Running With Al is a weekly (somewhat) training/motivational/informational journey through the mind of a 3 decade Alabama marathoner and ultramarathoner sharing things that worked and sadly didn't during his training and racing.
"The future will be better tomorrow" - Dan Quayle, former Vice-president With so many marathons and ultra marathons this time of year, you may still find on some of the entry forms "Any portable device requiring an earplug will not be allowed during the race event.", however USA Track and Field has removed its prohibition on earphones as a sanction requirement. Never really understood the ban...let's face it, you're not going to get hit by a car because you're listening to AC/DC on your iPod during your race. Of course, if you're listening to AC/DC, maybe you do need a little extra help with your playlist selection (this from someone whose playlist includes Celine Dion AND Barry Manilow!!). Also, one of the reasons for the ban was that you couldn't hear instructions being shouted. Ummm, either you're running a road race where you follow the couple of thousand of runners ahead of you from Aid Station to Aid Station, or you're on the trail and there ain't anybody out there to holler anything!
The use of mechanical aids to assist a runner in moving forward is against the rules in most races, marathons, and ultramarathons. For instance, a runner will be disqualified for getting a lift in a car, taking the subway, riding a bicycle, or hopping along on a pogo stick. But, I recently read that ''Music is a legal drug for athletes," claims Dr Costas Karageorghis, an expert on the effects of music on exercise (doubt he has much competition on that "expert" tag), at Brunel University (outside London). In his latest book, Inside Sport Psychology, he claims that listening to music while running can boost performance by up to 15%. That's a whopper of an aid, but to declare it a legal Performance Enhancing Drug is, I think, stretching it a little.
Was reading ULTRARUNNER magazine the other day, and I noticed that in mountainous ultras, many runners will carry Trekking Poles. I've been thinking of getting me a pair because they can fold up like those folding canes and you can carry them in some kind of quiver in your fanny pack. Come to a big hill and you can whip these babies out like Sir Lancelot, give them a shake, and voila! - you start pumping your arms baby and all of a sudden you've made a molehill out of a mountain! Some fools classify trekking poles as mechanical aids and ban them from their races. Remind me again -- exactly how many moving parts does a trekking pole have? Is it therefore also illegal to use the branch of a fallen tree as a walking stick? If so, is it illegal to grab rocks and branches with one's hands while climbing up a steep slope? During last year's Crusher Ridge 42k Trail "Run", Moha and I were going up what seemed like a 60% Grade incline. We both grabbed large sticks to help us get up the hill (more like to keep us from falling back down). Moha said "We must look like Moses and Joshua". So now we refer to steep climbs as "Moses & Joshua" hills.
But it's not my purpose in this post to argue in favor of trekking poles. Rather, I would like to consider for a moment whether the iPod (and similar mp3 devices) give you, the runner, an unfair advantage, making us a low profile Lance Armstrong!
Should the iPod be declared an illegal mechanical device? It has two buttons and a spinning disk drive, which makes it considerably more complex than a trekking pole, and could be classified, according to the famous Dr. Karageorghis, as a drug delivery system, in that playing good music is known to stimulate the production of endorphins and adrenalin which assist to make a runner, or any other athlete, perform faster, higher, stronger (to steal the Olympic Motto).
I began running with a Sony radio many years ago, listening to anything that was being broadcast. During March Madness one year, I was running a 24 Hour Run in Atlanta, and literally listened to 4-5 games in a row. I didn't have the foggiest idea what teams were playing, but it did keep my addling mind occupied. I guess it was all those drugs flowing through my arteries! Now, with my mp3 player, I listen to mostly podcasts. Haven't read any studies that say listening to podcasts help your running, so I'm still clean. Now, I'm afraid I'll feel like I'm dealing from a dark corner if I dare listen to Gordon Lightfoot singing about the Canadian Railroad.
But, think of the possibilities: You could sabotage someone else's race by erasing all the good music on his iPod and substituting tracks of Enya, bringing the listener way, way down. You'd be able to beat him walking on your hands. But some people would probably think that would be cheating. Kinda like a Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan thing, just less violent.
Maybe the only solution is to ban iPods entirely. No warm-ups with them, no races with them, no cool-downs with them. But, let's keep the Trekking Poles...they may be an illegal aide, but they look so cool. And please, let's not even begin to talk about the added advantage I get from my Hokas with all that extra cushioning. I'm a Hoka addict and I'm not giving them up...and I'm not going to Hoka Anonymous.
Just a wrapup from last week. If you read this blog a week ago, you'll remember I apologized to all the Indiana basketball fans because I picked them to win it all in my March Madness bracket. Well, as sure as the sun coming up, the Mighty Hoosiers went down in flames Thursday night. So, the Prognosticator-Al saga continues. To give you a clear picture of how well I'm doing, out of 384 players in my league, I'm sitting at a pretty #316. I'm still beating the "Alphabetical" bracket and the "Coin Flip" bracket. It's a good thing I know this stuff or I'd really be embarrassing myself. I hope you all have a great Easter this weekend. And we can talk about who I think will win the World Series this year when I see you on the roads - AL
"One child lost is too many...one child saved can change the world"
"We have great outside shooters. Unfortunately all our games are indoors" - Weldon Drew, Basketball Coach
Here it is, just Saturday afternoon, and I'm sitting here watching basketball for pure entertainment purposes only. My bracket, which two days ago seemed to be perfect, now resembles something from a new movie called "The Anti-Bracket". It looks like some hillbilly took a shotgun to it and blasted holes in it. If an independent observer viewed my picks, he'd ask himself if I really understood that the object was to pick the WINNERS of the games, and not the losers! Ok, granted NOBODY in the wide world picked Harvard to win (even Obama didn't pick them - AND HE WENT THERE!) and who even heard of Florida Gulf Coast University? I'll bet Georgetown doesn't forget them any time soon!. My locks lost, my bracket-busters lost, and I'm sitting at about #282 in a pool of almost 400 players. Not real bad, but like I said, I thought this year, I had the perfect bracket! Sorry all you Indiana fans, but I picked the Hoosiers to win it all, so they're doomed!
Ok, on to some running thoughts. Just like everyone else, I get worn down by our so-called leaders in Washington. I'm not picking sides (at least not revealing it here), but these jokers leader-pretenders couldn't put together a two-piece puzzle. I haven't seen this much dysfunction ever, and I'm from an Italian family! But, this is not a political blog by any stretch of anybody's imagination, so how does this fit in with running? Here's how:
The other day I heard that due to this ridiculousness called sequestration, the Blue Angels would have to drastically reduce their show appearances and big-event flyovers - hence the running connection. I saw them once. It was at the Blue Angel Marathon in Pensacola, Florida back in the late 90's (No, they didn't use Bi-planes back then). There were a few hundred of us anxiously waiting for the start. The Race Director stood on a high wooden pedestal shouting out last minute instructions that nobody was listening to. Finally, he said "One minute to the start" and I heard someone in the crowd yell "There they are". Looking across Pensacola Bay, you could barely make out a small group of Fighter Jets flying in the opposite direction of the way we were standing. The RD says "45 seconds". The fighters continue to fly south with us facing north. "30 seconds"...the fighters make a hard left turn in unison. "20 seconds"...another hard left. Now, they're coming right at us, but still a "fer distance away". Then, the RD starts counting down, "10...9...8...the jets are bearing down...7...6...5...the jets are in a PERFECT diamond formation what seemed like feet above the ground...4...3...2...and then the most amazing beginning to any race I have ever run...1...ZERO...at exactly "0", the jets flew directly (and I mean DIRECTLY) over our heads and we were off ready to take on the world. I swear, they couldn't have been more than 100 feet over us. The roar of the engines was deafening. You could feel the sudden gust of wind they created. The site, the sound, the pride, all wrapped up in a roll of mass patriotism. What an incredible moment. The Blue Angels buzzed the runners for about the first 7 miles of the race and then they were gone back to their base and back to the recesses of my memories. Man, that was cool!
So, while I was running the other morning, this got me thinking along another (though related) track. What were some of the other memorable starts to races I've done? I started rattling around in my head most of the 100+ marathons and ultras I had run and it seems like every other run is begun with some RD raising his arm, saying "Runner's set...go!" and either firing a phoney gun, or sounding an extra-loud air horn, or someother non-discript way of beginning the race. There's just little originality in this relative mundane part of racing.
Gary Cantrell, a decades long RD of Ultras in Tennessee had a couple of unique starts...for The Strolling Jim 40 Miler, one race began when he lit his cigarette! Not totally acceptable in the world of running, but it was unique. Another race, he began by blowing through a conch shell...runners from Tahiti would have felt right at home. And at a third Strolling Jim, he merely took off his tattered Cowboy hat and dropped it to the ground sending us on our way. Better than a starter's pistol.
For a flashy start, I guess Disney would have to claim #1 with their fireworks display. The race begins before the sun rises, making it pretty spectacular, especially since it goes on literally while all 15,000 runners file under the starting "bridge" where all the Disney characters are jumping up and down.
Finally, completing this circle of memorable starts, we have to go back to a Patriotism theme. The first time I ran the Marine Corps marathon in Washington DC, I was so impressed by all the air of nationalism that you feel the whole time. Like I said, we all get tired of the pettiness that goes on between those guys that WE elected, but take a trip to Washington and tell me your chest doesn't expand with a little extra pride. Like Winston Churchill said "It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried". Anyway, here we are, standing at the starting line of the Marine Corps Marathon. The National Anthem is sung by the Marine Corps Band and Choir will get you charged up by itself, but then the RD counts down to ZERO and this huge 105mm Howitzer Cannon fires in the general direction of the Washington Monument (a blank shell I hope, for two reasons...if not, there's a planning problem AND the marines are a terrible shot). Anyway, the BOOM from that cannon will shake your timbers to the core. You literally feel the sound concussion on your chest. Then you run a marathon! Wow!
I would love to hear some of your starting memories. Just write them in the comment section below. No matter how you start them, I'll continue to attempt to line up and I'll see you on the roads - AL
"One child lost is too many...one child saved can change the world"
"But time makes you bolder, even children get older, and I'm getting older too" - Landslide, Stevie Nicks
Let's face it, I just love to be out there. Back in the day (man, I hate that term), I used to be in the upper third at races of all distances. I would put in 50-60 miles a week and pretty much all of my training runs were laced with the background goal of being a little faster than whoever I was running with. You'd be loping along, talking about the Braves, or the weather, or whatever, when suddenly you noticed that your sentences weren't flowing as smoothly, you were breathing heavier, and your legs were being filled with cocktails of lactic acid. The pace shifted, as it always did, and you sped towards home anaerobically, wherever home was.
But time moves on, and the training gets slower, the races get slower, and the competitiveness wanes. But, still the love of the run is still there. And the love of the LONG run is where most of that love lies. If I can physically make the distance, then time takes a back seat. Not happily, but agreeably...a compromise...I'll give you distance, but I'll take some of your time...deal!! And so, after 5 years of volunteering due to non-cooperative ankles, I decided to enter the Oak Mountain Trail 50k for the 1st time since 2007 this past weekend. My goal was to simply finish. I usually don't like to write race reports...I've read many good ones, but just don't feel like I write very good ones...so, what follows are some of my memories, though with my fading mind...maybe I should have written this earlier in the week.
The course comprises each of the four major trails in the park and on each trail, there is a major hill. Over the 31+ miles there is over 4000 feet of elevation gain. Is that a lot? I don't know, but it felt like a lot. The problem is most of the hills are steep grades and not mamby-pamby inclines. These legs used used to find a (slow) groove and trot up the hills, but now, there's a lot of walking involved. No big deal, but it just takes longer. When you're flat-out tired, but running, 16 minute miles feel like you're flying. But you know what...falling sucks, and falling twice in one mile sucks twice as much. Lots of banana peels on these trails (banana peels are what my buddy, Moha, and I call roots, rocks, ruts, etc - anything that can trip you up). One good thing is I'm going so slow, so I sorta fall in slow motion and unless I crack against a rock, I really don't worry about getting hurt.
Despite the two tumbles, I was moving relatively well until at 13 miles when you hit Peavine Falls. You literally have to climb down a 15% rocky grade 2/10ths of a mile to the bottom of the falls, traverse the 30' water crossing, and then climb back up the 2/10ths rocky 15% grade on the other side. Fifteen minutes later, at the top of the climb, with my hands on my knees, I looked at Moha and said "Well, we're almost halfway there!" and cried inside. It would have been so easy to get to the next aid station and convince myself that a 14 mile run on a beautiful day was something to be thankful for.
Without belaboring a description of the rest of the race, I did keep remembering an interview I heard with one of my true running heroes, David Goggins. He's an ex-Navy Seal who's career I've been following for years. Read about him, or better yet, view some of his videos on youtube (here's a good one). Essentially, he's an amazing athlete with an incredible mental tenacity that all of us wish we had, and he puts this tenacity to work raising money for the Wounded Warrior Project. Anyway, in this interview, he said something to the effect of "When you think you are done, you are like 40% into what your body is capable of doing. That's just the limits we put on ourselves". So, with that in my mind, I trudged on, and I mean "trudged".
If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that I have no better friend than my long-lost brother, Moha. We have put in tons of miles on the road and on the trail together. We've been there for each other if one of us falters, but it seems he's supporting me much more than the other way around. I did have to laugh though, as we were climbing a 2.5 mile hill on the Red Trail, I said to Moha "I'm sorry I'm slowing us down so much". Without missing a beat, Moha says, "I'm going into the woods and find a big stick to beat the sh*t out of you". Gotta love a good friend!
And so, we huffed and puffed and ran and walked and finally made it to the finish line, BUT IT WAS THE FINISH LINE, and that was the goal. Only a runner who reaches an official finish line knows the special feeling it brings and I especially enjoyed this one. I really don't mind keeping my time with a sundial these days. Actually, I may have to do this as my very unpredictable Nike+ GPS battery gave up the ghost 6:41 into the race - so much for the advertised 8 hour battery! More on that in another blog. I guess either watch batteries need to improve or I need to run faster. Let's send a text to the new Pope to pray for the watch battery.
One final note...how the hell can anyone in their right mind ever take an ice bath? The night of the OM50, my ankles were barking pretty good, so I decided to dunk them in the bathtub jacuzzi we have. I filled a big pot full of ice, grabbed a magazine, a cup of coffee, planning to plop my feet in this ice bath and sit on the side of the tub. I filled the tub half full with just cold water and plunged them in. Now, mind you, I haven't even put the ice in yet!! Holy Crap!! My ankles felt like James Caan's in the movie Misery when Kathy Bates gave his ankles a horrific whack with a sledge hammer. Thirty seconds and out. Thought about what a tough guy I am and plunged them back in...my God, I didn't know you could get an Ice Cream headache in your feet. Thirty more seconds and that experiment was OVER!! Drained the tub, poured out the ice, grabbed my coffee and put on my Smartwools. Ryan Hall and Ken Harkless can have their icebaths. They must be missing an evolutionary part of their brain! Actually, it did help me take my mind off my ankle pain, so I guess it served it's purpose. Whew!
As I said, I love to be out there, and so far, the pluses still far outweigh the negatives, so I'll keep going as long as they keep the finish line open. Do I expect better results? That would be nice, but on 25-30 miles/week, probably not. Will I push past that 40% mental barrier? I hope I'm strong enough. Will Moha beat the sh*t out of me? I doubted, but we will always be there for each other, and that in itself makes it all worthwhile. Will I EVER take an ice bath again? Not in this lifetime!
And so another chapter ends, but the book continues to be written. And one of the most important parts is I'll see you all on the road - AL
"One child lost is too many...one child saved can change the world"
"Genetics loads the gun, but lifestyle pulls the trigger" - Caldwell B. Esselstyn
If you keep up the habit of running early in the morning long enough, you may pick up some interesting behaviors, display some personality quirks, and notice some things normal-time runners may not observe. I've been running early (I mean real early) in the pre-dawn hours (see what I mean by real early) for several years now. It was sorta forced on me by changes of my job venue. I used to run at noontime for over two decades, but when I changed to a different PT clinic in our Orthopedic/Rehab practice, I wasn't forced to run before work, but I felt it was only fair to my colleagues and patients to make the change since there was no shower. It was bad enough that at my former clinic after running at noon in the Alabama summer, I would come back after showering to see my 1:00 patient still sweating like I had Malaria. Doesn't instill much confidence to the patients that you're asking, "So, what brings you in today?" while you're toweling your face off and sweating through your shirt.
I grudgingly switched to setting the alarm at 4:30am, hopping (ha!!) out of bed, brushing my teeth, shaving, putting my running clothes on and be on the road by 4:50 (or 5:00 in the winter - more clothes!). I can usually tell in the first 10 steps if my ankles and muscles are going to enjoy this run, or if I'm going to literally drag my butt around the 4+ miles of Hoover streets for 45 minutes (or 50 minutes if my body really balks). But, now it's a habit, and even on the weekend, I look forward to an early start so I have an early finish. Along the way, I noticed that I have developed certain behaviors, traits, whatever...just a different perspective on running from...um...later-time runners! Here are a few of those observations.
1. I consider 6am "sleeping in". If there is a Saturday or Sunday where I don't have a run planned, I still get up early, make coffee, read the paper, watch English soccer on TV, and wonder to myself "What's wrong with you?". Even if I want to force myself to sleep late, my body gets me up before 7 anyway.
2. I always get my running clothes out the night before. Don't want to be seen (if I could be seen) with mis-matched socks, you know. Winter is more of a challenge because when it gets below 30 degrees, I pile the layers on. This decision making would be too much of an early morning process, so by bedtime, it's ready to go. I never do this much fretting with my work clothes!
3. I run the same route every weekday morning. Most know-it-all magazines say to vary your route, but I find the same route comforting to me. Plus I know instinctively where the road suddenly dips or has a rise. With my finely tuned nimbleness as I get older and my ankles getting stiffer, this is definitely a plus.
4. I also notice that I have no idea what the names are of some of the streets are that I run by each morning. It's too dark to see the street signs. What's with that?
5. I know the sound of the Newspaper delivery cars. One that goes by me has a pretty defective muffler that I can hear a (figurative) mile away. Normally, that would be irritating, but as he passes me, he gently taps his horn. If I could see him, he's probably waving too.
6. I know the sprinkler schedule for most homes along my route. I can't see the water from the sprinkler, but through being "kicked by the mule" more than once, I know where they are. Nothing like getting spritzed halfway through your dark, cold, winter 40 degree run. Greatly diminishes the relaxation aspect of the run!
7. I can deftly reset my mp3 player by the dim High-pressure Sodium street light hues I run under (not sure about that "pressure sodium" stuff, but I think I read that once).
8. I HATE the sound (real or imagined) of dogs when all I can see is dark. A squirrel-sized mutt becomes a stalking coyote. Dogs can see better than me, so I just go into my "throwing the fake rock" act and they usually retreat (at least the sound seems to retreat).
9. If I get out early enough on the weekend, I can actually complete my run, shower, and take a quick (mostly unintentional) nap before my wife wakes up. Plus, I'm usually ready for some leftover pizza or pasta by 10am!
10. One big drawback...if you miss your morning run, you have the whole day to feel guilty and fat, whereas, if you're an after work runner, in a couple of hours, you'll be sound asleep.
And so, another day dawns. Al has gotten his run in. The world will stay on it's axis for another 24 hours at least.
Unless it's too dark, I'll see you on the roads - AL
"One child lost is too many...one child saved can change the world"
Have run 142 marathons and ultramarathons with a 3:03 marathon PR and over 100 miles 7 times. Was proud to be the Leukemia Team-in-Training Run Coach in Birmingham for 15 years. Ankle woes have slowed me in distance and time, but my passion for long distance running still remains. Learning how to be a grandpa. Write to me: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: runningwithal47
READ MY OTHER BLOG
I write another blog, TRAINING WITH AL, that is geared towards the first time marathoner. As a long time distance coach, I have a few tactics that might help you get through those initial rough patches
My Personal Bests
Alabama State record holder: 50 miles, 35 year-old - 7:14