Friday, December 13, 2019

Sir Peter

This has been a tough week.  News today of the death of Sir Peter Snell was the capper.  He was the greatest athlete to ever come out of New Zealand.  His life story is one of perseverance and dedication.  I was lucky enough to meet him and spend some precious time with him.

The story of my encounters with this three time Olympic gold medalist goes back to my incredible coach, Tom Dowling.  Tom had met and talked to all of Arthur Lydiard's great runners, except for Snell.  Because I was a journalist and knew my way around a video camera I was invited to go to Dallas with Tom for a sit down Snell.

As much as I loved track and field I knew very little about Peter Snell except that he was a rival of Jim Ryun.  I had no clue as to the incredible record Snell had compiled from 1960 to 1965.  This rube from Kansas was in for an eye-opening encounter.

On June 8, 1986 Tom and I boarded a plane to Dallas.  Since Tom wasn't trusted with a credit card I suddenly found myself renting the vehicle we would use to drive to the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center where Dr. Snell had been working for the last three years studying physiology on elite athletes.  The tour that Peter gave us was a bit overwhelming.  It was a world class set up for the study of world class athletes.

After about an hour Tom and I headed to Peter's home where we met his wife Miki.  I gazed dumbfounded at Peter's trophy case which held his Olympic gold medals, world record certificates, Commonwealth Game medals and all sorts of other awards.  I was now beginning to wonder how the hell did I know so little about this amazing runner.

Snell had been a natural athlete.  He was built like a human spark plug.  He turned the world on its head by training like a marathoner, giving him the strength to carry his speed through 800 meters unlike any other runner that had come before him.  Snell shocked the world with that combination of strength and speed when he won Olympic gold at 800 meters at the 1960 Rome games.  He followed that up with a string of world records culminating in two more gold medals at 800 and 1,500 at the Tokyo Olympics.

Tom talked with Snell for about two hours going into the Lydiard training method.  Snell was frank about where he and Arthur disagreed in training and you could tell that Tom and Peter were quickly becoming fast friends.  After we all headed out for dinner, Snell announced that Tom and I would be spending the night at their house, not the hotel that we had booked.  I was in a state of shock.

After a night on the couch Tom and I awoke to Peter ready to take us out on his four mile run course around White Rock Lake.  Tom was in good shape.  I was in good shape.  The 47-year-old Snell took off at a gallop leaving Tom and I looking at each other in wonderment.  We rushed to keep up with Snell to take in all of the stories that he was telling on our 30 minute run.

We left the Snell's and headed to Cooper Fitness where Tom wanted to hear from Kenneth Cooper about the physiology of runners.  That was another three hours of blur but I learned that Cooper had tested just about every elite distance runner to have put on a pair of spikes over the previous 20 years to see what made them tick.

Outside of making a tape copy of a documentary for Peter in 1988 and asking him for help with my 1997 documentary about Jim Ryun, I didn't have contact with him.  I got to meet him again, largely because I wanted to show off and impress my new bride.  Tatyana and I were going to Dallas to pick up her son who was returning from a trip to Latvia.  I reached out to Peter to see if I could bring Tatyana by for a short visit and Peter was welcoming. 

Tatyana stood in stunned amazement as I had a decade earlier looking at Peter's gold medals.  Then Peter took out a documentary he wanted to show me about Lydiard which featured marathon great Jack Foster.  As we chatted away the morning when there was a knock at the door.  Two long haired, young fans were at the door wondering if Peter could be bothered for an autograph.  Peter welcomed them and that was the chance for Tatyana and I had to gracefully exit the Snell household so these running fans could enjoy their time with the Olympic great.

Peter Snell is one of the nicest men I have ever met.  His wife Miki was just as friendly.  I did my homework after meeting him.  If you want to read a great book about running read his autobiography, "No Bugles, No Drums."  You also need to go YouTube and watch Snell's 1964 victory in the Olympic 1,500.  It's as dominating a win as you will ever see in a world class race.  Plus you can find plenty of great videos documenting his career.



Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Eating Crow

The high school cross country season involving Southwest Florida runners officially came to an end last weekend in North Carolina where a handful of runners participated in the Footlocker South Regional qualifier.  If you had told me four months ago that Stephy Ormsby would have stood alone as the best runner from Lee County, boy or girl, it would have left me dumbfounded.  Well, I'm dumbfounded.

Ormsby proved what hard work, eating right, sleeping right and purposeful cross training can do for an athlete.  Last spring Ormsby was a top flight 800 meter runner who certainly stood a chance at being a very good cross country runner.  But all that work over the summer made her a great cross country runner, certainly among dozen best in Lee County history.  It resulted in a surprising third place finish at State and leading her injury riddled team to a surprising fifth place finish.

What's even more amazing is her run at Footlocker.  Ormsby got off to a horrible start going through the first mile back in 85th place.  She worked her way up to the field and managed a very respectable finish in 26th place.  A better start and Stephy could have been knocking on the door for a trip to nationals which is reserved for those who finish in the top ten.

The Fort Myers senior surprised me by running much better than my preseason number one, Canterbury junior Jessica Edwards.  Coming off a stellar track season, Edwards appeared poised to have an outstanding cross country season.  Don't get me wrong, Edwards ran great for most of the season finishing sixth at State and leading her team to the championships.  But Edwards appeared to hit a wall early in the season and while consistent throughout the year, didn't enjoy a big improvement one would expect as an athlete peaks at the end of the season.

The boys season played out about as I expected.  Fort Myers junior Liam Holston was clearly the best runner in the county until a late season illness threw his season into turmoil.  Liam's misfortune opened the door to sophomore teammate Colsen Palmer to shine.  Colsen's 11th place finish at State puts him in position to join Holston next year as a couple of contenders for top five finishes.  A healthy Holston at State could have put the Fort Myers boys in the top five, a couple of notches better than the sterling seventh place finish the Green Wave managed.

The surprise on the boy's side came from Ida Baker, as a team and with senior Franklin Caceres leading the Bulldogs.  Caceres raced fearlessly from the front all season.  His front running tactics caught up to him at State where he finished a disappointing 22nd but he laid the ground work for what could be a superb track season.

The shock on the boys side came from Estero.  By seasons end they were step for step right with Fort Myers.  Academic issues buried what should have been an amazing season of running by the Wildcats.  Estero will have some scores to settle this spring which promises some outstanding distance performances from a slew of athletes across the county.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

I Don't Know What to Think

I have usually spelled out my feelings about the latest edition of Kansas Jayhawk basketball well before Thanksgiving.  But ESPN's shakedown for viewers with ESPN+ has limited my viewing of K.U. thus keeping me from making any real assessment about this team.  Now I can share a few thoughts.

Kansas will be a formidable team as long as Doke Azubuike is healthy.  Doke is a double/double on paper every night.  Kansas is as deep in the interior as it has been since the Final 4 championship team of 2008, so deep in fact Bill Self opted to redshirt seasoned veteran Mitch Lightfoot.  Besides Azubuike, David McCormack is a load.  He has a soft jumper that's money from 15 feet in and all that's needed is for Silvio De Sousa to blow off the rust that accumulated from last year's suspension. 

The back court is a three headed threat of Devon Dotson, Ochai Agbaji and Marcus Garrett.  This will probably be Dotson's last year at Kansas.  He quite simply could be the best guard to have ever played at Kansas.  His speed, his ability to finish, his outside shot and his defense is all top notch.  He's every bit the player of Sherron Collins and Frank Mason.  He's as complete as JoJo White.

Ochai Agbaji runs hot and cold.  He is incredibly athletic and plays hard on the defensive end.  Kansas is unbeatable when Agbaji plays well.

Marcus Garrett is the lock down defender.  He can cover four spots on the floor.  He's more than adequate ball handler now and is fearless driving to the hoop.  If he had an outside shot he would be going to the NBA.

If transfer Isaiah Moss had played for Kansas last year the Jayhawks would have won their 15th straight conference title.  He was the extra outside shooter that the Jayhawks desperately needed to help spread the floor.  I have a feeling he will be streaky but he's a weapon that the Kansas offense sorely needs.

The two freshman, Tristan Enaruna and Christian Braun won't see much in the way of minutes by the time this team hits conference play.  Both players can shoot from the outside and Enaruna shows signs of being a first rate defender.  The great unknown among the freshman is forward Jalen Wilson.  Once he comes back from injury in January it will be interesting to see how he fits into the rotation but if the reports are true about his ability in early season practices, he will be a contributor.

That brings us back to the bigs.  Bill Self desperately wants to play the hi-low with Doke, Silvio and McCormack.  The trio has struggled when they've shared the floor.  I think Self will continue to experiment through the pre-season but will ultimately go with just one big once conference play hits.

I don't know how Self keeps reloading.  He doesn't get all the top recruits but he does an amazing job of recruiting kids that fit together.  His athletes buy into the system and appear to believe in the approach to hard nose defense and an offense that demands the ball go into the interior.

Is this is Final 4 team.  Yes.  Will they make it to the first weekend in April, the odds say no.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

The Slow Death of Track and Field

Track and field has been dying a slow death for the last 40 years.  As shamerturism gave way to professional track and the spike of performance enhancing drugs, the public seemed to lose interest in the sport.  So the latest fix by the sports ruling body seems appear foolish and wrong headed.

The IAAF rebranded itself World Athletics today.  Just yesterday they decided to ax two field events, the discus and triple jump, plus two running events, the 200 and steeplechase from the Diamond League.  It is beyond head scratching.  Consider this, without the 200 meter dash, we may never have seen the likes of Usain Bolt.  That's right, no Bolt.

The Jamaican sprint made his name as a 200 meter runner.  The first time I became aware of him was when he started running stupendous times as a 17-year-old in the 200.  His fame as the world's fastest human wouldn't come for another five years.

Without the steeplechase we wouldn't have had the incredible 2017 magic of Emma Coburn and Courtney Frerichs turning the world on its head with their dramatic one-two finish at World Championships.  The steeplechase was where the great Jenny Simpson first made her name before turning to the 1,500.  It is one of the most entertaining track races alone simply because of the hazards of the water jump.

World Athletics banished the 5,000 meter this past Diamond League season and 10,000 meter races have gone almost extinct at major track meets around the world.  World Athletics says it is taking its lead from social media.  So let me get this straight, a handful of idiots on Twitter are determining what events are worth watching at major track meets.  Think about this, only 22 percent of Americans even use Twitter and that number mirrors use of the social media platform around the world.

Two of my greatest track and field memories are watching discus thrower Mac Wilkins blasting massive throws at Hayward Field forcing officials to add extra turf to the end of the throwing zone to handle his efforts.  The other was watching Willie Banks imploring the crowd to join him in clapping him down the runway to a massive triple jump.  The athletes need to band together and put a stop to this nonsense.  They have the power if they work together, otherwise their event may be next.

Track and field is at death's door and only its athletes can save it.





Monday, October 14, 2019

Appreciate This

The last two weeks of marathon racing has filled my heart with such joy and wonderment that I can't believe what we've all witnessed.  It's two weeks we may never see again and while I rejoice in these incredible accomplishments a small nagging part of me worries about how this happened.  I'm not talking about drugs, but about shoes.  But let's sink in what we saw.

Last weekend in Berlin, Kenenisa Bekele came back from the dead.  He'd been injured, gotten fat and seemed indifferent to trying to put himself on a par in the marathon with a man he owned on the track.  Bekele is in a pantheon of distance that puts him in the same sentence as Nurmi, Zatopek and Gebreselassiese.  His run in Berlin left many who follow the sport reaffirming his place as the greatest ever.  26 World Championship and Olympic medals leave little doubt about Bekele's place in the sport as the greatest ever... on the track.

But then Eliud Kipchoge put his stamp on the fact that he is the great marathoner in history, period.  If you haven't watched the sub-2 race effort that took place on Saturday in Vienna it's a must.  It was like watching the painting of a masterpiece.  The race that resulted in history's first sub-2 hour marathon was a work of superb planning and craftsmanship.  The course, the pacers, the technology, all combined for a brilliant piece of running by a man who has no peers in the event.  The time was a breath taking 1:59:40.

Except maybe, just maybe, Bekele could still have a say in all of this.  You see Kenenisa just missed Kipchoge's official world record in the marathon by just a couple of ticks of the clock in Berlin.  If you watched the race you saw a man overcome a rough spot about ten miles from the finish, regather himself and roar to an epic finish.  The world demands a rematch of these two greats.  London would be the idea spot for such a showdown but if that does happen, it will certainly rob the Tokyo Olympics of a great marathon duel.

I can't blame either Bekele or Kipchoge if they pass at a chance at more Olympic gold.  Tokyo will be a death march of epic proportions, much like what we just witnessed in Doha at the World Championships.  It's such a dilemma.  The money for a London showdown would be unbelievable but the Olympics are the Olympics.  I suspect both men will go for the money.  But if Bekele wants to stake his claim as the best marathoner ever, it would take an Olympic win over Kipchoge for him to even enter the discussion.

And as an afterthought Bridget Kosgei basically one upped both men with a stunning world record Sunday at the Chicago Marathon.  Kosgei dismantled a record held by Paula Radcliffe that was once thought untouchable.  She destroyed the record by more than a minute running 2:14:04.  I've never seen an athlete cruise through 26.2 miles and look so in command, except maybe for what Kipchoge had done just the day before.

Regardless, the marathon has entered a new age and that's where it all gets a little fuzzy.  Kipchoge ran his historic race in a pair of shoes not yet available to the public.  It's a spin off of Nike's 4% and Next% that utilizes a carbon fiber plate that acts sort of like a spring.  Kosgei also at the last minute asked to run in the same shoes as Kipchoge and if you don't think a shoe can make a huge difference in how fast you can run then you understand very little about distance running.

So the shoes are making a dramatic difference.  I can't say if it's good or bad for the sport but I suspect the manufacturers have just about dialed in the perfect shoes between Nike's efforts, Adidas Boost and Hoka's Carbon Rockets.  At least that's what I want to believe because the alternative is that they've stumbled upon a super drug that can elude the biological passports that elite runners are subject.  Enjoy this era of distance, because we may never see another like it.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Dirt

The world of professional track and field is a world of doping.  But so is the world of professional football, baseball, cycling and soccer.  The problem is track and field gets a black eye because of the cheats while other sports, largely football, baseball and soccer get a pass.  As a fan of track and field the double standards frustrate me.

But what I find even more frustrating is track and field's reluctance to deal harshly with the cheaters who are caught.  Alberto Salazar has colored outside the lines for more than a quarter of a century.  USADA finally caught up him thanks in large part to Salazar coached athletes who didn't want to cheat and by a coach, Steve Magness, who Salazar used as a human guinea pig.

My first private coach had deep connections to the professional ranks.  I can remember our conversations from the mid-1980's about Salazar's questionable use of supplements and other performance enhancers while he was still a competitor.  Salazar was a win at all costs athlete.

Salazar's first high profile athlete to be busted was Mary Slaney in 1996 for steroids.  Slaney denies that Salazar was coaching her and claimed the positive was due to birth control.  USATF didn't buy it and the ban was upheld and Salazar somehow managed to escape punishment.

If you closely read the USADA report on Salazar's propensity to push the rules it's painfully clear that he was working hard at finding ways to use steroids in ways that were undetectable to testing.  It's called micro-dosing.

When the four year ban came out several high profile athletes including Olympic medalists Nick Willis and Jenny Simpson hailed his ban.  Simpson went so far as to call for a lifetime ban.

Meanwhile Salazar and the deep pockets of NIKE plan to fight the ban in the courts.  Remember NIKE was a major backer of doper Lance Armstrong until the mountain of evidence brought the biking legend down.  And the sport is heavily dependent on NIKE's support and dollars.

The worst of it is the money and medals that Salazar coached athletes have stolen from clean athletes.  What hurts the most is the string of championships and medals by the likes of Galen Rupp, Mo Farah and Matt Centrowitz, Jr. and most recently Sifan Hassan.  As a fan I want to think those medals were earned the right way.  Deep down inside I question their accomplishments.

We will likely never know how deep this scandal runs because unlike in Armstrong's case other cyclists came forward to tell his deepest, darkest secrets, those in the know will keep those secrets near and dear.  It's been that way in the sport since steroids first came on the scene in the 1960's.  And it will stay that way because somehow, some way, the science of cheating always manages to stay ahead of the tests to catch them.   

Monday, September 23, 2019

Stephy

Winning is what makes headlines.  But sometimes you have to look deeper in the results to pull out a gem, a story that brings with it an underlying achievement that might otherwise go unnoticed.  I didn't have to look too deep in the results from the North Port Invitational.  It stuck out like a sore thumb in the girl's elite race right there in second place.  Fort Myers High Senior Stephy Ormsby ran 17:56.77.

You can count on one hand in the last decade the number of girls from Lee County under 18 minutes for 5000 meters in cross country.  Estero's Bona Jones and Katy Solis along with Emily Edwards and Sara Spann from Fort Myers.  Not even Fort Myers distance ace Krissy Gear broke 18 minutes in high school.  In case you were wondering the only Southwest Florida area runner to break 17 minutes is Kathryn Fluehr from Community School of Naples.

Stephy's come a long way from when I first met her as a fresh faced freshman intermediate hurdler for the Green Wave.  Then head coach Rob Strong said to keep an eye on her because he believed she could be turned into a distance runner. Slowly but surely Ormsby has transitioned her body from the square, stocky gymnast that she used to be to a hard body, running machine that has steadily improved  through her sophomore and junior years. 

Ormsby has shaved more than two minutes off her cross country personal best.  What makes her achievement even more surprising is she has spent most of her running career as a middle distance specialist, running the 800 and 1600.  The progress Stephy Ormsby has made since last fall shows what a summer of consistent training can bring when cross country rolls around. With the guidance of coach Yancey Palmer, Ormsby has done the work to put herself in a position to be a contender at the Class 3A State Cross Country Championships.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Why Support Cross Country

I own a run specialty shop.  It's a misnomer because I probably sell more shoes to walker or people looking for a shoe that is comfortable to stand in work in than I do to actual runners.  I'm happy to serve those customer because they deserve the best in footwear.  Buying a pair of leather upper New Balance shoes to walk in or a cheap pair of Nike's is just an insult to your feet.

But that's not the point of this blog.  The point is to talk about why I do as much as I can to support high school cross country and track.  It's not because that's where the money is.  In fact, it's quite the opposite.  Most kids and parents will shop for the cheapest shoes they can find on line and forsake their locally owned retailers to save ten dollars here and there.  I can live with that.

In white left to right, Glenn Lemesany, Dave Rousch, John Rinkenbaugh, Tom Schittendort, Clay Kappleman, Barney McCoy and Jack Moorhead, Lawrence High XC 1972, winners of this meet, the Seaman Invitational, where I finished 8th.
I support high school cross country and track because the sport gave me a life long passion for running.  I was blessed to have a high school coach who's mission in life was to create a love for running that would carry to a point in life where I could physically run no more.  I'm about to hit my 50th year as a runner.

I was lucky to meet athletes and coaches who fueled my passion.  Men like, Steve Sublett, Tom Dowling, Fred Moore, Kent McDonald, Steve Riley, Mike Bloemker and Chris Ronan and the posse of men I trained with at Health Plus in Kansas City only deepened my love and respect for runners of all abilities.  They motivated me to hit goals in my running life that I am proud to have achieved.

So my support of young runners is one that I hope that I inspire the same life long passion that I have enjoyed.  I did it as a high school coach, a career that produced a fair share of state champions.  I do that through Run Florida On McGregor.

We stepped up our commitment this year by sponsoring the first three major cross country meets in Southwest Florida of the season, the Lehigh Acres Invitational, DDD Invitational and Fort Myers Invitational.  I loss money doing it and I doubt that the vast majority of parents or runners realize the commitment of time and money that the store puts forth to support their sport.

I am tooting my own horn.  I look around at the leading run specialty stops and asked why am I alone in doing this?  Besides the financial investment I make in these meets I offer discounts to student athletes to make it easier for them to afford the best in footwear.  I look around and ask myself why am I alone in doing this?

Cross country is an incredible team support.  You see 100 plus athletes line up in difficult conditions racing for 5,000 meters.  It is colorful, crazy, and competitive in ways you can't imagine.  There's even team strategy in the sport if you take the time to study it.  You can do that by joining me Friday night at the Kelly Road soccer fields for what may well be the first night cross country meet in Southwest Florida history.

The 40th annual Fort Myers Invitational brought to you by Run Florida On McGregor and Saucony will feature the top local teams.  You will see the greatest 800 meter runner in Southwest Florida history trying to make her mark at the longer distances.  You will see the three Southwest Florida cross country powers, Estero, Naples and Fort Myers laying it on the line, trying to show which squad is top dog in the area.  Oh... and the ladies at upstart Bishop Verot are doing their best to join the party.

The best part of it is the camaraderie and respect that these young athletes have for one another.  They run hard and then have the grace and humility to shake hands, congratulate each other and really mean it.  Best of all, it's free. All it will cost you is a small slice of your Friday night.  I'll see you there!




Monday, August 19, 2019

X-C Already?!?

This Saturday marks the beginning of the Florida high school cross country season.  It's a head scratcher.  There's little question as to the identity of the tip top girl in Southwest Florida.  Cantebury junior Jessica Edwards is by far and away the best distance runner in the area, boy or girl.

Questions surround the identity of the boy that will fill the rather large shoes vacated by Estero's Hugh Brittenham, now at Florida, beginning what one hopes will be an epic collegiate career.  Right now only two names pop into my head as to Hugh's heir apparent.  One would be Brittenham's Estero teammate, sophomore Kolton Pickard, the other is Fort Myers junior Liam Holston.

Something tells me another boy will pop up out of nowhere to take some races.  Brady Gibson, a senior from Naples, is a top notch talent and Estero junior Colton Tucker could rebound from a somewhat lackluster track season.  Besides the aforementioned Pickard among the young guns is Fort Myers sophomore Colson Palmer and Cantebury freshman Charlie Meagher.

Finding a state medalist among any of the half dozen or so boys that will dominate the Southwest Florida racing scene is another question.  Pickard and Holston could sneak into the top 20 at the Class 3A race.  Meagher may have the best chances because he will be racing the lesser depths of Class 1A.

Edwards should dominate the girl's side.  She will try to show that a top middle distance talent can shine at 5,000 meters.  I believe she has the strength and speed to capture the Class 1A state title.  Naples has a trio of outstanding cross country runners returning, Zoe Dantonio, Jillian Dempsey and Morgan Vickaryous.  Fort Myers returns a state medalist in senior Stephanie Ormsby.  It wouldn't surprise me if Estero senior Mia Perez brings the heat this season as well.

When it comes to singling out the top teams, it will be a story of the usual suspects.  Fort Myers, Estero and Naples should produce squads good enough to make it to State on both the boys and girls side.  The big question surrounds the Naples High School girls team.  Naples appears to be a lock to finish in the top five.  In Florida, only two teams take home trophies at State.  The Golden Eagles need to lop off another 30 seconds per girl to have a shot at taking home the hardware.  With the depth of returning runners Naples could make it happen.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

My Marathon Journeys: St. George 1989

The ghosts of 1988 will always stay with me.  The death of two friends and the slow deterioration of my work and personal life.  1989 started off with promise.  I was working on putting my head on straight.  I was training smart and racing smarter.

By the spring of 1989 I was back in a bad place.  It would take a lot of work with setbacks before I began to feel my way through my misery.  I found solace in running.  I found hope in friends like Craig Davidson, a Phoenix running  legend, who worked hard at putting good thoughts in my head.

Craig loves running marathons.  By now he's topped 250 and still going.  He wanted me to join him in October 1989 at a marathon that he was particularly found of in St. George, Utah.  I had basically done zero training from May until August.  My tip-top condition in the early winter was going to have to help me get through the rigors of a marathon.  Plus, I had never run two marathons in a calendar year.

I raced an early August 8K in 31:25, more than three minutes over my PR.  A couple of weeks later I slogged out a 20K in just under 6:50 pace. The week before St. George, Craig and I ran a 10K.  Craig was well under 35 minutes.  I ran 37:54.  I was far from tip top shape but it told me I was in good enough condition to break three hours.

I remember piling into a van with Craig and three of our other Saturday training partners. It was a monotonous drive through the desert and I wondered what I had gotten myself into.  We were going to drive straight to St. George and spend the night.  We'd get up at 4:30 a.m. to pile onto buses that would take us up to the start of the race.

Craig had told me it was a downhill race.  I had no idea just how downhill.  In the darkness I had no sense of the terrain.  We drove for about 45 minutes and were dumped out in the middle of nowhere.  There were about three thousand other runners freezing their asses off in the desert.  It was pitch black with a few barrels burning with fire to offer scant warmth to our frozen bodies.

Still dark, the gun went off and off I went with Craig.  In the darkness he quickly disappeared.  I hit the first mile in 6:25.  The sky was beginning to brighten about ten minutes into the race and I could see the beautiful desert landscape and realized we were on our way to a gentle descent to mile seven.

I was running easily at 6:20 pace until the massive volcanic hill that greets runners for a one mile slog uphill to mile eight. I was well over seven minutes for it.  I was hurting and beginning to doubt that I would run 2:55 and possibly not even break three hours.

Then the urge to go hit me.  A porta-potty saved the day at mile 10 and I spent one minute expelling what I had consumed the night before.  Despite the rolling hills up to the half marathon spot I was still moving fairly well hitting the half in 1:25:12.  I was thinking it's not if, but when will the wheels fall off.

Mile 14 was 6:49 and I figured it was the beginning of the end as I arrived at the first massive downhill.  A giddy runner flew by me and said, "It can't hurt any worse!"  It hit my like a thunderbolt.  No, it can't hurt any worse!  Off I went in pursuit of the giddy runner and I quickly caught him and headed to mile 15 which I clocked in 6:24.  Mile 16 was 6:00 and mile 17 was 6:13.

The sub 6:20 pace continued as I gloried in the gorgeous scenery of the red rock canyon we were running through.  Even as I enjoyed the landscape I had enough in me to punch mile 21, the start of the last big downhill in 5:53.

It wasn't until mile 24 that I started to slow.  I finished out the last three miles at 6:40 pace.  I was stunned when I hit the finish line in a new personal best of 2:48:50.  I wasn't in shape to run that fast.

I suddenly stumbled upon an old Kansas City training partner Gary Hansen who had broken 2:39.  Gary and I were about the same ability.  It dawned on me that if I did some serious training I could break 2:40.

It was an eye opening experience.  I knew with a reasonable amount of training I too could break 2:40.  The seed was planted and St. George was going onto my 1991 race calendar. 

Saturday, July 20, 2019

50th

Tonight marks the 50th anniversary of man's first steps upon the moon and it brings back some memories that I want to share.  Among them the customer who came into the store today and laughed about the anniversary and made it clear that the landings never happened.  I'm old enough to know it did.  I watched it on live television.  The science is out there to prove that it happened.  Scientists bounce lasers off reflectors left behind on the moon by two of NASA's lunar missions to measure the distance between the earth and the moon.

I was 12-years-old and living in Abilene, Kansas.  The family gathered around a black and white RCA television to watch the events of July 20, 1969 unfold on a Sunday.  The landing was exhilarating, the wait for the walk was agonizing.  It happened after dusk.  We diligently watched Walter Cronkite with Wally Schirra, one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts, walk us through the events as they unfolded.
After that one small step I remember going outside and a neighbor, Greg Morgensen, hauling out his telescope and we gazed on the full moon in wonderment.  That night, those events, are a moment that one never forgets, like the assassinations of both Kennedys, or the night President Nixon resigned.  It will stay with me forever.

A family member played some role in the mission to the moon.  My Uncle Bob Walters, worked for the University Kansas in the space/technology building.  Uncle Bob said they were involved with the moon mission but would never discuss its details due to some supposed secrecy.  I wish in later years that I had talked to him about what exact role the university played before his passing.

The only other moon related experience that has stuck with me is when I had a chance to meet Neil Armstrong, the commander of Apollo 11 and the first man to step on the moon.  I had just moved to Phoenix, Arizona and was producing the 10 p.m. for the CBS station.  The company that owned us was throwing some sort of big party at the station.

The station was owned by Taft Broadcasting and by that time Neil Armstrong was on the board of directors for the company.  I am uncertain as to why the party was being held.  But I was there, in one of the station's massive, unused studios where all of the big wigs were drinking cocktails.

Armstrong was introduced to the gathering.  All that I remember is that I felt awe and was too shy to go up to him and speak to him.  I may have gotten to shake his hand.  I don't remember so I doubt that I did.  I'm fairly certain I had to leave in short order to get back to work, but I did see the man, flesh and bones, a true American hero.

I've thought a lot in this last week about the moon missions.  The program was heavily criticized because of its expense.  I think it's boneheaded to do so.  The science that came out of the moon program enhanced our lives.  The computers, the miniaturization, the jobs, it all made for a better America.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Wow, Just Wow

I took my time to ponder, consider and ruminate over the amazing season of track and field that was produced by the high school athletes who attend high schools across Lee County.  Anyone who reads this blog knows that I focus mainly on distance runners, but I must give a tip of the cap to the incredible senior season from Fort Myers High's Jacob Lemmon.

I have a soft spot in my heart for throwers.  My cousin Doug Knop was a multiple Big 8 champion in the discus and was an All-American at Kansas while being a long time school record holder.  Lemmon stepped his game up leading the nation for most of the season with a state record toss of 209 feet, six inches.  The Virginia bound thrower became a more than adequate shot putter this year and added a second gold medal at State in that event.

Then there were the sprinters from Dunbar.  Seneca Milledge will join Lemmon at Virginia.  Besides snagging 100 meter gold at State he and his Tiger teammates blazed a stunning 40.27 4 x 100 relay to take another gold in Jacksonville.  Milledge assets, his incredible physique, makes him susceptible to breaking down.  Otherwise I have little doubt he would have had a monster season in the long jump and been a force at 200 meters.  He is simply an amazing sprinter.

But I gravitate toward distance and middle distance runners.  Those of you who follow my blog know that I had great expectations for this outdoor season and I was waiting to write about it expecting some big results in June from the state's best middle distance runner.  Estero's Hugh Brittenham capped an outstanding high school career completing a difficult double at the Florida State Championships. Brittenham scored double gold running 4:14.73 and 1:52.4 in the 1,600 and 800.

We all expected Hugh to compete in the post season and make a run at a sub 1:50 800.  But I will praise Brittenham and his coach Brian Olitsky for deciding to end the season early, on a high note.  Last season Brittenham was running on fumes when he ran both the Brooks and New Balance post season meets.  Instead, he's spending the summer getting ready for cross country at the University of Florida.

The Oliveira twins didn't disappoint either.  Neither Sierra or Moriah captured individual gold but their efforts led Evangelical Christian to a team title at State and both ran on winning 4x800 and 4x1600 relay teams.  Sierra ran a PR at 800 meters in a superb 2:11.04 to finish second.  Moriah ran an astounding 53.70 to finish 2nd in the open 400. Both young women will be seniors next year.  We should see more fireworks.

The best single performance of the year belonged to double state champion Jessica Edwards of Cantebury.  She ran a monster PR to hold off Sierra Oliveira in winning the 800 clocking a national class time of 2:08.40.  Edwards also captured gold in the 1,600 running 5:06.78.  Edwards had a couple of tantalizing attempts at a sub 5 minute 1,600, a barrier that will most certainly be broken next year.

2020 promises to be wide open on the boys side of the distance scene while Edwards and Oliveira will duke it out over the middle distances.  Can either of these outstanding runners clock a 2:05?  I wouldn't be surprised if either or both did.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Bruce

I'm getting tired of writing about work friends who have left us.  A man who was probably one of my closest friends in the television news business died this week.  Bruce Lindsay was a larger than life personality who ran the assignment desk at WDAF in Kansas City for years. 

Bruce and I started at WDAF at about the same time.  He was older and knew the city like the back of his hand.  His contacts with local law enforcement were the stuff of legend.  Bruce broke more big stories thanks to those contacts than anybody I ever worked with in K.C.  If something was in the air Bruce would say, let me use the source-o-phone and make a call.
  
Bruce was wise enough to know who was answering calls on the detectives desk at KCPD and would have me make the call for him if it was someone who didn't like him.  He would advise me as how to talk to the detective and more often than not the result was a story.  I know he pissed off somebody at the department for the information he got about legendary Kansas City serial killer, Bob Berdella.

Bruce and I spent a lot of after work hours together listening to jazz.  We would go somewhere for live music or hit a popular bar with an incredible collection of jazz records for a beer.  Milton's Tap Room was a one of kind place for a one of a kind man like Bruce.  

Bruce loved his guns.  He collected them, lots of them.  He brought them to work when he shouldn't have.  I think his love of guns was only topped by his love of music and his three daughters.  

No one put on a show at the assignment desk like Bruce.  He would spout lines from his favorite movies, particularly "Full Metal Jacket," and regale anyone who would listen about his time as a Marine.  If it wasn't for a bad spine I think Bruce would have served 20 in the Corps. 

When I returned to Kansas City after a three year stint in Phoenix, Bruce pulled me aside after I had been back on the job for a couple of months.  He confessed that my re-hire had made him mad.  He thought I was an asshole but he could see that I had changed and was happy that I had come home to Channel 4.  I think it's the nicest thing has anybody ever told me.

Then there were the nicknames.  Bruce had nicknames for everyone, mine, Rink, became Stink or Stink Boy Brown depending on his mood.  Sportscaster Frank Boal became the Boal Weevil, anchor Cynthia Smith was dubbed the News Hawk.  He was indiscriminate with his nicknames and they were always spot on.

During my last couple of years at FOX 4, Bruce and I delighted in terrorizing the new associate producers.  I would whisper to them that Bruce had served time for murder at Brushy Mountain Prison in Tennessee so it was best not to anger him.  Given his usual sour disposition the AP's would take my stories as gospel.  

The last 30 years of his life were unfair.  His woes started with a lawn mower accident that cost him a finger.  His bad back would lead to several medical complications. Those issues led to a whole slew of other problems that didn't make for a life that he deserved. 

Bruce Lindsay was a difficult man who lived a difficult life.  But he brought a joy and an uproar that kept the newsroom alive and humming.  His passion for music will always stay with me, as will the Jazz in the Night poster that he gave me some 30 years ago.  It's sad that he left us probably not knowing how many lives he touched and how many people loved him.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Dasha

Who is Dasha Dorofeev?  She is an eight-year-old getting ready for the third grade.  Dasha is a gymnast.  She speaks fluent Russian, but that's because mom and dad brought her here from Riga, Latvia when she was just age two.

Eight days ago Dasha, her mother Natasha and sister Masha were in a horrific car crash during a driving rain storm.  The crash broke Natasha's shoulder and left her with two collapsed lungs.  Masha survived with a slight concussion and a scratch on her arm.  Dasha was trapped in the wreckage and San Carlos Park firefighters cut her out of the car to save her life.

Dasha was taken by helicopter to Lee Memorial Hospital and then transferred by ground to Tampa General which has a pediatric unit that can handle neurological crises.  She was incubated and heavily sedated.  By Monday the breathing tube was removed and the recovery process began.

The last eight days have been a blur.  I have been in Fort Myers the entire time save for two trips to Tampa.  My first responsibility was to take care of Masha while mom recovered.  My first trip came on Wednesday after I retrieved Natasha from the hospital and the other this weekend to take my wife Tatyana out for dinner and a much needed cocktail.

Vlad, Natasha and Tatyana take turns sitting with Dasha around the clock. The progress is measured in teeny, tiny increments of hope.  A hug here, a kiss there, and finally a giggle plus a trip down the hallway to put together a puzzle.

Seeing Dasha is like seeing a severe stroke victim.  She struggles to focus but she fights mightily to do so.  She has yet to speak.  It may take weeks for that to happen.  But she has accomplished the impossible in a matter of days.

For grandma, mom and dad the days have no meaning.  Masha has gone to Sarasota to stay with a friend, a great getaway from the grind of watching her sister.  I don't know how she will rebound from all of this.  I don't know how any of us will recover.  But we will and so will Dasha. 

Friday, May 24, 2019

Tim

Tim Richardson was a local television news star.  At least that's the way I thought of him as a teenager growing up in Lawrence, Kansas watching Kansas City television.  Tim worked at KMBC.  He was a consumer reporter who helped people.  The charisma just oozed off the screen. 

So I was awestruck when I first met Tim.  I was working at KMBC as an intern in the spring of 1978.  By this time Tim had left television news and if my memory serves me correctly he was working for the city of Kansas City, Kansas at the time. 

I didn't have strong feelings about many of the on-air people at the start my career.  Tim was out of the business but he had left his mark on this impressionable young journalist.  I felt the same way about Charles Gray, who had migrated to radio by the time I started at Channel 9.  And I eventually felt that way about his replacement at KMBC, the larger than life Larry Moore.

I learned tonight that Tim Richardson had died.  The news left me crushed.  I don't know why.  Losing people who had an impact on your life is part of living life.  But Tim left a deep impression on me.

It's probably because I got to know Tim when he returned to television at WDAF TV.  I soon found out that Tim like most heroes, had his weaknesses.  But he was a special man, with incredible ties to the community at large.

I always felt that Tim was looking out for me.  He would even fetch me a meal from Gates BBQ and makes sure my beef sandwich was lean.  I think we had a bond because I gave him respect that few of the other producers at the station gave him.

Tim could be slippery and could be prone to not pushing to do his best work.  That angered the other producers.  I was tolerant of his unusual work habits because I knew that when I needed him, when it was important, Tim Richardson would come through for me.  He would get the story.

Tim was a dapper, hip man of the town. One day I came to work one day in a pink dress shirt.  He quizzed me about whether wearing pink would in some way mask my masculinity.  I assured him that it didn't and it wasn't before too long that Tim had purchased a pink dress shirt.

I remember when Tim had learned that Kansas City Chiefs great Buck Buchanan was dying from lung cancer.  Tim and talked about whether we should break the news.  Tim spoke with the Buchanan family who pleaded with us to wait, that when the time was right they would give us the scoop.  Tim trusted me with the information knowing I wouldn't share it until the time was right.

It wasn't a month or so later that the Kansas City Star broke the Buchanan news and we were beaten out of a big story.  Tim showed me something in that moment.  He wasn't angry.  It was just part of the job and that you just had to push forward and do the best with the hand you were dealt.

Tim wasn't the best reporter I worked with and he certainly had his faults.  But I always enjoyed working with him.  I savored his company whether it was a beer after work or a quick lunch together at Gates.  I wish I could be with him one last time for a beef and a half with fries.

 

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Jacksonville


A big weekend lies ahead for a handful of outstanding track and field athletes from Lee County.  At least a half a dozen runners and throwers stand a chance of claiming gold at the Florida State High School Track and Field Championships in Jacksonville.  The two day event starts Friday at Hodges Stadium on the campus of the University of North Florida.

We’ll start with the throwers and Fort Myers High standout Jacob Lemmon.  The senior discus thrower leads the nation with the best ever toss in Florida high school history of 209 feet six inches.  Lemmon could also score points in the shot put.  SFCA’s Rebekah Bergquist is a standout discus thrower as well.  She sits just outside the national top ten in the discus and Bergquist should score points for the Kings in the shot put as well.

Dunbar has the market cornered on sprinters.  A healthy Seneca Milledge could end his storied career for the Tigers with a Class 2A 100 meter title.  And if Milledge is on Dunbar’s 4x100 team, the result could be double gold.  Dunbar has a pair of girls who could make the podium as well in the sprints. Junior Teera Stewart shines in the 100 and 200 and hurdling sensation Lucheyona Weaver is coming into her own as a sophomore.

A pair of gold medals would make up for a rough and tumble season for the greatest middle distance runner in Southwest Florida history.  Estero senior Hugh Brittenham overcame health issues to put himself in a position to capture both the 800 and 1,600 meter titles.  Brittenham is the defending 3A state champion in the 800.  Assuming he’s healthy, the Florida bound star stands an excellent chance of winning the 800 and adding the 1,600 crown, a race he finished second in last year.

ECS 400 meter standout Moriah Oliveira should defend her Class 1A 400 meter crown.  With the help of her twin sister Sierra, ECS could also claim the 4x800 and 4x400 relay titles this weekend.  A team podium finish could result if Sierra can duplicate her 2015 victory at 800 meters.

And that takes us to the Friday morning Lee County showdown that will highlight the meet, Sierra Oliveira vs. Cantebury’s Jessica Edwards over 800 meters.  This duo went one-two at last year’s state meet with Edwards taking her first state gold.  Edwards has dominated the meetings at 800 meters so far this year.  With good weather and great competition Lee County could see its second high school girl under 2:10 for that distance, the question is will it be Edwards, Oliveira or perhaps both?

On Saturday Edwards will try to add a 1,600 meter crown after her 4x800 duties.  Last year as a ninth grader Edwards took second.  This year besides the 1,600 title, Edwards will hope to join the exclusive list of Lee County girls who have broken five minutes over that distance. 

Regardless of the times, Lee County athletes stand ready to make an impressive haul of gold medals this weekend in Jacksonville.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

My Marathon Journeys: Long Beach 1988

Running and racing is a learning experience.  I was a decent runner.  Running a sub-3 hour marathon is certainly something every serious runner aspires to as well as running a BQ, a Boston qualifying marathon.  I didn't care about running Boston.  I had an itch that I needed to scratch and that was a 2:45 marathon, something I had missed out on at Grandma's the year before.

Moving to Phoenix was a blessing and a curse.  I had found a great long run group that operated out of Scottsdale.  My long runs went from the 21 mile staple to 16 miles.  That was an adjustment.  I eventually would find a new coach, Fred Moore, who would teach me one of the most valuable run lessons of my life.  But it would take nearly a year for his advice to sink in.

My training was really back to indifferent.  My racing was stagnant.  I couldn't hold a decent pace for a 10K.  It was a mysterious frustration because my conditioning told me something  different.  Plus my job was stressful, the promised promotion never materialized.

For reasons that remain a mystery to me these three decades later I skipped all of the mid-winter marathons in the Phoenix area and decided I needed the extra months to run an early May marathon in Long Beach, California.

I remember one lead up race in particular.  It was called the Mad Dog 50.  It was in April in Scottsdale which means warm weather is certainly in the cards.  You had a choice of 50K or 50 miles.  I was no dummy.  A 50K run three weeks out from my race sounded perfect.

I planned to run 7:30 pace until 20 miles and then push to the marathon and then hold on for the last five miles.  The course was a 5K loop through a park little that would qualify as a hilly.  As I recall there weren't more than 50 runners for this insane exercise.

It all went as planned.  Sometime after 15 miles I started picking off runners here and there.  I pushed for about five miles after 20 and could barely run seven minute pace.  My log shows that I went through 25K in 1:57:05.  I was gassed by 27 miles.  In the end I finished third overall and ran 3:56.  For what it was worth, which isn't much, it was the 100th fastest 50K in the United States in 1988.

The race told me I was as fit as I needed to be to run 2:45.  I knew that if I was lucky I could break 2:50.  I wasn't lucky.  The weather was hot on Sunday May 1.  The course offered no shade.  It would turn into a death march.

The first ten miles were right where I wanted to be.  I hit 10 miles in 63:05, which is about 2:45 pace.  I hit 20 in 2:07:45 which kept me in the ball park for a 2:47 but the wheels were coming off.  It took 31:55 to run from mile 15 to mile 20.  Mile 20 to mile 25 took 35:18.  That's 7:04 pace.  The heat took it's toll and I ran 2:51:55.

I was happy in the sense that I had run a decent time in the heat.  But the wheels in my life were about to come off.  A little more than a month later one of my close former work colleagues, Sue Parcell would be dead at age 31.  We had been college classmates, co-workers for seven years and really good friends.  It was a gut punch.  I barely ran the rest of the summer.

The final blow came with the death one of my closest running friends, Jon Blubaugh.  Jon was one of the joys of my running life.  I had met him in the fall of 1974 when I had been kicked off the K.U. cross country team and he was just a 9th grader full of potential.  I lived my running dreams through him all through my time in college.  He became a state champion but injuries cut short his promising career.

He was only 28 years old and his death only helped push my personal life deeper into to the shitter.  I didn't care about anything.  I was heading to age 33 and I just didn't see much to get excited about in my life.  My personal funk wouldn't snap until the beginning of 1989.  It came in the form of a wake up call that would force me to re-examine my personal lifestyle and send me a glimmer of hope that I might, just might be able to break 2:40 in the marathon.

Monday, April 8, 2019

10K

Sometimes you just gotta race, no matter what kind of shape you're in.  So it was without much resistance from me the Czarina entered me into Saturday's Run for Music 10K in Naples.  This would be my first race since last year's half marathon in Riga, Latvia where I ran 2:04:33, my slowest half by about ten minutes.

I realized heading into the weekend that this would be my first race in Southwest Florida in three years.  I hadn't run a race on home turf since a 5K in the spring of 2016.  That same spring I had clocked a 52:36 10K at the aforementioned Run for Music.  Again, it was my slowest 10K ever.

This time I was under no delusions about what would happen.  I had knee surgery for a meniscus tear at the end of November.  I hadn't gotten my mileage above the 20 mile per week mark until March.  I had gained weight and my runs were plodding at best.  I was going into this race hoping I could keep my pace under 10 minutes per mile.

The race itself is a really good one.  The course is fairly shaded and a pancake flat out and back.  Musicians play at a few spots along the course which makes for some pleasant distractions.

I got through the race without completely blowing up or embarrassing myself.  I loped along at just under 9:30 pace for the first four miles.  I felt pretty good even through mile five which I hit in 9:35.  The last mile was a grind as I barely finished it under 10 minutes.  I hit the finish line 58:33, not great but not as bad as I feared.

I learned one thing from all of this.  I need to race more and incorporate a tempo run into my training regiment.  The mileage will come and I will lose the extra weight.  But unfortunately, nobody beats father time.



Friday, March 29, 2019

The Shocker

Once upon a time... the early 1970's to be specific... Western Kansas produced a string of distance runners that could take it to the big boys in Wichita and the Kansas City area.  There was Chris Perez of Lakin, Keith Palmer from Lucas and Bob Christensen from Hugoton.  Today I found out that Bob Christensen was killed while riding a bike on a highway near Medicine Lodge where he practiced law.

I am not going to claim that I knew Bob.  I met him once and spoke to him briefly just minutes after he surprised himself and everybody at the Kansas Relays by winning the boy's mile.  I remember an extremely humble, nice and surprised runner.  The following day Bob would follow up his win by setting a record in winning the boy's one mile steeplechase in 4:37.9.

Bob went on to run at Wichita State University with a mix of outstanding distance runners that included Randy Smith, a national champion in the steeple and Steve Shaad, one of the toughest competitors I ever had the privilege to race against.  Christensen ran 8:32.4 in the steeplechase back in 1976.  That time even today would put him in the mix as one of the top collegians.

Western Kansas had a history of producing great distance runners.  Glenn Cunningham grew up in Elkhart, set world records in the mile and won an Olympic silver medal at 1,500 meters.  Wes Santee grew up in Ashland and was an Olympian and an American record holder in the mile.  Both went to the University of Kansas.

The last great string of Western Kansas distance runners started with Chris Perez from Lakin.  He burst upon the scene running 4:14.4 in the boy's mile and 9:19.6 in the boy's two mile at the Kansas Relays in 1971.  The only problem was that the aforementioned Randy Smith beat him in both races. 

The following year Perez was the favorite to win the boy's mile at the Relays only have Keith Palmer spoil the show with a surprising win.  Both Perez and Palmer would end up at Kansas State.  Palmer would join a handful of Kansans to break four minutes in the mile while competing as a Wildcat.

1973 would be Bob Christensen's year to take two wins at the Relays.  He then went to Wichita State where he was a top flight distance runner for the Shockers.   Christensen finished his education with a  law degree from Washburn in Topeka.

I share this because Bob should be remembered along with a slew of tough distance runners that hailed from west of Wichita and Salina.  Runners like Ted Settle of Kingman, Pete Orozco of Phillipsburg, Scott Tichenor of Paradise and Steve Hermann from LaCrosse.  These runners competed against and often beat the best that Kansas had to offer. 

Sunday, March 24, 2019

10 Losses

The grousing, the complaining, the doubts about the future of Bill Self at the University of Kansas, is nearly laughable.  Self just finished his best coaching job in his 15th season at Kansas.  Five months ago I pegged this squad as a possible Final 4 team, a can't miss Sweet 16 squad.  The fact that this team won 26 games is remarkable.

In my estimation, Self only made one mistake with this squad.  He should have never allowed LeGerald Vick to return for his senior year.  Despite his undeniable gifts, it is clear that Vick was a team pariah.  His exit from the squad with a month left in the season was a punctuation mark to one of the oddest careers in Jayhawk history.

What should have been was a Jayhawk team with the most greatest front lines in school history.  Doke Azubuike is the most dominating offensive center in NCAA basketball.  Silvio DeSouza would have been an incredible third wheel in a knock out rotation that includes one of the best three interior players at Kansas in the last 25 years, Dedrick Lawson.

Doke broke his wrist and the NCAA made a nonsensical decision to ban DeSouza for two years because of money his guardian took from an Adidas money man.  When you look at those two losses and the growth of David McCormack over the last month of the season, Kansas would have deployed an unstoppable interior game.

Vick's presence meant a redshirt of Ochai Agbaji who may be the most gifted athlete at Kansas since Andrew Wiggins.  Agbaji got to play after Azubuike's injury and showed that he could bring it on both ends of the floor.  He could be a lottery pick next year.

The biggest surprise on this year's team was Devon Dotson.  He is the best freshman point guard in school history, period.  The only player that can possibly be mentioned in the same sentence as Dotson is Darnell Valentine.  Defensively Valentine was a much better player but as a floor leader and offense threat Dotson was a much, much better player.

The biggest disappointment was Quinton Grimes.  I think he actually played very well for a freshman.  His standout opening game against Michigan State put Grimes in a position of never being able to live up to what fans expected.  What I saw was a better than average defender who is going to be a next level player if he sticks around for more seasoning.

Marcus Garrett proved to be a lock down defender when healthy.  Mitch Lightfoot was an underrated and under appreciated spark plug to the Jayhawks's front court woes  K.J. Lawson contributed energy at times when you would least expected.  David McCormack is going to be a load next season.  Charlie Moore is a waste of a scholarship.
 
Bill Self got an incredible defensive effort out of this squad that lacked a dominating interior force.  Yes, you saw moments of stupidity on the defensive end from the freshmen but for God's sake, they were freshmen.  The same held true for the offense.  But when they were on, they were as good as any team in the country.  That's right, any team in the country.  But with four starting freshman, you never know what you're going to get.

Self won't abandoned Kansas for the Bulls.  He saw what Chicago did to Fred Hoiberg.  San Antonio would be a different story but I don't think Greg Popovich is ready to leave his coaching seat.  But all bets are off if the Adidas debacle reaches deep within the program.  Self will be gone and the Jayhawks will be hiring Mark Turgeon in quick order.

If DeSouza isn't ready for the NBA.  If he can get his punishment slashed, Kansas will be a top five team next season and yes that's without Dedrick Lawson.  The future is bright.  Jayhawk nation should be celebrating a remarkable year. 

Thursday, March 21, 2019

My Marathon Journeys: East Valley 1989

Racing smart, racing to your best, requires something that I have little of, patience.  I would go through periods of good training and run races far slower than my conditioning indicated.  This was an ongoing problem since I had moved to Phoenix.

I was working with a well regarded coach, Fred Moore.  Over the course of 1988 Fred kept telling me, read The Tao of Pooh.  I shrugged it off.  I didn't see how a book about Winnie the Pooh was going to help me with anything.

I can't recall the exact moment when the light bulb went off and I have searched my logs to find the workout that I connect with all of it but I remember a phone call that happened shortly after.  I did repeat miles with Coach Moore and his group.  Brent Steiner, a Kansas All-American, who had moved to the Phoenix area shortly after I did was at the workout.  It was strange because Brent had never been at one of our workouts.

I tried something different during the workout.  I listened to Fred and instead of trying to crush each of the four repeat miles I ran them under control.  I called Tom Dowling after the workout and discussed with him my frustration with my running.  Dowling told me to listen to Moore and read the damn book.

I did and some interesting things began to happen.  First, the irrepressible Craig Davidson talked me into running an 8K race the same morning as our 16 mile long run.  I went to the Scottsdale race in mid-December 1988 nice and relaxed.  I ended up running an evenly paced race and a big PR.

My next race was a 10K three weeks later and took the words of wisdom from Poo to heart.  The Tao of Poo preaches to go with the flow.  Poo never rushes, never hurries and simply lets the world envelop him.  I took it to mean that I should run under control and within myself until I find myself and then slowly ratchet up the tempo.

I did that at the Park Central 10K and ran a PR in 35:35 on very little mileage.  I remember Steiner was at this race and that he had battled a couple of Kenyans or three.  I don't think he won.  I know I wasn't even close to an age group award.

Now for some reason, short on mileage and good conditioning, I had agreed to pace a guy from our Saturday morning group to a sub-three hour marathon.  So Gary Sprague and I toed the line at the East Valley Marathon Saturday January 14.

It was a crisp winter morning when we set out from Tempe on a pancake flat course that would take us to Mesa.  Gary and I hit the half marathon in 1:29:05 and everything seemed great.  Gary was sailing along and I didn't see why sub-3 should even be an issue.

Things started getting shaky after mile 20.  We were averaging 6:52 pace leaving very little room for error.  Gary stopped shortly after 20 and started to walk.  I walked with him encouraging him not to give up.

We started running again and went another mile before Gary, clearly out of gas, stopped and started walking again after 21.  I stopped again and was mildly upset because I felt full of run and couldn't understand what was happening to Gary.  He wasn't built for marathons and was doing his level best but unfortunately I was short on sympathy.  Gary had trained hard but he had hit the wall.  Gary told me to go on and I reluctantly decided to leave him because sub-3 was out of the question for him.

I started cruising along at 6:45 pace and was quickly back under sub-3 hour marathon pace.  I was flying by runner after runner struggling to the finish.  I hit the finish in 2:58:54 feeling as fresh as a daisy.  Poor Gary said that he walked to mile 22, felt fine and finished in 3:05.  I don't think he ever broke three hours.

One month later I would run my 10K PR of 34:49.  While my training frame of mind and racing tactics were headed in the right direction my life was a hot mess.  I hated my job and the events of the previous year were nagging at me.  After my 10K PR my training lagged and the mileage began to shrink.  The next six months were among the worst for me personally that I have ever experienced.  I wouldn't start running seriously again until late August.

Monday, March 18, 2019

The Big Lie

Remember the rip off artists that brought you the horrific Fort Myers Marathons?!?  Their reputation finally caught up with them and they are no longer allowed to bring races into Lee County.  Another group is giving them a run for their money.

Elite Events has been around for about five years now.  The company operates out of Naples and puts on a little more than a dozen events a year.  The for profit company tries to pass itself off as a fundraiser for non-profits but don't kid yourself, the owners are in it for the pay day.

The promise of fancy finisher medals and tech shirts lure unsuspecting runners into their races that are generally on terrible courses that sometimes lack port-a-potties and enough water to take care of the runners needs.  Worse still, earlier this year Elite Events cancelled a triathlon then refused to give any of the entrants refunds.

Then there is their new entry into Lee County, the City of Palms Half Marathon.  For the past dozen years the Fort Myers Track Club has held a half marathon the first weekend in March which is well organized, offers plenty of goodies and is run on decent courses. Elite Events decided to sneak a race onto the calendar on the same weekend this year.

What unsuspecting runners got for their $109 entry fee (half off if they got in early) was a half marathon run on sidewalks, in and out of cul-de-sacs and yes, no port-a-potties plus they ran out of water.  These guys are too cheap to hire law enforcement to run their races out on the roads.  That's what a road race is supposed to be... a race on the roads.

To add fuel to the fire Elite Events is hinting to the Fort Myers Track Club that FMTC should adjust its race calendar to accommodate their race.  Yes, it appears they think their craptacular half marathon should supplant a top notch half marathon run through some of Fort Myers nicest neighborhoods with plenty of water stops and free beer and wings at the finish.

My major complaint about these guys is that it hurts the true not for profits that actually give back to their respective communities, the Gulf Coast Runners of Collier County and the Fort Myers Track Club of Lee County.  Both of these groups give every dime of the money they raise back to local charities.  The Gulf Coast Runners give thousands of dollars in scholarship money to Collier County athletes.  FMTC gives away scholarship money and supports numerous non-profits such as Barbara's Friends, Gigi's Playhouse and the Golisano Children's Hospital.

All Elite Events does is hurt attendance at the races put on by the legitimate GCR and FMTC while giving road racing a bad name.  The local road racing scene is already saturated.  Too many groups look at 5K's as an easy way to fund raise when in fact it's not all that unless you have the right support and establish a reputation as a first rate operator.

Elite Events isn't going to go away because I've written a rip about them.  I would just ask runners in Southwest Florida to think twice before chucking their hard earned money to some operators who don't work to actually support the communities they serve.  They only work to put money into their bank accounts.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

My Marathon Journeys: Grandma's 1987

1987 was the year I was going to run a 2:45 marathon.  I was in the best shape of my life.  I had a steady spring of long runs that included some first rate workouts.  I remember running 15 miles with 5 repeat miles thrown in at 5:30 pace in the middle of the run.

On my last long run of 23 miles two weeks before my target marathon my coach, Tom Dowling, wanted me to run the last five miles at 6:30 pace.  I remember it was a warm Sunday morning in early June.  I had run with a group of four others at about 7:20 pace when we got to 18 miles.  Dowling must have put two of them up to making sure I ran the last five at the suggested pace.  We were flying and I was fit.  I put them away after two miles and averaged under 6:30 to wrap up the run.

The target was Grandma's Marathon in Duluth.  It would mark my second run at Grandma's.  I knew the course.  The race offers spectacular views of Lake Superior with gentle rolling hills.  The weather traditionally the third weekend in June was usually cool.

But my plans were thwarted by a couple of things.  My work life was in turmoil.  I wanted a promotion I wasn't getting.  I decided to go for a position within the company in Phoenix that offered a chance for advancement.    I didn't tell my boss.

The Monday before the big race I was offered the job.  I remember going out that night with my then girlfriend to discuss the opportunity.  We ate at a South Kansas City tavern and I got a terrible case of food poisoning at dawn.  I had terrible diarrhea and was vomiting.  I was no condition to go to work.

My phone rang at 9 a.m.  It was my boss.  I hadn't even called out sick yet due to the fact that I didn't go to work until 1:30 p.m.  He started screaming at me about the Phoenix job.  I was shocked that he knew.  I hadn't even accepted the position.  His attitude about my apparent lack of loyalty helped me make my decision to leave.

So just five days out from the big race I was suddenly faced with the fact that I would be moving to Phoenix in July.  What I didn't know was that bought of food poisoning would leave me depleted of vital minerals when I toed the line on Saturday, June 20th.  Worse still it was unseasonably warm at the start of the race.

John and Kathy mid-race
Grandma's that year was hosting the USA women's national marathon championship.  Coach Dowling had arranged for me to run with one of his old friends, Kathy Northrup, who was hoping to run an Olympic Trials qualifier in 2:45.  I stood right behind the women's pen which occupied the front of the starting line.

It didn't take long for everything to be sorted out at the start.  Kathy and I were running along, side by side, rather easily.  We were running along at 6:20 pace.  It felt pretty easy for the first ten miles as we were out in around 64 minutes.

The heat was taking its toll and I could tell the Gatorade that I had downed before the start in hopes of holding off dehydration wasn't sitting well with my stomach.  Somewhere before mile 16 I let Kathy know I could no longer hold the pace.  She pushed on ahead looking for her OT qualifier.

I began shuffling along at 6:50 pace.  It felt incredibly easy but any attempt to push any faster left me feeling queasy.  The heat was now stifling as I passed the 20 mile mark.  It was shortly after 20 that I saw Kathy ahead getting on board a shuttle bus that was picking up runners, laid waste by the heat.

I forged ahead to the finish.  I was cussing myself knowing now that I wouldn't even run a PR, much less break 2:50.  I hit the finish line in 2:51:42.  It was good enough for 189th place out of more than 4,000 runners.  I was a mere 31st in my age group.

I was handed two tickets for free beer after hitting the finish.  I was drunk as skunk one hour after the finish on two beers.  The days that followed were awful.  I could barely walk.  My legs were beaten to a pulp.   I chalk that up to the dehydration and food poisoning.  I only managed to run three times over the next two weeks.

By July 5th  I was living in Phoenix.  I tried to resume training.  The heat was impossible.  Looking back at my logs that I now kept thanks to Coach Dowling I managed my first long run post marathon on July 18th.  It was 16 miles with a group led by Craig Davidson.  It was the start of a friendship that endures to this day.  But it would another nine months before I would tackle the marathon again.



Sunday, February 17, 2019

My Marathon Journeys: Kansas City 1986

I turned 30 at the end of 1985.  I came to my December birthday having decided to take my running a lot more seriously.  The change was sparked in part from my time volunteering as an assistant cross country coach at Rockhurst High School.  Two of the Rockhurst runners had caught my eye.

Tom Spencer and Matt Blake didn't do the majority of workouts given by the head coach.  They spent most of their time running a lot of miles.  Both were good high school runners, but not great.  Yet I could see through the work they were doing, these two seniors were getting the most out of their abilities.  Both urged me to sit down with their private coach, Tom Dowling.

I've written about Tom before.  He was different from any coach, any runner, I had ever encountered.  He asked me to do things that I didn't believe I could do.  He sucked me into a world of running that I really didn't know existed.

I had been coached to run intervals.  I ran a lot of intervals, even throughout the first five years of the 1980's.  I did a lot of 440's, a lot of 440's.  Tom said the track work was over.  He wanted me to focus on miles.  It was a lot of miles and a weekly tempo run thrown in and the goal of breaking 2:40 in the marathon.  Tom said it would take time to get there.  It could take three to five years.

I went through the winter, spring and summer of 86 piling up the miles.  My late spring races showed promise.  My trouble was staying injury free and when my old habits would get the best of me I would pay for it.  I couldn't keep myself off the track.  When I would run intervals I would usually find myself gimpy.

Prime racing season gets underway in September in Kansas City.  I had run a couple of 10K's in the low 36 range.  I begged Dowling to let me run the Kansas City Marathon in November.  He said I could do it on one condition.  I had to run it as a training run.  That meant no racing.  I agreed.

The 1986 edition was on a gnarly course.  It featured a lot of rolling hills over the first eight miles with a monster hill at 9.  After mile 10 the course went on for a gentle downhill 6 mile out and then it was a slow ascent to mile 25 before you worked your way up one final monster hill.

I went out at a pace that felt comfortable next to a runner I knew from Lawrence, Bill Reetz.  Bill planned to break three hours.  I was supposed to be running 3:15 or so.  I went by Dowling at three miles.  He was screaming at me for going too fast.  We went through in 18:30.

It all felt so easy and I didn't even mind the monster hill at 9 miles where Bill fell by the wayside.  Tom Dowling was again at the ten mile mark with a wry smile on his face.  I went through in 63:30.  He yelled slow down, you might run 2:45.  I was confused.  I knew he didn't care at this point what I did but this was all feeling way to easy.

The weather was good for November 16th.  The next 14 miles were uneventful but I could tell I was starting to slow after 21 miles.  Part of it was the gradual climb to the finish, part of it was the toll of running in unknown territory.  By mile 24 I was beginning to hurt.  The last mile was hell.  The uphill was excruciating as I turned to run the final .2 to the finish.  I could see the clock... 2:49... tick... tick... tick across the finish in 2:49:34.
I collapsed into my girlfriend's arms.  I had never been so spent.  I was suffering a terrible sugar crash and was on the verge of passing out.  Dowling was there with a Coke and I started to revive.  It was an eye-opening run.  I had finished 26th overall and even took an age group award finishing 4th.  It told me that I was on the right path in my training.  Lydiard style training suited me to a T despite the chaos of my television work life.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

My Marathon Journeys: Kansas City 1985

The first half of the 1980's was filled with running indifference.  I trained haphazardly, I raced sporadically, with the feeling that the clock was ticking on my running career.  I was in a running rut.

Professionally, as a television news producer, my life was hitting on all four cylinders.  But my hours were all over the map and I was frequently asked to work weekends.  Because of my complete lack of self discipline, training on a consistent manner was impossible.

Outside of one shot at the Hospital Hill half marathon, a 10K the following year with a marathon in 1982, the only other race I recall running during that period was a 5K in Lawrence, probably the first or second Maupintour 5K in 1981 or 82 and a 10K in 1984 when I was very out of shape.  I know there were other races during that period, but I didn't keep a training log until 1986.

Something about that 10K in the fall of 1984, where I ran about 45 minutes, probably sparked me to some serious training.  I had my eye on the Kansas City Marathon.  I have checked the records.  There is no date or results on line for the 1985 Kansas City Marathon.  Fortunately my friends from the University of Kansas, the Mad Dogs, list the race as having happened on May 12th.

The course for this edition was used only once.  It was a double loop course which started on the Country Club Plaza and took runners all the way out Brush Creek to the V.A. Hospital to the east.  It was hilly but not overly so for a Kansas City race.

I figured I was in about the same shape as I had been in Lamoni in 1982.  I had told my girlfriend to park at the 18 mile mark on the 2nd loop in case it went badly.

Boy, did it ever.  I rolled through the first loop with nary a problem.  I hit the half marathon in 1:31 and felt great.  I must have looked too great because the girlfriend figured there was no need to go to the 18 mile mark.

I knew by mile 17 that it wasn't going to be my day.  I didn't want to destroy my legs running a three hour plus marathon.  I hit 18 miles and no girlfriend.  Same at mile 19 and mile 20.  I was one unhappy camper as I made my way through the streets and hit the finish in 3:11.  I was beat all to hell and knew there must be a better way to running a marathon.

Fortunately, my training continued and improved.  I managed to run a sub 30 minute 8K in Eugene, Oregon the following month.  I would run through the summer and spring but it wasn't until December that I would come across a man who knew the secret to running a decent marathon.