Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Do You Believe In Miracles?

"I don't expect a perfect performance, just a perfect effort" - Lisa Batchen-Smith, ultrarunner

I just watched a video of the 1980 USA Hockey Team winning the Olympic Gold medal. A bunch of misfits that nobody gave a plug nickel to win anything. BUT, they believed in themselves and they believed in each other. I'm a big believer in trying to stay positive during your training. We keep running longer and the body gets tired, but don't expect it to come easy. You have to believe that what you're doing will get you under those finish line balloons. Just understand that's that what training for a marathon is about - tear down, build up, adapt and improve! As a matter of fact, there's a Nike ad I saw in Runners World...It says "Evoloution. It's what happens between runs.". When you train, each run by itself is only a small piece of the whole apple pie, but you want most of them to be sloped towards the positive side of the training hill. It's layer upon layer. When you have a bad run, don't say, "This hurts too much, I want to lie down and die". Say, "Sometime in February, I'll do well because of runs like this". Don't worry AT ALL about your pace, just get through the runs. Look only at what you have to do right now, the rest will take care of itself.

This week, the runners training for the Mercedes Full have 16 miles scheduled and the halfers will be doing 11. Yeah, the prediction is for rain, but this is cold and rain season, so think positive....c'mom folks, you all are doing great and have to be thinking to yourselves "hey, I think I can do this". I know, it still seems like a long way and all I can tell you is that it always seems like a long way. There has to be some fear built in to instill the desire to get out there day after day, cold or not. If it gets too easy, or if you just don't have the spark to succeed, then the handwriting is on the road - the odds of achieving your goal are pretty slim, but if you're confident that you're putting in the effort, that your schedule is built to allow you to climb that mountain, and if you truly believe in yourself, well then, put it in drive and GO!

You know, Yogi Berra once said "Baseball is 50% physical and 90% mental". I think most goals are somewhere around that ratio. When that gun goes off, 99% of us are dueling against ourselves, not the other thousands of competitors. Running is not a team sport. You're out there on your own, so how do you sway the odds in your favor. Well, mentally, you have to eliminate all negative thoughts and try not to be surrounded by folks that just complain all the time about how terrible their running is. Man, I wonder why some of these folks come out. Before they even begin, they've completely talked themselves out of any good effort. Your perception and thoughts lead to a change in feelings which then direct your actions. When your thoughts are negative, either before or during a run, you may become anxious or emotional and your performance starts a downward spiral that looks like one of those World War I bi-planes going down in one of those old war movies.

In training, you need to work on your positive thoughts because it's less of a "pressure" situation - you're running with a group, the run is easy, and if your run goes down the toilet, there's always tomorrow. Talk to yourself in positive ways - in training, you can judge every situation that occurs, whether it be good or bad, in a conscious or subconscious way. Your body learns something from EVERY run you do. Sometimes, it may learn NEVER to do a run like that again, but it learns something! So, if you go out too fast, or eat a Big Mac before you run, or try to do a 17 miler after being out all night, whatever - you take that situation and realize that it was a bad run because of something YOU had control over. Tell yourself "I'm trained to run a good run, I'm strong.". BECAUSE YOU ARE! Mentally program yourself to believe you are ready to achieve your goal NOW. Think in the present, not in the future. When you're running, think of the mile you're in, not the miles ahead. You will improve physically every week, but you have to mentally believe that you are a trained long distance athlete.

Do you believe in miracles (like the USA Hockey Team)? Well, it doesn't matter if you do or not...you finishing means getting your butt out there, training smart, and believing in that person attached to your running shoes. If you're trusting in a miracle without the believing in yourself, let me know how that turns out!

I'll see you all on the roads - AL

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

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Running Made Easier With a Little Walking Thrown In

"When you say you're slow, do you mean compared to the people who never exercise or the vast majority of people who can't run a mile without stopping? You're a runner. There is no such thing as slow!" - good quote, but I forgot to write down who said it

Years ago, when I was coaching Team-in-Training, Ken Harkless was coaching the run/walkers. I was the big, tough Run Coach and when he first starting doing run/walking, I would kid him before the race and ask if he was going to do "the girlie thing". Well, he would set off running for 10 minutes and walking for one. After the first 10', I would say "bye, see you in the parking lot" and off I'd go. Well, I'll be darned, at about 24 miles here I am staring at "girlie thing's" butt, as he motors by. One time, in San Diego, we ran/walked together and I couldn't believe we did a 3:45. It really does work, and if Mercedes, or any other marathon, is your first marathon, or if you're nursing an ache or pain, or just not wanting to beat yourself up, it's the perfect way to prevent the fatigue that WILL hit you late in the race. Doesn't matter if you're doing the full or half or just out there training, give it a try. Now, if you're super-stubborn, like me, there is this HUGE mental block that prevents you from walking until you're forced to. I mean I KNOW it would help me, but 90% of my brain cells are screaming "DON'T WALK, DON'T WALK" until I'm ready to collapse late in the race and then the the signal clears the tower "OK, YOU CAN WALK NOW!".

You should start your walk portion before your running muscles get too tired, from the start of the run. This will allow your muscles to recover instantly, which extends the time and distance that you can cover. If you wait until you're very fatigued, you'll end up walking slowly and it will be difficult to start running again. For the walk portions, make sure you're not taking a leisurely stroll.


Here's a pearl - if you're worried about your pace, don't. If you walk briskly for one minute every mile, you'll only lose about 15 seconds/mile. Even if you walk slowly, you'll ONLY lose about 20 seconds - yes, only 5 seconds more!! Remember, you're still moving forward. It comes to about 8-9 minutes difference in time over the course of a full 26.2 mile marathon! In other words, if you set out at 10'/mile pace, and keep it up, that will get you in about 4:22. If you still run that pace, but walk for one minute at each mile marker, you'll come under the balloons in about 4:31. That's definitely not a big price to pay to prevent beating yourself up.

I actually found a pretty cool run/walk calculator where you plug in all the variables and it will tell you how fast your run segments should be to reach your goal. It can be found HERE

Now, for those of you interested in training with a group to really make it easier, I heartily recommend you join the BTC Saturday Long Run Group. They run at 6am and have pacers for your training run for everything up to 12 minutes per mile. Now, you're talking my language. For more info, call Jeff down at the Trak Shak. They are scheduling 2 runs on the Mercedes course on January 25th, and February 8th. They'll be plenty more info on that before the runs, so stay alert! I plan to be there and may try the run/walk. Anybody wanna join me?

Have a great week training and I'll see you all on the roads...walking or running - AL

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

How Training's Changing You

"There's a hell of a difference between doing it almost right and doing it right. The outcome of games is far more a result of mistakes than great plays" - Bobby Knight, basketball coach

Well, this week marks 8 weeks since you all began training for the Mercedes Marathon and Half Marathon. Why do I mention this? If you're following the schedule, this past Saturday you did 10 miles and this week you do 14. At this point, you're not just getting used to going longer distances, but your body has actually started to physiologically change the way you get from point A to point B.

Whatever event you're training for, the base layer of training is improving your aerobic system so that it burns fuel more efficiently. The first choice of fuel to burn is the high octane carbohydrates. When you eat carbs, they're broken down into a lot of "oses" (sugars) - glucose, fructose, sucrose, lactose, etc - and then mishmoshed (my grandmother's word) together to come out with glycogen, which is what your body stores in the muscles, liver, or blood to be ready when you need it. But these precious guys are limited and your body has to go to plan B to spare the glycogen so you don't burn them up before you get halfway down the road. Plan B is to burn fat. Now, don't take this personally, but you have a figurative ton of fat, but here's the problem - fat can't be burned except in the presence of oxygen and this is a much slower process than burning carbohydrates, so as we train, the body learns to burn fat better and the ratio of fuel it has to throw in the oven is more fat and less glycogen. This spares the limited glycogen and TA-DA, you won't hit the wall at 20 miles because you won't run out of glycogen!!! If you do drain the tanks, the ol' body has to rely on Plan B almost entirely and you HAVE TO SLOW DOWN. No gritting your teeth on this one buckeroo - your body is the one and only boss. The brain is cooked (afterall, it can ONLY burn glycogen, so it's hacked at you in the first place for doing this crazy thing and stealing it's fuel).

At about 8-10 weeks of training, there are many physiological benefits...You'll increase the blood flow to your muscle fibers by 40% (that's how the oxygen gets to those muscle powercells - the mitochondria). And speaking of mitochondria - you'll increase their number in the muscle cells by 5% per week and you'll increase their size by 35%. Your muscles will store up to 250% more carbohydrates (and carbs are your friend, despite what those diet whackos say). Man, I'm getting fired up - I love this stuff...but the absolute number one change that pertains to this monologue is that your leg muscles can now burn fat 700% more efficiently. That's a huge advantage to where you were two months ago (assuming you're doing the training). It may not feel 700% better, but you're as tired now at 15 miles as you were 2 months ago at 6 miles, and you now know you could go further. If I said tomorrow that Natalie's schedule was wrong and you had to do 4 more miles than was on the schedule this Saturday, you would say "aw crap, this coach sucks", but you would do it and not be completely wiped out. This is a process even I can't screw up for you. Do the scheduled training and your running engine will try it's hardest to keep your bow aimed towards the shore and not floating aimlessly in the sea of confusion (Man, what a picture I can paint).

Woody Allen once said 80% of success is just showing up. This is the big leagues folks. A 5K will get you from here to there, but a marathon will get you from here to way over there!! Consistency, both mentally and physically, is the key to any endurance event.

I'll see you on the roads - AL

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Eating Before the Long Training Run

"Eat No Evil"

One of the questions I get asked most often is if I eat before I run. It almost amazes me that most new runners, and some veterans, are afraid to eat before running because they're afraid of getting sick. If you're training for a marathon (like Mercedes), then early in your training, it is OK to skip breakfast, but as you progress deeper into your training and your runs start approaching 2 hours, you better start fueling like a marathoner so you can train like a marathoner. If you skip breakfast, realize that you've probably gone 12 hours without food, so you're in partial glycogen (stored energy) depletion. When your training goes more than about 90 minutes, then you need to start addressing the "fuel in your muscles" problem with Gu's, drinks, chews, etc., but before that 90 minutes you want to be sure there's some fuel in the tanks to get going. Now, you don't want to have King Henry's feast before a run, but there are two general ways to get a good blood sugar level and provide carbohydrates to the system to delay the draining of the muscle glycogen.

The first is to have a light breakfast. Donuts and a coke are not a good idea! Eggs and sausage are not a good idea! We have to be a little smart about this. We need some carbohydrates that can be digested easily. I usually have a cup of coffee with whole wheat toast and jelly. If I'm going be going pretty long (or before a marathon) I'll add peanut butter and maybe a banana. So with this "Al Special", we have both simple carbohydrates (jelly), complex carbohydrates (toast & banana), and some fats & protein (peanut butter). The coffee provides caffeine which has been shown to improve endurance and free fatty acids into the bloodstream which can be used as fuel before the stored glycogen.

If the thought of food still gets you gagging, try a pre-run energy drink. Something like boost or ensure will get you a bundle of carbs, fats and protein (about 300 calories total) and is very easily digested. Another good pre-run breakfast is Powerade (or Gatorade) and a couple of fig newtons. Several studies have shown that Fig Newtons provide almost the same nutritional value of Powerbars! Plus, they don't have the consistency of shoe leather. Plus, they're a ton cheaper. The Powerade will also hydrate you. Learn to read nutrition labels and you'll find you don't have to spend pumped-up prices to get the same things as you can in advertised "energy" or "recovery" foods. Anyway, the point is that you don't have to eat a whole lot to get you off to a good fueled start for your morning run. Be sure to try these methods during training - don't wait till race day!

I'll see you on the roads - AL


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

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Facing The Long Run

"At first, people will ask why you're doing it, but eventually after the hard work pays off, they will ask how you did it." - Steve Prefontaine


Ok, so last week, the full marathoners training for Mercedes Marathon did 12 miles and gradually the miles keep building for the long runs. I want you all to remember the main goal is to FINISH. All through this training over the past six weeks, you have been following a training program that has been made up with a series of goals. These have been given to you in daily and weekly distances. All you have to do is complete those runs - "Your coach says go and you go until she says stop!". That seems easy enough, and with running together in a group, it does get easier and your progress is recorded by the fact that 7 or 13 or 15 miles are no longer "impossible" distances. The goal of you getting better (going further) is being met each and every week. So, as you approach the longest runs of your training, how do you approach them? No different! The goal is to complete it. No time goals. No middle of the run goals. Just finish. When the BIG DAY arrives, you approach it the same way - think of the half marathon or the full marathon as just the long run for that week (ok, a very long run). You are feeling stronger because of the training you have put in.

If this is your first long race and it has been going well you may think to yourself that "Maybe I can finish in... (fill in the time blank)". STOP THINKING LIKE THAT!! It's the devil talking! It will lead you down the road of ruin. This will be the first time for most of you. You're almost there (almost is a relative term). The effort will be exhilerating and in some ways painful ("it's a good hurt, doc"). Some folks will tell you that the marathon is more mental than physical. Well, that's a credible thesis and something to think about, but you better be in pretty doggone good shape to be moving forward for 3 - 6 hours (or longer). I've been in plenty of races where I've said "It's supposed to be more mental but it sure is feeling mighty physical right now". It's hard enough without the pressures of setting a time goal. Now listen to this carefully because this comes from the bottom of my coaching heart. I NEVER want one of you first-time runners to be disappointed after doing your first half or full. After you do the first one, there will be plenty of curbs in plenty of cities to sit on and whine about "falling apart" and not setting a new world record. For now, let's finish climbing this hill one week at a time till you see those finish line balloons.

You look back and wonder how you've lasted this long. Well, you've lasted the same way you'll do the long run this Sunday - 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 the 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. When I used to run a marathon for a specific finish time, I used to hit my watch lap counter every 3 miles, that way I break the run into just 8 parts. 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. On Saturdays, there are coolers out every 2-3 miles, so use those as parts of the whole. It's a lot easier to think in terms of 3 mile segments than to say "I've got 15 miles to go". Start your run slowly and ease into a comfortable pace that should never feel pushed. That doesn't mean you won't get tired - you're training for a marathon for Pete's sake, but you should feel in control of your pace. Drink early and often. If you train at 10 min/mile, don't expect the Good Running Angel to swoop down on race day and allow you to run 9 min miles! 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 long runs. 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 at the Trak Shak 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 it, you might be really feeling bad, but the stadium is close). What you are feeling is the reflection of your effort level. Focus on your breathing, your posture, 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 benfits! Relax, concentrate on the task at hand, and perform up to your capabilities.

There's just something about knowing you completed that long run. You marathoners will do a few runs of 17-20 miles and you won't believe it when you finish those runs, but completing the 20 miler in a few weeks will boost your confidence into the "I really think I can finish that thing" category. It's MOSTLY mental to get over this hump, but the long run you've been doing each week is just about the most important element of marathon training because it physically and mentally prepares you for the 26.2 mile distance. I say "just about" the most important element because my own personal bias still leans towards the consistency with which you train, and not necessarily doing a certain distance. If you've been training several months consistently and miss the 20 miler, other than rattling you mentally, it won't physically affect your performance on the day of the run. I always say we should train like they do in England and count our distances in kilometers. That way our longest run would be a nice, round 30K, which is "only" 18.6 miles! But, we live in the good ol' USA and so we'll run like the revolutionists.

Just relax, take each run, each mile, each weekly challenge, one at a time. Before you know it, the finish line is in front of you, and before your heart rate gets back to normal, a new challenge begins.


Stay steady, keep your eyes on the goal, and I'll see you on the roads. - AL

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Ouch! My (Fill In The Blank) Hurts!

"The only way to avoid running injuries altogether is to avoid running altogether - an obviously flawed solution" - Runner's World

So, you new guys all seem to be off to a wonderful start to your delving into the world of endurance training getting ready for Mercedes. As your body tries to figure out what the heck you're doing, you're going to have some aches and pains here and there. Most of them are just the awards of training and will subside as your bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons start to strengthen. Most of them will be controlled with a little TLC in the form of ice, anti-inflammatories, and in some cases, rest.

First of all, ice - you need an ice pack in the form of one of those premade icepacks, a 2# bag of frozen peas, or you can make your own pack with one part alcohol (use the cheap stuff, not the Jack Daniels) and three parts water. Put it in a ziplock bag, and then bag it in another ziplock to prevent it from leaking all over you and your couch. When you freeze it, it will stay flexible, and not frozen like....well....a block of ice. Put the ice on for 15 minutes. You can do this every hour, but 15 minutes is the magic time.

Then, if you want, you CAN take anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen (advil) or naproxyn (aleve) as directed on the package. This is a controversial area, but most running injuries are due to an overuse (inflammation), so an anti-inflammatory seems appropriate. The controvery lies in the fact that the early stage of healing IS INFLAMMATION, therefore, a growing feeling (the pendulum is always swinging) is to avoid anti-inflammatories with overuse injuries. However, if you decide to take them, I like naproxyn because you only take it twice a day instead of three. Now, here's the trick - take it as directed for 2-4 days. The meds don't know if you have a sore knee or a sore little finger, so only a small percentage actually goes to where you want it to go. You have to keep it pumping through your system to put the fire out (sorta like a sprinkler will eventually put the fire out). Remember, Tylenol (acetaminophen) is NOT an anti-inflammatory, it is a pain med. Do not take anti-inflammatories right before you go out to run or during the run - bad idea unless you like playing Russian Roulette with your kidneys. I've had good results at preventing soreness with Tylenol 8 Hour (which surprisingly is the EXACT SAME formula as Tylenol Arthritis - 650mg/tablet). But, if you have to rely on drugs to get through your runs, maybe you don't need to be running. But, I must admit that I certainly understand the mind of a runner and it seems that sometimes a decision is made without being bothered by that pesky intelligent thought process.

Finally comes the question of "Can I continue running?". The "Coach Al" rule of thumb is that if you can run without ANY limp, then it's OK. If you go down the road like you've got a tack in your shoe, then hang up the shoes for a couple of days and do some "active rest" - walking or some other form of aerobic crosstraining until the pain subsides. Don't get so hungup on the mileage thing. If you're crosstraining aerobically, then do these exercises for same amount of time that you would normally spend running. So, if you had a 5 mile run planned and you run 10 min/mile, then you would walk, swim, bike, etc. for 50 minutes, but try to keep the intensity (or heart rate) in the general ballpark that running would put you.

It's funny how all runners will say "Why does it have to hurt now that I'm getting in the groove of this endurance stuff?". Well, muchachos, it's because you've been stressing these tissues for many weeks and they're just asking for you to put some brakes on for a little bit. YOU STILL HAVE OVER 3 MONTHS TO GO!! If you get a little niggle or a knack, you don't necessarily have to stop cold, but going a little slower, avoiding hills and speed work, and just doing those daggum "common sense" things will usually help things straighten you out.

Remember that everything is connected in what is called the Kinetic Chain. That's just fancy PT talk for the hip bone's connected to the knee bone...The knee bone's connected to the ankle bone...The ankle bone's connected to the foot bones. PT School was sooooo hard to remember all those lyrics!!!! Anyway, try to compensate for an ache in one place and this will most likely stress someplace else, and voila! You're then nursing a brand new injury or worse, TWO injuries. This training thing is a long road - slow and steady is the best course.

You have to pay attention to those little niggles so they don't become big knacks. Catching them early will ensure that we'll keep seeing each other on the roads - AL


If you have any comments or questions, please either leave it below in "comments", or email me. If you have any problems leaving a comment, be sure to let me know. I think I fixed the bug, but I love comments and I don't want to miss any!


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

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Dang! I Have a Cold. Now What?


Boss: "Why aren't you signed up for the 401K?"
Drabble: "I'd never be able to run that far."
Scott Adams, Drabble comic strip



OK, so, every run you're getting closer to THE DAY. You know, THAT day in February. You're entering into the grip of heavier training each week. Since you began training a few weeks ago. your body has been trying to fight off every evil detriment that lurks around every corner to derail your fitness. You're more indoors around sick folks, not to mention all the phones, pens, books, and whatnot that you borrow from all your sneezing, sniffling, and coughing friends and co-workers. They are crammed with germs trying to knock you for a loop just when your immune system is hanging a little low because of all your he-man training. So, what happens when you wake up one day and your throat feels like the Great Chicago Fire, your nose is as red as Rudolph's, and you're convinced you have malaria? I, of course, being made of super-human DNA, refuse to let it affect me. However, sometimes. for some reason, my runs feel like I have bowling balls strapped to my legs and my breathing reminds of my run up Pikes Peak!

When a cold hits, everyone wonders "Is it safe to run or do I let my fitness flow away like the proverbial water under the bridge?". Seriously guys, the rule of thumb regarding running with a cold is that if your symptoms are from the neck up (sniffles, sneezing, sore throat, coughing) then it is usually safe to run EASY if you want to. If the symptoms are in your chest, you have a fever, or your legs feel like two cement pylons, then get a sweatshirt, a cup of chicken noodle soup, put your feet up, and just accept the fact that your boss will probably put more miles in than you will for the next couple of days. Studies continuously have shown that you won't lose any fitness level from your training unless you do absolutely nothing for 7-10 days (depending where your fitness was to begin with).

If you're training for a long distance event and you get a cold, the best thing to do is drink a lot of fluids, back off your running, and let it run it's course, which is going to take 1-2 weeks, no matter what you do. If you try to run through it feeling completely wiped out, you're just going to make things worse because you'll stay fatigued and your body won't be able to fight it. If you have a cold, anti-biotics won't help because the cold is a virus and AB's kill bacteria. You can treat the symptoms, keep yourself warm and hydrated and try to get some extra rest. When you finally are up to running again, do some slow, short runs until you get your endurance back. Don't try to catch up on the training sessions you've missed, just ease back into the scheduled program and try to convince yourself that the extra rest is actually going to make you stronger.

Personally, I have found some things you can't do if you have a cold:
1) you can't run without blowing your nose constantly
2) it's hard to cough your lungs up and maintain a smooth running stride at the same time
3) you can't sneeze holding a full cup of coffee!

Again, the rule of thumb is that if all the symptoms are in your head, you can try to run if you want to, but if you're coughing up stuff, have a sore throat, have body aches, or most importantly, have a fever, show some God-given common sense, and bag the run!

I'll see you on the roads - AL

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