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


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.