Monday, March 14, 2016

Into the Tournament

Sitting in Florida looking across the vast expanse of the NCAA men's basketball tournament Kansas once again has laid claim to a number one seed and expectations are running high for a run, at the very least into the Final 4.  Just three months ago I wrote about the comparisons between this team and the one that made its run to a title in 2008.  Guard play wins national championships.  Kansas has the best back court in the country and the most depth.

Yet as I suggested before, the lack of interior toughness could be the Jayhawks undoing.  The lone light in the front court came from an unsuspecting source.  Landon Lucas has stepped into the shoes that Sasha Kahn once inhabited on that championship team at Kansas.  The man can flat out rebound.  I wouldn't have believed it if you would have told me that someone other than Cheick Diallo or even Jamari Traylor would step up and show some intestinal fortitude.

The three things I know are this if Kansas is going to make it to the Final 4.  1. Wayne Seldon can't pull a disappearing act as he has shown a propensity to do for major stretches of this season. 2,  The Jayhawks will need a nice dose of Carlton Bragg when Lucas gets into foul trouble.  Bragg's offensive game is far beyond anything any of K.U.'s other interior players can offer outside of the team's MVP, Perry Ellis. 3. Kansas will live and die by the 3 point shot.  That means Devonte Graham, Frank Mason III, Seldon and Ellis will have to hit at least 45% of their long shots because defensively this team is just so-so.

Kansas can win it all.  Kansas should win it all.  They will lose only if they run into a team that shots out of its mind from behind the arch or if an individual talent like Michigan State's Denzel Valentine takes the Jayhawks apart.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Training: Fred Moore

The spring and summer of 1987 were life changing.  My training had progressed to the point where I felt that a 2:45 marathon was well within my grasp.  I had enjoyed some monster training runs and had rolled through long runs as long as 25 miles.  So I signed up for the 1987 Grandma's Marathon in late June.

Tom Dowling had me gun the last 8 miles of a 25 mile long run two weeks out from Grandma's at 6:30 pace and I did it with ease.  I was ready for the race but my personal life was in turmoil.  Professionally I felt unappreciated and had been job hunting for the better part of a year.  Three weeks out from Grandma's I had received a job offer to move to Phoenix from Kansas City.

My boss at WDAF found out about the job just days before the race.  I got a phone call from him the morning I was to come into work to tell him I was leaving after almost seven years of service.  He was unhappy screaming at me about my treachery.  I was unfortunately in the throws of food poisoning suffering from vomiting and explosive diarrhea.  I told him our come to Jesus meeting would have to wait a day because I was sick as a dog.  That only added to the ass chewing.

That day also sealed my fate when it came to my upcoming race.  Unbeknown to me the illness had ravaged my body.  Come race day, although I felt recovered, but it wasn't meant to be.  I had good company for the first 10 plus miles at Grandma's.  I was running with a friend of Tom's, Kathy Northrop, who was looking for an Olympic Trials qualifier.  I was looking for a 2:45 marathon and so was Kathy.

The morning turned unseasonable warm for the north shore along Lake Superior.  We were on pace at 10 miles.  By mile 16 I could tell I was in trouble and Kathy left my side.  I felt great, but the 6:15 pace just wasn't there.  I could barely manage 6:40 miles.  By mile 21 I could see Kathy getting in the meat wagon, the heat had ended her quest and I shuffled on just wanting to finish.

I hit the finish line just under 2:52 and I knew that besides the heat, the depletion of much needed nutrients from my body from the food poisoning just days before had also taken its toll.  It was sad but I would find myself leaving Kansas City for Phoenix where I would find a new training group and eventually a new coach.

The transition to Phoenix was tough.  The heat there is undeniable.  I was fortunate in that I immediately met local running legend Craig Davidson, who steered me into his Mummy Mountain training group and my 21 mile long runs were whittled down to a mere 16.

I felt I needed more speed so I sought out a private coach and ended up working with another legend, Fred Moore.  Coach Moore had produced national class marathoners from Mike Scannell, to Lisa Weidenbach and Trina Painter.  He also coached cross country at Phoenix Community College.  Fred Moore is a great coach.  I just wish I had really listened to him.

I returned to my old habits that stretched back to my high school days of racing his workouts, instead of doing what he wanted me to do.  As my race times hit a wall, he kept suggesting I read a book, "The Tao of Poo."  I thought why would a crazy book about Winnie the Pooh help me run faster.  The frustration stretched through a 2 year period and finally I purchased the book and made a phone call.

The phone call was to Tom Dowling, who immediately told me to stop racing my workouts with Fred.  While Coach Moore had gently suggested to take it easier, Dowling flat out told me I was leaving my race efforts in those workouts.  But reading "The Tao of Poo" was eye-opening.  It was a primer about how to train and how to race.  I suggest it for any runner serious about improving their times.

By the early winter of 1989 in my first 10K after reading the book I put the book's message into practice.  I wasn't in particularly good shape so I expected to run my usual 36 minute 10K.  I went out at a leisurely effort deciding to let the race come to me.  Sometime after 2 miles I began to pick people off.  I hit the finish line in 35:35 stunned by the time and by the ease of effort.

By the end of the spring I had lowered my 10K PR to 34:49 but my lifestyle choices made training almost impossible.  The pressures of work and home were making training almost impossible and by May I was looking at an almost four month period of very indifferent training.

I had drifted away from Fred Moore's group.  I was an infrequent member of Craig's Mummy Mountain group.  But God bless Craig, he wouldn't let me go completely off the rails.  He was in my ear about running the St. George Marathon with him.  So by September I was running but my racing was horrible.  A week before St. George I ran a 37:54 10K which told me I would be lucky to run under 2:55.

The following week in St. George I found myself hitting the half marathon in 1:26 figuring the death march was about to begin.  As I hit the first of two amazing descents on this downhill course another runner came flying by me and scolded me, "It can't hurt any worse."  Those words sparked something and I followed him then passed him running mile 14 to 15 in 5:40.

Suddenly my legs felt fresh and while the last three miles were tough I managed a 2:48:50 marathon, an unexpected PR.  After hitting the finish line I vowed to myself to return to St. George next year and break 2:40.  Although my training was re-energized, my personal life was in turmoil and I bid farewell to coach Moore, Craig and Phoenix and returned to Kansas City.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Training: 1985 and 86

Running after I was kicked off the University of Kansas cross country team was indifferent for the better part of a decade.  I was indifferent when it came to training as I ran 10 to 20 miles a week through college.  I was a spring/summer/fall runner who would shut it down over the winter and put on 20 pounds.

In college I managed to break 3 hours in the marathon which was pretty surprising considering I did it on 20 miles a week over about a three month period.  What I lacked in endurance I made up for in speed because I could still run a 4:45 mile with no interval training.

After graduation the pattern continued and probably would have stayed that way except for a two exceptional young runners at Rockhurst High School in Kansas City.  In the fall of 1984 I offered myself up as an unpaid assistant cross country coach at Rockhurst.  The coach, Buddy Worth, really didn't know much about distance running.  He was a tennis coach.

The team that fall had two runners who generally trained together, on their own.  One fall afternoon I went on an 8 mile run with them where they extolled the virtues of their private coach, a man named Tom Dowling.  He worked out of a health club called Health Plus.  Matt Blake and Tom Spencer were better than average runners.  They had endurance that stood head and shoulders above anyone else on the team.  They told me over the next several miles that Dowling was just the prescription I needed to start kick my moribund approach to running.

Just days before my 30th birthday in December of 1985 I went to meet Tom Dowling to find out his secret to success.  I don't remember much about that first meeting, save for a daunting calendar that he gave me with miles attached to it.  He also insisted that I start to keep a running log, something I had never really done over the years.

I told Tom my main goal was to break 2:40 in the marathon.  My PR at that point was 2:57:14. Coach Dowling said I could do it in the next three years if I followed his program.  Looking at that calendar I saw a progression from about 30 miles a week to the mid-60's by the summer of 1985.  I told him I could never run more than 10 miles on any given day.  He had me doing 21 mile long runs by the end of that summer.  I whined, bargained, begged, and pleaded for something more reasonable.  He told me no.  Plus, he forbade any speed work.

Through the winter and spring something amazing happened.  I began to enjoy training.  A lot of it had to do with the Sunday morning long runs and the camaraderie that sprung from it.  I suddenly had a bundle of new friends, suddenly running 21 miles on Sunday didn't seem so daunting.  10 mile runs felt like 3 miles, 15 like 5, 21 like 10.

The biggest thing was the set of new friends who held me accountable for my training along with Coach Dowling.  I looked to guys like Glen Sauder and Steve Greer, who were just trying to shave a few minutes from their 10K, to a sub 30 minute 10K runner like Bob Luder, who was trying to compete against the best runners across the Midwest.  The constant for all of us was Dowling.  He was the focal point of our running, a constant topic on the miles we logged together.  He was our guru and we would follow him.  Tom preached the gospel of Arthur Lydiard, the great New Zealand coach who invented the idea of long, slow, distance and we followed.

By the end of the fall of 1986 I ran a 2:49:25 marathon.  It was an amazing experience.  I wasn't even trying to race.  The running never felt so easy except for a very painful last mile.  I was on a path to my goal, but like any journey there were detours and setbacks.

Being devoted to a weekend long run wasn't easy for a party animal like myself.  I paid the price on too many Sundays.  But I took away a foundation of conditioning and friendships that would serve me well for the next 30 years.  But it would take a move to ignite my quest of a sub 2:40 marathon.