Monday, October 14, 2019

Appreciate This

The last two weeks of marathon racing has filled my heart with such joy and wonderment that I can't believe what we've all witnessed.  It's two weeks we may never see again and while I rejoice in these incredible accomplishments a small nagging part of me worries about how this happened.  I'm not talking about drugs, but about shoes.  But let's sink in what we saw.

Last weekend in Berlin, Kenenisa Bekele came back from the dead.  He'd been injured, gotten fat and seemed indifferent to trying to put himself on a par in the marathon with a man he owned on the track.  Bekele is in a pantheon of distance that puts him in the same sentence as Nurmi, Zatopek and Gebreselassiese.  His run in Berlin left many who follow the sport reaffirming his place as the greatest ever.  26 World Championship and Olympic medals leave little doubt about Bekele's place in the sport as the greatest ever... on the track.

But then Eliud Kipchoge put his stamp on the fact that he is the great marathoner in history, period.  If you haven't watched the sub-2 race effort that took place on Saturday in Vienna it's a must.  It was like watching the painting of a masterpiece.  The race that resulted in history's first sub-2 hour marathon was a work of superb planning and craftsmanship.  The course, the pacers, the technology, all combined for a brilliant piece of running by a man who has no peers in the event.  The time was a breath taking 1:59:40.

Except maybe, just maybe, Bekele could still have a say in all of this.  You see Kenenisa just missed Kipchoge's official world record in the marathon by just a couple of ticks of the clock in Berlin.  If you watched the race you saw a man overcome a rough spot about ten miles from the finish, regather himself and roar to an epic finish.  The world demands a rematch of these two greats.  London would be the idea spot for such a showdown but if that does happen, it will certainly rob the Tokyo Olympics of a great marathon duel.

I can't blame either Bekele or Kipchoge if they pass at a chance at more Olympic gold.  Tokyo will be a death march of epic proportions, much like what we just witnessed in Doha at the World Championships.  It's such a dilemma.  The money for a London showdown would be unbelievable but the Olympics are the Olympics.  I suspect both men will go for the money.  But if Bekele wants to stake his claim as the best marathoner ever, it would take an Olympic win over Kipchoge for him to even enter the discussion.

And as an afterthought Bridget Kosgei basically one upped both men with a stunning world record Sunday at the Chicago Marathon.  Kosgei dismantled a record held by Paula Radcliffe that was once thought untouchable.  She destroyed the record by more than a minute running 2:14:04.  I've never seen an athlete cruise through 26.2 miles and look so in command, except maybe for what Kipchoge had done just the day before.

Regardless, the marathon has entered a new age and that's where it all gets a little fuzzy.  Kipchoge ran his historic race in a pair of shoes not yet available to the public.  It's a spin off of Nike's 4% and Next% that utilizes a carbon fiber plate that acts sort of like a spring.  Kosgei also at the last minute asked to run in the same shoes as Kipchoge and if you don't think a shoe can make a huge difference in how fast you can run then you understand very little about distance running.

So the shoes are making a dramatic difference.  I can't say if it's good or bad for the sport but I suspect the manufacturers have just about dialed in the perfect shoes between Nike's efforts, Adidas Boost and Hoka's Carbon Rockets.  At least that's what I want to believe because the alternative is that they've stumbled upon a super drug that can elude the biological passports that elite runners are subject.  Enjoy this era of distance, because we may never see another like it.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Dirt

The world of professional track and field is a world of doping.  But so is the world of professional football, baseball, cycling and soccer.  The problem is track and field gets a black eye because of the cheats while other sports, largely football, baseball and soccer get a pass.  As a fan of track and field the double standards frustrate me.

But what I find even more frustrating is track and field's reluctance to deal harshly with the cheaters who are caught.  Alberto Salazar has colored outside the lines for more than a quarter of a century.  USADA finally caught up him thanks in large part to Salazar coached athletes who didn't want to cheat and by a coach, Steve Magness, who Salazar used as a human guinea pig.

My first private coach had deep connections to the professional ranks.  I can remember our conversations from the mid-1980's about Salazar's questionable use of supplements and other performance enhancers while he was still a competitor.  Salazar was a win at all costs athlete.

Salazar's first high profile athlete to be busted was Mary Slaney in 1996 for steroids.  Slaney denies that Salazar was coaching her and claimed the positive was due to birth control.  USATF didn't buy it and the ban was upheld and Salazar somehow managed to escape punishment.

If you closely read the USADA report on Salazar's propensity to push the rules it's painfully clear that he was working hard at finding ways to use steroids in ways that were undetectable to testing.  It's called micro-dosing.

When the four year ban came out several high profile athletes including Olympic medalists Nick Willis and Jenny Simpson hailed his ban.  Simpson went so far as to call for a lifetime ban.

Meanwhile Salazar and the deep pockets of NIKE plan to fight the ban in the courts.  Remember NIKE was a major backer of doper Lance Armstrong until the mountain of evidence brought the biking legend down.  And the sport is heavily dependent on NIKE's support and dollars.

The worst of it is the money and medals that Salazar coached athletes have stolen from clean athletes.  What hurts the most is the string of championships and medals by the likes of Galen Rupp, Mo Farah and Matt Centrowitz, Jr. and most recently Sifan Hassan.  As a fan I want to think those medals were earned the right way.  Deep down inside I question their accomplishments.

We will likely never know how deep this scandal runs because unlike in Armstrong's case other cyclists came forward to tell his deepest, darkest secrets, those in the know will keep those secrets near and dear.  It's been that way in the sport since steroids first came on the scene in the 1960's.  And it will stay that way because somehow, some way, the science of cheating always manages to stay ahead of the tests to catch them.   

Monday, September 23, 2019

Stephy

Winning is what makes headlines.  But sometimes you have to look deeper in the results to pull out a gem, a story that brings with it an underlying achievement that might otherwise go unnoticed.  I didn't have to look too deep in the results from the North Port Invitational.  It stuck out like a sore thumb in the girl's elite race right there in second place.  Fort Myers High Senior Stephy Ormsby ran 17:56.77.

You can count on one hand in the last decade the number of girls from Lee County under 18 minutes for 5000 meters in cross country.  Estero's Bona Jones and Katy Solis along with Emily Edwards and Sara Spann from Fort Myers.  Not even Fort Myers distance ace Krissy Gear broke 18 minutes in high school.  In case you were wondering the only Southwest Florida area runner to break 17 minutes is Kathryn Fluehr from Community School of Naples.

Stephy's come a long way from when I first met her as a fresh faced freshman intermediate hurdler for the Green Wave.  Then head coach Rob Strong said to keep an eye on her because he believed she could be turned into a distance runner. Slowly but surely Ormsby has transitioned her body from the square, stocky gymnast that she used to be to a hard body, running machine that has steadily improved  through her sophomore and junior years. 

Ormsby has shaved more than two minutes off her cross country personal best.  What makes her achievement even more surprising is she has spent most of her running career as a middle distance specialist, running the 800 and 1600.  The progress Stephy Ormsby has made since last fall shows what a summer of consistent training can bring when cross country rolls around. With the guidance of coach Yancey Palmer, Ormsby has done the work to put herself in a position to be a contender at the Class 3A State Cross Country Championships.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Why Support Cross Country

I own a run specialty shop.  It's a misnomer because I probably sell more shoes to walker or people looking for a shoe that is comfortable to stand in work in than I do to actual runners.  I'm happy to serve those customer because they deserve the best in footwear.  Buying a pair of leather upper New Balance shoes to walk in or a cheap pair of Nike's is just an insult to your feet.

But that's not the point of this blog.  The point is to talk about why I do as much as I can to support high school cross country and track.  It's not because that's where the money is.  In fact, it's quite the opposite.  Most kids and parents will shop for the cheapest shoes they can find on line and forsake their locally owned retailers to save ten dollars here and there.  I can live with that.

In white left to right, Glenn Lemesany, Dave Rousch, John Rinkenbaugh, Tom Schittendort, Clay Kappleman, Barney McCoy and Jack Moorhead, Lawrence High XC 1972, winners of this meet, the Seaman Invitational, where I finished 8th.
I support high school cross country and track because the sport gave me a life long passion for running.  I was blessed to have a high school coach who's mission in life was to create a love for running that would carry to a point in life where I could physically run no more.  I'm about to hit my 50th year as a runner.

I was lucky to meet athletes and coaches who fueled my passion.  Men like, Steve Sublett, Tom Dowling, Fred Moore, Kent McDonald, Steve Riley, Mike Bloemker and Chris Ronan and the posse of men I trained with at Health Plus in Kansas City only deepened my love and respect for runners of all abilities.  They motivated me to hit goals in my running life that I am proud to have achieved.

So my support of young runners is one that I hope that I inspire the same life long passion that I have enjoyed.  I did it as a high school coach, a career that produced a fair share of state champions.  I do that through Run Florida On McGregor.

We stepped up our commitment this year by sponsoring the first three major cross country meets in Southwest Florida of the season, the Lehigh Acres Invitational, DDD Invitational and Fort Myers Invitational.  I loss money doing it and I doubt that the vast majority of parents or runners realize the commitment of time and money that the store puts forth to support their sport.

I am tooting my own horn.  I look around at the leading run specialty stops and asked why am I alone in doing this?  Besides the financial investment I make in these meets I offer discounts to student athletes to make it easier for them to afford the best in footwear.  I look around and ask myself why am I alone in doing this?

Cross country is an incredible team support.  You see 100 plus athletes line up in difficult conditions racing for 5,000 meters.  It is colorful, crazy, and competitive in ways you can't imagine.  There's even team strategy in the sport if you take the time to study it.  You can do that by joining me Friday night at the Kelly Road soccer fields for what may well be the first night cross country meet in Southwest Florida history.

The 40th annual Fort Myers Invitational brought to you by Run Florida On McGregor and Saucony will feature the top local teams.  You will see the greatest 800 meter runner in Southwest Florida history trying to make her mark at the longer distances.  You will see the three Southwest Florida cross country powers, Estero, Naples and Fort Myers laying it on the line, trying to show which squad is top dog in the area.  Oh... and the ladies at upstart Bishop Verot are doing their best to join the party.

The best part of it is the camaraderie and respect that these young athletes have for one another.  They run hard and then have the grace and humility to shake hands, congratulate each other and really mean it.  Best of all, it's free. All it will cost you is a small slice of your Friday night.  I'll see you there!




Monday, August 19, 2019

X-C Already?!?

This Saturday marks the beginning of the Florida high school cross country season.  It's a head scratcher.  There's little question as to the identity of the tip top girl in Southwest Florida.  Cantebury junior Jessica Edwards is by far and away the best distance runner in the area, boy or girl.

Questions surround the identity of the boy that will fill the rather large shoes vacated by Estero's Hugh Brittenham, now at Florida, beginning what one hopes will be an epic collegiate career.  Right now only two names pop into my head as to Hugh's heir apparent.  One would be Brittenham's Estero teammate, sophomore Kolton Pickard, the other is Fort Myers junior Liam Holston.

Something tells me another boy will pop up out of nowhere to take some races.  Brady Gibson, a senior from Naples, is a top notch talent and Estero junior Colton Tucker could rebound from a somewhat lackluster track season.  Besides the aforementioned Pickard among the young guns is Fort Myers sophomore Colson Palmer and Cantebury freshman Charlie Meagher.

Finding a state medalist among any of the half dozen or so boys that will dominate the Southwest Florida racing scene is another question.  Pickard and Holston could sneak into the top 20 at the Class 3A race.  Meagher may have the best chances because he will be racing the lesser depths of Class 1A.

Edwards should dominate the girl's side.  She will try to show that a top middle distance talent can shine at 5,000 meters.  I believe she has the strength and speed to capture the Class 1A state title.  Naples has a trio of outstanding cross country runners returning, Zoe Dantonio, Jillian Dempsey and Morgan Vickaryous.  Fort Myers returns a state medalist in senior Stephanie Ormsby.  It wouldn't surprise me if Estero senior Mia Perez brings the heat this season as well.

When it comes to singling out the top teams, it will be a story of the usual suspects.  Fort Myers, Estero and Naples should produce squads good enough to make it to State on both the boys and girls side.  The big question surrounds the Naples High School girls team.  Naples appears to be a lock to finish in the top five.  In Florida, only two teams take home trophies at State.  The Golden Eagles need to lop off another 30 seconds per girl to have a shot at taking home the hardware.  With the depth of returning runners Naples could make it happen.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

My Marathon Journeys: St. George 1989

The ghosts of 1988 will always stay with me.  The death of two friends and the slow deterioration of my work and personal life.  1989 started off with promise.  I was working on putting my head on straight.  I was training smart and racing smarter.

By the spring of 1989 I was back in a bad place.  It would take a lot of work with setbacks before I began to feel my way through my misery.  I found solace in running.  I found hope in friends like Craig Davidson, a Phoenix running  legend, who worked hard at putting good thoughts in my head.

Craig loves running marathons.  By now he's topped 250 and still going.  He wanted me to join him in October 1989 at a marathon that he was particularly found of in St. George, Utah.  I had basically done zero training from May until August.  My tip-top condition in the early winter was going to have to help me get through the rigors of a marathon.  Plus, I had never run two marathons in a calendar year.

I raced an early August 8K in 31:25, more than three minutes over my PR.  A couple of weeks later I slogged out a 20K in just under 6:50 pace. The week before St. George, Craig and I ran a 10K.  Craig was well under 35 minutes.  I ran 37:54.  I was far from tip top shape but it told me I was in good enough condition to break three hours.

I remember piling into a van with Craig and three of our other Saturday training partners. It was a monotonous drive through the desert and I wondered what I had gotten myself into.  We were going to drive straight to St. George and spend the night.  We'd get up at 4:30 a.m. to pile onto buses that would take us up to the start of the race.

Craig had told me it was a downhill race.  I had no idea just how downhill.  In the darkness I had no sense of the terrain.  We drove for about 45 minutes and were dumped out in the middle of nowhere.  There were about three thousand other runners freezing their asses off in the desert.  It was pitch black with a few barrels burning with fire to offer scant warmth to our frozen bodies.

Still dark, the gun went off and off I went with Craig.  In the darkness he quickly disappeared.  I hit the first mile in 6:25.  The sky was beginning to brighten about ten minutes into the race and I could see the beautiful desert landscape and realized we were on our way to a gentle descent to mile seven.

I was running easily at 6:20 pace until the massive volcanic hill that greets runners for a one mile slog uphill to mile eight. I was well over seven minutes for it.  I was hurting and beginning to doubt that I would run 2:55 and possibly not even break three hours.

Then the urge to go hit me.  A porta-potty saved the day at mile 10 and I spent one minute expelling what I had consumed the night before.  Despite the rolling hills up to the half marathon spot I was still moving fairly well hitting the half in 1:25:12.  I was thinking it's not if, but when will the wheels fall off.

Mile 14 was 6:49 and I figured it was the beginning of the end as I arrived at the first massive downhill.  A giddy runner flew by me and said, "It can't hurt any worse!"  It hit my like a thunderbolt.  No, it can't hurt any worse!  Off I went in pursuit of the giddy runner and I quickly caught him and headed to mile 15 which I clocked in 6:24.  Mile 16 was 6:00 and mile 17 was 6:13.

The sub 6:20 pace continued as I gloried in the gorgeous scenery of the red rock canyon we were running through.  Even as I enjoyed the landscape I had enough in me to punch mile 21, the start of the last big downhill in 5:53.

It wasn't until mile 24 that I started to slow.  I finished out the last three miles at 6:40 pace.  I was stunned when I hit the finish line in a new personal best of 2:48:50.  I wasn't in shape to run that fast.

I suddenly stumbled upon an old Kansas City training partner Gary Hansen who had broken 2:39.  Gary and I were about the same ability.  It dawned on me that if I did some serious training I could break 2:40.

It was an eye opening experience.  I knew with a reasonable amount of training I too could break 2:40.  The seed was planted and St. George was going onto my 1991 race calendar. 

Saturday, July 20, 2019

50th

Tonight marks the 50th anniversary of man's first steps upon the moon and it brings back some memories that I want to share.  Among them the customer who came into the store today and laughed about the anniversary and made it clear that the landings never happened.  I'm old enough to know it did.  I watched it on live television.  The science is out there to prove that it happened.  Scientists bounce lasers off reflectors left behind on the moon by two of NASA's lunar missions to measure the distance between the earth and the moon.

I was 12-years-old and living in Abilene, Kansas.  The family gathered around a black and white RCA television to watch the events of July 20, 1969 unfold on a Sunday.  The landing was exhilarating, the wait for the walk was agonizing.  It happened after dusk.  We diligently watched Walter Cronkite with Wally Schirra, one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts, walk us through the events as they unfolded.
After that one small step I remember going outside and a neighbor, Greg Morgensen, hauling out his telescope and we gazed on the full moon in wonderment.  That night, those events, are a moment that one never forgets, like the assassinations of both Kennedys, or the night President Nixon resigned.  It will stay with me forever.

A family member played some role in the mission to the moon.  My Uncle Bob Walters, worked for the University Kansas in the space/technology building.  Uncle Bob said they were involved with the moon mission but would never discuss its details due to some supposed secrecy.  I wish in later years that I had talked to him about what exact role the university played before his passing.

The only other moon related experience that has stuck with me is when I had a chance to meet Neil Armstrong, the commander of Apollo 11 and the first man to step on the moon.  I had just moved to Phoenix, Arizona and was producing the 10 p.m. for the CBS station.  The company that owned us was throwing some sort of big party at the station.

The station was owned by Taft Broadcasting and by that time Neil Armstrong was on the board of directors for the company.  I am uncertain as to why the party was being held.  But I was there, in one of the station's massive, unused studios where all of the big wigs were drinking cocktails.

Armstrong was introduced to the gathering.  All that I remember is that I felt awe and was too shy to go up to him and speak to him.  I may have gotten to shake his hand.  I don't remember so I doubt that I did.  I'm fairly certain I had to leave in short order to get back to work, but I did see the man, flesh and bones, a true American hero.

I've thought a lot in this last week about the moon missions.  The program was heavily criticized because of its expense.  I think it's boneheaded to do so.  The science that came out of the moon program enhanced our lives.  The computers, the miniaturization, the jobs, it all made for a better America.