Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Running Tech

Egyptian water clocks.  Romans roads and bridges.  Aboriginal long distance relay communication.  Waffle Irons.  Running has always advanced alongside technology, and in this age of Apples and Blackberries, opportunities are ripe for the picking.  What was once Aboriginal is now Abodigital. Here are some ideas for the future of running technology.*


The Virtual Reality Treadmill.
Imagine being able to run anywhere in the world without leaving your basement.  Surrounded by projections of Google street view as the wind rushes by, you smell the bakery you're running past in Paris, hear dockside clamor in Singapore and feel the burn as the incline changes automatically in downtown San Francisco.  Nano particles in the tread change the feel of the terrain from road to grass to dirt as you train in Van Cortland Park in the Bronx.  Of course by the time you've acquired this six-figure treadmill you might as well have bought some plane tickets.

Programmable (Wolverine) Spikes.
There's five minutes before the start of the cross country race, you're moving through your pre-race ritual, and suddenly coach tells you the mud is really thick in the third mile.  Uh oh, you only have quarter inch spikes in your shoes.  Relax, Don't Do It, no problem.  They are attached to programmable polymers inside the spike plates and a quick setting adjustment lengthens them to half-inch wolverine claws.  Just remember to retract before throwing em over your shoulder after the race...

Clockwise Tracks.
Runners (especially 10k people) have a risk of becoming ambi-turners if they continue to only turn left during track races.  Paint an additional set of lines and markers to allow for occasional meets in which all running events are held in the clockwise direction.  (Actually I have John Simons to thank for this idea).  The other way would be to put a massive mirror on one side of the track.  That would do it, right?

Downhill Tracks.
Imagine a track that turns clockwise and goes downhill....
While I'm on tracks, I was thinking we must be far along enough to make M.C. Escher's vision of a track that always goes downhill but somehow comes around to the same point reality.  World records and shins would come crashing down.

Permanently implanted timing chips.
This one is a bit Big Brother.  At an early age when you are indoctrinated into the cult that is running, they surgically implant a chip in your chest that will identify you at every race for the rest of your life.  No more pesky shoe chips or bib numbers you aren't supposed to fold.  The chip ID would be associated with an online database containing all you race results, splits, workout stats, 24/7 whereabouts... creepy.

Power Generating Training Shoes
Piezoelectric materials like lead zirconate titanate generate a voltage when they are compressed.  Put some in the soles of running shoes and you could charge your dead phone after running five miles right from your shoes.  Or they could power LEDs for safer nighttime running.  DARPA  is trying this in soldier's boots.

Facial Recognition Fan App.
How many times have you been watching a race and asked "who the hell is that guy taking it out like Diego Estrada?" or "wow, who is their fifth runner?  She is making the race for them."  With FaceTrack, simply point your mobile device at a pack of oncoming runners and it matches their faces with pre-loaded athlete profiles.  Then fans could view all results, media, and history for that athlete.  Don't forget to keep an eye on the race.  Doesn't work if all the runners in the frame have Derek Rubis' face.

Alternate Alter-G.
Definitely the best editing job I've ever done.
There has to be a better way to simulate lower gravity during rehab training than a sweaty plastic bubble that forces you to run like a T-rex.  I'm sure someone could figure out how to locally block the gravitons interacting between your body's and the Earth's matter... or maybe some kind of magnetic levitation suit?  An attractive option.  Wait, no, a repulsive one.

Holographic Pacers
I've heard that Harvard's indoor track used to have lights in the rail around the oval that could be set to a pace for workouts or races.  The "Hare-o-Gram" would take it a step further: project a hologram of a runner on the track for competitors to follow at a certain pace.  No more "what pace is the rabbit going?" "58 through the quarter" and then the guy runs a 61.5.  Hare-o-Gram would hit 58.00.  You could even pick the pacer's image, bringing back Matt Scherer from retirement or drafting off Big Bird.  Unfortunately, holograms can't provide a wind shadow so this is mainly for psychological pacemaking.  Puts people out of jobs too.

"Track Casual" Trainer-Dress Shoes.
This is actually possible, I think.  Have you ever had to squeeze a double run in between a flight and your friend's wedding, a first date, or a job interview?  Just because a training shoe has to withstand hundreds of miles, rain, snow, mud, and vomit during its lifetime doesn't mean it can't look like an Oxford.  Saves packing space, but probably not worth the smell at more formal events.

Real Time Form Analysis.
In-lab form analysis with the little Velcro ping pong balls and wire frame modeling already exists, but there's no way to get scientific stride or posture feedback on the roads and trails.  Let's say you are trying to improve your arm carriage or your rearward leg extension.  Gyro and accelerometer sensors inside bracelets and anklets measure the angles, rates, positions, and distances your limbs are swinging in.  They wirelessly update your watch, reminding you to focus on desired improvements.

Autonomous Meet Coverage.
Cover track and cross country meets with teams of drones.  They fly around with cameras getting aerial and trackside views.  Commentators work from a central control station and can cover multiple meets simultaneously all over the country without having to travel.

Prolonged careers with time travel.
I always have to include relativity in these more serious blog posts.  Let's say you want to dodge a rival doing particularly well this year or you want your career to last ten Olympic cycles instead of only two or three.  Just board a spaceship going close to the speed of light and time will move faster for you relative to Earth's, and when you come back you'll have "traveled into the future."  Though it might be hard to train on the spaceship since your relativistic mass would be at least... three times bigger.

Tear Away Short Shorts.
We love running in nice short shorts with big splits, but what if you get challenged to a game of HORSE (or ZAP) on the way to the run?  You'd be wearing the wrong equipment.  I envision a pair of basketball or lounging shorts that tear away to running shorts.  Man would you get made fun of.

But when it's all said and done, running is a gritty and visceral sport.  At a certain point, automation takes away from its purity.  Really the only thing that matters is getting results quickly after races.


*I do not claim to actually know anything about any of this.
**I know I know, I totally just botched special relativity.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Do you catch my Tokyo Drift

Across the mist strewn oval of lake, a group of runners sets off on their morning run, muscles straining in ostensible rigor mortis, tendons popping and cracking, their collective movement painfully gaining momentum like some great steam engine finally shuddering to life.  A swan's diverging ripples agitate the reflected image of autumnal fire advancing daily now to the water's edge.  Burning blood red across the descending spines of ridges and still greenish-yellow in the bottoms of ravines, fall reveals topography like a cartographer summarizing the relative social order of trees in their endless clamber for sunlight's favor and a stronghold in the stone studded soil below.  In their nostrils hangs the scent of damp and rotting leaves, pungent as morning light melts the overnight visit by a first frost and releases their imprisoned perfume.

That was an attempt to emulate the imagery heavy prose of Cormac McCarthy in his first novel The Orchard Keeper, which I found in Zap Fitness' extensive library while stretching after a run one day.  McCarthy also wrote The Road and No Country for Old Men which of course have become movies, but this first work describes the Tennessee mountain region, its wildlife, and an older, simpler way of living like nothing I've read before.  It's helped me appreciate and describe the setting we live and run in daily in the High Country, a backdrop that continues to grow on me. (literally)

The big news this week (this year) at Zap is Tyler's winning the Twin Cities Marathon and 2014 US Marathon Championship in his debut at the distance on Sunday.  While the team watched him in his final miles of "Glorious Isolation" from the champion's own man cave that morning, a palpable sense of excitement and cementing of purpose fell upon us then and afterwards.  A team mate winning big goes far beyond his or her own race.. It elevates everyone else's training, goal visualization, and belief in the program. This, combined with the fresh arrival of new team members John Simons, Andrew Colley, and Griff Graves has created a very real buzz at Zap Fitness.  The team chemistry is practically stoichiometric - and if we could improve our Appalachian Mountain Brewery Tuesday trivia game, look out.  On a given run we have milers, marathoners, and in-betweeners in the same pack.  In times of the year when our workouts match up, strength runners like Tyler and Cole compliment the anaerobic, speed based guys well (on our fashion of course) and vice versa.  It's a unique dynamic compared to most American professional teams, which tend to favor one side of the spectrum or the other.

Speaking of marathons, Sarah runs Chicago this weekend and we're all very excited to watch her.  She's been killing training and looks very ready.

I'm writing from Shimane Prefecture, Japan and will be racing in the Izumo Ekiden road relay on Monday.  I ran this one a year ago (preview blog) and had a blast experiencing Japan and the unique Ekiden format.  The race is 45.1 kilometers in total and is separated into six legs of 8.0k, 5.8k, 8.5k, 6.2k, 6.4k, and 10.2k.  Instead of a baton, runners carry and exchange a sash. (think beauty pageant sash) The American relay unit is an Ivy League select alumni team, so I'm traveling with former team mates / room mates and rivals from college - not sure if you could ask for a cooler opportunity.  My experience from 2013 will help a lot, especially during the race: I can visualize the course and competition and know what to expect (ball$ out running from the extremely tough Japanese.)  Last year I led off on the 8k leg, went out a little fast, and faded disappointingly.  This time I'm seeking redemption on the 5.8k second leg.  Our team of six's 5k PBs average 13:43, the best in the field of 21 teams, 20 of them Japanese - but we'll be up against their experience, home country advantage, and our travel.  But if Alabama Boy can win in Tokyo Drift, we can too.  There is another element at play affecting all teams equally: super typhoon Vongfong is bearing down on Okinawa to our Southwest tonight.  It will diminish in strength as it heads our way, but on race day there could be heavy rain and 40mph winds on the roads.  Just another tale to tell the grand kids.

This year's Izumo Ekiden race art




Monday, September 15, 2014

Input the Output

Stress is a killer.  Tensions do cause neurosis.  Uneasiness of the heart can lead to despair.  But without them, we remain inferior to our true selves.  Live if you will a life without risk .  Avoid the forge, the fire, the flame.  But know that joy and happiness and the good life come only as unexpected interludes in the endless, stressful, tense and restless journey to become who you are.  There is no easy way.
       - George Sheehan, Dr. Sheehan On Running

August marked ten years since my running career began.  On that first muggy summer day, I got out of my dad's Toyota pickup in jeans and Vans, unsure whether showing up in shorts to captain's practice was, well, cool.  Once past that barrier of freshman terror, I left the jeans in a bush and went running for the first time.  Before, I'd known running in more playful terms: short sprints on the beach, races against my uncle for quarters, and the mile in gym class.  But this was the first time I'd run: crossed street after street, deliberately continuing miles after I wanted to stop.  Going on runs would end up sculpting the next decade of my life.  It's been a distraction, a social outlet, a high, an ego booster, and a way of living.  Once it stood squire to engineering school, often beaten by it, and my life still followed an (oval made of rubber with lines painted on it) typical of many American students.  Now that Zap Fitness and Reebok have given me the ability to train full time I'm unusual, pursuing my dreams in a way many people, runners or otherwise, cannot.  So what happens in a one dimensional environment in which focus is paramount and results are key?  What does running become when you remove the distractions?

August 2008, on another hot and humid afternoon.  In the first workout of the season, the Princeton men's cross country team was setting out on a ten mile progression run.  Coach Steve Dolan instructed us to run together for the first four or so miles before the older, more experienced runners were allowed to accelerate .  We ambled down the hill from campus to the cross country course, and I started to feel feisty, like I could run with anyone.  We looped the course and hit the tow path, u-turning around wood bridge to the other side of the canal.  And then we started rolling.  Back west along Lake Carnegie, gathering speed and testing each other's summer fitness.  I saw my first year class boldly rallying near the front of the pack next to All American senior Michael Maag.  Six miles in we turned off the tow path towards legendary bean fields and I began to notice the cicadas buzzing.  The heat.  The acid started filling my legs and as we re-entered the forest, I was a dropped fly.  Eight miles into the run Dolan was waiting in the Institute Woods, giving me and a few others the option to stop early, which I shamefully but thankfully did.

My version of the classic freshman wakeup call, the workout humbled me.  In high school, running had been easier.  Winning came often.  I was driven by outer confirmations of greatness: state rankings, news articles, medals, records, our team's success.  Feedback was immediate and running followed a more clear input equals output pattern.  But now I had to find a way to run from the bottom of the totem pole.  For all the work I put in, the most glory I felt came in moving up a workout group or making a travel squad.  Motivation needed to shift its source from outer sources to internal ones.  In the first couple years of college I didn't make an impact, but inside I was learning more than I could have when things were easy in high school.  I learned how to manage time, how to lose, how to be a team mate, and how to keep coming back no matter what.  During that drought of outer verification I came to think of running in more simple terms.  I began to put less pressure on myself.  I thought less and less about pace on training runs, and I started truly taking easy days easy.  I spent less energy preparing mentally for races and allowed instinct to guide me.  I was running because I actually loved running itself.  When during senior year the wins and records returned, it was that much easier to run. 

Now treading the atypical path of full time American runner, I know I won't last if I frame running as a trophy hunt.  There are no distractions like school or work to fall back on during times lacking positive feedback.  Instead I invest confidently in long term training, enjoy the process, and celebrate even the smallest victories.  This mentality might come more naturally for some people, but I'd wager that for most, "running wisdom" comes with time.  For the average runner, and even for the pros, it boils down to you.  And running.  You and running, exactly like it was on the first day, when you were afraid to show your skinny legs to the world.


- - - - - - - - 


Back to ground level and a little update on what I'm up to:


After my last track race in August I took two weeks totally off from running, gained ten pounds, and regrouped a bit.  I'm now a couple weeks into a volume ramp consisting of only once a day running.  Last week was 87 miles in singles, and this week I'll see my first real workout back in the form of a 7-6-5-4-3-2-1 minute piece Fartlek before heading to Providence, RI for the CVS 5k / USARC 5k Championships on Sunday.  I'm training through this race and relying on residual track fitness, but the minimum goal is top 10 so I can qualify for the .US 12k Championships in November.  After CVS the next race will be the Izumo Ekiden in Japan in October.


Many of my goals for this fall are process-oriented.  I will race several times, but the overarching design is to build strength for track season.  Most of them are simple, back-to-basics reminders of things I got away from during track: consistently longer long runs, fewer double days (more singles), weekly medium long runs, and more frequent tempo runs.  I've done a solid job with drills, strides, core/stability and hill running and I'll continue those routines.  I'm engaged in an all-out assault on my iron levels (which have caused me problems before) involving daily ferrous sulfate doses in both liquid and solid forms along with eating red meat every other day.  There is hard training in the months ahead and I'm excited to be better than I ever have been.


Fall Racing Schedule:
Date Race Name Location Venue / Distance
September 21 CVS Downtown 5k / USARC 5k Champs Providence, RI Road 5k
October 13 Izumo Ekiden Relay Izumo, Japan Road 8k Relay
November 16 .US 12k Championships Alexandria, VA Road 12k
November 27 Manchester Road Race Manchester, CT Road 4.748 miler
December 13 USATF Club Cross Country Bethlehem, PA Cross Country 10k

Monday, July 28, 2014

Euracing Part IV (But from America)

There were some problems with my entry into the KBC Nacht 5000 in Heusden, and I spent a day wondering if I'd even be racing before I was placed in the "C" heat.  I begged my case to the entries judge: "You have 27 guys in the "B" section field, can't you make it an even 28?"  To which he replied "I am so sorry, we have field size limits."  At which I thought Limits?  27?  Might as well make it 30 or 40.  I wasn't so cheeky out loud.  The C heat turned out to be faster anyway, as the Americans made it honest in 81 degrees.  Eric Finan and John Peterson shared the lead after the rabbit took us through 2k on 65 seconds / lap.  Joe Bosshard had some balls in the final mile, leading until the last lap, which produced an exciting finish.  I went around him with 350 to go but he re-passed coming into the back straight.  I answered again on the final curve, and coming into the home stretch I thought I had it won until Finan blew by to win in 13:37 to my 13:38.  Another 5k in the 13:30's, but in the conditions and given my effort I was at least content with it.

Just two nights later George and I were back on the track in Gent for a windy 3k.  I got the win but was pulled right into drug testing.  I got a bottle of champagne for winning so it wasn't all bad (I like to keep the cup half full...) When that was over with we "lite jogged" about a mile in street clothes into downtown Gent for Gentse Feesten, which was especially impressive since it was Belgian National Day.  In short, we enjoyed a massive outdoor music festival set in amazing seventeenth century building - studded downtown Gent.  My loyal readers know I sometimes use dancing as a recovery method, and the house music on the main stage provided the impetus.

The 3000 at Flanders Cup Gent
Living in Leuven where so many American, Canadian, and European runners base camp, I saw how other professional groups train and carry themselves.  In one small Belgian town, a large part of our country's distance running strength was assembled.  With the very athletes we compete against in the big meets and national championships, we took the train to meets, cooked, watched movies, shared gossip within the sport, and ran.  The opportunity to run fast in a foreign land fostered community amongst rivals and friends, which was definitely my favorite aspect of the trip.  Talking with everyone each day at the practice track and over dinner I learned everything from the training methodologies of  various groups to who is happy where to what it takes to improve steadily through your twenties only to shave your beautiful beard.

The scene at Gentse Feesten 2014

I won two races and was second in two others during my tour in Europe.  Racing near the front and winning builds experience and confidence.  I ran tough, but the truth is that I didn't quite accomplish everything I wanted to overseas.  The breakthrough I've been patiently working for did not happen.  My performances were right on par with how I've been running for the past two years.  I place high expectations on myself, and results I once would be elated with simply aren't enough anymore.  That being said, I understand that I'm still adding water behind the dam.  I was talking with team mate Cole Atkins yesterday, and he suggested that I've been working out too hard.  More specifically, my pain tolerance has become so high that I don't realize I'm taking away from the races during workouts.  That could definitely be part of the issue, as my workouts indicate I'm ready to run 13:15 to 13:20 in the 5k.  The positive is that all that work is Stilin my body and it's not going anywhere.  I can still use it in the coming years.

We added one more race to the end of the season, and I'm very excited about it.  It's a new event called the Sir Walter Miler at Meredith College in Raleigh, NC.  It's a perfect opportunity to run one more fast mile before shutting it down for a few weeks in August.  The event organizers are doing an amazing job of promoting and setting the event up to be spectator friendly and fun.  They'll have food trucks, live music, and an after party at a brewery in Raleigh.  These are the kinds of events we need in the US!  They improve the popularity of the sport immensely.  Stay tuned for a recap!






Thursday, July 17, 2014

Euracing Part III

How to fit in with the Belgians, and Europeans for that matter.

Last year in Belgium I wasn't fooling anyone: I clearly looked and acted American.  More often than not, cashiers and people on the street would open with English when speaking with me, doubtless for the cargo shorts and running shoes I wore around.  I've gotten better since, and they begin with Dutch.  I don't come from a fashion background by any means, but it's been interesting observing the differences.  There's nothing complicated about the male Euro look.  The defining elements are the haircut, pants, and shoes.  One additional accessory seems to complete a look, such as a watch, handkerchief, or tie (or scarf?)  Your haircut should be very short on the sides, longer and combed over on top.  If you're really going for it, you get highlights.  Your shoes can be literally anything from 180€ leather dress shoes to crocks depending on the situation.  Sandals seem to be totally acceptable, but running shoes aren't.  You're better off wearing Vans.  And your pants better be tight.  All the better if they're colorful and show your ankles.  I haven't gotten that far yet though.

As long as you don't walk through towns gawking at gargoyles, you sit facing the street, people watching (even with two in your party), and you have an espresso or beer in your hand at all times, you'll fit right in.

The Coolest Workout Setting, Ever

Spent a day In Bruges
On Tuesday I was In Bruges for the final workout of track season.  We call it the Zap Fitness Pete Rea "Classic" and it usually serves as a race week tuneup.  It's a 4-3-2-1-3-2-1 minute fartlek with 1/2 time "offs".  Run correctly, the difference in paces begins only 10-15 seconds / mile and increases as the fasts get faster and the slows get slower.  What made the session, though, was the scenery.  Bruges is circular with a canal running around the perimeter.  A soft surface bike path runs along the inside of the canal, making for a perfect place to run.  Every half mile was a drawbridge and accompanying mini castle / keep.  There were also several old fashioned wind mills (you know, the Dutch ones) along the way.  I was pretty happy we found the location, not to mention with a track nearby.


Scalp Taking in Kortrijk
LetsRun.com gave me some love for beating Kenyan Conseslus Kipruto on Saturday night in the Kortrijk 1500.  It was a strange race as only myself, the eventual winner Carsten Schlangen of Germany, and Rich Peters went with the pacer.  I split 57 through 400, 1:56 at 800, and 2:55 at 1200, making up a large gap to Schlangen in the third lap.  I nearly drew even with him on the final curve but he had me on the home stretch.  The remainder of the field including Kipruto was coming late, but held back a bit too much early to catch us.  For me it was an excellent confidence booster and speed injection coming into this weekend.

Vacation within a Vacation
On the beach in Duinberg, Knokke-Heist, Belgium with
George, Donn, and Peter.
After Kortrijk I spent a few days up on the seaside in Duinbergen, Knokke-Heist with Princeton team mates Peter Callahan, Donn Cabral, and George Gallaso.  The week-long siege the clouds laid on Belgium finally ended and we enjoyed some time on the beach.  Peter spent his childhood summers here and showed us some of the Belgian shore culture.  Pistolets (bread rolls with slits down the middle) with dark chocolate spread or American prepare (very finely ground raw beef) is a Sunday tradition.  We also had the tiny shrimp they catch right offshore us as the tide comes in.  On the beach the children collect a certain type of sea shell with a serrated edge and use them as currency to buy bouquets of plastic flowers for their sand castles.  Most of all I enjoyed getting in some runs with my friends and team mates from college.  Running certainly has brought us far.


Time to Run!
I can't be more excited for this weekend.  The Heusden KBC Nacht 5k on Saturday night, a day of rest on Sunday, and the 3k in Gent on Monday night will cap off the track season.  Over the past few days I've browsed through my running log reflecting on all the work I've put in since January, and looked at photos from all the moments at meets and at Zap we've already had in 2014.  Taken one way, it all culminates in these two races.  But I'm not thinking of it that way.  This is just another race weekend on the way to wherever running eventually takes me.  I'm more excited than nervous, and know that it'll be more fun than anything else.  I'm completely relaxed and happy to be here, ready to compete and let it unfold the way I know it will.




Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Euracing Part II: Trains, Rains, and Banana Peels

On a shakeout run on KU Leuven's 
Day five of Zap Fitness' Tour De Belgium opened with a cool, steady rain that slid off the awning windows of my dorm room in large beads.  After a breakfast of jellied croissants, a banana and espresso, George and I set out to warmup for the last big workout of the track season.  On our way we passed centuries old red brick university buildings interspersed with modern though much less ornate cement and steel ones.  Even in the rain we saw many people headed to work and school on bikes.

Pete explained via text from Zap that the purpose of this workout was to stimulate "muscle memory".  What he meant was not to kill the session and to practice the pace at which we'll be racing 5k next week in Heusden-Zolder.  Despite the rain, conditions on the track were quite good: Leuven's oval drains very well and there was no wind.




George and I in front of the main library in
Leuven
I ran three 1500m intervals and four 400m reps, going 4:04, 4:00, and 4:00 on the 1500s, and 60, 57, 57, 58 on the 400s.  George's session was slightly different but we were able to share the pace during our first 1500.  After the shenanigans of this past weekend in Oordegem, where I didn't know what to make of a near solo 3:43 1500 race in the rain, this session boosted my confidence.  Even with generous rest, the way I felt on those 1500s indicates I'm more than ready to run very well next week.



In Oordegem on Saturday I ended up in a later, slower 1500 heat that was scheduled for a time that flirted with when the last train home would leave.  When it became apparent that my heat would be delayed, George (who wasn't racing) managed to secure a ride to the train station, but it would be close.  I finished in first and almost forgot we had to leave, congratulating the field until George shouted "Joe, we gotta go!"  I jogged over to my stuff, grabbed it, and got in a van, still in spikes.  We made it to the station with four minutes to spare, which I used to jog back and forth on the (soft surface!) platform for a short cool down.  The old Stella Artois brewery next to the train station in Leuven was a welcome sight as we got back, since I did not want to be milking cows in exchange for a bed that night.

A woman who was holding really still at
the botanical garden
The next day we explored Leuven a bit more on bikes, finding more than a few dilapidated old Catholic churches and a very well kept botanical garden.  For lunch we had sandwiches at my favorite cafe / bar / club in town, De Rector.  I had the Martino, a baguette with beef tartare and chili sauce.  We broke our dessert fast with waffles and gelato afterwards.  Dangerous.

For now we're staying dry and recovering from the workout this morning, our minds on the next race this Saturday in Kortrijk.



Friday, July 4, 2014

Euroacing Part I

While traveling and racing in Europe I'll depart from the usual style in the next few blog posts - most likely embodied in even worse sentence structure than before and voyages into random, unedited ramblings.

My trusty steed Libertas for
the next three weeks.
George and I arrived in Bruxelles yesterday and took the fifteen minute train ride to our base camp in Leuven, Belgium.  It's a small medieval town with lots of good food, beer, a track, and excellent trails that branch and meander into the dairy cow occupied Belgian countryside (I'm at home, being from Wisconsin).  One of the first things we did was rent bikes for the next month.  Everyone here rides bikes complete with fenders, a handbell, and bike rack, and having one makes us feel part of the community in Leuven. Plus they're 15 euro / month, a steal.

Any good traveler knows that you're on that country's time when you step off the plane, and it's no different for runners.  Many of the athletes living with or near us in Leuven arrived this week after racing the US Championships in Sacramento last weekend and are competing in the Flanders Cup meeting in Oordegem on Saturday.  We'll be jetlagged for the race, but in my mind it's best to get on schedule quickly rather than take long naps to catch up.

George and I in front of Leuven's Town Hall
Yesterday, George and I occupied ourselves with a run, people watching and espresso beside Leuven's central cathedral and finding bedding for our dorm rooms, although we  did pull the sweat shirt for a pillow trick.  We cooked a dinner worthy of the old times at training camp in Tallahassee: Chicken, rice, and veggies in a pan.  Plenty of pricey meals including meatball salad, raw beef sandwhiches, and mussels and frites await us this trip, and getting groceries saves tons of money, especially in Europe.

Danny Stockberger and I discussing Game of Thrones at
Koffie Onan







Today I did a pre meet run of 50 minutes, strides and a 400 in 58.9 to wake the body up after traveling.  I'm breaking out the USA red, white, and blue Reebok spikes for the four races on my tour here.  Pride in country is essential around Independence Day and after Belgium sent the US home from the World Cup on Tuesday.  I felt heavy and sluggish on the run, but after strides I began to feel like myself
again.



Tomorrow is a 1500 in Oordegem which is a good race to start with.  The plan is to relax, find the rail, and close the last lap well.  Once I've busted the rust at a shorter distance and overseas, I'll run one last hard session on the track next week before another 1500 in Kortjirk on Saturday.  Then it's onto the Heusden 5000 on the 19th.  In between I plan to go on a few day trips to Germany, France, and perhaps Switzerland.

For planning and funding the trip I thank Zap Fitness and everybody who supports the non profit running center in Blowing Rock, NC. Because of Zap's running camps and the donations made by runners, campers, and people interested in improving American distance running, George and I are able to go overseas for three and a half weeks to race the best in the world during an experience of a lifetime.  Zap's product is it's elite athlete team, and our trip is proof that its model for support is working very well.

Racing Schedule:

July 5 Flanders Cup Oordegem Oordegem, Belgium Outdoor 1500
July 12 Flanders Cup Kortrijk Kortrijk, Belgium Outdoor 3000
July 19 KBC Nacht Heusden-Zolder, Belgium Outdoor 5000
July 21 Flanders Cup Gent Gent, Belgium Outdoor 3000