Monday, November 28, 2011

Jim Hershberger

If you ever met Jim Hershberger, you'd never forget it.  Though small in stature, he was larger than life with an ability to take over a room through his sheer force of personality.  James Wayne Hershberger passed away a few days ago, ironically, not far from where I live now.  He was 80 years old.

I first met Jim Hershberger in 1971.  Everyone in Kansas knew who Jim Hershberger was.  He was an oil millionaire who loved track and field.  Hershberger loved to compete and was a great age group runner before the term was even invented.

I was at my first 10 mile road race with my friend Greg Morgenson.  It was in the tiny western Kansas town of LaCrosse.  It was a simple out and back affair with maybe 50 to 75 runners present.  There were no t-shirts, there were no age group awards and if you weren't in the top 10 you were out of the medals.  I remember seeing someone wearing track spikes clacking along the asphalt road, insanity I thought.  Most of the race was on a gravel road so the idiot in spikes probably didn't suffer too much but I remember the heat and struggling back the last four miles.

I finished somewhere near the top 10 in about 65 minutes but out of the medals.  Not long after I crossed the finish line I was approached by one Jim Hershberger who offered me a bit of sound advice.  He told me to stop running on my toes.  I had spent the previous winter learning to run on my toes at the insistence of my junior high coach.  Despite the words of wisdom from Hershberger I continued the practice until the following spring.  Of course as soon as I switched my times dropped dramatically.

Hershberger was a fixture at the Kansas Relays.  It amazed me that a man in his 40's could hammer 880 yards at close to 2 minutes flat.  He ponied up the money to build the synthetic track at Kansas and spent lavishly in other ways to support the Kansas track and field program. 

But he was polarizing.  His love of the limelight could be off putting to some people.  He made it to the pages of Sports Illustrated in 1981 when he created his own athletic challenge involving multiple sports at age 50.  The competition was something of a precursor to the sports crazes that athletes now compete in like cross fit.

It ended in the late 1980's for Hershberger in a fraud scandal.  I'm ambivalent about what happened.  Part of me wants to believe that Jim was a fall guy, done in by a subordinate looking to save his own hide.  Nevertheless, Jim Hershberger went to federal prison for his supposed crimes.  His family says prison changed him.  My friends who knew him say that he never showed that in public.

I last saw Jim about three years ago at a gathering of Kansas alums in Fort Myers.  I didn't know it but he was already suffering from Alzheimer's.  He was the same Jim Hershberger, smiling and ready to tell a story.  I write about it because Jim was a trailblazer for age group competitors.  He kept competing in his 40's and 50's until his body wouldn't let him anymore.  He certainly had the broken bones and surgeries to prove it.  In a sense I still run and compete because of what I saw from Jim Hershberger 40 years ago.  Thanks for the advice Jim and for daring to compete at the highest levels.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Tyshawn = Turnover

Tis the season to write about Kansas basketball.  After watching four of the Jayhawk's first five games I've come to one conclusion.  This team will only go as far as Tyshawn Taylor can take them. 

Kansas should have beaten Duke last night.  Taylor's 11 turnovers insured the Jayhawks wouldn't.  It was pretty much the same story in the loss to Kentucky.  Taylor and his back court cohort Elijah Johnson were very sloppy with the basketball.

This is going to be a very long and trying season for Kansas fans.  Oh, this team will get to 20 wins barring a major injury and it will make another visit to the NCAA tournament, but it won't be pretty.  This team will have to play scrappy, hard-nosed basketball, to win games.  Everyone knows that this team has no bench.  The starting five will have to carry the load.

The most pleasant surprise has been the arrival of Jeff Withey.  He's gone from being a poor man's Eric Chenowith to a reasonably good post player.  He's got the best hands I've seen on a Kansas big man in a long time and can rebound and block shots.  He can't finish worth a poot around the basket but I've got a feeling that by next year he'll be a double digit contributor in the paint on a regular basis.  Withey and sure to be All-American Thomas Robinson almost make the loss of the Morris twins bearable.

But back to Taylor.  He's as entertaining as he is frustrating.  Tyshawn is trying to grow into his role as the team leader.  If he does the Jayhawks will be a very, very tough team to deal with by the end of the year.  But if he continues to slip into his lackadaisical street ball style that gets him in trouble on the court not to mention his off the court antics, then Jayhawk land had better be prepared to deal with the bitter and the sweet.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Sail Away

Inspiration seems to have sailed away.  I've neglected my blogging while I've intensified my job search.  I caught a wisp of inspiration over the weekend when Randy Newman put in an appearance on Austin City Limits.  It took me back to the first time that I heard any of his music.

I was still a student at the University of Kansas and the gang of Ballpark baseball enthusiasts had gathered at Colin Gage's home which was then located just off K-10 between Lawrence and Eudora.  Colin was playing various music as we played the game and drank beer.  But he made a special point of having us listen to Newman's greatest album, "Sail Away."  On it is one of my all time favorite songs.  It is a beautiful composition, one that I can listen to over and over again.  "Louisiana 1927" is a jewel among an album full of great songs from the title track through such rollicking tunes "Rednecks" and "Kingfish."

Other than the music it's been a week of watching Kansas get manhandled by Kentucky.  It's going to be a long year for Jayhawk nation.  I've had fun watching my friend Max Ustler play baseball with his cadre of 60 plus buddies.  And I'm making progress in my efforts to learn Russian.  I always made my first run of 10 miles for the year.  It went surprisingly well.  The result may inspire to actually run a race sometime soon.  Maybe.   

Sunday, November 6, 2011

1000 miles continued

Anyway my Lauren Fleshman prediction didn't go too far afield.  I'll give her credit.  She must have suffered over the last few miles but she finished in just a shade under 2:38.  For a first time effort I'm pretty impressed.  The marathon overall was amazing.  The women's race featured a massive flame out with an relatively unknown Ethiopian Firehiwot Dado catching front running Kenyan Mary Keitany in the final 2 kilometers.  On the men's side Kenyan Geoffrey Mutai showed his earth shattering Boston win was no fluke smashing the field with 10 kilometers to go and blowing up the course record in the process.
More importantly on this Sunday the stench of big money that permeates college football found its way to Columbia, Missouri.  Mizzou decided to skate to the SEC.  Their departure from the Big 12 will bring an end to the oldest football rivalry west of the Mississippi.  Missouri fielded competitive teams in the Big 12 in both football and basketball.  They won't be able to compete in the SEC.  Their hoops team will continue to make it into the NCAA tournament but football will be a whole different story.  They'll be lapdogs like Kentucky and Vanderbilt.  I say good riddance.

Finally 1000 miles means a lot.  I have run at least 1000 miles every year since I was 15 years old.  That's 40 years of at least 1000 miles.  I don't know how many lifetime miles I have.  I was never very good about keeping accurate logs until I hit 30.  But my lifetime total is probably in the neighborhood of 60,000 miles.  I'm no Craig Davidson that's for sure!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

1000 miles

Running hasn't been as much fun this year as it was last.  Training for the St. George Marathon was front and center.  I actually had to run more than 30 miles a week and do runs that lasted more than an hour.  I went to the track to do hard workouts.  For some reason that hasn't happened in the last 12 months.

I went through a four month case of the blahs after St. George.  The cold, rainy, winter in Sacramento didn't help.  Working in a difficult environment didn't help.  I didn't have any goals and I couldn't get excited about running save for the fact that I didn't want to weigh 200 pounds. 

So as the weather warmed I got back into the swing of things.  Moving back home got me to be more consistent about training.  The Czarina is always raring and ready to go so that helps on days when lacing up the shoes doesn't seem very important. 

But I need to start racing to at least break out of the lethargy that just doing training runs brings on.  The racing season is just about to go full tilt in Southwest Florida and I need to just do it.

And that leads me to tomorrow and the New York City marathon.  One of my favorite runners Lauren Fleshman will attempt her first marathon.  I'm really worried for her.  She's doing it coming off her track season with only two and a half months of proper marathon preparation.  From my perspective even if you're in shape, which Lauren undoubtedly is, you need a good six months to run a quality marathon.

She's not holding any illusions that she's going to go out and run some ridiculously fast time.  I think that will help her.  But honestly I won't be shocked if she drops out by 20 miles.  The NYC course is a bear and Lauren is a competitor.  Those competitive juices could get her into trouble if she tries to stay with the lead pack.  I hope I'm wrong.