Sunday, March 15, 2015

I Don't Hate Georges Niang

Watching the Laettner lovefest on ESPN Sunday night only further cemented my respect for one of the greatest players I've watched play my beloved Kansas Jayhawks in basketball.  I'm talking about Iowa State Cyclone Georges Niang.  I'm guessing he may not come back for his senior year, but Niang has been a very special player in the three years that he has terrorized the Big 12.

My great regret is that I've never gotten to see him play in person.  And despite his ability to absolutely light up KU, I don't hate him, like I did Anthony Peeler, Mitch Richmond, Chuckie Williams or Steve Stepanovich.  His play demands respect.

I go back 40 plus years to the days of great KU foes like Cliff Meely of Colorado, Lon Kruger of Kansas State, Willie Smith at Mizzou, Alvin Adams and Wayman Tisdale of Oklahoma, I could name a half dozen or so more players that were simply a joy to watch during their tenures in the Big 8 and Big 12 conference.  These guys played hard and they played with class.

So does Niang.  I love watching Niang, a ball handling power forward with a beautiful stroke from three and an ability to glide through the lane with beautiful post moves that harken back to the days of when big men actually had post moves.  The two KU players that come to mind when I think of Georges is Nick Collison and Rafe LaFrentz.

Niang has the ability to rise to the level of his competition.  He's physical, without playing dirty, you can tell he respects those he plays against and most important, his teammates feed off of his emotion.  He is the quintessential college basketball player with a whole slew of old man moves.  It makes me wonder whether his lack of hopes will translate into the NBA game, but Georges Niang is a winner and the NBA always has room in its rosters for winners.

I don't think Niang has the supporting cast to make a deep run with Iowa State through the tournament but he's the kind of singular player who can do the impossible.  He could put Iowa State into the Final 4 just on his grit and determination alone.  Unfortunately the Cyclones don't have much of a bench.  But enjoy it while you can, because this might be the last great run of the great Georges Niang.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Good Ol' Dan

I've been lucky to work with a number of talented people in my 30 plus years in television.  One of the greats that I had the good fortune to spend more than half a dozen years with passed away Saturday. Dan Henry was 89. 

Dan stands out to me because he was the last of a breed in television news.  He was quite simply, a weatherman.  He didn't have a meteorology degree, a must in this day and age.  The only other non-meteorologist that I worked with that's still doing his think is KSAZ's amazing Dave Munsey in Phoenix, another heavyweight I had the pleasure of producing.

I had been told that in a previous life, before television, Dan had been a science teacher.  Even without the meteorology degree, Dan was by far and away the most popular weatherman in Kansas City television and was one of the most popular television talents in the city, period.  The guys at Kansas City's National Weather Service loved him.

I'm not going to sugarcoat it.  Dan was polarizing for the audience.  You either loved him and his quirky sense of humor, or you hated him.  But the biggest thing was, everyone knew Dan Henry.  I loved Dan because he embraced the changing technology that came to his weather office.  First it was the weather computer.  Dan, charmingly, tossed his magnet board aside and worked that computer into his shtick, complete with appropriate cartoons.

Dan loved wrapping himself in green in front of the chroma key wall, appearing before the viewers on Halloween as a floating head over a skeleton or some other bit of handywork drawn on the computer.  But when severe weather came around, Dan was all business.  And the addition of doppler radar, the first in the market by many years, cemented his role as the go to weather guy in Kansas City.

I loved Dan because he knew how to keep me in my place.  I produced hundreds of his weathercasts and he knew to the second how much time he should get.  If I gypped him one night he'd teach me a lesson by going 30 seconds long, just to remind me who helped pay my salary.  And on the night's I needed him to bail me out because of some sort of technical mishap, Dan would always cheerfully come to my rescue.

Dan Henry was an integral part of WDAF's ratings resurrection in the 1980's.  He had been with the long suffering, ratings dormant station for more than a dozen years when News Director Mike McDonald executed ratings gold.  It was a combination of a great anchor team, Stacy Smith and Cynthia Smith, sports director Frank Boal along with the unflappable Dan, that helped steamroll the competition.  When Stacy departed for Pittsburgh, Phil Witt filled his shoes and we never skipped a beat. 

Dan is a Kansas City television legend.  I'll never forget that smile, his love of all things Irish and his barbershop quartet.  He made life in the tough business of television news bearable for dozens of up and coming young journalists, including me.  Good bless you Dan Henry.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Son-In-Law

Prime racing season came to Southwest Florida Saturday night with the best 5K you can find in the area.  It was a family affair at the Edison Festival of Lights 5K.  My son-in-law Vlad, step-daughter Natasha and granddaughter Masha all toed the line with me for the big race.  This marked the fourth or fifth time I've run this twilight affair that follows a crowd filled parade route through the streets of Fort Myers. 

The only problem with this gem of a 5K is a crowded start and you better be able to withstand the smell of barbeque along the entire race course.  A Kenyan won the men's race barely dipping under 14 minutes, which gives you an idea of the swift nature of this out and back race.  When I first moved her I could run it under 21 minutes.  Last night I ran just a few ticks over 24 minutes, a real disappointment. 

Much to my surprise I finished 4th in my age group, good enough to take home a trophy.  In all the years when I could still run relatively fast I usually finished right outside the top 5.  Another surprise came from the son-in-law, who ran a personal best of 20:59.  It was a PR by about 90 seconds.

I asked Vlad, who just turned 40, two months ago, when he was running, because I never see him run.  He confessed that he was sneaking out after I leave for work and packing on the miles since the beginning of the year.  He managed to finished 2nd in his age group.  He was incredibly happy as we all were.

Just a couple of weeks before I had run another 5K where I somehow managed to win my age group running under 24 minutes.  I'm beginning to get some longer runs in which should help my endurance.  Now, I've just got to convince myself to do some "safe" speedwork.  I've gone more than a year without getting injured.  I want to keep it that way.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Dean

News of Dean Smith's passing gave me pause to consider the weight of his contributions to college basketball.  John Wooden may have been the game's greatest coach but Dean Smith must certainly rank second.  He didn't as many national championships as he probably should have, but his teams were always in the hunt.

I take pride in the fact that Smith came from Kansas.  He played basketball at the University of Kansas under the great Phog Allen.  He was offered the Kansas job a couple of times in the 1980's and said no both times, resulting in two in hires of Larry Brown, a North Carolina grad and Roy Williams, who coached as an assistant under Smith.

The two schools, Kansas and North Carolina, owe much to each other.  The coaching legacy between the schools is so intertwined between head coaches and assistants that only the hardcore fans see the links.  What is important to remember is that Dean Smith but Kansas basketball back on the map.  Larry Brown brought a luster back to the program that had slowly faded away under Ted Owens. 

Larry escaped Lawrence after winning a miracle national championship in 1988 and after Dean said no to the job a second time, he recommended Roy Williams.  As hard as it is to believe, Williams took Kansas basketball to even greater heights, even though he didn't win a national championship.  Roy elevated K.U. back into the holy trinity of college basketball.  He put it there with Kentucky and North Carolina and for that Jayhawk fans should always be grateful.

I only saw Dean Smith coach once in person.  He brought a team that would go on to win his first national championship to Kemper Arena in Kansas City to play K.U.  Much to my surprise the Jayhawks upset the Tarheels.  Nothing about Smith or the game really stands out except for getting to see Michael Jordan play as a freshman.

I'm sad in a way that I didn't get to see Dean implement his famous 4-corners offensive scheme.  It's a fixture of a bygone era, rendered almost useless by the shot clock.  It still stings when I recall how a top-ranked Notre Dame used that same offense to hold off an upset minded Kansas in double overtime back in 1974.  I don't know whether to blame Smith, Notre Dame coach Digger Phelps, or Irish freshman sensation Adrian Dantley for that difficult loss.

It shows how Smith's influence stretched across basketball, not only through his great players and the outstanding coaches like Brown, Williams and George Karl that stem from his tree, but what he brought to other schools and the game as a whole.



Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Race Management

Running a long distance road race requires a lot of preparation and a fine sense of energy management.  Putting on a long distance road race requires a lot of preparation and in the end an uncanny ability at time management.  More on that in a bit but first I want to dissect my race over the weekend in Naples, Florida.

I ran the Naples Daily News Half Marathon on Sunday.  In the weeks leading up to the race I fully expected to run under 1:50.  However, the best laid plans can be undone by the simplest of acts.  That act was pulling a shoe box out of a large box of shoes, spraining my back and leaving me unable to run for almost a week.  Now missing that amount of training just a couple of weeks before a race shouldn't have impacted my goal.

I simply failed at the first rule of racing, preparation.  I needed a couple of more long runs and several more tempo runs.  I could tell when I returned to running a few days before the race that I needed to lower my expectations. 

Race day dawned muggy and in the back of my mind I knew that breaking 2 hours could prove challenging.  I needed water right from the get go and by mile 6 I simply let my mind drift and spent the next 6 miles checking out the shoes of my fellow competitors, most of whom were passing me.  I made a major mistake in not carrying a couple of GU's with me.  Part of me wants to think of myself as a 30 something runner who doesn't need to worry about replenishing dwindling fuel supplies in my body.

I woke up at mile 12 and actually mustered a decent last mile.  As I approached the finish line I noticed a commotion about 50 yards short of the finish.  Paramedics were busy putting another running onto a gurney and as I crossed the finish line they were in full pursuit of a nearby ambulance.  I crossed the finish line in 1:54:43 and the gentleman who had his heart stop just minutes before survived his near death experience, the best news of the day.

The Czarina, who had bravely run the same race the year before on no training, managed to cross the finish line in around 2:09:52, about 6 minutes faster than the year before.  She was happy and I was happy that we had both enjoyed one of the best half marathons in the country.  And then we waited, and waited and waited for an awards ceremony that was woefully behind schedule.

Turns out there was a time management problem.  Something happened to the timing system.  I didn't learn my official time until 48 hours later and I will never know my official split times or my "real time."  By "real time" I mean the time from when I crossed the start line mat to the finish mat.  It probably took me about 30 seconds based on my first and second mile splits.

A timing failure for a major race like the one in Naples is a black eye.  Having worked on numerous road races, including at the timing table in the days before chip timing was available, I can attest that the work and need for attention to detail is killer.  Money and age group awards are at stake a mistake can be a major embarrassment for the race and its sponsors.

It's a shame that it happened, but it should serve as a reminder for runners who have become accustomed to results being posted within minutes of the finish that a lot of behind the scenes work goes on to make that possible.  Sometimes people and their machines don't live up to our expectations.  In my book as long as there is a well marked course, plenty of water tables along with some food and fun at the finish line, than the race is a success. 

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Where Have I Been

It's a new year and I've gotten into a bad habit of not blogging enough.  Part of my reluctance stems from my ownership of the running store.  I feel pressure to stick to all things running, when in fact, I like to ramble on about other things like K.U. basketball and on rare occasions, politics.

I have been running consistently and doing a little bit of racing.  I raced a Thanksgiving Day 5K in 23:55 which felt okay and then ran a horrible 10K about 10 years later in 50:40, about 2 minutes slower than I expected.  Part of it was the weather, the other part was the fact that I have not done anything resembling speed work.
I started incorporating more tempo runs into my daily grind.  I think this was something that was sorely missing from the routine.  I like doing tempo runs on a track, but the local high schools are like prisons and it is nearly impossible to penetrate the facilities here.  A track, despite the monotony, is ideal because you know exactly where you're at in terms of distance and pace. 

I'm lucky in that I have really good asphalt paths to run on adjacent to my neighborhood.  I take full advantage of them. One is even marked every half mile.  But I still miss doing work on the track.

I'm focused on the Naples Daily News Half Marathon which is 10 days away.  I first ran it in 2013  and missed it last year because of a leg injury.  I'm hoping to run about 5 minutes faster than I did the last time.  Anything under 1:50 would be good.  My fitness is much better despite the loss of speed.

I'll probably follow up the half with a few 5K's including one of my favorites, the Edison Festival of Light in late February.  It's probably the best road race in Fort Myers.  It starts downtown and follows the route of a parade that starts about an hour later at dusk.  The streets are lined with crowds and that certainly makes for an enjoyable time.

As I approach my 60th year, I'm not willing to concede that I can't run under 7 minute pace for a 5K.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Half Measures

I don't understand the compulsion of runners who train for marathons trying to use shortcut approaches.  I've run plenty of marathons on short training.  I would say that out of the 20 marathons I have run, only 6 of them were done with what I would consider an appropriate amount of training leading up to them.  As you can probably guess those are the 6 fastest marathons I ever ran, 2 were under 2:50 and 1 under 2:40.
1986 Grandma's Marathon
Ran 2:51:42 in hot conditions
Before I met coach Tom Dowling in 1985, my marathon training was haphazard at best.  A long run to me was 10 miles and I had never heard of Arthur Lydiard.  An incredibly painful 3:11 marathon in the spring of 1985 when I thought I was in decent shape led me to Tom.

Following Tom's Lydiard based principles of building a very large aerobic base before attempting a marathon I can honestly say those 6 marathons were the easiest I ever ran.  For each and every one of those marathons I had at least 6 good months of aerobic base before attempting those marathons.  Yet, I continually come across runners who want to train and compete in a marathon with 4 months or so of training, many just running 4 days a week.

I understand that men and women with children cannot run 6 or 7 days a week.  But I cannot understand why aspiring marathon runners don't take the time, ie; months of building up long runs, to run a marathon.  Trying to go from a 10 miles long run to a 22 mile long run in just 4 months is an invitation to injury.

When I ran my fastest marathon, I literally spent a year preparing for it.  The payoff was a 9 minute PR and the easiest marathon I ever ran.  I checked my old running logs and the year leading up to the race.  I ran 25 runs of 16 miles or more, 8 of them were 21 miles or more.  I should add that I missed an entire month early in the buildup due to a hamstring injury 10 months before the marathon and another 3 weeks of training just three months out from the race itself due to a sore achilles.

All of my long runs save one, was at 7:15 to 7:30 pace.  The one was a 26 mile run done two weeks out from the marathon done at 6:55 pace with 5 water stops lasting about 2 minutes each.  A lot of runners I meet feel the need to try and run their long runs at something approaching race pace.  That's foolish at best and defeats the purpose of building your aerobic base.

I did plenty of speed specific training in the weeks leading up to my marathon PR.  It included mile repeats, tempo runs of 6 to 10 miles where I would be at marathon pace or better for at least the last third of the run and plenty of races used to sharpen my speed.

Again, several people I see preparing for marathons seems to forsake running 5K's or 10K's ahead of their big races.  That's a big mistake.  Racing gets you used to using the water stations and dealing with other runners.  Even experienced runners need prep races before their goal race.

My last marathon, in 2010, I was under raced and under trained.  I hadn't run a marathon in 7 years due to several surgeries.  In the 10 months leading up to that 2010 marathon  I had only four runs of 16 miles or more.  I ran only a couple of races leading up to the big race.  I paid the price.  I ran 3:56, my slowest marathon by 40 minutes.  The last 9 miles were a difficult shuffle in extremely hot conditions.  It was on the same course where 20 years earlier I had run 2:39:24 PR.  A marathon without proper preparation is a humbling experiences.  My half-assed training got me exactly what I deserved.

I know that most runners cannot see their way to breaking 4 hours in the marathon.  But with a proper amount of base training, you can make a difficult, brutally tough race, a lot more tolerable.  A marathon doesn't have to mean misery.