change my plan!! I didn't say what I wanted, but I did say "see ya". Geez!!

As much as I like it, my Nike+ watch failed AGAIN! I had it set for overall pace on the big screen. The first loop was perfect, but somewhere around 16 miles, the satellite was cloaked by the Klingons, and I lost contact for about a mile and a half. It kept up with the time, so when it found the satellite again, the overall pace was shot to hell, and the pilot (me) was winging it. I soon had a foot issue and our co-pilot (Bill Woody - who just agreed to pace the week before!) took over and guided the group home. Excellent job Bill (he had also run 5 miles before the race!). Anyway, back to the watch...I also had the footpod on and I thought the purpose of the footpod was to keep up with the mileage if you lose the satellite. Yeah, that's a nice sales pitch! The total mileage at the end read 24.55 miles. I've run many marathons that I wanted to stop a mile and a half short, but this day I was sure I had put in at least the required 26.2.  Anyone have an idea about this footpod line being fed to me by Nike? Put it in the comments if you do.

During the race, I recognize faces. I may not readily recall your names, but we are all connected by the memories of training, the memories of raceday, the memories that you carry away. Experiences you don't forget.

Proud of all of you but especially those of you that trained with me & Ken on Sunday mornings. But, I have the same pride as Danny Haralson feels about his runners, or the Trak Shak Guys feel about their group, or (I'm sorry I'm not sure who THE coach was) the huge group running for the Bell Center. We literally are a Team of Teams.

I've recieved several emails thanking me, but YOU inspire me. I am not an expert imparting wisdom - I am a long-distance runner that has been doing this for a long time and still have a strong desire to share. Maybe you will catch the marathon bug for a long time too, and more importantly, you will pay it forward to future marathoners. The community of marathoners is fueled more by the sharing of first-person experiences than it is by books or running magazines. 

The marathon is brutally and beautifully honest. You get back on raceday what you put into it during the many months of training. A quote I often use is "You can't run a million dollar marathon with ten-cent training". There's only one way to buy a marathon - not with cash or credit cards, not with your fame or power, but only with proper preparation. Everyone who crossed that line, be it in 3 hours or 6 hours, put in miles in the rain, and cold, and dark. That's where a marathoner is made.

"The marathon can humble you".  Not original....a Bill Rodgers quote. Even with the best training, it can still throw you a curve and you're not home free until you go under the balloons at the end. I went under the balloons...a little later due to that foot problem that came out of the blue. But, the marathon can also make you proud, and each of us (including me) can be proud of a finish that time-wise is in my top 3 of worst times. I loved Mercedes this year. I ran every step of the way with my very good friend (my "lost brother") Moha, and these days, I'd much rather run a marathon like this than be in oxygen debt for 3 hours. I'm bothered by runners who say "I'm only a back-of-the-packer", or "I'm only a run/walker".Take pride in your marathon! You've heard it before, but by finishing a marathon, you are one of 1/10th of 1% of the population. WOW!!

Ok, I've gone on longer than I intended (kinda like my race). These are just a few of my reflections. I'm sure you who ran have your own stories. And those that didn't run have a whole host of stories in you just waiting to be let out. Don't wish it...want it!! 

I'll continue to see you all on the roads - AL

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

Saturday, February 16, 2013

My State of Al Speech

"The world is run by those that show up" - Unknown (to me anyway)

With the President's State of the Union address this week coinciding with tomorrow being the official kick-off day for my (ha!) racing season, it seems like an ideal time to step back and take my own personal overview of where things stand. On this blog, I'm The Decider and so get to make the only speech. Like the Republican response, your rebuttal will be confined to the lesser forum of blog comments. Feel free to grab a swig of water anytime, but please drink American water, not that Poland stuff!

I accept your standing applause, fake smiles, hoot, hollers, jeers, and oddly detached, impersonal hand shakes

My fellow runners...Staring down the barrel of another year, I'm a little nervous and a little excited. These next year will be a bit more intense than the last. More miles. More sweat. More aches and pains. Worse weather.

I won't be training for a large, crowd-friendly event. After I pace a 5 Hour group in the Mercedes Marathon tomorrow, I plan to aim my sites on a number of Trail races events. I love the trails - they give me the perfect opportunity to have an excuse to run the pitifully slow pace that I do. With my ankles constantly saying "Haven't you had enough with this stuff?" and me coming back with "Oh, 35 years is about halfway there", I am perfectly happy to reach across the aisle and compromise with a slower effort (the ankles proposal) and the finish line (my proposal). A bi-partisan agreement!

A few weeks ago, I made a unilateral decision and sent in my application to enter the Oak Mountain 50K, a race I haven't done since 2006. It is 3 weeks after Mercedes (tomorrow). And like the clouds parting, I finally self-diagnosed myself and figured out my running-life's strategy. I must ALWAYS have a race planned for after the race I'm about to do. That way, the race I'm about to do can always be accepted as a training run for the next one on the list. It's a very complicated plan. It's not a plan unanimously accepted in both chambers, but one that I plan to use my unique power to ram through (enthusiastic clapping on one side of the chamber floor!). 

Here in the Birmingham area this year, there is a new series of races called the Southeastern Trail Series and comprises 7 runs throughout the year of varying distances from 6 miles to 50k (possibly 50 miles). Perfect! I can enter the Series and ALWAYS have that race looming ahead so that my current race can only be run at a slow training pace (the only pace I can muster up). I will save energy, I will save money by entering all 7 at once, and I can walk around with the confidence the year is set. It's the right thing to do...all I ask for is a vote! Well, I'm the only vote that counts, but it's nice to know we can work together (a smattering of one standing...Hmmm). 

My overall health is excellent. The state of my ankles has more good days than in years past. The price of shoes has gone up, but I have instituted an alternative shoe plan by going exclusively (road & trail) with Hokas. The initial outlay is more, but down the road (perfect wording) I will save because Hokas easily get 600-700 miles on them. Old road Hokas are recycled to trail Hokas. The plan can work! The plan does work. No need for a committee. I know this plan has a hard uphill (ha, I crack myself up) battle to convince both parties (minimalist vs maximalist), but I will continue to institute my plan. I will continue to run the same daggum course Tuesdays and Thurdays before the sun comes up and put in my "serious" (cough, cough) training on the weekends. I will continue to shun away from any cross-training and use the ever-popular excuse of I don't have time. I will diligently stretch once per month (or so). I feel it is important to be a good example to my patients, and I'd hate to lie when I tell them I stretch because I think it's important.

I will continue to monitor my nutrition. Not fanatically. There is still plenty of room for beer, wine, pizza, and the occasional whole box of Wheat Thins. But I try trending towards more fruit, but doggonit, that stuff gets rotten after a week or so! I cook with a lot of vegetables, so that is good, right! So, we give and take...veggies for fruit. See how easy it is too agree?

My plan is in place. My goals are attainable.

I look forward to the next 11 months of this term (I have unlimited terms) and embrace the challenge of taking the next step towards my goal of continuing to put one foot in front of the other for a long time to come.

I embrace the challenge of taking on asphalt, dirt, roots, rocks,and ruts in a one on one, me versus the road/trail, simple structure. It is a plan designed to accept the limitations I have, yet not lose sight of the dreams still there (again enthusiastic clapping from one side of the chamber - the other saying "Yeah, and how's he gonna do that?")

I look forward to the sweat, miles, and smiles on the way to the finish line.

Overall, the State of good. And ready to roll.

At this point, I assume there is applause all around. I believe I struck a bi-partisan note.

Thank you, God Bless You, and God Bless the United States of America! (I now shake hands with folks I don't care to give the time of day to).

I'll see you all on the roads - AL
"One child lost is too child saved can change the world" 

Saturday, February 9, 2013

It's All In the Timing

“The right thing at the wrong time is the wrong thing.” 
― Joshua Harris

The other day, I was watching TV (a terrible habit that I will never break), and there was a story on the "news" about the right time to eat. I put "news" in quotes because one of my HUGE pet peeves is TV news. I hate when they deliver soft, fluffy, warm & fuzzy stories about puppies or cats or doughnut runs. Give me the news!! OK, short rant. I'm done (for today). Anyway, this "news" story said if you eat your big meal earlier in the day (like 3 o'clock) you'll control your weight better. Yeah, that's fine, as long as this just doesn't leave MORE time to allow you to eat MORE ice cream before you go to sleep. Supposedly, you eat early and your body processes the food better and it doesn't just sit in your stomach like a big meat & potatoes ball while you sleep. But, the whole object is that eating is all in timing.

This got me to thinking about timing in terms of running, rehabbing, and exercising. There's an optimal time for everything. When you ice your injury or eat or strength-train at the wrong moment, you could miss the full benefit. Here's some that have come to my wondering mind:

I have always hated stretching and probably always will. I don't mean hate it with a passion. I just will never enjoy it enough to do it every day, even though I'm stiff as a telephone pole. However, the question I'm asked most is "Should I stretch before or after I run?". It makes sense to stretch after the muscles have warmed up, but studies actually show that there is no significant beneficial difference of when you stretch. Just get it done...early, late, before/after you run, at home, in your office...doesn't matter. I believe flexible muscles will help you run better, so I guess stretch when you can, but for it to be effective, you have to be consistent. Therefore, timing has no dog in this fight.

Hit the Road
Studies suggest that athletes perform best in the late afternoon, but most of us cannot dictate when we want to run - we run when we most conveniently can fit it in. Fortunately, research also shows that we can train our bodies to run well at any time of day simply by exercising regularly at that time. When you consistently time your exercise, you train the cardiovascular system to deliver more oxygen to the working muscles at that time. I guess, for me, three years is not quite enough time for my body to accept 4:30am as an acceptable time to acclimate. I'll let you know what that acclimation period is when I adapt to it.

After hard or long runs (two hours or more), eat carbs and protein within 30 minutes to restock energy stores and rebuild muscle. If you can't refuel within 30 minutes, then for sure shoot for 2 hours. Your muscles will still soak up those depleted fuels like a sponge. Of course, when I finish a long run, I'll pour anything into my gut and let my body figure out what to soak up. Why should I have to figure it out? I'm too pooped from running.

Ice Your Pain
The quicker you ice, the faster you slow down inflammation, the faster you begin to heal. Or that's the way the thinking has been for the past 100 years that I've been a therapist. Seems some research now shows that the Earth is not flat and icing may actually slow healing in that it inhibits inflammation which initiates the healing process (sometimes I hate science). But, being old and set in my ways, I still recommend icing. Only ice for about 20 minutes, but you can do this hourly if you you're really aching. If you run with an injury, keep some of those disposable icepacks in the car. Now, taking anti-inflammatories might be a different bunch of bananas. See the next topic.

Taking Anti-inflammatories
A study looking at taking anti-inflammatories (ibuprofen, naproxyn,etc) during marathons and ultra marathons showed that anti-inflammatories actually increased inflammation by BLOCKING the body's natural healing process. So that might not be a good idea. Also, anti-inflammatories can really mess with your kidneys during the race, causing the inability of proper fluid balance. Another not so good thing. Other research has demonstrated that taking anti-inflammatories post workout decreases training adaptations, which is the main reason we train. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is a pain reliever, and although safer than Advil (ibuprofen) or Aleve (naproxyn), should be also be taken very judiciously during training or racing. I have found the Tylenol 8 Hour tablets to be the best for decreasing my aches after a long run. A Sam Adams Winter Lager works pretty good too.

Speedwork and long runs
Because speedwork is a horrible intense, workout, it should be spaced out from long runs by at least two days. For some reason, long run day is usually Sunday and speed work is Tuesday. It would be better to give those muscle fibers an extra day to repair... Saturday/Tuesday or Sunday/Thursday or, oh you get the idea. 

Two strength-training sessions per week can improve your running. But strength training can be a hard workout, so separate those workouts from hard runs by at least a day. Again, one question I hear is "should I do my strength training before or after my runs".  The two pathways competing for adaptation interact and can help turn each other “on” or “off”.  So if you do strength training and then follow it up with a good little run, you've shut off the pathway for muscle growth (which could be good or bad depending on what you’re training for). If you run first and then lift, you won't get the full adaptation effect of the run. How you adapt neurally depends on the timing of what was done first. 

Eat on the (Longer) Run
Your body's carb stores can fuel runs that are less than two hours. During longer sessions, you need to replenish carbs at a rate of 45-60 grams per hour (about 250 calories). The most you can process, with training, is about 350 calories per hour of carbohydrates and you're burning 600 total calories (carbs, fats and proteins), so timing when you take your carbs (usually in the form of gels or drinks) is crucial. Take your first gel 30-45 minutes into your run, your second 30-45 minutes later, and so on. Each gel has about 100 calories, but if you take too much, it can lead to GI distress (not a good thing) and blood will be diverted from your muscles (again, not a good thing).

Donate Blood
The body replaces lost fluids (plasma) within 24-48 hours of giving blood, so logging an easy run the next day is fine. However, donating blood can interfere with hard training. Oxygen-carrying red blood cells begin to regenerate immediately, but can take six weeks to reach full count. That means you may not be able to hit your target times during that period, and you may feel like you're hitting a brick wall.

Shop for Shoes 
Ideally, you want to purchase a new pair of running shoes before they lose their effectiveness, which is around 300-500 miles. It's a big range but that's because you, not just the shoes, are part of the equation. If you land hard on your heels or are a big runner, you'll wear down a shoe faster than lighter runners or midstrikers do. If you need shoes before a race, get them a month prior to work out their rigidity (about 50-75 miles). As for the best time of day to shop, your feet will be slightly larger late in the day, but this is not a real big deal (but, a deal). 

So, there you go. Food for thought. Assuming my timing is right, I'll see you all on the roads - AL

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


Sunday, February 3, 2013

Some Things I Remember

"These are the days these are the days you'll remember, never before and never since I promise, will the whole world will be warm as this" - Natalie Merchant

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know I run many of my long runs with my good friend, Mohammed (Moha) or Ken. We have been running together for many years now, and with us each being in our sixties (Good Grief!), the topic will inevitably turn to how we "Usta" run, not how we're doing it now. I keep saying I'm going to get a shirt from the United States Tennis Association that has plastered "USTA' across the front. Seems appropriate. Anyway, once in a while, when my mind draws a complete blank of what to write in RWA, I can always go back into the vault of my mind and come up with a few things remembered. Things me and Moha and Ken talk about just about every week. Here's a few:

Nike elites - these were the first pair of real running shoes given to me by Versal Spaulding back in the late 70's. I had just began running about 6 months prior and Treated Versal's wife in my clinic. He owned the first Running shoe "store" in Birmingham, I believe it was called Running South. His "store" was actually a garage with boxes of running shoes stacked up against all the walls and a few metal folding chairs strewn around. I had been happily (ignorantly) running in a pair of Puma's I had picked up at WalMart. These things were stiff as a 2x4, but what did I know? Versal gave me a pair of Nike Elites. These were the the most comfortable things I had ever put on my feet, including socks - and they had about as much support as socks! But they fit like a glove. Looking back, these were probably what we would call today "zero-drop shoes". I wore them, racing, whatever. A few months later, I had a rip-roaring case of Plantar Fasciitis, but to this day, my first pair of running shoes were my most comfortable ever!

NY marathon @ channel 13 - Back in the early 80's, all of my running buddies were into the marathon scene. There was no African invasion from Kenya or Ethiopia. We cheered runners like Rodgers, Shorter, Virgin, Benoit, Salazar. These were our American running heroes and we salivated to see these runners, so when a marathon was being televised, it was a BIG thing. Well, one time the New York Marathon was being televised live on NBC. At the time it began at 8 AM, so there was one problem. This was a Sunday, this was Birmingham, Alabama, and this was the Bible Belt. The NY Marathon was NOT going to bump church programming off the air and was not going to be televised here. Fortunately, one of our running buddies was Mike Royer. For those of you not from Bham, Mike was (and still is) one of the premier news anchors in this market. So, it's nice to have friends in high places and I remember about 10 of us cramming into a little Channel 13 office studio to watch the direct feed of the NY Marathon. It was 3 hours of great fun analyzing, joking, and making memories. As Bob Dylan said "Ten thousand dollars at the drop of a hat, if our lives could be like that".

ERG - Don't remember what was served in my first marathon in 1979, but in my 2nd one a few months later, I remember rumblings of a replacement drink along the way. No, not Gatorade, which I don't believe was widely distributed yet. This was ERG - Electrolyte Replacement with Glucose. Exercise physiology was somewhat new to us new runners, but we had been reading that we needed to replace glucose during the run. I remember bananas and defizzed coke was pretty popular, but this was SCIENCE! It was awful! It tasted like sweat! But, we drank it and we felt stronger! Ah, the power of the mind!

Casio - Casio was the leader in running watches back in the day. Weren't really fancy by today's standards. I, mean, they really were pretty simple. You pushed a button and it started this DIGITAL chronograph that told you to the second what your time was. You could stop it and restart it. The first ones had no memory, so it was simply a stopwatch that kept your time until you cleared it and that erased your time! My first one had a stainless steel band and wasn't water resistant, at least not very sweat resistant. While running a marathon in Indiana, I actually heard this crackling coming from my wrist. I looked at my watch and saw these strange alien symbols flashing on my watch that neither looked like numbers or letters. That was right before the watch went completely blank! What a cool watch!!

Polypropylene - These days if you know anything about dressing for long distance running, you know never to wear cotton. Even at the smallest 5k's, you expect some type of technical wicking shirt. Well, back 30 years ago, all we had was cotton, UNTIL, along comes Polypropolene. It was a slightly thick, tight material, that was said to draw the sweat away from your skin during running - in other words, a miracle fabric! I don't remember what this shirt cost, but at the time, it was pretty steep. So, when Athlete's Feet was having a Gambler's Sale for 5 days, I was ready. See, they had 20% off the first day, 30% the second day and so on till Friday when things were 60% off. Well, on Monday, ol' Al goes on down, finds the new Polypro shirt, hides it deep under the women's underwear in some corner, and Friday, there it is, still unfolded. A score that I'm still proud about. Don't remember if the shirt was any good, but I'm sure it was worth it.

Ok, that's enough reminiscing for now. Gotta watch the Super Bowl. Not really interested in either team, but it is the Super Bowl. Alright, here's how old I am - I went to Super Bowl II in Miami. Green Bay Packers vs Oakland Raiders. Vince Lombardi's last coaching game, my ticket was $8, and the halftime entertainment was the Florida A&M Marching Band! Holy Crow...just Holy Crow!!

Got lots more stories, but I'll tell them to you when I see you on the roads - Al 

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