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!

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Training: The Summer of 72 and 73

I was a very lucky high school runner when it came to a training partner.  My the summer  of 71 before my sophomore year I was in sort of a no man's land.  I had moved away from Abilene and my old running partner Greg Morgenson had left as well moving to Lincoln, Nebraska where he would win a state championship in the mile his senior year.

We had one final race together in on the tough cross country course in Kansas City's Swope Park.  Greg was somewhere up in the top 5 while I finished back in the pack.  It was a hot August morning and knew my summer of inconsistent training would leave me really unprepared for the rigors for racing in the top high school class in the state of Kansas.

Fortunately for me at a point mid-summer my path crossed with Kent McDonald.  He had set a school record for 2 miles at Lawrence High running 9:08.9 the year before I entered the school.  The record stands to this day.  His freshman year at Kansas, Kent would win the first of four straight Big 8 steeplechase titles. 

Kent and I started running together at least three times a week in the summer of 72.  He became my running mentor.  Kent would take me into Kansas City for summer races.  As good as he was, he ran with me, he rarely tried to bury me.

Sometime early on in our training regime another former Lawrence High grad joined up with us.  Doug Schreve was a dominating miler who was attending Pittsburg State, where he had run at the small college national championships and set a school record.  Doug's arrival upped the ante.

When you get two alpha male runners together the training runs intensify.  Our runs were normally between 8 and 11 miles.  Doug didn't always run with us but when he did I knew it would take everything I had just to stay up with those two.  I soon realized that if I could engage them in conversation, it would help ease the pace. 

Running with Kent and Doug was like juggling dynamite.  On the flats I could account for myself fairly well but hills and downhills were something.  Apparently Doug's college coach David Suenram preached running the hills hard.  Doug would tear off every uphill leaving Kent and I in his wake.  The only problem is that Kent loved running downhill.  He would easily reel Doug back in while I would be floundering back 50 yards or so working my ass off to catch them on the flat stretches.

It was torture but it was fun.  I was like a kid in a candy shop devouring tidbits from these two great runners.  They were vastly superior runners but they never intentionally tried to bury me.  Many times they would ease off the tempo to allow me to catch up.  But there were times were it was every man for himself and I would find myself running the last couple of miles of a 10 miler by myself.

It toughened me up and made me a better cross country runner.  The sad part is my winter training was never even as remotely good as what I would do with Kent and Doug.  If it had been I would have been a much, much better runner in high school.

The summer of 73 was pretty much a replay of 72, although Doug was a less frequent partner out on the roads.  Kent whipped me into shape.  I was in the best shape of my life going into my senior season of cross country and were it not for a long lingering lung infection I picked up before the first meet that season I think my senior year would have been stellar.

Kent would try to help me salvage my running career the following fall after I was kicked off the University of Kansas cross country team.  He had warned me about trying to run for coach Bob Timmons.  Kent told me about the ongoing head butting he had endured with Timmie. 

Kent had broken his foot before what would have been his final year at K.U., my freshman.  So after my dismissal Kent and I started running together as he was red-shirting saving a year of eligibility.  It was a last gasp on my part to toughen up for the rigors of college running but it wasn't meant to be.  By the first week of December strep throat would knock me out and looking at my first semester grades, I decided that focusing on my academics would serve me better than running.

Kent McDonald #172 at the 1976 Olympic Trials
Kent never looked back.  His senior year at Kansas was epic.  He earned his 2nd All-American honor at the NCAA championships in the steeple and then finished 2nd at the U.S. National Championships running a still standing school record, 8:28.8.  When he ran that time it ranked as one of the 10 best in U.S. history.  He would run in the 1976 and 1980 Olympic Trials.

Training with Kent and Doug was pivotal in my development as a runner.  I realized I had the talent to be a collegiate runner.  What I lacked was the self-discipline and maturity to battle back from adversity and tap the talent I had.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Training: The Summer of 70

I wanted to write about training and five different periods of my life when it was a joy to get out and run on a near daily basis.  Training can become a grind.  Burnout is always lurking around the corner.  The one constant, the one binding part of my favorite times to run, was the assortment of good company I've enjoyed out on the roads and even on the track.  Some of this is old ground covered in previous blogs.  But I think it's important to remind myself about why I run and the joy I find in it.

It all started when I decided that I could be like Jim Ryun.  I was too skinny for football, simply not athletic enough for basketball, but stubborn enough to embrace the pain that comes with long distance running.  Unfortunately 8th grade junior high track in small town Kansas in 1970 didn't offer anything longer than 440 yards for a Jim Ryun wanna-be.  The closest I could come to sniffing a shot at running in an actual track meet was a 3rd place finish in a 440 yard time trial where the first two runners would get to run for the team.

Fortunately I had a neighbor who was running track and cross country for the Abilene Cowboys.  I gravitated to Greg Morgenson like a mouth to an open flame.  He was 2 years older than me and drove a beautiful old early 50's Ford pickup truck.

Greg was planning on running his way through the summer and he allowed me to tag along as company on the surprisingly short training runs.  That summer Greg and I ran together five days a week.  It was generally the same 2 mile out and back course.  Believe it not we would stop after a mile for a quick break.

By the end of the summer I think we may have covered as far as 5 miles in a single run but it's probably just my imagination.  Greg indoctrinated me in all things distance running.  He had me read a book given to him by our high school cross country coach, Robert Chatham.  It was called "The Long Green Line."  It was written by the now legendary Joe Newton who still coaches at York High School outside of Chicago.

Looking back I realize I missed the overriding message that Newton, Greg and Coach Chatham talked about when it came to cross country.  Cross country is a team sport.  It's one of the great pains of my life that this lesson didn't sink into my head until I was an adult.

But back to the running.  What a summer I had.  Every other week Greg and I would test ourselves against the watch running close to what we thought was a mile.  I tried mightily to break 6 minutes, Greg focused on getting under 5.  Greg gave endless encouragement.  He even suggested that the hard work might pay off with a spot on the varsity.  I probably logged all of 120 to 150 miles that summer.  The miles, as few as it seems now, held me in good stead when practice start in mid-August.

I made the varsity on a team that would go on to finish 3rd in at the state cross country championships.  Unfortunately I wasn't around by the end of the season to share in that celebration.  My family had moved back to Lawrence where I landed back in junior high.  I would go to state to watch Abilene's fine run and state along with an eye on my future teammates at Lawrence High and a future training partner, Kent McDonald.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

The Crud

2016 has gotten off to a horrible start.  I've run one day.  On January 1st I went for a 4 mile run before stopping at 2.5 because I could tell my left calf was about to blow up.  About half way through the walk home the pain got worse but it was just the tip of the iceberg.

The problem really started on December 13th, the day after my 60th birthday, spent aboard a cruise ship.  The cruise was fine accept for the fact that I slept under an air conditioning vent that blasted air on me all night.  The morning of the 13th I woke up with a slight sore throat.  Now hand sanitizing is rampant on cruise ships.  Yet who knows if it was the AC or a utensil I touched at one of the feeding troughs that gave me what was to become an epic upper respiratory infection.

Even with the sore throat on that Sunday I managed an easy 3.5 miles around the ship.  It would be my last run until New Year's Eve much to my chagrin.  By the time I returned to work Monday afternoon I could tell my health was failing.  I closed the store early knowing I had a fever and went to Urgent Care where the doctor did half-assed job and gave me what turned out to be the wrong antibiotic to fight what I had.

By Wednesday I didn't feel that bad but I was plugged up and had a dry, nasty cough.  It really wasn't until Friday that I conquered the sore throat.  The cough, flem, snot, and general upper respiratory yuk wouldn't let go.  It held on and on and on and finally by the morning of Christmas Eve, I made a desperate trip to my doctor's office.  A physician's assistant loaded me up with more prescription drugs than I could imagine and I headed straight to the pharmacy. 

By that evening I felt 100% better but it wasn't until Saturday that I felt in the clear.  I knew the antibiotic I was taking, Levaquin, would wreck havoc on my muscles if I tried to run so I stuck to the elliptical until New Year's Eve, the day after my last dose, when I indulged in an easy 4 mile run.  I'm guessing I was just dehydrated enough (it was hot) the following day, to damage my left calf.

But the best was yet to come.  The Czarina was now complaining of a cold on New Year's Day and was sick on Saturday as well.  It didn't take long for her cold to come back at me.  By Sunday I could tell something wasn't right.  Monday came and I started sniffling and wheezing.  Tuesday came with a fever and I stayed home where I sweated it out through the night and started to rebound on Wednesday.  Worse still I couldn't get into see my doctor, or any doctor to save myself.

Now it's Thursday night and the upper respiratory infection is beginning to ease its grip.  I feel okay except for the sinus pressure and the post nasal drip.  I haven't had an infection like this since 1973.  This is almost identical to the illness that wrecked my senior year of cross country and lingered well through the winter.

I don't know when I will try and run again.  It makes me appreciate the fact that I can run at all but it also means that I won't be up for much racing this winter.  Too bad, I was looking forward to racing in my new age group.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Time Passes Slowly

We're a more than a quarter of the way through the college basketball season and I've been remiss in not sharing my thoughts about this year's edition of the University of Kansas Jayhawks.  I guess I've been too scared to share my feelings about this team.  As much as I resist the comparisons, this as close as having a complete unit as what Bill Self served up in the championship run of 2008.

One thing separates this team from the national championship Jayhawks is interior toughness.  Sasha Kahn with a side of Darrel Arthur and some beastly end of the year freshman heroics from Cole Aldrich made the team's interior defense intimidating.  Percy Ellis, Landon Lucas, Jamari Traylor, Hunter Mickelson, Carlton Bragg and Cheick Diallo don't even compare.  Yet the faint glimmer is the unfathomable depth in the Jayhawks frontcourt.  They have a ton of fouls to give and the athleticism of Bragg and Diallo are undeniable.  Ellis can score like Arthur and bring a 3 point shot than even Darrel dare not hoist.

Where this team measures up with 2008 is the front court.  Where Russell Robinson, Sherron Colllins, Mario Chalmers and Brandon Rush were tough as nails, Robinson lacked any offensive punch and the three point shooting while good, pales in comparison to the 2015-16 squad.  Every backcourt contributor on this year's team can shoot the 3.  It's almost to the detriment to Self's bread and butter scheme of working the high/low post.

Yet I think Bill Self has seen that he's got to live and die by the 3 ball.  Wayne Seldon has shown he's worked on his long range shot.  He sparkled at the World University Games.  Frank Mason III has shown every bit of toughness as Robinson and Collins and Devonte Graham will be a better all round player if he stays another year than Mario Chalmers.  Then comes the bombs away overload provided by Brennan Greene and Svi Mykhailuk.  The scariest part is out of this wealth of backcourt talent, the short man on the end of the minutes, Mykhailuk, has the most upside potential in professional basketball.

These guys play just enough defense to get by.  They are the best all round shooting team in Kansas history.  That's even with the spotty interior scoring.  Yes, Perry Ellis is hell on wheels, but he struggles against bigger, physical postmen.  Kansas has guards and guards by and large win national championships.  I'm not saying K.U. will win it all this year but this very talented team will have underachieved if they don't make it to the Final 4.

Oh, and if by some miracle Bragg, Diallo, Mykhailuk, Graham and Mason all come back for another season, next year's team will be even better.

Friday, December 18, 2015

He Could Coach More Than Football

I went to a high school in Kansas that was a football powerhouse.  A man named Al Woolard put Lawrence High School on the map, even into the pages of iconic Life Magazine.  By the time I got to LHS Woolard was serving as Athletic Director and the school had just hired a dour man out of Ohio named Frank Gibson to coach the Chesty Lions.

Gibson took a couple of great teams and failed to make the playoffs.  He did it mainly through running off most of the African-American players at a time that racial strife still haunted the school in the early 1970's.  By my senior year, the fall of 1973, the program, still full of talent, was in a shambles.  That team managed 1 win against 8 losses and fortunately Frank Gibson was shown the door.

Enter a humble small town high school coach named Bill Freeman.  Coach Freeman had made a name coaching three state championship teams including a couple in Osawatomie where he produced a future NFL quarterback named Lynn Dickey.  Lawrence High's fortunes were about to change.

I saw just about every Lawrence High game over the next four years as I worked my way through college helping out at the local cable TV station that showed all of the Lions games on tape delay.  Freeman made football at Lawrence High fun.  His first couple of years he had to teach the kids how to win again.  You could see the love his athletes had for him.  Even the African-American players bought into his down home, one for all and all for one approach.

It took 5 years but Freeman finally claimed the first of 5 state football titles in 1979.  He returned the program to greatness that would extend well past his retirement into the 1990's.  Freeman made a lot of Lawrence High grads proud to be Lions again.
Bill Freeman with LHS distance ace David Johnston
What really impressed me about Bill Freeman was his love of track and field.  He was just about as good coaching that sport as he was with football.  The Lions became he track and field power in Kansas when Freeman took control of the team.  He produced great sprinters, jumpers, even distance runners.

Yet I believe the greatest thing he produced was joy.  I would stop by practices time to time beginning in college right up until the end of his reign in the late 80's.  You could see how much his athletes enjoyed being at practice, taking up whatever challenges he would put before them.  Most of all they wanted to win for him.  Not just win for themselves, but for Coach Freeman.  I have rarely seen that kind of affection for a coach.

Alzheimer's disease finally caught up to Coach Freeman.  He was 84.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

1300 miles

I finished an easy 5 mile run this pleasant Sunday evening hitting 1,300 miles for the year.  I feel stale, bored and just not caring about whether I run or not.  I thought about this as I walked through our neighborhood, wondering why I was in such a sorry mental state. I came to the conclusion that it's because I don't have any goals.  Right now I'm just running so I don't get too fat.  I have no races on the horizon and that may be a part of the problem.

Age is taking a toll.  I'm three weeks away from turning 60.  Running fast just isn't in my veins right now.  I used to love to blow it out once or twice a week but right now I just want to get out and get in a few miles without hurting.

I know that I'm extremely lucky to be able to run on an almost daily basis.  A lot of men that I know, that I looked up to as runners, can't lace it up anymore due to injuries.  These guys pushed themselves to the limits to get the most out of their bodies.  I'm ashamed to say that I never really did that.  One of them, Charlie Gray, who was a dominant figure in Kansas City road racing for more than a decade just had a knee replaced.  I can't imagine Charlie not running.

As for racing, it's not an easy thing to do right now.  I last ran in a real race in May.  Since then I've joined the board of the Fort Myers Track Club.  That's put me on the front lines of helping with race day set ups.  I feel like it's only right that I give back to the sport that I love by doing the grunt work that makes it possible for others to enjoy a quality race.

I just need to scan the calendar and plot out a couple of weekends where I'm not working at a race.  One of my favorites, the Naples Half Marathon is just a couple of months away.  But I could certainly use a 5K or something under my belt before tackling 13.1 miles.  I've got to race.  You know the old saying, use it or lose it.