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 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
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

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

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Float On Down

Monday night I sat in an eddy pool in the creek on the edge of Zap Fitness' campus. The waning half moon cast age-smoothed boulders around me in shadow but was luminous enough to reveal the colors of pebbles in the stream bed.  While cold water washed over my legs, trout minnows nibbled at my toes, no doubt cleaning the gnarled result of the miles I've been running.  Sitting under the moon, stars, and canopy of pure green forest after a long day of travel, I reflected on the season and races and training to come.  The only sound was of the creek racing between the two large boulders that held back my pool.

The night before in Portland, David McNeill was quickly opening a gap on the field during the third lap of the Portland Track Festival 5k after a slower half mile split of 2:12.  Third in a chase pack with Mo Farah and Aron Rono, I felt the pace surge as Farah worked to stitch the rift to the Australian.  By 2k we four ran in a straight line, locked into 65 second quarters.  This was it: a chance to exploit the stellar training of momentum May in cool Pacific Northwest conditions under the lights.  Minutes before on the line, my blood stream a cocktail of adrenaline and caffeine rushing after pre race strides, the anticipation of the start reached near uncomfortable levels.  I love every component of racing:  The nervous excitement of the warmup, the focus on the track during the race, and the runner's high saturated wind down afterward.  I've come to thrive on the highs and lows of a meet, and being on the line of a race might be the most alive I ever have and ever will feel.

3000 into the Portland Track Fest 5k, Mo Farah leads Aron Rono, Tyler Pennel and I.  German Fernadez is in fifth and David McNeill (orange shorts) sixth.  We had a great crowd cheering us on.
Two months ago in the Mt. Sac Relays 5k it was only halfway into the race when I faltered, bleeding places and time.  Tonight I flew through that mark relaxed, smooth, and on the rail.  On the backstretch I heard children screaming "Go!  Go Daddy Go!" and thought "I'm racing men with kids, that's funny" before realizing they were the Olympic champion Mo Farah's kids cheering him on.  Daddy surged on the seventh lap with Rono following and I made the second major pace change of the race to catch up.  Zap Fitness team mate Tyler Pennel bounced along behind me.  McNeill having dropped back, our pack of four split 8:42 at 3200 meters as Tyler surged to the front.  In the next 200 we formed a Mo Farah - Zap Fitness sandwich with Tyler bravely leading.  A half mile later we passed 4k, the checkpoint where I met my demise a month ago in the Payton Jordan 5k.  Again I broke through, running stronger this time around.  McNeill had worked back into our pack and now took the lead from Farah, pushing hard with two laps left.  I swung wide and closed the gap over the next half lap, splitting 30.0 seconds from 700 to 500 from the finish.  At the bell, Farah hit the afterburners and scorched a 53 second final lap.  Finally the lactic acid caught up with me and all I could manage was to hold pace for 13:36 and fourth behind Rono.

In the moments after I felt disappointed with the time.  It wasn't a personal best or under the US 'A' standard.  But having watched the video and thought about it, I realize how well I raced.  Making at least three significant pace changes throughout probably took the sting out of my kick.  In the larger time frame of the season, I did the best I've done yet, coming within a lap of running a perfect Five.  The best part is that I have opportunities to execute that finish this summer.

In the past two years I've run 13:33, 13:34, 13:36, 13:38, and 13:40.  That's consistent, which is desirable.  But it's also somewhat frustrating running without improvement.  I believe that enough water against the dam yields a breakthrough, and that I'm on that edge right now.  No matter what level you're at, there will be times when you can't seem to get faster.  Sometimes a change in training and a fresh mindset is needed.  But there's nothing better for a runner than patience, poise, and belief that the breakthrough will happen.  Every performance, good or bad, is a movement towards that day we all dream of.

Back in the creek I watched a fallen leaf trapped in the eddy float slowly once, twice, three times in a circle around my pool. Finally it found the gap between the boulders downstream and went rushing onward.

Race Results

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * ** *

Bit of an update on my remaining track schedule:
June 26 USATF Outdoor Championships Sacramento, CA Outdoor 5000
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

I'll be blogging regularly during my European travels, be sure to check that out!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Positive Derivative

Wouldn't it be nice
    if running was predictable?
        If all the work you put in
              determined exactly what
                                you got out.
                                    If, for example,
                                        a great workout
                                           always meant
                                           you were ready
                                                    to run fast
                                       in the near future.
                                   Or if taking
                     some down time
          always made you
    actually feel better.
     In short, if running
                 was logical...
                             If In
                               exactly equaled Out.
                                    But it doesn't all the time.
                                     Call it what you want -
                             a coefficient of chaos
                       or a white noise term.
                          It's a deviation
                             from expectation.
                                Sometimes you'll be
                                          above average,
                                       often below,
                                   and occasionally
                                you'll run about how
                          you thought you could.
                       I think that's why
                   people compare
          running to life.
             Because no matter
                 how hard you try
                          to control it,
                                a certain piece
                                        will always be
                                                     Celebrate the favorable
                                                                  But don't dwell
                                                              on the individual
                                                            shitty ones.  
                                                                 The goal should be
                                                                         to minimize the
                                                                               fluctuation and

Check out the lap (400m) splits from my most recent 5000 in Palo Alto, California.  You don't have be good at math or know the first thing about running to see what happened:
64   64   64   64   63   64   65   65   65   65   71   72 

I died.  Payed the pied piper.  Bonked.  Blew Up.  Contracted a case of Rigamortus Rex.  I had been on pace for 13:25 and ended with 13:44, far off the US "A" standard of 13:32.

In the hurt locker during the final kilometer of the 5000 at the Payton Jordan Invite
Looking more closely, however, I draw some positives.  Up until 4k in, the pacing was impeccable (thanks Donn)  Instead of tailing off the pace with a few 67s and a 69, the guillotine came down, taking me straight from 65 to 71, and that's fairly unusual.  Apparently I lost my head and forgot that there was another kilometer left.  More likely, I was so dialed in against the pain that it took a tidal wave of fatigue to knock me over, and when it did crest over and fall it really pitted me.  The upshot is that I made it 80% of the way to a great run.  That last fifth can be fixed.

When I look at my trajectory's derivative (can't help but be a nerd), where I'm going, I'm very much encouraged.  Two weeks before this race I ran 14:11 at Mt. Sac.  Right now I'm fluctuating widely in my performance, but the average is definitely rising.  By the end of the season I'd like to run more predictably by tuning out the white noise.  I have a concrete plan for doing so.

We got to work this week with a ten mile progression run out on beautiful Todd Road, one of the few truly flat places to run that distance in the Blowing Rock / Boone, NC area.  At a mild altitude of 3850 feet, Todd follows the New River basin and curves through forest and farmland.  I ended up averaging 5:18 / mile with a few slower miles to start.  The last couple miles were both 5:01 but weren't easy, confirming my need for this type of run.  We'll keep strength sessions like these in our routine well into the year.  I think a lot of people make the mistake of removing them prematurely in the racing season, and lose the backbone of the strength they need to finish well.

With no races until the Music City Mile in Nashville on June 7th, I've deemed this month "Momentum May" because the next few weeks are about stoking the fires of aerobic fitness before returning to racing in June and July.  That means a few weeks of solid volume in the 90-100 range, some longer long runs, and a few good hilly efforts in addition to the event specific interval sessions we do on the track and grass.  It also means getting in the habit of attacking the secondary but very important supplemental activities from now until the end of track season.

Zap Fitness at Half Moon Bay on the Pacific.  Pictured are George Alex, Tyler Pennel, Joe Stilin, and Chris Moen.

As I've become more and more settled into a life at Zap dedicated to running, the days have gone by surprisingly fast.  I'm not spending any more time actually on my feet running than I ever did while I additionally had commitments to school or work.  Yet the days get filled with the little things that support that running.  A big conversation at Zap this year has been about nutrition and hydration.  It's one thing to understand the top level view of what and when to eat and drink, but it's another to know how to use that information in your individual diet.  What to bring to the end of a run.  What to eat when you wake up; what not to eat when taking iron.  How much to eat, when, and in what carb/protein amounts to maximize recovery.  If I can eek out an extra 0.5% from a workout because I had food and hydration ready to go, awesome.  It's something I never did a good job of before this.

Coming out of Momentum May the racing starts and doesn't stop until August for me.  The next two races will be a mile in Nashville followed by a 5k at Portland Track Festival.  Then there's the US Outdoor Championships in Sacramento after which I'll head to Europe again for some overseas racing.  Here's to keeping things moving upwards!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Caesar's Head

I listen to the submarine bubbling noise my snorkel makes as I stand, upside-down, on the bottom of the sailboat in Lake Michigan.  It's a smaller spartan barque - a J/24 - and that means racing.  When I was twelve my dad bought the 1979 hulk in lackluster condition from a retired sailor in Racine, Wisconsin, going straight to work on it with the same can of elbow grease he used on our house and cars as I grew up.  This boat is a classic, he says.  It'll be the envy of the sail yard one day, if we can keep the water out of the hull.

We're anchored in sixteen feet of water a quarter mile off Atwater beach in Milwaukee last summer above the wreck of the Appomattox, a steamer that stranded here during a storm in 1905.  The crew gave up on her after two weeks of wallowing on the rocks.  I push off our own hull,  diving straight down until my ears pop and the water is chilly.  I can make out one side of the 319 foot steamer looming through the blue-green, slightly opaque water, imagining what it looked like in 1905.

View of Caesar's Head climb from Zap
Fitness' private jet
The Appomattox floats into my head because my ears are popping again during a hard run up to Caesar's Head State Park in upstate South Carolina on Friday.  I've flown dozens of times in the past few years without pain in my ears, yet climbing 2100 vertical feet up 7.4 miles on highway 276 is making them ring, probably because I don't have the luxury of yawning at this breathing and heart rate.  I'm too busy maintaining the tightly spinning feedback loop in my mind that I've set up to stay focused: "this hurts." "shut up." "it hurts." "feet under you." "f*** this is hard." ""shut up... knee drive."  The focus is incredibly easy to break out of as we grind up switchback after switchback through deciduous forest interrupted occasionally by Walhalla Sheet rock outcroppings to the top.  I try to keep Kevin's blue shirt within sight up ahead.

A staple in Zap Fitness' repertoire, the long sustained hill climb is a very aerobic, strength based session done at low speed that erases the pounding of a similar effort on flat ground.  My time of 47:59 on Caesar's head comes out to 6:29 minutes/mile.  On flat ground, I'd need to run almost two minutes per mile faster to achieve the same aerobic effect, but would be hurting much more the next day.  Our other reason for climbing big hills is form improvement.  Pete tells me it will help reduce extraneous lateral motion in my stride and keep everything moving forward.  Even so, we don't want to end the day with the memory of just 6:30 pace in our legs.  At the top we run 8 x 200 meter strides, getting faster on each as a group.  The first few felt sluggish coming off the climb, but we were rolling well by the end.

Being a rookie on the team, Friday's Caesar Head is only my second climb and I'm still getting the hang of them.  At the top I'll admit I threw a bit of a temper tantrum, partly because I got my ass handed to me by Kevin and Cole.  Thinking about it though, this is why I joined Zap Fitness.  My future improvement depends on the continued development of my strength and efficiency.  Sure, I could go out and rip intervals on the track all season long and maybe retire a 13:20's-low guy in few years.  But real, deep-down improvement begins with things like a little pride check from super strong half marathoners and 10k guys during a session a little outside my comfort zone on Friday.  Besides, I can always get back at them on fast stuff like the 200s.  It's a nice dynamic.

The crew at the top of the Caesar's Head climb.  This is purportedly the last known photograph of Chris' beard before he shaved it.  Left to right Kevin Schwab, Cameron Bean, Chri$ Moen, Joe Stilin, Cole Atkins

* * * * *
We have another two weeks of training camp down here in Greenville before many of us open up at the Raleigh Relays (pronounced rolly, not ra-lay, apparantly) and we return home to Zap in North Carolina.  Besides training I've been filling my time with several side projects.  I'm working with a friend on an entry to a worldwide sustainable engineering competition.  We're designing a wind energy system that uses a kite to generate power in disaster relief areas, places not accessible by large trucks, ocean buoys, and mountainsides.  In the interest of eventually being able to label myself as a halfway decent writer, I have three short stories in the works.  Two of them are collaborations with team mates Cole and George.  We each write about a paragraph and switch off.  The other is based in Austin, Texas.  And of course, I've been reading a lot.

You might be waiting for the tie-back to the Appomattox.  Well... aren't we all searching for something in a world that's slightly opaque at times, might feel chilly, and for which we may have to feel some pain in our ears to find?