Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Motorpsycho Visit

He's really not a psycho, but he was a hell of a high school pole vaulter.  He transformed himself into one of the best masters runner in Kansas history and I feel lucky to call him my friend.  I think I've blogged about Steve Riley before but I'm too lazy to look back through my old postings to see what's there.

I first knew of Steve while I was in high school.  He was the best high school pole vaulter in the nation his senior year at Wichita East.  Yeah, that's the same high school that Jim Ryun went to.  Steve set a state record that would last exactly one year.  My teammate Tad Scales would come along the next year and break it.

Steve and I became acquaintances my freshman year at Kansas.  By then he had pretty much flamed out in the world of track and field.  We both shared that, along with a love of Bob Dylan.  Thus an enduring friendship was born.

Steve, besides being a former pole vaulter and a great runner, also loves motorcycles and used to sky dive.  Marcia, his wonderful wife, finally but the kibosh on the sky diving.  Together they raised two incredible young men, Justin and Matt.  I like to think of them as my nephews.

When I was hitting some tough times in my life, Steve was there like a rock.  We ran together, played guitar together and talked a lot about Bob Dylan.  I think in some small way I helped Steve as well.

I miss the runs and I miss playing guitar with him.  We get together on the phone on a somewhat regular basis to discuss all things Bob.  It's amazing that our friendship has endured for nearly 40 years despite my wandering way.

Steve's on one of his legendary cross country motorcycle trips. He's passing through tomorrow night on his way to a wedding in Fort Lauderdale. In a house full of Russians, he may have to grab a spot on the couch, which is a shame because after all that riding, he really deserves a bed.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Lessons from London

The London Diamond League meet marks the last major get together for track and field before the World Championships in London.  I'm sure if I had a magic wand and could wave it the Czarina and I would be headed to Russia for the meet which starts on August 10.  But I digress, I want to write about the fortunes of U.S. track and field heading into the big meet.

The U.S.A. rocked the London Olympics.  It was a great despite some sprint woes, the men getting shutout of the medals at 200 meters and a 2nd place finish in the 4 X 400.  I think duplicating the successes of London in Moscow will be a stretch.

U.S. sprinting is in disarray.  Tyson Gay's positive drug test, Carmelita Jeter's injury plagued season, Sanya Richards out, Aries Merritt all over the map in the hurdles and Alyson Felix showing uncertain form, it could be a real mess.  It doesn't look much better in the distance races.  Matt Centrowitz and Leo Manzano have run like crap in Europe.  I highly doubt that Galen Rupp can duplicate his medal performance of London and Bernard Lagat is simply too old.

The best hopes are in the middle distances where Brenda Martinez has shined at 800 meters and the men boast two medal contenders in Nick Symmonds and Duane Solomon.  The men's 800 is wide open without David Rudisha's majestic presence.  The one racer I will watch with great interest is Mary Cain.  The high school phenom has shown she lacks the tactics needed on the world stage after a disappointing run in London.  But she has the kind of finishing speed that could put her in the final and dare I say it, in a slow enough race, a medal contender.

It's a shame the Czarina and I won't be in Moscow next month.  I guess we should start saving our pennies for London in 2017.  Now that sounds like a grand plan.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Good Til the Last Drop

I gave into air conditioning today.  I just couldn't take the heat and humidity anymore.  I walked over to the clubhouse and ran 5 miles on the treadmill.  Even with the AC assist at a cool 75 degrees I still laid a fine spray of sweat across the apparatus.
We had been so lucky this spring and through the early part of the summer.  Usually the humidity arrives sometime in late April or early May.  The dewpoints climb into the mid 70's and running anything over 10 miles is almost impossible.

But the weather was incredible through April and May.  Even into June it never got really bad.  The running was more than tolerable.  Part of it was the weather pattern of afternoon showers that was doing a pretty good job of clearing out the humidity for early evening runs.

In fact last Friday, July 19, was incredible.  I ran a wonderful 5 miles along the trail that borders a massive slough with a cool draft blowing in from a thunderstorm sitting about 20 miles to the east.  It marked the end of spring I guess because Saturday was complete hell.  The humidity hung in the air, completely choking every pour on my body. 

It stayed that way on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, you get the idea.  It was awful.  I came home last night after running 4 miles and felt like throwing up.   I had run at a very slow pace, my hat was soaked all the way through.  Normally, it takes at least 6 to 7 miles on a hot, humid day for sweat to drip from the bill of my cap.

You can see in the picture above I can work up a pretty good sweat on a hot day.  This was from a race in July in Sacramento, about 4 miles into a 5 mile effort.  It was probably 7 a.m. and hot as hell but trust me, I don't miss Sacramento or its weather.

I'll adjust to this sudden increase in summer's wrath.  I may have to cut back the runs and accept the fact that age 57, I can't handle the heat like I did at 47 or 37. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

America is Full of Racists

I'm tired of racism.  The election of a Black President 5 years ago brought to the surface things I hadn't seen since the 1960's.  Forget Rodney King, America it's getting really ugly.  The murder, yes murder of Trayvon Martin, only shows to serve how bad it really is.

White America feels incredibly threatened by Black America.  The Zimmerman case is classic.  Read Zimmerman's old MySpace posts, even his comments the night when he shot Martin show what was thinking.  He saw a black thug scoping out his neighborhood and he was going to make sure he kept a good watch on this threatening figure.  We all know how it ended. 

I will say this.  If Trayvon had worried more about getting home than worrying about the cracker following him then none of this would have happened.  However, Zimmerman had no business getting out of his vehicle, especially after the 911 operator told him not to. 

But enough of this.  I want to talk about this garbage I've been receiving for the better part of a year at work in my email.  This picture keeps coming in, about every week or so.  Our outraged viewers want to know why we don't so this picture of Trayvon Martin.  It's obvious this thug was no, slight, non-threatening teenager. 

What these crackers sending this crap in don't realize is that it's a picture of a rapper called The Game.  I would give anything to find out how this Internet legend got started and personally see to it this redneck serves the prison sentence George Zimmerman should be serving. 

Even when you explain to them that the picture isn't Trayvon they still want to know why his youthful indiscretions aren't mentioned during our coverage of the events surrounding the case.  Zimmerman had a criminal past.  One in fact that makes me question how he could even be qualified to carry a handgun.  But that's another story. 

I'm frustrated.  George Zimmerman had a right to defend himself.  We'll never know who threw the first punch and what triggered the deadly brawl.  But the picture that this is the picture these bigots should remember of Trayvon Martin.  A young boy, cut down in the prime of his life, by a wanna-be cop, a grown adult who couldn't defend himself again, a tall, but slight, teenager.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Black Sunday for Sprinters

I love distance running.  But watching a great sprinter is something special.  It kills me to read the news today about Tyson Gay and the Jamaican sprinters caught doping.  My belief has always been that elite athletes cheat.  I say that even about distance runners. 
But seeing someone as likeable as Gay get nailed just makes my heart sink.  He looked incredible in Des Moines.  Tyson Gay would have given Usain Bolt all that he could handle.  The World Championships in Moscow will be hollow without Gay, Asafa Powell and Nesta Carter.

The Czarina and I have long talked about what the Jamaicans are taking.  The island nation has produced quality sprinters for years but the last 8 years certainly brings to question what's going on there.  This emergence led by Bolt, creates a nagging doubt. 

Don't get me wrong, Usain Bolt was a sprinting wunderkind.  If he had broken world records by hundredths of seconds, not tenths, I could believe it.  It's a lot like the myriad of distance running world records set in the 1990's.  Drugs certainly played a role in a lot of those times.  And I'm not just talking about the Chinese women either.

I love track and field.  I love sprinting, despite its blemishes.  A picture of Justin Gatlin hangs in our living room.  It was taken by my stepson at the Kansas Relays, the same meet where he was caught doping.  They cheat, don't kid yourself, most of them cheat.  It saddens my heart.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Facing Fear, Finding Freedom: One Friend's Journey

The name Tim Tays first came to my attention sometime in 1977.  It was probably in an article that I read in the Lawrence Journal-World about recruits joining the University of Kansas track and field team.  I remember two things, Albuquerque and 2 mile.  He had run a 9:20 2 mile or maybe a couple of ticks faster and I was surprised.  When it comes to distance runners, Bob Timmons only recruited studs.  I was used to seeing guys who had run faster than 4:15 in the mile coming to K.U.  Tays wasn’t a sub 4:15 high school miler.  But then I thought, this guy is running pretty good times at altitude, so he must be a horse.

Tim came to Kansas during my last year in school.  By then most of my ties to the cross country team were long gone.  Guys I had run with had moved on, All-Americans like Kent McDonald, George Mason, and Bill Lundberg.  My only ties to the team were Tad Scales, my high school teammate, one of the best pole vaulters in the Big 8 and my neighbor, Stan Narewski, was the team’s sprint coach.  I wasn’t very connected to the guys running at Kansas. 
Fast forward to 1982.  I knew who Tim Tays was and so did a lot of people.  He was one of the best distance runners in the Big 8 and had set a couple of school records at K.U. in the process.  I spent one of the best nights of my life with Tim and a handful of other runners in late July in Atwood, Kansas drinking beers.  We sat for hours swapping stories with Tays who had just won a 10 mile race besting a pretty impressive list of distance studs.  The stories flowed just as easily as the beer.  I knew two things after that night, Tim Tays was a great guy and a great runner.

I’m not sure why, but I was even invited to Tim’s wedding a few years later in Albuquerque.  Tim had put away his running shoes and seemed content to live the life of a high school teacher and coach.  To me it seemed like the end of the story, it even struck me as a somewhat unsatisfying end as well.

Turns out I wasn’t alone in that feeling.  It turns out that I didn’t know Tim Tays very well.  We reconnected a year or so ago on Facebook.  Then came word that Tim had written an autobiography and he was sending me a copy.  When it arrived in the mail, I had no idea what to expect.
I was taken aback by the title, “Wannabe Distance God:  The Thirst, Angst and Passion of Running in the Chase Pack.”  Reading the first 20 to 30 was like a hard slap to the face.  Tim, like a lot of people, struggled with a way to fit in and yet find a way to stand out.  He did it through running.  When he made a commitment to the sport, he went whole hog. 

That’s what I found fascinating.  I ran just enough to be good.  Tim was willing to do whatever it took to be great.  He did it despite a laundry list of obstacles that would make an ordinary person shutter.  The barriers ran the gamut from religion to a college coach who over trained his athletes.  But he didn’t complain or say why me out loud when things didn’t go his way.  But he thought it, he wrestled with it and as he grew as an adult, he figured out how to come to terms with it.  The best part is he realizes it’s an ongoing process, part of the journey we all share in life.  
I don’t want to give away the whole journey.  I think it’s a story that will appeal not just to runners, but anyone looking to come to terms with life’s injustices, perceived or real.   You can find the book at Amazon.  Give it a read.



Tuesday, July 2, 2013

No Love for Leo

He is undoubtedly one of the three greatest milers in American history.  He belongs in the same sentence as Jim Ryun and Steve Scott.  Yet Leo Manzano gets very little love.  This Mexican born American who came to running prominence while at the University of Texas, finds himself in a strange situation.  Leo has no shoe contract.

Elite track and field stars get a lot of their compensation from lucrative shoe contracts from companies like NIKE and Adidas.  After winning an Olympic silver medal in London, the first American to medal at 1500 meters since the great Jim Ryun, Leo has no shoe deal.  NIKE severed its ties with Manzano when the two couldn't agree on a new deal.  It seems Olympic medals don't mean much to "The Swoosh."

My guess is that Manzano was shooting for a deal that would put him on a par with NIKE's love child Galen Rupp.  Rupp scored Olympic silver in London as well in the 10000.  But Rupp is a blonde haired Oregonian who fits the NIKE profile perfectly.  While the short, dark skinned Manzano, wrapped himself in not just the Stars and Stripes last August after his stunning performance in London, he grabbed the flag of Mexico as well.  Leo's name doesn't sell shoes like Rupp.

Manzano is the blue collar success story of American distance running.  He doesn't have any American records like Alan Webb or Steve Scott, or set world records like Jim Ryun.  All he's done is be eerily consistent over the last 8 years beginning with his first NCAA title in the 1500 at Texas.  He's placed in the top 3 the United States outdoor nationals at 1500 8 years in a row.

The Czarina loves Leo, all 5 feet 5 inches of him.  We both watched in shock and awe as he somehow eluded a group of runners that boxed him in with 200 meters to go at last week's Nationals and nearly caught Matt Centrowitz, Jr. for his second national title.  His 2nd place finish marks Leo's 8th consecutive national team for the USA.  Yet he still has no shoe contract.

Leo says he's confident something will be worked out.  It would serve NIKE right if Leo snags another medal in Moscow without their shoes on his feet.  He's more like Pre than the Oregon golden boy that has one.