Saturday, October 31, 2009

Three months

This Halloween marks the end of three months of unemployment, or should I say the beginning of month four.  This isn't the first time I've been jobless.  I had a four month stretch in 1994 but the circumstances were quite different because I was still getting a paycheck while I searched for another job.  Plus I was running 70 miles a week or more and that certainly kept me occupied and tired.

Since my right hamstring blew out two months ago the running has been put on the back burner.  The job search seems never ending.  In fact I'm convinced the job search contributed to my current hamstring/hip problems from sitting at the computer all day searching the web for jobs.

The unemployment check almost covers the mortgage on the house.  It misses the mark by about a dollar.  I get an allowance from the Czarina.  I must say she's pretty generous.  She didn't have a job for about the first three months of our marriage.  I finally made her take a job at K-Mart.  She looked great in that smock.  Of course that very week she finally got a legitimate job offer.

Most of my free time is spent filling out the job applications at USAJOBS.  I've been applying for Public Affairs positions with the government.  Some of the applications are like taking a college test.  Take the time and check them out.  It's about as bad as the old freshman English comp finals at K.U. which were pure torture.

The television side of the search has been a little more interesting.  I've had some nibbles but only a couple of decent bites.  Some of the jobs where I think they would be interested I don't hear squat.  The one's I've heard from have been surprising.  Part of me suspects that some of the news director's are scared of my experience.  I don't want their freaking job.  If I got a news director's job that would be fine.  But I've come to realize that there's nothing wrong with being an executive producer. 

I've kept my hand in the game so to speak by freelancing for the local paper covering high school football and cross country.  Thank God for the endless patience of the sports editor Ed Reed.  You would think after 30 plus years of television experience I would be a pretty good reporter but sometimes I make mistakes.  I think a lot of it is rust.  Doing it once a week isn't the same as doing it everyday. 

The best part so far is I'm not depressed or stressed out.  Even better is the Czarina isn't going nuts about it, yet.  I think it could get dicey when the unemployment runs out.  I wonder how I would look in that K-Mart smock?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

St. George

Somewhere tucked away in a box of old mementos or perhaps thoughtlessly tossed away in a landfill is visual evidence of my greatest accomplishment in the marathon.  More on that photo later, but what you see above will have to do for now.

I left Phoenix in April of 1990 and returned to my old job in Kansas City.  I remember putting in a 100 mile week (only the second time in my life and first in more than 15 years) in the final week of March when the temperatures had already hit triple digits in Phoenix.  The scorching temperatures were a nice parting gift.
The problem with moving as many people far more wiser than I would constantly remind me of was that wherever you go, you are.  I needed to move but unfortunately I wasn't ready to grow up.  But I digress.
Running in Kansas City is awesome.  You have to combat the hills, the wind, and all manner of other weather conditions that toughen you up.  I ran some pretty decent races and appeared to be on track for the goal that was looming ahead in the fall, the St. George Marathon.

Spring racing was so-so.  A cold after one 10K and a half hearted effort at Kansas City's oldest road race, Hospital Hill, did little to inspire my confidence.  The first part of the summer was a malaise of self-abuse and unfocused training.  But something started to click in my head in August.  With St. George just two months off  I started piling on the miles like a desperate squirrel hiding nuts for the winter.  By September I was putting up 100 plus mile weeks.  Even in the midst of the big miles I ran a PR for 8K.

The tip that I was capable of something really fast came two weeks out from the marathon when I went for a 26 mile training run with Steve Riley.  Steve was just getting into running at the time and was on his way to becoming one of the best masters runners in Kansas history.  Steve had it in his head that he wanted to run a full marathon that day and break three hours.  Normally I won't run faster than 7:15 pace for a long run but I couldn't look like a complete wuss.  We took four water breaks and I ran 26 miles on a very warm September morning in 2:56.  Not bad for a training run.

The morning of the big race was perfect.  You start six thousand feet above the city of St. George in a small mountain range.  It's always cold and pitch black at the start.  At some future date they added portable lights but not in 1990.  The first seven miles you glide gently downhill.  Craig Davidson was there, he's never missed a St. George, ever.  He took off and left me in the dust.  I was being very careful knowing after seven miles, a mountain climb awaited then the hills.

I hit seven miles coasting along at six minute pace and started the grueling climb to mile eight.  It took about 6 minutes and 40 seconds.  I used the next five miles to recover, staying between 6:15 and 6:25 pace waiting for the dash downhill.  I hit the halfway mark in 1:21:30 ready for blast off.

The first major downhill comes at about 14 miles.  It took me 5:36.  By mile 15 I could see Craig ahead and by mile 16 I glided by him chugging along at 5:45 pace.  He glanced over not looking too surprised.  At mile 20 I caught another old friend from Phoenix and he looked over exclaiming, "Man you must be in shape!"  Mile 21 was my fastest of the race in 5:32.  Mile 21 to mile 25 are straight downhill and then you flatten out for the last mile to the finish.  I was being very careful not to push too hard because I knew I was going to break 2:40. 

By mile 25 I was starting to feel tired from the effort but I knew I had left myself some margin for error.  For a time it looked like a sub 2:37 was possible but I had slowed too much over the last three miles and a final mile in 6:10 brought me across the line in 2:39:34.  I was well satisfied but I did wonder if I had trained hard for four months instead of two what the results might have been... 2:36... 2:35.

I ordered but one picture from the race, a shot of me hitting the finish line, which I gave to Tom Dowling.  The picture disappeared with Tom and all I have left is the certificate below, the race number, a finishers medal and an age group award plaque. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Honest with Me

Well, I'm stranded in the city that never sleeps
Some of these women they just give me the creeps
I'm avoiding the south side the best I can
These memories I got they can strangle a man
Well, I came ashore in the dead of the night
Lots of things can get in the way when you're trying to do what's right
You don't understand it, my feeling for you
You'd be honest with me, if you only knew

Bob Dylan, "Honest with Me," from "Love and Theft"

Year two of the Dowling program brought PR's at 5K and 10K. Were it not for a bad case of food poisoning a week before Grandma's Marathon and unseasonably hot weather I believe I would have run 2:45. Instead I ran 2:51 running just under seven minute per mile pace over the last ten miles. It was brutal.

In the meantime my life was undergoing some momentous changes. I decided to leave Kansas City in 1987 and take a new job in Phoenix, Arizona. Don't even get me started on trying to train in July in Phoenix. The winters there were sweet but the summers just wore on you.I spent three years there and while I did attain some running peaks, there were many more valleys. A great deal of it was due to my personal demons that I was struggling to come to grips with and a small part of it was due to being away from Tom. I was training with Fred Moore, a great coach in his own right. But when he talked it didn't sink in through my thick skull.
It took advice from Tom to trigger what Fred had been trying to hammer through my head.
Tom's advice was simple, back off. Fred had been suggesting all along to read, "The Tao According to Pooh." The book mirrored what Tom had told me. The jest of it that you shouldn't push so hard, to let life come to you. The same can be said of running.

I immediately started running PR's and could see that a sub 2:40 wasn't beyond the realm of possibilities. But my personal life was spiraling out of control and by 1989 I was a mess. Two of my best friends in the world had died, one at age 32 and another at age 27. Somehow I pulled myself together for about two months and trained. A couple of 38 minute 10K's didn't bode well but I went ahead with plans to join Craig Davidson for the St. George Marathon.

Craig had taken me under his wing when I arrived in Phoenix. He may be the nicest man in the world. Back then he regularly ran 140 miles a week, even in the brutal summer heat. Craig also owns a running streak that has topped 30 years now. That's right, he hasn't missed a day of running in more than 30 years. A religious man, he offered his friendship in a way that probably kept me from really falling off the deep end. He helped me survive life in the Valley of the Sun.

St. George turned into a running epiphany. I felt sluggish for the first half of the race and felt I would be lucky to break three hours. Suddenly a major downhill appeared and as one of the runners glided by he suggested, "Let it go, use the downhill." I did and suddenly I went from running 6:50 pace to 6:00 pace. I ran the second half of the race more than three minutes faster than the first and ran a PR of 2:48:35.

My life was at a turning point. And not long after I made the decision to return to my old job in Kansas City and to Tom. I was hoping the return home would bring changes to my life that I desperately needed and focus on another crack at another marathon at St. George and fly down those massive hills and score a really big PR.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Long Run

1985 was a pivotal year in my life. I was turning 30 and my running was going nowhere. Two races I distinctly remember that spring were a half hearted attempt at the Kansas City Marathon. The last 12 miles were a death march and I ran something in the 3:11 range. Later in June I ran an 8K in Eugene, Oregon that went a little better, just breaking 30 minutes. That told me I could still run reasonably fast.

It took a couple of high school runners, Tom Spencer and Matt Blake to open my eyes up. I was helping coach the cross country team at Rockhurst High School. Tom and Matt were the best runners on the team. They did their own thing, which included fewer intervals and a lot more mileage. They swore by it and convinced me that I needed to meet their private coach, Tom Dowling.

A couple of weeks before my 30th birthday I made an appointment and met with Dowling. He asked me what my goals were. It was pretty simple. I wanted to break 10 minutes for two miles and break 2:40 in the marathon. Tom's enthusiasm about the task at hand was off putting. He explained the approach that he wanted me to take, which meant building a base. Tom said that sometime by late next spring he expected me to be able to run a 21 mile long run. I just about fell over. There was no way in hell I could run that far as a training run. He just smiled and started putting together a six month training calendar and told me that I had to start keeping a running log, something I had done only haphazardly in the past.

The calendar had me going from 20 miles a week up to 60 plus over the course of six months. It was nothing but miles, no intervals (unheard of for me) with the occasional 10K time trial. I was ready, willing, and able and I committed myself to the program. Within six months I had reached the magical 21 mile long run. It was a life changing experience.

Every Sunday morning anywhere from a dozen to 30 people would gather outside a health club in a Kansas City suburb to run 18 to 25 miles. Some days it could be a who's who of top flight area runners including an occasional Joe Falcon sighting, a sub 3:50 miler in his prime. There was a camaraderie that I had never experienced before or since. I had new friends that shared the joys and the agony of rolling through the hills of Leawood and southern Overland Park. I had a quirky coach with an infectious personality who was not only determined to make me a better runner but a better person. I began to realize that I was capable of doing some things that had seemed unimaginable to me just a few months before.

Agonizing 10 mile runs now felt like easy 3 milers. By the fall of 1986 I wanted to try a marathon with my new found conditioning. Coach Dowling forbade me to race, I was to run seven minute pace on Kansas City's difficult marathon course. The weather was perfect and I found myself cruising along effortlessly at 6:30 pace. Dowling was standing at me screaming at me to slow down. I threw my hands up and continued along.

After cresting the monstrous hill in front of Research Medical Center I again saw Tom at the ten mile mark which I hit in about 65 minutes. Half warning, half laughing he yelled, "If you keep going at this pace you'll run 2:45, slow down!" I felt great and kept chugging along.

It wasn't until about 21 miles I could feel that the wheels were beginning to come off. I forged on thinking that maybe, just maybe I could run under 2:50. I was tiring and to compound matters the last mile back into Swope Park was a grueling uphill section. I pushed and pushed and made it to the finish nearly off my feet. Tom held me up almost giddy with excitement. I had run 2:49:34 on an extremely challenging course. I had chopped almost eight minutes off my best marathon that I had run in college off of 20 miles a week training. I was a confirmed believer in the Lydiard approach to training and the concept of long, slow, distance. A 2:40 marathon didn't seem to be an unrealistic goal.

Friday, October 16, 2009

60 years and 12 of mine

If you look hard, really hard, you'll spot me in the midst of this gregarious group of Action 4 News journalists. I remember this day well. We had climbed to the mountain top of Kansas City's TV ratings. WDAF had been a well beaten #3 when I arrived at Signal Hill in the fall of 1980. The folks you see in this picture pulled off the impossible, minus the man who led us there, Mike McDonald. I don't know why Mike isn't in this photo, but he had the vision and built the team that put us on top.

Out of the 30 people in the picture only four remain employees of WDAF as it celebrates its 60th year today. I spent 12 years of my life there working there three different times. McDonald could never get enough of me. The only survivors at FOX 4 are Fritz Kramer in the back row standing next to the indomitable Marty Blackmore in the hat. The other two that are left are standing next to each other in the back row, Jim Monteleone, the man next to him the beard J.W. Edwards and Mike Lewis in the glasses.

Two of these folks went on to big things. Del Walters, in the front row on the left side, went on to anchor in Washington D.C. and has made a name for himself writing about Black America. And if you're blind you will miss Gayle King standing in the front row, dead center. There's nothing wrong with being Oprah's best friend.

Standing around me, to my right is Jan Smith, a wonderful journalist who is married to Sam Donaldson. In front of me looking back at Jan is Bruce Lindsey, a crazy ex-Marine who kept me constantly entertained, next to Bruce is Dennis McCullough, a man way too smart to stay in television, and to my left is the late Glen Hanson, who did just about every job imagineable in the business. The only other person in this picture that I know has died is Sue Parcell, she was a classmate of mine at K.U. and a dear friend, she's standing in front of Marty with a big smile. Sue's been gone 21 years now.

I see the joy in all of those faces and my full head of hair and I can't believe how far life has taken us all. It was the golden age of television news... before computers and satellites made it easier for the bean counters to kill the business and before uninformed, undereducated, anchor wanna-be's populated newsrooms across this country.

Diamonds and Rust

The PBS series American Masters featured one of the great folks singers who ever graced a stage this week. Joan Baez is the undisputed queen of folk music. Her voice is like silk and she had an even rarer gift. An ability to harmonize with Bob Dylan. The documentary dug deeply into this now nearly five decades old relationship. Without a doubt Joan Baez was one of the greatest interpreters of Dylan's work.
This cover by Joan came from Martin Scorcese's Dylan biography for American Masters called "No Direction Home." "Love is Just a Four-Lettered Word," is my favorite Baez cover of a Dylan song. About a minute in Joan does her best Dylan imitation. American Masters did justice to the Baez legacy. If you missed check your PBS listings because a lot of times the PBS stations will replay them over the weekends in the early morning hours.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Excitable Dad

Fall is in the air, at least in Kansas. It certainly wasn't Saturday morning at the cross country meet I covered for the News-Press. You could see the moisture rising from the fields as I drove to the meet at 7:30 a.m. I felt sorry for the kids running in the hot, muggy conditions this morning.Seaman Invitational 2009
It was a completely different scene a week ago just north of Topeka where I enjoyed watching one of the best high school distance runners the state of Kansas has to offer. His name is Roy Wedge. I'm hoping he can join a relatively short list of Lawrence Lions to win an individual state cross country championship. Roy's already done something that Lawrence High greats Kent McDonald, David Johnston, and Chris Williams could never do. Young Mr. Wedge led his team to the school's first ever team title last year ending a double digit run of state championships by Kansas 6A powerhouse Shawnee Mission Northwest.
Lions ready to hunt
Roy took second last year as a junior. His sophomore year he was a remarkable 7th. But his skills reach far beyond cross country and track. Roy's just as tough in the classroom where he's a National Merit Semi-finalist. He was recently named the LHS Homecoming King and according to his dad he's a pretty tough chess player. Heck Roy's even got a Facebook fan club!King George
Roy's younger brother George purloined the crown and cape from the previous night's homecoming honor for following day's cross country meet.

I saw Roy win the Seaman Invitational while visiting Kansas last week. It was great to see his dad, Phil, a teammate at Lawrence High and a great friend through high school and college and still to this day. Roy won of course quite handily.In the homestretch to victory

Roy and the Excitable Dad
The excitable dad called me Saturday afternoon with news of Roy's latest triumph. He ran a blistering 15:47 in horrible conditions at the notoriously tough Shawnee Mission Park course. I was sleep deprived when he called because of the U2 concert the night before and the early morning cross country meet so I couldn't quite share Phil's enthusiasm for this impressive effort. So here's to Roy Wedge and his wonderful band of Lion teammates as they make another run at a second straight state title. The icing on the cake would be a gold medal for this remarkable young man at Rim Rock in three weeks. If Roy does it, he will join Johnston and Williams as the only Lions to win individual honors. As for McDonald, he may not have won a state title, but he has the pleasure of helping coach Roy and the rest of the boys. Go Lions!
Kent McDonald: Gray but still fit!

U2 360 Tour

U2 was as staggeringly hot as the temperatures that greeted them at Tampa's Raymond James Stadium Friday night. The 360 Tour marked my first blast from the Dublin boys since 1997's less than stellar Pop Tour. I wanted to experience the band which I think is the second greatest act ever one last time in all their stadium excess and glory. Plus for the Czarina, it was her first experience at a stadium rock concert.

Don't get me wrong, 360 can't touch 1992's epic Zoo TV which was the greatest rock and roll show I ever saw. But the stage craft and the music in Tampa came damn close. The sound was incredible. U2 has put its money into making sure that the fans get the best quality sound. The massive video screen that hung over the stage was amazing. It moved and warped its way through the concert to fit the music.
The only negative were the tickets. I'm a fan club member and got to select my seats early. I thought that I had purchased seats that would have put me dead even with the front of the stage. Unfortunately I was a good 20 to 30 yards behind The Edge. The circular stage did allow the band to work the entire stage but for 250 dollars a pop I expected much better. Plus I was seated right next to the pit entrance so foot traffic was a constant irritation.

For me, the set list was just about perfect. I heard "Stuck in a Moment,"Magnificent,"Until the End of the World," and a tear welling "Walk On." Ending the show with "Moment of Surrender" seemed a bit odd. For a band now in its 30th year of existence the last three albums are staggeringly great and "No Line on the Horizon" is on a par with their legendary works "Achtung Baby" and "The Joshua Tree." Above is Bono being Bono. He pulled a young boy out of the crowd and paraded him around the stage and then handed him his iconic sunglasses. The thrill of a lifetime to be sure. The heat was easily 95 degrees on the floor of the stadium at the start of the show. Poor Bono was constantly taking sips from his water bottle.
The place was packed. They said more people were there for this show than the Super Bowl but the crowd was amazingly well behaved despite the distractions I had to deal with.
To my friends who read this blog I say this, go! Spend the money and see this band. I love music and while no one can touch "The Beatles," these guys come damn close. They've stayed relevant, something the Rolling Stones haven't done. To me U2 is the second greatest rock and roll band ever. Sorry Stones and Zeppelin fans but even with all of Bono's annoying pomposity, the music stands the test.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Road Trip

It's day five in Lawrence and I'm beginning to wear out. I've managed to see just about everybody I wanted to see. I had a fine Friday night out with the Rileys, a fabulous time in Topeka watching Roy Wedge and Lawrence High romp at the Seaman Invitational, a wonderful lunch in Lawrence with the Bloemkers, and a great time at the Sand Rat Race Sunday morning and then another lunch with Sand Rat champion Chris Ronan.

In the midst of all this I also managed a family gathering at my sister Karen's Saturday night. It was an evening chock full of cousins and other family friends. My poor brother-in-law Bob had made the mistake of driving out with me and was desperate to get home after a couple of hours of the revelry. I can't blame him.

The whole trip started with a visit to Kansas City and the new digs that house KMBC, the ABC affiliate. I got a courtesy job interview that did a lot to lift my spirits. I sat in on the morning meeting and offered up one lame story idea but it felt great to be in the mix. I think Gerry Roberts, the AND there, was shocked at how many people on their staff I knew and or had worked with. Gerry was the very first producer I interned under in 1978. I don't think he would appreciate me sharing that information. It's nice to know that some of the really good folks in KC television news respect you.

I've got two days to go before rolling back to Fort Myers. I've got one last stop tomorrow with the MAC Daddy and my trip will be complete. I'm ready to see the Czarina!