Sunday, March 19, 2017

Krissy

I know it's only March and six weeks of running remain in Florida's high school running scene but I just want to tell you, I told you so.  Last spring I wrote about the incredible potential of distance talent among the high school girl's of Lee County.  Krissy Gear is making me look really smart right now.

On a warm, wind swept Saturday afternoon the senior from Fort Myers High School ran what I believe is the fastest 800 by any girl from this neck of the woods.  Krissy clocked a 2:11.89.  That's a personal best by about four seconds.

Last spring I touted the incredible wealth of talent in the 800 in Southwest Florida.  I predicted that Krissy along with Moriah and Sierra Oliveira could be under 2:15.  Gear certainly stood up to the challenge.  The question is now, just how fast can she run this spring.

Gear will face some formidable challenges from North Fort Myers senior Kayla Easterly.  Gear has a habit of relying heavily on her strong kick.  If she sticks her nose into the middle of a competitive 1600 she could find herself running under 4:40.  A time like that would put her among the all time greats among Florida high school girls.  The greatest of them all, Jenny Simpson, an Olympic bronze medalist, ran 4:48 in high school.

I know, that's setting the bar mighty high. The competition to run some incredibly fast times will come the next two weeks with meets in Tallahassee and Gainesville.  If the weather is good and Gear doesn't hold back she could make some more history.  As a track and field fan, watching an athlete make a run at history is rare opportunity to watch.  Here's to six more weeks of great track and field history for this deserving Furman recruit.  

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Hooters, 10 Years

More than a decade ago, Mike Pemberton dreamed of putting on a first rate half marathon in Fort Myers.  He wanted a race to rival the crown jewel of Southwest Florida road racing, the Naples Daily News Half Marathon, run every year in January.  Putting on a great road race in Fort Myers comes with a whole slew of problems, especially the longer races.

Mike zeroed in on a race that would carry runners from the Hooters restaurant on U.S. 41 to the Hooters on Fort Myers Beach.  Hooters was on board, but unfortunately, the Florida Department of Transportation didn't like the idea of tying up a main travel corridor like U.S. 41 or San Carlos Boulevard for a road race.  That resulted in the design of a course that put runners near the Hooters on U.S. 41 and looping them around Fort Myers before depositing runners back at the Hooters on 41.

The course serves up a first class tour of the fancy neighborhoods that line McGregor Boulevard before sending you up, over and back on the Edison Bridge shortly after hitting the midpoint of the race. Then comes a challenging stretch over the last three miles that serves up a flat, straight shot, south to the Edison Mall and a hop, skip and a jump back to the Hooters.  There you will find a bevy of Hooters gals serving up free beer and wings.

This year marks the tenth year for Hooters to Hooters.  It has staked out a unique place in Southwest Florida's racing landscape.  Unlike the two other high marks of the racing scene in the Naples and Fort Myers area, the NDN Half Marathon and the Edison Festival of Lights 5K, Hooters doesn't offer any prize money.  It hearkens back to the days when runners raced for the pleasure of competition, a chance at a door prize and a post-race brew with friends.

It takes a lot of hard work, hundreds of volunteer hours and dozens upon dozensof volunteers to pull off this race. The best part is every dollar goes to a couple of great Southwest Florida charities.  Ten years and going strong, Hooters Half Maraton.


Thursday, January 19, 2017

Killing My Joy

Sometimes you just have to bitch.  Here's mine, right or wrong.  All week long I have looked forward to watching a live stream of the Dubai Marathon which started at 9:30 p.m. Eastern Time.  One of the greatest distance runners ever, Ethiopia's Kenesia Bekele is going to make a bid for a world record.

Eversport was providing the feed for free.  The hardcore running community was looking forward to a night of great competition.  The race has been front and center on Letsrun.com, the website that the slavishly devoted to the sport of distance running relies on.

This morning Letsrun dropped a bombshell, killing my joy.  Flotrak decided to buy the rights to the race for the United States and Canada, thus killing the free live web feed.  Now if I wanted to watch the race I would have to join Flotrak for $20 and then quickly end my membership so I'm not on the hook for a lot of content that is quite frankly, unwatchable. 

Flotrak does a lot of good work.  They offer up a lot of content that is worth the price of admission for many hardcore fans of running.  It's just not my cup of tea, largely because their production of track and field meets border on the quality of a high school produced newscast.  In other words, it's largely unpalatable.

My biggest gripe is if Flotrak wanted to make a quick buck they could have offered a pay-per-view, in which a lot of people like me would have coughed up $10 to watch this race.  Instead, they saw an opportunity and shut out thousands of running fans from viewing a great running event.

Flotrak needs to focus on what it does best, which is provide solid reporting, interesting interviews and video insights into the best running programs, both college and high school in the United States.  It shouldn't try to be ESPN, NBC or Universal Sports.  It's ill-equiped to do it. 

Flotrak needs to do some serious soul searching and do more to promote the sport it purports to love.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Well, That Stinks!

Running takes a seat, way, way, way in the back of the bus that is sports journalism.  I noticed a change in that the last couple of years when the Fort Myers New-Press started doing more profiles on local runners and more stories on road races, cross country and track and field meets.  When I asked News-Press editor Ed Reed why the sudden love fest with running and he just smiled.  Ed said two words, Cory Mull.

It turns out the man leading the charge for high school sports coverage at the News-Press was a big fan of running.  I let Ed know and Cory how much I appreciated the sudden wealth of coverage the sport was getting.  Cory, true to his passion, even started showing up time to time to takes part in our Wednesday night interval workouts at Cypress Lake High School.

Cory Mull at the track
Cory's passion was evidence.  One night he sidled over to me totally geeked out that one of the women running the workout was a one-time Footlocker finalist, pretty heady stuff in the world of high school running.  Cory had covered the one-time phenom when she was in high school and he knew I would be just as psyched as he was by her presence.

I was lucky enough to work freelance over the last year for Cory and the News-Press.  He helped me tremendously with my writing and my story telling.  I'm a pretty good television writer but writing for print is a different beast.  Cory has those chops in spades.  His guidance and spot on critiques meant the world to me.

But as often happens, good things come to an end.  Cory leaving Southwest Florida for the mean streets of Austin, Texas.  He's taking his love of running to a whole new level.  He'll be covering the running scene in one of the country's hottest running communities.  It makes me sad because I doubt that we'll see a News-Press reporter scrambling around the local Turkey Trot and I suspect our high school track and cross country meets will receive a little less love.

Here's to Cory Mull and to his next adventure in journalism.  May his passion for running carry him to even bigger opportunities.


Sunday, December 11, 2016

Nothing Beats A Long Run

I'm not Jack Daniels, I'm not Arthur Lydiard, I'm not Alberto Salazar, but I know one thing that these three great distance coaches all know, if you're a distance runner, long runs matter.  10 miles is NOT a long run.  Not even 12 miles qualifies as a long run.  A long run 16 miles or more.  A long run takes between two hours to two and a half hours.

Why is this important to me?  Because I know too many runners who think that logging 10 to 12 miles every Sunday will get them in half marathon and marathon shape.  The sad truth is they are cheating themselves.

I ran my first marathon on runs no longer than five or six miles.  I suffered and ran 3:14.  Not bad, but the only reason I ran that fast is because I was just 19 and I was a reasonably trained runner in high school with pretty decent mile and 2 mile PR's.  Two years later I broke 3 hours in the marathon with my longest run being just 10 miles.  Both marathons had the same thing in common, I suffered like hell over the last six miles.

I ran a couple of more marathons in my 20's, both with the same kind of haphazard training and both ended in the 3:11 range.  It sucked.  It hurt.  But I knew deep down inside if I could run 2:57 on 25 miles a week at 19 I could run much faster with a decent training regiment.

I turned to a private coach, Tom Dowling, at the end of 1985.  The centerpiece of my training was a weekly Sunday long run.  It started at 8 miles and after several months I progressed to 21 miles.  It didn't take long for this run, this impossible 21 mile beast, to become an enjoyable part of my weekend.  I looked forward to it.  We had five to six planned water stops.  We had a large group, usually eight to 20 runners, of different abilities, all with the same goal, racing faster.

I ran my first marathon 10 months into this new program and broke 2:50 with ease.  The only difficult section of the run was the last 2 miles and that was mainly because it was uphill.  I was hooked.  I followed it up eight months later with a 2:51 in extremely hot conditions and I knew I could run even faster, maybe under 2:40.

In 1987 I moved to Phoenix where my new long run group did just 16 miles.  Sometimes I would show up early and do a few extra miles, but the bulk of my long runs were at that distance.  My marathon times stayed pretty consistent topping out with a 2:48 PR in 1989 when I was actually running just 40 miles a week.

When I ran my fastest marathon in 1990, I probably did at least three long runs of 25 miles in the three months leading up to it.  I broke 2:40 and I didn't suffer one bit.  It was the easiest race I had ever run.

The point of all this is when I trained in a serious manner, the 16 to 21 mile long run was a fixture in my training routine all the way up until 2003.  When I was shooting for a marathon I knew that I needed at least six to nine long runs in the three months leading up to the marathon in order to complete in a manner in which I didn't suffer.

The last marathon I ran in 2010, I tried to shortcut my training.  I had a good six months of training, but I only had three runs of two hours or more.  I thought that at age 54 I could get away with it because I had run for so many years.  The hot weather and my age did a number with me and I ran my slowest marathon by 40 minutes.  It just goes to show, half measure avail you nothing.

Now I realize that most runners that come across my path in a store who want to run a marathon are only trying to complete it.  It's a bucket list item.  But I say if you really want to tackle, take your time.  Don't shortcut yourself.  Training for a marathon in three or four months is just shortchanging yourself and the experience.  Carve out a year.  Build a training program that allows you to build your base to such an extent that the marathon doesn't tear your body apart.

Training for marathons in Southwest Florida presents two tremendous problems.  The weather from June through the end of September is awful.  You can go out at 5 a.m. but the humidity eats you alive.  That's why I believe the 16 mile option is probably the best way to go for runners in our area.  The other issue is the lack of hills.  Hill training is an essential component to any marathon training.  You need to hit the bridges at least twice a week, especially during that long run.

And this is the final part of my diatribe.  Get a coach.  A book is good but a book doesn't hold you accountable.  A coach will hold you accountable.  A coach is a sounding board.  A coach can work with you at finding alternatives when parts of your workload aren't giving the results you're seeking.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

One Year Late, One Big Body Short

Every year I watch a couple of University of Kansas men's basketball games and then try to dissect where the team is headed.  The 2016-17 Jayhawks have more than enough firepower to take a 13th straight Big 12 crown, but I doubt that it has the stuff of Final 4 material.  Last year's squad did and it couldn't get past eventual national champion Villanova.  Last year's squad had depth to die for.  This year's squad, not so much.

Talent wise, starting five, this team is much better than last year's squad.  I'll trade Josh Jackson for Wayne Selden any day of the week and twice on Sunday.  Carlton Bragg is more than an adequate replacement for Perry Ellis.  That leaves holdovers Frank Mason III, Devonte Graham and Landon Lucas, a trio that brings more experience to the floor than any team since the national champion squad of 2008.

But once you get past Lucas and Bragg, the front line choices are horrific.  Udoka Azubike is a man child who has so much potential in the post it's scary.  But after that you are left with Mitch "Gordon" Lightfoot, who is a year away from being a player who can contribute.  Because of this Kansas will be playing four guards, a lot.

The flip side Kansas has the best guard tandem in the country with Mason and Graham.  Their backups would start for 99 percent of the teams in the country.  Svi Myklailiuk will play in the NBA.  His ability to score is unquestioned, this ability to defend, well not so much.  The gem Bill Self who sat unnoticed on the bench much of last year is Lagerald Vick.  This long and lanky off guard can play defense and his game on the offensive end, while shaky, shows promise.

Kansas as it has shown in the first two games of the season will live and die by the foul.  The lack of depth will rear its ugly head on nights when Bragg and Lucas get into foul trouble, which is a sure bet.  The only up side is Kansas is better offensively in the four guard set, especially with Myklailiuk on the floor.

The other worry is Mason.  He was completely worn down by the time March Madness hit.  Self has to figure out a way to manage his minutes.  Given the slim pickings on the bench, that's going to be a tough, tough assignment.

K.U. would have been a Final 4 lock if Cheick Diallo hadn't turned into Cliff Alexander part 2.  At least Cheick is in the NBA.  But in the end, the Kansas Jayhawks will be one tough out when March rolls around.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Everything You Know Is Wrong

Firesign Theatre said it.  This season of cross country in Southwest Florida proved it.  Months ago I wrote about the promise I saw on the distance running scene in our area.  I hate to disparage high school kids, but man, it was disappointing.

Let's start with the positives.  Dunbar High School went to state.  It's a school where football rules and where running cross country for young African-Americans can't be considered too cool.  But Coach Joshua Evans lit a spark and this unheralded team ran their way to State.

Then there's Estero.  Don't kid yourself, the program is still trying to recover from the loss of the irreplaceable Jeff Sommer.  Kudos for Ben Pignatone, the boys coach, to being himself.  He swallowed some bitter pills, pulled his boys together and they ran with fierce pride over the last month of the season.  It's his program now.  I can't say enough about how much I respect what he's done.

The runner that never gave in was North Fort Myers Kayla Easterly.  She played second banana to Fort Myer's star Krissy Gear for the last two year.  In their last cross country battle of their prep careers in Florida, Easterly got the upper hand.  She is the most improved runner in our area by a country mile in the last two years.

Finally there's the unending enthusiasm of Riverdale's Dan Whaley and Cypress Lake's Chris Bradway who exude joy when it comes to running. If they can build the numbers in at their schools, both can build programs that could scare traditional powers Estero and Fort Myers.

Finally, there's the what should have been stories of both Fort Myers boys and girls cross country team.  This is not meant as a slam at any individual or either coach, but neither team fulfilled their potential and I think everyone would agree.

The Fort Myers boys caught a bad break when niggling injuries swept through their top three at various times during the season.  A nasty illness that staggered senior Sam Hordinski, was the final blow.  Yet in the end, finishing 5th at the State Champions is actually quite an achievement.

Then there's the mystifying crew of girls that run for Rob Strong.  Getting 3rd is nothing to feel ashamed of.  Fiona Kurland could be next year's Kayla Easterly.  But as a fan of this team and these young women, something was missing.  Each of the top ten girls on this squad had their moments during the course of the season.  But the stars seemed misaligned because they could never hit their peaks together on the same day.  Had they done, a spot on the podium was theirs. 

I'm crossing my fingers that the outdoor track season could be a special one for these special distance runners from across Lee County.  If the weather cooperates, we could see some staggeringly good times.  Here's to a great winter of training and a sensational spring.