Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Olympic Nightmare

Get ready for an Olympic disaster.  I hope I'm wrong.  But all signs point to Rio being a complete abomination.  Yes, the same things were written before the Beijing Games of 2012.  But there's a big difference between China and Brazil.  Brazil is broke.

I must admit, I was shocked that the World Cup went off a lot better than I ever thought it would in Brazil.  But the fallout is still being felt.  Massive stadiums were built and the country can't economically support many of them.

I'm not even going to play the Zika card.  I think the bigger problem is all of the water reliant Olympic sports, sailing, rowing, kayaking, all of those athletes will be competing in unbelievably polluted waters.  I wouldn't want to be a triathlete competing in any swim in that country right now.  But athletes who dream of Olympic glory will risk almost anything.

Now the biggest scandal is the drug scandal that has enveloped the sport.  Kenya's drug testing program can't pass muster.  Russia is still on suspension.  My guts tell me if WADA had the guts to take a hard look Ethiopia, Jamaica or Turkey I'm guessing the list would grow. 

The worst of it is the International Olympic Committee seems intent on ignoring it all.  Zika, not a problem.  They know banning Russia weakens banner sports like gymnastics and track and field.  Kicking out the Kenyans while cause for celebration for Ethiopia, will have repercussions across the 3rd world.

Then there's the 141 pound 800 meter runner in the room.  Caster Semenya is going to make a mockery of women's track and field.  Biologically, she is a man.  The IAAF and IOC refused to deal with this festering issue head on when it first surfaced in 800 when Semenya burst on the world scene running like no other woman in the world.

Last year the Court of Sports Arbitration ruled that Semenya no longer had to take estrogen to level the playing field with women.  Last month Semenya swept through South Africa's championships winning the 400, 800 and 1500 with ease.  The drug testing and gender fiasco threatens to make the track and field competition in Rio a joke.

The fuse has been lit and doing a slow burn to August when the Rio Games take center stage.  Mark my words, Rio could mark the end of the Olympic movement as we know it.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

No Country For Old Marathoners

I watched as much of the Boston Marathon on Monday as I could.  It stirred something deep within me.  I thought to myself, I could do that.  I could run a Boston qualifier.  It's not impossible.

Just the Friday before, Richard Olitsky stopped by the store looking for words of encouragement before leaving town for what would be his 8th run at Boston.  He looked at me and asked, "When are you going to run another marathon?"

I chuckled at the question and responded, "I don't think that's going to happen."  I look back at what was and wonder why I would want to put myself through the hell that is marathon training.  Plus, what's the incentive of running a 3:55 marathon.  Actually it would probably have to be under 3:50 to get into the race.

I've run 20 marathons.  Of those 20 well more than half were under the Boston standard.  Yet, I've only run Boston once, back in 1994, before the field swelled to its now ridiculous size.

When I ran my first marathon in 1975 in 3:14:15.  I told myself then that if I ever ran a marathon slower than that I would quit running them.  That finally happened in marathon number 19 when I ran 3:16:13 in 2002.  I was finished.

Then something came up.  My friend and old training partner Craig Davidson was running his 150th marathon in 2010 at St. George.  I had run St. George in 1997 when Craig ran his 100th marathon, so I broke my promise to myself.

The training was half-hearted.  I think I had one long run of more than 16 miles.  I thought I had done enough to run a Boston qualifier but I had been fooling myself.  St. George was a hot death march and I ran 3:56:47.  I thought that stopping at number 20 was fitting.

Still, the urge remains.  Fort Myers is a horrible place to train for a marathon.  You need hills to build the core strength to run a decent marathon and all we have are a couple of bridges.  Then there's the weather.  The great training weather starts in November and ends in April.  The good qualifying races are in December and January.  That means starting your hardcore training in August when the weather is absolutely miserable.

I don't know how Richard Olitsky does it.  He forces himself out the door at 5 a.m. to beat the heat.  He's nine years older than me and he can hammer workouts that I can't even imagine attempting.  Yet despite all the hard work, Richard was sitting in my store before his big race full of self doubt and as it turned out, for good reason.

Richard was in shape for a 4:10 effort on a flat Florida course with good weather.  Unfortunately he was facing the hills of Boston, warm weather, and a strong headwind.  Richard finished in 4:31 meaning he's got to run a qualifier sometime in the next six months if he wants to run Boston number 9.

Fort Myers isn't a great place for older runners striving to run a Boston qualifier.  To all of my friends over the age of 50 who do it.  My congratulations, it's an amazing feat.  I just can't imagine it.  I don't think I can do it.  But the temptation remains, tugging gently at my competitive spirit that's buried somewhere within me.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Corrice


 
I first met him in January 1978.  I was beginning my internship at KMBC TV in Kansas City.  Corrice Collins was one of just a handful of African Americans who were working in television in KC at the time.  He took me under his wing and tried to teach me what he knew about working in TV news and more so, about dealing with life in TV news.  I had other great mentors in that newsroom, Jim Overbay, Gerry Roberts, Jerry Plantz, Larry Moore, Ridge Shannon and Pam Freund.  Each and every one of them contributed to my career.














   
Yet Corrice was my first newsroom buddy.  He was working as a night side reporter at the time.  Corrice had a massive smile and an infectious laugh.  I think he enjoyed egging on the young dummy from K.U.  




I can remember the first time I went out with him with a photographer in a live van to do some nonsense story at a nightclub.  I remember how foreign I felt roaming the unfamiliar streets of Kansas City and Corrice's frustration at doing a story that really deserve coverage.  Corrice had a very strong bullshit detector.


By the late spring I had actually been hired by KMBC and I remember spending countless summer night's after working with Corrice bending an elbow at The Prospect in Westport.  We enjoyed baiting each other.  The put downs could be incendiary.  

  
One of my favorite moments came when Corrice was getting to a chance to anchor weekends.  The station was going through musical chairs on the weekend sports desk after John Sanders escaped to Pittsburgh.  Bill McAtee, of CBS Sports fame, was his replacement.  But as Billy Bob (as we called him) promised, he was off to the big time in less than six months.  The parade of fill-in replacements followed until the station finally hired Craig Sager.  Maybe you've heard of him too.



Anyway, Corrice was getting his big chance to fill-in on the anchor desk one weekend, when one of the "replacements" was in to do sports.  I don't even remember the guy's name and evidently neither did Corrice.  As the cross pitch to sports started a dumbfounded Corrice looked over to the dude and said, "Jesus, I forgot your name!"  I was sitting in the control room running chyron and about lost it.  Corrice immediately realized his sin.



After the show poor Corrice was truly panicked.  He expected phone calls and a full dress down on Monday from news director Ridge Shannon.  As I recall the newsroom phones never rang and I'm not even sure Ridge was ever aware of the faux pax.



My other strong memory is sitting with Corrice on the front porch of a house in Lawrence renewing our friendship.  I had just gotten back from a month long stint of job hunting in Eugene, Oregon.  I had purchased a couple of Oregon Duck track t-shirts.  These were special.  The shirt featured an African-American duck with a huge fro clearing a high hurdle.  I gave one to Corrice.  His smile told it all.



I left for a job in Minneapolis three months later.  By the time I made it back to Kansas City to work at WDAF about two years later, Corrice had moved on.  I had no idea where he landed until several years later when I found out he was working in Mississippi at a station in Jackson.  I can only imagine all of the young journalists he mentored there.

I'm sad because today I learned that Corrice died after a battle with cancer.  He was a pioneer for Black journalists.  It never even crossed my mind when I worked with him the barriers he had overcome to achieve his success.  He was just so full of life and gave compassion to those who had the joy of working with him.

His passing reminds me of all the newsrooms I've worked in and all of the friends I left behind through the years.  Some of them too have passed.  I didn't do a very good job of staying connected with those friends until Facebook came along.  My prayers go out to Corrice's family and colleagues.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Into the Tournament

Sitting in Florida looking across the vast expanse of the NCAA men's basketball tournament Kansas once again has laid claim to a number one seed and expectations are running high for a run, at the very least into the Final 4.  Just three months ago I wrote about the comparisons between this team and the one that made its run to a title in 2008.  Guard play wins national championships.  Kansas has the best back court in the country and the most depth.

Yet as I suggested before, the lack of interior toughness could be the Jayhawks undoing.  The lone light in the front court came from an unsuspecting source.  Landon Lucas has stepped into the shoes that Sasha Kahn once inhabited on that championship team at Kansas.  The man can flat out rebound.  I wouldn't have believed it if you would have told me that someone other than Cheick Diallo or even Jamari Traylor would step up and show some intestinal fortitude.

The three things I know are this if Kansas is going to make it to the Final 4.  1. Wayne Seldon can't pull a disappearing act as he has shown a propensity to do for major stretches of this season. 2,  The Jayhawks will need a nice dose of Carlton Bragg when Lucas gets into foul trouble.  Bragg's offensive game is far beyond anything any of K.U.'s other interior players can offer outside of the team's MVP, Perry Ellis. 3. Kansas will live and die by the 3 point shot.  That means Devonte Graham, Frank Mason III, Seldon and Ellis will have to hit at least 45% of their long shots because defensively this team is just so-so.

Kansas can win it all.  Kansas should win it all.  They will lose only if they run into a team that shots out of its mind from behind the arch or if an individual talent like Michigan State's Denzel Valentine takes the Jayhawks apart.


Thursday, March 10, 2016

Training: Fred Moore

The spring and summer of 1987 were life changing.  My training had progressed to the point where I felt that a 2:45 marathon was well within my grasp.  I had enjoyed some monster training runs and had rolled through long runs as long as 25 miles.  So I signed up for the 1987 Grandma's Marathon in late June.

Tom Dowling had me gun the last 8 miles of a 25 mile long run two weeks out from Grandma's at 6:30 pace and I did it with ease.  I was ready for the race but my personal life was in turmoil.  Professionally I felt unappreciated and had been job hunting for the better part of a year.  Three weeks out from Grandma's I had received a job offer to move to Phoenix from Kansas City.

My boss at WDAF found out about the job just days before the race.  I got a phone call from him the morning I was to come into work to tell him I was leaving after almost seven years of service.  He was unhappy screaming at me about my treachery.  I was unfortunately in the throws of food poisoning suffering from vomiting and explosive diarrhea.  I told him our come to Jesus meeting would have to wait a day because I was sick as a dog.  That only added to the ass chewing.

That day also sealed my fate when it came to my upcoming race.  Unbeknown to me the illness had ravaged my body.  Come race day, although I felt recovered, but it wasn't meant to be.  I had good company for the first 10 plus miles at Grandma's.  I was running with a friend of Tom's, Kathy Northrop, who was looking for an Olympic Trials qualifier.  I was looking for a 2:45 marathon and so was Kathy.

The morning turned unseasonable warm for the north shore along Lake Superior.  We were on pace at 10 miles.  By mile 16 I could tell I was in trouble and Kathy left my side.  I felt great, but the 6:15 pace just wasn't there.  I could barely manage 6:40 miles.  By mile 21 I could see Kathy getting in the meat wagon, the heat had ended her quest and I shuffled on just wanting to finish.

I hit the finish line just under 2:52 and I knew that besides the heat, the depletion of much needed nutrients from my body from the food poisoning just days before had also taken its toll.  It was sad but I would find myself leaving Kansas City for Phoenix where I would find a new training group and eventually a new coach.

The transition to Phoenix was tough.  The heat there is undeniable.  I was fortunate in that I immediately met local running legend Craig Davidson, who steered me into his Mummy Mountain training group and my 21 mile long runs were whittled down to a mere 16.

I felt I needed more speed so I sought out a private coach and ended up working with another legend, Fred Moore.  Coach Moore had produced national class marathoners from Mike Scannell, to Lisa Weidenbach and Trina Painter.  He also coached cross country at Phoenix Community College.  Fred Moore is a great coach.  I just wish I had really listened to him.

I returned to my old habits that stretched back to my high school days of racing his workouts, instead of doing what he wanted me to do.  As my race times hit a wall, he kept suggesting I read a book, "The Tao of Poo."  I thought why would a crazy book about Winnie the Pooh help me run faster.  The frustration stretched through a 2 year period and finally I purchased the book and made a phone call.

The phone call was to Tom Dowling, who immediately told me to stop racing my workouts with Fred.  While Coach Moore had gently suggested to take it easier, Dowling flat out told me I was leaving my race efforts in those workouts.  But reading "The Tao of Poo" was eye-opening.  It was a primer about how to train and how to race.  I suggest it for any runner serious about improving their times.

By the early winter of 1989 in my first 10K after reading the book I put the book's message into practice.  I wasn't in particularly good shape so I expected to run my usual 36 minute 10K.  I went out at a leisurely effort deciding to let the race come to me.  Sometime after 2 miles I began to pick people off.  I hit the finish line in 35:35 stunned by the time and by the ease of effort.

By the end of the spring I had lowered my 10K PR to 34:49 but my lifestyle choices made training almost impossible.  The pressures of work and home were making training almost impossible and by May I was looking at an almost four month period of very indifferent training.

I had drifted away from Fred Moore's group.  I was an infrequent member of Craig's Mummy Mountain group.  But God bless Craig, he wouldn't let me go completely off the rails.  He was in my ear about running the St. George Marathon with him.  So by September I was running but my racing was horrible.  A week before St. George I ran a 37:54 10K which told me I would be lucky to run under 2:55.

The following week in St. George I found myself hitting the half marathon in 1:26 figuring the death march was about to begin.  As I hit the first of two amazing descents on this downhill course another runner came flying by me and scolded me, "It can't hurt any worse."  Those words sparked something and I followed him then passed him running mile 14 to 15 in 5:40.

Suddenly my legs felt fresh and while the last three miles were tough I managed a 2:48:50 marathon, an unexpected PR.  After hitting the finish line I vowed to myself to return to St. George next year and break 2:40.  Although my training was re-energized, my personal life was in turmoil and I bid farewell to coach Moore, Craig and Phoenix and returned to Kansas City.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Training: 1985 and 86

Running after I was kicked off the University of Kansas cross country team was indifferent for the better part of a decade.  I was indifferent when it came to training as I ran 10 to 20 miles a week through college.  I was a spring/summer/fall runner who would shut it down over the winter and put on 20 pounds.

In college I managed to break 3 hours in the marathon which was pretty surprising considering I did it on 20 miles a week over about a three month period.  What I lacked in endurance I made up for in speed because I could still run a 4:45 mile with no interval training.

After graduation the pattern continued and probably would have stayed that way except for a two exceptional young runners at Rockhurst High School in Kansas City.  In the fall of 1984 I offered myself up as an unpaid assistant cross country coach at Rockhurst.  The coach, Buddy Worth, really didn't know much about distance running.  He was a tennis coach.

The team that fall had two runners who generally trained together, on their own.  One fall afternoon I went on an 8 mile run with them where they extolled the virtues of their private coach, a man named Tom Dowling.  He worked out of a health club called Health Plus.  Matt Blake and Tom Spencer were better than average runners.  They had endurance that stood head and shoulders above anyone else on the team.  They told me over the next several miles that Dowling was just the prescription I needed to start kick my moribund approach to running.

Just days before my 30th birthday in December of 1985 I went to meet Tom Dowling to find out his secret to success.  I don't remember much about that first meeting, save for a daunting calendar that he gave me with miles attached to it.  He also insisted that I start to keep a running log, something I had never really done over the years.

I told Tom my main goal was to break 2:40 in the marathon.  My PR at that point was 2:57:14. Coach Dowling said I could do it in the next three years if I followed his program.  Looking at that calendar I saw a progression from about 30 miles a week to the mid-60's by the summer of 1985.  I told him I could never run more than 10 miles on any given day.  He had me doing 21 mile long runs by the end of that summer.  I whined, bargained, begged, and pleaded for something more reasonable.  He told me no.  Plus, he forbade any speed work.

Through the winter and spring something amazing happened.  I began to enjoy training.  A lot of it had to do with the Sunday morning long runs and the camaraderie that sprung from it.  I suddenly had a bundle of new friends, suddenly running 21 miles on Sunday didn't seem so daunting.  10 mile runs felt like 3 miles, 15 like 5, 21 like 10.

The biggest thing was the set of new friends who held me accountable for my training along with Coach Dowling.  I looked to guys like Glen Sauder and Steve Greer, who were just trying to shave a few minutes from their 10K, to a sub 30 minute 10K runner like Bob Luder, who was trying to compete against the best runners across the Midwest.  The constant for all of us was Dowling.  He was the focal point of our running, a constant topic on the miles we logged together.  He was our guru and we would follow him.  Tom preached the gospel of Arthur Lydiard, the great New Zealand coach who invented the idea of long, slow, distance and we followed.

By the end of the fall of 1986 I ran a 2:49:25 marathon.  It was an amazing experience.  I wasn't even trying to race.  The running never felt so easy except for a very painful last mile.  I was on a path to my goal, but like any journey there were detours and setbacks.

Being devoted to a weekend long run wasn't easy for a party animal like myself.  I paid the price on too many Sundays.  But I took away a foundation of conditioning and friendships that would serve me well for the next 30 years.  But it would take a move to ignite my quest of a sub 2:40 marathon.




Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials

The magical, mystery tour also known as the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials will hit the streets of Los Angeles this Saturday at just after 1 p.m. Eastern Time.  You can watch the drama unfold on NBC News.  That's unfortunate.  It means both the men's and women's races will finish just after Noon Los Angeles time.  That means it will be hot.  That means it could wreck havoc on the team selection process.  Warm weather could be the great equalizer.

I am more of a fan than an expert, but I've been following American distance running for almost 50 years so I think I have a few valid insights to offer about these two races.  Let's run down the men's contest which is a lot more wide open than I think the experts would lead the public to believe.

Galen Rupp, the Olympic silver medalist at 10,000 meters, is the favorite to win the shindig.  It makes sense save for one important problem for this great runner.  Saturday will be Rupp's marathon debut.  I think that's a much bigger deal than anyone realizes.  Training for 26.2 miles is one thing.  Racing it is a completely different mess.  I believe this leaves Rupp vulnerable.  Given his immense talent I think he can finish in the top 3, but winning it outright seems unlikely.

I think the warm temperatures expected in L.A. could help 2004 Olympic silver medalist and 2012 4th place finisher Meb Keflezhigi.  Meb be 40, but he's a shrewd tactician and he handled the warm weather of Athens and London without a lot of problems.  Unless age is his undoing, I don't see anyone beating him.

I believe the other two contenders for the podium are Olympic veteran Dathan Ritzenheim and Luke Puskedra.  Ritz says he doesn't like warm weather but he more than held his own in the 2008 Olympic Marathon heatfest in Beijing.  Again, he's experienced and that counts for a lot in a race without pacers.

I like Puskedra because of his showing last fall in Chicago.  I think the handful of marathons that he's run could be the difference between this Duck or the other Oregon grad, Rupp, making the team.

On the women's side it should be a replay of the 2012 Trials held in Houston.  There's Shalane Flanagan, Desi Linden, Kara Goucher and Amy Cragg.  It will take a major meltdown by a couple of these four to allow another American woman to sneak onto the podium.

The only sure bet out of the core four is Shalane Flanagan.  She may be the veteran of the group but her experience and toughness makes her a lock for the team.  Linden has struggled through injuries since the 2012 London Games and she's something of a wild card but returned in 2015 as America's #1 ranked marathoner.  Goucher recently showed good form in a half marathon and given her experience she can't be counted out.

Cragg, a woman who I've had the privilege of tagging along with on a couple of training runs, was the odd woman out in 2012 with her 4th place finish in Houston.  She shocked a lot of folks by making the Olympic Team at 10,000 meters but she's a marathoner at heart.  Her inconsistency is my biggest concern.

A lot of folks want to throw master's runner Deena Kastor into the mix.  I just don't think the 2004 Olympic marathon bronze medalist has the wheels to stay up with this group anymore.  But if the heat does take its toll, Kastor could be the surprise.

The two trials races will make for great television viewing and real, reality drama that even Hollywood can't script!