Monday, February 15, 2016

Mercedes Over? Now What?

"The thirst you feel in your throat and lungs will be gone minutes after the race is over. The pain in your legs within days, but the glory of your finish will last forever." - Unknown

Well, first of all, I want to congratulate all runners and walkers who did the Mercedes Marathon and Half Marathon yesterday. What a fantastic day we had. Just to think about running or walking miles and miles is enough to make most folks go lie down. I always say it's not doing the race that makes the marathoner, it's getting through the 5 months of training! When I first began running marathons in the late 70's (No, not the 1870's!) the recommended training period was 6 months if you ran but didn't have a solid base. Now, folks come out because you got a flyer in the mail, decide you would skip all that Base stuff, set a goal of a Half or Full Marathon out there and you hang in for 20 weeks. The next thing you know is that you have a medal around your neck. Finishing a marathon is something you can NEVER explain to anyone, and it's something that, no matter whatever you do from here on out, anyone can EVER take away from you. If you did this with 
The Bell Center, TNT, or any other charity, your rewards were even bigger. YOU are saving and changing lives. Through being a TNT Coach for so many years, I know the power of fund-raising and I know what you've been through to get there, but more importantly, I know what it means to children and adults you will never know. That's the best kind of giving, isn't it?

So, what do you do if you did Mercedes? After the soreness wears off - and you're sure it never will - you're all jacked up and despite whatever you said late in the race, you'll start thinking about your next race. Give yourself a break and enjoy what you've just done. Only one-tenth of 1% of the US population has ever finished a marathon - that's pretty select company. You'll start to feel better long before your muscles are ready to go through that again, and don't be surprised if you get a cold in the next week or so. I think that while you train, your immune system takes a tumble and some other forces are at work to ward off the evil germs, but then when you eventually complete your event, your body says "OK, are you through with that for a while? I'm not fighting Mother Nature for a little bit, so you're on your own!". You should take a few days off from running, but try to do some walking, biking, easy elliptical, etc. to keep the blood flowing to help the damaged muscles repair. Try not to take anti-inflammatories (Advil, Aleve) for a few days as inflammation is actually part of the healing process, so stick to Tylenol to control the soreness. Your first few runs will immediately remind you of how you felt at the end of the race, but that will pass. Your best bet for the next two weeks is to just do your taper in reverse. The danger lies in if you try to race too soon. Then you may be setting yourself for an injury. No racing for at least 3-4 weeks and then try to keep it short and/or easy. There are alot of 5K's in the area, so you might want to look at one towards the middle of March. Anyway, go easy on yourself as you recover - easy runs, stretch, ice sore muscles for the first couple of days and keep your medal close at all times so absolutely nobody you encounter misses the chance to see it! If you want to see a funny, very short video from the London Marathon about what runners look like the day after the marathon, go to here.

So, this volume of Training With Al has come to a close. I hope it's been of help to some of you training for Mercedes or your own marathon. Then in September, we'll blow the dust off these posts and recycle them to the next batch of Mercedes runners. To them, the posts will be new, and the rest of you new veterans will review slightly revamped episodes of Training With Al. If at any time you have any questions about training, don't hesitate to contact me.

If you have any ideas for this blog, have a comment about how next year it might be better, or anything else, just email me at

So, again congratulations and I'll see you when I see you on the roads - AL

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Here We Go...It's Mercedes Showtime

So, here we go. It's Mercedes week and everybody's freaking out! Well, all I can say is just relax and just work on the things you can control. If this is your first marathon or half marathon, I thought I would just pass along some tips about this weekend.

When you go to the expo to pickup your number at Boutwell, be careful if there is free food out there. You don't want to be loading up on Metamucil samples the day before the race! Tasting is fine, but keep it to a minimum.

Do not confuse "carbo-loading" with "carbo-stuffing". Don't wait till Saturday night and try to stuff a pound of Rigatoni into your gut. During the week this week, you should try to eat some healthy carbs (pasta, rice, veggies, you know the routine), and don't force feed. You're going to be cutting down your miles run so the body will have no trouble storing the "extra" carbs for fuel. Be sure to drink often during the week. I try to be sure to have a bottle of water on my desk all the time AND during race week, I you might want to try to drink at least one energy drink a day (gatorade or powerade, NOT RED BULL!!).

On the day before the race, lay out all your race clothes, pin on your race number, and if we have a race chip this year, tie it on your shoe so you don't forget it. The chip might be part of your race bib, so then it's one less thing to screw up!

Arrive at Boutwell Auditorium early. You're going to be nervous enough - why add to it by getting to the start late? The race starts at 7AM and parking can be a little tricky if you get there late.

Right now (like that carries a lot of weight) it looks like it might be pretty cool (mid 20's). "Cold" at the start might become "pretty doggone warm" by mile 20. WEAR LESS THAN YOU THINK YOU NEED. Now go back and read that last sentence again! OK, one more time...I'll wait. Wearing a 55 gallon garbage bag waiting at the start may be your best running gear purchase (sorry, Val). It's waterproof, it's windproof, BUT IT IS NOT BREATHABLE, so don't run too far in it. You can just rip it off at the start and be sure to toss it on the sidewalk, NOT on the course where some slightly aging runner (me) might trip over it! Dress in layers, so you can shed some clothes if needed. If it's cold, use HotHands in your gloves. They'll stay toasty warm for several hours. Also, a trick I've been using on the trails this year is that if you carry a water bottle, fill it with warm water at the start instead of cold!

Be sure to position yourself at the start based on your pace. If you're walking, don't get in the front, because you'll get run over by some guy trying to win the race in the first 50 yards. There shoud be pacing signs at the start so you have an idea where to begin. I think there will be pace groups up to 5 hours (about 11:30/mile). Now, these are for the full marathon, but the course is a two loop course, so you can do the math for the half marathon.

Before the race, be sure to try to learn the course so you have an idea what's up ahead. There are some hills on this course, but this is Birmingham and we're only going to worry about the things we can control. Knowing your opponent (the course) is the first step in winning (finishing).

Thank all the volunteers and Police out there. They don't get big bucks to keep you safe and happy, and they're there for a long time. And if it's cold, they're not running to stay warm.

Try to have a great time, and remember, when you cross the finish line, they will be taking your picture, so smile, hands up, and for goodness sake, DON'T BE HITTING YOUR WATCH - it makes a lousy 1st marathon finishing photo!

If you have any concerns, email me at

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Almost Showtime For Mercedes. ONE WEEK TO GO!!

"There will be days when you don't know if you can run a marathon. There will be a lifetime of knowing that you have"

Hi guys - Holy Crow! What a huge crowd we had down at Boutwell last week for our "on-the-course" training run. There had to be close to 150 folks there! A big thanks to Val from The Trak Shak for putting out all the water & Gu, opening up Boutwell, and having coffee and Do-nut holes at the finish (Man, they were good). And a big Thank You to the Cahaba Cyclists that accompanied us to prevent cars from running us over. They were great to have out there. With so many folks out then, and with the huge crowds I saw running the streets this weekend, I know this is going to be one fantastic Mercedes.

All of you training for the Mercedes Marathon or Half Marathon, pay attention. THE RACE IS A LITTLE OVER ONE WEEK AWAY!!! Now, if any of you are surprised by that, call me immediately...we need to talk! Now, about the next week! From here on out, I want you all to just relax and believe you can do this. Visualize the course EVERY day, EVERY night! Learn the turns, learn where the hills are, know where the aid stations are, know where to get's all on the Mercedes Marathon website. In other words, get the race in your head so you literally know what's coming all the time. You know how that drive to work in the morning just kind of goes by? Some mornings I wonder how I got to point B from point A, because I sure don't remember going by anything in between A & B (OK, I know there's nothing between A & B, but you get the idea). The running and walking will not exactly be automatic, but you are trained and your body won't let you down as long as you stay positive. Keep negative thoughts out of your head. Again, stay as relaxed as you can. It will take you a couple of miles to get comfortable, so take that time to just let your body unwind and the miles will click by. The middle will let you know that you are working your engines, and then in the final third of the run you may have to start digging down deep, but as they say (whoever "they" are), the marathon is easy until it gets hard!

As I have been preaching since about October - don't do anything in the race you haven't done in training!! How can I be clearer? How about don't do anything stupid!! Remember, don't overdress. You should feel a little chilly at the start, but protect your hands and your head if it's cold. This week, your runs should be short, but done at the same pace you have been doing your training runs. After this weekend's long run, I recommend 2-4 short sessions of 20-40 more! On the morning of the race, be sure to get some calories in you before the race. It doesn't matter if it's liquid, solid, or something in between (a Denny's Gland Slam Breakfast is probably not a good idea - unless of course, you've been doing this in training). It's amazing to me how many folks try to do a marathon or half marathon on an empty stomach. I mean, c'mon people, you're going to be out there for hours and there's no smart reason to begin empty after a 12 hour fast!! For those of you with finicky stomachs, there is something out there that will help your energy supplies...Boost, toast & jelly, oatmeal, soft energy bar...SOMETHING! If you have any questions or concerns, NOW would be a good time to contact me. I'm here for you. This weekend, plan on wearing most of what you plan to wear on race day, and just for good measure try to eat before this weekend's run whatever you're planning to eat pre-run on race day. Better to upchuck this week someplace in Homewood instead of mile 3 at Mercedes next week!

Next week's TWA will be a little more specific about the expo, the night and the morning before the race and a few specifics about Mercedes itself. Be smart!

I'll see you all on the roads - AL

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

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Oh Yeah! Two Weeks Till Showtime!

"Tapering is to the marathon what sleep is to life"

What??? Two weeks??? You've got to be kidding. Guess we better start training pretty hard, don't you think? If you answered yes, go to the back of the class. This is the TAPERING PHASE - that wonderful part of training only surpassed by the totally unnecessary tradition of carboloading.

Tapering. It might be one of the most feared words in a runner’s vocabulary, right next to patience and rest. After months of long miles, finding the right balance of sharpening and rest to hit race day firing on all cylinders can be a nerve-wracking process. Even more daunting is that the taper isn’t an exact science. Ask any ten coaches and researchers what the optimal taper would be and you’ll get several different answers. However, coaches and scientists do agree on a few principles that are constant in the perfect taper. Unfortunately, these universal elements are also the most frequent aspects most runners botch in the last two weeks of their training.

Our mileage is drastically down, causing the body to say "whew", but also knowing that this is one big trick and it better store all the carbos it can in those little, resting muscles in case you pull a fast one and try to do something stupid like...well, you figure it out. You can do a lot more harm these next two weeks than you can do things to help your performance, so calm down, realize the cow's almost in the barn, and pat yourself on the back for getting through months of training. I've always felt that you earn your marathoner badge in training, not the day of the race.

It'll always seem impossible until you cross under that finish line banner. That's not an original quote, but one I've always used it with new marathoners. These next two weeks are pretty much to keep from getting hurt. You can do a lot more harm than good. During this taper period, you cut down your mileage to roughly 50% of your normal mileage and take a deep physical breath. You just want to recharge, heal, and get mentally ready. Get a map of the course (including elevation!) at the Mercedes Marathon web site, and memorize it. Picture yourself going through the different stages of the race and smoothly going up and down the hills - I didn't say FAST, I said smoothly. Visualization is so important and to do this, you have to know what's coming up (or down). During a quiet moment, try to recall the course in your head without the help of the map. Where the mind goes, the body will follow. You can't go in with a bunch of negative thoughts, and you can't hang around people who do have them. Don't let anyone doubt that you can do the race. You know you can do this. Just stay calm and approach it like you do for every long run on Saturday or Sunday mornings - OK, maybe a LITTLE more awake!

Also, you don't have to go crazy with all this "carbo-loading" talk. For Pete's sake, you've been carbo-loading for the past 4 months. The fact that you're cutting down your mileage will automatically carbo-load for you. You'll want to drink a little more, so in the next two weeks, don't pass any water fountains without taking a swig. Getting a little more electrolytes into you is also a good idea, so salt your food a little more (for the sodium), eat a few bananas (for the potassium), and drink some extra Gatorade-like drinks.

Just a reminder, the 2nd of our Mercedes Course preview runs is this Sunday at 6:30 at Boutwell Auditorium downtown.

Again, you have to trust me. The tapering is as important as the past 20 weeks of training. Don't screw it up! Relax.

I'll see you on the roads, hopefully this Sunday - AL

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

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Holy Cow!!! Only three weeks Till Mercedes!

"Victory or defeat is not determined at the moment of crisis, but rather in the long and unspectacular period of preparation" - Winston Churchill

OK, so I don't want to surprise anyone, but if you're training for Mercedes, we only have 3 more weeks of training from this Sunday, and two of those weeks are taper weeks.YIKES!!!!

Soooooo, that means that Saturday is your 20 miler. You don't treat it any different than any other training run, just do it slow and steady. Like we'll do in the race itself, just break it down into small segments. Most water stops are about 2-3 miles apart, so that's a good segment. The purpose of the long run is not to see how fast you can get it done, it's just to be on your feet for several hours and build some much needed confidence. 

If you can, try to wear the same shoes you plan to wear on race day. Unless you like surprises, it's a good idea to try everything out before race day. Something that feels good for a 5 mile run may turn into clothes from the devil at 16. It always continues to amaze me the things folks come up with as we get closer to marathon day. We all look for the "magic bullet" that will make this a walk in the park. You know what? - It ain't there. Hard work, sweat, and consistency with the whole process (training, clothes, food, fuel, rest, etc) is the ONLY way to assure success. Believe in yourself. If you've trained this far, and done well, then Saturday, or 3 weeks from Sunday, will be no different. You'll finish this long run and say "I couldn't have run any further than that!" Heck, that's what you say after a 5 mile, a 10 mile, or a 15 mile run. You set a mental goal, and your mind doles out the effort (mental and physical) to meet that goal. How many of you actually thought you'd get this far? Oh sure, you had the hope of being here, but the HOPE didn't do it. Hope is the teaser you hold on to until reality sets in. You did it by getting out there on Sundays, or Saturdays, and Mondays, and...all 150 of those days! You learned how to walk, write, read, play basketball, and now how to run marathons. Don't make it something it's not. It's a great physical accomplishment that you trained yourself for. Be confident in yourself. YOU are all you have to answer to. It's almost showtime, so lace up those shoes and I'll see you on the roads.

Now, pay attention: on Sunday, January 31st, we will run our 2nd trial run on the Mercedes Course from Boutwell Auditorium downtown (the Start Line) at 6:30am. If you missed the first Trial Run, try your best to get out there for this one. Many thanks to Monica, Val & Jeff and the Trak Shak staff for opening Boutwell for warmth & restrooms and providing Powerade, water, and Gu on the course. The last one was a real success. A course map can be found at . If you're doing the half marathon, then just return to Boutwell from 5 Points for 8.6 miles.

Hope you all have a good training week and I'll see you on the roads - AL

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

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Yikes!! Four Weeks Till Mercedes!

"Sometimes I lie in bed at night and I ask 'Where did I go wrong?'. Then a voice says to me, 'This is going to take more than one night.'" - Charlie Brown

As Mary Engelbrit says "Time flies whether you're having fun or not". Well, time is sure flying for all of us. Just four weeks from Sunday, you Mercedes guys will be lining up for "Showtime in Birmingham". I hope all of you boys and girls are getting excited. Hope you're not saying to yourself "yikes, what have I done. I can't get ready in 4 weeks". You're right, you can't get ready in 4 weeks - you got ready in the months you've put behind you on the road, in the cold, in the rain, in the dark. Calm down. it's going to be fine.

This Sunday is 1st of two trial runs on the Mercedes course (the next is Jan 30th). For one week, Monica doesn't have to come up with a course that finds "The hidden roads of Birmingham". We will leave Boutwell Audtorium @ 6:30AM. Once again, Valerie McLean, the Mercedes Race Director and owner of the Trak Shak (where you should be getting all your running gear) will weave her magic and open the lobby of Boutwell so we can get out of the cold before we run. She and her staff will also provide aid stations and Gu on the course, so be sure to thank her. I understand the course is marked, but it's big M's with arrows on the pavement, so pay attention if you're separated from a big group (not that a big group can't get lost...they definitely can). So, one full loop will be 13.1 miles. You made a commitment, I made a commitment...let's go!!!! Show up!!! If you want to view the course, just go to the Mercedes Website. Man, I love technology!! If you have any concerns, email me.

What you need to do now is to go to the Mercedes Marathon website again and print out two copies of the course and have one at work and one at home. Learn the course's uniqueness - where the miles are, where the hills are, the aid stations, the porta-potties, turns, straightaways, EVERYTHING. Visualize running the race, picture yourself going up those hills, stopping at the aid stations, stopping at the porta-potties (OK, let's not visualize that!), and finally, see yourself getting to the finish line, people cheering, music playing, and a medal being placed around your neck. When you do these things in your mind, you should feel your pulse go up and your breathing getting more rapid. Why does that happen? Because your mind is so entwined with your body that it has trouble distinguishing between what is real or imagined, so it starts reacting like you are running, and it is doing something called "cerebral mapping". It is learning how to react in a situation and the more familiar it is to a situation, the calmer it is and the more it will react like it did in training (physical OR mental). If it knows what to expect, things will go a lot smoother. Getting out every weekend and putting in those long runs are for a reason folks, and one of those reasons is when you're deep in a race, your body will say "we've been here before" instead of "what in the sam-hill are you doing?!!". And when you sit and learn all the aspects of the race course, that mental training will pay off big.

It just slays me when I talk to runners after a marathon and they say "I didn't know it was going to be that hilly" - DID YOU NOT LOOK AT THE COURSE DESCRIPTION BEFORE THE RACE? Sometimes the Race Director will be a little deceiving with his "rolling hill" baloney, but you can usually see an elevation map on the website. I think Mercedes will be using Powerade as their aid station drink and GU products for their gel, so start using that in your training runs.

BTW, if you're thinking of using a Pace Group during your race, you should read this post in my RUNNING WITH AL blog  that I wrote a couple of years ago about what goes through the mind of a Pace Leader. I used to write a weekly blog about my running, but sort of got off the track and haven't written in a few months. I really enjoyed writing it, so I need to get back on that horse. Anyway, I think there will be pacers at the trial run Sunday, so hook up and leave your worries to somebody else (well, some of your worries!).

I'll see you on the roads - AL

Friday, January 8, 2016

Five Weeks To Go!! Breaking It Down. Don't Panic!

"Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small steps."--Henry Ford

Hi guys - Henry Ford may not have been a marathoner, but he sure had the idea about endurance performance down pat. When you're at the starting line and you're looking at 26 miles of running, or 100 miles of cycling, or who knows what else, you'll put yourself in a hole if you think of the whole day ahead of you. Little steps - the day broken up into manageable, attainable pieces - is the key to completing an endurance event. With an 19 miler planned for Saturday for our Mercedes marathoners, that above quote should have extra meaning. The training runs get longer. It gets harder to wrap your head around the task. As you train more and more for long distance endurance events, whether it be running, cycling, swimming, whatever, I think the training becomes ingrained as who you are and the event you're training for becomes a measure of how your training is going. I'm always asked "Are you training for anything?", and I answer "I'm ALWAYS training". 

You've been training for over 3 months now for Mercedes and each week you tack on a little more. Sneaks up on you, doesn't it? You've trained in heat, cold, rain, wind, a World Series, a whole football season, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and charged right on through Christmas and New Years, and will run past the Super Bowl. WHEW!!! You look back and wonder how you've lasted that long. Well, you've lasted the same way you do the long run each week - by breaking it down into small, manageable pieces and only focus on the portion at hand and not the entire enchilada. When you look at your weekly schedule, the question is always "What's the long run this week?", not how many miles do you have to run during the 20 weeks you train. In the past, I've talked about the importance of your goal setting to be just to finish, and this week (and every week), it's to look at the run (training or the event itself) as parts, not a whole. 

Before I got my fancy GPS watch, when I'd run a marathon, I'd hit my chronograph every 3 miles. That way I break the run into just 8 parts. Three miles would allow for water breaks, potty stops, hills, short lapses of concentration (one of my favorite diversions), would pretty much even out. Every 3 miles I look at my split time and say "good", "oops", or "crap", depending on where I am relative to my plan. These little segments are manageable to me. The point is that whether you're doing a 5K or a marathon, you've done the training and all you have to do is monitor yourself over the run so your body does what you trained it for. If you train at 10 min/mile, don't expect the Good Angel to swoop down on race day and allow you to run 9 min/mile! 

The mind will be your greatest foe - it will use every trick in the book to make you stop doing this foolishness. You MUST practice positive thinking during these last few weeks of training. Fatigue, discomfort, tightness, and whole host of other wonderful feelings are all a part of the game, but you know they're coming because you meet them every week, and as a group, you whine together and the next thing you know, there you are back where you started with another long run under your belt (elastic waistband). When you start to hit that fatigue point, acknowledge that it's there, but also realize that you're not really feeling that badly (OK, 24 miles into the marathon, you might be really feeling bad, but the balloons are close). What you are feeling is the reflection of your effort level. Focus on your breathing and your cadence, and this will shift your focus off the fatigue (I didn't say it would eliminate it). Your body is doing what it's been trained to do and that's moving you forward towards the finish line. Think only about what you need to do RIGHT NOW - pace, breathing, concentration. Thinking "I am really tired and want to just sit down on the curb and cry" has absolutely no positive benefits! Relax, concentrate on the task at hand, and perform up to your capabilities.

You are trained, but you're just not THERE yet. There are going to be training runs on the Mercedes course January 17th and January 30th and that's a good trial to see where you are and get familiar with the course. Check the Mercedes or TrakShak websites for details. If you have any comments or training questions, don't hesitate to leave them in the Comments section here or email me. Until then...

I'll see you on the roads - AL