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