Sunday, December 8, 2013

#BeBackSoon

It's been a while since I posted.  This isn't a post, it's more of a promise of a post coming soon, to hold myself accountable... school's over for me soon, and it'll be all running and no bumming very soon!

stay tuned.

for now, here's a poem:

Dirt.
That I ran on,
Soaked but smooth,
Giving under my feet, pliant to my stride.
This dirt if the salt of the Earth and the malt of my mirth.


Friday, October 4, 2013

Ten Minute Battle: Izumo Ekiden, Japan Pre-Race

On Wednesday I board a Boeing 777 for a thirteen hour flight to Tokyo.  I am part of the nine-man Ivy League Select relay team bound for Izumo, Japan for the 25th edition of the All Japan University Izumo Ekiden Relay Race.  It consists of six stages run on the roads of Izumo in the Shimane Prefecture with lengths 8.0 kilometers, 5.8k, 7.9k, 6.2k, 6.4k, and 10.2k for a total of 44.5 kilometers.

Roughly the Japanese equivalent of the American fall cross country system, (but on roads) Ekiden racing is run at the high school, university, corporate, and international levels all over Japan.  Races vary in number of stages (usually between five and nine) and length of stages (from 3k to 13k).  Our race in Izumo serves as the kickoff for the university Ekiden season and is part of the "big three" of university Ekiden events, along with the All-Japan Collegiate Ekiden Championship in early November and the Hakone Ekiden in January.  Most of the races, including ours, are gender-specific, but the International Chiba Ekiden, which draws teams from all over the world, features stages run by both men and women.  Ekiden is a unique Japanese sporting event: these races draw hundreds of thousands of spectators roadside and attract huge national television audiences.

Alone, a trip to Japan is an amazing experience - but I believe we are going to encounter more than the average American tourist ever will.  Sure, we'll see the sights, enjoy the food, language, and culture of the country.  But on Monday the fourteenth of October, when we line up alongside twenty one Japanese teams in front of the Izumo Taisha Shrine,  I expect we'll be seeing and feeling, through the hurt of the race, a lot more.

Of the week long trip, I am specifically looking forward most to an approximately ten minute period: the last ten minutes of my relay leg.  I have imagined it many times now: an unspoken understanding, an absolute focus,  a complete determination to win in my competitors.  I have heard and read of, and experienced myself in the US and most recently in Belgium on the track, how fiercely competitive the Japanese are.  They won't pack up.  They won't wait and kick.  They will be doing everything in their power to deliver the sash to their next man with a lead, to give their remaining runners a better chance.  When the freshness of the start has worn off, the acid has begun to accumulate, when the pounding of the road begins to add up; that's when I'll learn about Japan.  From men from Tokyo, from Yamanashi, Komazowa, Fukuoka, and Sappro.  From places I've never been to, and perhaps never will.  I'll learn a little bit about each of them in that ten minute battle.

Where the 44.5 kilometer relay road race will start with an 8 kilometer stage: outside the Taisha Grand Shrine in Izumo, Japan.  The Shrine is dedicated to the Shinto god of marriage, Okuninushi-no-mikoto.
I have huge respect for who us Ivy League boys are up against.  In the fifteen years the US has sent an Ivy team to Izumo, the highest we've finished is a respectable eighth.  The quality of competition in Izumo is stellar - I would venture to predict that the winning team there would do a great deal of damage at NCAA D1 Cross Country Championships every year (yes, even against Wisconsin or OSU)

In recent editions of the race, guys from outside the Ancient Eight have been used on the American team, potentially expanding our firepower.  But this year the Japanese required Ivy Alumni exclusively, and we're bringing a very good team.  All of us have continued training and racing at a high level since college.  We have speed in guys like Kyle Merber (Columbia, 3:35, 14:02) and Trevor Van Ackeran (Princeton, 3:39, 8:46 SC), who now run for NJ*NY track club.  We have strength in Dan Lowry (Brown, 3:59, 13:34, 29:22), Brendan Martin (Columbia, running for Hansons-Brooks, 14:06, 64:38 HM), Tommy Dialynas (Princeton, 29:41), Ethan Shaw (Darmouth, 14:06, 29:17, 64:45 HM), and Jonathan Gault (Dartmouth, 14:25).  And we have good combinations of strength and speed in Mark Amirault (Princeton, 7:53, 13:45) and myself (Princeton, running for Reebok / Zap Fitness, 3:39, 7:49, 13:33).  Many of us have former team mates in the group, making us a cohesive unit, much like all the Japanese teams will be.  And we're coached by 1976 Boston Marathon Champion Jack Fultz - that can't hurt.

I hope to take away from this trip a new perspective on running - one that reflects the culture and work ethic of the Japanese.  The more I see of the world, and the more I learn about athletes outside the American system, the better a competitor I become.

The teams competing in the 2013 edition of the Izumo Ekiden on October fourteenth:

1. Aoyama Gakuin University
2. Toyo University
3. Chuo University
4. Hokkaido University Ren selection
5. Tohoku University Ren selection
6. Nippon Sport Science University
7. Komazawa
8. Teikyo University
9. Waseda University
10. Juntendo University
11. Meiji University
12. Hosei University
13. Chuogakuindaigaku
14. Hokushinetsu science Ren selection
15. Chukyo University
16. Kyoto Sangyo University
17. Kwansei Gakuin University
18. Hiroshima University of Economics
19. China Shikoku University Ren selection
20. Nihonbunridaigaku
21. First Institute of Technology
22. Ivy League selection

Monday, September 16, 2013

Don't Scorn the Base Degrees By Which You Did Ascend.

There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves
Or lose our ventures.
 - Shakespeare, Julius Caesar (4.3.224 - 230)

Fresh out of the collegiate running scene I found myself in a somewhat  middling position: just fast enough to keep running and support myself a little, but not yet good enough to make an Olympic or World Championship team, marry and raise between three and seven children.  People might call my choice to delay an aerospace engineering career for one in professional running risky economically - but no one enjoys any real accomplishments in life without indulging in some risk.

When I do begin real life after running, I'll invoke Brutus: on Opportunity: when the interviewer asks what I've been doing the previous four years.  For now I sit on a precipice, squinting far across the divide to "real" life; in between a vast chasm of "work".  Miles to run; goals to accomplish.  Why brave the rift?  Because the opportunity is perishable... existing  now in strong legs that only weaken with time.
Death of Caesar, Vincenzo Camuccini
On a hot n' sweaty morning run in Austin recently, a sophomore on Texas' team (who loves questions) asked me what I'm going to do to 'get faster' in the coming years.

Until this December I'll be living, training and going to school in Austin at UT, following Reebok / Zap  Fitness coach Pete Rea's instructions day to day.  I have a very solid fall road racing schedule set up, but the focus is outdoor track next year.  Once I have my Master's Degree I'll forget everything I know about airplanes (hopefully not) and head to North Carolina to train, where Zap is based (and airplanes got their start).  Thus begins my full immersion in running. For the first time in my career.

The simple answer to Brady's question, and something I'm very excited for, is that all of me will be a runner beginning soon.  In college, and even now, one hundred percent has never been possible.  In fact, it's taken me this long - since I began running at fourteen - to get (somewhat) close to understanding what one hundred percent even looks like.

The runs take care of themselves.  In high school, to be good, you run year round, and you'll do well.  You can beat superior talent.  In college, everyone runs year round and talent plays a larger role.  There, everyone talks about 'the little things' - Drills, stretching, icing, napping, strength, strides, eating, sleeping, hydration - that fill out those last percentage points.

But 'one hundred percent' is not stubbornly abstaining from things you enjoy in a martyrly pursuit of perfection.  That's not sustainable.  When I make a sacrifice for running, I make damn sure it's worth it.  It's something I'll do again- and never dread.  It's taken time, but I've come to truly enjoy spending time outside of runs doing many things to recover and stay healthy.  A sustainable recovery system - something I'll never half ass - something that's become habit - that I practice because I understand why it works and not just because someone told me to do it - is what I think causes longevity  and consistency in the sport.

...Running + The 'Little Things' + Knowing Why.

The other element of improvement in my plan is running stronger.  The types of 'fitness' I've brought to races so far in my career sit atop tall, pointy pinnacles of anaerobic work - temporary, fragile.  At their foundations, base fitness stretches far to the horizon: permanent, unmoving.  I want to move that base higher above sea level so I don't need to build such lofty towers.  The longer approach featuring more base building and aerobic work throughout the year is a natural consequence of post collegiate running's structure - something I'll need to get used to, that requires patience.

'Tis a common proof,
That lowliness is young ambition's ladder,
Whereto the climber-upward turns his face;
But when he once attains the upmost rung,
He then unto the ladder turns his back,
Looks in the clouds, scorning the base degrees
By which he did ascend.
- Shakespeare, Julius Caesar (2.1.22 - 28)


This is my 2013 fall racing schedule:

September 22:   CVS/Caremark USA 5k Road Championships in Providence, Rhode Island
October 14:       Ivy League Alumni Ekiden Relay.  Izumo, Japan
November 2:     Dash To the Finish 5k.  New York City
November 17:   .US Road Racing Championships (12k).  Alexandria, Virginia
November 28:   Manchester Road Race.  Manchester, Connecticut

Friday, July 5, 2013

Arrival in Leuven

The past two weeks have moved incredibly fast: I signed with Reebok / ZAP Fitness three days ago and got the opportunity to race in Europe, something I dreamed of doing coming into this track season.  I count myself very lucky to have spent less than four months in the 'unattached-drifting-limbo' phase, something that can be difficult to get out of for post collegiates and even pros - look at Leo Manzano, the Olympic Silver Medalist for crying out loud (into a microphone).  His situation is a different story.

I'm writing from the lobby of the Mercure Hotel in the town of Leuven, which is the beer capital of Belgium and home of Stella Artois.  Tomorrow I'll be running a 1500 in the town of Oordegem at Memorial Leon Buyle, part of the Flanders Cup series.  That race serves chiefly as a rust buster/shakeout for the 5000 a week later in Heusden-Zolder at the KBC Nacht Meeting.  Tomorrow's meeting features quite a few Americans, many of whom I've already raced this season.  Of course there will be stiff competition from Europeans and Africans there as well.  It'll be nice introduction to European racing.  (Entries)

I arrived in Brussels around nine AM this morning and am doing my best to stay awake.  I did a pre meet shakeout run with IU Alum Danny Stockberger from a nice little track nestled in the woods next to the Movements and Posture Analysis Laboratory Leuven, out into the countryside on a rustic soft surface trail.  We followed that with lunch at a sandwich shop we found.  Leuven is a nice little town; a great place to base... the only problem: the amount of chocolate, waffles, ice cream, and beer that tempt at ever corner (alley, crevice, hole in the wall) you encounter.

Working out in Leuven on 7/09/2013 with Will Leer and Aisha Praught

 Geez, I've only been here four hours and the girls are already after me.


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Rejected at the Paddock

I'm going to remember that moment for a very long time.  Sunday at the US Championships, minutes before the 5000 final started.  My heart racing and sweat dripping down my face in the Des Moines heat, waiting for the check in clerk to finish the phone call.  I was ready to run: burnt orange Texas uniform on, spiked up, everything.  Over the last hour I'd somehow managed to calm myself and prepare mentally to race, even after a long weekend of wondering and hoping.

She ended her call, looked at me and said, "sorry, no, you can't run"  It didn't fully hit me until I'd gotten barefoot and walked over to the stands to watch the race I'd visualized myself in over the past year during almost every workout and run.  When I saw nine men lined up, only one of which was a collegian, I couldn't believe it.  Nine.  Of the original 18 accepted into the meet, half scratched.  Four days before, when the words 'Not Accepted' appeared next to my provisional qualifying time of 13:33.13 on the online entries/declarations page, I still held hope.  But USATF didn't fill the field after scratches.  Not even for a 23 year old hopeful, there, warmed up and ready to race.

This weekend hurt me.  I saw and heard a lot of things I wish I hadn't.  I feel disillusioned by what I've cherished as the purest of all sports, the one that's defined my life for almost nine years now.  This episode is the tipping point in my gradual realization over the past two years that US track and field isn't what it seems on the surface.  There are politics like you wouldn't believe.  Better have a friend in a high place or you're not getting anywhere.

This weekend's meet shouldn't be solely about selecting three people to go to Moscow.  The name of the meet says it all - The United States Track and Field Championships - so why did the 5000 final include such an alarmingly small fraction of the talent in the country?  Why wasn't the second American in the NCAA indoor and outdoor championships for this event - Maverick Darling in the race?  The meet should help younger guys gain experience and exposure.  Instead, the race ended up being a jog fest for Nike's athletes in front of a small crowd.  How hard would it have been to add Maverick, myself, and Andy Bayer, among others, all of whom were at the meet and ready to run?  A little bending of the rules in place.  Apparently the resistance to change is strong.

I wasn't going to blog about this in favor of forgetting about it and moving on.  But over the past couple days I've thought about it more and couldn't let it go.  I can only hope that USATF starts itching its scratches in future years.  People need to know what's going on.



Saturday, June 15, 2013

Take The Chance

I've migrated North from Austin to my hometown, Milwaukee in favor of cooler temperatures and proximity to my next few races.  Between mama's home cookin' and the familiar high school running routes it makes for a good training base camp.  The comfort of home isn't without its consequences: training alone changes the mental game up a bit.

Today I drove to Marquette University's track for the last hard workout before the US Championships.  The gate was closed so I hopped the fence, thinking how much it would suck to get kicked out halfway through a rep.  The track is blue, just like it will be in Des Moines - that's training specificity for you.

I'm assigned a set of six thousands at 5k pace with three minutes (generous) rest.  I'll follow that with some 200s at mile pace to turn the legs over.  The workout is starkly simple compared to others I've done this year with Texas - sessions I've come to call 'mixed workouts' that might hit a wide range of paces and recovery lengths.  But today it's no nonsense Jack Daniels taken straight, no chaser.

The disadvantages of training solo become apparent during a workout like this. Warming up I feel a bit negative.  'it's warmer this morning than it's been, it's windy, I don't feel that good.'  The usual distance runner whining.  This time of year, as championship season begins, we're especially on edge, believing everything should be feeling perfect.  Today I'm putting the workout on an undeservedly high pedestal; as I begin the first rep, I sort of feel like I'm climbing up to a gallows.

The guy mowing the grass around the track has flooded his engine and I smell gas every time I run the curve.  The first interval usually feels off because your body still needs to warm up.  I run it in 2:42.7, on the low end of the 2:42 - 2:45 range I should be in.  Most of the time I can execute a workout without too much mental agony - focusing on the current rep and not the rest of the workout.  But today I'm being negative.  On the second and third thousands I run 2:43 and 2:43, @StilinIt but not feeling good.  Usually the halfway point serves as a nice mental checkpoint but today the workout is half empty rather than half full.

Hubris attacks on the fourth interval.  Somewhere during the second lap I start letting up.  These thousands require sharp focus literally the entire time, and the slow down snowballs when I check my 800 split at 2:15, five seconds off.  I start thinking about ending the whole thing as I finish in 2:50.

If you go off to die, then take us, too,
to face all things with you; but if your past
still lets you put your hope in arms, which now
you have put on, then first protect this house.

Virgil, The Aeneid, Book 2, lines 914-7

For the next couple minutes I wage a mental war with myself.  Had my coach been there he would have pulled me off the track.  If I end the workout now, my confidence will be shattered leading into important races.  If I try to go on, I'll most likely continue dying and end up feeling worse.  But there's a chance I could sack up and salvage the thing.  I reach a compromise: I'll run 800 of the next rep, on pace, in spikes, and see how I feel.  I beat my chest, let out a war cry that echoes off the casino across the street, and go for it.

The internal soliloquy of recovery period four is for me the pinnacle of the workout and perhaps the entire season.  Reaching such a low mental and physical point and rebounding motivates me.  I'm a touch slow halfway through the fifth interval when I start feeling good again.  I decide to run all thousand of it as I come through 800, still slow, in 2:14.  I speed up and finish with 2:44.  Suddenly I'm almost there, just one rep separating me and the 200's which are just icing on the cake anyway.  I sense the end of the set and run the last one in 2:41, my fastest split.

Nothing changed in my body from that fourth agonizing interval to the last one.  The 2:50 outlier was a product of my mentality.  This isn't an isolated incident: two weeks ago I ran an outlying 2:10 on the fourth 800 of a set of six, the other five averaging 2:04.  And my last two races at Stanford and Oxy had slower fourth kilometers.  Anyone can open well and I'm able to close well, sensing the finish.  But it's that portion of the work - that third quarter - that seems to get me.  It's like traveling from far away, coming around the bend and finally seeing home and being reinvigorated.  Only the trees were in the way.

Today I was shown, by the workout, that it's in the tank.  No matter how hard it is, I have to take the chance and continue working during that third quarter phase.  In the form of a race it will mean going with the leaders after 3k, something I failed to do at Oxy.  I have to trust that instinct will take me home to the finish.  As I put the final preparations in for USA's I'm confident in my strength and toughness, and being aware of my ability to rally, no matter how hard it gets, is valuable knowledge.

Monday, May 20, 2013

One of Them


I lay on a mildewy, weather hardened pole vault pit as the breezeless evening air grows cool. The Los Angeles twilight gives way to stadium lights on tarnished steel girder stands, like Hollywood set lamps illuminating a movie scene.  The meet announcer's excited voice rises occasionally above the din of the crowd of several hundred assembled in the stands and along the track's edge, a very small gathering given the spectacle about to unfold.

On the other side of the pit lounge members of the Salazar and Schumacher Nike Oregon Project groups, their baby blue Nike warmups standing out.  The two factions sit apart, separated by almost ten feet.  Combined they have the best America has to offer in distance running (ever), together with Mo Farah, the British 10,000 and 5,000 London Olympic champion.  Eight bucks will get you into this seemingly small distance gala at Occidental College in the foothills of Hollywood, CA to see the best in the US and world run rabbited time trial style races.  I can guarantee you that the guy sitting on his porch across the street within earshot of the meet announcer has no idea what's going on.

2800 meters into the race, Puskedra leads.  I'm on the outside (far left) in the white singlet (showing off some luv handels)
Some of the best moments in American running- Sportscenter Top 10 Plays caliber moments  - happen unbeknownst to the uninitiated at small college tracks on pleasant spring evenings in California.  American Records.  World 'A' standards.  Down to the line, six man wide finishes.  Tonight at Oxy, the small crowd cheers occasionally when a well known runner is introduced.  The 1500 heats manage to bring them to their feet during the finish as the noise level rises to a subdued roar.  Where are the television cameras?  The food and merchandise vendors, athlete escorts, grandstands like at the big relay meets?  Our sport's finest wait to compete on a musty pole vault pit.  Across from them, I can't help but feel a little star struck.  But I'm going to have to get over that.  I'm about to race against them.

We pass the mile in 4:16.  During the warm up, my right knee had been flaring up and it hurt to walk.  Now, settled into about fifth place, adrenaline and focus take over and the last thing I'm thinking about is my knee.  Up front Belota Asmeron rabbits the field of 24, his sole mission to put us on World 'A' standard pace.  Somewhere behind me lurks the full might of both Oregon groups.  4:16 is the fastest I've opened a 5000 in, but I'm feeling nothing yet, only anticipation.  Those guys are coming up here soon.

---

I woke up suddenly one sultry morning in the summer of 2007 in a University of Wisconsin dorm room.  In the dim light, then Badger harrier Chris Solinsky, my high school cross country camp counselor yelled for me to get out of bed.  "Ready to go?  It's 7:05"  I trusted my watch alarm, now muffled under the bed sheets, to get me up.  Embarrassed, I sprung out of bed, already in my running shorts, and padded after him down the hallway for the morning run.  How could I screw that up?  Solinksy.  The fastest native Wisconsinite ever and my idol throughout high school and beyond.  He'd go on to be a fourteen time All American and five time individual NCAA champion for Wisconsin before following coach Jerry Schumacher to Oregon, where he set the American 10,000 record running for Nike.  I remember looking at his high school marks and being absolutely baffled at how someone could break fifteen minutes on the Ridges Golf Course, our state cross country meet venue.  The newspaper clipping covering the first sub four miles run on Wisconsin soil by Solinsky and team mate Matt Tegenkamp still hangs on my bedroom wall in Milwaukee.

---

Now, almost six years later, 2000 miles away, and five laps in, I'm racing him, and he's right behind me.

It's time.  First the Salazar group, their black kits with NOP winged skull insignias roll silently by.  Rupp, then Ritzenheim, then Farah, then Puskedra ambling after.  The Schumacher group, led by Solinski, follows a lap later. The black and blue wave reaches its crest at the front of the race, breaking and jostling as men fall back into position.  For a moment I let myself soak in this experience.  Then I latch on, recalling the pain of Payton Jordan two weeks ago and prepared to fight for it again.  We pass 3000 meters in 8:06, the same split as then.

Two more laps go by.  I can recall little of them.  In the late stages of a race, you experience something like tunnel vision.  It seems as if the brain ceases to lay memories down, so focused on the task of running through the discomfort.  A subtle windup of the pace begins as we near a kilometer to go, and I allow a small gap to form.  Psychologically, the two yards between myself and Puskedra seem like an eternity.  The gap slowly grows until I find myself trailing, bouncing around with others trying to hang on.  Perhaps I let up a little, for just a moment, collecting myself.  That's easy to admit in hindsight.

600 meters separate myself and the finish.  What did you come here for?  I think about my plain white singlet.  No name on my chest.  The money I don't have that I spent to get here.  I think about last year, missing the Olympic trials by two spots in the 5000 and one spot in the 1500.  I'm not representing anything or anyone but myself.  The US 'A' standard is 13:30.  The clock reads exactly twelve minutes.  I need some magic.

That magnetic mecca and its beautiful wafting fragrance that is the finish line finally slaps me awake.  Something deep inside me recalls the rhythm of four minute mile pace, and through the pain my foot strike moves forward to the toes and my head comes up.  I target Puskedra on the backstretch.  200, 150, 100 to go.  I'm slowly gaining.  On the homestretch, long after Mo Farah wins in 13:15, I hold even with Puskedra.  He's an American.  He'll be on the USA 5k list, and could potentially bump me from qualifying.  But unable to catch him, I cross the line in 13:33.13, a five second PR.

Video of the race by Flotrack. "They all became Mobots for a second there"

With this race I draw a little closer.  A little closer to the ability to run with men who before had been untouchable heros to me.  The best of them, talented enough to quickly progress through the levels I've spent many years working through, once would easily lap me in this race.  Now, I'm rounding the final turn as they finish, in sight.  It's time to stop being star struck, even when in Hollywood.  To stop letting gaps form because I'm afraid of their credentials.  It's time to realize with that just a couple more breakthroughs, I'll be one of them.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Payton Jordan Invite


Stanford University,  The Ivy of the West.  I've always loved coming to this sprawling land grant campus with its palm trees, spanish colonial architecture, open spaces, and proximity to some of the coolest tech companies in the world (Google, Facebook, Lockheed Martin). This weekend, runners from all over the country and world are descending on the Angel Cobb track stadium for the dependably consistent weather and great fields at the Payton Jordan Invitational.

The 5000 is Sunday night at dusk.  I land at San Francisco International Airport around noon on Friday, giving myself plenty of time to relax and adjust before the race.  The BART train takes me to Millbrae for a transfer onto Caltrain, which takes me on nice ride down to Palo Alto.  Californians love to talk about their mundane travel arrangements so I thought I'd throw that in there.

I'm staying with a buddy on campus, which turns out to be an enormous asset.  I can jog to the track in about five minutes, eat at the dining hall, and pretend to be a Stanford student for the weekend.  I even have a bike to ride.  On Friday night my friend and I went with some of his buddies to see Michael Bay's new flick Pain and Gain with Mark Wahlberg and the Rock.  What a ridiculous movie.  It provided some inspiration for my race though -  Marky Mark has some good lines.  "My name is Daniel Lugo, and I believe in fitness." "be a doer, not a don't er."  It was a hilarious movie that you should see if you don't mind losing a few IQ points.

All this was a nice break from the typical experience I'm used to at meets.  Hotels make me mildly anxious because I can't help but associate them with races.  Being on a campus around libraries and sunbathing chicks makes me feel at home and coming into Sunday I'm feeling pretty good.

Race Day

Usually when I wake up on race day, the coming experience flashes though my thoughts, followed by an acute surge of nervousness and excitement.  I lay there on the air mattress on the floor of my friend's apartment, feeling the adrenaline course through my veins until it ebbs away.  There's no falling back asleep after that.  Now the body knows something big's about to hit it.  It's part of my preparation.

The 5000 entries for tonight are so deep that my 13:38 seed did not make the fast heat.  The Schumacher clan, Oregon Track club crew, World Cross Country sixth place finisher Ben True, and collegians Diego Estrada, Eric Jenkins and Maverick Darling headline a 5000 field that surely every American distance running fan is drooling over thanks to Flotrack's coverage.  Hanging around on the grass before my warm up I'm surrounded by the who's who of American distance running. (Derek Rubis, if you're reading this, I know you'd love being there)

I'm confident going into this race.  Workouts have been going very well, I've been healthy for a long time, and eight days ago I soloed a 3:44.1 1500 back in Austin.  I haven't raced much lately, especially over longer distances and I'm wondering what going past 3k will feel like.  But I push any questions I have out of my mind and get to the line focused.

Two laps in the pace has settled at 65 seconds per lap, right at 13:32 rhythm.  There's a rabbit leading Nouredine Smail of France and Mitch Goose of Iona.  I'm sitting third.  At the beginning of a 5k, tiny changes in pace are very obvious when the body is still fresh and perceptive.  Even a one second per lap change feels like a lot.  Over the third and fourth laps I feel the tempo slack ever so slightly, prompting Smail  to drop a 63 after we pass one mile in 4:21 and the rabbit steps off.  Goose lets a gap form and I quickly go around and get in Smail's wake as we pull away from the rest of the field.  Going with him is a gamble, but it's the only way of giving myself a chance to run fast.  On the homestretch Smail gestures for me to go around him and lead.  I decide to do so, partially since it's polite, and partially because I might be putting money in the bank for later when I'll need him.


I lead for about 800 and with a look over my shoulder, Smail re-passes me.  This time I won't be starting another round of lead exchanges because as we approach the 3k, I'm starting to feel the hurt. I come though in 8:07 and pass two miles in 8:40 (technically a 3200 PR) slightly off of Smail, and from there I begin to slowly fade.  I'm quickly in no man's land (Luckily it's no man's land in front of the race and not behind it) and all I can think about is finishing.  In situations like this, runners either grind it out or they die really hard.  I say to myself, "you didn't come here for the first two miles, you came here for the last one."  I'm running 67 second laps, not on pace but not terrible.  You think about the weirdest things in that situation.  Whole wheat pancakes, volleyball nets, spanish class in 6th grade.  You don't hear anything.  The pain tries to suck your thoughts towards it like a tractor beam.  You go through pulses of focus and loss of focus.  I think about my form as it erodes, trying to switch backup systems on, finding anything I can in my legs and body.

Finally the bell is ringing and it's supper time.  I gather myself, consciously relaxing my face and hands, and take a few quick steps as I head into the final 400.  People told me I 'closed hard' after the race, but any kind of kick must have looked fast compared to my strugglefest coming into the bell.  The final 100 I'm hoping to God the rest of the field that I haven't seen for 2 miles isn't running me down as my elbows are flying everywhere, knees are knocking, and face is grimacing.  I cross the line in 13:40.04, the second fastest 5k time of my life, having run a 61 second final lap.

Back on Earth as I cool down, I sort out how I feel about the race and decide I'm pretty happy.  1. I'm very close to my PR 2. I'm proud of how hard I fought 3. It feels SO good to race again.  I realize that I absolutely want to race the five again this season.  The original plan was to switch focus to the 1500 if this race didn't produce 13:30, but I know that next time that last 2k will get done the way it needs to be done.  A hard race effort like this works wonders mentally and physically for the next go.  There's a rule I think every runner should follow: if you absolutely have a desire to race, race.  You never know when the next time you'll be able to comes around.  So next up it's the 5k at Oxy High Performance in L.A. in 17 days.

After the meet John Simons, an old high school rival who now runs for Minnesota and I hit up Pizza My Heart in downtown Palo Alto.  We had the right idea because as we sat eating some nice greasy pizza, what seemed like the whole meet patronized the place. (again Rubis, you would have loved it)  People asking each other how their races went, coaches bullshitting with each other, and the kids working the Sunday night late shift wondering why their place was suddenly so full - it just makes me love the running community.  It also remands me that I probably take the whole thing too seriously.  Nah.



Friday, April 26, 2013

Training Partners

Tuesday mornings begin early in our house.  Around six I groggily turn off my watch alarm as the traditional grind of the blender  comes from the kitchen.  'well, if you wasn't up yet, you is now' I mutter to myself.  Most of us like to get a morsel in our bellies before the workout.  The ignitor on the stove clicks, the microwave door opens and closes, and dishes collide on the drying rack.  We've got it down to a science: getting those last precious minutes of snooze time, eating, and driving to the track to warm up.  Hardly any words are spoken in our bleary eyed, grumpy state.  It's a familiar dance we perform every workout morning.  I usually try to nap in backseat of the car.

This particular Tuesday we are on the track, starting the first rep at 7:15.  There are several different workouts going on simultaneously.  The guys traveling to Mt. Sac are doing an easier tune up workout - some threshold cruise miles and 400s around 1500 rhythm.  There's a 5k type workout going on too: some 600s at 5k pace with just 200 'float' in between - a real grinder since the float is supposed to be at a decent pace.  There's also some 1500 guys doing 400s at pace.  I am alone for my workout: a threshold mile followed by a mile and 4 x 800 at 5k pace, and 4 x 200 at 1500 rhythm.

Just before everyone starts I look around and think, 'this is ironic.'  I'm about to bust my ass during a hard solo workout on the same track, at the same time, as two All Americans, the American collegiate record holder in the 1500, another 3:39 guy, and a 4:00 mile guy workout separately from me.  They all have to race in four days while I can afford a harder workout, but the separation has been a theme of late.  An unlucky combination of health issues and disparate race schedules has kept our dream team training group from fully collaborating for a workout this spring.  I don't help the cause, being somewhat of a nomadic wanderer; bouncing amongst workout genres in my pursuit of 1500 and 5000 Nirvana like a crazed jackrabbit.  But I've been hankering to take advantage of the talent we've assembled in Austin this year.

I clock my first mile at 4:52.  Generally I begin track workouts with a threshold mile or two.  It's a good way to ensure the quality of the warm up is high without taking away from the main workout too much.  As I taxi around into lane one, ready to take off for the interval mile, I gather myself, wishing I had someone to share the workout load with this morning.

The psychological benefit of running behind or next to someone is incredibly powerful.  It's the force that draws us to meets with high caliber fields.  It encourages us to coalesce into training groups.  It's why meet directors spend money on rabbits on the track and pacers in road races.  There's no questioning it - the perceived difficulty of distance running at a given intensity lessens slightly when someone is in your proximity.  The effect is a combination of instinctual, competitive, and emotional factors.  It's a consequence of human synergy released during collaboration and competition. In a workout, well matched training partners compete, though in moderation and never to their mutual detriment.

Everyone exists differently in the self imposed, cocoon like comfort zone that is a pack or pair of runners.  There are half steppers, hanger-oners, shoulder mongers, heel clippers, sitters, yo-yoers, abreasters, pace pushers, you-name-it-someone does it-ers.  (The worst are two-steppers)  Some prefer to feel the competitive advantage of being ahead - leading workouts and races.  Their patient foils enjoy leaving the mental work to others as they turn their brains off and follow.  When you take away the team aspect, the act of running itself is an individual sport, but even that definition blurs when you talk about using - or being used by - other runners.

As the workout progresses things are going well in the other groups.  The 5th year transfers are healthy and rounding into shape after a shaky indoor season.  The younger guys are working hard and getting stronger.  People seem relaxed running fast.  It's good to see everyone on the track instead of in the training room, even if our schedules don't match up perfectly right now workout wise.  I finish my last 800 of the morning and head in.  Soon, if everyone stays healthy, we will collaborate on a Tuesday morning.  After all, the best training partners I can ask for are right there in my kitchen, making oatmeal in the morning.

.    .    .    .    .    .    .    .

fast forward.  Post Mt. Sac 1500 in which Merber, Van Ackeran, McGregor run 3:41, 3:42, 3:44

text from me to Kyle Merber: 

Nice runnin tonight Kyle.  You're back!

Kyle: Lets workout together!






Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Fly me to the (California) Moon

Frank Sinatra mixes with the patter of rain pouring steadily on the back patio.  Merber's making his famous turkey burgers and the scent of cooking meat and blue cheese wafts into my room.  It's been smelling like this for what seems like hours, and I'm getting hungry.  Outside, thunder ambles across the sky, the first thunderstorm of the year rolling slowly over Austin.  Our house is an island, safe and cozy, the storm providing an excuse to just stay put.

A long day of work, alternating between using my legs and my brain.   A humid 52:24 ten mile marathon paced run in the rain and reluctant gray morning light, lost in thought and numbed by the familiar instinct of a faster tempo and the crunching of gravel underfoot.  Mind racing and heart pounding after a difficult exam an hour later.  More class, pages of notes, a set of 200s at mile pace on the track in the afternoon as the sun tries to break through the clouds.  It does, and in the humidity I sweat.

Texas Relays Jerry Thompson Mile.  I'm wearing #3.
Later as I cool down through campus, dark clouds threaten above the Texas capital building's glowing red bell tower and the smell of the imminent storm saturates the thick air.  Being at home in the evening, my legs up, listening to the rain and life of the house is enormously relaxing.  Nothing makes a runner happier than a period of solid training (except a great race) and sometimes that can erase the worries of the day.



My training philosophy since indoor nationals could be described as something like "base with workouts".  I'm doing summer-type mileage but maintaining the genre and intensity of 5k workouts characteristic of track season.  Many people here at Texas have identified me exclusively as a miler and act surprised when I tell them I'll be focusing on the 5000 this summer.  I can't blame them - my indoor season went in a direction away from the longer events because of how races and qualifying scenarios panned out.

I've come to accept that I don't possess the "stupid speed" required for the end of championship 1500 races - the ability to throw on the afterburners and consistently close in 51-52 over the final lap and rake people in over the last 100m.  I do have a nice combination of strength and acceleration - and that's why I believe I'll have the most success in the longer distance.  That's not to say I won't be running any more 1500s - I have one scheduled for next weekend here at UT, and plan to tag along for the ride in May's Oxy High Performance 1500.  Maintaing legspeed while developing strength has been the name of the game throughout my career, and I won't be changing that system any time soon.

A newfound sense of freedom charges my running in the day to day and long term perspectives.  Without conference, regional, and national team obligations I'm now able to focus more on training and less on racing in the spring in preparation for the summer circuit, when I'm aiming for a later peak than usual.  I haven't changed many elements of my day to day routine, and being associated with Texas' program provides a huge boost.  I still feel very much a part of the team and that has helped the transition.

With a busy running and school schedule I make sure to set aside time to think about all this stuff, especially when the weather puts me in a contemplative mood.  The next big race for me will be the Payton Jordan 5000 at Stanford in 19 days.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Unattached

Still 500 meters from the finish and running near personal best mile pace, I surged around Arizona's Lawi Lalang, putting myself in the leader's position.  A half lap more and he re-passed me, annoyed at my nerve, erasing the move's effect and marking the energy it required as wasted and gone.  30 seconds  later as the bell rang the field slid past one by one, like a train I couldn't quite catch.  I struggled through the final lap, the wheels falling off, finishing seventh of eight in 4:02.  I missed the final by a spot.

Mile prelim heat one at NCAA indoor nationals was my final collegiate race.  I'll remember that maneuver for a long time, a reckless, unnecessary attempt to drop the field of seven other sub four milers at a pace already hot enough to be considered nowhere near tactical.  Make a move more than 300 meters from any finish line and you better have a second, albeit smaller one up your sleeve for later.  I didn't.  That's the taste in my mouth as I begin the transition into post collegiate running: a bitter knowledge that I went against instinct and everything I've learned the past five years.  A bad move.  Had I not made it and stayed behind Lawi, I believe I could have made the final.
Running behind Arizona's Lawi Lalang in mile preliminary
heat one at NCAA indoor nationals.
Photo courtesy John Simons

I didn't get the perfect, lollipop strewn outcome  I'd imagined for the end of indoor season.  Instead, things happened.  I never ran the 3000 I needed to and our DMR failed the test of Alex Wilson.  Now a new challenge awaits me: getting over that sense of dissatisfaction as I enter a totally new forum: the post collegiate running world.  There is no team.  No uniform.  No shoes or flights to meets, no hotels.  The convenience of collegiate competition with its abundance of top level events and athletes is gone.

The time has come to support my running through running.  There aren't millions of dollars to be had in the sport.   Doing this entails scraping out a living, working hard to make it until you do, and then working harder to keep it that way.  I have college loans to pay off, rent to pay, travel expenses.  There are a hundred other guys in the US trying to do the exact same thing, competing for the same attention from sponsors and fans.  Succeeding in that atmosphere requires a total buy in.  With engineering degrees expected from two very good schools and knowing I'd be economically better off working, the hardest part will be delaying that life for later.

I've always had a non-running career in mind throughout my time in school, knowing that eventually I'd be defined by something other than athletics.  Over the past year and a half as I've improved my track times, my plans for post school life have changed.  First I decided to use up my indoor eligibility, a move that greatly influenced my decision to pursue a Masters degree at Texas in the first place.  And now as I look from the bubble into the world of professional running, that option seems more and more tantalizing.  What I do after school was once pretty clear in my mind; now, like I've been telling many people, "it all depends on running." I don't expect to make running my life career, but who knows?  Another major breakthrough and it could be a possibility.

The most powerful weapon I carry is the knowledge that I absolutely want to know how good I can be.  How fast I can get.  I'm 23 - I have lots of time to develop my body and I couldn't imagine choosing this path if I didn't love to do it.  That conviction will drive me harder than any race purse or salary can.

For now I'll continue training in Austin under coach John Hayes.  Day to day, not a lot will change in the immediate future.   I'll focus on the 5000 this spring with the goal of making the finals at the US Championships at Drake in June.  I'll sprinkle a few 1500s throughout to stay race sharp.  I can't say exactly where I'll be or what I'll be doing this summer -  the plan unfolds as time goes on, but I'm hoping it involves some European racing.

The bottom line is simple.  Run fast, win races and opportunities will present themselves.  The memory of the mistake I made in that mile prelim will soon be one I amusedly recall.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Judgement Day

The day has finally come for the Alex Wilson Invitational to judge the quick and the dead.  No, Alex Wilson is not  the Lord Almighty and college distance medley teams are not (necessarily) souls capable of sin, but this chaotic last chance meet will almost singlehandedly decide the makeup of the DMR field lining up next Friday at Nationals in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Tonight's DMR field will be split into 3 heats and judged.
The top twelve teams ranked by their season's best time will qualify.  Last year the 12th time was Oregon's 9:31.91, in 2011 it was Villanova's 9:33.50, and in 2010 it was Duke's 9:34.29.  There's a nice pattern going on there that parallels every other distance running event in the NCAA... it's getting more fastah.

The Texas distance medley relay has survived more than a month atop the NCAA performance list with our 9:31.82.  A time that would make the national meet every year since trilobites were around.  Week after week on Sunday I've hurriedly checked through results, breathing a sigh of relief when I know our time is once again safe.  But tonight I will be super nervous because we've chosen to experience Alex Wilson on our butts at home in front of the TV, pass the chips, please.  Yeah, we're taking a risk not going to improve our time.  But if it sticks - if less than twelve teams run 9:31.82 or better  tonight, we'll be some of the freshest fish in the field, not having raced and traveled the previous two weekends.

A team's decision to leave the DMR effort to last chance weekend is totally up to them, but I'm surprised more teams haven't gotten together and gone for it throughout the regular season.  It's not easy to get a relay team firing on all cylinders early, but the caliber of the mile is once again super high this year, meaning the legs are out there.  It all comes down to priorities.  Guys want their individual qualifying performances, so the DMR gets put on the back burner until this weekend.  Making for a crazy Notre Dame meet.  And it will be obnoxious.  Just look at the heat sheets... teams that certainly are ready to fast: Penn State, Oklahoma State, Oregon, Oklahoma, Princeton, Arkansas, Stanford, Wisconsin, Villanova, Indiana, Georgetown, and Kansas.  At this point, all us here at Texas can do is sit and watch the action unfold - and hope we come out alive.

A great breakdown of tonight's DMR by Flotrack

Friday, February 22, 2013

Big 12 Championships Pre Meet Thoughts

It's blizzarding here in Ames, where Iowa state is hosting the 2013 Big Twelve Indoor Track and Field Championships this weekend.  Being from Wisconsin, I'm supposed to be used to the cold and snow, but the Texas 'winter' has spoiled me and I've lost my supernatural powers.  So I'll just cower in my hotel room and blog alongside the obnoxiously noisy heater.  

I'm pretty sure the Oklahoma State team was eaten by the
Abominable Snowman, since they're not here yet.
The meet has been delayed a day because Oklahoma State's bus got stranded by winter storm Q in Topeka, Kansas.  Next time, OSU, try this new device for getting to faraway meets.  Jokes aside, the meet wouldn't be the same without the Cowboy's distance runners in the mix.  We want to win the team championship fair and square and it would be easier for us Longhorns to score points in the longer events without them here.  In that scenario a conference title wouldn't be as sweet.

This weekend is special for me since it's the last conference meet I get to run in as a collegiate.  Warming up on the track yesterday for my mile prelim tomorrow the day after tomorrow, I felt the buzz that surrounds a championship meet.  Teams nervously eye each other up.  Occasionally the tension is broken by old friends (or rivals) from high school reuniting and maybe jogging a lap together (There was a lot of schmoozing like that in the Ivy League.)  A certain mutual respect exists between track and field athletes, even in intensely competitive situations.  It's because everyone knows and appreciates the work the other has put in - since they have too.  That said, no one will be taking any step, jump, or throw lightly the next two days.  Some of the best athletes in the country and world are here competing, and they'll take advantage of the tiniest mistake you make.  It's exciting, it's stressful, I love it.

Before arriving at Texas in the fall, I didn't know how invested in the program or how loyal to the school and team I would become.  I felt like a mercenary, trained to kill (run) and hired out by a foreign entity.  I had built up so much love for Princeton and so many memories of running and living in New Jersey that there seemed little room for this totally new place in my heart.  I'm glad that my mindset has changed since.  I've run the metaphorical trails of Austin many times now.  I know where I'm going and how to get there.  And I've enjoyed the process because my team mates and coaches have made it easy to adjust.  That's really all I can ask for, except of course a conference title.

Quick Summary of the Situation:
The Big Twelve makes a good case for being the best distance running conference in the country this year.  Nationally, it has the second best 800 performance,  nine of the top 25 performances in the mile (all under four minutes), eight of the top 25 in the 3000, and four of the top 20 in the 5000 (including #1).  Kansas state is really strong in the field events and will be our main team competition.  Oklahoma won't be far behind with their strong middle distance/distance and good jumps athletes.  One advantage for us over Kansas State indoors is the number of middle distance/distance races contested - the 600y, 800, 1000, mile, 3k, and 5k all favor teams with good lungs.  Our distance unit needs to take advantage of that fact  by getting around the Oklahoma schools.  If we can do that, we'll be in good shape.





I hope to keep blogging about the weekends events from an individual and team standpoint!



Monday, February 18, 2013

Smileage Addiction

Being a relatively injury resistant runner, (always knock on wood when you say something like that) I've had the ability to run "pretty high volume" (mileage per week) throughout my career.  Injury  proneness places a definite upper bound on volume depending on the person, but there's a gray area just underneath where an athlete is made or betrayed.  By themselves.

For me, volume has always been somewhat of a question mark - I'm still experimenting with how much feels best.  And when you try to isolate variables for results that take seasons and years to produce, the process is not simple.

Sometimes you just gotta do less, Pepiopi.
One problem with running high volume is that it can be addicting.  Finishing a 100+ smile week makes you feel badass when you write those three digits in your running log.  But when it comes time to reduce volume during race season, the heavy volume mindset can be difficult to get out of. There's a temptation to lose confidence in training while lowering mileage.  When you rely on confirmation of your fitness through training benchmarks like weekly mileage, the lengths of your long run, and paces you are able to sustain on hard runs, finding it in other ways can be difficult.

It was during my senior year at Princeton (2011 - 2012) that I really started taking advantage of my potential by being smarter with smileage.  During the summer prior to cross country, I trained hard at altitude in Park City, Utah, running hundred mile weeks beginning in late July.  During the season I ran three awful races, barely breaking 26:00 for 8k in each and finishing far back in the field.  I didn't change anything, believing that a breakthrough was around the corner.  It wasn't.  In late October, when we found that I was anemic, I finally gave my body a chance.  I took a few days off, began taking iron, and decided my mileage would not exceed 80 mpw for the rest of the season.

This is Smileage.
Some combination of the iron, the smileage, and most importantly the refreshed mindset I had after learning there was a reason for my struggles jump started my running.  Just three weeks after slugging through a 25:53 for 8k at the Princeton Invite, I ran a personal best 14:13 5000 in an intersquad time trial on the track, closing in 4:20 over the final mile.  Two weeks later, I won the IC4A meet at Van Cortlandt in the Bronx.   Although my health during the season forced me to watch from the sidelines in Terre Haute at nationals later that weekend, I was riding a huge wave of confidence and momentum into the new year.

I had a lot of fun during the next track season.  Non stop personal bests, tapping into speed in the 1500, breaking school and Ivy records, winning two Penn Relays wheels, qualifying for outdoor nationals and nearly the Olympic trials all indicated that I had figured something out.  The increased amount of iron in my diet probably played a substantial role, but being more savvy with when to train hard and when to recover is what I think really caused the breakthrough.

Nigel knows about volume
When it comes time, I let myself just run, doing what feels natural.  Lifting the burden of having to maintain a certain amount of smiles every day is enormously relieving.  I put the displaced effort into workouts and races, using distance runs for recovery more than for aerobic benefit, their purpose in the base phase.  I forget about mileage goals - the miles runs themselves and just add up appropriately.  I do everything with the singular goal of feeling good.

I think some people forget that the point of competitive running is racing.  They focus so intently on training that they eventually prefer it to competition, in the worst cases developing a fear of racing because they feel more in control while training.  The worst thing to do after a poor race performance is go home and amp up the volume or intensity in an attempt to 'get better'.  The instinct should be the opposite.  Amongst athletes who naturally harbor extremely hard work ethics and competitive tendencies, freshness is totally underrated.  Smile : )

The term "smileage" copyright Tommy D., 2009

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Bittersweet

I thought I'd catch up on a few thoughts from the past week today, picking up from where I left off last Saturday.

Mile from last weekend

I broke four minutes in the mile for the second time in my life at Arkansas, running 3:58.66 against a field that had six go under the barrier.  Breaking four and Leo Manzano's school record was awesome, but these days in the NCAA, you aren't totally happy unless you've run around 3:58.0 or better.  This year's top - 16 qualifying procedure hardens up the number going to nationals but introduces uncertainty into the time required, making the whole thing a little stressful.  Last year, 33 broke four minutes in the mile (I was the 33rd on the list) and I think just as many or more will by the end of last chance weekend in late February.

Speaking of being on the bubble, our DMR ran a nice time of 9:31.82 that would make it to NCAAs every year since the dinosaurs went extinct, but you just can't trust things anymore.  Wait, dinosaurs are still around?  No - I mean our DMR making it with that time.  Anchoring the relay, I saw 5:32 on the clock when I got the baton.  I looked every lap, needing to run 30 second 200s with a fast close... at one point I had about 1.5 seconds on the goal of 9:31, but running alone I faded slightly and ran 3:59 for 1600.  Good, but maybe not good enough.

So the weekend was bittersweet.  Like 72% cacao.

Last week saw some other great stuff happen.  Saturday, January 26 was perhaps the greatest day for US indoor track and field ever.  Watching Galen Rupp almost break the American indoor mile record in front of a packed track at Boston University was incredible, especially combined with his post race workout.  Then there was Mary Cain running 4:32 for the National High School Record.  She's awesome, just watch this interview.  Meanwhile, Duane Solomon broke the American 600m record in Glasgow, and Cas Loxsom nearly re-broke it hours later at Penn State.

For a track athlete and fan, the tidal wave of results every weekend is overwhelming.  More importantly, it's exciting.  And makes me want to race.  This year there's a special kind of energy surrounding the indoor season.  It seems there are crazy things are happening every weekend, all over the country and planet.  I hope the buzz is contagious.  It's a fun time to be involved in it all!

Back to Texas: yesterday we ran the six mile cutdown workout that I blogged about a few weeks ago again.  Let me just say this: racing gets you in shape.  Across the team, guys felt smoother and stronger running times well ahead of where we were before.  The workout atmosphere was unbelievable between the great weather and amount of people out on the track watching and hanging out.

Next weekend we're headed to Seattle for the Husky Invite.  I'll be racing the 3k, going for a nationals time.  It'll also be a little Princeton reunion, as my former team mates Donn Cabral and Brian Leung are entered in races, along with current team mate Trevor Vanackeran entered in the mile.  Will be a lot of fun and good material for a later post.


Saturday, January 26, 2013

Calling out Flotrack

As an athlete in a sport that doesn't experience the level of cashflow that football, basketball, etc. enjoy, I love seeing progress being made in track and field media coverage that successfully cultivates new interest from the public.  Unfortunately, the sport's everyday coverage in the US outside the Olympics and a few major Championship meets is still unconventional and somewhat spotty.  It's been left to grassroots internet sites to boil down the myriad of constant worldwide track and field news for their small but loyal followers (mostly runners).  The founders of two of the most popular sites, letsrun.com and flotrack.org recently got into a heated online argument about Flotrack's new FlotrackPro subscription system.

In this video, Flotrack founder Mark Floreani "calls out" LetsRun cofounder Weldon Johnson ('Wejo') for questioning the new monthly subscription rate of $20 that Flotrack is now asking for their Flotrack Pro content.  While Floreani brazenly challenged him to a Skype duel for the world to see, Wejo simply brushed the situation aside on a since deleted message board thread, and it seems to have ended at that.  Except that the rate is still $20/month.  The complaints don't stop with Wejo; they go all the way down through the mass of Flotrack users who are so used to great free content from the site.  With enticing new content like the Driven series on mileage god Cam Levins, Bernard Lagat, and others, people don't want to suddenly start shelling out mulah for their track coverage fix.

But we're going to have to, sooner or later.  The call out video explains that Flotrack's goal is to bring our 'fringe sport' into the spot light.  That can't be done without money.  Today at breakfast someone asked "so how does Flotrack make money?"  "Page advertisements, obviously."  I want Flotrack to grow, everybody wants Flotrack to grow.  Apparently they can't turn a profit on ads anymore.  But I havent committed $20 this month or $150 for the year... I think it's too much.  Did Flotrack do any kind of research into their pricing?  I live and run with 20 other avid Flotrack users in the very city Flotrack is headquartered in, and none of them are ready to pay up.  Look at the commenters below the video - neither do they.

It's necessary that Flotrack starts charging for their content.  Where there's money, things get done.  But the current rates are just too high.  I'd gladly sacrifice $75 a year to watch all the great Flotrack coverage, pro videos, and athlete/coach features.  If even a quarter of their current 27.7k followers on Twitter  payed that much, they'd have over half a million in revenue on the year.  As it stands now I bet less than two thousand people will go for $150 a year.  They'd make less than half that.  I'm not an economist, but I hope that the big hand will bring these rates down to a reasonable level in the near future.  I for one want to know how Cam Levins runs so many damn miles.