Saturday, September 21, 2013

Recording My Runs...Then and Now

"You know you're a long distance runner if you get more phonecalls at 5am than at 5pm" - Thomas Kennedy

I began running on August 8,1978. Well, I probably began running when I was about 3 years old, but as an exercise, as in I'm-getting-too-big-around-the-waist-exercise, I began running, and with that I began to record the distance and time I ran in a small, spiraled notebook. Once the new year began, my record keeping got a little more complex and the notebook filled with numbers. With numbers my tendencies tended towards a sort of compulsiveness. Once it was recorded, it was later reviewed, then manipulated, analyzed and, ultimately judged. Time, distance, pace, elevation, calories. Splits, averages, fastest, longest, most, best...worst. Goals and disappointments.

The first couple of decades, I maintained written logbooks, but eventually moved to an electronic one. I was always meticulous about recording my runs. If I didn't have my log with me on a trip, I would record the time and distance on some random scrap of paper and transfer it to my journal when I got home. Miles would be calculated from maps or estimated (roughly) in their absence. If I would run a new route, I would then hop in my car later in the day and ride over the course using the always accurate Ford Fiesta odometer. I even sent away for this gizmo that was like a pen that had a small wheel on the end that you could roll over the route on a map and it would give you a highly inaccurate distance. but, it was something...remember, I was compulsive about the numbers I put in my logs.

Then came the miracle of online mapping software version of a Topo program became my best friend. I remember Rick Melanson gave me an older version of a program CD to download on my computer. With this God-sent program, before a run I'd use it to explore possible routes and alternatives; afterward, I'd retrace the precise path I had taken. Not only was this highly accurate, but it showed the nirvana of stats - elevation. This was the precurser to MapMyRun. I was actually fairly resistant about getting a GPS watch for some time. I always said it was just one more thing over which to obsess. But, secretly, I think I really enjoyed the process of adding miles up on the map--mentally
re-living the run along the way. In a past life, I must've been one of those ancient map-makers trying to figure out what the shorelines of these new lands looked like from above.

Eventually, I gave in to the GPS. After all, I am a gadget lover as well. Simplicity of recording meant more time for post-run analysis. With programs like GarminConnect, Nike+, Strava, Smashrun, etc, I could review trends: daily, weekly, monthly, even yearly! I could even generate custom reports; my obsessive nature delighting in the minutiae. With such tools, I can now figure out the difference between my average pace on Wednesday afternoon versus Thursday morning runs over the course of a given year! What more could I ask for? 

But, with these new online sites, the one big thing I lose bigtime is the sitting down at the end of the day and writing in a journal what I saw, how I really felt, what my true mental ups and downs were. I love numbers, but numbers don't have feelings. We don't just run to see how fast, or slow, or high we can go. We run to see the deer in the woods, feel the cobwebs on our face on early morning trail run, enjoy the warmth of running in a summer rain, or the pure enjoyment of running with friends. I look back on my old running journals from when I first began to run, and I feel like I'm reading a stranger's journals. They are so full of excitement and meeting new goals. The electronic age opens the world to us, but I feel it closes out the real daily reason we run. 

Sure, I could go back to writing in a journal, but I used it long ago because that was all I had. Now, it would have the feel of redundancy to go back because I'm not going to stop downloading my runs into some cold, calculating program. I love to write and that's probably why I love to write this blog. I don't know if anyone else enjoys reading it, but I write because I have thoughts. That's what my running journals used to be.; thoughts about my runs and goals. Ah, it's just life moving big deal. Just some thoughts of a runner who's been on the road a long time...a real long time. 

What about you guys? Do you record every run? Just numbers? Lavish descriptions? Let me know, I'd love to hear from you all. Ok guys, that's about it for this week. Have a good running week. Fall is coming tomorrow...time to dig out those long sleeves, darn it. How far till Spring? Just around the corner, right? I'll see you all on the roads - Al

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

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Facts About Me - Part Deux

"I always give the hardest jobs to the laziest people because they will find the easiest way to do it" Bill Gates

A few months ago, I wrote on this blog about "21 randon facts about me". It was fun to write and filled one of those "what do I write about today" moments. I invited my readers (both of you) to try doing this yourselves and sending it to takers! So, as I got hit with another writing vacuum, I was able to quickly put together Part 2. Actually, what I did was to answer the questions that the Vulcan Runner (the newsletter of the Birmingham Track Club) used to ask selected members of the club. I was never asked to take part in the interview, so what the heck, I just answered them myself, and present them here to you (hoping you're bored enough with your life that you'll actually read this). Here we go:

1. Last movie you liked so much, you watched it twice? Unbreakable, about the Western States 100  

2. Name one guilty pleasure? I love chocolate and string cheese. No, not at the same time, but my hands automatically grab one of these when I open the refrigerator. Oh yeah, I seem to also grab a different Craft Beer. No Bud for me! And Light Beer is just for people who like to pee.

3. Favorite place on earth? I really love the trails of Oak Mt., especially the ridge on the White Trail where it descends 150 feet on BOTH sides of the trail. I'm not crazy about the White/Yellow Connector (see last week's blog).

4. Worst place on earth? I was born there, lived close to it, but I have no use for New York City.

5. One item you would want with you on a desert island? Running shoes and a wi-fi connection (oh wait, that's two...guess I'll take the shoes).

6. Most interesting person you’ve ever met? Looking back, my dad grows bigger every day. 

7. Coolest trophy or prize you ever won? At a 24 Hour Race held at the Atlanta Water Works, I won an Age-Group trophy that had a water faucet on the top (like the Monopoly piece) 

8. Favorite TV show? Downton Abbey, Flashpoint, Good Wife, any soccer game, any Red Sox game.   

9. Favorite fast-food joint? Subway

10. Who would play you in a movie? George Clooney, no question.  

11. Something unique about the town you grew up in? I grew up there. Isn't that unique enough? River Edge, New Jersey

12. If you could play an instrument, what would it be? Piano or guitar. I can't even play a Kazoo  

13. Scariest thing that ever happened to you. Sitting in the Prinicipal's office waiting for my father to show up.

14. Favorite book? The Elements of Effort by John Jerome

15. Favorite meal? Lasagna with lots of Ricotta cheese 

16. Why do you run? I am addicted to it. I love the freedom of being alone or running with a friend. God gave us this vehicle and it is my responsibility to keep it running - literally! 

17. When did you start running? In 1978, right after the passing of my mother. I ran in High School, but wasn't nuts about it. 

18. What’s your biggest running accomplishment? Personally, finishing 13th at the 24 Hour National Championships several years back. However, my biggest accomplishment was coaching TNT runners for 15 years to allow them to run to raise money for the Leukemia Society and help to hopefully wipeout leukemia in our lifetime.  

19. Favorite BTC story? Around the mid 80's to late 90's, we had a 50 Mile Run at Oak Mt called the BTC 50 that was pretty popular around the southeast. Rick Melanson was the Race Director. One year, there was a Tornado that hit Oak Mt on the late Friday night before the Saturday morning start. When we got to Oak Mt, the Park Rangers had closed the park. Here we were with over 100 runners from several states and no place to run. In 2 hours, we set up a 2.5 mile course (accurately wheeled by Adam Robertson), and aid stations on the campus of Indian Springs School. Most of the course was in sloppy mud, but nobody complained and it was amazing how so many BTC members pulled this one off.   

20. Words to live by or favorite running mantra? Favorite quote: "A champion is someone who is bent over, drenched in sweat, at the point of exhaustion, when no one else is watching" Running Mantra: "Every step is a step closer"

That's it my friends. Not so sure if anybody enjoys reading this, but try it yourself...answer the questions. It does bring out memories. I'll see you all on the roads - AL  

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

Monday, September 9, 2013

Game Over, Man! The Sting of the DNF

"I'd rather be in the mountains thinking about God than in church thinking about the mountains" - John Muir

OK, so way back at the beginning of the year, as most of you who read this blog know, I was enticed by Race Director David Tosch's Southeastern Trail Series. "This will be great", my 66 year-old mind said with 35 year-old enthusiasm. Back in the day (God, I hate that term), I could do marathons and ultras left and right and recover pretty quickly. However, since a several year bout with well-documented ankle problems, my pace, endurance, and general "bounce-backedness" has sort of fallen off the Continental Shelf. Unfortunately, my mind is a little slower in getting the picture that things have changed in the Al-ultrarunning world. Because of my enthusiasm that I could run at all (giving considerable credit to switching to, and having complete confidence in Hoka shoes), I signed up for the Long Series...basically twice the distances of the Short Series in this 7 races in 7 months on the trail systems of Birmingham, Alabama.

Before I go on, I've got to tell you that David Tosch is quickly getting the reputation of the David Horton of the South. If his mileage is no longer than 10% of the advertised distance, he's done well. If the grades of his "hills" are below 20%, the course is considered rolling. Heck, he can even add a race here and there, and although not considered part of the official series, it's just added like you would add salt to your potato. David has slyly become an ultra coach for the Bham community by holding these gradually increasing distance races over increasing rougher and technical terrain. Of course the SECOND race of the series was a 50k (or 12 Hour Race) - so much for increasing gradually! If you stick with it, you've got to improve, or go down in a tailspin like those old WWI fighter bi-planes. David also writes an excellent training blog "How to train for your first hundred miler".

Ok, so back to the issue at hand. I've been doing pretty good, despite my slow times (remember, comparisons are done in my 35 year old mental scrapbook), and I've been putting in the necessary training trail mileage over the long, hot Alabama summer. Throughout this whole ordeal experience, the last two races of the 7 are the real "A" races. The first is a 3-day stage race held the end of this month is which you run each day on a different trail system, the last day of which is the most difficult with the most elevation gain. Now, depending which email from David you read, it's anywhere from 53 to 57 miles total (within the 10% David Mileage Allowance). The last race is a very technical 50K in November.

This past weekend, race #5, there was a 20 mile (actually 22 miles) race Sunday in which you do two 11 mile loops, each with over 1500' of elevation gain. The day before (Saturday), there was one of these "Throw in" races...a FREE trail race to all Birmingham Track Club members that consisted of 4, 8, or 14.5 mile options. Although I originally signed up for the longest option, I showed great restraint and dropped down to the 8 miler (of course it was 8.9 miles). I figured this would be good training for the 3 Stage Race. Despite the 1000'+ elevation gain, the run went well, taking a little over 2 hours. So, after the race, I rehydrated, ate, wore compression socks the rest of the day, and even took a short nap. I felt pretty confident about the next day. Then the walls of Jericho came crashing down.

In a nutshell, for the third time in my running career, spanning 35 years and 135 marathons/ultras, I DNF'd (as in the dreaded Did Not Finish). Yes, the day was warm (85 deg) and muggy, but it's been that way since the late Spring here in the sunny South. The course was a two loop course of unrelenting tough hills (some as long as a half mile long at >20% grade - sometimes as much as 39%). The two toughest pulls came in the first half of the loop, leaving your legs completely dog-tired for the second half. As I drug myself through those last couple of miles of the first loop, my legs, then my mind, felt as if they had nothing to fight with. It's funny, as an experienced long distance runner, I knew exactly what was mind was going completely south because my legs were feeling shot. I ate gel, drank, tied my shoes when they didn't need it...nothing was clicking. You know those cartoons where one devil sits on one shoulder telling you to do bad, and an angel sits on the other telling you to be brave? Well, the angel was taking a huge whipping in this fight. I just lost my will to go on. I lost my will to fight. 

I came into the finish of the first loop and sat down and drank some sugar drink (Heed?) and really actively tried to convince myself to get off my butt and head back into the woods. What got me was that I simply could not bear the thought to put one foot in front of the other on the steep mile long climb that comes in the first 2 miles of the loop. The night before I had seen a TV show about these Everest climbers and they were doing like 50 yards an hour - two steps...breath, two steps...breath - that's how I pictured me going up the hill(s).  I still could go on but recognized that the finish time would be WAY later than expected and just didn't want to deal with those logistics. I sat on the bench for 5 minutes before giving in to the bad devil. A DNF stings, but whenever you pull the plug and commit to the DNF, it almost seems that your mind and body shut down virtually instantaneously.  Like flipping a switch.  All of a sudden, you go from a run to a full stop, and you KNOW you just can't go on. I hate that!! Just for the record!! When I made the decision end it, all of a sudden I thought of that timeless quote from Bill Paxton, in the movie Aliens, when they're waiting for the Rescue Ship to save them. All of a sudden the Rescue Ship crashes in a fireball and Paxton goes bezerk..."That’s it man…game over, man, GAME OVER! What are we gonna do now? Build a campfire and sing songs?". Yep, game over.

Of course, within a half hour I was kicking myself for dropping and wished I had just gone on, no matter how long it took me. But sometimes you have to know when to fold 'em and that's part of the game. And I know it would have been just short of idiotic to go on. That's not trail's trail stupid. The only fear I have is after you drink the Kool-aid the first time, sometimes it gets easier to pull the plug the next time when things ain't as dire as this time. But, that's a future fight. Now, bring on that 3 day race (gulp!!).

BTW, as I was driving out of Oak Mountain, there is a church right at the entrance that has a message board. On that board..."Failure is an event, not a person". Message for me? Yep.

I'll see you all on the roads - Al

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