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.