Friday, January 31, 2014

The Dusting of Chaos - My Alabama Ice Adventure

“Life is nothing without a little chaos to make it interesting.”
Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, Demon in My View

I dunno. Most times I sit down and think, “hey I should write something in my blog,” or, “hey, I DO want to write something in my blog,” but many times I sit down to write and I just either don’t really feel like it or that great idea I had while running is gone outta my head. I like to have something interesting to write about instead of just saying, uh yeah, I’m running some, and uh, doing stuff, and oh yeah it’s cold. But sometimes, a topic just falls in your lap without searching too much for it...for instance.

You know, we've had a pretty eventful week here in the deep south. It sounds hilarious to my friends in the frozen north that we got SLAMMED with 2 inches of snow and it literally paralyzed the city. It wasn't the snow, but the daggum ice. First of all, we weren't supposed to get anything but maybe a light dusting of snow on Tuesday, which of course everyone was excited about. Well, the light dusting turned into the Dusting of Chaos. The prediction was that the storm would hit the southern half of the state, but the "Line of Confidence" from the Meteorologists shifted about 90 miles north and BOOM! Birmingham has about a million in the Metro area and most of them live south, over the mountain(s). When it became apparent this was for real, EVERY business, and EVERY school got out at the same time. Four Gazillion cars on icy roads is a problem...a BIG problem. You know what, you can have a 4-wheel drive, or an 8-wheel drive, and you still ain't gonna get up a hill of ice. And once you stop on a hill, it's curtains for you and the 999 cars behind you. That's it, GAME OVER! Absolutely SOLID vehicular gridlock! 

I got 3 blocks from work (on level streets),  and said "Holy Crap! This is not fun at all and I'm either gonna get creamed, stuck, blocked, or run out of gas, but I sure as heck am not gonna get home". So, 3 blocks into my odyssey, I turned around and made it back to work (sorta like DNF'ing a 50 mile run at 400 yards!). 

I spent a fitful Tuesday night in my Physical Therapy gym...I read everything on the Internet TWICE, followed Twitter, followed Facebook, did all my work paperwork, and then tried to sleep. Little did I know you can't turn off all the lights in the gym. Now, why would that be, other than to keep awake anybody who would be trying sleep! Of course, we were closed the next day and I feared that I was doomed to spend another night there as the roads were not only still frozen with ice, but still blocked by the millions upon millions of abandoned cars. I'm a big fan of hyperbole, but I'm not sure this is such a huge exaggeration.  Anyway, late Wednesday, I snaked my way back home, going 20 miles out of my way to avoid the frozen mountains. It was smooth sailing, except for the characters on the dry Interstate driving 25 MPH with their flashers on, nearly causing numerous accidents with guys like me. "Look Mable, I think I see some BLACK ICE up ahead about a mile!". Good God, there's no ice here folks. Drive normal!! Anyway, as I said, smooth sailing until I got within 2 miles of home and hit the side streets. Holy Cow! What in the world were people doing the day/night before? Driving like the good guy in those Apocalypse movies where he somehow manages to weave between dozens of cars to save the damsel in distress? Only they didn't weave so in the ditch, cars parked in the middle of the road, cars sideways on the shoulders. It looked like a scene on the Evening News from Syria.

On Thursday, surprisingly to me, work, and Schools, and most businesses, were cancelled. By mid-afternoon, I had to get out of the house for at least a short run. That was mostly a mistake. I say mostly because it did serve it's main purpose to get me out of the house. You really can't sustain a good pace when every 50 feet or so you have to prance over the ice like a ballerina from the Nutcracker. Also, apparently in Birmingham, and the surrounding normally sane towns, it is against the law to build sidewalks, so everytime a car would come barreling down the icy road towards me, I would have to jump into the adjacent icy/snowy/semi-muddy lawns. Hey, I just counted it as a trail run without the beauty. It was quite comical watching the drivers trying to navigate the roads, sliding on ice without brakes, then slamming on their brakes on perfectly dry pavement. Only got honked at once...some blue-haired woman in a Caddy honked at me from about 50 feet away. When she passed, I got a real stern stare AS SHE TALKED ON HER PHONE!! I laughed to myself thinking that at every red light she came to, she was telling her phone friend "Oh dear, nothing but gridlock. Oh, the humanity". Then the light would change and gridlock was averted and humanity went on it's merry business. I made it home with no falls, rolled ankles, or pulled hamstrings, so all-in-all, a good run.

And now, it's Friday, that feels like it's Monday, it's 60 degrees outside, and The Great Dusting of '14 is over. Quite a week. I wonder what great subject will fall in my lap for Running With Al next week. Come back and find out. It'll be a surprise to me too!

I'll see you on the roads - AL

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

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Laughter In The Clinic

“If we couldn't laugh we would all go insane.”
Robert Frost

One of the things I do lately is looking back. If we're talking about racing, then literally looking back is usually a fruitless endeavor as there's mostly nobody back there. But, when you're out on a long solo run in the woods, you have a long time (some of us longer than others) to reflect, and two of the things that involve most of my time these days are my work (Physical Therapy) and running. I've been a PT for almost 43 years and ran my first marathon over 34 years ago, so these paths parallel each other fairly closely and sometimes actually cross. As I was bounding down a switchbacking single-track this morning, I was trying to come up with the things I hear over and over again in the clinic, and seeing that I am coming up blank for a running theme for this post, I thought I would show you what I encounter daily trying to extract information from patients. Now, you have to understand that some of these patients are runners, and generally they have a stoic "No bone is showing so I can run on it" attitude, but the typical patient is generally of the "I think I overdid my home exercises" approach, when what they did was lift their leg 15 times instead of 10!

I work in an outpatient clinic, and getting folks to do their exercises is sometimes near impossible, but there is a repeatable theme they come up with. It doesn't matter if your a runner, a Physical Therapist, or a typical off-the-street patient, you will never do home exercises as much as told to. They're boring, they're repetitive, and you won't see instant gratification. Don't won't do, you won't!!

When I first see a patient, I do  a subjective and objective evaluation. The subjective is just asking them about their condition and the objective is all the measurements. Nothing funny about the objective, but the subjective is a trip sometimes:

ME: "How much pain do you have?"

PATIENT: "Hard to say. I have a high pain tolerance.”. Ha! They'll tell you how they gave childbirth in the back of a car, had teeth pulled without Novocaine, or eat Jalapeno peppers like candy. But, just try to move the involved arm or leg and they are squirming around like they're on fire. What they usually show is an extremely poor tolerance of pain...or even a poor tolerance to slight discomfort. It is classic.

RUNNER: "I don't know. I just ignore it.". They figure if they can "run" at all, it is safe, or necessary to do so. Had a runner tell me once "It's not a sharp 5k pain, it's more like a constant marathon pain". Actually, that was a pretty good description. 

ME: "Describe your pain"

PATIENT:  "I have no pain, it’s just sore.”. This is another classic. No pain, huh? Then I ask them, "try to grade your pain on a scale of 0 to 10 with 10 being the most". You'd be surprised how many people are walking around joking and laughing with 10/10 pain!! I thought you said you had no pain! I try to tell them that 10 is Emergency Room pain..."I told you I have a high tolerance of pain". Huh? If you're rating it a 10/10, then you don't have a very good idea of what your pain is.  Also, another classic along these lines is when I ask them their pain level and they say "Oh, it's not bad, about 8/10". I try to tell them they don't look like they're in that much pain. Then they say they thought "0" was the highest, so then they tell you their revised pain is 4/10!?! (Shouldn't it be 2/10?). I usually subtract 2-4 points from what they tell me. Low pain tolerance.

RUNNER: They usually can't accurately grade their pain level either because they deal with pushing themselves daily through "pain" just to run. They usually grade low on their pain level, so I usually add 2-4 points to them because they're afraid I'll tell them to stop running if the pain level is too high. High pain tolerance. 

Me: "How are you doing with your home exercises I gave you?".

PATIENT: “ No problems at all … what were they again?”. Speaks for itself doesn't it? Of course you have no problems with exercises that you don’t do. Or the classic is when I ask the patient to show me how they've been doing their exercises at home. They look at me like a deer in the headlights and they respond with "I don't have my exercise sheet with me"! Now, they are supposed to be doing the 3-5 exercises I gave them 2-3 times per day for the past 5 days. Don't you think their memory would be a LITTLE better? 

RUNNER: "Ok, I guess, but they're too, I did 100 instead of 30...and used 10# instead of 3#...and I tried testing out my knee on a hill run instead of a flat track, but it really hurt on the way down so I only did 5 repeats".

Speaking of memory, I had a patient just tell me this past week "I heard blueberries are good for you, but I can't remember why". My response was, "Well, apparently, you aren't eating them!".

ME: “How would you describe your pain?

PATIENT: “A constant and unrelenting pain”

RUNNER: "A constant and unrelenting ache"

ME: “Where is the ache now?”

BOTH: “Nowhere at the moment” 

I just shake my head. Someday I'll write a book. Meanwhile, my 9 out of 10 ankle pain is telling me to do my exercises, but I think I'll go for a trail run instead. You know, I think that constant rolling them over on rocks and roots keeps them loose. Why don't my patients take their rehab as seriously?

I'll see you all on the roads - AL 

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

Saturday, January 18, 2014

You Can Always Add, But You Can't Take Away

"You don't have to do something epic. Just do something." - Tia Bodington

In the past week, I was presented with, and humbly accepted the Birmingham Track Club's Lifetime Achievement Award. This is a very coveted award that I am still trying to grasp the fact that I was even considered as a potential recipient. This was totally unexpected and greatly appreciated. Having been a member of the BTC since it was 2 years old (1978), I've seen many changes since we were just a bunch of goofballs who wanted to wear the same shirt. If you were a member of the BTC, you were considered FAST. I mean, this was THE TRACK CLUB, not the jogging club. Everybody knew everybody and everybody knew everybody's times and everybody's birthdays (so you knew what age group they were in). Few folks in the Track Club ran just for fun. Almost everybody raced. There were no 5k's back then...just 10k's (with a 2-mile Fun Run), Half Marathons, and the occasional Marathon. In 1981, I ran a 41 Mile Ultramarathon up in Tennessee with a couple of BTC guys. The next year, we had 11 BTC members descend on that race, all sporting our "Birmingham Track Club Ultra Team" tank tops. We smoked the competition and I've been hooked on these crazy long races since. But, the Track Club has changed it's focus and now we are a group of all types of runners and walkers. There are fun runs, social events, and and many more group runs all around the Birmingham area than my rattled mind can keep track of. Over the many years (sometimes you just don't like that word "many"), the BTC has always been an integral part of my running life. I began running when I was 31 years old (we won't count that one High School year that I just ran to get a HS Letter), and I'm still moving forward almost 4 decades later.

I run. I have been a runner for almost 36 years since I first ran around the UAB track for 2 miles back in '78. That seems like an absurd statement because that first run nearly killed me. I do not feel old enough to have done anything for 36 years. I've been a Physical Therapist for about 43 years, and I love it, but I take pride in the fact that part of my personal identity is deeply intertwined with running and endurance sports. I am tickled that my old favorite running shoes from those early years, the Nike Waffle Trainer, Elite, the LDV, and my all-time favorite running shoe, the Saucony Freedom Trainers are part of the "vintage collection". Me, vintage? Ouch.

I often get asked by old friends, patients, and acquaintances, "Do you still run?". Well… yes of course I still run. That question seems so silly to me. My pace can now be timed with a sundial, but running is such a natural part of my life is like asking "Do you still brush your teeth?"... "Do you still eat?". Yes, why wouldn't I still run? I am a runner. And running has helped me meet so many truly good people along the way. At he BTC End-of-the-Year Party, I was approached by several folks thanking me for training them to run their first marathon. Most of them don't run long distances anymore, but I am so thrilled that they still lace up their shoes and get out there for a run these days. At least I didn't kill their enthusiasm way back when. I am still a runner and they are still runners. Isn't that cool?

We can never live our lives perfectly, just as all our runs are certainly not perfect (Ha! That's a good one!), but perfect days or not, there's no guarantee how any of us will be remembered by family, friends or colleagues. Who we are is hard-wired in our DNA, and I guess you thank your parents for that. I guess me being a member of the Track Club was the social equivalent of my dad being a member of the Moose Lodge (honestly, kinda like Ralph Kramden was a member of the Raccoon Lodge in THE HONEYMOONERS - boy, hope I didn't lose a lot of readers there!!). But, my "club" was a little more physical than the Moose (Meese? Mooses?). I can't even begin to estimate how many runners have trotted along side me down the road or trail, in sun, rain, cold, and whatever, and I would just think we were having a good time. But it's all part of shaping a fragment of a lifetime.

It is how we live over the long term, what emotions we evoke, whom we lift up, inspire or sometimes disappoint, that determines our legacies, great or small. We all want to be remembered in good light, but it just happens. Surround yourself with good people, treat them how your parents taught you to, laugh a lot, and most of the time, the sun shines. Yes, I got a Lifetime Achievement Award and the BTC has about filled up a Lifetime, but I'm still trying to figure out exactly what I achieved to deserve it. But I sure do appreciate it. Wonder if the guys in the Moose Lodge had it so good. Now, let's go for a run (real slow!).

I'll see you on the roads - AL

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

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Thinking About POINT TWO!

"Each of us is born with a 70 year warranty, but only a few read the instructions" - George Sheehan

I always get a kick when a non-marathoner says to a marathoner something about the marathon being 26 miles long, as in "Did you really run 26 miles?". I love when the response is "POINT TWO!!". That 2/10th's of a mile is the crowning kick-in-the-pants from that damn Queen of England who wanted to see the Olympic Marathon finish in front of her nice cushy throne chair. What a legacy - "Peasants, I want my fat butt comfortable, so now till the end of time, if you want to run a FULL marathon, you've got to do that POINT TWO!".

So, now that I'm doing many more Trail runs than I am doing certified road marathons, that got me thinking about the mentality of trail and ultra runners. We (trail runners) simply don’t give much thought to exact distances and certainly not to the specificity of a road race distance. Rarely (very rarely) do trail races come out to an exact distance, close to an exact distance, or even close to the advertised distance, so it makes little sense to focus our training on exact distances. One of the races I do just about every year is our local Oak Mt 50k. It's generally conceded that the actual distance is around 33 miles, but it's a 50k, so it's "around" 31 miles. Generally, there is an unwritten allowance of about a 10% variance that runners will have no problem with. When we do a trail race, much of the Facebook discussion is not "what was your time?", but "what distance did your GPS show?". Then it sounds like a bunch of Saudi Arabians bartering for a carpet before a distance is settled on that everyone was happy with and that's that. Of course, if based on the reading of several GPS's, the decision of how far ANY run will be is whatever the longest reading was!

When on a long training run on the trails, my main focus is usually on the time spent out there... "How'd your run go?"..."Oh, it went fine. Did about 3 hours". And for some reason, I'm also obsessed with vertical gain (how much I climbed)...I'll get back to that in a minute. The distance piled up running (a loosely interpreted term) is merely a by-product of the run. Most trail runners will say "I ran X hours at Red Mountain", not primarily reciting the distance covered. Their sole focus is on time and (for me) vertical gain. Seeing as my 20 miler had over 3000 feet of vertical gain over all kinds of obstacles that God finds humorous to put in my way, my time wasn't in any way comparable with the same distance on the road. Four miles per hour is pretty good clip for me on the trails. That time spent on my feet was far more valuable than the distance I ran because my mental awareness had to be focused on fueling and effort instead of pace. But let’s be honest, what I was really focused on was nothing. For the most part, I spent several hours daydreaming about future runs, past runs, what's to eat tonight, how my fantasy teams are doing, and other extremely important stuff. Analyzing the run will come later with a beer in my hand.

That’s one thing that is so great about running on the trails. We aren't bound by some incremental mileage number forced upon us (once again, by the British). I don't have to obsess about that POINT TWO. I get to worry about obstacles like rocks, roots, and ruts....and hills. I said I'd come back to this. For a long time, I've tried to come up with some kind of grading system based on elevation gained per distance traveled. In other words, if I do 10 mile run and I have 2300 feet of elevation gain, how tough is that run Every run and trail is different, but there should be some way to make me feel better after a self-perceived crappy run. If I can say "Well, this run rates an 8 on the "Al-difficulty-scale", then I might feel better. ULTRARUNNING MAGAZINE does have a 5-level grading system based on elevation per mile and difficulty of the trail itself. And I did find this "Hike Difficulty" calculator which I'll use sometimes. Are any of you as nutso as I am? If so, have you come up with any type of rating system? Of course, if I do come up with a good rating system, then I'll probably start worrying about the POINT TWO of the rating! I'm getting a headache...better go for a run.

I'll see you on the roads - AL

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