Thursday, January 29, 2015

Holy Cow! Only Three Weeks 'til 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 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 Saturday, 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, February 8th, 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 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 22, 2015

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 Feb 8th). 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 a copy 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. Actually, you SHOULD read RUNNING WITH AL anyway! Well worth the subscription price ($0). Anyway, 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 9, 2015

Where are we now? Six weeks to go

"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 18 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". 

We've been training for over 14 weeks now for Mercedes and each week we tack on a little more. Sneaks up on you, doesn't it? We'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 we 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 our weekly schedule, the question is always "What's the long run this week?", not how many miles do we have to run during the 20 weeks we 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 we meet them every week, and as a group, we whine together and the next thing you know, there we are back where we started with another long run under our 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 we're just not THERE yet. There are going to be training runs on the Mercedes course January 25th and February 8th 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


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Getting Those Carbs In During The Marathon

"The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses--behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road--long before I dance under the lights" - Mohammed Ali

Last week, I got to talking with one of our newer marathon trainees and the talk drifted towards what to take in during the long training runs or the race itself. As I said a few blogs back, the body can only store maybe, about 2000 calories in carbohydrates, and seeing that carbs are the absolute #1 preference for your engine to use as fuel, and also seeing that you burn about 100 calories per mile, it doesn't take Watson The Computer to figure out that somewhere around 18 miles, your engine will start sputtering and your GAS light will come on. This is simple science. You can alter the carbs/fat burning ratio quite a bit during training (that's why training MUST be consistent), but other than that, you better be throwing some carbo-logs into the fire along the way.

When I’m running a marathon, I take in 4-5 gels during the race, usually about 45-60 minutes apart. This provides about 150 calories of carbohydrates per hour to keep me running strong (a totally relative reference). In addition, I like to drink whatever sugar drink (Powerade, Gatorade, etc) they have, so totally (gels + drinks), I supplement my rapidly depleting energy stores with about 250 calories/hour. Depending on your bodyweight and your pace, you may need more or less than this, but 250-300 calories is about all your engine can process/hour without mucking up the food-to-energy continuum.

I have found that gels are the most convenient form of carbohydrates for me to carry during long distance runs. They are small and easy to carry in the pockets of my shorts or in a waist belt. Plus, I actually like the taste of most of them, but we are all different and some people just can’t stand the taste or texture of gels. I’ve had the opportunity to try many brands (Gu, Powergel, Hammergel, etc) and there are some that I prefer over others. To me, they go down easily, and they are easily digested, so generally, it should get into your bloodsteam in about 10 minutes IF you dilute it with water (otherwise you wind up with a big carbo-ball sitting in your stomach). I generally like lighter flavors like vanilla, strawberry, raspberry, or citrus vs. stronger flavors like chocolate or espresso, although my favorite is Peanut Butter Gu.

Now, some of these gels have 25mg or 50mg of caffeine, but how it affects your performance is a whole other bag of potatoes. But being I brought it up, here goes...when I mentioned caffeine to this runner I mentioned above, she says "Man, if I take one of those Powergels with caffeine, I get too hyped up!". C'mon folks, a cup of coffee has something like 120 mg of caffeine and if you're a Starbuck's fan, then you're talking 200mg. Powergel has 25 mg! The 2X has 50mg - HALF A CUP OF REGULAR COFFEE!! I don't think that's going to have you bouncing off the walls. It's meant to give you a little kick, but mostly rather than jolting you like a Starbuck's Double Latte, caffeine has been shown to help with the breakdown of fat into muscle fuel and increase the speed the absorption of ingested carbohydrates (which is what Powergel is). But, the mind is a strong (though sometimes not very smart) muscle, that can have a dramatic effect on how you respond to all aspects of the race. Like I've always said (paraphrasing my grandmother, "If you BELIEVE tying a piece of garlic around your neck will make you run faster, then tie it around your neck - AND YOU WILL RUN FASTER!!).

If you don’t like gels, the fact of the matter is that a carbohydrate molecule is the same no matter it's source and there are a lot of alternative forms of carbohydrates that you can try. As with gels, be sure to test them out on your training runs to make sure they are convenient for you to carry, that you can eat them on the run without choking on them, and that they don’t upset your stomach.
Here’s a list of other carbohydrate-rich foods that you can try though I REALLY hesitate recommending some of them;
Clif Shot Bloks (fancy Gummy Bears)
PowerBar Gel Blasts (same as Bloks)
Honey Stingers (they make gels and some waffle-like things. Good, but hard to carry)
Sport Beans (c'mon, they're Jelly-bellys)
Gummy Bears
Jelly Beans
Tootsie Rolls
Hard Candies
Go-Gurt (squeeze-pack yogurt)
GoGo Squeez Applesauce (or other fruit)
Fig Newtons (nutritionally, very close to Powerbars and a whole lot cheaper)
Energy Bars (hard to chew on the run...impossible in cold weather)
De-fizzed Coke or other soft drink
Honey (I saw somebody once drinking it straight - Yecchh!)

You can get a lot more specific of which forms of carbohydrates are better to consume, but generally, the big picture is pretty much the same...keeping fuel in your engine to get you to the finish line balloons. Find something you like, but more importantly, something you believe in. Now, if we can come up with that lasagna flavor gel, then we're really cooking!!

I'll see you on the roads - AL

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 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 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