Sunday, June 23, 2013

21 Random Facts About Me

"A smooth sea never made a skillful sailor" - English Proverb

I noticed one of the things that keeps popping up in blogs and forums is a little brainstorming where the writer puts forth some random facts about him/herself. Seemed like kind of a fun, harmless thing to do, especially when I'm having one of those Running With Al writer's block days. Also, it might make it easier for the NSA to find things out about me if I just put them out there in one handy package and then they don't have to waste their time sifting through all my boring emails. So here are 21 random things about me. I don't dare say "interesting" things.

1. I am a very big stats fanatic.  Especially, I love baseball stats and because of that can be quite nerdy with doing quick math in my head like gas mileage, Fahrenheit/Celsius temperature conversion, metric conversions, etc, but it really comes in handy when figuring out races paces. Except late in an ultra when I can't even figure out the time of day while looking at my watch!

2. I drink coffee in the morning, then mostly tea the rest of the day. Always use milk at home (see #9), but just black when out. 

3. My best race of all time was a 6:54 Fifty Mile Run. That was 8:16/mile. Geez...I can barely do an 11:16 now on a good day.  

4. I once ran 111 miles in one day (24 hours). All I can say is "Holy Crow!".
5. I love Hot Chocolate...well, I just love chocolate. They could make chocolate anything and that would fit right in with my lifestyle.

6. Came to Alabama in 1968 to go to Physical Therapy School at UAB. Practically had to promise my parents I wouldn't stay. Fell in love with it, and here I am still!

7. Been doing Physical Therapy for over 42 years and am one of a select few that still enjoys their job.  
8. Don't like cake and eat very few cookies. Love pretzels. Actually, anything crunchy.

9. I love chocolate milk and use it in my coffee AND my tea!! Yeah, yeah, I know. Can you picture John Wayne putting chocolate milk in his coffee when he takes it off the campfire?

10. Lately, I have really learned to enjoy Craft Beers. Brown and English Ales are my favorites. Not much of an IPA guy. Not much in favor of serving beer at races. I just think the drinking/driving thing is too much of a risk

11. I don't enjoy races anymore, especially less than a marathon. There's no push in these legs. I do enjoy the camaraderie of my fellow runners though. 

12. I love running on trails 1000% more than the roads. I've fallen on both, and trails are much softer.

13. I don't like swimming and tolerated cycling for a few years, but I just stick to running. 

14. Can't believe I have completed 135 marathons and ultras, including Pikes Peak, Boston, 24-hour races, and gone over 100 miles 7 times! And I still get butterflies in my stomach right before "Go".

15. I love to cook and am pretty good, even I say so myself. 

16. I hardly ever listen to music. When I run I listen to mostly podcasts, but do have a iPod Shuffle that I enjoy running with on occasion that has my favorite wide mixture...Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, U2, Etta James, Neil Diamond, Pink, John Denver, etc...see, I said wide mixture. 

17. In High School, I hated running...loved baseball and soccer...only letter was in track! Go figure. The mile runners were crazy long distance runners to me!

18. I could eat pasta every night. I mean EVERY night. 

19. I am the 2nd of a string of four consecutive generations of "only-sons". 
20. I don’t need much sleep and can get by with 5-6 hours a day comfortably, but that leads to sudden unannounced naps once I plop down in my living room chair!  

21. My best time for a marathon is 3:03. Could never find those 3 minutes. 

This was fun and pretty easy to do.Why don't some of you do a list like this and write a blog, send it to your local track club newsletter, or better yet, just send it to me. I'd loved to read it. I may do a list, Part 2, sometime in the future when why supremely creative mind goes completely blank again.

Until then, I'll see you on the roads - Al
"One child lost is too child saved can change the world"

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Try Everything...No, Try Nothing...What To Do

"Training is the hard part to enjoy the fun part, whatever your sport is" - Mohammed Ali

Close to where I live, there is a Cross-Fit Gym. I have never stepped inside it, nor do I know exactly what they do. In my mind, it's a great money making idea on the concept that you get fit by pushing heavy things. Most gyms have you pushing their several thousand dollar machines, but at Cross-Fit somebody saw Rocky pulling a sled filled with rocks through the snow training to fight the Russian Fighting machine, Ivan Drago, and said "Hey, I'll bet I can get some guys to lift a tire, or move a railroad tie, or drag a giant chain and get them to pay ME!". Don't you love America. Actually, being a Physical Therapist, I actually love the concept. You make a muscle work against a resistance and it will respond to the weight, not the appearance of the weight. When I teach my patients exercises in the clinic, they say "I'll have to go WalMart and buy a 2# weight". I quickly inform them that you fill a half-gallon jug halfway and you have a 2# weight. Fill it all the way, and Voila!, you have a 4# weight. So, why not lift a tire instead of a shiny chrome-plated dumbbell? 

So, anyway, I'm driving to work yesterday a little ways past the gym, and I see this poor guy running in the grocery store parking lot with a (probably) 8-10# kettle ball being held to his upper shoulder. He would take 15 or so steps and then switch to the other side. I'll give him this, despite obviously not enjoying his punishment exercise, he was persevering. The light changed and I had to get going, but I wondered what possible advantage running like this would accomplish. Yeah, sure, I get the weight thing, but his body mechanics were so shot to hell, he: #1) would soon be injured, and #2) never be able to do this long enough to gain any possible positive training effect. But, some trainer told him to do this, and off he went hoping to improve towards his fitness goal.

So, this is not CROSSFITWITHAL, it's RUNNINGWITHAL, so where am I going with this? Well, it doesn't matter how you get your training advice, you have to admit there is ton of it out there. We have well qualified trainers and coaches, books, videos, and of course the always present magazines, like Runner's World. I'm not picking on RW...I've been a reader since I began running over 30 years ago...but, you have to admit their advice does seem to bounce around like a ping-pong ball. Sure, the pendulum of training does swing, but their pendulum can swing from month to month! If you use their advice exclusively, you'll be so confused, you won't know whether to run left-right or right-left. Some coaching guidance is just terrible. But there are pillars of light in the dark (locally, like Danny Haralson), providing sound advice when you need it.But, have you ever noticed that some runners know exactly what to do, but others seem constantly lost? Every runner faces overwhelming information overload when it comes to planning their training or treating an injury. There’s an endless amount of advice out there.

Unfortunately, it can be really difficult to know what to do when you're treating an injury yourself, or trying to implement a self-designed training plan to improve your running. So many runners do nothing specifically– they fall prey to paralysis by analysis. They get stuck in a vicious cycle of dealing with constant little injuries, not knowing whether to run, lift, or rest, or being terrified of changing their status quo, which ain't working either.

Even worse, some runners tackle an injury or their training with a haphazard and uncoordinated plan that’s like the shotgun approach –  try as much as possible and see what sticks. There’s no progression. There’s no consistency. There’s no system. They try everything. They try nothing. Every runner WANTS to reach their goals, but obviously “figuring it out” doesn’t work if you have no plan. Every one of my patients WANTS to get better, but without a plan (and a simple one so they follow the plan), their approach of sitting on the couch waiting to get better probably won't work. Runners are WAY more disciplined than most of my patients, but the shotgun approach to training or injury treatment...sampling random workouts, exercises, rehab treatments, and routines to see what works...usually won't get the job done. Inevitably, nothing will work if there’s no plan.

If you have a training or rehab goal, the truth is that random workouts don’t work. Successful runners all use systems to achieve their goals. Sampling is great for appetizers at a party, but it doesn’t work with running. Sure, if you're just running for fitness, or if you're in a cycle of your training where cutting back is the best thing, then that's where you need to be, but if it's improvement you're searching for, have one or two key workouts each week that you don't shy away from. 
Beginner runners who don’t know how to train for a race do all kinds of wacky things with their training. They will soak up any verbal, written, or social media advice they can get their hands on. And, not knowing any better, they will mix them all together figuring they're all good so the body will figure it out. Beer, spaghetti sauce, and chocolate ice cream are all good, but I doubt mixed together they would make a tasty treat. A few months using this appraoch will yield either injury, or if you're lucky, no improvement in your fitness level.

The body improves when you train consistently or rehab consistently. You stress it repeatedly at an acceptable improve. It's that simple. When your training bounces all over the place  you don't give your confused body a chance to adapt. A plan doesn’t ask anything ridiculous of you, just to do the work so you can adapt and improve.

Even more common are those runners who get injured and don’t know how to get healthy. They’ll take 1-2 weeks off right away and won’t do any rehabilitative exercises during those recovery weeks. Then they’ll “get serious” and start icing every other day and using a foam roller a few times per week. Next is the cross-training cycle: they’ll sign up for a Body Pump class at the gym to “get a strong core” and use the elliptical when there’s time. Then they'll do some exercise they saw on the internet, but never know if they’re doing anything to help, but give up after a week 'cause they still hurt. Finally, they say "the heck with it" and run with the injury and things go further south from there.  

We Love Options. But the problem with options is that we end up doing too much. We try a fitness class. We muddle around in the weight room or use a stationary bike for 20 minutes. We try everything – but in effect we’ve tried nothing. There’s no progress, no fitness gains, and no lasting result. It’s that Stress-Adaptation principle, applied hundreds and thousands of times, that makes runners faster.

Sometimes that process can be repetitive. All good training is a little bit boring – the macro elements of mileage and workouts are repeated over and over again. If I want to improve my trail running so I can drag my butt around the trails in a race, I better get my butt off the flat roads and onto the trails to train.
With your training, always have somewhere to go.That somewhere to go is your goal. Ask some of the veterans you run with what has worked for them in the past. I'll bet they have certain key workouts that they won't stray from. I've often said "Don't learn the recipe, learn the technique". Stick with something you enjoy doing and ask yourself "Does it have a purpose". Don't use the Try Everything, Try Nothing Approach!

But, please, even if it seems like a good idea, don't put a 10# kettle ball on your shoulder and go for your run. I just don't think that's the ticket to a faster time (except in the local Kettle Ball Carrying 10k).

I'll see you all on the roads - AL

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

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Twists and Turns On the Trail

"There are 3 types of people in this world, those who can count, and those that can't"- unknown

10 miles at about a 14 min. pace on a VERY tough trail course in the heat of Birmingham. Then add another 6 on the hilly roads around Oak Mountain. Swiggin' water. Eatin' gel. Ankles generally behaving. I'm gettin' there. 

While I was doing my long run this morning, about half on trails I'd never traversed before, I realized that as bad as my legs were screaming at me for going up this 20%, rocky grade, I was feeling pretty good about myself. Slowly, I seem to be coming back. If I don't stupidly trip over a dang root or cream my toe against an immovable rock, my ankles seem to be doing ok. It's funny, because yesterday was a hard day just to walk around work. I didn't run in the morning, but the way my puppies were barking, you'd think I had snuck in a clandestine don't-tell-anybody-about-it-run. This has been pretty much the pattern for past several months - non-predictable! 

So, as I continue to to run the Southeastern Trail Run Series, I keep figuring out that if my ankles are operating at 50% and if I'm 50% in shape, then that adds up to 100% and I'm way good to go. Hey, I've been doing this for a long time, so I know how this rationalization thing goes. In about 7 weeks, I've got the 4th of 7 scheduled races (I missed one due to being out of town playing with my grandkids) in the series (plus a couple of outlier trail races also planned). This next race will be the Hotter 'n' Hell Trail Run, a tough, rocky, hilly 18 miler at Oak Mountain. Most races of the Series consist of two loops of the same course, so you either do the short series (one loop) or the long series (I'll let you guess). Although I've been running OM for well over 20 years, new trails are continually being built and David Tosch, the RD, has discovered some new ones. Actually, I don't think he finds new trails as much as just rolls a beer keg from the top of a steep hill down to the bottom and it's course "will make a cool trail for the race". 

I wanted to run at least one loop this morning, so I read the course description yesterday and in between laughing, I decided to write the twists and turns down (looking at most maps is useless to me on the trail because I wear glasses, but not while running, so a trail map just looks like a picture of a wormbed with MAYBE some words that other eyes can read). With my trusty sidekick, Moha, we made it through the familiar first 4 miles, but things then got steep, interesting, and most of all, confusing. It's funny that we would be completely lost as to where EXACTLY we were at times on these new trails, and yet I would have momentary flashes of something familiar. It was like trying to decipher a dream, or figure out a mystery novel. Some pieces fit together. Some not so much. 

I won't go into a step-by-step account of this run, but most of it was stop-and-go trying to complete our run that was more of a clue finding scavenger hunt. At one point on top of the ridge, we didn't know whether to turn right or left on the Red Trail, so while looking at my written directions, I hear a voice through the fog saying "That won't help you". It was David, the RD for the SE Trail Series. He was practically the only other trail runner we saw this morning! Anyway, after asking him which way to go, he kinda rubbed his chin and said, "Now which race is this?". Geez, David, it's YOUR race! He assured us that despite what the directions said, he didn't really count what we were on as the Red Trail (despite the red markings on the trees!), but a short extension of the Green Trail...hope he has markers during the race. He gave us some convoluted verbal guidance and was on his way. We made our way down the mountain to the Treetop Trail and once again we had to make an intelligent right/left decision and once again, we guessed wrong and added about a mile to our journey. It's just a given that Moha and I will get lost at least once on a trail. That's why I usually wear a bright shirt out there - so the rescue helicopter can spot us more easily. I'm sure in the future, some GPS watches will emit an LED orange stripe to follow on the trail from the course that you plotted into the watch, but we're not there yet. As a matter of fact, as an aside, my current joke GPS  watch, the Nike+, had ANOTHER mishap. This time, the USB plugin just snapped off the watch strap, rendering the data transfer unusable. So, now I'm waiting for ANOTHER replacement. This will be my 4th Nike+. Why do I keep going back to the same frustration? Because it's replaced free if it's under warranty and at this rate, I'll have a new watch every 6 months! Consequently, I'm running with watch that only gives time, which to me is like running half-naked!

Ok, we made it back to the parking lot and Moha decided he had to run a few more miles as he's getting ready for the Tupelo Marathon, so rather than leave him to bake on the roads alone, I was forced decided to run another 6 miles with him. Other than running out of water, tripping over an imaginary rock, and having to go through a locked gate, this part of the run was pretty uneventful. 

So, I'm 16 miles closer to where my running will eventually take me. Sometimes, I just don't know what the heck to write in this blog, so I just put it on autopilot, and life comes out. Non-running folks may think running is boring, so I say to them, "Take a run with me in the woods". Guaranteed, it'll be entertaining. 

I'll see you all on the roads or trails - AL    

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

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Happy National Trail Day

"Let's be careful out there" - Hill Street Blues

I must say, I am so glad we have finally dumped the cold weather I can hardly contain myself. Up until about 2-3 weeks ago, I thought we might just go straight from mid-spring to mid-fall and forget summer altogether. My morning runs were still met with temps in the 40's in mid-May. That's ridiculous. As the morning temps increased my running seemed to improve with it and all seemed right with the world. But, this is Alabama and the sun likes to aim it's rays through the magnifying glass that hovers over our state and pretty soon, the high 90's and low 100's will be routine and most (not me) will pine for the cool fall days ahead.

However, going from coolness to heatness (?) does take some gettin' used to. This morning, I met Moha at Red Mt. for a 10-12 mile trail run. Now, during the winter, one handheld bottle was adequate for our 2 1/2 hour run. However, by 6 o'clock, the sun is already risen and the temp was pushing 80, as was the humidity. I usually like to start earlier, but I may as well ask the sun to rise later than to get him to get up earlier. He was on time this morning, but in the past, I've had some pretty good naps at the trailhead waiting for him to show up!

So off we headed. Now, Oak Mt I know like the back of my hand (ok, I don't know the back of my hand that well, but it's a saying that gets the point across), but Red Mt is a mental challenge to me. I just can't seem to memorize the connectors between the major trails and thus get myself turned all around. I get lost EVERY time I run these trails. Fortunately, RM is a relatively small park, so it just becomes an effort of putting in a few extra miles and not having to call Search & Rescue. So, this morning, we hadn't even run 45 minutes before we wound up (unintentionally) where we had begun. Except now, there were some young women setting up a table with aid station looking stuff. I asked what was going on and she said today was National Trail Day...who knew?...and there was going to be Boy Scouts and other folks coming to join in the frivolity of NTD. It was like a warm weather Festivus (Seinfeld reference). 

So, after a quick glance at the map, off we went again to conquer these trails. As I said, the heat and humidity was different today and after a couple more miles, we realized we were soaked with sweat and our water bottles were nearly dry, so we made a decision to make it back to "National Trail Day" headquarters. We got there and asked if we could have some water. A young coed asked "Are you taking part in our Trail Day?". I said "It looks like we already have"...."well then, you can sign in here with your email and address". So figuring a little more spam in my inbox was worth filling my bottle, I signed. Once again (remember "Groundhog Day") we left for the THIRD time from the same spot and disappeared into the woods. We decided...ok, I take the trail that traverses across the whole south side of the mountain. It's clearly marked with "Most difficult trail" markers. I had to convince Moha that "Most difficult" was American slang for
 "Short cut". I doubt he fell for that line. Several miles later, going up a long, steep grade, with my calves revolting, I drained my water bottle for the 2nd time and said "You know Mo, if that aid station with water hadn't been there, we'd be sunk". His response: "No, we'd be f**ked". His description, though cruder, was probably a lot more accurate.

Slowly, we made our way back to the finish and coming up to the table, one of the volunteers said "Have you two been out there all this time? How far did you go?". When I told her about 11 miles, we were stars. Gatorade for everybody!! Yes, they say God provides. If today hadn't been National Trail Day, we definitely would have been...well, lets say sunk. Hopefully we learned our lesson about running in the mugginess of summer (for the 30+ year in a row!) and next time we will strap on more water or stash some someplace. At Red Mountain, there is no place to refill our bottles. At least, that is, until next National Trail Day. To paraphrase that guy for Dos Equis beer "we will stay thirsty, my friends". 

I'll see you all on the hot roads or the muggy trails - AL

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