Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Ignoring the Obvious

For months a scandal has been brewing on Mount Oread involving the athletic department.  But if you lived in Lawrence and relied on the local newspaper, the Journal World, the reporting was scant.  I learned most of what I know about the ticket scandal at Kansas from the Kansas City Star's website, which in and of itself is a joke but that's a whole different blog. 

The final straw in reporting came for me this morning when Yahoo broke even more damning information about the millions of dollars that K.U. lost because of the unethical practices by some athletic department employees.  Shortly after the revelations word came that K.U. was holding a 1:30 p.m. news conference to finally come clean about what had appeared in print for weeks.

Yet nowhere in the lead up to this afternoon's media event was there any original reporting from the hometown newspaper.  The Journal World added nothing "new" to the growing scandal in terms of trying to shed some light on what was going on in the athletic department.  While I'm disappointed, I'm not surprised.

A lot of very good journalists work at the Journal World and 6 News.  At least one I know left in frustration over the ongoing efforts of the Simons family to protect certain people and certain institutions from negative coverage.  I hope I'm wrong but I suspect Dolph, Dan, or Dolph III made it clear to the staff that there was no need to do any digging on this story.  Again, I hope I'm wrong. 

The Simons have taken a lot of pride in being leaders in media convergence and trying to put together a powerful presence on the Web.  I think what the Simons fail to in this day and age of instant media gratification their paternalistic approach to journalism is dying. 

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Bad Coach

Vlad, my son-in-law, and Natasha, my step-daughter, had big goals for this year's big race in Riga.  If you recall last year the Czarina and I traveled to Latvia for the race.  The Czarina won her age group in the marathon while Vlad kicked my ass in the 5K.  Natasha ran the 5K as well.

Vlad's goal was to break 21 minutes for the 5K this year.  That would have been a big improvement over last year's time.  Natasha decided that she wanted to try the half marathon.  They both enlisted my help asking me to draw up training plans for them.  Unfortunately a couple of items were working against them.  First, they really didn't start training in earnest until about six or seven weeks ago.  Riga suffered a particularly brutal winter which made training really tough.  Second, they both caught a nasty virus from Masha two weeks before the race losing a valuable week of training.  The illness left both of them very weak.

Vlad did his best even creating a phony bib to get into the first corral to improve his chances at a fast time.  But the illness had taken its toll and he ran 21:30.  Based on the results of his workouts he was ready to run between 20:30 and 20:45.

Natasha faced the prospect of racing on a sunny, warm day.  Last year we ran in cool, overcast conditions.  She was in good spirits as she crossed the city's landmark bridge over the Daugava River.  But it didn't take long for things to go awry.  Natasha had to take a walk break at 8 kilometers.
The walk breaks apparently became a staple through the aid stations.
Little Masha couldn't help mom with her last kilometers.  It was a tough day but Natasha finished her first half marathon in two and a half hours, which was about what I expected.  Much to my surprise they want to train for a half marathon in Lithuania this September and they've requested a calendar from me.  I guess they are gluttons for punishment.  Seriously, considering everything, they both ran great.  It will be interesting to see what a summer of training does for them.  Even Masha is excited about it.

Friday, May 21, 2010


The Czarina is a sucker for Saturday Night Live.  I can take it in small doses.  She's a big fan of Andy Samberg's Digital Shorts.  Who can argue about the genius of "Dick in the Box" or "Mother Lover."  The Czarina also digs the MacGruber takes and she's never heard of or seen "MacGyver."  So at her insistence we went to see the motion picture debut of "MacGruber."

The movie is shockingly funny.  I would equate it to a human version of "Team America."  It's gory, it's full of f-bombs and other silly jokes.  It's not "Hangover" funny, but it delivers enough laughs to make it worth viewing.  I went into the theatre expecting yet another lame attempt to bring a SNL creation to the big screen.  While it doesn't rank up there with "Wayne's World", "MacGruber" is clever, especially if you like cunt jokes.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Tumultuous Times

Life feels like it's traveling at the speed of light right now.  I'm working two part time jobs and awaiting word on something a lot more permanent.  Job one with the highway project is rapidly drawing to a close.  My return to the highway project these last five months has been highly gratifying.  I've been successful in putting out little fires and helped put together the finishing touches on a great scrap book compiled by my old partner in crime Dave Parks.

The scrap book is so good I wouldn't mind having a copy myself.  It's full of dozens of articles, several written by yours truly, all of the videos I shot, wrote and wonderfully voiced and edited by Mr. Parks, and all of the massive public information effort we put into the job for the public and the media.  Dave even got me up to speed with editing on the lap top before he left.  Even though I had done non-linear editing before this was a different beast but once I got into it I had fun.

Even my blog about my return to the highway gig caught the eye of a Canadian journalist with the Toronto Globe and Mail.  She interviewed me yesterday about what it's like returning to a job you've been laid off from.  The article is supposed to be in next Tuesday's paper.

My other job is a two pronged gig with the U.S. Census.  I work as an assistant crew leader and an enumerator.  Enumerators are the folks who go pounding on doors trying to get forgetful and sometimes reluctant folkss to fill out their census.  I actually like knocking on the doors because by and large the people I meet are super nice.  I've had less than a handful of nasty encounters.  I took an oath, an oath I take very seriously about not revealing details of the work that I'm doing so I can't go into more detail.

The assistant crew leader part is pretty much shuffling paper.  You try and catch other people's mistakes before it gets kicked up the ladder.  Needless to say I've learned a lot and I'm still learning.  The census job may not last more than another month and by then the job on the highway project will most certainly be over so I'll be back to the ranks of the unemployed.

I'm hoping against hope that I do well enough with the census gig that they keep me around because there will be plenty of clean up work that should last well into the summer.  I'm just trying to save as much money as I can for the possibility of lean times ahead.  I'm even covering a high school football game next week.  Yes, Florida has spring ball just like Texas!

The unnerving part for me is the current state of my job searching efforts.  Hopefully in another week or so I'll know my fate and will be able to share more.  I usually take this sort of stuff in stride but for the last 24 hours I've been on pins and needles.  I don't know if some sort of panic has set in or what but this too will pass.  All I can do is the leg work and I know my efforts will eventually pay off.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Train Easy, Race Slow

The other question hanging out there for the last month or so is why I enjoy training more than racing.  I think I could develop quite a lecture for this subject.  And the fact is it didn't use to be that way.

Back when I was somewhat fast the only reason I trained at all was so I wouldn't completely embarrass myself when I raced.  When I started running under the guidance of Tom Dowling and he had to reign in my desire to race and do speed work.  He also had to gently remind me as I progressed to not "race" in my workouts. 

I found this problematic when I lived in Phoenix and ran under with coach Fred Moore, another Lydiard disciple like Dowling.  I was training my ass off but I kept falling apart in the last two miles of every 10K.  The problem was the bi-weekly tempo and interval sessions with Fred and his group were killing me.  It took about a year before Tom advised in a phone conversation to stop racing the workouts.  Fred had been saying essentially the same thing but I wasn't listening.  For some reason that phone call hit me between the eyes.

I also took some advice from Fred to read "The Tao of Pooh."  I was thunderstruck by the simple message the book offered which I took as, go with the flow, don't push, let the race come to you.  The first 10K after reading the book I was in so-so shape yet ran a PR. 

But I digress from the original intent of the question as to why I'd rather train than race.  First of all, races are a major pain in the ass.  I began to find in the 1990's that races cost too much, they are poorly organized, the courses are not accurate, and I really don't like getting up at 6 a.m. to toe the line at 7:30 or 8 in the morning.  I'm a night person. 

I will say that the Fort Myers Track Club does the exact opposite of what I described above.  The cost is reasonable, races are well organized with quick results, and accurate courses.  But we only have two night races a year. 

It's also difficult getting worked up to run a 22 minute 5K.  I'm not trying to be a snob but if I am going to "Thrust against pain contemptuously" as the great coach Percy Cerutty advised, then I at least want to run under 21 minutes.  It's hard to race and run times that you know are slower than you are capable of running.  I may be 54 but I'm not ready to concede to anyone that I can't run 6:45 pace for a 5K.

On the other hand training is great because there simply isn't any pressure.  I run how I feel.  If I feel like doing a tempo run then I do it.  And the best part of training are those days when everything clicks.  You feel 10 years younger, 20 pounds lighter, your legs are light and it's magic because I feel like I'm flying across the asphalt.  You finish the run with a glow and a state of satisfied exhaustion that people pay good money for when it comes to illegal drugs.

The only training run that I dread is the long run and its two-fold.  I miss running in a group like I did back in Kansas City which helps take away the monotony and with the onset of summer weather, the humidity is a killer.  I'm going to start getting up at 5:30 a.m. on Saturday's to join the Mike Pemberton's long run group.  I tried it this Saturday hoping to catch the 6 a.m. group leaving Starbuck's but much to my surprise I was all by my lonesome.  The parking lot was full of cars belonging to 5:30 runners.  The early Saturday runs are a sacrifice I'm willing to make in order to not completely fall apart when I run my first marathon in seven years this October.

In closing I offer this bit of simple advice, don't grind.  If you can run, just enjoy it.  This attitude adjustment kept me from giving up the sport that I truly love.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Doughboy

One of my friends offered a couple of topics about running about a month ago.  One of them concerned weight.  I currently weigh in the vicinity of 180 pounds.  A mere five years ago I weighed 170 pounds.  Then came a major illness and a couple of achilles surgeries and wham, I went from having a bit of a spare tire to being overweight.  I hit my all time high of 210 pounds last year as I battled a severe case of plantar fasciatis following the repair of my right achilles.

Back in high school I went from a 5-10 120 pound sophomore to a 6 foot 135 pound senior.  After my exodus from the K.U. cross country team and a bought of strep throat I went from a 140 pound college freshman to 165 pounds by the beginning of my second semester.  I never got heavier than that until my mid-30's.  My weight would yo-yo depending on whether I was running or not.  I would swing between 145 pounds and 160 pounds over the course of 15 years.

When I got serious again about running at age 30 I generally stayed at 149 pounds but never more than 155 pounds.  But something happened when I turned 35.  I took a self imposed layoff from running at the beginning of 1991 of six months.  I went to 170 pounds.  When I started training again in earnest I couldn't lose weight.  It took me nine months to get down to 162 pounds.  I've battled weight ever since and earned the nickname "Doughboy" from either Steve Riley or Paul Boone.  Boonie has since joined the Doughboy ranks and has earned the moniker "Doughboy II." 

The aforementioned friend who shall remain nameless had stopped running near the end of his time in college and about five years after graduation had become sort of hefty.  I'm guessing he was pushing 200 pounds but I think he said he weighed 180 at the time.  Now this gentleman is 6-2 so the extra weight didn't look that bad but he was huffing and puffing when he started running again.  It took two or three years but he eventually became a lean, mean, competitive runner again.  I'm pretty sure he tipped the scales a shade under 160 pounds.  We're talking sub 2:35 marathons and 15 minute 5K's here.

The thing that he did that I refuse to do is monitor my diet.  He would forsake fatty foods and sweets and stick to a very healthy diet.  I suspect he consumed vast quantities of pasta and a lot of salads.  It all sounded like torture to me.  That's too much to sacrifice.  I've given up enough vices in my life and food is the one thing I refuse to restrict.  If I simply gave up drinking Coca-Cola I would probably shed ten pounds in a month.  If I gave up beef and shrimp altogether and stuck with chicken, pasta, and salads I would surely lose another 10 pounds.

I don't know if there's a point in all of this but while I would certainly be a hell of a lot faster at say, 165 pounds, I'm not sure I would be any happier.  I certainly would have to have all of my suits altered to account for the shrinking waistline and buy a slew of new slacks.  I guess I'm fat and sort of happy.  I'm bound and determined to prove that I can run a 3:30 marathon at 175 pounds.

EDITOR'S NOTE:  The unnamed runner wants me to share that he is only 6 feet tall (hah!) and did indeed weigh 200 pounds.  Before his fastest marathon more than three years ago he weighed a shade over 143.  He now happily resides in the mid-160's.  He also wants to know why I won't give Diet Coke a try... it might be the last resort of this scoundrel.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


The impossible happened over the weekend but you wouldn't know it from reading any of the major sports publications in the United States.  The young man on the right, Chris Solinsky, buried the American record for 10000 meters.  In doing so, he became the first non-African to break 27 minutes.  His time of 26:59.60 also put a major crimp in the plans of one Galen Rupp.

The 10K race at the reknowned super speedway known as Stanford University's track was a planned attempt for Rupp to break Meb Keflezighi's American record.

I watched a recording of the race in complete awe.  With about ten laps to go Rupp rolled by the last of his two pacemakers to strike out in pursuit of the record.  The pace had started to wane and Rupp knew to reach his goal he would have to make a bold move.  Unfortunately, four other runners were towed along in the wake of Rupp's record attempt.  Rupp's frustration was clear as on at least two occassions he glanced back at one of his rivals, Liberty University's Sammy Chelenga, seemingly in a plea for help with the pacing duties. 

Tagging along in the pack was Solinsky, making his debut at the 10000.  For a short time after the halfway mark Solinsky started to lose contact with the pack before fought through his difficulties and regained contact.  At about a mile to go Solinsky's old Wisconsin teammate, Simon Bairu from Canada, fell off the back.  Now only four runners remained.

Rupp forged on trying to break away but no one made a move until with a little more than a half mile to go, Solinsky eased his way to the front and began pulling away from everyone.  The last half mile he dispatched the field clocking a 1:56.1 on his way to the record.  Rupp was spent and had no kick allowing little known Kenyan Daniel Salel and Chelenga to beat him to the finish line.  Yet, even defeated in fourth place, Rupp too squeezed under the old American Record, hitting the line in 27:10.74.

It was a feast for critics of Rupp, who has come in for an unfair amount of criticism because of his relationship with NIKE and coach Alberto Salazar.  Rupp was brave in his attempt.  My only regret is the deafening silence from him and Coach Salazar.  I've not heard or read one word of congratulations from Rupp since this surprising defeat.  Solinsky for his part admitted that if there might be some bitterness given that he never shared in the pacemaking efforts.  I think Chris owes no apologies because the other runners had plenty of time to respond to his bold move with 900 meters to go.

One question remains in light of this weekend's dramatic run is this.  When will the other gentleman in the above picture make his 10K debut?  That question has hung over the career of former Kansas City area high school star Matt Tegenkamp for the better part of six years.  Tegenkamp, also a grad of Wisconsin, has been outstanding at 5000 meters, much faster than Solinsky in fact.  Matt is one of only three Americans to ever break 13 minutes for a 5K.  He just barely missed out on a medal at the 2007 World Championships.  My guess is Tegenkamp will give serious consideration to a 10K sometime this summer.  If he decides to give it a go we'll find out if Tegenkamp can beat Rupp or Dathan Ritzenheim for that matter, to the magical 27 minute barrier.
EDITOR'S NOTE:  Rupp finally talked to the media on Thursday about the race.  While he expressed disappointment about losing, he bore no ill will toward Solinsky and his sit and kick tactics.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Heat + Humidity = Slow Death

Ah but for the want of racing one week earlier.  Last weekend was bliss, this one was a sauna.  The Czarina insisted that we run the Tropicool 5K in Naples this Sunday morning. 

Sometime on Thursday the humidity which usually arrives in late March finally got its claws into Southwest Florida.  The heat kicked in on Friday and the temperatures have been climbing everyday up to 93 today.

The fun started at 7:30 a.m.  It was probably about 75 degrees at the start with a nice breeze out of the south off the gulf.  The humidity was at least 90 percent and given that we were just a half mile from the water, probably higher.

The course was a nice, flat, double loop.  I got out amazingly well hitting the first mile in 7 flat.  It felt easy and I was still catching people in the second mile.  I couldn't see my split at mile two but I thought I had run 7:03.  Boy was I wrong.  The heat and humidity was hammering me, I just didn't realize it.  I didn't see my three mile split and when I turned the corner for the last 70 yards to the finish my heart sunk when I saw the clock.  I hit the finish line in 23:06, my slowest time of the spring.  Mile two had been only 7:28 and mile three took 7:38. 

I didn't feel like I had slowed that much.  A really good woman competitor who I know and usually runs right with me experienced the exact same phenonenom.  She finished about nine seconds behind me.  We had hit the first mile together and she told me that the effort had felt the same all the way to the finish.

The Czarina didn't fair much better running 25:15, but she did win her age group, while I wasn't even close to the podium.  The race had 500 runners, up about 350 from the year before, go figure. 

Racing is done until the fall for me.  I'll also start to cut back my training runs except for the weekly long run.  Seven and eight mile runs take too much effort so it will be four and five mile efforts for the next few months.  The long runs will be interesting.  I think I'll join a Saturday morning group effort that goes out at 6 a.m.  I hate getting up that early but I'm going to need all the support I can get the next few months to get ready for St. George. 

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Close but No Cigar

Erick Montoya finished his high school career tonight at the Florida state track meet in Winter Park.  The senior who runs for Estero High School may be the best Florida high school distance runner to never win a state championship in Florida.  Erick earned two second place finishes in the 1600 and 3200.  He also anchored his school's 4 X 800 team to fifth.

Erick had an outstanding senior season in track running 4:14.55 and 9:08.81 this season.  When you add up all of his state appearances he finished third and earned two seconds in state cross country.  On the track he placed third twice in the 3200, earned two seconds in the 3200, to go along with two second place finishes at 1600.

His coach Jeff Sommers is my neighbor.  Besides Montoya he coached Footlocker finalist Bona Jones three years ago.

Erick reminds me a lot of one of the greatest high school distance runner in Kansas who never won a state title.  Steve Shaad was a stud in the early 1970's at Bonner Springs High School.  He had the misfortune of coming up against some other awesome prep runners, Terry Glenn and Jerry Peffly.  I don't remember Steve's best times but I know he ran in the low 4:20's for the full mile and in the 9:20's for two miles.  It seemed Steve was always running second or third behind those two.

One race I remember in particular occurred in 1973 at the Kansas Relays.  Shaad had entered the boys mile steeplechase, skipping the two mile, figuring he could pick up the prestigious title.  Unfortunately Bob Christensen, who had won the boys mile the day before, had entered as well.  The two waged a great battle both bashing the meet record running 4:36 with Christensen coming out on top.  Ironically both runners ended up at Wichita State as teammates and became top steeplechase competitors, both breaking 9 minutes.

Despite the crushing disappointment Shaad toed the line 20 minutes later for the boys 4 X 800.  If my memory serves me Shaad ran the third leg, handing off to his 880 state champion teammate Mark Denning, who crushed his anchor leg giving Bonner Springs the Kansas Relays title.  It was great to see Steve Shaad celebrate.  It was as good as a state title for him.  It's a memory I will always carry with me seeing his joy because he knew his lack of a kick would probably keep him from ever topping the victory stand at state.

Montoya suffers the same problem as Shaad.  This fierce competitor lacks a great kick.  Hopefully the coaches at Florida, Montoya's next stop, will help this humble young man find his finishing gear.