Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Grinders

Halfway through the season and this edition of the Kansas Jayhawks mirrors a reflection of what Bill Self basketball is all about than any of his teams to wear the Crimson and Blue.  This team grinds its way to victories.  Look back through the Self era at the number of games his teams won when they scored less than 70 and it stands at a mere handful.  Even with Self's love of good defense his teams won when they scored.  This team can win even when it doesn't score.

The Jayhawks have won again and again in the month of January despite a sluggish offense.  I think this bodes well for a team that actually has a lot of offensive weapons.  Kansas will make a major step forward when Self realizes that his team is better with Perry Ellis is on the floor.  Ellis played like a freshman early on in the season.  The slightest bump, push in the back and it was a missed shot or rebound slipping away.  That's not happening much now.

Kevin Young's play has been the surprise of the season.  His hustle and spirit is infectious.  But he can't shoot to save his life and if you watch closely on defense, while he's scrappy, he gets lost, a lot.  His atrocious play against Kansas State nearly cost the Jayhawks the game.  I suspect by March, Ellis will be back in the starting lineup.

Much to my surprise the Achilles heel of this squad is guard play.  Nadir Tharpe is a back up worthy of a mere five minutes a game.  Obviously neither of the freshman, Adams or White, has shown enough in practice to persuade Self that they deserve more minutes.  Elijah Johnson has to stay on the floor for Kansas to be a truly great basketball team. 

Make no mistake, Withey and McLemore are every bit as important as Johnson to a deep tournament run in March, but a team with four seniors and the best "freshman" in the country should be a title contender.  I wouldn't have said that last fall with Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor off to the NBA, but it just goes to show what a great recruiter and coach Bill Self is.  He's always looks two to three years down the road to fill the holes, blending great talent with great role players.  Another trip to the Final 4 certainly won't come as a surprise, but wouldn't it be nice just the same.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Kicking It Off

Tis' the season to race in Southwest Florida.  Despite losing five months to a series of nagging injuries I decided to start this racing season with one of the top events in the area, the Naples Daily News Half Marathon.  It's a race that I've never run.  It always seems that I'm either just getting back in shape or coming off some injury when this one comes around.  This year I had a good four months of training under my belt.

The NDN Half is considered one of the best 13.1 mile races in the entire country.  The main reason, it's pancake flat.  The turns are minimal and despite a less than stellar amount of prize money some top-flight runners usually show up for this one.  It attracts the usual Kenyan and Ethiopians looking to cash in along with a passel of Russian emigres' who train up in Gainesville.  This year former Olympian Anthony Famiglietti happen to be in town.  Known as a steeple/5K racer, Fam got stuffed by the Africans which shouldn't surprise anyone.

For me, I looked at this as a good distance tempo run.  I didn't want to try and race and wind up crawling in over the last 4 or 5 miles.  I went out conservatively and ran well within myself.  I wanted to stay under 9 minute pace and run under 1:55.  I did both and finished in 1:52:28, with my chip time being 30 seconds faster.

I started in the middle of the pack and found myself having to be very careful, picking my way through the myriad of idiots who had placed themselves too far up to the front.  With almost 2-thousand people on hand for the start and narrow streets to deal with, it took awhile to thin out the herd.  I must have passed a couple of hundred people in the first mile and an equal amount to the halfway point. 

After cracking off a 9:03 opening mile, according to the official clock, I settled in at a comfortable pace between 8:15 and 8:20. By the halfway point I started catching people that I normally beat and my neighbor, who usually beats me. It was sometime after 8 miles that I realized I had a choice, push and suffer to maintain 8:20 pace or ease off and just finish.  I knew that I was pissing away a chance to run under 1:50 but that was the point, run and enjoy.

The course was as fast as advertised.  It was incredibly humid but the 60 degree temperature and overcast conditions helped make up for the humidity.  I finished 450th out of the throng.  Not bad for an old, fat man, who's just getting back into shape.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Stan the Man

Once upon a time I was a diehard fan of major league baseball.  But then the strike of 1994 ruined one of the best seasons ever (even with the steroids) and then the game got completely twisted by the freakish stats that followed thanks to PED's and my interest wained.  I longed for a time when players stayed with a team their whole career.  I longed for a time when a player's name was associated with a city, like George Brett with Kansas City and Cal Ripken, Jr. with Baltimore.

If you say St. Louis, only one name comes to mind.  Stan Musial was baseball in St. Louis.  That's saying a lot for a city with an incredible baseball history, second only to that of New York.  Musial retired just as I was becoming aware of the great game of baseball.  He exemplifies the golden age of major league baseball.

Musial played in a period that started with Joe Dimaggio and Ted Williams and ended with Willie Mays and Hank Aaron.  His presence in the Cardinals' lineup always made St. Louis a contender.  He hit for power, for average and could run really well in his younger years.  Most importantly you never heard any criticism of him in the press, not then, not now.

DiMaggio had his foibles, he was a loner, he carried an air of arrogance, he never really fit in with this teammates.  Williams was a man at war with the press and with his fans.  Other players of that generation, Duke Snider, Jackie Robinson, Roy Campenella, Mickey Mantle, Mays and Aaron, certainly generated more headlines.  Of course five of those players played a large part of their careers in the Big Apple.  Aaron is the exception and he never really got much ink until people woke up in the early 70's and realized he could catch Babe Ruth as baseball's greatest homerun hitter.

As much as I loved the Dodgers in my younger years, largely because of Sandy Koufax, I loved the Cardinals almost as much.  Musial was part of a tremendous baseball heritage that soared behind such players as Bob Gibson, Dizzy Dean, Joe Medwick, and Rodgers Hornsby.  As great as all of those players were and they were incredible, Musial stood above them all.  Albert Pujols could have surpassed Musial as the personification of baseball in that city but he chose to pursue the money.  Musial was class personified.  He was approachable to everyone.

His passing leaves an aching in my passion for baseball.  From that great generation that kick started baseball after World War II, only a few Hall of Famers remain.  Ironically, two of the oldest both have ties to St. Louis.  The great Red Schoendienst who managed my beloved 1967 El Birdos to the World Championship and played 2nd base for the Red Birds back in the 40's is still around as is Yogi Berra.  Ironically, Berra, though a Yankee for life, was born in and grew up in St. Louis.

Cardinal Nation is a sad place indeed tonight.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Things that Make Me Go Hmmm....

One of the weirdest things about living in Southwest Florida is the fact that we don't host a major marathon in the winter.  Naples hosts one of the nation's best half marathons in January but so far a good marathon hasn't taken root here. 

A half-assed effort was made a couple of years ago to hold a marathon in Cape Coral.  The race was organized by rank amatuers, the kind that my running buddy Steve Riley and I loathe.  It was understaffed, poorly marked, with few water stations and a lot of loops.  It died a quick, deserved death after 2 years.

Now I see that plans are in the works for a marathon on Fort Myers Beach.  The website for the race next November says it's in conjunction with the Lee County Sports Authority.  I go hmmm.  It's obvious this race isn't about racing or even running, it's about making a quick buck.  I say that because if you hold a marathon on Fort Myers Beach, then you can be 90 percent sure they plan to have the runners traverse the bridge.  I can't say it with 100 percent certainty because the race website doesn't even have a course map up yet.

This is why I go hmmm.  Fort Myers is pancake flat.  There are plenty of great locations to run an interesting marathon without going over any of the bridges in or around Lee County.  Yet the organizers have picked Fort Myers Beach, I'm sure hoping for a ton of sponsorship from businesses located there.  Fort Myers Beach is the wrong place for a race like this, unless they plan to run a couple of loops up and down the island which seems doubtful.  

Besides the issue of running up and over a major bridge, probably a couple of times, you've got the issue of wind and humidity incumbent with running on or near the island that this town sits on.  If I'm with the Lee County Sports Authority, I can think of a half dozen spots in Lee County that would offer better running with NO bridges.  Add in 10K worth of prize money and you could attract some fairly decent runners.  But this has all the earmarks of a wry attempt to attract folks that I like to call hobby joggers.  And that's not a slam against hobby joggers since I certainly fall into that category.  My days of being a competitive racer are long gone.  

As for the sports marketing firm behind the race, they already stage a marathon in Newport, Rhode Island.  I went to Marathon Guide to read some reviews on that race and it looks like a mixed bag regarding their skills for on putting on a race, but not horrible.  It will certainly be a better race than the catastrophe staged in Cape Coral.  I hope I'm wrong.  I hope they can avoid the bridge!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Trudging into the New Year

A wasted summer filled with frustrating injuries left me 20 pounds heavier and in the worst running shape of my life.  That's saying a lot considering I've had four separate surgeries in the last eight years, a couple of which were pretty debilitating.  I think the struggle to return this time is due largely to one thing and one thing only, age.

Getting older sucks.  My body just doesn't seem to respond the way it used to after a few weeks of running.  It used to be the pounds would melt away quickly and the spring in my step would soon follow.  It hasn't happened this time.  I started back to training in earnest by late September and it was a grind.  My training runs were slow and stayed slow even a month, two months into my return to almost daily running.

I had planned to start my racing season in November put running more than 8 minute pace for a 5K holds little attraction.  I know with a sustained healthy period of training I could return to running close to sub-7 pace for a 5K.  So I pondered the possibilities and decided to delay my return to racing my running a half marathon with the idea of using it more as a long tempo run than a real race.

I've always wanted to run the Naples Daily News Half Marathon.  It hits at the end of January and would give me plenty of time to build up some endurance.  It's the top competitive race in Southwest Florida which attracts a field of world class distance runners.  I've always wanted to run it but I'm not a big fan of half marathons.  They tend to beat me up.

The last half I ran was in the summer of 2010 in Modesto where I ran about 1:43.  I was in the middle of a marathon training build up at that time so I was in very good shape.  There's no way in hell I'll approach that.  I know I can break 2 hours, but the question is, by how much?  If I'm true to making it a tempo effort something under 1:55 should be realistic.  But if I allow myself to "race" I might be able to break 1:50. 

The problem with racing is the suffering that will come with it and right now the idea of suffering for 5 to 6 miles over the last part of the race just doesn't sound very inviting.  I want to use this race as a building block to the series of 5K races that will follow this winter and early spring.  I figure I'll run at least 4 to 5 more races between Naples and the end of April. 

I doubt that I can come close to running a 5K in the low 22's as I did last spring.  If I hadn't gotten injured for five months I'd be ready to run low 21's.  But right now if I hit the mid 22's this spring it would be a major moral victory.  I know it's possible because the running over the last 2 weeks has certainly taken a turn for the better.  My weight has finally started to melt away after four months of training.  I'm consistently topping 40 miles per week and most importantly my training pace is beginning to return to a speed more consistent with what I was putting in last winter

The big thing is going to be to resist the urge to do speed work.  It was undoing last spring.  I think I've got to make myself focus on more tempo runs and more 2 hour runs on the weekends.  Easy to write about, difficult to executive.  The first step comes on January 20th in Naples.