Wednesday, November 25, 2015

9555 Blackberry

Sunday evening I went for a walk.  In the running world Zap Fitness coach Pete Rea's style falls on the eclectic side, and one of his slightly quirky training tidbits is prescribed Sunday evening walks following the morning long run for the week.  They're meant to knock loose some of the inflammation in our legs.

The Zap campus sits at the bottom of a valley in the Appalachian Mountains.  Blackberry Road dips down into our little hollow complete with a creek that rushes by and a mile section of dirt road that somehow never got paved.  Just up the hill from the long Zap driveway the construction site of a new house is already daily bustling with activity as a new athlete lodging rises from its foundation.  It replaces an old white house that just months ago was my home.  The white house held a lot of Zap history but needed to be torn down.

Darkness falls earlier now and as I come upon the equipment and mounds of dirt left by the contractors, I try to find remnants of our old house.  There isn't much.  But on the edge of the site where a chain link fence was bent into a tangled mess by the bulldozer are a set of busted-up wicker chairs.  And a dirt stained bed sheet.  It was Cameron.  He used to love getting people together around the fire in our backyard and projecting movies onto the sheet against the fence.  That stuff sat out in the weather all summer long since the last showing.  I'd look at it from my bedroom window and think, "I better bring those chairs in from the rain and get that sheet."

I imagine where the old house was, my room floating in the air and Cameron's below it, his cat Nala chasing birds around in the yard.  Cameron died two months ago after being hit by a car while running in his hometown of Chatoanooga, TN.  The magnitude of support from the local and running community is testament to how many people were influenced by his huge personality.  His dreams were not abruptly and totally ended that day.  They live on through us at Zap and everyone who takes on the challenges and strives to live the way Cameron did.  Cameron is cheering us on now, and I can feel a certain determination and electricity in the Zap team as we approach the Olympic year (Thanks in no small part to the occasional Drake and house music we play in his honor while lifting).

Cameron and I on the last night I saw him.  Wouldn't have wanted
it any other way.
-  -  -  -  -  -  -

The Olympic Year focus has had a strong effect this fall and early winter.  We've tweaked autumn training compared to the past two years, and it's already had good physical and psychological effects. 

Friday is now #FastFriday.  On Fridays we typically run 50-55 minutes in Moses Cone National Park before putting racing flats on and doing two to three kilometers worth of fast, uphill running.  It's not a lot of volume, and I wouldn't label it a full workout, but economy on hills helps with proprioception and activation of prime mover muscles (ok, now I'm using language that only Pete Rea understands).  This is nothing new - almost every serious runner does hills - but we've never made it this much of a focus this early in the buildup into the new year before.

Lifting.  Core, stability, and plyometrics have been in my training plan since high school.  The focus has gradually shifted from traditional core "abs" in college towards stability in the hips and pelvis at Zap.  Now we've added real, actual lifting with real, actual bar and plates twice a week, doing weighted squats and weighted step ups onto a box.  We save the core and stability for four other days during the week and take a break from the weight room on Sunday.

Diet.  I've always had what the average American would call a healthy diet, but as a bigger runner, I have to pay a little more attention to what, how much, and when I eat.  "The flame burns hot" mentality does not cut it for me.  I eat often during the day and in small amounts, eating just enough to stave off hunger until the next small snack.  Carbs generally go in early and protein more in the PM.  I have a medium-sized snack 45 minutes to an hour before dinner to keep my eyes small.  Tuna is my best friend.  I'm not gluten free, but I tend to avoid it with some wiggle room.  (Like if I go to my girlfriend's parent's house and we're having lasagna, I eat it.)  Figuring out how to stay lean while training hard and not getting hurt sustainably has taken me years, and I'm continually testing new strategies and foods.  What I have found for sure is a strong motivation to stick to the plan this fall.

The Manchester Road Race is tomorrow morning.  It's my first race in over two months and the beginning of the road to the Olympic Trials in July.  The course is 4.748 miles long and has a large hill in the second mile that will test what we've been working on a little bit.  Can't wait to feel some burn and taste some bile.  I'll be running for Cameron.

Happy Thanksgiving everybody.  I think Black Friday started already too.

Thursday, September 17, 2015


There is nothing else than now.  There is neither yesterday, certainly, nor is there any tomorrow.  How old must you be before you know that?  There is only now, and if now is only two days, then two days is your life and everything in it will be in proportion.
    - Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls

Once upon a time there was an alien race from the planet Tralfmalador*.  These creatures perceive time differently.  Actually they have no notion of time, seeing every moment simultaneously, as we might view a broad landscape from a spatial point of view.  Events in our lives happen in places at singular times:  When your wedding is over you can't come back to its moment.  Your first kiss is finished.  You can return to the baseball bleachers it happened on, but the diamond's been plowed into a Whole Foods parking lot.   While Tralfmaladorians get to be everywhere and everywhen, we're caught in a swollen  river of time after a rainstorm with garbage and treasures rushing past us.  Clutch at them. Save some of them, put them in photo albums.  But they are hazy.  They fade.  We can't hang on to the bobbing grandfather clock with the warped veneer  flapping in the current coming around the bend.  

But I think the Tralfmaladorian alternative would be boring.  Sure, that's an emotion invented by a species concerned with time, so I might be biased.  But time makes for challenges.  Time is the sap of progress and goal setting.

The earthling world of olympic sports takes four years to journey around the Sun.  (It must be easier for people born on February 29th to understand this.)  When I got back from racing in Europe last month I looked at my Egyptian water clock and noticed there are less than ten months until the Olympic track and field trials next June.  I’ve been counting down to 2016 since the day the 2012 trials ended in Eugene. Does the countdown “year” field ticking to zero change my training?  Why would I not have been training to my full potential already?

A year ago after the thrill and swagger of peak fitness that comes with a season's end faded, my break was over, and I began building base again,  I forgot some things.  Normal running waxed routine, workouts grew longer and aerobic, and there was little to remind me of sharpness and lactic acid and racing.  The battles of summer were once again far-off dreams, each training mile a block I mortared distractedly into a slowly-drying conglomerate that would later, I knew, become my rock but was today only the necessary work put in.  I forgot what it was like to sit in a warmup area in silence surrounded by the nervously stretching and shuffling competition.  Their affiliations, brightly colored plumage, adrenaline, the start, calm, and the finish.  Things that are far from Zap's quiet home on Bass Lake in Blowing Rock, NC.  But maybe there's a reason for that.  Taking a breath.

All his life has he looked away, to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was, hmm? What he was doing. Hmm. Adventure. Heh. Excitement. Heh. A Jedi craves not these things.
     - Yoda, The Empire Strikes Back

Beginning the drive.  The last few years have been about prodding, testing what the sacrifices feel like each day and each season.  Learning what it takes to do everything within the context of Zap Fitness, our training, and our racing schedule.  That took some distraction; some rest.  I suffered some mental lapses and learned from them.  But it's now, and if now is only these ten months, the next
 two months, these two days, make them your entire life and all will be in proportion.

-    -    -    -    -    -

European track meets are an irony.  Plopped in rows of corn or along an old canal is a track lined by chest-high fence.  Sensory reminders of high school meets:  scents of icy hot and overflowing toilets at odds, spikes scraping on concrete and distant cries circling through still twilit air following straining combatants heeding anciently laid instinct.  The sun sits low and an insect hatch clouds the air, tiny sparks spiraling in random paths about each other in the failing light.  Here the athletes outnumber the spectators, and they are good at what they do.  Accents and languages from across Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas meet, endpoint of various pilgrimage to staged trials.  To a Belgian out for a causal trackside beer, this looks like another athletics circus come to town.

I didn't look at the clock with a lap to go like I always do.  The 5000 field in Ninove, Belgium had broken into two groups; one in front running 64 second laps and a chase pack running 65's.  By one kilometer remaining our slower group had caught and overtaken most of the first bunch.  My fifth race in only 24 days between Ireland and Belgium, this was the last chance to grab a 5k personal best in the summer.  After a painful and sloppy 14:14 performance in Portland two months earlier, Pete asked me seriously if I was mentally ready to travel to Europe and compete.  The U-turn from that point to now took some patience and confidence building.  I looked to all the good work I'd put in since January and couldn't settle.

Eyes on the prize in Ninove, Belgium last month

Up front Great Britain's Andy Vernon and Azerbaijanian Ibrahimov Hayle were stretching the pace out.  It was going to be a kicker's race with a lap to go and a pack of nine vying for third.  (The group had some good international flavor: Burundian Irabaruta Olivier, Djiboutian Bouh Ibrahim, Somalian Ali Mohamed Mohamed, Moroccan Hadadi Tarik, and representation from Germany, Australia, and Canada.)  In many of the 5000s I've run in the past two years the final lap has been the sticking point.  As in someone sticks a knife in my leg and twists it.  I tense up knowing the finish nears, trying to muscle out a kick and straining, in the process actually slowing down in some cases.  I'd had enough of that.  On an international trip and in a race hinging on time, I need to paradoxically forget the clock and just race the guys here, around me, now.

Tunnel vision kept my brain from laying down a detailed memory of the final minutes of the race and that's a good thing.  In the moments after the finish I relished in the thrill of racing others to the finish in a 5k instead of just trying to get there.  I'd closed the final lap in 60 seconds and finished eighth with a small PB of 13:32.21, my first 5k personal record in over two years.  

I won't deny that I have to improve greatly to accomplish my 2016 goal.  I would have liked to be further along this year; I'm still in the 13:30's club three years after joining it.  But that's not how I'm thinking.  The pressure for a breakthrough has built.  Every run, every day, every week and month are fractal components of the time remaining, and as they march by they are each Now.

-    -    -    -    -    -

The final race of this late spring / summer / early fall season is the US 5k Road Championships in Providence on Sunday.  A calf issue kept me from working out for a couple of weeks recently, but with the help of Zap's Alter Gravity treadmill, some pool running, and time off it's stopped mooing.  The workouts this week showed that it was only a graze and that I'm still milking the track fitness.  I'll stop with the cheesy puns now.

It's been a busy time at Zap Fitness lately with running camps and preparation for our yearly Mayview Madness road 5k in Blowing Rock this weekend.  It's illuminating chatting with our campers during their stay; the team learns just as much from them as they do from us.  The interaction helps keep everything in perspective and reminds me how lucky I am to be able to run full time and pursue a difficult goal with life-changing implications in the process here, now, and tomorrow.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday's CVS 5k US Road Champs:
Runnerspace coverage

VERY tentative upcoming race schedule:
Date Race Name Location Venue / Distance
September 20 CVS 5k / US Road 5k Champs Providence, RI Road 5k
November 15 .US National 12k Championships Alexandria, VA Road 12k
November 26 Manchester Road Race Manchester, CT Road 4.748 Miles
December 28th-ish Third Annual Grind Fest Milwaukee, WI Indoor Track / Speed Skating Oval Battle To The Death

*Real creatures living in the mind of Kurt Vonnegut and in some of his novels including Slaughterhouse Five

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Cork and Kortrijk, Fundamental Particles

These word travel in a battalion of binary, tinily constituent of a surging light pulse torrent hastening at the universal speed limit within a three inch diameter fibre optic cable on the bottom of the Atlantic.  Outside this intercontinental information superhighway lies absolute inky blackness, vertical miles of ocean hammering down in mute pressure.  At one point the cable passes a group of thermophilic deep sea organisms huddled around a volcanic vent for sulphur and heat.  We share some DNA with them.

Belgium was warm when we got in on the third of July.  That Saturday, Leuven set an all-time temperature record of 35, convert that, 95 degrees fahrenheit.  The bell tower near us played the Star Spangled Banner in the afternoon. #America.  Our apartment at the summit of its very steep and narrow staircase stuffed between buildings doesn't have air conditioning.  So it goes.

Ireland on Sunday was much cooler.  During the bus ride west from Dublin I was surprised to see large rolling hills and occasional stands of coniferous trees lining the highway.  Southwest Ireland was beautifully cast in late evening light filtering through clouds as we rolled into Cork, a harbor city.  The athletes competing in the Cork City Sports meet were put in student housing near the track a couple miles out of town.  There was one very weak wifi network set up for an army of twenty-somethings far from home.  We looked like thermophiles around a volcanic vent.

The 3k in Cork in front of race winner Brett Robinson
I think I enjoyed all the potatoes and sausage (bangers and mash) more than most.  The Irish are very hospitable and easy to strike up conversations with.  Most Irish will say they can't even understand the accent of the Cork Irish, and I could hear why.  The (friendly?) rivalry between Corkers and Dubliners extends to their respective local beers.  Drinking Cork's Murphys Irish Stout and Dublin's Guinness back-to-back, I'd have to say Guinness still takes the blood pudding.

Despite windy and chilly conditions for the meet, the 3000 went a relatively quick 3:08 for the first three paced laps.  I put myself immediately behind the rabbit and when he dropped off American Jon Peterson generously took over the lead.  We slacked a bit on laps four and five and I let my eyes off the front of the race momentarily which cost me.  Australian Brett Robinson and Jeff See plucked a lead ahead of the pack.  With 200 meters to go I was moving really well and passing Dave McNeil, another Aussie while the announcer billed it as an Australia versus America finish.  I was third in 7:54, a good start to the five race tour in Europe.

By mid-week the drove of American professional runners had settled in after their annual migration to Leuven, Belgium.  Like Canada Geese we are here for the climate, we fly in V-formations on runs, eat a lot, and generally piss off the locals.  Leuven is an out-of-the-way small town with everything Canada Geese need: a track to shit on (metaphorically), lots of awesome green space for our activity, and the by now famous waffle stand.

On Saturday seemingly everyone ran the 1500 in Kortrijk, a small town on the Belgium - France border.  Courtrai (the french name) has been nice Nice to me in the past: it's given me a 3k PB  before and nearly a 1500 PB last year.  This time the fields were large and loaded, perhaps to the detriment of the races.  I didn't get out quite hard enough over the first 100 meters, even though it was probably 13.xx, was far back in the pack, and had to make at least three huge moves, each on the backstretch of every lap, until I gained a spot in third with 200m to go right behind Lopez Lomong.  The moves cost me a strong kick to 3:42, a subpar time but decent considering the whipsaw pace.

George and I got in a little fartlek and 400s tuneup session this morning in light mist.  Both of us feel great coming into Saturday's KBC Nacht meet in Heusden, where we're both running the 5k along with Leuven apartment room mates Brian Shrader and Maverick Darling and several other US runners.  The Olympic qualifying window is open and a fast time is the target.

For now thanks for reading and I'll post an update after the next couple meets.  Here is my upcoming race schedule:
Date Race Name Location Venue / Distance
July 18 KBC Nacht Heusden, Belgium Track 5000
July 24 Morton Games Morton, Ireland Track 3000
August 1 Flanders Cup Ninove Ninove, Belgium Track 5000
August 7 Sir Walter Miler Raleigh, NC Track Mile

Thursday, July 2, 2015

A Contest for Speed in Running

First of all they held a contest for speed in running.  
The field strung out from the starting scratch, yet all at the same time
flew on together, turning up the dust of the plain.  Of these
stately Klytoneos was far the best in the running,
and was out in front by the length of a furrow for mules plowing
a field, and came back first to the crowd, with the rest behind him.
  - Homer, The Odyssey Book VIII 120-25

For forty meters my legs rode a wavelet of power; a small but resonant surge prevailing stubbornly against the spring tide of choppily rising blood PH levels.  In the video of the race you see me get passed with 220 meters left but briefly stick on, no gap opening, a bungie cord still attached, that last sun-weathered tether stubbornly keeping the canoe from flying off the car top into the ditch.  A lap earlier I'd taken the lead from Michael Atchoo after 61 and 63 second laps, the plan to push the pace and give myself the best shot at making the final.  I went for it, and I'm glad I did.  On a second chance I'd go to the front a lap earlier.  If I'm having a good race it means I'm focused when I'm focused I usually don't remember much afterwards (call it getting "track-out").  But I do remember feeling electric in that little moment, truly racing the 1500 and not caring if it was a world silver medalist I was kicking against.  In our soon-to-be demolished-and-replaced house on Blackberry Road at Zap Fitness, one of the ages-old Zap wall ornaments is a Reebok poster of Jorge Torres leading the 2005 US Cross Country Championships and a quote: "Someone out there has a better time than me.  And I'm going to beat him."  

I recently spoke with psychologist and author of Elite Minds Stan Beecham about competition mindset and racing.  We worked out that you never know how good you really are, so why not be open to being really good, open to beating a world beater.  What if one day you pull up alongside him with half a straightaway remaining and aren't open to the possibility of beating him?  He already has an advantage over you.  And you'll be swearing ya coulda have beat him at the tavern that night over something strong.  Why would you run a race if you didn't think you could win?  You don't know the future, so why make it up beforehand?  Give yourself the best possible chance of winning by thinking you will win.

Just over 200m to go in the 1500 Prelim last Thursday at USA Track and Field Championships (I'm in orange)
On Thursday I didn't take down Matt Centrowitz or Jordan Macnamera, the car top on the other end of the struggling elastic.  The bungie broke and we all clambered for the finish at speeds exceeding sixteen miles per hour, the other seven guys in the field drifting by at lazy relative velocities on the peripherals of my acidic tunnel vision as I closed in 55.9 for the final 400.  With that, I missed earning a Q or q to the 1500 final of the US Championships in Eugene at Hayward Field.  On the day the outcome wasn't a win or even a qualification, but I was running2win and my mindset was fearless.  Having that outlook in racing, hell in meeting challenges anywhere in life whips up a tailwind that tends to nudge you, over time, across the brink to meeting your goals.  Long-suffering Odysseus eventually made it home.  Bonus: you can't really be mad for long after losing if you did everything you could to win.  I spent the rest of the warm weekend swimming in the Pacific (for about 24 seconds) and watching track and field from a spectator's point of view, athlete credential perks of mini gatorades, austin cheese crackers and legs massages shamelessly included.  

I enjoyed it.  Sunday afternoon's smorgasbord of simultaneous men's triple jump, shot put, women's pole vault, high jump, and track event finals was incredible.  Former Florida Gators pumped the crowd all afternoon and went 1-2-3 in the men's triple jump, busted out mini dust pans and brooms, and literally swept the track surface.  There were heart breaking falls and weird pull-ups short of the finish line.  Galen Rupp lost.  Robby Andrews almost broke 12 seconds over his last 100m in the 1500 final.  Friends made teams and personal bests.  The meet troposphere was incredibly delectable, and next year's Olympic Trials are only going to be about one hundred times cooler, literally (I hope).  Speaking of, the window to post qualifying times for the OT just opened up, which brings me to what's next: Europe and #Euracing 2015.

George and I fly to Brussels on Thursday.  Last year he and I had a great time basing in the little town of Leuven, Belgium and living in a combination of unfurnished dorm rooms and overly modern business flats, the major perk being the queen sized bed we had (got to) share, now part of a storied Zap tradition, that is, men sharing beds on trips.  We're thin.  This time around we're living in different spots in town but I think we'll manage.  We still plan to be the first group on the practice track every morning, jam smeared croissants having been washed down with Aquarius sports drink and rented bikes locked up on the fence.

Racing around Europe is about train stations with names at the whim of local dialects, converting from kilometers, converting everything really, waffles, convincing yourself that the same brands of beer really do taste different here, running into other American runners on tiny streets and in massive churches, quests for establishments that serve tap water at dinner, sources of wifi, and hanging out with awesome Belgian dudes in fifteenth century underground bars who somehow know more about NCAA football than you do.  And of course racing every 3-7 days in perfectly set up opportunities at meets that serve beer and ice cream.  (Jeez, I've mentioned beer a lot in this paragraph.  Don't get the wrong impression.)  We train and race hard year round, but there's always a little voice that keeps repeating, "July.  July.  July.  Relax.  July."  Sounds oddly like Mugatu.  Our training at Zap is strength based with a long term view, but in July and a bit of August I get to rip it. Race six times in just 26 days.  The way they did in the '70s.  Race.  Recover.  Repeat.  Get sharper than a blade of Valerian steel.  I'm excited and emboldened by the moves at USA's.

I'll be writing approximately weekly on our Euro Odyssey across the wine-blue water, so check back for more.  For now, here's the race schedule:

Date Race Name Location Venue / Distance
July 7 Cork City Games Cork, Ireland Track 3000
July 11 Flanders Cup Kortrijk Kortrijk, Belgium Track 1500
July 18 KBC Nacht Heusden, Belgium Track 5000
July 24 Morton Games Morton, Ireland Track 3000 or Mile
August 1 Flanders Cup Ninove Ninove, Belgium Track 5000

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

We have not written lately

Hello loyal readers,

I know, I know.  I'm due for a blog release.  Rest assured one will surface from the depths of my imagination soon.  Quick update: It's summer and it's nice out.  Zap has its first big camp this week.  Next Week is USA Championships; I'm running the 1500.  Then it's off to Europe for a month!  If you saw my Portland 5k performance you know I'm looking to kill (not literally).

until later,


Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Unity of Existence

War is the truest form of divination. It is the testing of one's will and the will of another within that larger will which because it binds them is therefore forced to select. War is the ultimate game because war is at last a forcing of the unity of existence. *
- The character of The Judge, Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy

To experience the endocrine soup of emotion and adrenaline and fear and acute nausea during competition is to live inside for just a few moments a controlled pantomime of something like war.  Survival and victory bring with them sweet and addictive feelings that tempt although the risk is defeat and its punishment is the lowest pit imaginable.  Running is a special sport because death and contact are pruned away and raw instinct unfolds on a well defined stage with simple rules.  Running challenges: it bullies normalcy; roughs a sure footed path up.  Come failure or come victory, you lived.

Getting pulled off the start line of a 1500 seconds before the gun because of weather doesn't feel good.  I'll call it blue shoes. (I was in fact wearing blue Reebok spikes) Just before section one of the Hoka One One middle distance classic 1500 began, lightning struck to the west of Occidental College's track.  The race started anyway and as my section trotted and did strides and cantered around like unbroken horses fat drops of water started plunking on the track and then hail began bouncing.  The officials lined us up then said "two minutes" which means go be horses again.  After another shakeout stride they called it off and began a 30 minute meet delay.

The game during a delay is to maintain emotional and physical preparedness across a series of observed lightning strikes unknown in number without wasting energy.  The irony of this storm quenching southern California's thirst in the exact moment we needed Los Angeles to make it just one more hour without a drink was not lost on me and gave me some solace as I wondered how much positive karma this was worth.  It was like a grade school tornado drill, everyone lounging in the gym and basement waiting for word.  The word came a few times and it was additional delay.  The guys in my heat once began re-warming up but were stopped in our tracks when another delay was handed down.  Like simon says at a roller skating rink in middle school, except they just said go race without the simon says part.

Eventually the entire remainder of the meet was cancelled about 75 minutes after I was originally scheduled to race. My first thought was an expletive and my second was lets go unofficially time trial.  I didn't build myself up for battle only to be denied.  That would be like laying siege for two weeks until my next race.  I was feeling incredible and knew I was ready rip a good 1500.  But asking around there wasn't a lot of interest and we weren't even sure if they'd let us on the track, which proved true.

A couple minutes after I started running on one of the treadmills in the Oxy fitness center next to the track Donn Cabral joined me and we started scheming a workout that would at least temper what we called our bloodlust.  We both have similar attitudes when it comes to working out and we were both on board for some work together like times at Princeton.  Outside the rain had lessened but sporadic lightning lit the sky up electric blue and illuminated the clouds menacing.  There was standing water in lanes one and two on the backstretch that would have been great for skim boarding, but the rain had lessened to a drizzle.

Donn and I made it through a 1200 in 3:11 with meet management hollering at us to leave the track for our safety the whole time.  We had to cut our plan short but props to them for doing their job and keeping things safe.  We went back inside and joined Tony Jordanek on the treadmills and decided on a tempo run.  This whole time, still on edge and the race nerves rattling.  It was about ten o'clock. Two miles into the tempo meet volunteers told us they were closing the place for the night in ten minutes.  The running gods might have been trying to tell us something.  Or maybe testing us.  We did 5:45, 5:15, 4:57, 4:45 miles on our treadmill tempo, burning away the pent up energy.

When Donn and I left the trackside facilities, walked to the car and did a short cool down, the LA night was still and clear and resting as if from some great exertion had left it breathing evenly and slowly and relieved.

The Judge might agree that running unifies us in the test of our will against our spiked counterparts.  Training and racing and living running have brought us all to our current existence. All of these meets are an undulating topography of highs and lows: in the anticipation and buildup of race day to the glances and silence and nods between men and women about to spill their hearts and plunge their lungs in blackness against one another, to the soaring high post race with its relief and smiles and chatter and communal cool downs in which everyone comes back to ground level and bonds are made.  It's a curve that takes some bravery to venture up onto but there is reward emotionally and physically fulfilling on its backside, sometimes even when you don't get to race.

*I should say that in Blood Meridian the Judge is one of the most dark characters I've ever met and he may represent the devil or (McCarthy's opinion!) worse the true nature of mankind, so take everything he says (and I say) with a grain of sodium chloride, as you should to keep your electrolyte intake up anyway.

-  -  -

John and I rolling some speed work last week - 600, 3 x 300, 500, 2 x 300, 400, 1 x 300, 800
all at under under mile pace.
It's back to Zap for two weeks of training and spring in the high country.  (Here is my account of a recent rainstorm that is too long to include.) Everything is green and adult running camps are beginning soon and this time of year is always exciting around the Zap campus.  In two weeks I'll end the siege with a well set up 1500 in Greenville, SC with Furman Elite and other studs.

Ten days later John Simons and I will have the opportunity to do something special.  We are coming home to Milwaukee and running a sub four mile attempt in the Wisco Mile at Wisconsin Lutheran high school.  The Wisconsin soil record of 3:56.38 set by Matt Tegenkamp in 2006 is in our sights and only two men have run under the barrier in Wisconsin's great 167 year history - Tegnekamp and Chris Solinsky in that same race in Madison in '06.  If you, your family, and/or friends are in Milwaukee on June 10th make sure to come out and witness history. Races begin at 6pm and the "Super Mile" is at 8:40.  More info at

I view track season in two halves: everything up to and including the US Track and Field Championships in late June, and everything after that until late August.  The first half goal is to grab those pesky US "A" standards of 13:32 5k and 3:39.0 1500.  The opportunities we have set up are the Furman 1500 and the Portland Track Fest 5000 on June 14th.  The second half will most likely include July racing on the European circuit in Belgium and Ireland then domestic meets in August out west and here in North Carolina.  We plan to run this puppy all the way into September road racing before taking a major break.  Racing will (baring more storms) be heating up soon and there'll be many stories to tell.  Thanks for reading!

Upcoming Race Schedule

Date Race Name Location Venue / Distance
May 30 SC Track Classic Greenville, SC Track 1500
June 10 Wisco Mile Milwaukee, WI Track Mile
June 14 Portland Track Fesitval Portland, OR Track 5000
June 28 US Track and Field Championships Eugene, OR Track 5000

Friday, April 10, 2015

Lions and Tigers and Squares

Staggering around like a drunken sailor in a bad storm, it took me a good ten minutes to finally admit defeat and limp into the Gate River 15k finish line medical tent.  Through chapped lips I kept telling my team mates and friends I would be alright, as a voice in my head kept saying "you know you're not ok."

Internal monologue.
You need to go into that tent.
I don't want to.
Whats the square root of 169?
13.  Doesn't matter, I'd only ask myself questions I knew the answer to.
Chris told me he read you release DMT right before you die.  Am I about to die?
What, are there researchers giving surveys at peoples deathbeds?
I feel really lucid, which means I'm going to die

And so on.  You're reading this, which means I didn't die, unless artificial intelligence has finally gotten smart enough to fool you.  Of course a machine would deny its own existence. Or would it?

My temperature in the medical tent was 103.1 taken well, back there.  I hoped after they cooled me off for half an hour with ice and wet towels that an oral thermometer would suffice for the required re-measurement.  I also knew that using one would be bad science. Needless to say, they used good science.

The ice-filled Lowes painters hat I donned before the start made me look kind of like Joan Benoit or Dave Wottle and made me want to Never Stop Improving, but it did little to prevent me from achieving critical core temperature.  Either way, there's something badass about pushing yourself to the limit and getting heat exhaustion to prove it.  Finishing 19th, I was initially disappointed, but while enjoying the Jacksonville afternoon at a friend's party I drew positives.  
Tyler Pennel (c), Griff Graves (r) and I combined for a second place team score
at the Gate River Run / US Road 15k Championships

Never let anyone, including yourself, take an all-out effort away from you.  I've questioned my effort and toughness after a bad race before, and it's not a good place to go.  You don't suddenly just get less tough.  The killer instinct you've honed in countless training sessions and races doesn't go away.  Unless you're Prefontaine, you have one, maybe two critical moments in each race.  Whether to follow an early surging pace or to start kicking far away from the finish, for example.  You have to trust that instinct will surface at that moment, and if things don't go your way, realize that your body can only do what it can do.  

Mistrust in your grit is often false and destructive self-analysis.  That mistrust probably accounts for most of many people's post bad race anxiety, and it sucks worse when it's shaken not stirred with pain into a cocktail of depression.  I've found the quickest way to stoke the fire isn't by agonizing over results or splits or other people or past, more glorious races, but (this may sound cliche) actually looking for positives in the race you just stumbled through.  They won't be positives you'll hang on your wall, but you're not weak for settling for sub par achievements either.  As weird as it may seem, running myself into a medical tent was my positive in Jacksonville.

Gate River was our final fall and winter foray into cross country and overdistance.  Now it's time for a later than usual return to the track.  Imagine a full sized, half starved tiger released towards a huge slab of red meat on a cedar stump across a gently sloping downhill grassy field - that's me.  It's a calculated debut designed to extend the season well into August and even September.  Sans indoor racing and with a week-long break after the Gate River run, my legs should be well prepared for the hands-to-knees acidic workouts and races ahead.  I'll begin with a 1500 at Princeton next Friday against some velocitous tigers, lions, and other assorted beasts.  Can't wait.

Now for what we call running porn.  The last two weeks have seen some of the best training I've ever done with Zap Fitness.  I won't go into details.  But two weeks ago as the gray mountain skies sent flakes of snow laterally across the whitecap kissed aqueduct of lonely Bass Lake, five 1500 meter repeats on dirt working from 4:26 to 4:19 began a series of fitness-bumping sessions.  That Sunday in better weather we went 18 miles on the long run with a nice 5:13 final mile.  The first major track session of the year was with Tyler that next Wednesday, run entirely "ins and outs style" (faster straights, slightly slower curves).  Beginning with 2400m at 4:40 pace (7:00) we went on to run 8 x 800m working gradually from 2:13 to 2:07 for an anaerobic bank deposit.  More training with Tyler on Saturday saw a 4:15 fifteen hundred on Bass Lake and threshold climbs in the carriage trails of the park.  

Zap Fitness practice on Bass Lake in Blowing Rock.  L-R Griff Graves, Joe Stilin, John Simons, Brandon Hudgins, Tyler Pennel, Chris Moen, George Alex.

Hump day this week brought with it one of the hardest sessions I've done in some time, mainly because of its length at a fairly intense rhythm.  Everything was run back and forth on a slightly hilly paved one kilometer section of the brand new Middle Fork Greenway that will eventually connect Blowing Rock and Boone.  Bouts of 2 kilometers, 6 x 1 kilometer, and 2 kilometers formed the meat of the session, the five of us averaging 5:55 for the 2k's and 2:53 for the 1k's.  Tyler and I threw in some economy (speed) with 3 x 600m "snowballs" (getting faster every 200m) and 3 x 200m touching under mile race pace to finish.  We're beginning to stir not shake together strength and speed within these sessions, and feeling fit has been feeling good.

After Princeton it's the trip to Palo Alto, CA for the Payton Jordan Invite and a 5000 opener.  I've run there the past two years and it's been one of the best distance meets in the US every year.  From there we'll head to the Oxy High Performance meet in LA two weeks later and then begin gearing up for US Outdoors later in June.  Those months are sure to bring more good tales and hopefully less thermometers.  Thanks for reading!

Next few races:
Date Race Name Location Venue / Distance
April 17 Larry Ellis Invite Princeton, NJ Track 1500
May 2 Payton Jordan Invite Palo Alto, CA Track 5000
May 14 Hoka One One Midle Distance Classic Los Angeles, CA Track 1500

Here we are on the second of six one kilometer repeats on Wednesday:
First ever ZAP workout on the new Middlefork GreeenwayTrail which will ultimately connect Boone to Blowing Rock. This is the Tweetsie Railroad section recently opened.
Posted by ZAP Fitness on Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Nap Fitness

Carpet Bagger.  It's an apt caricature of life in rapidly unfolding 2015.  I began in the North, waking before the early January sunrise to the first snow I'd seen in Milwaukee this winter for a flight back down South.  "Don't go just yet" the white blanket seemed to plead as it dissolved in blue deicing fluid over the plane's wings.  Brief solitude in the mountains and Zap before bouncing to Scotland, to Tallahassee, to Boulder, to Ireland, and to Greenville, South Carolina.  We're vagabonds at times, us runners.  Train hard.  Rinse off.  Recover.  Race.  Recover.  Repeat.  Compete with your similarly tasked friends across the country, catch up for 90 minutes at a post race party, and see them again at the next one.  I'm not complaining.  Sometimes it feels like we're on tour, with(out) (tens of) thousands of screaming fans, (coach) buses, the (illegal) drugs*, and the (big) money.  But it's an honest, fast, fun life, and one I'm really thankful I get to live.  Things are going to settle down next week when Zap Fitness makes its springtime return to Zap Fitness, but we're as eligible for a trip to California or Istanbul while cutting Zap's grass field or fixing fence posts as we ever are.

Though the pace of travel and racing feels quick, the in-between times reserved for training and doing laundry are relaxing.  The most important thing I've learned since leaving college is how to chill the fudge out (You take fudge and refrigerate it. [too dry?] {My humor or the fudge?}]).  That manifests itself across the board: the nap between runs, mentally handling a string of hard training weeks with few distractions to break the days up, and in the pace of easy runs.  Pete often begins his Top Secret Zap daily training emails with a quote or tidbit, and one from about a month ago sums the idea up well:

"Handle boredom well - so many athletes I run into struggle with running and doing all the ancillary things associated with their running and little else. Put simply that is what the best in the world do but many fight it in our 'need to be productive all the time' western society."
     - 2 x Olympian Peter Pfitzinger (from a NE Runner Column Aug '91 - What it Takes to be a Pro)

But reading about boredom must be boring.  You'd rather be boring a hole in a board during a boring boarding school advisory board meeting about room and board.  Physicist Niels Bohr once said "An expert is a man (or woman) who has made all the mistakes which can be made, in a narrow field."  He's talking about being bored.  More specifically, about focus on one single thing for a long time.  Wouldn't you rather fully complete something that took a long time than leave a bunch of competing, partially finished projects to die?  There is always time, lots of time.  I'm slowly getting better at what Pfitzinger described, trusting what I am doing and not worrying about what I could be doing.

The Wanderlust continues, bringing Tyler, Griff, and I to Jacksonville, FL for this Saturday's Gate River Run / US 15k Road Championships.  The race marks my last foray into over-distance before track heats up.  15,000 meters (roughly 9.3 miles) is traditionally a good ways for me, but I'm excited to continue breaking out of my mold and testing myself against the race's best ever field.  It's a flat course until the large hill in the eighth mile and blazing downhill in the ninth to the finish.  There's a handsome prize purse, bonuses for the fastest final mile, and a team competition with payout.  All that makes for an exciting run which will be live here (for free!) at 8:30 EST on Saturday morning.

Preparation for Gate River has gone well.  My most recent race was a 13:58 5k win on the roads in Armagh, Northern Ireland.  Since then the past three weeks of training in Greenville have been bountiful.  Last Wednesday Andrew, Griff and I worked well together over three sets of track 1200m snowball (get faster and faster) + road 2k threshold followed by track 4 x 400m for economy.  On our third set we were 3:17 (69, 65, 61) for the twelve hundred and 6:01 (3:04, 2:56) for the 2k.  It was a manageable workload executed patiently which always bodes well.  Nothing killer, but a fitness booster.  And on Saturday we were 5:06, 4:43, 4:45, 5:02, 4:44, 4:54 for the miles on a 10k progression run with hills.  

European Championships Steeple Chase Silver Medalist Krystian Zalewski (r) and I battling
in Armagh, Northern Ireland.

A close second on my list of things to look forward to after the 15k is our return to Zap and the mountains.  Winter training camp is over, and I can't wait for the silence of the woods, the icy rush of the creek outside, and to work on all the projects I have in mind.  I'm going to finish building our garden fence, plant the garden, re-finish some old rocking chairs, build a desk, and then go fishing.  There's something special about that place in the woods - maybe it just seems like home to me now.  As long as I find time to be bored once in a while.  Either way, I hope all this carpet bagging brings a profit in Florida.

Monday, February 9, 2015

I'm Not a Tree

How would being a tree be. 
Over there, that tree. 
I'm not a tree.  
Maybe it would be nice to be one. 
To stand there in the wind, or maybe 
Not, on a windless day.  
You don't have to eat,
Rather you soak in food with your toes.  
And you breath through your leafy arms.  
But you wouldn't know that, would you, 
Because you're a tree.  
No thinking.  No sorrow.  
No boredom, even.
At least I think, 
But how would I know?  
I'm not a tree.

I am, however very tired.  Although I'm in Colorado, it's the runner's high I'm drenched in, sprawled out on the grass and reveling in the sweet, sick exhaustion that twelve kilometers of cross country at altitude just beat into me, or rather, I beat into myself.  It's weird, the things that pop into your brain when it's deoxygenated.  On race cool-downs I can be reduced to a babbling Shakespearian-esque clown, s-wordplay drawn, in my mind brilliant but in truth muddled to the ears of those bothering to listen.  Hypoglycemia and endorphins steep into a soup of post-nervous energy expenditure elation until I find some kilocalories and lite beer and bring myself back to the normal world.  Especially amplified by a good long race, these feelings put the addiction in running.

Saturday's US Cross Country Championships involved six laps of a two kilometer loop on Boulder's Flatiron golf course.  Though the sun, seventy degree temperatures, and accurate venue name made for nice conditions, the 5200 feet of elevation made it a little harder for lowland-lubbers like me.  Unlike a mile or even 5k, my (hardtack and lard) this race was long enough that it's come to rest in my memory not unlike some Homeric epic with defeats and victories preceding the final result.  It was war out there, and there was definitely carnage.

In the first 2k lap, everyone's nervous energy burned hotly around sharp fenced off turns and through the small rocky ditch about 1800 meters into each loop.  By the first pass by the start/finish area, the major contenders had roughly sorted themselves into a contingent near the front.  Andrew and I were close together in about 25th place.  In fact I almost fell shortly into the second lap and his body helped catch me. (That is team work) Soon after my comfort level began declining rapidly and I knew this wouldn't be a "relax and roll" kind of race.  Every passing minute would require focus.

I began drifting away from the main pack from 3k to 6k into the race.  In the moment I was fighting off negative thoughts, trying not to think about the distance remaining.  I started thinking "Damn it, this is it.  I'm going backwards and the next 25 minutes are going to be helltitude."  But I hung in, and midway into the fourth lap, somewhere around 5k to go, I began making passes around some highly credentialed guys slipping backwards.  Each gave me a small confidence boost and my focus sharpened.  I promised myself I wouldn't save much for a spectacular kick and instead started moving far  out from the tape.

In the hurt box, but my eyes are up.  The course had a nice view of the mountains.
Thanks to Aric Van Halen for the photo
One last challenge remained: the all-of-six-foot sand bunker decline with 600 meters to go.  My legs were so dead that they got tangled in themselves and I hit the deck.  Muscle memory from my skateboarding days took over and I combat rolled and popped right up, hardly losing any time.  Ian Burell was on my tail and I couldn't afford to lay in the dirt.  Shaken up, I "took off" (which probably meant a blazing five minute pace at this point) with another runner in my sights ahead.  In the finishing chute I just missed getting him for a fifteenth place finish in 38:14.

I wasn't going to let myself be disappointed in fifteenth, not after how low I sunk mentally and how hard I fought back.  Though I missed my goal of making the world cross country team, which required a top-six showing, I realize that sometimes you have to be pleased with a bloody guts and little glory result.  If you can't be alright with missing goals sometimes, you'll never have the gas to get them.  This mentality counterweights complacency, but I'll save being hard on myself for other days and (shorter) races.

I felt a bit of a pang looking at the 2k loop splits published post race day.  Let's just say my fastest loop was only two seconds faster than the winner's slowest.  But I'm not a tree, and I'm also not a pure cross country guy.  As an aside, this years field was high quality, which is a good thing for American distance running.  I'd argue (as C. Derrick has) that greater participation in cross country by our pros improves our Olympic chances on the track.  Many guys are going straight to the track post collegiately, perhaps excessively.  Either way, these results represent a vast improvement in my ability over hill and dale. (but not sand bunker) In high school I finished only as high as fifth at the Wisconsin state cross country meet and was never an All American in NCAA cross country.  Doing "pretty good" this weekend translates to exciting prognostications for track, and that has been the plan all along since September.

Now the plan shifts toward the oval via the roads.  Next week I'll be running a road 5k in Armagh, Ireland.  On π day is the Gate River Run / US road championships 15k in Jacksonville.  A rest week precedes the buildup into outdoor track season and lots of fun races.  I apologize in advance if I meet you on a cool down.

A preliminary schedule of my upcoming races:

Date Race Name Location Venue / Distance
February 17 Armagh Road 5k Armagh, Ireland Road 5k
March 14 Gate River Run Jacksonville, FL Road 15k
April 11 Blue Shoes Mile Greenville, SC Track mile
May 2 Payton Jordan Invitational Palo Alto, CA Track 5000

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Double Trouble, Explained

Act IV Scene I:
In a cavern, somewhere in Scotland, three witches chant

Double, double, toil, and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork and blind-worm's sting,
Lizard's leg and owlet's wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

The hell-broth mud cauldron boiled coldly under our feet, squirming its way through shoe mesh  and plastering down leg hair (if you had it) through four circuits of Holyrood Park's two kilometer course in Edinburgh, Scotland.  Nothing (especially the hotel showers) escaped the bubbling black mud, and no tourist could we have immersed themselves in Scotland as we did.  The wind screamed and whipped us from the West, streams lapped at our ankles, and the sizable crowd bore witness to a dominating performance by team USA over the likes of Great Britain and Europe.

Kicking home in Scotland
At the post race trivia game, my team won best name with "We Kilt It", though "We Got Bag Piped" would have been a more appropriate description of our quiz performance.  It being my first ever senior US team berth, this brief trip to Scotland was especially memorable.  As runners we're measured greatly by US team qualifications, performances at international events (read: medals), and trivia prowess.  With USA blazed on my chest for the first time, I feel I've broken the ice.  I'll admit, Edinburgh is probably the easiest team to make, but (raises voice) I MADE IT!  You have to start somewhere.

The race was like nothing I'd ever experienced before in cross country.  The course put  many of the grass track-like venues in the US to shame.  It had rained for days leading up to the day of competition, and the junior races before ours made the 2k loop nice and sloppy.  Every lap featured two small but sharp uphills, a longer hill, two small stream crossings, one of which contained a boulder that only allowed one body through at a time, and plenty of ankle deep grass and mud mixture.  ("He must be a King."  "Why is that?"  "He hasn't got shit all over him.")  15mm spikes were the fashion of the day.

Team USA senior men before and after the race.

They say in Scotland that if you don't like the weather, wait five minutes.  It was sunny during our race but began snowing during the women's senior race.  It wasn't unlike Heps 2010.  It all created a very surreal cross country experience, one that made me feel happy and very alive.  I didn't finish up where I would have liked to in the field, but I'm concentrating on the positive of having fought hard in difficult conditions on a big stage.  Tough races never are easy to swallow, but I think you get over them more quickly as you grow more experienced and mature.

Perhaps my favorite part of the trip followed the awards ceremony.  Zap team mate Andrew Colley pointed to a distant volcanic peak, barely visible through the snow, and said "Letsrun up there."  My legs were tired from the race but I couldn't pass up the adventure.  We walk-jogged to the top of Arthurs Seat over rocks, mud, and snow and were rewarded with another abrupt change in the elements: the sun erupted through the clouds and we saw all of Edinburgh below; the castle, the sea, the cross country course, and surrounding pure green countryside.  We didn't bring phones (so did it really happen?) but we kept the image in our memories, which is sometimes better anyway.  On the way down some strange women asked if we had any fillets of fenny snake, but alas, we'd run out.

On the flight home I reflected on where I'm going and what's at my tail.  I'm on the cross country plunge: no indoor track, many and frequent miles, lots of strength workouts, and four (count em!) four cross country races by February's end.  Then I'll run the US 15k Championships in Jacksonville, FL in March.  Only after all that big boy work will I step back on the track and roll, and if all goes as planned, I'll have lifted myself in strength and toughness.  I think it's good to try and make every year a little different in terms of racing calendar and training to keep the body and mind from dragging, pitching out the things that don't work.  I'm excited to see where it propels me.  (sorry please don't mach me)

Zap Fitness is fully inundated (that is not appropriate use of that word) in winter training camp in Tallahassee.  For those who don't know, Trailahassee is secretly an excellent running location for its extensive and beautiful parks and trails.  Don't tell anybody though, because I like the lonely sound of footsteps on grade 10 crushed limestone laid over red clay dirt in silent prehistoric spanish moss-adorned woods.  This time of year, our lives consist of running, eating sweet potatoes and quinoa, napping, going to coffee shops, running again, eating more sweet potatoes, and sleeping.  Ok, we eat and do more than that, but the point is we're focused.  I just hope I run into an alligator this year while we're down here.  Not literally though.

Andrew and I are training for the US Cross Country Championships in Boulder, CO on February seventh.  After that we'll return to Tallahassee for a few days then head to Zap for a week, and finally begin training camp beta in Greenville, SC with the Furman Elite crew.  Here's to doubling for a charm of powerful trouble and a Packers win today.

The Zap Fitness crew working out on the grass in Tallahassee.  L-R Joe Stilin, John Simons, Cameron Bean, Chris Moen and the beard, and Andrew Colley hiding.  I ran this entire workout with my eyes closed.