Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Halfway: Highs and Lows of the World Track & Field Championships!

Well, we're halfway through the World Track & Field Championships in Daegu, South Korea. NBS/Universal Sports scheduled an unprecedented number of hours of coverage and this has been on my radar most of the year. Not only is this a World Championships, but it is also the year preceding an Olympic year. Stakes are high, favorites will be established.

Before getting into my personal highs and lows through this halfway point, let me just say that track and field coverage needs a MAJOR face-lift if it is ever going to be relevant or effective in promoting the sport. This is not football, or basketball or even baseball. Networks need to talk to athletes and avid fans to determine the best way to entertain and inform, before it's too late and a wonderful Olympic opportunity is missed (this topic, by the way, will have to be a whole other blog, some other day!).

Downers.
First and foremost - the coverage. Early coverage was hideous, especially when shots of fans and coaches took precedence over real live action in the distance events. I cannot believe how little of the Woman's marathon and both 10,000 meter races was shown. Somewhere north of 60 million people in this country run or jog. Millions race distances from 5K to the marathon and distance races get little more than a slight nod from the networks. Problem: they don't know how to cover them. So, hey network..... ASK runners and fans! The only thing NBC/Universal did right was to enlist Toni Reavis and Josh Cox for the commentary (even then they had them in some hole in the wall studio FAR away from the actual action). And while I'm on that topic, with the number of commercials being carried every 6-10 minutes, couldn't you afford to have all of your commentators in Korea?
Toni and Josh (uppers amidst the biggest downer)

Other downers:  Allyson Felix getting nipped in the 400 meters, Usain Bolt's false start (now I am not the biggest Bolt fan, but it was sad to see the event without its superstar), and the Robles DQ in the hurdles (the biggest loser there was Liu Xiang who would have won). The time difference is very frustrating as night is day and day is night. I will get used to it, but by then, it's over. It was sad to see Shalane Flanagan drop back in the 10K, but nothing could have been tougher than beating the Kenyans in that race.

Vivian Cheruiyot
Amy Hastings
Trey Hardee & Ashton Eaton
Uppers.  There are plenty. Loved watching the Kenyans sweep the Woman's marathon and 10K. Made me want to hoist my Kenyan flag (didn't want to scare the neighbors, though)! The advancing to the finals of Lauren Fleshman, Amy Hastings, Emma Coburn, Jenny Barringer-Simpson, and Morgan Uceny shows the building strength of female American distance runners. The competitiveness of the Kirani James/LaShawn Merritt 400 meter dual was great. The coverage of both the Men's Decathlon (shout outs to Trey Hardee and Ashton Eaton for going 1-2) and woman's Heptathlon (Wow, is Tatyana Chernova some kind of an athlete or what?) were excellent. An impressive win for Carmelita Jeter in the 100 illustrated close to the perfectly executed race. David Rudisha showed unmatched power in the 800 and Mo Farah came, oh so close, in the Men's 10K.

I'm sure I am missing some of my other Uppers, but I reserve the right to add them later.

Tatyana Chernova
On the whole, the biggest Upper is the meet itself. The greatest track and field athletes in the world meeting in one of the greatest sports events held every two years is enough for me. I'll live through the bad coverage and the occasional disappointment by one of my favorites. But, compared to the dark ages when I competed, the breadth of coverage is awesome. Television (even poor television) and websites like Flotrack, Track and Field News and the iaaf site have been a Godsend.

 I'm looking forward to an exciting final half of the meet. How about you? Enjoy!


Friday, August 12, 2011

Happy Anniversary to Me! 45 Years of Running...

Rich Sands, Wyandotte Cross Country
It began mostly because I didn't want to be embarrassed. The first day of Cross Country practice was Monday and it was already Friday, August 12, 1966. I needed to get in shape fast! So I laced up my new Beta Bullets and went for a run. It was a half an hour long and the only thing I recall is that it seemed like FOREVER!

The next day, I did it again. I took Sunday off (well, it was SUNDAY, right?) and reported for practice bright and early Monday morning. I had no idea what was to come and especially the significance it would have on the entirety of my life.

I wasn't showing up at just any cross country practice, I was going to be a member of Coach Al Pingel's Wyandotte Roosevelt High cross country team, one of the best in the state. The running Bears had been in the top three at state regularly and boasted the defending state champion, Al Ruffner. And, at least in my mind, there were expectations placed on my performance.

In Junior High, part of P.E. was running this thing, ominously called "the distance run." It was actually a mere 3/4 of a mile, but in 7-9 grades, someone must have felt that was a long way. I remember doing it fairly well as a seventh grader, beating everyone in my class. In eighth grade I broke the school record (which was around 4:20) by running 4:02. The next year, 3:36. The next day, high school coach Al Pingel was at class. Game, set, match: I was a cross country runner.

At the morning practice, we warmed up, stretched as a team and ran the workout. It was 6 x 440, followed by some kind of drills followed by the unfathomable news that we were expected to return later that afternoon for a second workout. A second workout? This guy was serious (Coach Pingel, not me). That afternoon, we ran for 45 minutes. He called it the Boston Marathon and it was the first time I had ever heard of that race or run that far. I made it, learning that my body was capable of doing things that my mind wasn't so sure about (wouldn't be the last time for that lesson). I also was taught that day the importance of logging my runs, so I did (still do). The next day, I could barely walk. Somehow, I lived to tell about it.

Cross Country, and then Track and Field allowed me the opportunity to travel to other schools, meet other runners and to experience a part of the sports world different from my earlier participation. I had played some football, a little basketball and I don't mind saying, was an excellent baseball player (pitcher). I liked being on a team, but cross country supplemented the team part with the individual focus. I could run well and win. There was no worry about a shortstop making an error allowing in the winning run or a teammate missing a free throw at a crucial point of a big game.

Those three things: travel, people and the individual challenge were part of the draw for me. They've also been part of the big payoff. As a collegiate, post collegiate, and as a marathoner, I have traveled to places I would have never seen had I missed this golden opportunity. I've made, and continue to make,  some wonderful friends. I've won some races, accomplished goals, ran in a few national championships, represented my country once, and met a plethora of self-directed challenges.

And frankly, I'm not convinced I'd have gone to, or completed college had it not been for my involvement as a runner. I most certainly would not be the person I am today. 

96,656 miles later I happily acknowledge that 45 years ago today, I began a journey that would transform my life with a simple 30 minute run. And while the travel, people and the racing have all been rewarding, I knew that first day that there was something I really liked about the act of running. I wasn't exactly sure what it was, but I felt something.

Running was/is a simple activity, cyclical in its nature. One foot placed in front of the next in order to move forward: to cover ground, to open my mind, to allow me opportunities to escape my troubles or celebrate my triumphs. Mostly, to connect me to and strengthen my relationship with this planet upon which I exist. For that, I am ecstatically, humbly grateful.

John Parker Jr. said it best in his epic story, Once A Runner, "Running to him was real; the way he did it the realest thing he knew. It was all joy and woe, hard as diamond; it made him weary beyond comprehension. But it also made him free."

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Back to the Grass!

Let's begin by making one thing clear here, grass in this headline means the green stuff on many sections of ground, not marijuana. That said .... well, never mind.

In his book, Bowerman and the Men of Oregon, there are a few paragraphs where author Kenny Moore describes sitting on the stadium or track infield (grass) with Frank Shorter or Steve Prefontaine and chatting about the future. Reading that got me thinking and remembering my own experiences with what I will call, Grass Time.

I look at my running life (and maybe my whole life) in three phases: youth, middle age and maturity (better than calling it old age).  In the first two phases, for the most part, I ran with and had Grass Time with people in the same phase of their running lives.

Grass time in youth is future time. In high school with Ed; in college with Geoff, Rick or John, grass time was that valuable time before or after a workout where we parked it on the lawn and yacked the time away. Some time was spent discussing the last race or the upcoming one, but mostly, quality grass time was spent discussing the future. Where were we going? What did we want? And characteristic of our time, How were we going to change the world? There was plenty of time to dream because for most of us, by the time we'd plopped on the grass, there were no pressing engagements clouding the remainder of the day.


We believed that life was completely ahead of us.

The middle age phase of my running was spent living in what I will call "the real world." My fellow grassers, like me, all had careers and many of us had families. Time constraints strangled Grass Time and the result was that Run Time became Grass Time. Because the pace and intensity of workouts was somewhat different than college, most of my running time with my friends was spent on the trails and the roads - places conducive to Grass Time on the move. Some of my fondest memories of this time was Sunday runs with the Boulder Road Runners and Monday night runs with my closest sphere. Sure, sometimes we'd review the latest race or anticipate the next. The topic, most of the time, was now! We'd discuss the fam, the kids, the pets, the job.

We believed that life was right then, right there.

In my maturity phase, I mostly run alone. Grass Time happens in my head and seldom includes me parking my carcass on any lawn contemplating my world or the future. I suppose the natural progression would be that Grass Time in the mature phase would be a reflection. "I remember back in '75 when I almost beat Don Kardong," or "that run we made from Detroit to Mackinac." Looking back, I suppose is somewhat natural. After all, chronologically there are most likely fewer years ahead of me than behind.

The mature phase implies that life is behind us.

Fortunately, we (I) control our (my) own thoughts. "As a man thinketh, so he is," right? 

Grass Time doesn't have to be before or after a run. In fact, Grass Time can be anywhere, anytime and is completely self-motivated and self-directed. Grass time is by you, for you and of you! 

The future is tomorrow and the next day and the next day. They are as bright as we choose them to be. And while I've seen signs on the lawn requesting that animals Keep Off, I have yet to see one that said MATURE RUNNERS LOOKING FOR GRASS TIME - KEEP OFF! So today, after my run, I am plopping down on some finely manicured green dream machine and dreaming of how great life is going to be.

Take a few minutes today and join me. It feels good!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Medium Long Run

I merely lived through my "long" run today. No, not bragging or anything, just stating a fact: I lived through my long run (actually a medium long run).

As I conclude week 5 of the eighteen week plan to the Savannah Marathon, I'm working my way back to the long run. Next week it'll be 14 or 15 (fifteen has always been the benchmark as a "real" long run) and then up to 16, pushing my way methodically to the three twenty mile runs that will eventually place me at the starting line.

I feel a hair behind, but it's okay. I still have several months of wonderful Colorado weather and I can intelligently (hopefully) make up for a hair of lost time. I'm feeling unaffected by this 60 mile week and am ready to pile a little on in the next couple before my next back-off week.

I still haven't missed a day this year and after ending last year with a nice couple of months, the streak stands at 316 days. Maybe I'm not supposed to mention it (don't want the jinx or anything) but the reason I am able to run 316 days straight is because I haven't been injured or real sick in this time frame. To me, THAT is the part that keeps me going.

I'm at 1604 miles for the year, which is pretty much on schedule. The goal is 2700 and with several high mileage weeks approaching in the middle of the next two cycles, I may even have a bit of padding. The goal that may not get achieved this year is the Half Ironman. That will probably get pushed into 2012. 

So I have few complaints at this point. All by itself, that is a big deal!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Speed Work? I think not!

Today was a day for the ages for three reasons: 1) It would have been my 36th anniversary had my ex and I made it past the 17th, 2) I weighed in lower today than any time in the last seven years and 3) I did my first speed/strength interval type workout in a decade. One at a time...

First, my 36th anniversary.  Shortly after our divorce in 1991, she remarried and fifteen years later I did as well. Unfortunately, my ex passed away several years ago, but I still have fond memories of our rainy, car-accidented wedding day.

Next: Weight.... good, but a long way to go.

That leaves the workout. Today I did 3 X 800 with a 400 jog as my rest interval. Originally the workout was to be 4 by 8, but my stubbed toe and a tweaky knee caused a lowering of my expectations. Because it's been so long, I had no idea of what would be the proper pace. With my tempo runs in the 8:20-30 range, I figured I'd shoot for sub 4:00 as a reasonable goal (whooo, breaking four minutes..... oh yeah, we're talking HALF mile here).

The first one felt like I was BLAZING! Oxygen debt came quickly and I passed the 400 in 1:49 wondering why I wasn't on my usual easy run. Maybe a hundred yards later, I began to relax and get into a rhythm. First 800 - 3:45. I have to say that the 400 jog was pretty long, more than I probably needed. The next two passed without incident in 3:42 and 3:44. I didn't push that hard, could have done the fourth rep and probably been 6-8 seconds faster, but I figured I would not press my luck and stay hungry for the next time.

I confess to feeling a little proud of my first "interval" workout. Not because it was fast or anything, but because I planned it and did it! Interestingly, running log research shows I did half mile repeats during the first week of August two other times in my running life. In 2000, I ran 12 x 800 with a 200 jog averaging 3:04 (3:10 marathon that year at age 48). And as a collegian, in 1972, I ran 12 x 880 in Alpena, Michigan with a two minute rest averaging 2:14. 

Makes my 3:42 seem a bit tired, heavy and a hair old. But I'm happy with it. But, oh yeah ..... what about the other nine reps?

Monday, August 1, 2011

Man vs. Computer: Round 4

I'm four weeks into training for the Savannah Marathon and working diligently on stylish abs. Needing a lift, it seemed to be a great time to issue a challenge to my Macbook. If you recall, I have challenged my computer to two previous contests: a five mile run and a max bench press lift-off. (read the run at http://richyacks.blogspot.com/2011/02/man-vs-computer-round-2.html and the bench at http://runspittle.blogspot.com/2011/04/man-vs-computer-round-3.html). Both were in order to extract revenge for the humiliating loss by the humans at the hands of Watson, the computer on the Jeopardy show. Both previous challenges were embarrassing defeats for my Macbook.

Today's challenge: sit-ups.

I have to tell you, I thought I was being pretty generous here. I mean, the sit-up motion is how my Macbook opens and closes everyday. Certainly that would be a fair challenge, if not one stacked to the opposition's strengths.

Result: you're looking at it. Mac never moved. I could have done ONE and been victorious, but in the name of humans everywhere, I knocked off 150 of those bad boys just to rub it in.

Take that, Mac (and you too Watson)! Yay humans!